A few years ago I took up morning and evening meditations.
The evening meditation, as I practice it at least, involves:
- Reviewing what one did that was good, and commending oneself for that.
- Reviewing errors of omission.
- Reviewing errors of commission.
The morning meditation involves:
- Anticipating challenges I might face today, and planning how I should respond to them, i.e., virtuously.
- Engaging in the View from Above.
- Imagining the worst events that might happen today (extreme form of #1), and planning to respond to them virtuously (with courage and equanimity).
Here are some of my attempts to enhance these techniques with an emphasis on personal development with knowledge.
Morning: Today’s challenges are typically related to yesterday’s
I think typical struggles are pattern-based. As such, yesterday’s challenges will often be today’s challenges. So, in the morning I typically borrow from the previous evening’s review of errors, the source of which may be challenges today. Then I augment the list with what’s on the agenda for today, which is also an opportunity to plan my day.
Evening: Successes and failures of applying knowledge
I am not immune to the major challenge of the Knowledge Age described in my Cognitive Productivity books: the difficulty of applying prior knowledge or transferring learning. In Principle 7, Apply Knowledge, of Cognitive Productivity with macOS®: 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge, I described how the stoic evening meditation can be enhanced to help address these problems. In the morning, I try to examine my errors in terms of how I could have applied previously read theories, principles, concepts, strategies, etc., during this day.
I find it relatively easy to use practical books for this purpose. For instance, I’ve long been in the habit of mentally reviewing how I could better have used John Gottman’s principles with my spouse. It’s much more difficult to find gaps in application of theoretical knowledge. But I try. And I think this manifests itself (positively) the next day when I’m working on problems. The prior review primes me to step back from my desk and ask myself “what do I know that is pertinent to this issue?” This is something I love to do and that, I think, boosts one’s ability to answer the question.
Like numeric literacy, this is an example of dispositions and skills with broad transfer, meaning it enables one to more often and better utilize swaths of knowledge.
Morning: mental contrasting with implementation intentions
I also often use a variant of MCII ( mental contrasting with implementation intentions) in my morning meditations. In a nutshell, the idea is to anticipate volitional challenges and to contrast them with specific valued outcomes.
For instance, to be less distracted by the urge to read news, I constrast this with the completion of valued projects. Then I review rules for dealing with distractions, such as:
- Close web browser windows,
- Keep Mail.app on my Mac focused on focused smart mailboxes,
- no reading news in bed in the morning, and
- quantifying the time I spend reading news. I explained on this website, under mySelfQuantifier, how and why this might help.
Using a modern concept of virtue
Instead of limiting myself to the Stoic list of virtues, I think in terms of Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004)’s Character Strengths and Virtues.
Side-benefit of a disciplined mental life
Rumination is a major correlate, and indeed a cause, of distress. Having enough mental routines, like Stoic meditations, listening to podcasts, productive practice, using cognitive tasks lists (for creative problematization and problem-solving), and engaging in mindfulness, hardly leaves any time for rumination. That potentially means: less distress, more productivity, and more effectiveness.
Cognitive Productivity with macOS®: 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge discusses several of these practices.
Over to You
How do you use Stoic meditation or similar anticipatory techniques to self-regulate?