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Book:  Stillness is the Key

Author:  Ryan Holiday

Purchase:  PrinteBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Holiday, R. (2019). Stillness is the key. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. We do not live in the moment. We, in fact, try desperately to get out of it - by thinking, doing, talking, worrying, remembering, hoping, whatever. We pay thousands of dollars to have a device in our pocket to ensure that we are never bored. We sign up for endless activities and obligations, chase money and accomplishments, all with the naive belief that at the end of it will be happiness. (pg. 26)​

  2. There is way too much coming at us. In order to think clearly, it is essential that each of us figures out how to filter out the inconsequential from the essential. It's not enough to be inclined toward deep thought; a leader must create time and space for it. Each of us has more access to more information that we could ever reasonably use. We tell ourselves that it's part of our job, that we have to be "on top of things" so we give up precious time to news, reports, meetings, and other forms of feedback. Even if we're not glued to a television, we're still surrounded by gossip and drama and other distractions. Often, trivial problems will resolve themselves on their own, so give things a little space - don't consume news in real time, be a season or two behind on the latest trend or cultural phenomenon, don't let your inbox lord over you life. The important stuff will still be important by the time you get to it. There is ego in trying to stay up on everything. Not only does this cost us our peace of mind, there's a serious opportunity cost too. If we were stiller and more confident, what truly meaningful subject could we dedicate our mental energy to? Instead, read books. Books full of wisdom. (pg. 31)

  3. People don't have enough silence in their lives because they don't have enough solitude. They don't get enough solitude because they don't seek out silence. It's a vicious cycle that prevents stillness and reflection, and thus stymies good ideas, which are almost always hatched in solitude. Breakthroughs seem to happen in the shower or on a long hike. They don't happen in a loud bar or three hours into a television binge. (pg. 215)


Other Key Ideas:

Instead of carrying baggage around in our heads or hearts, write it down on paper. Instead of letting racing thoughts run unchecked or leaving half-baked assumptions unquestioned, we force ourselves to write and examine them. Putting your own thinking down on paper lets you see it from a distance. It gives you objectivity that is so often missing when anxiety and fears flood your mind. (pg. 56)

Sigmund Freud wrote about how common it is for deficiencies, big and small, at a young age to birth toxic, turbulent attitudes in adulthood. Because we weren't born rich enough, pretty enough, naturally gifted enough, because we weren't like other children, or because we had to wear glasses or got sick a lot or couldn't afford nice clothes, we carry a chip on our shoulder. (pg. 108)

No one is alone in suffering or in joy. Down the street or across the ocean, someone else is experiencing nearly the exact same thing. When you step back from the enormity of your experience - whatever it is - you are able to see the experience of others to lessen the intensity of your own pain. Finding the universal in the personal, and the personal in the universal, turns down the volume of noise in the world. (pg. 160)

Winston Churchill would spend his first two hours reading. Then he responded to his daily mail. Then he'd stop in to see his wife for the first time as he didn't believe in seeing her before noon. Then he tackled his writing projects. Then he would eat lunch and then go for a walk. Before his two hour nap at 3:00pm he would sit on the porch to take in the air and think. After a nap he would have dinner and then would complete one more writing sprint before bed. (pg. 173)

Walking is an exercise in peace. The key to a good walk is to be aware. Put your phone away and put the pressing problems of your life away. In our search for beauty and what is good in life, we would do well to head outside and wander around. In an attempt to unlock a deeper part of our consciousness and access a high level of our mind, we would do well to get our body moving and our blood flowing. (pg. 195)

The greats know that complete freedom is a nightmare. They know that order is the prerequisite of excellence and good habits are a safe haven for certainty. Eisenhower defined freedom as the opportunity for self-discipline. In fact, freedom and power and success require self-discipline. Because without it, chaos and complacency move in. Discipline is how we maintain freedom. (pg. 201)

When we not only automate and routinize trivial parts of life, but also make automatic decisions, we free up resources to do important and meaningful exploration. We buy room for peace and stillness, and thus make good work and good thoughts accessible and inevitable. Get your day scheduled. Limit the interruptions. Limit the number of choices you need to make. (pg. 205)

There is something called "comfort creep." We get used to a certain level of luxury that it becomes almost inconceivable that we used to live without it. As wealth grows, so does our sense of "normal." But just a few years ago we were fine without those items. The best car is not the one that turns the most heads, but the one you have to worry about the least. The best clothes are the ones that are the most comfortable and that require you to spend the least amount of time shopping. The best house for you is the one that feels the most like home. Don't use your money to purchase loneliness, headaches, or status anxiety. (pg. 210)

Each of us needs to put ourselves in the position to do deep work. We need to put ourselves in a room where we can think and have quiet solitude. It's hard to make time, but the wise learn that solitude and stillness are there if we look for them. Grab those moments. Schedule them. Cultivate them. (pg. 218)

We only have so much energy for our work. A smart person understands this and guards it carefully. The greats protect their sleep because it's where the best state of mind comes from. They know there are some people who can function without sleep, but they are smart enough to know that everyone functions better when well-rested. Anders Ericsson, of the classic ten-thousands-hours study, sounds that master violinists sleep eight and a half hours a night on average and take a nap most days. According to Ericsson, great players nap more than lesser ones. (pg. 232)

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