Energy and Endurance

“Life is not about one obstacle, but many.” Author Ryan Holiday writes in his book, The Obstacle is the Way. Holiday looks at life as a series of challenges and views our success as being measured by how we respond to the road blocks and obstacles we face along our journey. In this view, the measure of success is not wealth, or career titles, or any of the other myriad of ideas of success we have gained from popular media, but instead, it is how well you adapt and adjust along the way. Popular visions of success may be byproducts of overcoming obstacles, but rarely are they a true measure of our success as Holiday sees it. Successfully navigating a sea of obstacles and challenges should be our focus because we never reach a place where difficulties subside and life becomes simple. Our attention should constantly be on self-improvement and self-reflection to guide us through the difficult times. Holiday writes,

 

“We will overcome every obstacle,—and there will be many in life—until we get there. Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.”

 

By expecting that life will not be easy and that we will not reach a place of simplicity, we can prepare ourselves for what we will actually face while we grow. Aligning our actions to match our expectations and directing actions toward obstacles will help us reach success. We will not be judging ourselves against a ruler built by someone else, but instead we will judge ourselves based measures of our own efforts. This measure will be calibrated by the impediments, adversity, and luck of our own lives. Our actions build to become the rings on the ladder lifting us further against our ruler.

 

To continue our path requires constant focus and motivation. The perseverance that Holiday discusses comes after we have studied our challenges and identified the best path forward. The path is rarely the path of least resistance, but rather a path filled with questions that will challenge, push back, and ultimately help us grow as we learn and climb. The quick energy needed to surge forward with new ideas and perspectives can only come if we have a strong level of endurance to support our efforts over the long haul.

The Path of Least Resistance

The premise of Ryan Holidays book, The Obstacle is the Way, is that our fortune in life will shift continuously, and we will face success, failure, challenges, and obstacles along our journey. Reaching our goals requires that we prepare for the difficulties of the journey in order to be prepared and find growth. Holiday focuses on how these challenges mold and shape us to become better people, and he discusses the ways in which we can ready ourselves for the obstacles in our life and writes, “the path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. We can’t afford to shy away from the things that intimidate us. We don’t need to take our weaknesses for granted.”

 

His quote is building on the idea that  overcoming obstacles is what will propel our lives, and that we find the success we desire when we work toward something great without backing down from obstacles that intimidate us. We know some of the challenges that we will face along our journey and we know there are obstacles that we won’t be able to see, but we should not let that keep us from advancing or from starting out at all. When we go beyond the path of least resistance we learn more about ourselves and develop skills that will help us take greater steps toward what we want. If we see challenges and back down, then we miss an opportunity to grow and develop ourselves. If we look at the rewards of our future goals, but dismiss those goals because we think the challenges will be too great, then we are letting something external control our minds and our lives.

 

What Holiday encourages us to do is recognize our weaknesses and think forward to the difficulties we have to prepare for them. By doing so we can begin to plan for how we will surmount those obstacles and how we will battle against the challenges. By understanding our weaknesses and leaning into them, we give ourselves opportunities for action and growth. Hiding our weaknesses from ourselves and backing away from the barriers between us and our goals will limit our growth and create only an illusion of success and hard work. Ultimately without thinking of where we need to grow and how adversity helps us achieve growth, we trick ourselves into thinking we have reached our zenith and we create excuses for why we cannot go further. Avoiding the path of least resistance and planning for the challenges we will face is what will give us true growth.

Deliberate Growth

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday discusses the ways in which we often look at our selves, our abilities, and the situations in which we find ourselves.  We tend to think that who we are is set in stone and shaped by forces beyond our control: I am naturally good at writing, I was not born with a good singing voice, I like to go to the gym, I don’t know how to do computer programming. In some way with all the examples above, we are looking at the things we do and do not do as if they are given parts of life, and not conscious choices that we make. When we look at who we are, what we excel at, where we struggle, what we like to do, and what things are not part of who we are, we begin to narrow our lives and place ourselves in a box. We define ourselves not by our ability to grow and change, but rather by who or what we perceive ourselves to be during a point in time. Holiday challenges this thinking, “We craft our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice (mens sana in corpore sano — sound mind in a strong body).”

 

His quote on its own speaks to the importance of mental and physical fortitude, but the section in which he includes the quote speaks to more than just the idea of mental and physical strength. The focus of Holiday in the quote above is on the word craft. We do not simply have mental strength by chance, and we do not simply have physical strength without working out. As Holiday explains, we must put in the effort, work, and focus to build our lives to match the quote above, to have a sound mind in a sound body.

 

Deliberate action and focus are the only things that will lead us to the growth we wish to see. We will have to put in real effort and work to develop the person we want to be, and if we do not strive to improve ourselves, we will only atrophy, and wither away as a result of the limitations we accept. Holiday continues, “Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge that ourselves.” Looking at the qualities we want to develop, and preparing ourselves for the challenging road to acquire those qualities is a must if we want to find growth. From Holiday’s perspective, self-reflection and awareness are key, as a greater understanding of self and vision for growth will build and shape who we are and the actions we take, opening opportunity and improving experiences.

 

Holiday’s advice in forging ahead on our path is similar to the advice of Richard Wiseman, who wrote in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, encouraged journaling and reflection on the challenges we expect to face along our journey. By explaining how we will plan for obstacles in life, we can develop our sound mind, propelling us beyond our challenges. Thinking ahead and reflecting on not just our success but our failures and difficulties can help us build the strength necessary to develop our steel backbone.

What is Will

Author Ryan Holiday provides an in depth exploration of human will in his book, The Obstacle is the Way. Giving us an in depth view, Holiday writes, “Will is our internal power, which can never be affected by the outside world. It is our final trump card. If action is what we do when we still have some agency over our situation, the will is what we depend on when agency has all but disappeared.” Holiday sees our will as something deeper than what we typically understand as will power, and by building a more profound meaning of will, he gives us a new dimension of fortitude and strength. This vision that can be cultivated and built into who we are, the goals we have, and how we press forward to overcome the obstacles we face.

 

Will is our ability to relentlessly approach the world in a way where we can benefit and grow. Holidays continues in his writing to explain that will is not just the idea of perseverance to win, but a deeper strength of mind that stays with us even when we have lost everything else. Our mind is the only thing we can ever have the possibility of controlling, and our will is derived from our habits of thinking, our actions, and our perceptions. It is our ability to take a situation in which action appears impossible and in which all seems lost, and find a way to move forward in a positive direction. Will builds from our ability to recognize our situation, choose our reaction, and continue to pursue our goals.

 

Holiday explains that typical forms and ideas of will fall short of the view he puts forth. Rather than thinking of will as the degree to which we want something, it is better to see will as our inner strength that does not waver when we face an obstacle. Holiday explains that this type of will is stronger than the will that pushes us to act and charge forward, because a will built on calmness and inner power will guide us ahead evenly, regardless of whether the world is surging around us or falling down.

Discouragement and Persistance

Continuing his writing about focusing on the long term over the short term, author Ryan Holiday presents a new idea of persistence and brings a perspective to the discouragement we all feel from time to time. Holiday writes, “It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.” The power in this quote is Holiday’s acknowledgment of our feelings and reminder that it is ok to feel discouraged when we are struggling along our path. He helps us look at our emotions and take a step back to think about what they mean.

I really enjoy when author’s look at our emotional states and explain that we should not be critical of ourselves for feeling a certain way. It is normal to feel discouraged when facing obstacles, and in a very realistic manner, Holiday accepts our discouragement and provides us with inspiration to press forward. His advice is powerful because it is honest about the way we will feel when trying to reach out goals, and does not simply paint a rosy future of how nice our life will be once we surmount the obstacles in front of us. By pushing through the discomfort and inching along, we can reach our goals, but there are times where we will not feel great about our journey.

Holiday’s message is that our continued efforts, despite our desire to quit, is what true persistence is all about. Persistence is not just continued action, but it is not giving up when it does not feel as though we can be successful. When our emotions have been shot down and all we can do is crawl along toward our goal, according to Holiday, we have reached a point where persistence is all we have. By viewing persistence and discouragement in open terms, we can better understand that our goals won’t be easy and that overcoming our goals will not be as glamorous as a Hollywood movie montage would suggest, but that incremental action can nevertheless drive us to where we set our sights.

The Long Haul

Another shift in perspective that author Ryan Holiday presents in his book The Obstacle is the Way is focused around the time frames through which we view the world and the things which happen to us. When we look at where we are and what is happening to us it is easy to be overwhelmed and frustrated by the negative things that occur on a daily basis. Often times when we step back and look at a longer view of our life and our actions, we see that what happens today that feels so negative is often a very small blip in the narrative of our life. Holiday writes,

 

“There’s no need to sweat this or feel rushed. No need to get upset or despair. You’re not going anywhere—you’re not going to be counted out. You’re in this for the long haul.
Because when you play all the way to the whistle, there’s no reason to worry about the clock. You know you won’t stop until it’s over—that every second available is yours to use. So temporary setbacks aren’t discouraging. They are just bumps along a long road that you intend to travel all the way down.”

 

Holiday’s advice is to give up worrying about things in our past that have plagued us, and to instead focus on how we can move forward in a new direction. What held us back in the past does not dictate what we are capable of today, and just because we missed an opportunity in the past does not mean that we are out of time for improving ourselves or beginning a new path today. This not just a shift in perspective of the past, but it is a reassurance that we don’t need to be limited by the expectations that we have always held, and we are not pushed into or out of certain opportunities because of our age or experience.

 

When we connect Holiday’s quote above to the theme of the book we see that each little bump and setback along the road helps us improve. As we face more small bumps and challenges our lives can feel overwhelmingly challenging and unfairly difficult, but if we learn from each bump and grow, we will constantly be improving and developing ourselves to handle future challenges. Looking over the entire span of our life, past, present, and where we expect to go in the future, we can see each challenge as a badge of knowledge and experience showing that we can handle difficulties that arise in the future. We can see the obstacles we have overcome in our rearview mirror, study how we overcame our challenges, and apply those lessons to our current dilemmas or use those lessons to prepare for  the challenges we have yet to face. The important thing to remember is that our current challenge is not what will define our life, but rather a small chapter in the story of how we applied ourselves throughout our time on this planet.

Persist and Resist

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday writes about the ways in which our mindset can shape the goals we set for ourselves and the daily actions we take to reach those goals. Holiday encourages us to set our mind on the long-term future and to avoid being pulled about by our short-term successes and failures. Following the advice of great Stoic thinkers of the past, he looks at our challenges and encourages us to apply our skills in accomplishing what we need, and to continually work on our patience so that we do not burn out in the short run. He quotes Epictetus in the following passage,

 

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

 

By continually pressing agains the negative and preparing ourselves so that we can always overcome our challenges, we can reach the success, milestones, and goals we desire. Part of the key, as discussed by Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds is not to just visualize the success we will achieve, but to be honest about our future journey and visualize the challenges we will face. We should not let a wall of negativity overwhelm us in our thinking, but we should also not be blind to the challenges we will face and wander in a mist of naivety. By planning for our challenges and visualize how we will overcome obstacles we will be far more likely to act according to our goals and mission.

 

If we can work on visualizing how we will succeed, then it can become easier to persist and resist. Understanding the challenges that will be faced will help drive us forward and keep us moving when we hit difficult times. Learning to keep our minds free from distractions will help us be more successful along our path, and help us focus on what is important over the long run rather.

Obstacles and Growth

“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels  the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.” Author Ryan Holiday wrote this in his book The Obstacle is the Way, perfectly summarizing his thoughts about the challenges and difficulties we face along our journey. We will all struggle and we will all hit roadblocks trying to get to the point we want, but we are only ever defeated if we decide to allow ourselves to be overcome by the challenges we face.  In his book, Holiday explores ways in which we can change our perspectives and work to better understand ourselves and our expectations, so that the difficulties and limitations which seem to hold us back instead become tools to be used in our own growth.

 

The quote above starts with an idea that is nothing more than a change in perspective. The idea that our obstacles, the things that hold us back, are actually the propellents we need on our journey is incredibly foreign to most people. We often desire a life where things simply come easy and where we move without being inhibited from one success to another, but that is simply not the life for any of us. Holiday urges us to study our obstacles and press forward even harder when faced with challenges. It is absolutely true that modern descriptions of success, defined by income and possessions, can be more easily attained for some with fewer obstacles, but true growth and fulfillment necessarily includes obstacles and challenges. To  learn and become a more well rounded and an overall better individual we need to have adversity to learn from. The challenges that hold us back and make our lives difficult are also the things that connect us with the rest of humanity, and understanding those challenges and growing from them is what will help us reach a version of success that is far more rewarding than a bank account or vehicle.

 

Recognizing the ways in which obstacles help us requires a herculean shift in our perspectives and the ways in which we think about success, hard work, and growth. If success is reaching a place where struggle no longer exists, then you may need to rethink your goals. The only place where struggle does not exist is in a land of mediocrity where one is well supported (read: spoiled) by people beyond oneself. It is a goal that necessarily lacks any goals. At the same time, a goal defined by a certain income, house, or lifestyle can be just as dangerous as the goal of a life  free from challenges since we never truly control our income and are using a false measure of success as our yardstick. It is a goal with a constantly moving finish line that is often well beyond our control.

 

Holiday would encourage us to better understand our goals so that when we face obstacles we can better understand the ways in which those obstacles help us and prepare us for the success we actually seek. Focusing on the way an obstacle holds us back and diving to better understand the obstacle will force us to action and growth in a way that a life of simplicity never could. By being challenged we are given an opportunity to expand who we are, and we can find ways forward that we never knew existed.

Seeking Obstacles

In The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday encourages us to run toward  the obstacles that appear in our lives instead of constantly trying to avoid obstacles and challenges. He highlights the opportunity for growth that obstacles provide, and shows us how they build new opportunities. He writes, “Obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced…because these obstacles are actually opportunities to test ourselves, to try new things, and, ultimately, to triumph.” This short quote sums up much of Holiday’s thinking surrounding the challenges in our lives and how he views the struggles we will encounter.
What I find great about this quote is Holidays acceptance of struggles and challenges as a necessary part of life. I find that I try so hard to build a life for myself where I will not face challenges and struggles, but it is a useless effort. What Holiday says is that we should expect our lives to be full of obstacles and we should not imagine a perfect future life free from adversity. I think I am stuck in a trap that has been built for people of my generation, the millennial generation, where it is easy to imagine a simple life with all of our desires available accessible, and with all our obstacles mitigated by forces beyond our control. The simple truth is that we will all experience some degree of suffering, and it is through our struggles that we will grow and become better people.
Holiday also shows the importance of building awareness and self-reflection into our life journeys. If we are not aware, then we will not see the opportunities that present themselves in the obstacles that we face. Any bit of adversity that we experience can have a positive side to it, if we understand our reactions and look for ways to use our adversity as a new fortification for the foundations upon which we rest our lives.  Without a dose of awareness, we risk crumbling in front of our challenges, unaware that it is this very challenge that could help propel us further.

What it Takes to Overcome Obstacles

There are three parts to overcoming our obstacles that Ryan Holiday lays out in his book The Obstacle is the Way. In a single short quote he gives us a quick roadmap for developing ourselves and facing our challenges.

 

“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps.
     It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.
     It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.”

 

His approach breaks down the barriers that we face and looks at each part of an obstacle to help us see how we can take small steps to face what limits us. It also builds a framework for looking at our problems that can become a committed part of who we are, and a habit that we adopt for thinking about the world.  The process is not intended to be a tool that we pull out when needed for a specific job, but rather a mental scaffolding built around our decision making and thought processes.

 

I think it is very fitting that Holiday calls this process a discipline. It requires self-awareness and self-control to stand back and methodically pick through our obstacles to find creative solutions to bridge the gap between where we are and the success we desire.  Even once we have imagined a creative solution we must put forth great effort for that solution to manifest in the real world. Holiday is honest in the quote about about the challenges of applying this discipline. Each of his three steps require taking action that runs counter to the easy path away from our obstacles. Facing and using our obstacles to build new opportunity requires not just determination and strong will-power on our end, but the ability to overcome the negative voices in our head which tell us to turn away from our challenges in search of an easier rout. It requires that we change the way we think about that which limits us, and demands that we find new solutions to the problems we face.

 

Our new perceptions and novel solutions don’t just help us overcome any single obstacle, but they literally change who we are. The growth we find on our path results from our new ways of looking at the world, and from the practice of building greater will-power to reach our goals. The solutions we develop become a playbook for facing obstacles, and serve as proof of our accomplishments.