Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

October 2021

What Can We Learn From the Stoic Philosophers?

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading the book "A Guide to the Good Life" by William B. Irvine. This is a book that I purchased over a year ago at the recommendation of my friend Al Coleman, who studied philosophy in college. I kept meaning to read it, but it sat on my coffee table as I pursued other books in the interim. Eventually, I decided to stop procrastinating and cracked it open, and I'm glad that I did. I have read other philosophical-themed books over the years, but this excellent work not only gives a historical account on the beginnings of the Stoic school of philosophy, the author also details some strategies to incorporate its teachings into your lifestyle.

The Stoic school of philosophy was founded in ancient Greece by Zeno of Centium. Stoicism made its way to Rome in the early parts of the 3rd century B.C., and Roman Stoicism differed slightly from Greek Stoicism. The Greeks were primarily focused on the attainment of virtue, while the Romans largely sought tranquility, which is the absence of negative emotions and presence of positive emotions. Stoic philosophy was one of several philosophies that was popular during this time period, and the most recognizable Stoic teachers were Seneca, Gaius Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, who later became known as the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. Stoicism became popular because its tenets were easy to follow, and unlike its philosophical predecessor, Cynicism, did not require you to live in squalor. Unfortunately, Stoicism declined in popularity after Marcus' death, in part due to there being no charismatic teachers around to take up the mantle, but also because of the rise of Christianity. Fortunately, many of the writings of these philosophers have survived and are available for us to learn from.

How do the Stoics expect to achieve tranquility? One method that they use is what is called the trichotomy of control. This means they put everything in life into one of three categories: things over which we have complete control, things over which we have no control at all, and things over which we have some but not complete control. The Stoics believe it is foolish to waste precious time and energy worrying about things in which we cannot control, such as whether there will be heavy traffic on our daily commute to work (although you can prepare for such an event by giving yourself extra time). Instead, it is better to focus our efforts on the things which our actions can have a direct impact on the outcome, since those are things that are within your power to change. If you look at it from an exercise perspective, you have no control over the genetic hand you have been dealt; as the saying goes, you cannot pick your parents. However, you do have a say in how your genes are expressed, and your actions can either optimize or diminish your genetic potential. You can maximize your physical potential by making good dietary choices (something well within your control) and by giving your best effort in your Total Results workouts. A good strategy is to set internal rather than external goals; instead of trying to complete a certain number of repetitions on a given exercise, focus instead on working at a high level of intensity using perfect form throughout. Don't try to compare your performance to that of someone else you know, just concentrate on doing your absolute best. If you do that, you will not be disappointed.

The Stoics also practice something that is known as negative visualization. This technique "...Teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it." This helps us to enjoy what we have, but also reminds us that things can be taken away from us at a moment's notice. As Seneca said, "All things human are short-lived and perishable." If you visualize (but don't obsess about) the worst thing that can happen to you, it takes the sting out of it and helps you to prepare for a worst-case scenario if and when that time comes. For example, what is the worst thing that can happen during a Total Results workout? You will likely experience temporary exertional discomfort, you could have a less than optimal performance, and if you exhibit poor form you could experience injury. Certainly our goal is to avoid injury, but even a minor injury is not the end of the world, and muscular discomfort and a suboptimal workout will fade over time. In the end, you will be stronger mentally and physically for the experience, and you will learn not to repeat those mistakes in the future.

Voluntary discomfort is something that the Stoic philosophers embraced and recommended to their followers. Their thinking was that man was destined to encounter hardship at some point in life, and that if they periodically undertook some self-inflicted discomfort it would harden them against the inevitable hardship that life was destined to throw their way. This can be done by simply undergoing a periodic fast, walking shoeless, or taking a cold shower rather than a hot one. According to William B. Irvine, "Alternatively, voluntary discomfort can be thought of as an insurance premium which, if paid, makes us eligible for benefits: Should we later fall victim to a misfortune, the discomfort we experience then will be substantially less than it otherwise would have been." This ties in nicely to the Total Results exercise philosophy. Think about it: our workouts, while brief and relatively infrequent, can hardly be considered fun. They require focus, discipline, and patience, and during the entire twenty minute duration of the workout, you experience significant muscular discomfort. It is all done voluntarily. The physical benefits you derive from our workouts are your insurance policy against injury and chronic disease, and at the same time the experience makes you mentally and physically more resilient.

Lastly, the Stoics talk about the importance of preparing for old age. They caution us not to take things for granted when we are young and in good health. It is important to value health even as we age, and to do the things necessary to prolong your health as the years advance. Performing regular weekly Total Results workouts, in addition to being both physically and mentally active, will help senior citizens to lower medical costs, maintain independence, and enjoy the golden years.

Some aspects of Stoic philosophy are not really relevant to the Total Results exercise philosophy, such as how to deal with grief and anger, or the perils of seeking adulation and fame, but as you can see, a few of the Stoic principles tie in nicely to our concepts. You don't have to be a full-fledged Stoic to reap the benefits of their teachings, and adopting some of these ideas requires very little effort. Stoicism can give you a new appreciation for exercise, and in the words of Marcus Aurelius, "... It is possible, through the practice of Stoicism, to gain a whole new life."

Posted October 29, 2021 by Matthew Romans

Don't Take Your Accomplishments for Granted

There is a tendency for many of us, in the course of our daily lives, to always look forward and think about what lies ahead. This is a healthy mindset to have, and it is the breeding ground for personal growth. It's important to know where you want to go, and to have a plan in place for how you want to get there. That being said, I also believe there is value in looking back at previous experiences, because learning from past successes (and especially failures) can help you to plot a steadier course ahead in the future. Our experiences shape the people that we are today, and you can look back on different periods in your life and track your emotional, intellectual, and physical progress. The progress that you have made over the years should be celebrated, and it's important to not take for granted all the things that you have accomplished.

Total Results clients have achieved some amazing results over the 20 years we have been in business. Some clients have simply improved their ability to perform activities of daily living with greater ease and less effort, while others have been able to run 5K races in a faster time. Still others are able to participate in recreational sports at a higher level and with reduced risk of injury, while other clients can enjoy their children and grandchildren without getting fatigued as easily. As people get stronger and achieve better conditioning, sometimes there is a tendency to forget what brought them to Total Results in the first place. Many novice clients are initially weak, deconditioned, and suffering from joint ailments. Most trainees can see some incremental improvements in these conditions within weeks or a couple of months. Once you have incorporated some lifestyle changes in addition to your regular workouts, such as modifying your diet and supplementing intelligently, the aches, pains, and inflammation that plagued you are often easily forgotten.

Our exercise methodology can be applied to any equipment at your disposal, but our specially engineered machines, clinically controlled environment, and detailed instruction cannot be replicated in a gym or at home. Many times over the years, clients have worked with us for a period of months or even years, and then decide that they want to try doing this on their own in a different setting. More often than not, they return to Total Results because they soon realize just how unique our experience is. Progress is measured both quantitatively and qualitatively, through keeping detailed records of every workout. Total Results workouts only require 20 minutes of your time, once or twice per week, but you are expending tremendous effort for all of that time, both mentally and physically. Don't take for granted that you will be able to achieve that level of effort and focus in another setting without an instructor to guide you. Some have been able to, but most have not.

Once you have achieved an improved level of strength and conditioning, it's easy to forget where you initially were. Maintaining and increasing your physical improvements requires consistent effort every week. Take the time to celebrate and enjoy what you have accomplished, but realize that staying on top is more difficult than getting there. Remember where you were when you started your journey, and keep in the forefront of your mind where you want to go in the future. There is always another mountain to climb.

Posted October 18, 2021 by Matthew Romans