Have you ever been asked what you were thinking about, but were embarrassed to share what was really going through your head? I know I’ve had this happen to me. Perhaps you have too.

This experience that many of us have probably had is nothing new. A few days ago, I was reading through some writings of Marcus Aurelius, the leader of the Roman empire during the late 2nd century, and he talks about this very thing. His personal goal was to be able to always answer honestly and immediately whenever he was asked his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say:

“We ought therefore to eschew the aimless and unprofitable in the chain of our thoughts, still more all that is over-curious and ill-natured, and a man should accustom himself to think only of those things about which, if one were to ask on a sudden, What is now in thy thoughts? thou couldest quite frankly answer at once, This or that; so thine answer should immediately make manifest that all that is in thee is simple and kindly and worthy…” –Marcus Aurelius, Book III, 4.

If the goal is to be frank about one’s thoughts, and not be embarrassed by their contents, then the means of getting there is in being intentional about thinking about things that we would be able to share honestly and freely if asked.

To do this first requires paying attention to our thoughts, so we can notice when they begin to stray. And secondly, learning to turn our thoughts, as needed, to things we would be willing to admit to if asked.

Although this may be a difficult process, there are benefits of being able to answer quickly and honestly about what we’re thinking about. Not only does a quick and frank answer speak clearly about our character to those around us, but the process of getting there also safeguards us from spending too much mental energy on things that are not beneficial. Because if we’re embarrassed to share what we’re thinking about to those around us, is it something that we should be thinking about at all? Is it helping us in any way? Usually the answer is no. Which is why Aurelius’ advice to himself all those years ago is still worth our attention today.