The Stoic Handbook by Jon Brooks

Writing to Resilience: Inside My Daily Stoic Journaling Practice

June 09, 2023
The Stoic Handbook by Jon Brooks
Writing to Resilience: Inside My Daily Stoic Journaling Practice
Show Notes Transcript

“The path of wisdom is to go with the flow, to not resist the way that fortune is unfolding, to always recognize that I can choose how I respond to external events and I can choose whether I am harmed or not.” 


In this episode, I take you behind the scenes of my daily Stoic morning journal routine, explaining how I organize my journal to set my day for success, remember what is valuable, and ensure that I act with resilience and tranquility. 

The episode sheds light on the importance of intention rather than perfection, and how to use different techniques and tools to cultivate a growth mindset, manage negative emotions, and practice gratitude.

In this episode, you'll learn:

  1. The Significance of Flexibility in Morning Routine: Discover the importance of not being a slave to your routine and understanding that the intention matters more than perfection.
  2. The Use of Apps and Templates for Journaling: Learn how to utilize applications like Craft and Notion to create journal templates that can be customized to fit your needs.
  3. The Productivity Planner Approach: Understand how to prioritize daily tasks by using the concept of the Productivity Planner, and focus on the most important task first followed by secondary tasks.
  4. Incorporating Stoic Quotes and Reflection: Learn how to include Stoic quotes in your journal and how reflecting on these quotes can help you align with the principles of Stoicism.
  5. Triple-Column Technique for Managing Negative Emotions: Get an insight into the triple-column technique borrowed from Dr. David Burns for challenging irrational thoughts and managing negative emotions.
  6. The Philosophical Journal for Self-Improvement: Learn the simple yet profound method of acknowledging what you did wrong, what you did right, and what you can do better if a similar situation arises again.

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I published a podcast and an article called the Ultimate Daily Stoic Routine a little while back and it was very popular, people liked it. So I'm going to take you behind the scenes of my stoic morning journal routine now and explain to you how I organize my journal to set up my day and remember what is valuable and important and just make sure that I act appropriately with resilience and tranquility. Before we get into this, the first thing I want to point your attention to is the idea of a morning routine being something that you do versus a morning routine being something that does you. It's important that you aren't a slave to your routine. The whole point of sozism is to become more free. But if you're getting neurotic about whether you did or didn't do your routine or you missed this habit or that habit, you're missing the point. We set the intention to do it, but if we don't do it, that's okay. We learn from it and we recommit tomorrow. Some days I wake up in the morning and I have to go straight into parenting. I have to make breakfast and get my son changed. And I can't just sit there and spend 30 minutes doing a journal routine. And if I have a day like that, maybe the next day I try to wake up a little bit earlier to do it. Or maybe after I do a school run I'll do it then. The aim is not perfection, but just setting that intention. In terms of apps, the app that I use a lot is Craft. This app is available only to Mac users. It's also available on iPhone. Notion is basically the same thing. I've also used Notion a lot. Notion is free and it's on pretty much every device. It also has a web app. You can also create templates in day one. It doesn't really matter what you use, just take some of the principles that I'm going to be sharing with you here and craft your own routine. So I like to use templates. So if you go into craft or Notion, you can create a template and then you can quite easily load that template up every time you sit down to do a journal entry. This just saves a lot of time and then you can keep refining it or modifying it to suit your needs. So in my journal template, right at the top I have productivity planner. This is a toggled list and when I open up the toggle I have five check boxes. These are the tasks that I'm going to be doing. But they're divided. The first one is the most important task of the day and I've colour coded this in red. What is the one thing that if you do today you'd be satisfied? Underneath that I have secondary tasks of importance. These would be tasks 2 and 3. Completion of these tasks would make your day even better. And then underneath these I have additional tasks. So these would be tasks 4 and 5 and these would be done only after I complete the first 3. So 5 tasks. The most important one, red, task 2 and 3, amber, task 4 and 5, green. I've gotten this from the Productivity Planner Physical Journal, which I'm also a big fan of, by Intelligent Change. They've also created the 5-minute journal. But I've just added this into my actual digital journal because I find it useful. Sometimes I use this productivity planner, sometimes I just use a regular old to-do list. I use Things for that if you're interested. I like the way that Things integrates with my phone and reminders and my laptop. And what I've started doing more in Things, something I've learned from Ali Abdaal, is I try to use the description and the text editing feature more on things. So I kind of use it as a task manager but also as a word processor document folder. So if I'm working on a project I'll type up notes within that project and I find that helps me keep track of things much better than if I just have tasks on their own. Underneath productivity planner I have some quotes. This is from the final chapter of the Enchiridion. Epictetus says in that chapter on every occasion we should have the following quotations to hand. Lead me, O Zeus, and you, O destiny, wherever you have ordained for me. And also, I will follow unflinching, but if grown bad I should refuse, I will follow nonetheless. Whoever complies nobly with necessity, we count as wise and knowing things divine. And a quote from Socrates, well, Crito, if my death is pleasing to the gods, so let it be. Aenitus and Miletus can kill me, but they cannot harm me. These quotes are just reminding me that the path of wisdom is to go with the flow, to not resist the way that fortune is unfolding, to always recognize that I can choose how I respond to external events and I can choose whether I am harmed or not. Beneath this quote I have three sub journals within this journal template. So I have my morning journal, I have thought processing, and I have a philosophical journal. So there are three elements to this and I don't have to do each of these every day. I feel into it and I ask myself what do I want to do, what would serve me best today? So the thought processing journal, something we'll get into in a moment, that would be when I'm experiencing some kind of negative emotion, anger, agitation, stress, anxiety, something like that. That's when I will go into the thought processing. The philosophical journal is meant to be done at the end of the day, so usually I'll just get straight into the morning journal. So when I double click on the morning journal, there are three main sections. The first section is about character. Based on yesterday, what is the one thing I would like to improve in my behavior today? So I think back to yesterday and I think, what did I do yesterday that I don't really wanna keep doing? And it could be something really small, like maybe I didn't go to bed at the time that I wanted, maybe I didn't read and I would like to be the person who reads daily, maybe I skipped my meditation practice, maybe I overreacted to something, maybe I just didn't prioritize that thing that is actually important to me, maybe I didn't have that conversation that I wanted to have. So this is not really a task but more of a kind of priorities re-assimilation, just a reminder to myself of just one thing that I would like to make a focus today. Underneath that I have the Good Journal. This comes from Jocko Willink. He says when things are going bad don't get all bummed out, don't get startled, don't get frustrated. If you can say the word good, guess what? It means you're still alive, it means you're still breathing. So Jocko Willink, author of Discipline Equals Freedom and Extreme Ownership, among other books. Axe Navy Seal. When people would come to him with a problem, he would say, good, and then tell them why it's good in an amazing example of reframing. Maybe they would come to him saying, we weren't able to get the high-tech gear that we wanted. He would say, good, more time to practice training your skills. I've injured my ankle. Good. It means you can study more now. Right? So there's always this good and it's kind of a fun game that I play with my friends, it's a bit of an inside joke. Whenever some kind of misfortune happens, providing it's not inappropriate and extreme, I'm just talking about little setbacks, we like to try and find the ways that we can say good to it. So me as a parent, I might write in my journal, my son might not want to eat his breakfast. My son might be in a bad mood. There could be lots of traffic on the way to school. And for each of these things, I will write good, and then find a reason why this would be good. My son might be in a bad mood when he wakes up. Good, more time to practice peaceful parenting. There may be lots of traffic on the way to school. Good, I can practice being mindful, even when my body wants to rush. So you turn everything into something good. And you keep doing this day in, day out, and it starts to become an automatic skill that you have. And then the third path is a form of gratitude, where instead of just focusing on the things that I'm thankful for, I will ask myself the following question. I write, we focus a lot on our misery, but little on how much suffering we have escaped. What good things might you take for granted today and how could things be worse? So I will just write a list of all the things that could be way worse than they are right now but they aren't. That could be related to finance, health, relationships, who knows. I mean the fact that the world is not crumbling down around me, I often say to people, means that I'm happy. When people say to me, how are you? I'll often go, well, I'm not in the middle of a disaster, so I'm pretty good. And that really is my baseline level of happiness. Providing nothing atrocious is happening right now, I don't find it that hard to be content. And that comes from this type of training. If you'd like to get more of an insider look into how I practice gratitude, I have a seven-part meditation course on radical gratitude, which if you sign up to Stoic Handbook dot supercast dot com, you can listen to it there or you can also purchase the course on learn dot Stoic Handbook dot co. That's where all my courses are for standalone purchases. Next, we'll get into the triple column technique. This was for the thought processing. So this is a technique I got from Dr. David Burns in his book Feeling Good. The triple column technique, simply put, is the challenge of irrational thoughts. In the cognitive model of anxiety and depression, it's our irrational thinking that causes us the emotional problems. If we're thinking clearly, we tend to suffer less. And so there are a bunch of different cognitive distortions like all-or-nothing thinking and discounting the positives that happen or jumping to conclusions in terms of mind reading or fortune telling, magnification or minimization or catastrophization, all these different distortions that can happen. And so the triple column technique is pretty simple. So first of all, I write down a list of my negative thoughts that are coming up. I'm not overly precious about this. I just guess or estimate what I think I'm thinking. Some people, they stumble on this part. It's just like, just write stuff down what you think you're thinking in one sentence at a time statements. Then when you've got a list of these negative thoughts, then I actively look through each thought one at a time and try to identify the cognitive distortions on my list. So am I discounting any positives here? Am I thinking in terms of all or nothing? Am I mind-reading the situation? You know, if I've written down, I did this and so-and-so hates me because of it, well that's mind-reading then, right? So I'll identify the distortions. And then the third column is I will rewrite the initial thought in a way that is wiser and more balanced. This is not really reframing, necessarily. It's more just taking a broader scope. Looking at the situation from a little bit back, instead of being locked into our one perspective, there is usually a lot more to the story than we initially believe. So we just widen the lens and we include more perspectives. So with mind reading it's not so much that we're reframing the person's reaction and we're saying, well, that face that looked like a disgusted face was actually that person expressing deep love for us. We're not doing that. We're not reframing the situation. We're just acknowledging that we don't really know what the person was thinking. And so while we saw that facial expression, it could be for a number of reasons. And someone else seeing the same thing as us might have interpreted it differently. So who's to say that they are wrong and we are right? Maybe we are wrong and they are right. Maybe there's some truth to both. So it's a practice in humility and taking in more perspectives than the one that we're locked into. I go into a lot more depth on the triple column technique in Stoic Anxiety Mastery. If you've taken that course, you'll find a video in there where I walk you through the technique as well as provide the template that I use. And then the third part is the philosophical journal. This one's really simple. I got it from Massimo Piglucci. We start off by asking ourselves, what did we do wrong? We think back to a specific situation, or we can think more broadly, and yeah, we just tap into, how did I show up in the world today that I was not proud of? We don't beat ourselves up, we just acknowledge it. And then we also look at what we did right. We've looked at our mistakes and we've looked at things we've done well. And then we ask ourselves the question, well, what could I do better if something like this happens again? And we practice that, almost like a form of stoic virtual reality training. You imagine the situation happening again, how would I react to this or think about the situation differently? And then you just commit to doing that next time that situation happens. You can use it for things like cravings. Let's say that you're on a diet and you did a lot of binge eating. Well maybe you spent most of the day being disciplined and following your diet. That's something you did really well. But maybe you did overeat at the end of the day. You had way too much ice cream and you didn't feel good because of it. It didn't really satisfy you. So what are you going to do differently if that happens again? It might not be as simple as, have more willpower. Maybe the solution to that is I will plan in advance my day so that I can allow myself to have more indulgence foods later on because I know that I'm probably going to want that. So I'm going to become a better planner. There are lots of different ways you can play around with this idea. And then to end my morning template, I have a section called inspiration. And here I have the five Buddhist precepts. Refrain from taking life, refrain from what is not given, refrain from the misuse of the senses, refrain from wrong speech, refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind. This is changing all the time. Every week or so I'll swap up the inspiration. Sometimes I have quotes or lists of rules or parenting advice, just something that I want to look at each day. And so that is my morning journal. Productivity planner, a stoic quote that I want to embody, then there's the morning journal, there's the thought processing, there's the philosophical journal to end the day, and then there's a bit of inspiration at the end. I'd love to know what you think about this, and I'd also love to know how you structure your morning journal or morning routine. So wherever you're listening to this, leave a comment. Spotify, blog post, Supercast, wherever you're listening to this, let me know what you think and how you structure your morning journal.