Been thinking quite a bit lately about the role of exercise in relation to leading a good life and philosophy. Others have pontificated quite well on the Stoic view of exercise. Here are my thoughts.
Senaca probably commented the most in detail about the relationship between the developing the mind and developing the body. In summary, he wrote:
“There are short and simple exercises which will tire the body without undue delay and save what needs especially close accounting for, time. There is running, swinging weights about and jumping — either high-jumping or long-jumping … pick out any of these for ease and straightforwardness. But whatever you do, return from body to mind very soon.”
His main concern was that time spent on the body was time taken away from the mind. Development of the mind is the primary Stoic goal in life. While I tend to agree that one should “return from the body to the mind very soon,” without a sufficiently healthy body, development of the mind can be severely hindered. Today we have many more efficient ways to develop the body in less time than were available to Seneca. At Bulletproof Labs, we have a couple of those technologies including a machine that gives the hormonal response of a 3 hour work out in 21 minutes, a computer controlled weight machine that gives a week’s worth of strength training in 12 minutes, and a water vapor machine that increases cardio capacity by 20% in three 15 minute sessions sitting in a chair. Man’s mind has been focused on making the body development more efficient and we now have some amazing hacks.
So my summary. Take advantage of modern body development technologies to minimize the time spend on body development while keeping a strong and healthy infrastructure for mind development.
Been reading a lot of philosophy over the break. I am reminded that all this thinking about how to live is not for the thinking sake alone. Unless I turn these words into works there is no value. I would have just wasted all that brain power staring at my navel. As the Daily Stoic Journal puts it:
“The art of living will never be found anywhere but in your own efforts to be a good person. It is not to fill up pages with pretty thoughts but to inspire you to take action, to turn the words, as Seneca said, into works.
or as Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations 3.14,
“Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue – if you can care for yourself at all -and do it while you can.”
This morning during Morning Pages, I went on a rant which started from one of my core beliefs: That the only thing which is truly my own is my Reasoned Choice: Prohairesis. The bottom line is that you are the sum of the choices in your life. And everything in life can be taken away except your choice (assuming your brain is still working, if you loose your mind, you may not even have choice left).
The problem of this morning was the flip side of Choice. The consequences. What if you never look authentically at the consequences. I have come to believe that the reality of rational choice also imposes the responsibility of rational contemplation and review of choices and consequences thereof. If you never review your choices and evaluate if they are serving you, then you give up the responsibility for those choices. Choices without reflection are just reactions. They are of the autonomic nervous system. The challenge in this world is to be a better HUMAN, not a better animal. The Human part requires reflection, contemplation, and review of the Choices. That is why I like the morning gratitude journal and the evening Examin prayer (modified). I see I need to write about those. More tomorrow.
At coffee this morning with a buddy of mine, we were discussing his “emotional bank account” with his wife and the balances/imbalance thereof. While many relationship books and advice talk about this “bank account” and the importance of keeping it in “balance”, this has never sat well with me. In my experience, the problem is not the absolute balance in the emotional bank account at any one time, but the degree of AGENCY you allow the balance is this fictitious “account” over your mood and actions at any given point in time. In short over attachment to the emotional account balance is the problem. The solution is to remove the attachment, reduce the agency of the absolute balance at any one time. As with most things, focus on the process, the journey, not one point in time measurement.
By focusing on the “balance” at any one point in time, one can lose focus of the bigger picture: the journey. That is the core problem with allowing a measurement tool like the emotional bank account to determine or influence your reaction to the world or your current mood. Let us consider the three possible states of the account and the natural reactions to each.
Even. You feel like the balance in the account is even between you and your partner. Everything is easy, peasy. In balance. And boring! What happens in this state too long is you get restless. Nothing is happening. There is no drama either way. So you get complacent and bored. And you do something to put it out of balance mostly out of boredom rather than any malice. In my experience, “even” has never been a long-term state of an account like this. While ‘even” may seem like a laudable goal, when I have been in it, it never lasts and never satisfies. Identification with an “even” balance in the account always leads to boredom and an abrupt state change in my experience.
Negative. When my balance is at a deficit somehow. Either I am not getting enough of what I want/need/desire (all problematic words in themselves), or when my partner tells me they are not getting enough (meaning I have not put enough into my side of the equation). However it is calculated, when I feel like I am in a “negative” state, feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness come up. Also, self-righteousness can rear it’s head “I deserve better than this”, “I am doing all I can and it still isn’t good enough for XXX, why am I bothering?” So I get sensitive and defensive which is never a good state to be in, especially if trying to have a relationship. I have found it is very hard to grow to a positive place when I am focused on how negative the balance in an account is and how much I “deserve” more/better balance. Identification with a “negative ” balance in the account always leads to defensiveness and makes progress out of that state even harder in my experience.
Positive. When my balance is positive in my favor somehow. Either I have put in (in my mind) multiple deposits over and above the average, or in relation to my “other” in the deal, I am somehow “better” than the other at some point in time. This causes feelings of superiority, separation, and more self-righteousness. Identification with a “positive” balance in the account always leads to feelings of superiority/separateness and makes connections even harder in my experience.
In my experience, I am not happy in any “state” of the emotional balance account. Given that no state of the account produces contentment, nor is any state a stable state (they always change), the best way to deal is to transcend the attachment to ANY STATE. This is not the same as ignoring or denying the existence of the emotional balance sheet. It is a real thing. People generally keep the register in their head. The register is not the problem. It is your identification with any particular STATE of the register which is the problem. You are not your emotional balance sheet state. Transcend identification with the state and you are then FREE of that burden. Be aware of the state, make deposits and withdrawals, but do not IDENTIFY with the STATE.
Saturday was Women’s Equality Day and it happened to fall just as the controversy about a memo from an employee of Google about female programmers is finally dying down. If the ancient Stoics were here they would have shaken their heads at that entire fiasco. First, they wouldn’t let the scribblings of anyone, let alone some random employee at a tech company, get them so upset. And second, they would have said to that random employee, “What the hell are you so worked up about, man?”
They would have disliked the memo because it tried to argue about averages, as if they mattered in any practical way. The Stoics had no time for that nonsense—they cared about the individual. They would have agreed with Theodore Roosevelt’s point when he was asked about the then controversial movement for women’s suffrage. He said he didn’t understand the big deal, because whatever differences there might have been between genders, it paled between the differences he saw between “men and other men.” Point being: It doesn’t matter what group anyone is a part of—it only matters what they do with their individual capacities and potentials.
The Stoics were shockingly early to the notion of equality of the sexes. As Musonius Rufus put it, “not men alone, but women too, have a natural inclination toward virtue and the capacity for acquiring it, and it is the nature of women no less than men to be pleased by good and just acts and to reject the opposite of these.” More important, they believed that everyone and anyone was capable of excellence, regardless of station, origin, or gender. Epictetus was a slave, Marcus was emperor, Cato’s daughter was a woman and so was Seneca’s mother Helvia, who he wrote often about Stoicism—all were expected to rise to their particular occasions and we admire them because they did.
The next time you find yourself drawn into some idiotic debate about racial differences, about gender, about immigration, about identity, resist the mistake of applying labels and make judgements from them. There are brilliant men out there and utterly incompetent ones. There are brilliant women and utterly incompetent ones. (And this is true for every other kind of category.) We are all equal in that way. The only inequality that matters—that we should judge people on—is what they do as an individual.
I have always wondered why I have a crappy night sleep when I go to bed a little tipsy. While I feel like I can fall asleep faster, the net metabolic effect is negative. The liver basically steals resources from the brain to clear the toxins and you do r get the restoration you need.
From fast company:
“Alcohol is a depressant and neurotoxin, which means it slows down the central nervous system’s processes by reducing electrical conductivity in the brain. This means that neurons, which send and receive the electrical signals that cause the release of neurotransmitters, operate more slowly. In fact, if you spent the evening drinking and then went to sleep wearing a heart-rate variability monitor, it would show significantly increased levels of stress for your body while you slept.
That’s thanks to the body’s physiological response when it’s trying to break down a toxin, the liver works harder when it should be resting, leading to a stressed state from which you’ll wake up feeling exhausted. Throughout the night, as the liver uses a higher proportion of the body’s energy than usual, the brain is starved of its usual resources and struggles to recuperate effectively for the next day.”
This is a question Subir’s grandfather used to ask him when he was six years old and he still remembers. I am going to do this with Madison soon.
Offer your child a coin (quarter) ( I may upgrade this to a $5 for inflation) or a pen. Which would they choose?
If they choose the money (which most will to fulfill an immediate desire for candy or some other short-term “need”), say “No, the wrong choice”.
Always choose the pen. With a pen, you can create something, you can write notes for years on college, you can take tests, you can pen a master piece. With the pen, you have long term creativity. With the money you have short term desire fulfillment, then you need more. Always choose long term creativity.
Bulletproof Labs, is working on a new battery of assessments to measure how “Bulletproof” someone is. While “Bulletproof” in many ways is a marketing term which defines a lifestyle brand, the brand seems to be putting some work into quantitive measurements (in the good old hacker vein of “data is good”). Over at Bulletproof Training Institute, they have taken a stab at how to measure “Bulletproof” through a series of self-reported assessments. These are mostly clinical or academic assessments that have been well tested and validated. Bulletproof Labs has implemented digital versions of each of these assessments as part of developing their business. The assessments are here:
Taking all six will take you less than half an hour. Each assessment has a results page and a follow-up email pointing to the underlying research and some advice on what to do if you want to change your score. I look forward to how BP Labs is going to integrate assessments into their business. From my experience after taking over 1,000 of these things of all shapes and sizes, these six assessments give you a pretty good window into how well you are living life. For a quick snapshot, take these six. Contemplate the results. Decide if you want to change anything to move any of these scales in a different direction.
I have been reminded lately of the value of setting a timer when I really want to get something done. Guys like Chris Winfield have been talking about dedicated time blocks (he calls them Pomodoro’s) for some time. I have been setting a timer with Alexa every day while doing Morning Pages. The benefits of a timer include:
Truth. Over many sessions of writing three pages for Morning Pages I know that a focused session without distractions is between 18-20 minutes. So if I set a timer for 20 minutes I should be able to get it done. When the timer goes off before 3 pages it is likely because I indulged in ratholes, picked up my phone, or daydreamed. Without the timer, I can tell myself the story that I did morning pages just fine, but the reality is likely that I took many detours. With the timer, I am far more truthful with myself about my productivity.
Permission to focus. When I am freezing myself in a cryotherapy session, knowing there is a 3-minute timer gives me the permission to endure any pain that comes my way. I tell myself “I can do anything for three minutes!”. And I do. Because I know there is a timer. Try doing Cryo without a timer. 10X more difficult. Same thing with Morning Pages. When I know the timer is on, I say to myself, “this is my 20 minutes to do Morning Pages, any distractions that come up I can deal with after the 20 minutes, I have the rest of the day for the distractions.”
Permission to delay impulses. The flipside of permission to focus is the permission to allow yourself to put off random thoughts that come into my mind. I know this time under the timer is dedicated to one thing. The next time block I have can be for the other things. There is time for all. Unless I never get anything done and then it all stacks up. It seems that sometimes my ego would rather have a very long list of tasks and never get anything done because then it can feel important. It would rather I indulge partially every impulse that comes along. But my human mind, my conscious mind, understands that growth, learning, progress, only come with checking things off the list. With completing one thing and moving on to the next thing. So give yourself permission to delay gratification on certain things so you can gain gratification on the thing you are supposed to do now.
In college, studying philosophy was an excruciating exercise in memorization and focus on minutia between different schools of philosophy. It seemed very dry and very dead. The idea that all of these different schools were trying to get at the same thing; how to live life well and what that means was totally lost on me. That is often a failing of the industrial-academic approach to teaching something. I have found it easier to learn something when I have a practical problem in search of a solution. So it has been lately for me with philosophy and I am glad for that perspective. Here are a few practical real life problems for which I have found solutions in no small part from philosophy and especially Stoic philosophy:
How to be in a crowd and in the spotlight as a natural introvert. (post coming soon)