Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
All great leaders, thinkers, artists, athletes, and visionaries share one indelible quality. It enables them to conquer their tempers. To avoid distraction and discover great insights. To achieve happiness and do the right thing. Ryan Holiday calls it stillness–to be steady while the world spins around you.
In this book, he outlines a path for achieving this ancient, but urgently necessary way of living. Drawing on a wide range of history’s greatest thinkers, from Confucius to Seneca, Marcus Aurelius to Thich Nhat Hanh, John Stuart Mill to Nietzsche, he argues that stillness is not mere inactivity, but the doorway to self-mastery, discipline, and focus.
Holiday also examines figures who exemplified the power of stillness: baseball player Sadaharu Oh, whose study of Zen made him the greatest home run hitter of all time; Winston Churchill, who in balancing his busy public life with time spent laying bricks and painting at his Chartwell estate managed to save the world from annihilation in the process; Fred Rogers, who taught generations of children to see what was invisible to the eye; Anne Frank, whose journaling and love of nature guided her through unimaginable adversity.
More than ever, people are overwhelmed. They face obstacles and egos and competition. Stillness Is the Key offers a simple but inspiring antidote to the stress of 24/7 news and social media. The stillness that we all seek is the path to meaning, contentment, and excellence in a world that needs more of it than ever.
Back in December, I restarted my morning routine practice after feeling like I’d gotten a little off track in my life last year and struggled more than I wanted to. I’d say my practice is a combination of Hal Elrond’s Miracle Morning and Rachel Hollis’ Start Today. And an important component of what I do every morning is ready. But it has to be a book that’s either related to business or personal development.
I don’t always review the books I read in the morning on my blog, though it’s amazing how many you can crank through when you read a chapter or so a day. And yes I know, cranking through isn’t the point of these types of books. But I do read a lot more of them then I actually cover on the blog so if you’re wondering if I’ve read something, check out my Goodreads!
Stillness is the Key is the first book I’ve read by Ryan Holiday and my first real introduction to stoicism, though I’ve heard the term before. This was a fantastic read, just in terms of the content, stories, and teaching packed into such a small book. But I really identified with the practice and ideas of stoicism, at least the way Holiday presents them. I signed up for his daily newsletter after I read the book and it’s actually been several months since I finished Stillness is the Key and I’m still loving these teachings.
I think stoicism is a slight misnomer if you’re not familiar with the concept. To me, I associate the word “stoic” with being tough and strong, even in the face of immense mental or physical pain. If you’ve read George Orwell’s, Animal Farm, I think Boxer the horse embodies the concept of “stoic,” at least the way I’ve always thought of it. I might not have mentioned this on this blog before, but I identify with Boxer in how I approach work/life which SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the book, but that’s not always a good thing. I acknowledge the good in the way that I am and I also use Boxer as a reminder of where that slippery slope can lead.
But that’s not really the use of the word “stoic” that’s on display in the concept of stoicism. Used in the way Holiday means it, Stoicism is more about creating mental fortitude, cultivating inner peace, and finding the kind of stillness that allows great leaders to make game-changing decisions with clarity and precision of thought. In short, if you’re trying to survive as a high achiever in the modern world, get this book. It is an introduction and a road map to the intensely different way of living we are all craving. This movement is growing louder, about rejecting the hustle, hustle, hustle mindset for a quieter, more focused and measured way of being.
You’ve probably heard the story about the two woodcutters. Taking a stoic approach to business is to me, a lot like that. Sharpen your ax, take deliberate, thoughtful action, and at the end of the day, reap the benefits.
I’m excited to continue cultivating the wisdom and practice of stoicism. I’ll definitely be rereading this book soon and I plan on picking up the rest of Holiday’s books for my morning reading.