Stillness is the Key — Book Summary

Summary of Ryan Holiday's timeless book.

Stillness is the Key — Book Summary
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Our world is loud. Every day, a thousand voices battle for our attention. Through people and screens, and even from inside, we are pulled in a million different directions by the noise of life.

So what do we do? What could possibly remedy this onslaught of activation?


In Ryan Holiday’s 8th book, he tackles one of the most challenges questions of our day and age: how can we become more, do more, accomplish more, by doing less? Is our non-stop attitude towards life helping – or hurting our chances of getting what we actually want? And why is the discipline of stillness apparent in nearly every single human who has shaped the course of history?

In this video, we are going to dive into Ryan Holiday’s new book and uncover 3 big ideas that you can begin using today to cultivate more stillness in your life.


The first area Holiday writes about is the Mind.

In 2002, Shawn Green, an incredible baseball player from the Los Angeles Dodgers, was in the worst hitting slump of his life. It was a new season, and he hadn’t hit a single ball for weeks. With a $14,000,000 contract on the line, he felt the pressure. In fact, that’s all his mind could think about – expectations, stress, and critics – all weighing down on him and distracting him every time he stood up to the plate.

The solution wasn’t to work harder or get more training. Rather, it was to empty his mind. He would repeat the zen proverb “Chop wood, carry water.”

The point was to stop overanalyzing and just do the work. That is exactly what he did. As a result of his new practice, his slump turned around and he went on to become one of the greatest homerun hitters in the history of baseball.

It is impossible to hit and think at the same time” – a less full and frantic mind will always be more helpful than an overworked one. Learn to make space in and around your mind.

On top of this, Holiday provides a number of other tactics for mastering our minds, such as:

  • Becoming more present.
  • Limiting our inputs.
  • Slow down so that we can think deeply.
  • Begin a daily journaling practice.
  • Learn to cultivate silence.
  • Finally, seek wisdom from books and others who exhibit the stillness you desire.


After the mind, Holiday moves our attention to the Spirit.

In 2010, after a seemingly unstoppable rise to success & after solidifying himself as one of the greatest players in the history of golf, Tiger Woods’ world came crashing down.

The outside persona he crafted of a man who had it all was only a façade. Inside, he was hurting – and the pain led him to make a number of costly decisions. The truth about his affairs and addictions flooded the media, tearing down everything he had spent years building in a matter of moments.

Holiday writes that “everybody has a hungry heart, what matters is what we choose to feed it.

Much of Tiger’s turmoil came from the brutal relationship he had with this father. Earl Woods, Tiger’s dad, pushed him incessantly, teaching him that the word “enough” was a sign of weakness. When in truth, when we learn to find the “enoughness” that is within all of us – it can become our strongest tool.

After a decade of healing, Tiger realized that real happiness comes from within. Once we learn how to cultivate our soul – we can literally accomplish anything – but more importantly, we will need those accomplishments even less.

Holiday closes the section with a handful of additional ways we can find stillness in our spirit:

  • Choose virtue (learn to judge slowly and correctly).
  • Heal our inner child by giving to others what we were never given.
  • Learn to beware of our desires. The purpose isn’t to have no desire, but to nurture the right desires (ones that don’t hurt you while you want them).
  • Bathe in beauty. Spend time in nature, get out of yourself, your own problems, and realize how big this life really is.
  • Accept a high power in whatever form fits you; the goal is to inspire awe.
  • Enter relationships because “by ourselves, we are a fraction of what we can be.
  • Anger is like a tiger trying to claw its way out. Conquer it so that it will not block your goals.
  • Learn that everyone and everything is connected. We are all one. When you can do this, you can begin to turn down the noise of life and just be.


The 3rd and final area Holiday writes about is the Body

My favorite chapter from this section follows the story of Quintus Fabius Maximus, or more widely known as General Fabius.

When Hannibal was on his way to attack the Roman empire, the leaders were frantic. They wanted to show their power and go after Hannibal right away. But Fabius disagreed. He was a master strategist and understood that by letting the enemy come to him, Hannibal & his army would grow weaker with each day they spent in a strange land.

His colleagues disagreed, and with ego guiding their way, they attacked Hannibal – nearly losing their entire army in the battle. Now understanding the general’s wisdom, they followed what would become the Fabian strategy and held back until exactly the right moment. Because of their patience, the Roman empire was saved.

Holiday writes about our obsession with the “green light” in our culture. How we are always trying to go and do. When in reality, we must learn to value the yellow and red lights life gives us just as much as we do the green ones.

Wu Wei – the discipline of non-action, is often the answer we need. The best in any field are that way not simply because of what they did – but even more so because of what they chose not to do.

Our bodies are a precious & limited resource. So if we want to have the energy we need to change our lives & even the world, then there are a few steps we need to take:

  • Build a routine because “when the body is busy with the familiar, the mind can relax.
  • Walk every day.
  • Have less stuff (don’t become a servant to your things).
  • Seek solitude with a purpose.
  • Learn not to work so hard. Remember, the anvil always beats the hammer in the end.
  • Sleep more; if you abuse your body, you are also abusing your mind and spirit.
  • Find a hobby that puts your body in motion. William Gladstone chopped trees, Winston Churchill laid bricks. Rather than seeing this as something that takes away time from what you want to accomplish, understand it as an investment for your soul.
  • Don’t pursue stillness as an escape, rather “build a life you don’t need to escape from.
  • Trust yourself to act bravely. Your body will know what to do.

Holiday has written a beautiful book and my favorite part was actually the afterword where he tells the story of a bull that broke into his farm. The animal was very much like our lives are sometimes – frantic, scared, lost. But rather than rush in and try to change everything – to put the bull back in its proper place, we must be patient, approach it with care and love.

Nudge the bull in the direction it should go, cut off the unhealthy and unhelpful options, and remember that the journey is infinitely more important & more interesting than the destination.

Stillness really is the key (Buy on Amazon).