How to Declutter Your Mind Like Marcus Aurelius

notebook on a desk with coffee and some paper clips

If you have seen the movie Gladiator, chances are, you have already encountered Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus is the father of Commodus and although the movie contains some historical inaccuracies, it is true that he was a Roman Emperor and a philosopher. In his time, he was regarded as one of the most powerful men in the world.

He led the Roman army in different campaigns against barbaric tribes while protecting the empire’s affairs against oppression. With his virtue and philosophy, justice reigned in Rome. 

Now, you ask, how did Marcus Aurelius, emperor of a great empire, leader of a million lives, declutter his mind and unleash his willpower?

Well, the answer is actually very simple: Marcus kept a journal.

Today, his journal, published as Meditations, is considered one of the most important works of the ancient world.

Yet to him, back in 170-175 AD, his journal was a way of decluttering his mind by recording his deepest thoughts and reflections in order to give himself moral advice in carrying out the burden of his obligation.  

Marcus lived a very long time ago but the act of journaling survives up to this very day. What most people have not recognized is that journaling enables us to visualize the stream of our thoughts instead of them cluttered everywhere in our minds.

It helps us to fully declutter our minds, enabling us to sort out which thoughts are worth our time and which ones are not, ultimately gaining control over our mind.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

MARCUS AURELIUS

What is Journaling?

For us to be able to grasp why journaling is important and what really is the big deal about it, let’s give it a little definition: 

Journaling is a free-form written expression of one's thoughts, daily experiences, and self-reflections. 

pink watch and notebook table flat lay

And that’s it. 

The part about what to write and how to write it is entirely up to you (but to get you started, I’ve shared some tips on how to journal like Marcus in the later part of this post).

You can define your own journal. That’s the beauty of journaling, you can tweak it in any way or method that is effective to you.

What are the benefits of Journaling?

Wait, you’re still reading and not starting a journal? Is Marcus’ example not enough to convince you? How about Mark Twain? He also kept a journal. Beethoven? No? Isaac Newton? What, still no?

OK, fine, then. It’s time for Science.

In an attempt to convince you to open a notebook and write down your thoughts, here’s a list of journaling benefits backed by science1:

Know Thyself

silhouette of a person balancing

I know, I know, I said science, but then here I present a Socratic aphorism. Well, science tells us that journaling helps you understand yourself better.

By examining your thoughts and emotions, you get a clearer picture of your wants, your happiness, your fears, and pretty much anything about you.

It helps you gain an insight into who you are and who you want to be.

Stress Management

landscape view with sunlight streaming

To all the stressed out 21st, century students out there and to the young professionals who find the working life to be depressing (thanks, Capitalism), here’s a sign from the universe: go and pick up a piece of paper and write down everything that is bothering you.

Doing so validates all your negative emotions instead of trapping them, unacknowledged, inside your minds. 

“Can journaling help with anxiety?”

Yes, definitely.

Expressing your anxiety, anger, dissatisfaction, sadness, or grief through writing not only boosts your mood, but will also give your mental health a high-five. 

Thought Management

person holding light bulb

Here it is, the reason why you clicked this blog post. Journaling offers you a way to organize your thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

It helps you see them visually, written or drawn on a piece of paper in front of you rather than being casually strewn around in your head. Furthermore, it helps you refocus your attention to the things that actually matter.

Problem Management

silhouette of man flying

Journaling is a very good way of stimulating all that infinite brainpower in your head. 

You may not know this, but writing actually liberates the right side of your brain, the one in-charge of feeling and creativity. When this happens, your right brain is now available to think of fresh perspectives on the problems that your analytical left-brain has not thought of before!

Self-Validation

woman in a field of yellow flowers holding up a mirror

(Perhaps the most important benefit of journaling for me as I struggle through my insecurities in life.)

Journaling is one way of expressing ourselves and assuring ourselves that what we feel is valid, what we think is valid, and what we express is valid. It helps us recognize our weaknesses and helps us learn to accept them.

We’re all very familiar with the feeling of envy. With journaling, we can express our jealousy properly, acknowledge that we are jealous, accept it and then let it go. It gives us an outlet of expression and acceptance instead of lashing out on our jealousies.

Bonus Benefit: Writing Improvement

brown mug on top of stack of books

If you’re a writer, or an aspiring author, journaling is a very effective way of practicing your craft.

Not only does it stimulate your creativity to help you overcome writing blocks, it also gives you an opportunity to practice writing regularly minus the pressure.

Journaling like Marcus Aurelius

“How do I begin journaling?” 

“What should I write about?”

“What’s an effective way of journaling?”

To answer these questions, let’s refer to the first three chapters of Marcus’ journal as he is our role model in the journaling world.

Beginning with Gratitude

today i am grateful book

The very first chapter of Marcus’ journal, or The First Book as it is called (since Meditations is divided into books) contains his appreciation for the people that were close to his heart and their positive impact in his life.

Taking Marcus’ lead, list down everything and everyone that matters to you like your:

  • Family (Parents, Siblings, Relatives
  • Best Friends
  • Pets
  • Mentors
  • Special Persons
  • Significant Relationships
  • Talents
  • Achievements & Honors
  • Accomplished Goals (no matter how small)
  • Favorite Role Models
  • Favorite Objects
  • Feel-good Songs, Books, Movies
  • Favorite Hobbies/Activities

Allow yourself to feel grateful for everything, from simply being able to spend time with these people, to being able to do and enjoy the things you are passionate about.

As you progress in your journaling, you can also try gratitude journaling by writing down all the things you feel thankful for each day.

Into the Divine Providence

gray angel statue

The Second Book involves Marcus’ sentiments on the involvement of the gods in the lives of humans. He believes in a providence that guides things for balance and serenity.

To jump-start your journey into spiritual growth, here are some questions you can try to answer and explore in your journal:

  • What does spirituality mean to you?
  • Do you believe you have a soul? Why?
  • What makes up the good and the bad? Do you believe that they are both essential in life?
  • Define the qualities of a good person. Do you strive to become one? Why?
  • Reflect on the evils of anger and lust. Which do you think is worse?
  • Do you believe in God (or any other gods)? Why?
  • What do you think is the role of God (or any other gods) in your life?
  • What gives your life purpose?
  • What do you think is your purpose?
  • Write about your spiritual beliefs and your guiding principles.
  • What is death? And what do you think happens to you when you die?

Self-discovery

hands outstretched to the sky

In his Third Book, Marcus’ contemplates on the duration of one’s life and the importance of living a life of reason.

He emphasizes that living longer doesn’t guarantee a fulfilled life. What one should do instead is to focus on living a high-quality life.

For us, a life of reason means finding happiness and success. Since happiness and success are subjective, it is important that we be able to define it for ourselves before we start pursuing it.

In this part of your journal, you will visualize the kind of life you want. Below are some questions to help you get started.

  • Define your meaning of happiness.
  • Define your meaning of success.
  • What is your dream life?
  • What restricting ideas are holding you back from achieving your dream life?
  • Do you think other people’s opinion about you matter? Why?
  • What do you need more in your life?
  • What do you need less in your life?
  • How do you define yourself?
  • What are the things you want to do before you die?
  • What areas of your life can you improve?
  • Are you pushing yourself to your fullest potential?
  • List down the things that makes a fulfilled life.
  • Create a bucket list of all your dreams and aspirations.
  • Make a progress plan on how to achieve a fulfilled life.

Final Tips on Journaling

When you begin journaling, avoid trying to correct your mistakes (grammar, spelling, punctuation). No one is going to judge you, so let your ideas and thoughts flow freely.

And, please, write honestly. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes, temptations, and negative thoughts in your journal. Your journal is your safe space, your personal therapist and your non-judgmental friend.

Finally, I highly recommend that you read Marcus’ Meditations. It is very life-changing most especially if you combine philosophy and journaling as you go on.

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

MARCUS AURELIUS

Notes:

1Purcell, M. (2006). The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 5, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/000721

Aurelius, M. tr. Casaubon. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Retrieved on July 14, 2013, from www.philaletheians.co.uk

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