Stillness Is the Key

Stillness Is the Key
Author: Ryan Holiday
Publisher: Portfolio
Published: 10/1/2019
In The Obstacle Is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy, bestselling author Ryan Holiday made ancient wisdom wildly popular with a new generation of leaders in sports, politics, and technology. In his new book, Stillness Is the Key, Holiday draws on timeless Stoic and Buddhist philosophy to show why slowing down is the secret weapon for those charging ahead.

Stillness Is the Key By. Ryan Holiday

Key Insights

When was the last time you took a mindful pause to be still and reflective?

How often do you ignore the notifications popping up on your phone?

In this busy world full of technology and hustle and bustle, you probably don’t get to take a breather too often.

But, did you know that being still is actually a top-secret weapon according to some of the greatest leaders the world has ever known?

According to Ryan Holiday in his book, “Stillness Is the Key,” taking a moment to breathe can help induce creativity and bring great clarity to your life.

These pauses soaked with inactivity can actually propel your life forward and alter your perspective.

“Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It inspires new ideas. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections.”- Ryan Holiday

The trick is learning how to sit still while the world continues on around you.

Key Points

  • Stillness Is the Key To Peace

We live in a world full of noise. There are constant conversations wherever we go, there is social media begging us to scroll through, traffic honking, and on top of that, we have our own schedules to adhere to which include family duties, social obligations, and of course, work. Life in the modern day is busy.

This busyness causes stress in our lives because we feel at high-demand 24/7. Everyone is trying to get our attention in one way or another. So, how do we clear our heads in order to make decisions efficiently?

According to Holiday, the best way to find clarity and peace is to be still.

But, what exactly is Stillness?

It’s an abstract idea, but you are sure to know it when you practice it.

Stillness can come in different forms. Perhaps you have felt it by being present and watching the sunrise. Or, maybe you have felt it while performing onstage. Or, while running a marathon. It is the simple, yet exuberant, feeling of being alive.

By muting both the chaos that is affecting you externally such as phonecalls and group texts and internally such as worries about a deadline, you will be able to tap into a greater knowledge that’s hiding inside yourself.

“How different would the world look if people spent as much time listening to their conscience as they did to chattering broadcasts? If they could respond to the calls of their convictions as quickly as we answer the dings and rings of technology in our pockets?”- Ryan Holiday

If you can find peace inside yourself, you will still be able to function to the best of your ability, even if your external world is crumbling around you.

A lot of religions have embraced Stillness. Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians all practice Stillness under different names. But, the universal message is the same: Stillness brings peace and clarity to one’s life.

  • Slow Things Down

Sometimes it is best to slow things down and resist listening to our gut instincts. Especially in high-stake situations. That’s because our gut jumps at a fight-or-flight decision rather quickly when things get heated.

For example, President John F. Kennedy woke up to the news in October of 1962 that a Soviet Union nuclear missile site was being constructed in Cuba, approximately 100 miles from the American coast.

Knowing this was a threat to the American people, JFK was urged to take aggressive action. But, JFK knew that if he was to become aggressive a nuclear war could commence.

The thirteen days that followed that October day is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Now, how do you think JFK navigated this intense time?

Well, first, he slowed things way down. He knew he needed a clear head to make a clear decision. He succumbed to a sort of meditative process where he wrote “missile” over and over on pages of paper, as well as the word “leaders.”

“This is, in fact, the first obligation of a leader and a decision-maker. Our job is not to “go with our gut” or fixate on the first impression we form about an issue. No, we need to be strong enough to resist thinking that is too neat, too plausible, and therefore almost always wrong. Because if the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the bigger picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is?”- Ryan Holiday

After doing that, JFK gave himself the time to go for a swim in the White House pool and took a walk in the rose garden. He took the time to unplug in order to come to a decision about what to do.

He settled on a blockade of Cuba, which of course, didn’t solve the problem, but it saved America from danger.

  • Be Present

It’s important to be present and limit when you are inputting into your life.

Throughout our day, we are usually trying to get out of the present moment, rather than sitting back and enjoying it. We want to rush through work to get home, rush through dinner to put the kids to bed, and rush to bed to wake up early for the next day. And, then where does our life go? How much time have we wasted not being present and enjoying our little moments?

We struggle to be present because we are constantly being hit over the head by information. We feel the pressure to stay on top of the information by scrolling social media, reading emails as they come in, and catching up on the latest trending news.

However, we should be taking advice from Napoleon, who used to wait three weeks before opening any letter he received. Napoleon did this because he found that these time-sensitive drastic issues usually sorted themselves out between the time he received the letter and the time he actually opened it.

Napoleon was great at selecting his “inputs.” Meaning, he was selective of what received his attention in life.

Some simple ways to do this in modern-day is to use the do not disturb setting on your phone, block unwanted emails, and unfriend toxic people.

By blocking out unnecessary “noise”, it’ll be easier for you to find stillness in your life.

  • Reflective Journaling

Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts on paper to help you hash out your thoughts and create clarity in your life.

Anne Frank is a historical example of how journaling can be not only therapeutic but useful. It helped her to see herself from an outsider’s perspective. She found it to be a way of reviewing her behavior and believed everyone should do it.

“This is what the best journals look like. They aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.”- Ryan Holiday

Journaling has been proven to help restore well-being after disastrous or traumatic events. It is a way to super-focus on yourself and ignore the distractions of the outside world.

When you sit down at night to journal, focus on things that confused you throughout the day such as, why you were in a particular mood. By journaling, you may be able to see where it stemmed from.

Make journaling consistent and it will turn into the most important time of your day.

  • Cultivate Silence

Surround yourself with silence. By surrounding yourself will silence, only then will you be able to truly hear.

Silence is full of richness. So, instead of listening to music on your commute or TV in the background, learn to turn off the devices and sit in silence.

Silence, however, according to music composer John Cage, does not exist. In one of his famous compositions, entitled, 4’33, he incorporated 4 minutes and 33 seconds worth of silence. But, during that silence, there were sounds such as rain pattering on the windows and people shifting in the audience. However, if Cage did not incorporate the silence onstage, then all of those sounds would have been lost and unheard.

By welcoming silence into the room, Cage was able to hear what was going on.

When our lives get too loud, finding quiet can helps us to refocus and find peace. A good way to do this is to find quiet places to spend time, such as the woods or a private garden.

By quieting the noise around us, we are able to be more aware and in touch with the world, we live in. And, it also helps us to find answers.

  • Peaceful Souls & Minds

We cannot be truly and genuinely happy if we do not possess both a peaceful soul and mind.

A great example of this is in June 2008, when Tiger Woods won the US Gold Championship for the third time. He did it with only one good leg, as the other was broken in two places!

It was a peak in his career, but shortly after, word got out about a secret life he was living. And, his scandal was leaked all over major news stations and was featured in every newspaper.

Woods was famous for his Stillness on the course. He had past trauma that helped to create his incredible golf game, however, it also made him suffer mentally and emotionally.

Through Woods’ downfall in the media, he realized that if you are lying all the time and living a secret life, your soul will become unhappy, and ultimately you will be unhappy. He realized he had been damaging himself.

His reflection on and off the golf course made for his success in life and in the game.

Our happiness and our satisfaction with life are only found when we start serving our soul with Stillness.

  • Conquer Desire

As humans, we are often driven by desire. This can come in different forms such as sexual desire or the desire for a raise at work.

But, if we learn to conquer desire and then be content with what we have, we will live much happier lives.

We need to learn to control our drive or else we will never be content in our lives. We will always want more.

A good question to ask yourself when you feel a desire tugging at you is, “how will I feel after I get it?” if your answer is “the same,” then it will turn into a life-long chase.

Asking yourself this question will help you to focus on the bigger picture. Every aspect of what you desire. For example, if you crave another drink, think of the hangover that will proceed it.

It is important to realize when you have enough and be content with the fact that enough is enough. You do not need any extra.

  • Bathe in Beauty

Surrounding yourself in beautiful scenery can help to calm your thoughts.

A lot of time this beauty is found in nature. A beautiful oak tree to sit under or a pond in a quiet wooded area. The peace that nature gives to us is unmatched.

In Japan, there is something which translates to “forest bathing”, in which natural spiritual therapy heals your soul. Forest bathing is basically taking time for yourself in nature to cure what’s ailing you or to simply adhere to routine self-care.

Of course, forest bathing is not easy for everyone, especially if they live in a crowded city.

The important thing is to find the beauty that is around you. It doesn’t have to be a forest, it could be the cracks in a sidewalk. Take the time to notice the tiny beautiful things, and you will start to feel more at peace.

  • Physical Activity

Physical activity is essential for someone who wants to practice Stillness. A good way to incorporate that into your life is to find a hobby.

This hobby doesn’t need to be ultra-physical, like running or rock-climbing. It could be something as simple as doodling on a piece of paper, baking, or stretching on a yoga mat. For example, Winston Churchill’s meditative physical activity of choice was bricklaying. He said it helped to heal his depression and escape problems. It also was a good way to exercise his body.

Besides Churchill, a lot of great leaders had hobbies, such as UK Prime Minister William Gladstone, who cut down trees and John Cage who hunted mushrooms in the woods.

To help you reach your ultimate Stillness, find a way to exercise in your life. Moving your body will help you to meditate and find peace.

  • Embrace Sleep

If you embrace sleep and moderation, you will feel content and at peace.

It’s important to know your limits. For example, if you are working on a project, but are mentally exhausted, it is more productive to get some sleep and go back to it in the morning than to keep pushing on and continue hurting yourself mentally.

In this day in age, so many of us are trying to do way too much. We say ‘yes’ to social obligations and extra responsibilities even if we don’t have the time to spare.

That is why it is important to stop saying ‘yes’ and know your limits. Be present and embrace the idea of moderation. You need to protect your body, your mind, and your soul in order to fully embrace Stillness and create your own happiness.

“Stillness is the key to, well, just about everything.”- Ryan Holiday

The Main Take-Away:

Everyone can benefit from Stillness. It allows you to make decisions in difficult situations and it also helps to combat stress, change your perspective, and find inner peace.


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