Sunday, November 23, 2014

Preparing for Stoic Week - How to use Donald Robertson's Stoic Self-Monitoring Form

Tomorrow is the start of Stoic Week, and now is the time to do the questionnaires and read the first few pages of the handbook.
It's also a good time to begin Stoic Self-Monitoring

Donald Robertson has created an excellent form in his recommended book, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness to help you do this and it explains in the booklet how to use the form.  I thought it would be useful to give some (hypothetical) entries.

Stoic Self-Monitoring Record Sheet 
Instructions: Use this sheet to record your thoughts, actions, and feelings in challenging situations. As soon as you notice troubling emotions or desires arising (called “passions” in Stoicism), pause and take a step back from the initial “impression” (or thought) underlying them. Then ask yourself whether the thing you’re becoming upset about is actually under your control (“up to you”) or not. Also try to record your actions, their consequences, and whether they were actually beneficial or not.

Below is an illustrative examples which shows how to do the sheet and also how useful Stoic self-monitoring can be!

Briefly describe the situation.
Feelings (Passions)
Include early-warning signs.
Thoughts (Impressions)
Particularly those causing feelings.
Is this “up to you” or not?
Were they beneficial?
1.  Driving to work, car blocking my way to get onto roundabout
Early sign, clenched teeth, “should”
That’s so inconsiderate! Don’t they realise they are blocking me!
Not up to me at all
I swore under my breath, just got me upset, did no good
2. Interview tomorrow
Anxious, worried
“What if thoughts”
Feeling tense
“What if they ask me questions I cant answer?”
Image of myself looking stupid
What they ask isn’t up to me.
However I can prepare for the interview
Decided not to worry but instead to spend half an hour researching the company which was useful
3.Don't get a reply to my email to friend
Concerned about friendship
They obviously aren’t as interested in the friendship as me
They don’t like me
I can't make everyone like me
I can't control what other people do
I can control my response.
Dwelt on it for a while which made me feel worse
Then remembered this Stoic monitoring and just let it go “what will be, will be”

Let's look at the three example entries above in a bit more detail.

In the first example the writer now realises that his angry thoughts about the other driver was about what is not "up to me" and it wasnt beneficial, it did no good, just got him upset. This entry can feed into the evening Stoic meditation where we reflect on what we have done well and less well. The writer would reflect that next time they felt the first impulse to get upset about a driver, they would remind themselves that what the driver did was not under his control and so would not get upset about it.

The second example is about anxiety and illustrates how a lot of it can be about what we can't control - so no point worrying about it. However I can control how much preparation I do, so that's where I should focus my energy. In this case doing the entry helps me change what I do, so in my evening meditation I can say "job well done".

The third example is about sadness, and this is a more mixed example. The writer does ruminate for a while, but then realises that this is pointless and is able to let it go.

I hope these examples illustrates the usefulness of the form -  have a go at using it and let me know how you get on. You can also blog about your experiences in Stoic Week at

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