Stoic Letters
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Stoic Letters

Fit brain first, body second — Letter 15

In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 15, he discussed the importance of keeping a fit body, and mind.

Having a philosophy of life allows you to train your mind as though you would train your body. If you don’t have one then it’s a little like doing no exercise, or eating poorly; you’ll soon become unwell.

Exercising the mind is more important than exercising the body. When you train remember that you don’t need to become a bodybuilder. You just need to be fit enough to maintain good health. If you exercise too much then you’ll have less time to devote to what’s important, challenging unhelpful thoughts. Also, if you spend ages in the gym trying to get fit then you’ll also have to worry about getting your nutrition and fluid intake correct. Again, a wasteful activity.

An exercise to get fit fast

If you must exercise then try HIIT or some other short intensive workout. These concentrated bursts will achieve 80% of the benefits of longer exercise sessions, you’ll get fit in almost no time at all. But as I’ve said, make sure that you devote enough time to ongoing brain training. If you do this then you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.

You might say you’re too busy, but if you spend any time on social media like Facebook, news sites, blogs, Netflix or Youtube … you have the time. You’re just choosing to do other things instead of getting fit.

You might say you’re too tired, and that might be true … but actually, exercise results in having more energy over time, so the truth is that we’re prioritising the short term over the long term when we skip exercise.

And this is the crux of the problem: we are making a choice to do other things over exercise.

Getting fit is a choice

It’s a choice, not a problem of time or energy.

Why are we making this choice to not exercise? If we dig down a bit deeper, it comes down to a belief that underlies the choice.

Yes, there will likely be a cost to whatever choice we make. That’s true if we make no choice as well — that’s a choice, and it has costs. Over the long run, the cost of indecision is usually worse than the cost of making a wrong choice, because we stress out about the indecision for a long time. The stress doesn’t make the choice easier, it doesn’t make us happy, it affects our health, it affects our relationships.

Instead, let’s just make a decision, and move on. Let go of the stress about whether it’s the right choice (there’s no such thing) and instead deal with whatever consequences we face. And learn to trust that we’ll be OK.

So in summary, just to clarify my message on getting fit. Balance exercise between body and brain, with an emphasis on the brain.

In conclusion

I’ll leave you with this thought. Reflect on past accomplishments, as opposed to some future goal. What you’ll find is that the thought of the future goal preoccupies your mind if you let it. Once this happens then you’ll end-up procrastinating over the things you should be doing today. You can’t perfectly plan for the future by thinking about them for hours but this isn’t to say you can’t prepare for them.

So, embrace uncertainty and remember that sometimes the anticipation of achieving a goal is better than actually achieving it.

Take care.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash




In this publication I interpret Letters From a Stoic by Seneca into modern English.

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Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson

Big ideas and important articles. Writing to help you make sense of the world. And cope with being human.

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