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Keeping a logbook: a key to the practice of ethics

By - Nov 27, 2012 - Category Practice - Print Print - Version française

pen and notebook

Keeping a logbook can prove useful in many ways for the practice of ethics. It provides precious help in the process of self-knowledge.

Fighting against forgetfulness and developing self-knowledge

The first reason why putting down experiences is useful is obvious: in addition to helping us fight against forgetfulness, it helps us focus on our daily experiences, encouraging us to analyse them and to set up plans of action for the next day, so that we may correct our mistakes.

Example: I am playing with my 5-year-old daughter and my 8-year-old son. We split into teams, my son on one side, my daughter and I on the other. Slowly but surely I get carried away and I forget that my opponent is an 8-year-old child. I win hands down, as my daughter watches with admiration, and I don’t even give my son the chance to score the couple of points that would have allowed him to save face. Only at the end of the game do I suddenly realise the negative emotion that has invaded me—it looks a lot like pride. Too late. My son is humiliated, he doesn’t feel like playing anymore and will refuse to play this game from now on.

Observation, reflection and action

At night, as I write down the experiences I have had during the day in my logbook, I analyse the incident. I am ashamed of my behaviour towards my son. Instead of making him happy, I humiliated him! Upon reflection, I realise that the negative emotion I had tagged as pride was actually some kind of need to show off. I feel terrible.

Pushing my reflection further, I realise that similar situations have happened before. Just a day ago while skiing with my son, when I started picking up speed to make my turns tighter and tighter, focusing on my style above anything else, my intention was clearly not to teach him how to ski better!

I feel ashamed, once again. So I decide to react and to be more careful about this aspect of my behaviour that I have just discovered. The next day, while skiing with my son again, I challenge him and let him win without giving him the impression that he succeeded too easily.

Attention and analysis

Over the next few days, with this new perspective in mind, I remember other experiences that I now see under a different light. I realise for example that dancing generates in me that same desire to show off. I know I’m a good dancer and whenever I become the centre of attention on the dance floor, it inflates my ego. A few weeks ago, I was dancing with a few colleagues and they started forming a circle around me, cheering and clapping. I knew I was going to be subject to emotions of a nature that was not quite clear to me yet, so I refused to play along and I stopped dancing. Thanks to the reflective work I have undertaken since then, I can now make a more precise diagnosis.

Recording your experiences thus not only allows you to correct your behaviour from one day to the other, it also catalyses a self-analysis that can lead to better self-knowledge and accordingly has a deeper and longer-lasting impact. Discovering a failing usually affects us. It remains imprinted in our mind. At first, it translates into a state of astonishment mixed with a pleasant feeling akin to that of a researcher who just found the key to solve a problem after years of work. This impact can shed some light on the origin and causes of a particular behaviour. It thus constitutes a step forward in the process of self-knowledge. Together with behavioural changes in the long run, it participates in a truly ethical approach to self-improvement.

It has now been two months since I realised that I had this tendency to show off and, with regard to my son at least, I believe I have been careful not to repeat the same mistake.

Drastic change of perspectives

Another way to benefit from keeping a logbook is to review your notes in order to recall previous experiences, even old ones. It is very informative and allows you to: 1. Become aware of the frequency with which a particular fault manifests itself; 2. Convince yourself that it is harmful; 3. Understand that certain situations may constitute opportunities to fight against this fault. Those difficult situations then reveal themselves as therapeutic and become easier to accept.

I am currently experiencing a difficult professional situation. My superiors criticised my lack of leadership during my annual evaluation interview, and they considerably decreased my responsibilities shortly afterwards. Following the merger of my company with another one, all the members of my team got promoted. They were assigned new responsibilities and one of them became my manager. Basically, though I kept the title of Division Manager, I was downgraded to the rank of mere rep.

This situation was very hard on me at the beginning. I felt completely humiliated. I was scared to lose my job, but mostly, thinking about what other people thought of me was painful. Then, little by little, as months went by, I started accepting what was happening to me, telling myself I should look for the cause within myself and that this humiliation was most probably a therapeutic tool to fight against one of my main failings: pride.

Awareness

Going through my logbook helped me confirm this diagnosis: my behaviour these past few months had indeed been that of a proud person, someone with an excessively high opinion of their personal value.

For instance, if I had left a message to someone on his or her phone and this person didn’t call me back, I would conclude that this person was a lout who deserved to be given the “brush off” at the first occasion. This hypersensitivity was a result of the perception I had of my importance: I wasn’t being treated with the respect I thought I deserved. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that anything was good to justify attributing importance and value to myself: “you have such and such professional title, so you’re worth this much; you’re in charge of this, so you’re worth this much; etc.” In short, finding myself deprived of responsibilities and means of arguing in favour of my own worth, because of this downgrading, was the occasion to become aware of this fault.

Confirmation

Another experience recorded in my logbook convinced me that my new professional situation was therapeutic and necessary, and allowed me to put an end (temporarily at least) to the arguments of my imperious self:

A month earlier, as I was driving out of a parking space, another car suddenly blocked my way. I refused to back up to leave enough room for this car to go through, which quickly created a mini traffic jam. The honking of the other cars should have made me move, but I was convinced to be acting within my rights (even though under traffic law, I was not) and completely blinded by my ego. Only after several minutes did I concede a foot or two to this other car, forcing its driver–who I didn’t even bother looking at–to undertake complicated manoeuvres.

Reversal of situation

Reading my logbook revealed how frequent and harmful the manifestations of this failing of mine were, which in turn made it easier for me to carry out the self-suggestion that lead me to accept my new professional situation. I started by telling myself that my pride was a real plague that was infecting my relations to others, and that I was better off suffering a bit and for a little while now, than constantly enduring this pride for the rest of my life, or even worse, in the hereafter too.

Thanks to this work and to my prayers in which I ask for divine help, the fog has slowly lifted, and I now better understand that this hardship is a kind of remedy, a beneficial and necessary therapy. My intention in expressing my gratitude to God slowly became more and more sincere.

Conclusions and practical advice

As in anything else, the degree to which keeping a logbook is useful depends on the effort made. The greater our daily efforts to pay attention and fight against our failings, the more sincere we are toward ourselves and the clearer our motivations, the greater the benefit. If we don’t continuously focus on our objectives—a more ethical behaviour or divine satisfaction for those who have faith—, we miss the lessons to be learned from our experiences because we are unaware of the nature of our thoughts, intentions and actions. Keeping a logbook enables us to take the pulse of our spiritual practice. If we don’t have much to write, it means we haven’t paid attention enough or we don’t know how to go about it, because every day is rich in lessons. Even while sick and stuck in bed we can be bombarded with negative thoughts. Every single one of them is an occasion to fight and thus progress toward more humanity.

Going through our logbook over a longer period of time also gives us a panoramic view of our behaviour and inner lives that can provide motivation to work harder in order for certain faults to manifest themselves less frequently.

I, for one, have been trying to practice spirituality for about fifteen years and before I started keeping a logbook, I had never truly realised how many mistakes I make and how often negative emotions strike me. It’s easy to forget, and how comfortable too! Patiently rereading the account of our endless mistakes and negative thoughts and emotions allows us to better understand the nature of the tendencies that dominate us and that rarely, if ever, push us towards our ethical goal.

To conclude, here is a little practical advice: for the use of a logbook to be optimal, it is best to record and analyse the experiences 12 to 24 hours after the facts—48 hours maximum. Any immediate analysis can only be biased by our emotions and waiting too long can lead to overlooking essential elements in our analysis because we forget.


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17 comments

  1. M Nov 27, 2012 1:43 pm 1

    Reading the authors experiences have really opened my eyes to how important the recording of self-reflection is in the practice of ethics and self-improvement. Relying on memory alone is not practical or useful in longer term analysis of your self. I can only hope to see such patterns and am excited (and nervous) to start it. Thank you for the suggestion!!

  2. Amir Nov 27, 2012 2:04 pm 2

    Thank you A.

    You are Married with three kids, and studied engineering and work as a rep with honor.

  3. 7 Nov 27, 2012 3:45 pm 3

    Such a rich article! So many great points, Thank you so much!

    With my busy schedule, I am always worried that I am not socializing enough so I can work on myself. You remind me of very good point, even staying in bed we are bombard with negative thoughts!

    I always used to think I hate showing off! Specially that a member of my family is a queen of showoff. This issue always makes me so embarrassed (my ego is so dilated, thinks I am better than her). Recently I have realized I am exactly the same way, the difference is, my ego manifests itself in different way. I like to be funny, in order, to be center of attention!!!

  4. nikki Nov 27, 2012 3:48 pm 4

    Thanks for this amazing article. One of the most useful and practical articles I have read lately. However, if I start the logbook, my problem would be the discipline and keeping up with it every day. Any suggestions ?

  5. Susan B Nov 27, 2012 7:07 pm 5

    Thank you for such a frank account of your experiences. The article has certainly motivated me to pay more attention to daily events. Have just bought a new notebook for this very purpose!

  6. Charlie Nov 27, 2012 11:41 pm 6

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been keeping a logbook in which I have simply recorded whether I have done my practical task or failed. I can see that this has been of limited use and not a good tool to analyse and plan. As from tonight I am going to use my logbook to record my experiences and analyse them. The article is also so useful in demonstrating the way to move from theory into action in the context of our own experiences and lessons. I cannot wait to make a start.

  7. naghme da Nov 28, 2012 2:35 am 7

    It is in the daily tests of life we can find our weak spots and flaws. These tests are regulated by the divine causal system, in all cases the point is purifynig and discovering new corners of our ego. Coming to better know ourselves. Iit’s good to remind ourselves that we always have an inner guide at the core of us that knows everything—where to go, what to do, how to do it—at each moment.
    We’re not separate from him. Because it is us. We are it. But sometimes we find it difficult to hear this innermost core of ourselves. So perhaps it would be useful to discuss it in greater depth .

  8. Charlie Nov 28, 2012 10:05 am 8

    @A.
    Just wanted to also say that I am so happy that the editorial board published your article as it really shows that when you put a true principle into practise with the right intention real progress can be made and measured. It really helped me to see that it is possible to fight the imperious self and through your experiences and effort I am beginning to see it is an ongoing battle but if i have the correct mindset and make an effort then i will make progress. Thank you. Not easy but possible.

  9. venus Nov 28, 2012 10:29 am 9

    thank you so much for your useful experience, that really helped me.
    recently, I had the same experience and for two or three days I was involved.
    however now I learn many thing so we should be aware that our environment wheresoever we are, is one of the most serious challenges we face every day.
    thanks

  10. 7 Nov 28, 2012 2:40 pm 10

    @nikki
    We all have some time of the day, when we wire down and relax. We always keep doing what we enjoy to do; if something is really hard for us to do, we eventually stop. Therefore, I figured the high light of my day is having a morning coffee. I do my writing at the same time. The benefit for me is since I am a morning person, I have the energy to reflect on what I have done the day before, and it helps me to get centered. The point is, I never forget to have my coffee, therefore, I never forget to do my writing:)
    May be for you it would be the end of the day! I recommend that you do it along with whatever is your most enjoyable thing. So you won’t forget.

  11. P.T. Nov 30, 2012 10:00 am 11

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article! I have been keeping a logbook for 6 months now, and I just recently wondered what the point was in doing this (sometimes) time-consuming task. But then I came across your article, and I realized that I never actually went back to reread my entries. And once I did that, things started to make more sense: I indeed noticed lots of patterns, even from things that happened months ago.

    Also, for me, the best time to write my entry is before I begin to study something spiritual, for example before reading a chapter from one of Ostad Elahi’s books. I personally find it to be a great ‘warm-up’ and it helps me to purify my thoughts and be more in line with spirituality. It personally makes the spiritual readings easier for me to understand.

  12. pb Nov 30, 2012 3:40 pm 12

    Thank you for the experiences and the tips. I have always found keeping a diary a chore and when I have succeeded in keeping one going, it has not lasted very long. I think I have been doing it really just to fulfill a duty without enough effort to draw concrete conclusions or a plan of action.
    I am now thinking that I should be in the right mindset when I review my day, like I am tapping into my deep conscious self to be guided in the right direction and hopefully be inspired with a plan. Or that failing to ask for His guidance.

  13. m.m Nov 30, 2012 8:39 pm 13

    Thank you very much for sharing your valuable experience. I myself have started to write about my experiences and feelings and thoughts every night for about 4 months. However, I write it in the form of “letter to God”, and in doing so, I ask for His help in my letters. I think I have more incentive to write regularly and honestly since I feel my letter has a benevolent reader who knows me better than me and guide me. I know He does not need my letters nor does he need my prayers . It is me that needs to write for Him. However if I miss a night , I feel I break my promises and get very embarrassed.
    I am wondering what are the differences between A’s style of writing in the form of self analysis and mine ( letters ) from various perspectives? I appreciate if anybody can help me with some insights.

  14. f. Dec 02, 2012 1:55 pm 14

    @m.m
    Self analyzing is one step further, by writing your experience and feelings you’re collecting the data. By analyzing, you’re looking for the cause. Asking for His help and guidance is constant.

  15. Holly Dec 15, 2012 10:43 pm 15

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Since having read your experience I have also started to keep a log book in my phone notes and I have found out how sadly a lot of my disappointments in life falls under the heading of Pride. I never thought that I valued my own ideas/opinions and actions so highly! I’m still not very good at not getting disappointed (even though I know it’s my pride kicking) and that I need to be more aware of its ugly face—which a lot of time shows itself in the form of defending my right, defending my self respect, etc.!
    But since it is wrong to lose all hopes, I would like to conclude that I have taken the first step—logging things / thinking about events more deeply / realizing that my pride is the main cause of most of my disappointments. Now I need to focus on controlling it more and not allowing it to drag me down with it.

  16. k Jan 15, 2013 5:19 pm 16

    I had thought several times before this post that it would be a good idea to keep a logbook, but I simply could not do it. Every time I tried to keep a logbook out of duty, it only lasted a couple of days…
    My Experience:
    Last month after this article, I could see the philosophy and potential benefits from keeping a logbook. So I started to write some things every night. There was not so much action in my life, but there was one point that I wrote or repeated every day. With hindsight I can see that at least I had my guards up with that specific emotion and tried to keep that emotion in check. But after, say, 15 days of keeping a logbook, I suddenly “forgot” to write every day for a few days. After the days of not keeping a logbook, this point which I had repeated, came out blasting and I took a nice beating from my imperious self. I am like Rocky with the difference that I don’t even hit back 🙂

    Maybe others have mentioned this in the comment section or perhaps it is even in the article itself…., but I personally experienced that by keeping a logbook one has at least ones guards up and tries to keep a flaw in check.

    Actually I think if one does not: 1) try to pray correctly and 2) keep a spiritual logbook and 3) read a bit of spirituality everyday, one is truly in danger!

    Thanks for the article.

  17. k Jan 15, 2013 5:29 pm 17

    PS does anyone have an experience about the character of forbearance in everyday life? (by keeping in mind the conditions of practicing this character).
    Thanks

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