This week I started a new method to better integrate stoic methods and precepts into my life. I’m a big fan of Mark Forster and one of the techniques he describes in his book “How To Make Your Dreams Come True” (available here free online).
It consists of 4 parts of a disciplined journaling approach. Writing down a vision of where you want to be, what the current reality is, a list every day of what went better and an imaginary dialog between your future ‘ideal’ self (for stoicism, a sage-version of yourself) and your current situation.
I started by creating a rough vision of who I want to be:
I am not enslaved by external events, brave and focused totally on being the man that I am meant to be. I am virtuous, magnanimous, kind and strong.
I prepare for calamity everyday through negative visualization. I often practice self-denial and practice poverty. I am focused on what truly matters, doing the best that I am able to love Fate and love my neighbor as I love myself.
I am unafraid of what the future holds. My rational faculties and emotions are in sync, living as fully human.
And a blunt assessment of my current reality:
I am devout and somewhat rigorous in my Stoic practices, but not as consistent in my practices as I think I should be. I am not as perturbed by external things as I used to be, but I notice some cases where I am not as brave as I would like, especially when I’m with strangers. People often say I am kind and strong and virtuous and I often feel magnanimous.
I rarely engage in negative visualization, self-denial or practicing poverty. I have been focusing more on virtue, but I need to figure out if it conflicts
with my other values, or if there’s a consistency I don’t understand yet.
This gives a clear direction for me to work towards throughout the day. My vision focuses on preparing for calamity and having a tranquil and sage-like outlook on all parts of my life.
My current reality is how I keep track of what practices I’m missing,
forgetting or otherwise haven’t fully integrated. It’s also where I realize I’m fearful of the future and other opportunities for stoic growth. I also see my emotional struggles and frustrations get recorded there as I muddle through.
The what’s better list is where I collect my successes, which really helps
'locking-in' mental habits.
- Continue to use cognitive distancing and judgments of feelings about for three days running to reduce bad feelings
- Saw difference between ‘true stoicism’ and ‘pop stoicism’ in discussion on reddit
This list has helped me track my success at using cognitive distancing
techniques to handle powerful negative emotions, as well as insights into the differences between stoicism and other related philosophies or the ‘pop’ vision of what stoicism is. It is also how I realized who my ‘stoic’ friends are.
The final piece is dialogging, which is an imaginary conversation between my current self, and the future sage-Ryan.
Future: What would you like to talk about first?
Present: Guilt about the past.
Future: Oh, what’s the thing you need help with?
Present: I need help dealing with past emotions of guilt and anger at perceived slights and insults.
Future: Well, what are you already doing that’s helping?
Present: Thinking about it fatalistically, asking myself “what can I learn
from it?”, not thinking about it.
Future: And why aren’t those working now?
Present: My emotions about the past are coming on stronger, either that or I’m weaker than I was before.
Future: What do you want to be different?
Present: That I can handle them even when I’m weak and being hit by external things like when my friends ask what’s wrong.
Future: What can you do to strengthen that?
Present: Think about the past and watch my emotions and judgments, see which ones are incorrect and analyze them in depth.
I’ve been a bit surprised at how effective this has been with thinking about my future-self as sage-Ryan. I’ve found it very comforting to imagine that these struggles are part of the natural development of myself and having sage-Ryan ask appropriate questions seems to help me use my own analysis tools.
I have promised myself to do these exercises for an entire month, with a blog post each Sunday as I do them, so this should be the first of 4 posts on the subject.