Stoicism: Day 20 – Writing as Forced Reflection

My 20th ice bath felt warm. It must have had something to do with the beautiful 50-degree weather outside. The fact that 50-degree weather feels warm is a testament to the practice of exposing yourself to cold temperatures. We have had some cold days here in DC, so when it’s 50 degrees out, it feels like it’s a much more pleasant 75 degrees. My efforts to combat hedonic adaptation are working.

But I digress. The topic I really want to discuss is the role writing plays in my month of Stoic ice baths.

Every morning I force myself to write about my experiences as it relates to Stoicism. I’ve done this consistently for the past 20 days. I enjoy the practice.

Sometimes writing is easy. A topic quickly comes to mind and I’m able to fill the page with coherent sentences that tell a story readers will be able to internalize.

Other days I struggle to come up with s new insights or something interesting to say.

But, the act of writing forces me to reflect on Stoic concepts and how successfully or unsuccessfully I applied them in my daily life.

For example, when I was coming up with a topic to write about today, I thought maybe I would write about my desire to respond to someone’s very wrong (in my mind) opinion about women’s pay parity. It took a lot of energy to resist joining in the very silly Facebook comment debate, and even more restraint to not spark an argument with my girlfriend about it. I considered that a victory worth writing about.

Another reflection that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t force myself to write is the thought about how good I feel when other people praise my writing.

I ride the high for longer than I should. I constantly re-visit those ego-boosting e-mails. It’s not very Stoic, and it’s very vain. I should be extra suspicious of the fact that it is my friends saying nice things about my work and that I could, in reality, be an awful writer with nothing interesting to say.

Indeed, Epictetus thinks the admiration of other people is a negative barometer of our progress as Stoics: “If people think you amount to something, distrust yourself.” – William Irving

Writing is a useful tool to force reflection and deep thinking. Combined with the ice baths and the reading of Stoic literature, it becomes very powerful.

If I weren’t writing about my experience, I might not have thought about my impulse to start a political argument or why it’s not Stoic to let praise get to your head.

If you are considering embarking on a Stoic self-improvement plan, I highly recommend writing as a way to force yourself to reflect on you how well you are implementing Stoic principles in your daily life.