The Obstacle Is The Way - by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle Is The Way
Get it now on Amazon.

An amazing book that will undoubtedly help you begin to view obstacles as opportunities. How we perceive everything in life and in turn react to it is everything. This is a must read and a must re-read.

Recommendation: 5/5


My Highlights

Our actions may be impeded...but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.

The impediment to action advances action.

What stands in the way becomes the way.

Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?

...learn to be ceaselessly creative and opportunistic.

Not: This is not so bad.

But: I can make this good.

"The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition."

When we meet with adversity, we can turn it to advantage...

When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go—carving you a path. "The Things which hurt," Benjamin Franklin wrote, "instruct."

Many of our problems come from having too much: rapid technological disruption, junk food, traditions that tell us the way we're supposed to live our lives. We're soft, entitled, and scared of conflict. Great ties are great softeners.

Objective judgement, now at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events. That's all you need. — MARACUS AURELIUS

Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps.

Perception, Action, and the Will.

...obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced.

...obstacles are actually opportunities to test ourselves, to try new things, and, ultimately, to triumph.

WHAT IS PERCEPTION? It's how we see and understand what occurs around us—and what we decide those events will mean. Our perceptions can be a source of strength or of great weakness.

To prevent becoming overwhelmed by the world around us, we must...learn how to limit our passions and their control over our lives.

While others are excited or afraid, we will remain calm and imperturbable. We will see things simply and straightforwardly.

...Warren Buffet's famous adage to "be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful."

You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming—or possibly thriving because of—them.

Where one person sees a crisis, another can see opportunity. Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity. Where on loses control of emotions, another can remain calm. Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness—these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing make us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.

We can learn to perceive things differently, to cut through the illusions that others believe or fear. We can stop seeing the "problems" in front of us as problems. We can learn to focus on what things really are.

Unhelpful perceptions can invade our minds—that sacred place of reason, action and will—and throw off our compass.

Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proper course of action in every situation—without the pestilence of panic or fear.

We can see disaster rationally. Or rather, like Rockefeller, we can see opportunity in every disaster, and transform that negative situation into an education, a skill set, or a fortune. Seen properly, everything that happens—be it an economic crash or a personal tragedy—is a chance to move forward. Even if it is on a bearing that we did not anticipate.

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in a situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

This is how you see the opportunity within the obstacle. It does not happen on its own. It is a process—one that results from self-discipline and logic.

Choose not to be harmed—and you won't feel harmed. Don't feel harmed—and you haven't been. — MARCUS AURELIUS

...understanding that anger was not constructive, he refused to rage.

Our perceptions are the thing that we're in complete control of.

...through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation—as well as the destruction—of every one of our obstacles.

There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn't mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn't mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves.

What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool headedness. This he can get only by practice. — THEODORE ROOSEVELT
Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself. — PUBLIUS SYRUS

Uncertainty and fear are relieved by authority. Training is authority. It's a release valve. With enough exposure, you can adapt out those perfectly ordinary, even innate, fears that are bred mostly from unfamiliarity. Fortunately, unfamiliarity is simple to fix (again, not easy), which makes it possible to increase our tolerance for stress and uncertainty.

Obstacles make us emotional, but the only way we'll survive or overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check—if we can keep steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external events may fluctuate.

Don't let the negativity in, don't let those emotions even get started. Just say: No, thank you. I can't afford to panic.

This is the skill that must be cultivated—freedom from disturbance and perturbation—so you can focus your energy exclusively on solving problems, rather than reacting to them.

If an emotion can't change the condition or the situation you're dealing with, it is likely an unhelpful emotion. Or, quite possibly, a destructive one.

Real strength lies in the control or, as Nassim Taleb put it, the domestication of one's emotions, not in pretending they don't exist.

You can always remind yourself: I am in control, not my emotions. I see what's really going on here. I'm not going to get excited or upset.

We defeat emotions with logic, or at least that's the idea. Logic is questions and statements. With enough of them, we get to root causes (which are always easier to deal with).

Does what happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humanity, straightforwardness?

Nope. Then get back to work!

Don't let the force of an impression when it first hit you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test. — EPICTETUS

Epictetus told his students, when they'd quote some great thinker, to picture themselves observing the person having sex. It's funny, you should try it next time someone intimidates you or makes you feel insecure. See them in your mind, grunting, groaning, and awkward in their private life—just like the rest of us.

It's so much better to see things as they truly, actually are, not as we've made them in our minds.

Objectivity means removing "you"—the subjective part—from the equation. Just think, what happens when we give others advice? Their problems are crystal clear to us, the solutions obvious.

Take your situation and pretend it is not happening to you. Pretend it is not important, that it doesn't matter. How much easier would it be for you to know what to do?

Giver yourself clarity, not sympathy...

Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. — VIKTOR FRANKL

Perspective is everything. That is, when you can break apart something, or look at it from some new angle, it loses its power over you.

...a simple shift in perspective can change our reaction entirely.

Take what you're afraid of—when fear strikes you—and break it apart.

How we approach, view, and contextualize an obstacle, and what we tell ourselves it means, determines how daunting and trying it will be to overcome.

The way we look out at the world changes how we see these things. Is our perspective truly giving us perspective or is it what's actually causing the problem?

How we interpret the events in our lives, our perspective, is the framework for our forthcoming response—whether there will even be one or whether we'll just lie there and take it.

Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices. — EPICTETUS

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can't actually influence is wasted—self-indulgent and self-destructive.

Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.

The implications of our obstacle are theoretical—they exist in the past and the future. We live in the moment. And the more we embrace that, the easier the obstacle will be to face and move.

Discard distracting thoughts.

Remember that this moment is not your life, it's just a moment in your life. Focus on what is in front of you, right now. Ignore what it "represents" or it "means" or "why it happened to you."

Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind. There's no other definition of it. — F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

...Jobs's...knew that to aim low meant to accept mediocre accomplishment. But a high aim could, if thing went right, create something extraordinary.

So many people in our lives have preached the need to be realistic or conservative or worse—to not rock the boat. This is an enormous disadvantage when it comes to trying big things. Because though our doubts (and self-doubts) feel real, they have very little bearing on what is and isn't possible.

Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly large degree, what we are and are not capable of. In many ways, they determine reality itself.

...we shouldn't listen too closely to what other people say (or to what the voice in our head says, either). We'll find ourselves erring on the side of accomplishing nothing.

Be open. Question.

An entrepreneur is someone with faith in their ability to make something where there was nothing before.

Our best ideas come from there, where obstacles illuminate new options.

A good person dyes events with his own color...and turns whatever happens to his own benefit. — SENECA

...after you have controlled your emotions, and you can see objectively and stand steadily, the next step becomes possible: a mental flip, so you're looking not at the obstacle but at the opportunity within it.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder put it: "There is good in everything, if only we look for it."

It's our preconceptions that are the problem. They tell us that things should or need to be a certain way, so when they're not, we naturally assume that we are at a disadvantage or that we'd be wasting our time to pursue an alternate course. When really, it's all fair game, and every situation is an opportunity for us to act.

Psychologists call it adversarial growth and post-traumatic growth. "That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is not a cliche but fact.

The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.

Problems are rarely as bad as we think—or rather, they are precisely as bad as we think.

A clearer head makes for steadier hands.

...boldness is acting anyway, even though you understand the negative and the reality of your obstacle. Decide to tackle what stands in your way—not because you're a gambler defying the odds but because you've calculated them and boldly embraced the risk.

With persistence and flexibility, we'll act in the best interest of our goals. Action requires courage, not brashness—creative application and not brute force. Our movements and decisions define us: We must be sure to act with deliberation, boldness, and persistence.

Action is the solution and the cure to our predicaments.

We forget: In life, it doesn't matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you've been given. And the only way you'll do something spectacular is by using it all to your advantage.

No one is coming to save you. And if we'd like to go where we claim we want to go—to accomplish what we claim are our goals—there is only one way. And that's to meet our problems with the right action.

Therefore, we can always (and only) greet our obstacles

  • with energy
  • with persistence
  • with a coherent and deliberate process
  • with iteration and resilience
  • with pragmatism
  • with strategic vision
  • with craftiness and savvy
  • and an eye for opportunity and pivotal moments
We must all either wear out or rust our, every one of us. My choice is to wear out. — THEODORE ROOSEVELT

Life can be frustrating. Oftentimes we know what our problems are. We may even know what to do about them. But we fear that taking action is too risky, that we don't have the experience or that it's not how we pictured it or because it's too expensive, because it's too soon, because we think something better might come along, because it might not work.

And you know what happens as a result? Nothing. We do nothing.

Tell yourself: The time for that has passed. The wind is rising. The bell's been rung. Get started, get moving.

For some reason, these days we tend to downplay the importance of aggression, of taking risks, of barreling forward.

...when you're frustrated in pursuit of your own goals, don't sit there and complain that you don't have what you want or that this obstacle won't budge. If you haven't even tried yet, then of course you will still be in the exact same place. You haven't actually pursued anything.

If you want momentum, you'll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started.

He says the best way out is always through and I agree to that, or in so far as I can see no way out but through. — ROBERT FROST

Working at it works.

Once you start attacking an obstacle, quitting is not an option. It cannot enter your head. Abandoning one path for another that might be more promising? Sure, but that's a far cry from giving up. Once you can envision yourself quitting altogether, you might as well ring the bell. It's done.

Consider this mind-set.

never in a hurry

never worried

never desperate

never stopping short

Remember and remind yourself of a phrase favored by Epictetus: "persist and resist." Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.

Doing new things invariably means obstacles. A new path is, by definition, uncleared. Only with persistence and time can we cut away debris and remove impediments. Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory—only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught.

It's okay to be discouraged. It's not okay to quit.

What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first steps to something better. — WENDELL PHILLIPS

When failure does come, ask: What went wrong here? What can improved? What am I missing? This helps birth alternative ways of doing what needs to be done, ways that are often much better than what we started with. Failure puts you in corners you have to think your way out of. It is a source of breakthroughs.

Great entrepreneurs are: ... never out of the game for long

Failure shows us the way—by showing us what isn't the way.

Okay, you've got to do something very difficult. Don't focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize.

When it comes to our actions, disorder and distraction are death. The unordered mind loses track of what's in front of it—what matters—and gets distracted by thoughts of the future. The process is order, it keeps our perceptions in check and our actions in sync.

Shut up. Go back to your stations and try to think about what we are going to do ourselves instead of worrying about what's going on out there. You know what your job is. Stop jawing and get to work.

Replace fear with the process.

The process is about doing the right things, right now. Not worrying about what might happen later, or the results, or the whole picture.

Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. — SIR HENRY ROYCE

Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we'd rather not do.

The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around. That's all you need to know. — MARCUS AURELIUS

You've got your mission, whatever it is. To accomplish it, like the rest of us you're in the pinch between the way you wish things were and the way they actually are (which always seem to be a disaster). How far are you willing to go? What are you willing to do about it?

Scratch the complaining. No waffling. No submitting to powerlessness or fear.

How are you going to solve this problem? How are you going to get around the rules that hold you back?

Start thinking like a radical pragmatist: still ambitious, aggressive, and rooted in ideals, but also imminently practical and guided by the possible.

Don't thinks small, but make the distinction between the critical and the extra.

Think progress, not perfection.

Under this kind of force, obstacles break apart. They have no choice. Since you're going around them or making them irrelevant, there is nothing for them to resist.

Part of the reason why a certain skill often seems so effortless for great masters is not just because they've mastered the process—they really are doing less than the rest of us who don't know any better. They choose to exert only calculated force where it will be effective, rather than straining and struggling with pointless attrition tactics.

Being outnumbered, coming from behind, being low on funds, these don't have to be disadvantages. They can be gifts.

You don't convince people by challenging their longest and most firmly help opinions. You find common ground and work from there. Or you look for leverage to make them listen. Or you create an alternative with so much support from other people that the opposition voluntarily abandons its views and joins your camp.

Wise men are able to make a fitting use even of their enmities. — PLUTARCH

Sometimes you overcome obstacles not by attacking them but by withdrawing and letting them attack you. You can use the actions of others against themselves instead of acting yourself.

When we want things too badly we can be our own worst enemy. In our eagerness, we strip the very screw we want to turn and make it impossible to ever get what we want.

We get so consumed with moving forward that we forget that there are other ways to get where we are heading.

We wrongly assume that moving forward is the only way to progress, the only way we can win. Sometimes, staying put, going sideways, or moving backward is actually the best way to eliminate what blocks or impedes your path.

Adversity can harden you. Or it can loosen you up and make you better—if you let it.

The best men are not those who have waited for chances but who have taken them; besieged chance, conquered the chance, and made chance the servitor. — E.H. CHAPIN

Ordinary people shy away from negative situations, just as they do with failure. They do their best to avoid trouble. What great people do is the opposite. They are their best in these situations. They turn personal tragedy or misfortune—really anything, everything—to their advantage.

Always prepare ourselves for more difficult times.

Always accept what we're unable to change.

Always manage our exceptions.

Always persevere.

Always learn to love our fate and what happens to us.

Always protect our inner self, retreat into ourselves.

Always submit to a greater, larger cause.

Always remind ourselves of our own mortality.

And, of course, prepare to start the cycle once more.

You'll have far better luck toughening yourself up than you ever will trying to take the teeth out of a world that is—at best—indifferent to your existence.

You don't have to like something to master it—or to use it to some advantage.

To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We've got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.

The next step after we discard our expectations and accept what happens to us, after understanding that certain things—particularly bad things— are outside our control, is this: loving whatever happens to us and facing it with unfailing cheerfulness.

It is the act of turning what we must do into what we get to do. We put our energies and emotions and exertions where they will have real impact. This that place. We will tell ourselves: This is what I've got to do or put up with? Well, I might as well be happy about it.

As the Stoics commanded themselves: Cheerfulness in all situations, especially the bad ones.

The goal is:

Not: I'm okay with this.

Not: I think I feel good about this.

But: I feel great about it.

Because if it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.

...there is always some good—even if only barely perceptible at first—contained within the bad.

And we can find it and be cheerful because of it.

Life is not about one obstacle, but many. What's required of us is not some shortsighted focus on a single facet of a problem, but simply a determination that we will get to where we need to go, somehow, someway, and nothing will stop us.

We will overcome every obstacle—and there will be many in life—until we get there. Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.

Determination, if you think about it, is invincible. Nothing other than death can prevent us from following Churchill's old acronym: KBO. Keep Buggering On.

Despair? That's on you. No one else is to blame when you throw in the towel.

The true threat to determination, then, is not what happens to us, but us ourselves.

...when we focus on others, on helping them or simply providing a good example, our own personal fears and troubles will diminish. With fear or heartache no longer our primary concern, we don't have time for it. Shared purpose gives us strength.

Sometimes when we are personally stuck with some intractable or impossible problem, one of the best ways to create opportunities or new avenues for movement is to think: If I can't solve this for myself, how can I at least make this better for other people?

Whatever you're going through, whatever is holding you down or standing in your way, can be turned into a source of strength—by thinking of people other than yourself. You won't have time to think of your own suffering because there are other people suffering and you're too focused on them.

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 is what it is.

Help your fellow humans and thrive and survive, contribute your little bit to the universe before it swallows you up, and be happy with that. Lend a hand to others. Be strong for them, and it will make you stronger.

When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. — DR. JOHNSON

Death doesn't make life pointless, but rather purposeful.

...being aware of our mortality creates real perspective and urgency. It doesn't need to be depressing. Because it's invigorating.

Reminding ourselves each day that we will die helps us treat our time as a gift.

The great law of nature is that it never stops. There is no end.

See things for what they are.

Do what we can.

Endure and bear what we must.

What blocked the path now is a path.

What once impeded action advances action.

The Obstacle is the Way.


The Obstacle Is The Way
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