The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

A very accessible and concise stoic text. Particularly good for newcomers to stoic philosophy. I understand why people keep their favourite stoic book next to their bed. You can’t read a book like this, and suddenly become a stoic.

A real stoic takes repeated action, endeavouring to implement sound principles better and better each day. A we need frequent reminders to do this effectively. The principles are simple but difficult to apply as they often cut against the grain of our reptilian instincts. We look for excuses, blame others, desire comfort and seek out shortcuts. Stoicism throws these instincts out of the window and turns the tables back onto us, arguing that each obstacle is an opportunity, indeed that the obstacle is the way. Super powerful and highly recommended, particularly for those who want to invigorate their interactions with the world, contend against subtle bouts of meaninglessness and overcome demotivation.


A few random highlights:

“Nothing is good or bad, thinking makes it so” – Shakespeare

See mistakes by employees as their training

“I refuse to acknowledge that. I resist the temptation to declare that a failure. I don’t agree to be intimidated.”

“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself” – publius syrus

Gavin De Becker writes in The Gift of Fear, “when you worry, ask yourself, what am I choosing not to see right now? What are the important things I’m missing because I’m choosing worry over introspection?”

“Real strength lies in the control (or perhaps even better, domestication) of our emotions, not pretending that they don’t exist.” – Taleb

Don’t let the force of an impression knock you off your feet, just say to it “hold on a moment, let me see what you are, what you represent and let me put you to the test.” – epictetus

Strip away the glamour of a person or object by describing the raw observation. Flesh and bones of a human. Old dead animal of expensive meat.

Be the solution to people’s problems and project that aura.

Obstacles and challenges generate creativity if we can throw out the negative thoughts that initially arise on account of fear.

Resist and persist” – persist in your efforts and resist the temptation to distraction, discouragement, disorder or giving up.

Setting clear goals allows the obstacles to seem surmountable and smaller by comparison to the goal . Process allows us to take steps towards the goal each day and not worry that the end goal needs to be reached in one day

First (or new) jobs introduce us to the broom. And there is nothing shameful about sweeping. Do your job and do it well.

Deng Xiaoping, “I don’t care if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”

When greeted with force our natural inclination is to push back but martial arts teaches us that the opposite is required. We have to pull on the force so that the opponent gets imbalanced and falls over.

Never let a crisis go to waste. Respond constructively to the opportunity to solve that issue, uncover the problem and learn

Sustine et abstinebear and forbear. Acknowledge the pain but trod on in your task. Churchill’s acronym: KBO keep buggering on.

The inner citadel: our inner fortress that protects us from adversity, but it needs to be cultivated through physical and mental practice. The way to strengthen an arch is to put weight on it.

Conduct a pre mortem to assess what could go wrong. Envisage the worst-case scenario to prevent it and prepare fully.

Amor fati – want nothing to be different; not forward, not backward, not in all eternity

A man’s job is to make the world a better place and to attend to his soul – Leroy Percy

What would you change if you had six months to live? Change it.

“Behind mountains are more mountains” – Haitian proverb

Vires acquirit EundoWe gather strength as we go

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