Review Your Day: The Stoic Evening Routine
“I make use of this opportunity, daily pleading my case at my own court. When the light has been taken away and my wife has fallen silent, aware as she is of my habit, I examine my entire day, going through what I have done and said. I conceal nothing from myself, I pass nothing by. I have nothing to fear from my errors when I can say: ‘See that you do not do this anymore. For the moment, I excuse you.’” – Seneca
Rehearse your day in the morning, review your progress in the evening. At the end of each day, sit down with your journal and review: What did you do? What did you well? What not so well? How could you improve?
Keep constant watch over yourself and put up each day for personal review. Just like Marcus Aurelius did with his Meditations. He sat down to reflect on the day to gain personal clarity, and he wrote entirely to himself, not the public. And yet we read it two thousand years later . . .
Seneca says if we want our minds to flourish, we must improve by asking questions such as:
- What bad habit have you put right today?
- Which fault did you take a stand against?
- In what respect are you better?
Like a Stoic: Sit down each night and plead your case at your own court.
Seneca compares this self-examination as pleading his case each night at his own court. He judges his actions and tries to make sure to not make the same mistakes again. A good man, he says, is glad to receive advice, while a poor man resents any guidance.
Epictetus advises to ask similar questions before you go to bed to review your acts. Additionally, he asks what duties are left undone, to make sure you get to them the next day.
The nightly self-analysis will help you gain control over your negative emotions because you subconsciously know you’ll be judged by night. So you can lessen your anger and other emotional reactions. Seneca says you will even sleep better.
Most importantly, the reflection routine will contribute to your mindfulness throughout the day. Attention, as the Stoics call it, is a prerequisite to practice Stoicism. If you want to express your highest self at all times, you must be aware of your actions. Otherwise you might slip and fall into reactivity. And you essentially give up being a philosopher because you don’t know what you do. You are mindless.
This is why daily reflection routines are crucial in Stoic philosophy—if you don’t know where you went wrong, how are you supposed to improve as a person? If you don’t know how you want to behave in the world, how can you be your best?
For example, one evening you reflect that you reacted like a jerk in traffic when this other driver cut you off and you ranted and raved. Next time you find yourself in the same situation, and if you’re mindful enough, you decide to do better and stay calm, patient, and forgiving.
This is a no-brainer. Take five minutes each night to consciously recall the events of the day and review your actions. What did you do well? What not so? Did something upset you? Did you experience anger, envy, fear? How could you improve next time?
Combined with the Stoic morning routine, this is the perfect self-improvement tool: Your mental preparation combined with self-analysis will lead to continuous learning and self-growth. Plus it will make you more mindful of your actions.
Personally, I do the good, better, best exercise. I ask myself three simple questions:
- Good: What did I do well today?
- Better: How could I improve? What could I do better?
- Best: What do I need to do if I want to be the best version of myself?
Attention: Always stay kind and forgiving to yourself. Show some self-compassion. You're trying your best, that's all you can do. And even if you don't feel well, that's normal, everybody struggles and experiences setbacks. Take this to heart: always be kind to yourself.
This is one of 55 Stoic practices from my upcoming book The Little Book of Stoicism.