The Stoic Exercise deemed most useful, averaging a 4.3 star rating (out of five) is
The Retrospective Evening Meditation
This is the description from the Stoic Booklet (p. 13)
Mentally review the whole of the preceding day three times from beginning to end,
and even the days before if necessary.
1.1. What done amiss? Ask yourself what mistakes you made and condemn (not yourself
but) what actions you did badly; do so in a moderate and rational manner.
1.2. What done? Ask yourself what virtue, i.e., what strength or wisdom you showed,
and sincerely praise yourself for what you did well.
1.3. What left undone? Ask yourself what could be done better, i.e., what you should do
instead next time if a similar situation occurs.
This exercise also proved to be the most popular of the Stoic exercises in the booklet. Why not try it tonight?
The booklet also contains a longer version (pages 24-25 of the booklet), complete with original Stoic references, as follows:-
Key text one: Seneca, On Anger
‘All our senses should be trained to acquire strength; they are by nature capable of endurance, provided that the mind, which should be called daily to account for itself, does not persist in undermining them [through improper use of the impressions]. This was the habit of Sextius, so that at the day’s end, when he had retired to his nightly rest, he questioned his mind: ‘What bad habit have you put right today? Which fault did you take a stand against? In what respect are you better?’ Anger will abate and become more controlled when it knows it must come before a judge each day. Is anything more admirable than this custom of examining the whole day? How sound the sleep that follows such self-appraisal, how peaceful, how deep and free, when the mind has either praised or taken itself to task, and this secret investigator and critic of itself has made judgement of its own character! This is a privilege I take advantage of, and every day I plead my case before myself as judge. When the lamp has been removed from my sight, and my wife, no stranger now to my habit, has fallen silent, I examine the whole of my day and retrace my actions and words l I hide nothing from myself, pass over nothing. For why should I be afraid of any of my mistakes, when I can say: ‘Beware of doing that again, and this time I pardon you’?
Key text two: Epictetus, Key Discourses 3.10.2-3
“Allow not sleep to close your wearied eyes,
Until you have reckoned up each daytime deed:
‘Where did I go wrong? What did I do? And what duty’s left undone?’
From first to last review your acts and then
Reprove yourself for wretched [or cowardly] acts, but rejoice in those done well.”
Guidance: Having considered both of these, the evening meditation therefore
appears to be composed of three elements in Epictetus’ example:
1. “Where did I go wrong in matters conducive to serenity and personal
2. “What did I do that was unfriendly, or antisocial, or inconsiderate?”
3. “What duty was left undone in regard to my personal serenity and social
Seneca, on the other hand, described asking himself a slightly different set of
questions, following the practice of Sextius:
1. “What evils have you cured yourself of today?”
2. “What vices have you fought?”
3. “In what sense are you better?”
Presumably, therefore, if a philosopher concluded that he had acted badly or failed to
follow his principles, on awakening the next morning he would take account of this
and redouble his efforts to prepare for similar challenges ahead.
The Exercise: At night, before going to sleep, take 5-10 minutes to review the events
of your day, picturing them in your mind if possible. It’s best if you can do this before
actually getting in to bed, where you might begin to feel drowsy rather than thinking
clearly. You may find it helpful to write notes in a journal at this time also. Try to
remember the order in which you encountered different people throughout the day,
the tasks you engaged in, what you said and did, etc. You may want to approach this
as a way of strengthening your ability to recall memories. However, for Stoics, the
most important aspect of the exercise is that you question whether you could have
lived more consistently in the service of the chief good, the cardinal virtues, and
personal flourishing. Ask yourself the following questions (or questions similar to
1. What did you do badly? Did you do allow yourself to be ruled by fears or
desire of an excessive, irrational, or unhealthy kind?
2. What did you do well? Did you make progress by strengthening your virtues?
3. What did you omit? Did you overlook any opportunities to exercise virtue or
strength of character?
4. Consider how anything done badly or neglected could be done differently in
the future [do this without criticism of yourself, but instead of the actions
5. Praise yourself for anything done well
In doing this, you are also rehearsing the role of a friend and wise counsellor, toward
yourself, and that relationship should be kept in mind.
Just realised that the following passage from Epictetus seems to allude to a similar sort of self-examination:
“Consider which of the things that you purposed at the start you have achieved, and which you have not; likewise, how it gives you pleasure to recall some of them, and pain to recall others, and, if possible, recover also those things which slipped out of your grasp.” (Discourses, 3.25.1)