10 Things I Learned from “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday

Much of what we think of as “persuasion” is really “motivation.”

The secret to “motivating people” is to find what already motivates them, and to tap into that. Because you’re not likely to change someone’s mind, and…

people aren’t going to work against their own happiness.

"The Obstacle is the Way" by Ryan Holiday
“The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday

A great way to tap into existing motivations is to frame your argument in a way that encompasses the interests of each group.

Framing also helps us to understand that the world is far larger than our own limited viewpoint.

Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way” is a book about Stoicism, the ancient Greek and Roman idea that we shouldn’t be pushed around by our feelings.

Instead of believing events are Good or Bad, we can simply see them as an incomplete Reality, and attempt to act accordingly.

“There is the event itself… and the story we tell ourselves about what it means”

1. Perception

The way we see the world is only our perception. We’re blind to many other factors that influence an event. Rather than see problems in front of us, we can choose to see them as opportunities. It is our choice to decide how we feel about a situation. Our choice to decide if we’re working to solve our own problems, or to solve someone else’s problems… or to decide that the world is happening to us.

2. Emotions

It is our choice to decide how we feel about a situation. We can spend energy being upset or hurt, or we can reframe the situation: the other person is hurting and lashing out; this loss is a normal part of doing business. Anger, excitement, or sadness are emotional reactions, and they’re not necessarily true.

3. Framing

If this loss is a normal part of doing business, why are we upset? And… what might have happened otherwise? Perhaps something far worse! Perhaps these events actually turned out for the better. These events are giving us the chance to rethink our strategy! A chance to improve! We get to decide if there’s a silver lining.

4. Control

Epictetus, stoic philosopher, said the only thing we can control is our thoughts and our actions. (From a persuasion standpoint, that’s not entirely true — our thoughts are influenced by any input to our brains, including what we see, hear, and do). We can’t control the universe, we can’t control others. We can only hope to control ourselves, which is hard enough. Our desires, our attitude, our decisions and creativity are up to us. Whether we quit or complain is also up to us.

5. Time

We all start from a disadvantage of some sort. (In fact, those at an advantage often don’t see the cracks in their pedestal.) What we all share is time, our most scarce resource. Rather than spending that time trying to understand the complexities of your life, rather than ignoring that life in exchange for cheap entertainment, live for right now. What can you accomplish… if you were to try? The past and the present don’t exist outside of our thoughts. Is it worthwhile to spend your efforts there?

6. Reality

Your reality is defined by you, by your belief in the power of limitations and injustices and frustrations of the world. The stories you tell yourself and live by. The scripts that pre-define your reactions to various events. Why must those be true? When someone presents us with a difficulty or an insult, that’s an opportunity to surpass the reality they want to impose upon us.

7. Action

You have a choice– to act and push yourself forward, or a choice to believe that something is preventing you from accomplishing your mission. Your momentum isn’t going to create itself. If you really want to accomplish something, you actually have to take action. Face fears, face failure, face ridicule — if it means anything to you, take action!

8. Innovation

When you’ve tried all of the obvious attempts to solve a problem… you have the freedom to try the novel approaches, the untested ideas, the unexpected methods that just might change everything. Innovation comes from a persistence to continue trying to solve the problem in front of you, adjusting your approach until you crack the code.

9. Process

There is no need to struggle under the wright of the full problem. Each problem is made up of individual steps, each of which you can handle quite well. Break down the problems into small steps. One step at a time, you can reach the finish. Mistakes might be made. So what? Try again with a new approach. Complete your tasks, even the most menial ones, with pride and a sense of purpose.

10. Opportunity

Ryan Holiday’s book title, “The Obstacle is the Way,” tells us that the very thing that we might see as a blocker is actually our opportunity for action. Obstacles create opportunity, they provide new challenges for us to reassess our ideas and approaches and perhaps make decisions that weren’t possible before. They give us a chance to practice patience, leadership, compassion, creativity.

Photo "mountains" by james j8246, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Photo “mountains” by james j8246, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

“The Obstacle is the Way” wasn’t my introduction to stoic thought. It is a great application of the principles and how we can overcome our own hesitations and fear.

There is a mountain waiting, and it doesn’t care if we climb it or not. And on the other side, there are more mountains.

We can choose to wish for a better circumstance, or we can accept what we have with gratitude and make the most of it.

Everything matters. What are we going to do about it?