STILLNESS IS THE KEY
Stillness is the key. “History shows that the ability to cultivate quiet and quell the turmoil inside us, to slow the mind down, to understand our emotions, and to conquer our bodies has always been extremely difficult. “
The idea of stillness “is an attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence, for every kind of person. “
Ryan Holiday narrates Abraham Lincoln’s strategy during the American Civil War. Lincoln considered Vicksburg in Mississippi to be the key to win the battle. In his plan, Lincoln turned out to be right, Vicksburg really was the key.
Conversely, Ryan Holiday suggests that stillness is the key to just about everything, including:
“To thinking clearly, to seeing the whole chessboard, to making tough decisions, to managing our emotions, to identifying the right goals, to handling high-pressure situations, to maintaining relationships, to building good habits, to being productive, to physical excellence, to feeling fulfilled, to capturing moments of laughter and joy. “
We’ve all tasted stillness before. “You have felt it in your soul. And you want more of it, you need more of it”.
“Stillness is the key” aims to show how to uncover and draw upon the stillness we already possess. “It’s about the cultivation of and the connection to that powerful force given to us at birth, the one that has atrophied in our modern, busy lives”
STILLNESS IS THE KEY: PART I: MIND
THE DOMAIN OF THE MIND
In 1962, John F. Kennedy saved the world from a nuclear holocaust. Despite his advisors recommendations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “Kennedy wanted everyone to slow down so that they could really think about the problem in front of them.”
To the author, Kennedy had been “like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands, unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”
Ryan Holiday highlights how Kennedy would seek solitude in the White House Rose Garden. Believing that stillness is the key, Kennedy would go for long swims, both to clear his mind and to think.
While we face crises like Kennedy, we will also need the same stillness that Kennedy drew upon.
We might go through a divorce, face a financial crisis or a new career, in these situations we must:
- Be fully present.
- Empty our mind of preconceptions.
- Take our time.
- Sit quietly and reflect.
- Reject distraction.
- Weigh advice against the counsel of our convictions
- Deliberate without being paralyzed.
In such situations, stillness is the key and it’s a mental ability that we can cultivate to succeed in life. “It will not be easy. But it is essential.”
“Kennedy, like Lincoln, was not born with this stillness. He was a defiant troublemaker in high school, a dilettante for most of college and even as a senator. He had his demons and he made plenty of mistakes. But with hard work—work you are capable of doing too—he overcame those shortcomings and developed the equanimity that served him so well over those terrifying thirteen days.”
There’s an expression: garbage in, garbage out. The best way to get good output is to watch over the inputs.
Unfortunately, most of us are afraid of missing out; we stick to the news 24/7. The “CNN Effect” happens when there’s too much information as we become more reactive. We get drowned into a sea of information.
As stillness is the key, we need to do like Napoleon back in the days. He would delay responding to the mail. He was much selective about the kind of information that got access to his brain.
“We need to cultivate a similar attitude—give things a little space, don’t consume news in real time, be a season or two behind on the latest trend or cultural phenomenon, don’t let your inbox lord over your life.”
“The important stuff will still be important by the time you get to it. The unimportant will have made its insignificance obvious (or simply disappeared). Then, with stillness rather than needless urgency or exhaustion, you will be able to sit down and give what deserves consideration your full attention.”
Do not end up with the analysis-paralysis disease. Drowning in information is a tactic used by intelligence operatives so “their enemies lose the scent of the truth”.
Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Before we can make deep changes in our lives, we have to look into our diet, our way of consuming. We have to live in such a way that we stop consuming the things that poison us and intoxicate us. Then we will have the strength to allow the best in us to arise, and we will no longer be victims of anger, of frustration.”
Stillness is the key as it will help you become more present and finally see the truth. With stillness would you be able to hear the voice inside.
EMPTY THE MIND
Shawn Green almost ruined his Major League Baseball career in 2002. To picture the scene, he was booed by the fans and he risked being traded or sent down to the minors.
Facing a similar situation, all of us would listen to our little voice: “What’s wrong? Why can’t you get this right”?
But ”Shawn Green knew he had to get rid of the toxic thinking that had knocked him off his game in the first place”
Empty the mind was a lesson Shawn learned in Buddhism. He learned that “The goal of Zen was to “achieve a void . . . noiseless, colorless, heatless void”—to get to that state of emptiness, whether it was on the mound or in the batter’s box or at practice.”
With practice, he became the fourteenth player in history ever to hit four home runs in a single game.
Most of us however unthinkingly think too much. “We’re overloaded, overwhelmed, and distracted . . . by our own mind!”
“But if we can clear space, if we can consciously empty our mind, as Green did, insights and breakthroughs happen.”
“The mind is an important and sacred place, keep it clean and clear”
SLOW DOWN, THINK DEEPLY
The truth will be revealed to us but only if we take time to slow down and really look. Ryan Holiday talks about how appearances are misleading, so do first impressions. Relying on appearances often leads to bad decisions and missed opportunities.
“To see what matters, you really have to look. To understand it, you have to really think. It takes real work to grasp what is invisible to just about everyone else. This will not only be advantageous to your career and your business, but it will also help you find peace and comfort”
Your job, after you have emptied your mind, is to slow down and think. To really think, on a regular basis
. . . Think about what’s important to you.
. . . Think about what’s actually going on.
. . . Think about what might be hidden from view.
. . . Think about what the rest of the chessboard looks like.
. . . Think about what the meaning of life really is.
One way to understand how “stillness is the key” is to start journaling. Ann Frank was offered a journal for her thirteenth birthday. In there would she put all her feelings. Even her father noticed that Anne wrote only when she underwent major problems. She wrote when she was upset, confused or when she was curious.
Anne Frank “wrote in that journal as a form of therapy, so as not to unload her troubled thoughts on the family and compatriots with whom she shared such unenviable conditions.”
The author recounts how many successful people, ancient and modern, practiced the art of journaling. He for example cites the case of Oscar Wilde, Marcus Aurelius, Queen Victoria, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka and Benjamin Franklin.
There are many forms of journaling but it stands as a great way to ask oneself tough questions.
Journaling can also help us find an inner stillness. Studies show that journaling helps “improve well-being after traumatic and stressful events.”
“Similarly, a University of Arizona study showed that people were able to better recover from divorce and move forward if they journaled on the experience.”
“Keeping a journal is a common recommendation from psychologists as well”
Putting our feelings and emotions on paper is a liberating act. It also lets you see your thoughts from a distance.
You don’t need to clarify how you are going to journal. The single most important thing is to ask yourself why you want to journal. Do you want to talk about your feelings? Do you want to quiet your mind? Do you want to clarify your thoughts etc.?
For example, I also believe that stillness is the key. I noticed that I sleep better after 10 or 20 minutes of journaling. It helps me quiet my loud inner voice especially after a rough day.
As Ryan emphasizes “it may turn out to be the most important thing you do all day.”
Randall Stutman who advised many CEOs and leaders on Wall Street made an interesting study. He observed how big corporations recharged in their downtime. He discovered that they practice sailing, long-distance cycling, and scuba diving or listening quietly to classical music.
What characterizes all these activities is the absence of voices.
Thomas Carlyle said: ““Thought will not work except in silence. If we want to think better, we need to seize these moments of quiet. If we want more revelations—more insights or breakthroughs or new, big ideas—we have to create more room for them. We have to step away from the comfort of noisy distractions and stimulations. We have to start listening.”
The problem is that we live in a world defined by noise. You can hear a phone ringing; noise-canceling headphones became a common trend, we simply avoid spending quality time with ourselves.
Stillness is the key. “Each of us needs to cultivate moments where we limit our inputs and turn down the volume so that we can access a deeper awareness of what’s going on around us.”
Socrates was much respected with his humility. What made him so wise -as Diogenes Laërtius wrote- was that “he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance”. As a wise man once said “I know a lot, but one thing I know is that I don’t know everything”.
Socrates was brilliant because he constantly sought for the truth, for wisdom.
“Each school has its own take on wisdom, but the same themes appear in all of them: The need to ask questions. The need to study and reflect.”
To seek wisdom, Ryan Holiday recommends reading books. “People who don’t read have no advantage over those who cannot read.”
In addition we can also seek mentors and teachers. They will serve as guides helping us avoid mistakes they already made.
You can also “put yourself in tough situations. Accept challenges. Familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar. That’s how you widen your perspective and your understanding.”
FIND CONFIDENCE, AVOID EGO
Ryan relates the story of David and Goliath. The first knew his strengths and weaknesses but the second was full of ego. As the story unfolded, we discovered how Goliath’s arrogance would lead to his death.
Ego might make someone successful, but as Ryan pointed out, the egomaniac never finds peace. Egomaniacs are oftentimes lonely, insecure as they always need to prove something to someone.
Besides ego, there is another barrier for stillness: “the imposter syndrome”. Egomaniac particularly has it because they feel unqualified for what they had accomplished.
The solution remains confidence. Confidence that is “earned, rational, objective and still”.
“Confident people know what matters. They know when to ignore other people’s opinions.”
“Ego, on the other hand, is unsettled by doubts, afflicted by hubris, exposed by its own boasting and posturing.”
If stillness is the key, avoid feeding insecurity. “Don’t feed delusions of grandeur. Both are obstacles to stillness. Be confident.”
STILLNESS IS THE KEY: PART II: SPIRIT
THE DOMAIN OF THE SOUL
If there is a story that best illustrates the importance of the spirit, it would be Tiger Woods’. On the surface, Tiger Woods was mentally tough, he succeeded in his field and he’s one of richest athletes in the world. In other parts of his life however, he felt miserable.
The author stresses the “twenty-one consecutive covers of the New York Post. The text messages. The affairs with porn stars and Perkins waitresses, frantic sex in church parking lots, sex even with the twenty-one-year-old daughters of family friends, all made public. The stint in sex rehab, the loss of his sponsors, and the $100 million divorce—it all nearly broke him, as it would break anyone.”
Money and fame don’t necessarily bring us happiness. Woods was an island, a solitary man. The more he achieved and the less happy he was, just like many of us in the modern world. Ryan coined the expression “spiritual malady” to describe what he went through all this time.
We have a lot to learn from Tiger Woods when he hit rock bottom. He didn’t win any other major for a decade. But at 43, with a fused back, he went back on winning the Masters in 2019.
According to Ryan Holiday, stillness is the key. More important than that, “our soul is the key to our happiness (or our happiness), contentment (or discontent), moderation (or gluttony), and stillness (or perturbation).”
“This is why those who seek stillness must come to”:
- “Develop a strong moral compass.”
- “Steer clear of envy and jealousy and harmful desires.”
- “Come to terms with the painful wounds of their childhood.”
- “Practice gratitude and appreciation for the world around them.”
- “Cultivate relationships and love in their lives.”
- “Place belief and control in the hands of something larger than themselves.”
- “Understand that there will never be “enough” and that the unchecked pursuit of more ends only in bankruptcy.”
In “The power of full engagement” by Jim Loehr, we discovered that virtue is a value in action. We may consider generosity as a value, but the virtue is behaving generously. We feel better about ourselves when we transform our values into virtues.
In the same way, Ryan Holiday also insists on the importance of virtue. “Virtue, the Stoics believed, was the highest good—the summum bonum—and should be the principle behind all our actions.”
Without a moral code, we’re doomed to wander through life. “No one has less serenity than the person who does not know what is right or wrong.”
“Meanwhile, the person who knows what they value? Who has a strong sense of decency and principle and behaves accordingly? Who possesses easy moral self-command, who leans comfortably upon this goodness, day in and day out? This person has found stillness.”
Stillness is the key and to reach that state, virtue is the way. “Where virtue is, so too are happiness and beauty” Confucius wrote that the “gentleman is self-possessed and relaxed, while the petty man is perpetually full of worry.”
Discover your values
The first step is to discover your values. Sit down and ask yourself: “What’s important to me? What would I rather die for than betray? How am I going to live and why?”
Again, the power of full engagement particularly emphasizes the importance of a value-driven life (I highly recommend it, check the full summary) and they propose this exercise to help you discover your values:
Set aside uninterrupted time to respond to the following questions:
- Jump ahead to the end of your life. What are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical?
- Think of someone that you deeply respect. Describe three qualities in this person that you most admire.
- Who are you at your best?
- What one-sentence inscription would you like to see on your tombstone that would capture who you really were in your life?
“The more we are committed to and guided by our values, the more powerful a source of energy they become.”
Amidst the challenges life throws at you; once you discover your values and practice them, you’ll be virtuous, you’ll be still.
HEAL THE INNER CHILD
“Many of us carry wounds from our childhood. Maybe someone didn’t treat us right. Or we experienced something terrible. Or our parents were just a little too busy or a little too critical or a little too stuck dealing with their own issues to be what we needed.”
In response, we demand reparation for our early wounds as Sigmund Freud explained. It’s common for a person to seek fame and fortune because he felt incomplete during his childhood. It was the case for Tiger Woods who was constantly harassed by his father. The same thing happened to Navy SEALs David Goggins who related how badly his father treated him in his autobiography “Can’t hurt me”.
But Ryan Holidays reminds us how this logic doesn’t make our lives easier. We always feel insecure, we deeply feel that we are not enough; we constantly need to prove ourselves and seek validations through our material successes.
While stillness is the key, let’s realize that we need self-reflection -and eventually- a therapy. Imagine ‘How much better and less scary life is when we don’t have to see it from the perspective of a scared, vulnerable child? How much lighter will our load be if we’re not adding extra baggage on top?’
Stillness is the key, “Take the time to think about the pain you carry from your early experiences. Think about the “age” of the emotional reactions you have when you are hurt or betrayed or unexpectedly challenged in some way. That’s your inner child. They need a hug from you. They need you to say, “Hey, buddy. It’s okay. I know you’re hurt, but I am going to take care of you.”
To reach stillness, our desires and lust remain one of the biggest barriers we’ll need to overcome. Uncontrolled, they will inevitably trip us up.
Just as the author reported Tiger Woods’ misadventures, he also depicted how John F. Kennedy’s sex drive got him in trouble. He cheated multiple times on his wife. “Kennedy was no romantic. Girlfriends would describe his insatiable but joyless sex drive. According to one conquest, sex was “just physical and social activity to him,” a way to stave off the boredom, or get a rush. He didn’t care about the other person, and in time, he almost didn’t care about the pleasure it gave himself either.”
The point here is not to judge anyone; it’s more to understand that all of us succumb to our own desires.
Stillness is the key and we must pay attention because “a person enslaved to their urges is not free—whether they are a plumber or the president.” In addition, “lust is a destroyer of peace in our lives”.
To develop spiritual strength, we should control and not be at the mercy of our desires. Whenever an impulse arises, we’d better “resist it, to sit with it and examine it, let it pass by like a bad smell”. Only then can we become who we want to be in this world.
In his powerful book “The one thing by Gary Keller: the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results”, the author tells the story of a king and a beggar which I copy here.
“Upon coming out of his palace one morning and encountering a beggar, a king asks, “What do you want?” The beggar laughingly says, “You ask as though you can fulfill my desire!” Offended, the king replies, “Of course I can. What is it?” The beggar warns, “Think twice before you promise anything.”
“Now, the beggar was no ordinary beggar but the king’s past-life master, who had promised in their former life, “I will come to try and wake you in our next life. This life you have missed, but I will come again to help you.”
“The king, not recognizing his old friend, insisted, “I will fulfill anything you ask, for I am a very powerful king who can fulfill any desire.” The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. Can you fill this begging bowl?” “Of course!” said the king, and he instructed his vizier to “fill the man’s begging bowl with money.” The vizier did, but when the money was poured into the bowl, it disappeared. So he poured more and more, but the moment he did, it would disappear. “
“The begging bowl remained empty. “
“Word spread throughout the kingdom, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige and power of the king were at stake, so he told his vizier, “If my kingdom is to be lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.” He continued to empty his wealth into the bowl. Diamonds, pearls, emeralds. His treasury was becoming empty. “
“And yet the begging bowl seemed bottomless. Everything put into it immediately disappeared! “
“Finally, as the crowd stood in utter silence, the king dropped at the beggars feet and admitted defeat. “You are victorious, but before you go, fulfill my curiosity. What is the secret of this begging bowl?” The beggar humbly replied, “There is no secret. It is simply made up of human desire.”
As Gary Keller pointed out “One of our biggest challenges is making sure our life’s purpose doesn’t become a beggar’s bowl, a bottomless pit of desire continually searching for the next thing that will make us happy. That’s a losing proposition”
Morale of the story
Stillness is the key and there is no stillness for the person who has a begging bowl made of human desire. There is no need in having more if we cannot even appreciate what we already have.
We’ll need to cultivate a sense of “enough”, avoiding this “ceaseless wanting”. Try to picture the father who works so hard because he loves his family. But the problem is, he’s never home to enjoy quality time with them, what a paradox! We might end up like this father if we don’t impose a limit, if we don’t say “enough”.
To Ryan Holiday, “You will never feel okay by way of external accomplishments. Enough comes from the inside. It comes from stepping off the train. From seeing what you already have, what you’ve always had.”
BATHE IN BEAUTY
There is a term “extasis” which means a heavenly experience that lets us step outside ourselves. We might encounter such experience when we go to the forest.
Ryan Holiday highlights that “extasis” is a state available to us whenever we want. We can experience beautiful moments at any time as long as we open our souls to them.
We can see beauty everywhere and we can appreciate the little things. For example, The Japanese have a concept, shinrin yoku—forest bathing—which is a form of therapy that uses nature as a treatment for mental and spiritual issues.”
“Don’t let the beauty of life escape you. See the world as the temple that it is. Let every experience be churchlike. Marvel at the fact that any of this exists—that you exist.”
ACCEPT A HIGHER POWER
“It’s next to impossible to find an ancient philosophical school that does not talk about a higher power (or higher powers). Not because they had “evidence” of its existence, but because they knew how powerful faith and belief were, how essential they were to the achievement of stillness and inner peace.”
Accepting the idea of a higher power liberates us. We understand that we’re not in control and “really never have been”. As Ryan said “none of us are”.
In past civilizations and cultures, people overcame incredible adversity because they had faith, they believed in a higher deity.
“There is no stillness to the mind that thinks of nothing but itself, nor will there ever be peace for the body and spirit that follow their every urge and value nothing but themselves.”
The author here argues that a solitary existence is not worth living. Indeed, some people take vows of chastity or solitude. “The Buddha, for instance, walked out on his wife and young son without even saying goodbye, because enlightenment was more important.”
Some athletes prefer staying single because an intimate relationship might impede their performances. Some go as far as not wanting any children. But it’s nonsense as the author maintains.
He takes the example of German chancellor Angela Merkel, who received unwavering support from her husband. Similarly, “Madame Curie was long cynical about love, until she met Pierre, whom she married and with whom she collaborated and ultimately won a Nobel Prize.”
At the end of the movie “Into the wild”, the main character dies alone in the forest while writing “Happiness is only real when shared”.
In a similar fashion, Ryan Holiday emphasizes that “Stillness is best not sought alone. And, like success, it is best when shared. We all need someone who understands us better than we understand ourselves, if only to keep us honest.”
Because stillness is the key, a “Life without relationships, focused solely on accomplishment, is empty and meaningless (in addition to being precarious and fragile).” Stillness requires other people, stillness needs you to enter relationships which can be under the forms of mentorship, parenting, best friends or marriage.
CONQUER YOUR ANGER
A negative purpose might motivate you in the short term but it is costly in the long term. A negative purpose also drains our energy. Release of toxic hormones creates an imbalance over time because we are motivated mainly by avoidance, fear and anger. In the book High performance habits, Brendon Burchard refers to this as “reactance” which are acts motivated by the will to fight back or act out against a perceived insult or threat. For example resentment or jealousy might push you to seek success; but they consume lots of energy.
In the same way, in stillness is the key, Ryan Holiday takes Michael Jordan’s example.
Jordan considered anger as a fuel to be productive. His game was beautiful but “his conduct was often savage and ugly” according to the author.
History has shown that leaders, artists, generals, and athletes fail in the long term when they are primarily driven by anger. But even if they don’t fail, they tend to be miserable.
“The leaders we truly respect, who stand head and shoulders above the rest, have been motivated by more than anger or hate. From Pericles to Martin Luther King Jr., we find that great leaders are fueled by love.”
“Even in Jordan’s case, he was most inspiring not when he was trying to dominate someone but when he was playing for the love of the game.”
Anger is truly counterproductive, it is only temporarily efficient.
We then should choose love and gratitude over anger and resentment. Stillness is the key and it depends on our ability to choose not to be angry, “to run on different fuel”.
STILLNESS IS THE KEY: PART III: BODY
THE DOMAIN OF THE BODY
Churchill was one of the most productive politicians and human-beings in the world. He wrote best-selling books, wrote some ten million words and over forty books, painted over five hundred paintings and finally delivered two thousand and three hundred speeches. In some years of his life, he would work up to 110 hours a week. Between 1940 and 1943, he traveled 110,000 miles by air, sea and car.
When asked “to what he attributed his success in life” he responded “conservation of energy”. Churchill would even say: “Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”
He lived by a few rules which were “to aim high; to never allow mistakes or criticism to get you down; to waste no energy on grudges, duplicity, or infighting; and to make room for joy.”
In his productive life, Churchill also was a strong adept of physical routines and habit cultivation. He for example woke up around eight, bathed and then read for two hours. He’d also work on his writing project, have lunch and at 3 p.m. he’d take a two-hour nap.
Churchill said: “You must sleep some time between lunch and dinner and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will accomplish more. You get two days in one—well, at least one and a half, I’m sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities.”
“Mens sana in corpore sano—a strong mind in a strong body.” The final domain is as important as the two previous ones.
In “The power of full engagement” Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz give prominence to “physical energy (which) is the fundamental source of fuel, even if our work is almost completely sedentary. It not only lies at the heart of alertness and vitality but also affects our ability to manage our emotions, sustain concentration, think creatively, and even maintain our commitment to whatever mission we are on.”
To Ryan Holiday, we will need to:
- “Rise above our physical limitations.”
- “Find hobbies that rest and replenish us.”
- “Develop a reliable, disciplined routine.”
- “Spend time getting active outdoors.”
- “Seek out solitude and perspective.”
- “Learn to sit—to do nothing when called for.”
- “Get enough sleep and rein in our workaholism.”
- “Commit to causes bigger than ourselves.”
We need to say no so that we say yes to the most important things.
People also read how to say no without feeling guilty
TAKE A WALK
Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr, all of them loved to take long walks. They also discovered their best ideas during a long walk.
As written in the power of full engagement, the authors stress “In his provocative book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, author Michael Gelb poses a wonderfully revealing question: “Where are you when you get your best ideas?” Gelb has asked this question to thousands of people over the years, and the most common answers he gets include “in the shower,” “resting in bed,” “walking in nature” and “listening to music.”
“We ask our own clients a similar question and their answers have ranged from taking a jog to meditating to dreaming to sitting on the beach. “Almost no one,” Gelb writes, “claims to get their best ideas at work.”
The mind is active when you take a long walk but it is still. Ryan qualifies taking a walk as “an exercise in peace”.
The benefits are vast if you take a long walk. Studies have shown that walking increases the supply of blood to the brain. Conversely, taking a long walk “can be an effective treatment for major depression in some patients as medication.”
“In an attempt to unlock a deeper part of our consciousness and access a high level of our mind, we would do well to get our body moving and our blood flowing.”
BUILD A ROUTINE
Happiness comes from a sense of coherence and control. If you want to feel in control of your life, you’ll need to learn how to build a routine.
“A good routine is not only a source of great comfort and stability, it’s the platform from which stimulating and fulfilling work is possible.”
“Routine, done for long enough and done sincerely enough, becomes more than routine. It becomes ritual—it becomes sanctified and holy.”
People also read the miracle morning summary by Hal Elrod
People also read Atomic habits by James Clear
GET RID OF YOUR STUFF
Xunzi, an Eastern philosopher once said “The gentleman makes things his servants. The petty man is a servant to things.” We live in a materialistic and consumerist world. We buy things we don’t even use to impress people we don’t even know. Oftentimes, the things in the physical world end up owning us.
To live in stillness, Ryan Holiday recommends reducing our needs and our possessions. The human desires are like the bottomless pit we mentioned earlier.” philosophers have always advocated reducing our needs and limiting our possessions. Monks and priests take vows of poverty because it will mean fewer distractions and more room (literally) for the spiritual pursuit to which they have committed.”
The Law of Pareto which states that 20% of the cause produces 80% of the results even applies in our daily life. Take a look at your closet and see the clothes you’re using the most and the ones you use the least.
“Start by walking around your house and filling up trash bags and boxes with everything you don’t use. Think of it as clearing more room for your mind and your body. Give yourself space. Give your mind a rest.”
A good life is a life we’re in peace in. Stillness is the key, get rid of your stuff.
In his book Deep work, Cal Newport begins with an interesting story.
As the author relates, the psychiatrist Carl Jung once built a retreat in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, in a village named Bollingen.
In 1922, Jung wanted to revolutionize the field of psychiatry and “this goal required deeper, more careful thought than he could manage amid his hectic city lifestyle”
For this, he sought solitude and adopted strict rituals. For example would wake up at seven a.m. then spend two hours of intense focus, undistracted writing in his office. In the afternoon, he would mostly do nothing but meditation or long walks in the countryside.
Carl Jung was not alone. Other prominent figures in several fields such as Michel de Montaigne, Mark Twain or recently, J.K. Rowling or Woody Allen also needed solitude in their work.
“It is difficult to think clearly in rooms filled with other people. It’s difficult to understand yourself if you are never by yourself. It’s difficult to have much in the way of clarity and insight if your life is a constant party and your home is a construction site.”
“Sometimes you have to disconnect in order to better connect with yourself and with the people you serve and love.”
Bill Gates too is well-known for taking a “think week” where he would spend seven days alone in a cabin in the forest. He would isolate himself (often in a lakeside cottage) to do nothing but read and think big thoughts.
Stillness is the key, Ryan Holiday says “solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.”
BE A HUMAN BEING
In Japan, they have a word “karoshi” which can be translated literally as death from overwork. And in Korean it’s gwarosa.
In the power of full engagement, the authors highlight five key factors that explain why people die at work:
- Extremely long hours that interfere with normal recovery and rest patterns
- Night work that interferes with normal recovery and rest patterns
- Working without holidays or breaks
- High-pressure work without breaks
- Extremely demanding physical labor and continuously stressful work
Ryan Holiday takes the example of Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Both died of overwork as they never took time to relax or disengage from their demanding duties. In 1861, Albert died of Crohn’s disease, “exacerbated by extreme stress”.
Conversely, elite athletes have injuries not because of collisions but because of overuse. “Michael Phelps prematurely ended his swimming career due to burnout—despite all the gold medals, he never wanted to get in a pool again.”
Stillness is the key, let’s value moderation and let’s know our limits. Don’t burn out.
GO TO SLEEP
Ryan Holiday talks about Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel who wanted to be accessible to everyone inside and outside of his company. As the company grew to 250 stores in 20 countries he soon found himself getting less sleep at night and even ended sleep-deprived. He wanted to micromanage everything and mistakes over mistakes, he ruined the billion-dollar company he created until it disintegrated in 2014.
“A 2017 study actually found that lack of sleep increases negative repetitive thinking. Abusing the body leads the mind to abuse itself”
“Sleep is the recharging of the internal batteries whose energy stores we recruit in order to do our work. It is a meditative practice. It is stillness. It’s the time when we turn off. It’s built into our biology for a reason.”
Besides eating and breathing, getting enough sleep deeply heals the body. It’s the most important source of recovery in our lives.
Proper sleep helps in our development. “In addition to its energy renewing function, sleep is also a period during which substantial growth and repair occurs—most of it at the deepest level of sleep, when slow-wave delta brainwaves are dominant.” Psychologist Dan Kripke studied the sleep patterns of one million people over six years. He discovered that the mortality rates were the highest (2,5 times higher) for those sleeping less than four hours. Those who sleep more than ten hours also have a relatively high mortality rate (1,5 times higher). This is to say that sleep deprivation and too much sleep, significantly increase the risk of mortality.
“Shift workers also suffer a far higher incidence of coronary artery disease and heart attacks than do day workers.”
“The longer, more continuously and later at night you work, the less efficient and more mistake-prone you become.” (The power of full engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)
Getting enough sleep will not only help you be in peace with yourself, it deeply heals the body and you’ll be able to perform at your best.
FIND A HOBBY
High performing people all have a common trait: they fully engage in their activities and they strategically disengage by resting. Practicing a hobby is the perfect way to disengage from work.
Ryan Holiday talks about William Gladstone who loved chopping down huge trees by hand, that was his leisure. Gladstone also loved long hikes and mountain climbing. Leisure can take any form as long as it rests your mind.
“In Greek, “leisure” is rendered as scholé—that is, school. Leisure historically meant simply freedom from the work needed to survive, freedom for intellectual or creative pursuits. It was learning and study and the pursuit of higher things.”
In his book “Essentialism: a disciplined pursuit of less”, Greg McKewon calls leisure “play” and he highlights “play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations’ ability to innovate. “Play,” he says, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity.” As he succinctly puts it, “Nothing fires up the brain like play.”
Stillness is the key and you’ll need to play and to find a hobby.
Leisure is a positive thing, escapism not. Some people want to escape from real life by destroying themselves with alcohol or drugs; they want to numb the pain they’re feeling. But it’s a losing strategy.
“The problem is that you can’t flee despair. You can’t escape, with your body, problems that exist in your mind and soul. You can’t run away from your choices—you can only fix them with better choices.”
Instead of wanting vacation all the time, create a life you don’t want to escape from.
“If we want to be good and feel good, we have to do good”
“What is better? To live as a coward or to die a hero? […] To refuse a call from your fellow humans or to dive in bravely and help them when they need you?”
“A person who makes selfish choices or acts contrary to their conscience will never be at peace.”
“Do the hard good deeds. “You must do the thing you cannot do,” Eleanor Roosevelt said. It will be scary. It won’t always be easy, but know that what is on the other side of goodness is true stillness.”
ON TO THE FINAL ACT
If there is one thing that all of us are sure to experience someday, it would be death. Since the first time we were born, we cannot avoid it.
As a conclusion, Ryan Holiday wrote “Most of this book has been about how to live well. But in so doing, it is also about how to die well. Because they are the same thing.”