The Obstacle is The Way

Ryan Holiday
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Every obstacle can be overcome through persistence in your efforts and resistance to distractions. Life is full of obstacles, there is no such thing as overcoming an obstacle and entering the land of no obstacles.


Perception is how we see and understand what occurs around us—and what we decide those events will mean.

There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. In these situations, grace and poise are the most sought after characteristics (often, over talent).

Control Your Emotions

Apetheia — a kind of calm equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. Not the loss of feeling altogether, just the loss of the harmful, unhelpful kind.

  • As Nassim Taleb put its, the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.

We defeat emotions with logic.

Practice objectivity

Miyamoto Musashi — The perceiving eye is weak, he wrote; the observing eye is strong. Musashi understood that the observing eye sees simply what is there. The perceiving eye sees more than what is there. The observing eye sees events, clear of distractions, exaggerations, and misperceptions. The perceiving eye sees “insurmountable obstacles” or “major setbacks” or even just “issues.”

Objectivity means removing “you”—the subjective part—from the equation.

Focus on what's up to you and accept what's not in your control (e.g. focus on emotions, judgements, creativity, attitude, perspective, desires, decisions and determination).

After you have controlled your emotions, and you can see objectively and stand steadily, the next step becomes possible: a mental flip, so you’re looking not at the obstacle but at the opportunity within it.

"The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up." — Chuck Palahniuk


Our movements and decisions define us: We must be sure to act with deliberation, boldness, and persistence.

If we’d like to go where we claim we want to go—to accomplish what we claim are our goals—there is only one way. And that’s to meet our problems with the right action.

Get Moving — While you’re sleeping, traveling, attending meetings, or messing around online, the same thing is happening to you. You’re going soft. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re not pressing ahead. You’ve got a million reasons why you can’t move at a faster pace. This all makes the obstacles in your life loom very large.

Practice Persistence

Too many people think that great victories like Grant’s and Edison’s came from a flash of insight. That they cracked the problem with pure genius. In fact, it was the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the elimination of so many other more promising options, that slowly and surely churned the solution to the top of the pile. Their genius was unity of purpose, deafness to doubt, and the desire to stay at it.

Remember and remind yourself of a phrase favoured by Epictetus: “persist and resist.” Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.

When failure does come, ask: What went wrong here? What can be improved? What am I missing?

Follow the Process

When you’ve got to do something very difficult. Don’t focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize.

Do Your Job

Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.

Approach life with the right action (unselfish, dedicated, masterful and creative).

You don’t convince people by challenging their longest and most firmly held opinions. You find common ground and work from there.

Seize The Offensive

If you think it’s simply enough to take advantage of the opportunities that arise in your life, you will fall short of greatness. Anyone sentient can do that. What you must do is learn how to press forward precisely when everyone around you sees disaster.

Nothing can ever prevent us from trying. Ever. It’s an infinitely elastic formula: In every situation, that which blocks our path actually presents a new path with a new part of us.

“The things which hurt, instruct.” — Benjamin Franklin


True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility; the other kind of will (how bad we want something) is weakness disguised by bluster and ambition.

Stoic maxim: sustine et abstine. Bear and forbear. Acknowledge the pain but trod onward in your task.


The person who has rehearsed in their mind what could go wrong will not be caught by surprise. The person ready to be disappointed won’t be. They will have the strength to bear it.

The Art of Acquiescence

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. It takes a real man or woman to face necessity.

Love Everything That Happens

The next step after we discard our expectations and accept what happens to us, after understanding that certain things—particularly bad things—are outside our control, is to love whatever happens to us and facing it with unfailing cheerfulness.

The mindset: "This is what I’ve got to do or put up with? Well, I might as well be happy about it."


Churchill’s old acronym: KBO. Keep Buggering On.

We don’t control the barriers or the people who put them there. But we control ourselves—and that is sufficient.

Stop pretending that what you’re going through is somehow special or unfair. Whatever trouble you’re having—no matter how difficult—is not some unique misfortune picked out especially for you. It just is what it is.

Meditate on Your Mortality

Reminding ourselves each day that we will die helps us treat our time as a gift. Someone on a deadline doesn’t indulge himself with attempts at the impossible, he doesn’t waste time complaining about how he’d like things to be.

Prepare to Start Again

Elysium is a myth. One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles (see Finite and Infinite Games)

Nassim Taleb defines a Stoic as someone who “transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.”