Letter 15. Brain First, Body Second

Brain first, body second

In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English.

Letter 15. Brain First, Body Second

Having a philosophy of life allows you to train your mind as though you would train your body. If you don’t have one then it’s a little like doing no exercise, or eating poorly; you’ll soon become unwell.

Exercising the mind is more important than exercising the body. As I said in my last letter, you don’t need to become a body-builder. You just need to be fit enough to maintain good health. If you exercise too much then you’ll have less time to devote to what’s important, challenging unhelpful thoughts. Also, if you spend ages in the gym then you’ll also have to worry about getting your nutrition and fluid intake correct. Again, a wasteful activity.

If you must exercise then try HIIT or some other short intensive workout. These concentrated bursts will achieve 80% of the benefits of longer exercise sessions, in almost no time at all. But as I’ve said, make sure that you devote enough time to ongoing brain training. If you do this then you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.

So in summary, just to clarify my message: balance exercise between body and brain, with an emphasis on the brain.

I’ll leave you with this thought. Reflect on past accomplishments, as opposed to some future goal. What you’ll find is that the thought of the future goal preoccupies your mind if you let it. Once this happens then you’ll end-up procrastinating over the things you should be doing today. You can’t perfectly plan for the future by thinking about them for hours but this isn’t to say you can’t prepare for them.

So, embrace uncertainty and remember that sometimes the anticipation of achieving a goal is better than actually achieving it.

Take care.


Read the original text here.

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 improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.


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