Prepare Yourself for the Day: The Stoic Morning Routine
“When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil.” – Marcus Aurelius
One of the most advocated routines by the Stoics is to take time to look inward, examine, and reflect. Best times to do that? In the morning after rising and in the evening before you go to bed.
Epictetus advises to rehearse the day in the morning, and then review your progress in the evening. At daybreak, we should ask ourselves a few questions:
- What do I still lack in order to achieve freedom from negative emotions?
- What do I need to achieve tranquility?
- What am I? – A rational being.
The idea is to get better each and every day. Get a step closer toward our goals. Also, we should remind ourselves of our rational nature so we don’t (over-)identify with body, property, or reputation. We better aspire to greater reason and virtue, and meditate on our actions.
Marcus Aurelius proposes to remind yourself in the morning “of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
And as seen in the opening quote, he wants us to prepare to meet challenging people later in the day (that's classic negative visualization).
Today and every day, you can almost be certain to meet someone who seems like a jerk. The question is: Will you be ready for it? If you prepare yourself in the morning, chances improve that you’ll be ready to face challenging interactions with patience, forgiveness, understanding, and kindness.
To be clear: You do not prepare to be against the world, you prepare to act reasonably within a chaotic world where not everybody is as well prepared as you are.
Marcus further reminds himself that those people who oppose him are akin to him, “not of the same blood or birth as me, but the same mind.” And these relatives can neither harm him nor can he be angry with them, because we are made for cooperation.
Seneca reminds himself of the impermanence of things each morning: “The wise will start each day with the thought, ‘Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own.’ Nothing, whether public or private, is stable.”
He continues and says, whatever has been reared over the work of years can be destroyed within a few seconds. How many towns in Syria and Macedonia have been swallowed up by a single shock of earthquake? How often has this kind of devastation laid Cyprus in ruins?
“We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die. Mortal have you been born, to mortals you have given birth. Reckon on everything, expect everything.” – Seneca
In other words: Memento mori (remember you are mortal). This mental preparation in the morning will help you focus on the important things and you be ready to meet difficulties with calmness, resilience, and patience.
Expect everything and be ready for anything—only so can you be your best at all times.
Morning preparation is crucial if you want to keep your calm and express your highest self even in the midst of a storm.
Modify the Stoics’ morning routines to your liking; maybe you want to form a plan for the day or maybe you want to give yourself a pep talk, maybe you want to exercise, meditate, or journal, and maybe you want to sing under the shower. Feel free, just make sure to keep a regular morning routine.
Always remember: "Mortal have you been born, to mortals you have given birth. Reckon on everything, expect everything."
This is one of 55 Stoic practices in the second part of my upcoming book The Little Book of Stoicism.