In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English.
Letter 8. Reflect on the bigger picture
The last time I wrote a letter to you I suggested that you should avoid crowds and be happy with your own thoughts. Just to clarify, philosophical reflection isn’t an activity which should be only for your benefit. Rather your insights and ideas should be of value not only to current and also future generations too. In other words, you’re trying to fit any insights you’ve gained into a bigger, longer-term picture.
There aren’t any straightforward rules about how to do this. Rules of this nature are for people who can’t think for themselves. But the older you get, the more experience you gain. Imparting the benefits of your experience is a good start. For example, one thing I have learnt is that when you have a clear direction in life avoid chance temptations which deviate you from your life goals. Acting on these leads to distraction from your long-term purpose, and deviations of your day by day attempts to control thoughts and actions.
Another piece of advice I recommend is that you exercise and eat healthily. Likewise, apply self-control in matters such as buying clothes, your home, and other similar aspects of your life. If you don’t then again you’ll be distracted from what is important: your thoughts, actions and overall direction in life. This reminds me, don’t confuse activity with action. Some people are always busy working on urgent tasks which aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.
So, part of your week should be to set aside time to decide on what are sometimes called, “the big rocks”. Be aware that you may end up with high level and rather abstract answers at first. But this isn’t a waste of time, despite the fact that you may feel like you’re not ticking things off your to-do list by rushing around doing “stuff”.
Productivity isn’t about doing a lot of stuff. It’s about getting the important stuff done. But if you’re running around doing all the little stuff … sure, you did a lot and you were busy, but how much did you do? Oftentimes we can look back on our week and say, “I didn’t get a lot done, but I was full of stress doing it!”
I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.
Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to a improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.