Ryan Holiday: Stillness Is The Path To Everything We Want In Life – The Rich Roll Podcast

Check out The Rich Roll Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The root of fulfillment lies in enjoying the process 
  • It’s a superpower to be able to zoom out, see yourself from a distance, extrapolate out into the future, and ask – “What will happen if I do X?”
  • A few quotes to ponder:
    • “When you remove ego, stillness emerges. You need stillness to overcome life’s obstacles.” – Ryan
    • “You think that writing a bestselling book or making a lot of money will make you feel good and whole; that’s the big lie we all believe… My walk in the morning with my son, THAT’S what wholeness feels like.” – Ryan
    • “Self-obsession is the enemy of stillness, and the path out of obsession is to avail yourself to another” – Rich
    • “Slowing down is the secret wisdom for charging ahead” – Rich 
  • You DON’T always have to have an opinion
  • The solutions to life’s complicated problems are often basic:
    • Get some sleep
    • Take a walk
    • Do some exercise
  • Build habits and practices into your routine that make stillness less of an accident and more of an intentional outcome

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) is a media strategist, public speaker, and one of the most prolific writers of our generation
  • Ryan oversees Brass Check, a consultancy firm that advises New York Times bestselling authors and corporate clients that include Google and CreativeLive
  • “Slowing down is the secret wisdom for charging ahead” 
  • Check out Ryan’s previous appearances on The Rich Roll Podcast (#168, #239)

NFL Speaking Gigs

  • Ryan’s been making the speaking rounds with a few NFL teams, including:
    • The Cleveland Browns 
    • The St. Louis Rams’ coaching staff
  • In March, Ryan spoke at the NFL owners meeting (which consisted of all the owners, head coaches, as well as team presidents & GMs)
  • The man topic of Ryan’s talks: how to apply ancient wisdom to life in a practical way
  • Ryan’s books have caught wind with athletes and multiple sports franchises (in addition to Silicon Valley subcultures)
    • Why? – Athletes tend to have a higher level of receptivity to anything that helps them gain a performance edge

Why tackle stillness?

  • “When you remove ego, stillness emerges. You need stillness to overcome life’s obstacles.”
  • “It’s sort of the glue that was left unsaid in the other books”
  • When you look at the world’s greats, they all seem to to have the ability to be noticeably calm (still) under pressure
  • “Everyone wants to be calmer, more in control, and have their heart beating less out of their chest at the whim of their emotions and insecurities. We need it not only on a personal level, but also because that’s where our best professional work originates from.”

A Unique Style of Writing

  • “I do write my books, but I almost could read and enjoy them myself because what I feel like I’m doing is channeling and explaining other people’s ideas; I’m just rearranging them.”
    • In a sense, Ryan’s books are a compilation of everything that he himself has underlined while reading
  • Every one of Ryan’s books could probably be summarized as follows: “A book that includes famous historical personalities and how they applied Stoic principles to hard times” 
  • Rather than dive into specific tactical advice, Ryan aims to discuss insights by illustrating them with stories involving historical figures most people desire to be like

Tuning Out the Noise

  • “We’ve never been more starved of our ability to be still. We’re in this crazy attention-deficit area of unprecedented proportions.” – Rich
    • “It’s become increasingly more and more difficult to put the phone down and spend one minute with ourselves”
  • “When you manage to tune it all out, go into that flow state, and do what you have to do… that’s what stillness is to me” 
    • It’s NOT about being a monk and renouncing all your possessions
    • Stillness is possible ANYWHERE (do what you can – stillness for 20 minutes is better than stillness for 0 minutes)
  • In today’s world, there’s a lot of external stimuli vying for our attention – the mastery lies in being able to determine what’s important and focus on the essential
    • “When you get to stillness, it’s just magical. That’s where all the good stuff comes from.”
  • In summary: Turn inward and crowd out the externalities
    • “It’s the externalities that create the confusion, stress, anxiety, as well as competitive nature and measuring that prevents us from being clear on what’s ultimately driving us” – Rich

Attack Stillness from All Angles

  • If you have mental discipline but a deep insecurity centered around never feeling like you’re enough, in a way your mental discipline is your worst enemy
  • If you’re able to crowd out the externalities and be still, but you still eat like sh*t and don’t take care of yourself… you’re still in trouble
  • Billie Jean King has famously said – “What makes you a great athlete is your relentless desire for improvement and never being satisfied with the current state of your performance”
    • This is the attitude you need to become the best, but it’s also counterproductive to enjoying life
      • “‘I have enough.’ I think we are all down very scared that if we ever say that phrase, that’s the moment we become complacent and the guy behind us passes us.”

Surrender to the Process

  • This below is discussed more in Zen and the Art of Archery
  • To become a master in any one particular field, you have to first master yourself
    • Become someone who knows how to be present, remove distractions, and focus deeply
  • And understand: “You’re not in charge. You’re not driving the process; the process is driving the process. Submit to that.”
    • All things take their course in life once you open your mind, become teachable, and trust the process

The Awe and Wonder of Our Universe

  • In terms of religion, Ryan describes himself as an atheist (or at least agnostic)
    • “I can’t get my head around the idea that there’s a Christian God”
    • “An atheist says, ‘I know there’s not a God. An agnostic says, ‘I don’t f***ing know.”
    • “But then there are moments where I can go, ‘This is all incomprehensible. There must be something. It’s gotten me closer to the idea of there being a higher power, or at least to the belief that I’m not in charge and I’m not choosing any of this.”
      • “There are things happening that are beyond us. We are not the central driving force for our life in the universe.”
  • “The more you look at the magnitude of the universe or drill down the tiniest subatomic particles, stuff gets crazy. Our brains can’t even begin to comprehend what’s happening. For me, that’s where I can find a healthy place of awe, wonder, and humility. Maybe someday we’ll understand this, or maybe not; maybe it’s beyond our mental capacity to fully grasp. Rather than that making me uncomfortable, I find comfort in that.” – Rich

The Artist is Present

  • “Everyone should watch the documentary – The Artist is Present.”
    • The documentary follows a performance artist who sets up an exhibit where she sits across from various people for ~5 minutes at a time in an attempted 100% present state (for 8 hours straight, for multiple days in a row)
      • Between people, she’d look down, gather herself, and then look back up
    • Rich adds – “There’s nothing more respectful that you could do for another human being than to give them your undivided attention”
      • Yet, complete presence, just BEING THERE, with another human being… is oh so rare

Deep Thinking

  • It’s a superpower to be able to zoom out, see yourself from a distance, extrapolate out into the future, and ask – “What will happen if I do X?”
  • You must:
    • Have the self-awareness to recognize your emotions and their consequences
    • Detach yourself from the emotions
    • Maintain enough presence for a clarity to develop on what the next best action is to take
  • Use time as a tool, not a couch
    • Don’t sit back and do nothing – give yourself time and space and use it for deep thinking

Realize This One Thing

  • The pressure you’re feeling, much of it is an illusion
    • So much of the pressure you put on yourself is self-made – BE STILL

Should you have kids?

  • Having kids changed Ryan’s life
    • “They’re such a good reminder of what you can actually be any time if you choose to be”
    • “I should have had kids earlier”
  • It’s easy to fantasize living a life without kids, or being single, and all the freedom either would give you
    • But what about the hard times? – THAT’S what relationships are for
    • “The idea that you’re not going to have kids or you don’t have time to get married because the startup your working on is so important is just laughable if you look at it from any kind of a distance”
  • Ryan recalls hearing once – “Every kid you have is a book you’ll never write”
    • But who cares? – “At the end of the day, none of these books matter. None of the work we do matters.”
  • “You think that writing a bestselling book or making a lot of money will make you feel good and that you’ll feel whole; that’s the big lie we all believe… My walk in the morning with my son, THAT’S what wholeness feels like.”

Hold On Loosely

  • The more attached you are to a given goal, the higher the chance you’ll experience problems
    • “The people who can release their grasp, or hold it a little less tight, and be open to dips and turns along the way are those who ultimately end up in a better place” – Rich
    • It’s like driving a golf ball – the harder you try, the worse your swing is
  • Related – Keep your identity small (echoed in this Paul Graham essay)
    • For example – If you see yourself as a Republican, it’s hard for you to truly see an issue objectively
    • Paul has said in the past – “The more labels you put on yourself, the stupider you are”
  • And remember:
    • You DON’T always have to have an opinion
    • You DON’T have to stay up to date on the 24/7 news cycle (instead, focus on YOUR work and YOUR life)
    • If you have an opinion, you DON’T have to voice it

Complex Problems, Simple Solutions

  • The solutions to life’s complicated problems are often basic:
    • Get some sleep
    • Take a walk
      • Rich adds – “There’s something about that low heart rate activity that creates space for those little creative sparks”
      • Ryan estimates that a walk gives him ~80% of the benefits of a meditation session
    • Do some exercise
      • Ryan and Rich have found that a combination of both intense thought and physical activity is magical for tackling complex problems
        • During exercise, solutions seem to just pop into your mind
      • “There’s something about swimming that’s like a pipe cleaner for your mind” – Rich 

Have a Routine(s)

  • Don’t copy someone else’s, do what works for you
    • W.H. Auden has famously said – “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition”
  • Why? – The fewer decisions you’re faced with daily, the more focus you can direct towards the things in life that matter and create a significant impact

Wrapping Up

  • “Self-obsession is the enemy of stillness and the path out of obsession is to avail yourself to another” – Rich
  • Stillness is essential – it’s where we’re at peace, it’s where our best work and decisions originate from, and it’s where we feel most content
    • Yet – why is it so rare? 
    • Build habits and practices into your routine that make stillness less of an accident and more of an intentional outcome
  • A still person is a magnet everyone in the room is drawn to
    • “If you were in an airport and the Dalai Lama walked in with street clothes, I think you’d know that’s him”
    • “We’re more prone to be chasing attention from others rather than gathering our strength and resources so we can attract what we want into our lives” – Rich

Additional Notes

  • Rich recently interviewed his dad on the podcast
  • Ryan doesn’t meditate – “I just don’t; I can’t do it”
  • Much like Robert Greene, Ryan’s writing process involves first compiling a TON of index cards with notes which he then organizes into book form
    • After the book’s finished, he’ll then scan them onto his computer in addition to saving them in a box in his office
  • Stillness is the Key is divided up into three sections: Mind, Body, and Spirit
  • Ryan enjoyed David Epstein’s book, Range
  • “If your mom and dad have made you being a doctor part and parcel of them loving you, they’re going to find a way not to love you even when you’re the world’s best doctor”
  • Ryan recommends the new David Brooks book, The Second Mountain
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