It may seem counter-intuitive to consider philosophy in the same breath as taking action but that is exactly what author Ryan Holiday does in his book: ‘The Obstacle is the Way’. He makes the point that the essence of philosophy is action and promotes stoicism as the ideal mental framework for dealing with failure and life challenges.
The book in a nutshell
By practising stoic philosophy we develop the mental toughness to keep going in the face of any obstacle. Our problems become a vehicle for growing stronger, becoming productive and achieving goals in all areas of our lives.
The framework of stoicism consists of three pillars: Perception, Action and Will which together shape our reality. Through them we can learn to take control of our lives.
‘We can stop seeing the “problems” in front of us as problems. We can learn to focus on what things really are.’
How do we see and understand what happens around us? What meaning do we attach to those events? These are the elements of perception and depending on our interpretation could be a source of weakness or strength. The author makes the point that if we are emotional, subjective and shortsighted, we only add to our troubles. He believes that the way to avoid becoming overwhelmed is to learn to limit passion and its control over our lives.
The discipline of perception
We will come up against obstacles throughout our lives and some will seem unfair. However, what matters is how we react to them. Stoicism teaches us that maintaining our composure is the key to overcoming obstacles and even flourishing in the face of them.
If we can learn to see the opportunities in crisis and understand that we can choose how to react, we can remain calm when others succumb to emotions like fear, powerlessness and desperation.
‘Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proper course of action in every situation—without the pestilence of panic or fear.’
‘ The demand on you is this: Once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act.’
The world is filled with action but it is more difficult to take the right kind of action. The right kind of action is that which moves us through the obstacles we encounter and towards our goals. As the author puts it, step by step, action by action, we dismantle the obstacles in front of us, fostering the persistence required for achieving our goals.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the problems we face, to try to ignore what we need to do to get through them. But we know that the only way to get to where we want to go is to act.
The bottom line as the author puts it is not what has happened to us or where we came from but what we do with it. How can we use all that we’ve been through and are going through to get to where we want to go?
We would do well to remember that no one but ourselves can save us and that the only way to claim what we want is to confront our problems with the right action.
Action is the solution and the cure to our predicaments.
‘ We can think, act, and finally adjust to a world that is inherently unpredictable. The will is what prepares us for this, protects us against it, and allows us to thrive and be happy in spite of it.’
What is will?
According to the author it is our internal power, that which can never be affected by the outside world. When we no longer have control over what is happening around us, will is what is left, what we rely on.
Will allows us to take what is undeniably negative in our lives and turn it into a learning experience and opportunity to help others. The will is the one thing we always have control over.
Will is fortitude and wisdom about life itself. It gives us ultimate strength in the face of any challenge. While perception and action are the disciplines of the mind and body, will is the discipline of the heart and soul.
‘Too often people think that will is how badly we want something. In actuality, the will has a lot more to do with surrender than with strength.’
Who this book is for
This book stresses the what more than the how. It focuses squarely on the changes in mindset required to get things done and succeed. If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide this book isn’t it, you will need to figure out how to put into action all you read. However, it is an easy to read, free-flowing book of great ideas that will get you pumped up and rearing to go.
I really enjoyed this book and believe it’s relevant for practically anyone. After all we all have obstacles to deal with and feel stuck at times in our lives.
It slices through the excuses we make by giving so many real-life examples of the three principles in action. Enlightening and inspiring stories about those who have struggled yet overcome so much to become people doing great things in a variety of fields.
Whether John D. Rockefeller, Abraham Lincoln or Amelia Earhart, they all drove home the point that there is no new problem under the sun. Problems have always been and will be, it is up to us to use them as an opportunity to grow and get stronger.
In the words of the author: ‘First, see clearly. Next, act correctly. Finally, endure and accept the world as it is’.
If you know that there is much more in you than you’ve brought to life so far, and you’re ready to change the way you think, then you’re in the right place. If you want to get rid of all the excuses and start taking the right action then ‘The Obstacle is the way’ is a book you need to read.