If you are new to stoic philosophy then this book is a great way to start, especially since it’s relatively short. The author talks about the Stoic philosophy as “an operating system for living”. The book starts slowly but ends much stronger so I would rate it as 4+. While reading I sometimes felt that there’s nothing really new here, but these are those aha moments where you write down the wisdom from the book. The book uses examples of CEOs and the most successful people in history so it’s hard to relate to them, but nevertheless the stories in the book are quite inspiring. The main premise of the book is straightforward: You should focus on the things that you can really change, and not waste your energy on emotional turbulence or analyzing too much. Additionally, the author says that obstacles are ALWAYS opportunities, and these opportunities should be welcomed and not feared. Obstacles offer us a chance to find a way and to grow and become a better person while finding the way around it.
More about the book here.
About the book
Ryan says that when we are faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that we must try: 1. To be objective, 2. To control emotions and keep an even keel, 3. To choose to see the good in a situation, 4. To steady our nerves, 5. To ignore what disturbs or limits others, 6. To place things in perspective, 7. To revert to the present moment and 8. To focus on what can be controlled
Other people can never control our thoughts, our beliefs and our reactions so even in dire circumstances we are never completely powerless.
There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception which is everything. Ryan quotes Epictetus: “The perceiving eye is weak, the observing eye is strong. Additionally, when you can break apart something, or look at it from some new angle, it loses its power over you. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means. Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly large degree, what we are and are not capable of. In many ways, they determine reality itself.
Also, if an emotion can’t change the condition or the situation you’re dealing with, it is an unhelpful or even destructive emotion and it should be controlled. It’s a huge step forward to realize that the worst thing to happen is never the event, but the event and losing your head because then you have two problems.
If there are many things that are external and we shouldn’t try to control, then what is up to us? Up to us are our emotions, our judgments, our creativity, our attitude, our perspective, our desires, our decisions and our determination.
Ryan also mentions living in the present moment upon which I agree totally. We shouldn’t wonder why things are the way they are, but to do some exercise, unplug, walk in the park, meditate and remind yourself about how pleasant the present is.
Some things are supposed to be hard and your first attempts aren’t going to work, but energy is renewable i.e. an asset we can always find more of. Stop looking for an epiphany, and start looking for weak points. Stop looking for angels, and start looking for angles since there are always options. Settle in for the long haul and then try each and every possibility, and you’ll get there.
In next sections the author talks about the process and about being focused on the process and not the prize. The process is about doing the right things, right now. Not worrying about what might happen later, or the results, or the whole picture. You shouldn’t focus on something hard but instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now and do it well, then move on to the next thing.
Next section talks about pragmatism which is not so much realism as is flexibility. There are a lot of ways to get from point A to point B. The point is to get you where you need to go.
In life it’s not enough to take advantage of the opportunities that arise in your life, because anyone can do that. You must learn how to press forward precisely when everyone around you sees a crisis and when even you don’t have energy and are eager to give up.
There is a latin saying: mens sana in corpore sano—sound mind in a strong body that is so true since we get our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice. During the good times, we must strengthen ourselves and our bodies so that during the difficult times we are ready. The way to strengthen an arch is to put weight on it and the path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. By doing the things we are intimidated of the most we acquire biggest growth!
It’s also very important to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong and also to manage expectations because the only variable we control completely is ourselves. Sometimes you don’t always get what is rightfully yours, even if you earned it. As the saying goes, “Man proposes but God disposes.
Next section of the book talks about helping others and that man’s job is to make the world a better place to live in. When we focus on helping others or simply provide a good example, our own personal fears and troubles diminish. We should always feel a sense of being part of a larger whole – this is very powerful thought! We should help our fellow humans thrive and survive, contribute our little bit to the universe before it swallows us up, and be happy with that. Lend a hand to others and be strong for them since it will make us stronger.
Next section talks about death and a famous roman saying memento mori i.e. remember you are mortal. We shouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over trivialities, trying to become famous…all of these are negated by death. Since each second, probability is eating away at the chances that we’ll be alive tomorrow, we ought to make use of it. Instead of denying or fearing our mortality, we can embrace it and treat our time on earth as a gift.
You should know that life is a marathon and not a sprint so conserve your energy. Understand that each battle is only one of many and each time, you’ll learn something, you’ll develop strength, wisdom, and perspective….until all that is left is you: the best version of you.
Good quotes and excerpts from the book
- “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
- It’s simple. Simple but, of course, not easy.
- Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been. —MARCUS AURELIUS
- The phrase “This happened and it is bad” is actually two impressions. The first—“This happened”—is objective. The second—“it is bad”—is subjective.
- God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.
- How you do anything is how you do everything.
- To be physically and mentally loose takes no talent. That’s just recklessness. (We want right action, not action period.) To be physically and mentally tight? That’s called anxiety. It doesn’t work, either. Eventually we snap. But physical looseness combined with mental restraint? That is powerful.
- Problems, are a chance for us to do our best. Just our best, that’s it. Not the impossible. We must be willing to roll the dice and lose. Prepare, at the end of the day, for none of it to work.
- If Perception and Action were the disciplines of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and the soul. The will is the one thing we control completely, always.
- Always prepare ourselves for more difficult times. Always accept what we’re unable to change. Always manage our expectations. 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.
- It is far easier to talk of the way things should be. It takes toughness, humility, and will to accept them for what they actually are.
- We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it. And why on earth would you choose to feel anything but good?
- Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful. And, fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this energy.
- There is no end. Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated one obstacle, another emerges. But that’s what keeps life interesting. And as you’re starting to see, that’s what creates opportunities.
- 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.
As stated in the introduction this book (as you should in life) gets better and finishes strongly so I would definitely recommend reading it. To conclude I would point out three pillars of stoic philosophy: perception, action, and the will. With this triad, they: First, see clearly. Next, act correctly. Finally, endure and accept the world as it is. Additionally, I would mention that many successful people were stoics Marcus Aurelius, Cato, Seneca, Thomas Jefferson, James Stockdale, Epictetus, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, Wen Jiabao.
In the end the author says that there are many books about stoicism but some are too complicated so he recommends only two: 1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Modern Library) and 2. Letters of a Stoic by Seneca (see also: On the Shortness of Life) by Penguin. For any suggestions, comments and questions please contact me via nikola@simpleIoT.eu.