Stillness is the key summary

Stillness is the Key Summary and Review | Ryan Holiday

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Stillness is the Key taps into a quality that has been harnessed by all great leaders, makers, artists, and fighters. This quality has been given many names throughout history. Zen Buddhists describe this quality as inner peace. Stoics called it ataraxia. Ryan Holiday calls this quality stillness. Stillness is the ability for an individual to be steady, focused, and calm in an always busy world. Holiday argues that this quality is more important now than it has ever been, with the introduction of the internet and social media. Importantly, Holiday believes that we can all attain stillness. Once we have attained stillness, we can start pursuing our greatest ambitions and overcoming our most challenging battles. Stillness is the Key combines Holiday’s wisdom with examples from historical and contemporary figures to guide readers toward their stillness. 

About Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is an American marketer and author. Ryan dropped out of college at the age of 19 to apprentice under Robert Greene, the author of The 48 Laws of Power. Subsequently, Ryan became the marketing director for American apparel and found his own creative agency called Brass Check. Brass Check has been an advisor to companies, like Google, and authors, like Neil Strauss, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss. In addition to this, Ryan is a media columnist and editor-at-large for the New York Observer. Ryan is the author of 10 books. Stillness is the Key has now sold over two million copies.

The Mind

Slow Down

Our mind is crucial for our decision making. Associated with the idea of stillness, slowness is a critical skill that helps your mind. If you can slow down and avoid making impulsive and quick decisions, you can make better-informed decisions. Specifically, you can settle down and consider the thoughts you are having and the decisions you will make. On top of this, slowing down prevents you from being overwhelmed by future thoughts and past events. Instead, you will be living in the present moment. Ryan Holiday explains that good decisions happen in the present moment. Also, he describes the present moment as a gift you currently have and one you should focus on. 

Another fundamental approach to adopt to live in the present is to turn off all current distractions. Also, Ryan recommends avoiding gossiping with your friends when you can. Removing this drama from your daily life will help you to settle down into the present quicker.

Ryan Holiday recommends avoiding overthinking, but he does suggest readers should find their perfect balance. Different circumstances will require different forms of thinking. In general, though, you should be thinking about your major life decisions. This type of thinking does not fall into the ‘worrying about the future’ category. There is a big difference between over-analyzing what could go wrong and thinking about what your next step should be en route to your life goals. 


“This is what the best journals look like. They aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.”

– Ryan Holiday

One way to implement stillness into your life is to start journaling. Specifically, Ryan Holiday recommends journaling every day. It does not matter where you write your journal, when you write your journal, or how you present your journal. Instead, all that matters is that you are journaling. Journaling is an effective way of writing down all the things that bother us, which helps prevent these things from leaking into the rest of our lives. 

Ryan Holiday outlines three advantages of daily journaling:

  1. Once your worries are written on paper, you can obtain a more objective distance from the issue. These worries become easier to think about and harder to worry about.
  2. Writing down your struggles puts this mental baggage away. You no longer have to carry these worries on your shoulders. You have addressed these worries by accepting them and writing them down. Also, writing them down gives you a record of your worries. If you then decide you need to think a bit more about an issue, you can go back to the specific journal entry.
  3. The core feature of journaling is that you are encouraging reflection. Reflection about the issue at hand, but also reflection upon yourself. Journaling allows you to ask yourself the following questions.
    1. What is currently happening in your life?
    2. What are the next steps you should take in your life?
    3. Why are you worrying so much about this specific issue?
    4. Is this specific issue particularly important to you?

Each of these questions allows you to create greater peace of mind and more stillness. Once you start writing a journal, you will realize that you have more space for your life’s critical aspects. 


Reading is a fantastic skill that people often neglect. Suppose you can read but are choosing not to incorporate reading into your everyday life. In that case, you have no real advantage over those who are illiterate. Reading books or listening to audiobooks has the potential to widen your knowledge substantially. Reading allows you to obtain advice from the greatest minds in the most important fields. Reading is one activity that can take considerable time and effort, but the potential advantages are substantial. 

Building Confidence

Building confidence is an essential feature of creating a happy and fulfilling life. Still, Ryan Holiday warns readers that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Over time, you want to engage in activities and approaches to cultivate a healthy amount of confidence. However, you also want to avoid becoming overly egocentric. Focusing on your ego too much will prevent you from growing as a person. Therefore, Ryan recommends avoiding feeling offended when someone challenges you on a decision you have made or a thought that you hold. 

One way to build confidence while also keeping your ego in check is to admit when you are wrong. Always strive to identify areas where you can improve and take the required actions to make those changes. Ryan Holiday describes the perfect balance as humble confidence. 

One way to foster humble confidence is to detach yourself from the outcome. We all want to achieve success and the best outcome for each task. However, obsessing over these outcomes will only hinder the likelihood of achieving success. Ryan Holiday explains that it is easy to become frustrated if you are yet to achieve your desired outcome. However, if dwelled on, this frustration can leave you miserable. Hence, you should be open to change and be present in the moment. 

Ryan provides an outline of different approaches you can take to encourage humble confidence:

  1. Settle down.
  2. Slow Down.
  3. Think deeply about the things that are important in your life.
  4. Do not obsess over outcomes. Just aim to do your best and seek improvement.
  5. If you perform well, allow yourself to become more confident in your abilities. However, you should never become cocky. 
  6. Start journaling to remove your mental baggage.
  7. Turn off everyday distractions now and then, such as your smartphone.

The Soul

The soul is often associated with religions and spiritualism. However, Ryan Holiday defines our soul as our emotional wellbeing. 


A fundamental feature of healthy emotional wellbeing is having a balanced lifestyle. If you are keeping a balanced lifestyle in mind, then it is unlikely you will have poor quality emotional wellbeing. For example, rather than becoming outstanding in one area of our lives and then failing miserably in others, we must encourage a balance of success across all crucial parts of our life. 

Ryan Holiday provides Tiger Woods as an example of an individual who succeeds heavily in one area, golf, but has not improved other areas, such as his ability to commit to a monogamous relationship. Subsequently, Tiger Woods does not have fantastic emotional wellbeing. In effect, Tiger Woods would be happier if he took some of the time he spends playing golf and put it into other parts of his life. 

If you do not chase balance, then the extremes will catch up with you later down the road. 

Training Self-Control

Self-control is one of the most essential skills for improving yourself. For example, implementing new habits, like going to the gym and eating healthily, are not easy. They require significant self-control. These ideas date back to Marcus Aurelius’ meditations in the 2nd century. The Roman emperor encouraged everybody to exercise self-restraint. An approach adopted by Aurelius, and encouraged by Ryan Holiday, is to treat every task like it is your last. Adopting this approach will help make distractions less impactful and allow you to maintain self-control. 

Develop a Strong Moral Compass

“Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self-blinding.”

– Ryan Holiday

Next up, you should develop a strong moral compass and live by your values. Think about the actions that you take, including whether they are just or not. Additionally, pursue whether they are the right thing to do. This pursuit should consider whether your actions are morally right and if they are the right decision to help you achieve your life goals. 

One of the benefits of developing a strong moral compass is that people will prefer you as an individual. Having people like you is a useful tool for the pursuit of success. For example, people are more likely to provide you with a helping hand if they like you. However, never lie about your virtues. Others will be able to see through any lies. Hence, if you are not embodying the virtues you stand for, you will never win others over. On top of this, your internal state will react to your lack of integrity. Developing a strong moral compass and living by this compass can positively impact your internal state and keep you motivated and self-restrained. 

Heal Your Inner Child

The experiences we have during childhood have a significant impact on our later life. For example, being brought up in an abusive family can have impacts that last a whole lifetime. One of the worst ways of dealing with childhood trauma is to bottle it up. Instead, Ryan Holiday recommends attending to painful experiences. Remind yourself that you did have to endure these experiences and be kind to yourself. Before moving on from these childhood experiences, you have to make sure you are okay with the experiences. Plus, you must seek help from professionals and loved ones to overcome the difficult emotions that accompany reliving these experiences in your mind. 

Ryan Holiday believes that accepting and moving on from your inner child can significantly improve your mental health. Instead of suppressing difficult childhood experiences, try to heal your inner child. 

Controlling Your Desires

Humans are naturally driven by desires. Ryan Holiday calls these our inner demons. Giving in to these urges can have a significant impact on your life. You have to learn to control these urges to prevent them from negatively influencing your career or relationships. Additionally, these desires have the potential to negatively impact your mental state. 

One inner urge which has the greatest potential to destroy parts of your life is anger. Anger can sometimes offer motivation and an extra boost of energy. However, in the long-term, anger will cripple your mental health. Plus, it will lead to bad decision making. For example, say you are angry at somebody. If you let your desires control you, then you will likely hold this grudge for your entire life. You will make decisions that don’t necessarily benefit you, just to show the other person who is the boss. Subsequently, your time and energy will be spent on negative reactions rather than planned decisions. 

Anger can be an inevitable emotion. However, you need to learn to control your anger and forgive people. Holding grudges will never benefit you. Try to replace your feelings of anger with laughter and compassion.

Know When It’s Enough

Modern media outlets are always focusing on more. They tell you that you should be doing more, having more, and relaxing more. The modern outlook argues that you should always be looking for ways to make more money, and you should always be looking for that next raise. However, with this approach, when can you know that you are earning enough or have reached the pinnacle of your career? Focusing on outcomes will only make you incredibly unhappy. 

Instead of focusing on obtaining more, Ryan Holiday argues that happiness comes from within. Therefore, we should be spending less time focusing on creating more outcomes and more time focusing on internal health. You cannot always buy happiness over the long-term. Plus, falsely believing you can decreases the chance of you becoming successful. 

Once you start to embody internal happiness rather than relying on external factors for your happiness, then you will see beauty all around you. One way to accept the importance of internal happiness is to surrender your control. Once you accept there is some form of higher power, the sooner you will stop using external factors as your provider of happiness. 

The only thing in the world that you have complete control over is your inner mental state. Therefore, you should be spending most of your time focusing on improving this rather than worrying about more, more, more. Stop obsessing over the things that you cannot control.

Everything Is One

Finally, Ryan Holiday believes that surrendering our control is tied to accepting that we are just a tiny part of a gigantic universe. Our decisions are insignificant compared to a potential higher power. Plus, there is very little difference between other people and us. We are part of one universe and contribute a minuscule amount to the overall state of the universe. Therefore, stop worrying about your mistakes and start focusing on the power of controlling your inner mental state.

The Body

The stillness described by Ryan Holiday in this book is generally associated with mental capacities rather than your body. However, your body is an integral part of your stillness. For example, Ryan Holiday explains that you can even be ‘still’ while you are moving. Ryan recommends doing sport and not backing down from challenges. Stillness is not about avoiding physical challenges. Stillness is about adopting a specific mental state that focuses on the present. In fact, physical exercise is often a great way of practicing the art of being present. 

Challenges are also crucial for helping you grow. Therefore, find challenging hobbies that help keep you balanced. As well as developing your internal state, try and develop hobbies that integrate physical exercise. 

Don’t Be Scared to Say No

Saying no is an integral part of your personal growth. Sometimes a request will not be viable, or it is better to focus your efforts elsewhere. In these instances, it is reasonable to say no. Sometimes saying no is the best decision for you, as it frees up space for you to accept the right opportunities when they come along. 

Part of life is that others will eat up your attention and will want something from you. Therefore, sometimes you need to calm down and make room for yourself, your body, your mind, and your soul. One way to do this is to take a walk now and then. Walking is an excellent thing as you’re out in nature, you can embrace the moment, and this little bit of movement gets your brain going. 

Build a Routine

A routine has the simple advantage that you automate a lot of things. Through automating things, you avoid having to think about them. This also means you free up a lot more space for your mental capacity to sit down, walk, and think.

Reduce Your Life’s Clutter

Get rid of all the clutter in your life. There are very few things that you need and use on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. Get rid of the clutter to make space for yourself to not feel like you have a false cage around you.

Don’t Overwork Yourself

The next thing to keep in mind is you are a human; you are not a machine. Don’t overwork yourself. You’re not put on this planet to work, so you don’t need to obsess over projects. Chill down, relax, and take your time. Work isn’t everything in life. You already know that you should find a balance, so don’t overwork yourself.

Sleep Is Crucial

So many people are sleep deprived. Sleep is one of the most important things to ensure that you’re productive. Not sleeping well and enough are things we barely notice, but they have a huge impact. If you sleep poorly or too little, then your judgment will be clouded, and you will make worse decisions. In the future, these worse decisions will come back, and they willto haunt you. Just sleeping an hour longer could have been the difference between making this poor decision, leading to wasted time and energy trying to fix the mistake, and a positive outcome. Be sure to get enough rest and always remember that you are not a machine. 

Be Aware of Escapism

Ryan mentions that we should be aware of escapism. Escapism incorporates all things you do to escape your actual life. For example, suppose you go out on the weekends to get dangerously drunk, try to numb your pain through drugs, or travel incessantly to escape your life. In that case, this is a sign that your life isn’t how it should be. 

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