“I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully — will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil — that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past” — Seneca, Moral Letters, 83.2
There is a common expression that history repeats itself. The question is…why? Why do we, as highly evolved conscious beings, keep making the same mistakes again and again? We keep going to wars knowing the destruction it leads to. In the last century itself, we went through World War 1, only to go through another world war two decades later. The emperors in ancient Rome kept making the same mistakes by treating their own people poorly and letting power get to their heads. Just take a look at how many kings were overthrown by the people in ancient Rome. Even in our personal lives, we keep making the same mistakes. How many days do we snooze our alarms and get to work late? How many times do we let anger or greed cloud our judgment? The Stoics have the answer. We keep making the same mistakes because we forget history. We forget our past and we forget how we handled the same situations in our past. And we make choices in our present without taking into account our past actions and their consequences. We live our lives as if we were reading the same book again and again, and each time forgetting what we read as soon as the book ends. Such behavior is irresponsible on our part and is what leads to problems in our lives and in the world. The fact that we don’t reflect upon our lives is what makes us evil. Seneca reminds us that we should reflect upon our past. Thinking deliberately about our past reasoning, actions, and consequences makes our current judgment more informed and hence, better. This is the reason the stoics were great proponents of the daily habit of journaling. Daily journaling — thinking about our day and our thoughts and actions during that day — evolves our logic and reasoning. We are able to learn from history and that makes our present and our future better. Doing this daily would help us make certain that we are better at the end of the day than we were when the day began.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.