The Stoic way to put the finishing touches on your day
We rightly place a lot of importance on our morning routines.
Even if we’re not consistently doing the things we know will help us prepare for the day, we at least know we should be.
We know the benefits of early journaling to clear the sleep-fogged mind, of mentally rehearsing Stoic maxims, and of short meditations that will give us a strong mental foundation on which to build a good day.
The Stoics valued their mornings too.
Marcus Aurelius was an early riser, reminding himself not to waste the time he has been granted by huddling under the blankets.
Once out of bed, he would meditate on the difficulties that lay ahead that day so that he would meet them better prepared.
Seneca agreed. In a letter to his friend Lucilius, he advised that we are more industrious if we “anticipate the day and welcome the dawn”, but are letting ourselves down if we “lie dozing when the sun is high in the heavens.”
A Stoic Evening Routine
With such a focus on starting and getting through the day, however, it can be easy to be less mindful of how we finish it.
Having expended our energy on the tasks and responsibilities that filled our morning and afternoon, we don’t want to think about an evening routine. We just want to relax, decompress, and recharge.
The good news is that an evening routine doesn’t need to be mentally taxing.
Done the right way, it can gently draw a line under the day that has just passed, and put the mind at rest, ready for satisfied slumber.
If your morning routine is your start-up cycle, your evening routine is your shut-down sequence.
Here is a short Stoic evening routine you can try that will help you happily put the finishing touches on your day.
When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by.Seneca, On Anger 3.36
With a short session of evening journaling, you can review the events of your day.
This is an important practice in self-improvement as it reveals what you can do better tomorrow while allowing you to let go of the events of the day just gone.
When reviewing your day, always remember: the goal is never to beat yourself up for the mistakes you made. It is simply to create an awareness of those mistakes and to commit to not making them again.
Here are three prompts you can use:
1: What did I do well today?
2: What could I have done better today?
3: How will I improve tomorrow?
Admit not sleep into your tender eyelidsEpictetus, Discourses 3.10
Till you have reckoned up each deed of the day —
How have I erred, what done or left undone?
So start, and so review your acts, and then
For vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.
Having completed your short journaling exercise, it’s a good idea to sit for a moment and think about the review of your day.
Specifically, you can go over the small actions you will take tomorrow to implement the improvements you wrote about in the third journal prompt.
You can do this in silence, or to go into more detail you can use this guided meditation that reinforces the themes used in the journal prompts:
3. Contemplation of Finality
This short contemplation is intentionally the last part of the evening routine.
This is the last act that reminds you to leave nothing undone so you can rest satisfied with your day.
As Seneca put it, “One who daily puts the finishing touches to his life is never in want of time.”
It’s a short contemplation of finality and it comes directly from Seneca’s 12th letter to Lucilius:
Let us go to our sleep with joy and gladness; let us say:
“I have lived; the course which Fortune set for me
And if God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts.
That man is happiest, and is secure in his own possession of himself, who can await the morrow without apprehension.
When a man has said: “I have lived!”, every morning he arises he receives a bonus.
*In these two lines, Seneca was quoting Vergil, Aeneid, iv. 653.
After reading this contemplation of Seneca’s, simply say to yourself: “I have lived.”
Tomorrow will come.
Fate permitting, your will eyes open.
Then you can welcome the dawn and gratefully receive the latest new day you’ve been granted.
You have completed your 3-step easy evening routine. All that remains now is to go to sleep.
As Ryan Holiday writes in Discipline is Destiny, to do so early is an act of character:
We say “I’m not a morning person,” but that is almost certainly because we have been an irresponsible or undisciplined evening person. The best way to master the morning is to have mastered it the night before…
Early to bed. Early to rise…
You want to think clearly tomorrow? You want to handle the small things right? You want to have the energy to hustle? Go to sleep. Not just because your health depends on it, but because it is an act of character from which all our other decisions and actions descend.