Nightly reflection

Nightly reflections

I view with pleasure and approval the way you keep on at your studies and sacrifice everything to your single-minded efforts to make yourself every day a better man

Seneca, Letter V

This was the habit of Sextius, so that at day’s end, when he had retired to his nightly rest, he questioned his mind:

What bad habit have you put right today? Which fault did you take a stand against? In what respect are you better?

This is a privilege I take advantage of, and everyday I plead my case before myself as judge. When the lamp has been removed from my sight, and my house has fallen silent, I examine the whole of my day and retrace my actions and words; I hide nothing from myself, pass over nothing. For why should I be afraid of any of my mistakes, when I can say: ‘Beware of doing that again, and this time I pardon you. In that discussion you spoke too aggressively: do not, after this, clash with people of no experience; those who have never learned make unwilling pupils. You were more outspoken in criticizing that man then you should have been, and so you offended, rather than improved him: in the future have regard not only for the truth of what you say but for the question of whether the man you are addressing can accept the truth: a good man welcomes criticism, but the worse a man is, the fiercer his resentment of the person correcting him’?

Seneca, On Anger, Book 3, Section 36

Undertaking a nightly reflection is one strategy that the Stoics present to us to examine our impressions, actions, words and behaviours. A chance for us to set aside some focused time to examine if we are conducting ourselves in accordance with Nature. I decided to give the nightly reflection a go and make this a part of my night routine. It took about six months of nightly reflections to fill my journal.  

For me, the structure I decided to use was to dot point out my day, and then move into a reflections piece at the end, where I recorded where I wanted to improve, what my learnings and reflections were. When I went back to do a review, I was able to see just how much I had accomplished, the things I had done, events attended, and so forth, that I had forgotten all about!  

If you’re considering incorporating a nightly reflection into your daily routine, here’s some of my own takeaways and learnings: 

  1. Use a template or design that works for you. A common template is to answer three questions – what did I do well today? What did I do not so well today? What could be improved? 
  2. Write when it works best for you. It does not need to be done ‘once the lamp has been removed from sight and the house has fallen silent.’ I tried. I was too tired. I didn’t want to do it. It won’t work if you have had days where you haven’t acted accordingly. For me, doing this either right before or after dinner worked best. I had ample time, and energy, to properly reflect. As a result, it was something I wanted to do rather than being something I had to do 
  3. If you are in the mood to write, then write. You don’t have to wait until night time, or when it’s next ‘scheduled.’ If you have comments to make to yourself, then write away 
  4. Physical journalling worked for me. I enjoyed the slower process of putting pen to paper. We are also luckily to have new technologies, so if you prefer, use Notes, or Word, or DayOne, etc. It’s your practice, so use what you feel comfortable using 
  5. It’s okay to write when you feel the need to, rather than each day. Again, it’s your personal practice. What works for you works. 
  6. It doesn’t just have to be about you and your review. It a quote comes to mind, write it down. If a friend said something insightful during a catchup, record it along with your reflections 
  7. Don’t forget to review and revisit your prior reflections. Are there any recurrent themes? Are you making progress? What do you need to focus on next? 
  8. Be kind. Remember that we are all on our own paths towards the Sage. We will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, form incorrect impressions. Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

As an exercise, the nightly reflection is something that I recommend that you try out and give it a go. If you have any other recommendations, tips or thoughts, let us know.






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