Achieving Stillness in the Turmoil of Life With Ryan Holiday

To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To posses quietude — interior and exterior — on command. 1

Early in Stillness is the Key Holiday introduces us to his end goal of the book in the quote above. He wants to help readers achieve calm in the midst of the storms that life throws at us. This is something that the ancient world tells us is the highest ideal of our lives.

The promise of Stillness is the Key is to help us locate this stillness2, in mind, body, and heart3. Holiday says that stillness isn’t just the key to success, but the key to thinking clearly, building good habits, and being productive. It seems that stillness is the cure-all tonic that Holiday is peddling to his readers.

He tackles the subject of stillness in three sections. First he addresses stillness of the mind. Second he offers advice on achieving stillness of spirit. Finally he walks us through stillness of the body.

I’m not going to dig through each point Holiday makes, but highlight a few that stood out to me during my reading.

Achieving Stillness of Mind

We pay thousands of dollars to have a device in our pocket to ensure we are never bored. 4

This resonated with my recent readings of Indistractable and Digital Minimalism. Indistractable specifically highlighted how much we pay attention and guard our possessions while thinking nothing of guarding our time, which we can never reacquire once lost. Holiday also lines up with Indistractable as he talks about the wealth of information coming at us which we must filter for that which matters5.

I also enjoyed how Holiday encouraged us to look to a journal to help us achieve a quiet mind. Taking the time to slowly hand write something and think it out often shows us that what we were concerned about is of little importance, like a windshield wiper for our day taking away the rain6 of the things that shouldn’t concern us. He also says that the best journals are for the sole use of the writer and aren’t shared with the public7.

Both exgotistical and insecure people make their flaws central to their identity — either by covering them up or by brooding over them or externalizing them. For them stillness is impossible, because stillness can only be rooted in strength. 8

Finding Stillness of Spirit

And as any seasoned captain of the seas of life can tell you, what’s happening on the surface of the water doesn’t matter — it’s what’s going on below that will kill you. 9

We see the above quote in action as we think of Tiger Woods10. Woods looked to be on top of the world, only to come crashing down as what was going on under his controlled exterior came to light. What stalled the career of Woods wasn’t his on the green performance, but everything going on under that carefully controlled exterior.

Lust is a destroyer of peace in our lives: Lust for a beautiful person. Lust for an orgasm. Lust for someone other than the one we’ve committed to be with. 11

Again Holiday turns to the journal as a way to explore our harmful desires. In writing we can observe and hold ourselves accountable to the behaviours we do not want to take1213. Holiday offers great questions as we lust after things: “What is the consequence of getting that which I lust after?” and “Will I really feel good if I get it?” and “At what point will I be satisfied with what I have and who I am?”14 For many the question reveals that they’ll feel good for a moment, only to feel terrible after and then be in a cycle of chasing that good feeling again as a way to get away from the bad aftermath.

It’s ironic that stillness is rare and fleeting in our busy lives, because the world creates an inexhaustible supply of it. It’s just that nobody’s looking. 15

Much of what Holiday is working to help us achieve is more moments when we realize that we are already enough16. He wants more time for readers to stop and bathe in the beauty that is around them every day.17.

Stopping to realize what we have extends to our relationships as well, no matter how hard they get.

Bad relationships are common, and good relationships are hard. Should that be a surprise to us? Being close and connecting with other people challenges every facet of our soul. 18

In the midst of a hard time in any relationship, we need to remember to put in the work so that it can become something strong. Far too many people bail when anything but pure joy comes along in a relationship. They never struggle through the hard parts together so that they can come out the other side stronger.

Bringing Stillness to Your Body

Throughout Rest a key idea was that without time off, time away from work, we won’t be able to perform at maximal effectiveness. Holiday adds to this by talking about the importance of rest so that we have the energy to push hard when hard things come along19. If we’re always going 110%, we won’t have another gear when the troubles of life hit us. Always rushing from thing to thing is servitude to those projects, instead of the projects you take on serving your purposes20.

When it comes to requests on your time Holiday has an interesting perspective to take.

If I never know about it at all — if the request was lost in the mail, if they hadn’t been able to pin me down to ask me — would I even notice that I missed out?21

The truth is that for almost every request you get, the answer is no. That means you need to ask yourself, why are you saying yes to it in the first place?

He also offers some practical advice about getting away from the bombardment of noise we see in our working lives, get out without your phone, or anything device that allows you to be reached, for a short walk22. If you can find a green space to do it in, even better.

Breakthroughs seem to happen with stunning regularity in the shower or on a long hike. Where don’t they happen? Shouting to be heard in a bar. Three hours into a television binge. Nobody realizes how much they love someone while they’re booking back-to back-to-back meetings. 23

Now he’s not advocating for shirking responsibility and letting the wind carry you where it will. Holiday is an advocate for self-discipline, because it is only with effort that we can achieve power and success24. These things are what help us achieve freedom from the daily grind.

I also very much enjoyed how Holiday drew a direct correlation between trading sleep for your very life, because missing sleep literally cuts short the time you’ll be on this spinning blue ball25.

Should You read Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday?

Yes I think that you should read Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, but maybe not in the way you normally read books. I don’t think you should sit down and read it cover to cover, because there is too much to think about. I think that you should be sitting down and reading it until you have a point that makes you think about where you’re at, and what you’re doing and then either journal about it or take a walk and think deeply on it.

Heck, even do both.

Sometimes that may mean you get a single page read, and other times it may mean you read multiple short chapters. Either way, there is much to think about in Stillness is the Key and by working through it with thought you’ll be better equipped to deal with the storms that life will bring your way.

Purchase Stillness is the Key on Amazon


  1. Page XV ↩︎

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  10. Who was talked about heavily in Range ↩︎

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  13. We saw similar strategies in Atomic Habits and Indistractable ↩︎

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  17. This reminded me of a recent post my Shawn Blanc about being frustrated by his kids lego only to realize that in a few years he’ll miss them playing like that ↩︎

  18. Page 143 ↩︎

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  25. Page 230 ↩︎