Letter 16. Reflection, Then Action

In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 16, he discussed the importance of regular reflection. Then acting on what this reveals.

It’s important to have a lifelong passion for improving yourself. Reflecting each day on your actions and behaviours, while important, is not as critical as actually making positive changes. Do this daily until it becomes a habit. Make sure that this reflection drives improvements. It’s not just something to keep you occupied or amused.

Benefits of Reflection

Doing this helps you to receive the following benefits:
  1. It makes you happier. If you reflect on the things you did right, on your successes, that allows you to celebrate every little success. It allows you to realize how much you’ve done right, the good things you’ve done in your life. Without reflection, it’s too easy to forget these things, and focus instead on our failures.
  2. It gives you perspective. Often we are caught up in the troubles or busyness of our daily lives. A mistake or a high-pressure project or something like that can seem like it means all the world. It can overwhelm us sometimes. But if we take a minute to step back, and reflect on these problems, and how in the grand scheme of things they don’t mean all that much, it can calm us down and lower our stress levels. We gain perspective, and that’s a good thing.
  3. Focus on the present. Now that you’ve reflected on the past, realize that the past is over. It isn’t happening anymore, except in your mind. And that causes problems — unhappiness and stress. Instead, bring your focus back to the present moment. What are you doing now? What joy can you find in what is happening right now? Find the joy in life now, as it happens, and stop reliving the past. You will inevitably start thinking about the past, but just acknowledge that, and gently bring yourself back to the present moment.

Reflection and Control

Now you may say, why should I bother to do this. After all, if I can’t control the way events in the universe unfold? Remember that you have a choice – you can control your own judgments. Even if you don’t believe this, what is true is that the striving for personal excellence is worthwhile and helps you to get through life.
In signing off I’ll leave you with this thought. If you are content with what you’ve got, as opposed to what think you should have, then you’ll never be unhappy. Appreciate that if you strive for riches then once you’ve got them then you’ll only want more. It’s a never ending cycle. It’s a little like setting off to travel somewhere, without a specific destination in mind. You’ll never actually reach where you’re going. You’ll keep on going forever which is a guarantee for frustration and unhappiness.
Take care.

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