This book is about how to view and overcome obstacles. It teaches us that 1) perception is always within our control, 2) to persist in our efforts with deliberation and boldness and 3) to get a tight grip on life because it really is very precious. It is also a nice introduction into stoic philosophy.
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
-Ryan Holiday (The Obstacle Is the Way)
Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three steps:
- Perception: How we look at a problem (see things for what they are, not what you hope them to be)
- Action: Energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities (act with deliberation, boldness and persistence)
- Will: Cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty (endure and accept the world as it is, and remember that life is not happening to you and that it does not owe you anything).
- Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proposed course of action without the pestilence of panic or fear
- Our perceptions are the things we’re in complete control of
- Real strength lies in the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist
- Do I need to freak out about this?
- No, because I practiced for this situation and I can control myself
- No, because I’m able to realise that that doesn’t add anything constructive
- We retain the ability to inject perspectives into a situation. Perception precedes action
- Focusing on what is within our power magnifies our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted – self-indulgent and self-destructive
- Reality is falsely hemmed in by rules and compromises that we were taught as children
- Though our doubts (and self doubts) feel real, they have little bearing on what is and what isn’t possible.
- We must be sure to act with deliberation, boldness and persistence. These are the attributes of right and effective action
- Those who attack problems and life with the most initiative and energy usually win
- Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distractions, discourage or disorder
- It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit
- Change our relationship with failure. Iterate, fail and improve
- It’s not someone else’s responsibility to tell you what the meaning of life is. It is your job to figure that out and to answer that question with your actions
- Focus on results instead of pretty methods. Don’t worry about the ‘right’ way, do what you gotta do to get it done
- Start thinking like a radical pragmatic: still ambitious, aggressive and rooted in ideals, but also imminently practicable and guided by the possible. Not on everything you would like to have, but ambitious enough to get everything you need. Think progress, not perfection
- Learn to work with less. Less is good. It forces you to be creative, to find workarounds, to sublimate the ego and do anything to win besides challenging our enemies where they are strongest
- You don’t convince people by challenging their longest and most firmly held opinions
- When your energy seems insurmountable, try to use obstacles against themselves (e.g. Martin Luther King Jr fought hate with love, peace with violence)
- Be physically loose and mentally tight is powerful. It’s a power that drives our competitors nuts
- It’s not hard to seize an opportunity when it is in front of you. What you must do is learn how to press forward precisely when everyone around you sees disaster.
This too shall pass.
- Will is our internal power, which can never be affected by the outside world
- True will is quiet humility, resilience and flexibility; the other kind of will is weakness disguised by bluster and ambition
- It is not always possible for one man to rid the world of a greater evil or stop a country bent towards conflict. Of course, we try – because it can happen. But we should be ready for it not to. And we need to be able to find a greater purpose in this suffering and handle it with firmness and forbearance. This was Lincoln: always ready with a new idea or innovative approach but equally prepared for the worst. And then prepared to make the best of the worst
- With all the modern technology has come the conceited delusion that we control the world around us. Of course that is not true. It’s highly unlikely we will ever get rid of all the unpleasant and unpredictable parts of life. One needs only to look at history to see how random and vicious and awful the world can be
- Nothing happens to the wiseman against his expectations nor all all things turn out for him as he wished
- The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation
- The hubris at the core of this notion that we can change everything is somewhat new. The ancients used the word fate far more frequently than us because they were better acquainted with and exposed to how capricious and random the world could be
- In your worst moments, picture Johnson: always calm, always in control, genuinely loving the opportunity to prove himself, to perform for people, whether they wanted him to succeed or not. ‘No one understands him, this man who smiles. Well, the story of the fight is the story of a smile. If ever a man won by nothing more fatiguing than a smile, Johnson won today.’
- We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it. And why on earth would you choose to feel anything but good?
- Pride can be broken. Toughness has its limits. But a desire to help? No harshness, no deprivation, no toil should interfere with our empathy towards others. Compassion is always an option. Camaraderie as well. That’s a power of the will that can never be taken away, only relinquished
- Stop pretending that what you’re going through is somehow special or unfair. Whatever trouble you’re having – no matter how difficult – is not some unique misfortune picked out especially for you. It just what it is. This kind of myopia is what convinces us, to our own detriment, that we’re the centre of the universe. When really, there is a world beyond our own personal experience filled with people who have dealt with worse.
- We may not say it but deep down we act and behave like we’re invincible. Like we’re impervious to the trails and tribulations of morality. That stuff happens to other people, not to me. I have plenty of time left. But we forget how light our grip on life really is. Otherwise, we wouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over trivialities, or trying to be famous, or make more money than we could ever spend in our lifetime, or make plans far off in the future.
- Thinking about and being aware of our mortality creates real perspective and urgency. It doesn’t need to be depressing. Because it’s invigorating
- In the shadow of death, prioritisation is easier. As are graciousness and appreciation and principles. Everything falls in its proper place and perspective.
- Not everyone looks at obstacles – often the same ones you and I face – and sees reasons to despair. In fact, they see the opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way. It is so much better to be this way, isn’t it? There is a lightness and flexibility to this approach that seem very different from how we – and most people – choose to live. With our disappointments and resentments and frustrations.