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Living an examined life

August 25, 2023

After sharing my weekly reviews for the last six weeks, one question that I've been asked a few times is: "Why do you do this?" often hinting not only at the practice itself, but at the level of granularity at which I measure or keep track of things in my life.

I've been reflecting about this for a while, as I was doing it for myself, and especially as I decided to experiment sharing it with the world. Since I was doing it for myself, and not sharing it, I know it didn't come from pride or a self-centered desire to show off. It doesn't come from a need of control or stress, either.

I've come to realize, the deeper I think about this, is that it comes from a desire to live an examined life. Or rather, wanting to avoid living an unexamined life.

The unexamined life

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

Socrates said this quote in the context of his trial and conviction for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. He could have chosen exile, or even fleeing from prison, but that would have been against his values and beliefs. He chose to drink the hemlock, and die, because he believed that was the right thing to do.

In order to live a life that's genuinely yours, you need to make sure you are not living by default. This means that you are not just going through the moves, but that you are actively and constantly reflecting upon your actions, your thoughts, your feelings, and make sure they are aligned with your values and goals. In summary, an unexamined life might lead you to live someone else's life, and not your own.

The act of examining

"Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works." - John Keats

This is not a one-time thing. It's not a one-time decision, or a one-time action. It's a constant practice, a constant habit, a constant way of being. It's a way of being that while is not easy (the introspective act is never easy, because it requires you to be vulnerable), is simple.

The more you do it, the less time it takes. There are several practices that can help you with this, and I can share more about them in a future post, but the most important thing is to start.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Mindfulness and meditation: it leads you to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings in the moment.
  • Journaling: it helps you reflect on your day, and your life. It can also help you set goals for tomorrow.
  • Tracking and measuring: while not for everyone, is one that's near and dear to my heart. It helps you see patterns, and make better decisions. It also helps with vulnerability, because it's an objective way to look at your life, and not just a subjective one.

Start with something that nudges in this direction today, and take it from there.

An unexamined life might lead you to live with regrets, whereas an examined life, even if it's not free from mistakes, is a life of peace and alignment with yourself.