Doing things over and over and over and over and over again is considered dull, boring and a waste of time by many. And sometimes, like doing the washing up, it could be considered a waste of time. So instead, we pack the dishwasher and see what’s on facebook.
Some repletion is unbelievably useful. Just this morning at the gym, we did 5 sets of 5 reps paused deadlifts. Doing these over and over again trains the muscles in the body, and my mind to focus on that specific task. At the start of weight training, you don’t get stronger, but instead you get better at the form.
Rep 1: Seneca
Just this morning, on the way back from the gym, I was listening to The Tao of Seneca on Audible. In letter 48, Seneca ends his letter with a direct message to Lucilius, and all of us too:
Straightforwardness and simplicity are in keeping with goodness. Even if you had a large part of your life remaining before you, you would have to organise it very economically to have enough for all the things that are necessary; as things are, isn’t it the height of folly to learn inessential things when time’s so desperately short!
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter 48
Rep 2: Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is an American writer, who along with Tim Ferriss got me into the Stoics. Last night while watching a film I’d already seen, I got out my distraction machine, and went to his site to see what he had recently published.
He starts by defining what philosophy means, and then using that definition, goes on to suggests that:
…we can also clearly say what the opposite of philosophy and philosophical is. It’s the device in your pocket. The one whose home screen looks like this:
He goes on to talk about how he doesn’t just mean apps, but the news as well.
We must give credit to Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, who five years before the rise of fake news accurately detailed the extent to which most news is fake.
“Fake news. I don’t mean fake news in the Fox News sense. I mean the fake news that clogs up most newspapers and most news websites, for that matter. The new initiative will go nowhere. The new policy isn’t new at all…The product isn’t revolutionary. And journalists pretend that these official statements and company press releases actually constitute news…Fake news, manufactured, hyped, rehashed, retracted—until at the end of the week you know no more than at the beginning. You really might as well wait for a weekly like the Economist to tell you what the net position is at the end of the week.”
He’s saying most of the things that you read aren’t going to go anywhere—it’s not revolutionary, it’s not new, it’s not important. These are press releases, government statements, manufactured hype, speculation, opinions about things. Why? Because reporters are trying to write 12 posts a day. Reporters are trying to beat other outlets by five seconds so they can get all the traffic for a “scoop” that is going to be rendered irrelevant by the “scoop” that comes out tomorrow.
He ends with:
All this noise. All this news. We are afraid of the silence. We are afraid of looking stupid. We’re willing to drive ourselves insane—miserable—to avoid that.
And what would happen if we stopped?
We could live. We could get real clarity. And with it, maybe we could be the little bit of change that we want to see in the world.
Rep 3: Epictetus
Last night, after watching that film, and reading that post, I dipped into a small book I’m currently reading, Epictetus, Of Human Freedom (Part of the Penguin, Great Ideas collection. Our plan is to work our way through all 100 of them).
Chapter 12: Every circumstance represents an opportunity
‘What will you make of illness?’
‘I will expose its true nature by outdoing myself in calmness and serenity; I will neither beg the doctor’s help, nor pray for death. What more could you ask? Everything, you see, that you throw at me i will transform into a blessing, a boon – something dignified, even enviable.’
But no. Instead you say, ‘Be careful that you don’t get ill: it’s bad.’ Which is like saying, ‘Guard against ever entertaining the idea that three is equivalent to four; it’s bad.’ How is it bad? If I weigh the statement correctly, what harm can it do me? It is more likely to help. Similarly, it is enough if I hold the right idea about poverty, illness and removal from office; all such challenges will only serve my turn. No more, then, should I look for bad, and good, in external conditions.
Ahh, but these principles never leave the school, no one takes them with him when he goes back home. Instead, war immediately breaks out – with your slave, your neighbours, with people who scoff at these principles and make fun of you. For my part, I bless Lessbios for daily reminding me that I know thing.
When we go to the gym, to work out, it’s pretty obvious what we’re attempting to achieve: get stronger. We do that by rep, after rep, after rep, after rep of the same damn thing. If our form is rubbish, we injure ourselves, but if good, and we’re doing the right thing with our body, a funny thing happens, we go from not being able to do pull ups to a set of 5.
We need to remember that the same goes for our mind, if we train it on news, facebook, and other pointless distractions, we’re repping with poor form, and naturally, we injure ourselves. Instead, just like at the gym, we first have to find someone to teach us how to have good form. Do the same for the mind, seek out good reps; read old books that have stood the test of time, read older philosophy, start with the Stoics. If you’re on your phone, instead of going to The Guardian, go to The Book of Life. The more you do these reps, the easier it gets.
We’re all going to die.
It’s honestly worth remembering that.
Steve Jobs is dead now, but I wonder how he would see the irony, if during his famous commencement speech, his audience all had iPhones out and posted snippets on social media, all the while receiving notifications about what Trump has done now.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
So please, turn off your phone, sit with an empty mind, pen and paper, and start to think, what do I want out of my incredibly short life.