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Difficult Things Are Good For You

Daily Stoic Emails

When one thinks of a philosopher, they usually picture something like an ancient figure in a toga, or they think of a college professor in a tweed jacket. They don’t think of an athlete. They don’t think muscles, right? They think brains, not brawn.

But in the ancient world philosophers were warriors, athletes, hunters, boxers, wrestlers, and distance runners. They did hard things. They pushed their physical limitations. Socrates was a soldier. He was admired for his ability to endure cold weather. Marcus Aurelius was a wrestler. Cleanthes was a boxer. These philosophers were practitioners, true believers in the ethos that Joe Rogan recently expressed, himself sounding like he was quoting Seneca,

“Difficult things are good for you. They’re good for your mind.”

Because doing physically difficult things takes discipline, Rogan said. “And discipline is a part of the mind.”(Listen to Ryan and Joe talk here). It’s counterintuitive but true: one of the best ways to increase your mental capabilities is to do things that are physically challenging. “We treat the body rigorously,” Seneca said, “so that it will not be disobedient to the mind.”

We do difficult things because they are good for us. They are good for our bodies and our minds. They make us stronger. They assert control over our bodies in a way that is transferable the next time we are tempted by some impulse or inclined to take the easier route. They make us better at doing the next hard thing that life has in store for us.

Difficult things are good for us. They make us better not just physiologically but philosophically.