Sharpening the thinking

Feedback loops







Those are the words I scrabbled out to jumpstart today’s morning pages. I’m not a daily journaler but I try; and I do notice that it grounds me every time I get consistent in the practice. I use my journal session as a way to dump what’s nibbling at me just below the surface and help me either confront or discard the topic about which I’m writing. Today, like most days, I had no idea where to begin or where my writing would take me. That’s part of the design. Just get it out. But unlike most days, I began today with those single words.

I just began writing words that touch on areas I want to improve. When I wrote “acceptance” it was like a mini flag was waving saying, “work on this, you dummy.” I judge too much and it starts with my own self judgment. Gonna be my theme for rest of the month: Judge less. Accept more. 😃

In the world of no coincidences (yeah, I think it’s alllll connected and seemingly random at the same time), today’s Daily Stoic newsletter just reinforced this practice even more. With apologies to Ryan Holiday — I just have to copy/pasta the full thing. It’s just that good.

Michel Foucault has a fascinating essay on journaling entitled “Self-Writing.” In it, he describes journaling as a “weapon in spiritual combat,” which is a brilliant phrase. That might seem to be overstating it, after all, is it really such a big deal to write down some of your thoughts in a notebook?
Yes. It is a big deal. As he puts it, “writing constitutes a test and a kind of touchstone: by bringing to light impulses of thought, it dispels the darkness where the enemy’s plot are hatched.” He quotes Seneca and Epictetus as evidence of this, since both believed that simply reading or listening to philosophy wasn’t enough. Philosophy to the Stoics was not just “practical” but designed to be practiced. You had to write it down too, you had to show your work. You had to put the issues you were struggling with down on paper and go through the motion of articulating the solution that you’d heard from a master or a teacher.
Foucault explains that this process has two benefits. First, it takes the philosophy from “meditation to the activity of writing and from there to…training and trial in a real situation — a labor of thought, a labor through writing, a labor in reality.” The second part, he says, is this becomes an endless, productive cycle. “The meditation precedes the notes which enable the rereading which in turn reinitiates the meditation.”
It’s quite beautiful. You learn. You struggle. You journal about the struggle. You apply what you’ve journaled about to your struggle. You reread your journaling and it teaches you new lessons to journal about and use in future struggles. It’s a truly virtuous feedback loop.
But of course, this process can only happen if you do the work. If you make time for the journaling and the writing, if you submit to the cycle. Too often, we are unwilling to do that. We claim we don’t have time. We are too self-conscious. We don’t have the right materials.
Nonsense. Start. Today. Now.

Looking forward to the virtuous feedback loop. If you read this and happen to also interact with me on a regular basis, call me out when I get too judgey. I feel like it comes from a deep insecurity that I’m always being judged myself. I believe in having a strong point of view and opinion on things, but when that veers into the extreme, that’s when the judging kicks in.

Curious — if you had one word that waves a flag at you, what might that be?

Get @ me, people!