The Stoics were all about routine and repetition. They talked about fueling the habit bonfire. They would have agreed with Aristotle: we are what we repeatedly do. We become what we repeatedly study and focus on.
Epictetus, in fact, said just that. “You become what you give your attention to,” he said. “If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.” Seneca would say that to study philosophy was to annex the past into our own time. He talked about repeatedly immersing yourself in the great texts of history. “You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works,” he said, “if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.”
Marcus Aurelius, for his part, shows us in Meditations that for all the matters of state that fell before him, all the people and places that he had to know and work with, what he spent the most time thinking about was philosophy. What he paid the most attention to was virtue. Indeed, almost every page of Meditations has some direct quote or allusion to Epictetus, references to the works of Panaetius, Chrysippus, Zeno, Euripides, and Socrates. How does one develop recall like that? How did Marcus become so wise, not just on the page but in life? By repetition and practice. By poring over the same texts. Until the ideas took firm hold. Until they were absorbed. Until they became muscle memory, infused into his own train of thoughts.
Marcus would later talk about how the philosopher is one with their weapon—like a boxer, more than a swordsman. A boxer just clenches their fist. A fencer has to pick something up. That’s what we’re trying to do as we study, we’re trying to create a practice—get the reps—that fuses us with our philosophy. That makes us one with it. That inserts it into our own train of thoughts.
Make that your goal. It’s not about skimming a couple thousand books. It’s not about “getting the gist of it,” as Marcus derided. It’s about making it a part of your life and your mind. It’s about lingering and digesting until it takes firm hold, never to be dislodged. It’s about deciding who you want to become then giving your attention to the thoughts and ideas and master-thinkers who will help you get there.