After trying Marcus Aurelius' Stoic morning routine for the past 28 days, I have to say that it's starting to change my life.
Now you may be saying "how the hell do you know what Marcus Aurelius did every single morning? He doesn't have a blog or anything like that?"
Well, you're right. I can't be certain what he did, but after reading his private journal, Meditations, we have a pretty good guess at five different things he probably did every morning.
Stoic Morning Ritual 1: Voluntary Discomfort
“Set aside a certain number of days during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with the coarse and rough dress. Save yourself the while: Is this the condition that I feared?”
Voluntary discomfort is a concept frequently discussed in the Philosophy of Stoicism. Summarised, it means that you should purposefully put yourself in discomfort, in order to increase mental fortitude.
When I apply this in my Stoic morning routine, I cheat - I start the evening before, not in the morning. You see, every single evening I go and I sleep on the floor. Now, this is much my girlfriend's dismay, but I do it anyway.
How Voluntary Discomfort Affects Your Comfort Zone
The main difference I've noticed since I started doing this is that I'm generally just less scared of my comfort zone. Every single morning I'm purposely doing something that's outside of my comfort zone - trust me, sleeping on the floor is not comfortable at all. So it's telling my subconscious brain to not be so scared of going outside of that comfort zone.
Will Smith once said that “God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror". If you would like to listen to the full video of his speech, then watch this clip down below.
Stoic Morning Ritual 2: Negative Visualisation
Now after I've woken up from the floor, I go ahead and do something which is called negative visualisation. It is basically where you sit down and you start imagining all of the different things that could go wrong in your life, all of the different negative things that you would usually push to the back of your mind. During negative visualisation, you confront them and imagine them happening to you. I know this sounds a bit weird, and it definitely contradicts the "law of attraction", but Marcus Aurelius talked about this a lot.
The quote that started me exploring a Stoic morning routine is actually one from Seneca, another philosopher who helped popularise the Philosophy of Stoicism, and it goes like this:
“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect and unexpectedness as to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen, has never failed to intensify a person's grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events”.
When I negative visualise, I sit down for a set period of time (normally just five minutes) and I hunt around for things that could go wrong in my life. When I'm doing this, I'm not just aimlessly stuck in my head, I'm hunting for a very specific kind of emotion. The best way to describe this is a "jolt of energy" that you feel when you strike a nerve on something that really hits home.
Benefits Of Stoic Negative Visualisation
The main reason to do this is simple: by thinking of all the things that could go wrong, you're mentally preparing yourself if that thing does go wrong. So if it does go wrong, you're going to be less mentally hurt. Basically, you're preparing for all eventualities so life can never catch you off-balance.
Second of all, by thinking all the things that could go wrong, you're automatically less likely for those things to go have to go wrong because you've thought about them before. For example, if I negatively visualise myself crossing the road and getting hit by a car, the next time I'm crossing the road, I'm more aware of the negative possibility and its consequences, so I make sure I'm extra careful.
And finally, it makes you more grateful for what you have. My girlfriend, Claire, is a Student Nurse, and recently I asked her “How does seeing unfit people in the hospital wards make you feel?” she roughly replied: “Seeing them being unable to do certain things makes me very grateful for my health and my ability to do whatever I want”. She also explained that she is less likely to become unfit and unhealthy in the future because she has seen what it has done to them and their health. Most of us aren't able to see the effects of bad life choices as easily as Claire, so we have to tap into the power of the mind to harness the benefits of negative visualisation.
Stoic Morning Ritual 3: The Stoic Art of Journaling
After I've done my negative visualisation, I take a cold shower. Now, why do I do this? Well, aside from the health benefits, the main reason I do this is that it fires me up with energy, and fuels me with motivation to go and crush the day.
The secondary benefit of the cold shower is that it completely clears my mind and makes me think clearly and rationally. This leads perfects onto harnessing the benefits of Stoicism through journaling.
Now, we know that March Aurelius journaled through his Meditations, but I started journaling a year ago and it's completely changed my life.
Benefits of Stoic Journaling
The main reason that I journal is that it gives me the direct plan for me to crush my day. It makes the difficult things in the day that much easier. It also makes me more grateful.
Stoic Morning Ritual 4: The Stoic Perception of Time
Now, after I've journaled, I then move on to reminding myself of the importance of time. Now the first thing I do is I tell myself that my potential is limitless or at least my potential is almost unlimited. What that means is that I can do whatever I want to, whatever I set my mind to. My potential is not capped by any external factor apart from myself. And when I tell myself that my potential is limitless, I'm automatically filled with energy to go out there and impact the world.
If your potential is truly limitless, (and I think it's so close to truly limitless) then if you harness all of your energy into doing good in the world. If you have the potential to do amazing things, then by you not doing those amazing things, then you're wasting that precious time.
The most effective end to a Stoicism morning routine is to remind yourself of the impermanence of time.
"It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it." - Seneca