This week, I attended an event to help promote Ryan Holiday’s new book, “Stillness is the Key”. Not only is Holiday my favorite author, but he’s been a huge inspiration for me to write and go through the creative process.
As I sat down, I linked eyes with the man sitting next to me. “Have you ever been to a book event?”, he asked. I only had once before – when Holiday was in town last year promoting his book, Conspiracy. He responded, “In my 52 years on earth, this is my first one.” It was a good one to pick.
Holiday and Brad Stulberg conducted a live 45-minute conversation and Q & A session, with topics ranging from the creative process to relationships to music. Stulberg, who I recently discovered, has written two books himself on the topic of peak performance.
The topic of both the new book and the conversation centered around stillness. It’s something we don’t have nearly enough of in this crazy world. Yet it’s what drives us to be better.
I’m at my best when I’m still, when I’m in the present moment. When it’s early morning before the world is awake, when I take a walk, when I get into flow state. Not when I’m hammering out an email while eating lunch before a meeting that starts in six minutes. That’s the opposite of stillness. That’s when I get careless, when I make mistakes.
And that’s the tricky part: it’s hard. If it were easy, as they say, everyone would do it.
It’s not about going out to some cabin in the woods and hiding from the world for the rest of your life. The challenge is to find stillness in the day to day, while you still have your responsibilities and hectic life you live.
Holiday gives some strategies throughout the book to help with this: spend time in nature, journal, find a hobby. Know when to say enough. That’s enough work for the day. That’s enough scrolling through Instagram. Enough dwelling on the past, anxiousness about the future. Enough.
There’s a story that Jeff Benedict tells in his book “Tiger Woods”. Tiger’s father, Earl, worked to build Tiger’s mental toughness at an early age. He’d do anything he could to distract Tiger on the golf course, from coughing in his backswing to calling him a motherfucker right to his face.
All Tiger had to do to get him to stop was say “enough”. He never did.
No wonder Tiger has been able to handle the most pressure-packed situations in sports – and have a catastrophic meltdown personally that ruined his life.
Holiday’s books are packed with tales from history and philosophy. From JFK to Epictetus, from ancient Samurai to Buddha and Jesus.
Some are to emulate – Anne Frank keeping a diary in the most hostile of situations. Others, like Woods, are cautionary tales.
The most successful people are those that can handle the dichotomy that this provides: stress & rest, pushing & stillness.
As Stulberg noted, you need to “have the confidence to rest.” By all means, put in the work, do the reps and sets. And when it’s time to rest, rest. Know when to say “enough.”
“Have the confidence to rest”
I recommend Holiday’s books and articles frequently on my newsletter and this book is no exception.
And may we all find that balance of pushing & stillness as we finish out 2019.