One of the things that will help you get through life is philosophy. The last year has been massively tricky for all of us. It’s hard to find a silver lining during a hurricane, yet as humans, that’s the only way for us to move on. We see a silver lining and anchor our hopes to it until we find a piece of the rainbow for ourselves. I found my rainbow in philosophy – to be more precise, I found hope in Stoicism. There are many branches of philosophy. Once you start indulging in philosophy, you will find so many thought-provoking ideas. I guess that’s the whole point of philosophy – it makes you think.
Best Ryan Holiday Books!
Last year when I was shut inside my house like many others, I had this unprecedented privilege to work on myself. I had the luxury to read books while many others walked miles to their home. (We are back to square one, but that’s a whole different issue altogether.) That’s when I came across Ryan Holiday‘s books, and they completely changed my life. When I say his books changed my life, I am not exaggerating even one bit. His books are that good. Until I read his books, I had no idea about the philosophy of Stoicism. His books introduced me to the great emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. I also came across the works of Seneca and Epictetus through Ryan Holiday’s books.
1. Ego Is the Enemy
Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art, stated that ‘Ryan Holiday is one of his generation’s finest thinkers.’ I have to say I am in total agreement with this statement. Ryan Holiday starts his book “Ego Is the Enemy” by first addressing the most crucial question – who the hell is he to write a book on Ego? And why would we read his book? I found the explanation pretty straightforward, and I was in for it. This book outperformed all my expectations. I have got ten folds of wisdom and knowledge for every penny that I spent on his book.
The return on investment of this book is exceedingly high. You will find many definitions of Ego. But Ryan Holiday clearly states the one he will be using for the book. ‘An unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition… The need to be better than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility – that’s Ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.’ I think this definition pretty much covers every aspect of our egos. However, this book is not a personal essay on Ego.
Instead, the author draws an array of incredible examples from philosophy, history, and literature, along with his commentary on how the Ego became the enemy of ambition, success, and resilience. In the prologue, Ryan Holiday writes – “With success comes the temptation to tell oneself a story, to round off the edges, to cut out your lucky breaks, and add certain mythology to it all… It’s a type of storytelling in which your talent becomes your identity, and your accomplishments become your worth.” Have you ever read anything more accurate than this? Well, I hadn’t! And buying and reading this book happened to be one of the best decisions of my life. You can get the book here! 📖
2. The Obstacle Is the Way
If you want to know how you can turn your adversity into an advantage, then this is the book for you. Stoicism teaches us the futility of focusing on things outside of our control. Almost everything is outside of our control except our minds. That’s where most people lose the game. You can have everything going right for you, but if your mind betrays you, then it’s over.
In the same way, several obstacles may meet you along the way to your destination, but if you have control over your mind, then you’ve already won the battle. Ryan Holiday writes, “Perceive things as they are, leave no option unexplored, then stand strong and transform whatever can’t be changed.” The point is, there are always going to be obstacles. We cannot let the challenges get to our minds.
Instead, we have to meditate over them and find our way through them until our obstacle becomes our way. In the book, Ryan Holiday shares the writer and philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s definition of a stoic. Taleb defined a Stoic as someone who ‘transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.’ With time and practice repeating this loop becomes more accessible and more straightforward. You can get the book here! 📖
3. Stillness Is the Key
We are taught a million things in our schools. Everything is centered on becoming more competent than others in this massively competitive world. From the syllabus books to co-curricular activities, everything is based on competitiveness. It’s very late in our lives that we realize the importance of inner peace. We spend most of our youth chasing dreams and ambitions, which is extremely important, but we ignore the significance of finding the balance somewhere along the way. ‘Stillness Is the key’ will teach you to bring that balance into your life.
Ryan Holiday calls ‘stillness’ in this book what the Zen masters mean by ‘inner peace.’ The Stoics used the term ‘ataraxia’ for the same. Stillness is not just about meditating and finding serenity in calmness. Most of us young people think stillness is about slowing down, which most of us cannot afford given the number of items on our to-do lists. We think if we slow down, we will lose out on opportunities. But Ryan Holiday draws some fantastic examples of philosophers, presidents, etc., including Winston Churchill, Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, and many others who found the solution to their most complex problems when they slowed down.
Silence is powerful because once everything is quiet, the essential things get amplified. The world is exceedingly noisy and chaotic; it’s fascinatingly easy to lose yourself in the maze of distractions. This book will help you to save yourself from such a bottomless pit. You will also get to learn a lot about journaling and meditation. In this book, Ryan Holiday distills wisdom so you can absorb it fully. He shares examples of some personalities who used journaling as a tool to overcome obstacles and come out victorious. You can get the book here! 📖
4. The Daily Stoic
The Daily Stoic is the first book by Ryan Holiday I got my hand on, and although it’s a co-authored book, it’s fantastic. Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman collaborated to create this gem of a book, and I am utterly grateful. This book is the reason that I found motivation and inspiration on so many sloppy days. The Daily Stoic is a collection of quotations and historical anecdotes by great philosophers such as the slave-turned-emperor Epictetus, emperor Marcus Aurelius, the playwright Seneca, Zeno, Cleanthes, and Musonius Rufus, followed by the brilliant commentary by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.
The book consists of 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living. The word ‘meditations’ is note-worthy in this context because it metamorphosed my knowledge regarding meditation. If you have read Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations, then you would know that even after a terrible day at the battlefield, he still used to sit down with his journal and meditate on his thoughts.
He used to pour his heart and soul into his journal with no interest in ever publishing them. It was for his own self-discovery. Most of us think ‘meditation’ is a state in which a human is completely bereft of thoughts. We perceive meditation as a state of complete void. But in reality, meditation is synonymous to focus – focus so strong and motivated that no number of distractions can shake it. You can get the book here! 📖
To meditate is to sit with thought and put it under the spotlight, see it from every angle possible, draw comparisons, and analyze it until that thought becomes crystal clear until it’s not stained with prejudice or perception. Meditation is a self-cleansing process of the mind. That’s why this book uses the term ‘meditations’ instead of ‘lessons’ or ‘thoughts. Each page of this book is dedicated to each day of the year. You are supposed to read a single page devoted to that particular day and then spend that day meditating over the quotation, and the commentary shared therein.
The book is divided into three parts, where each month is dedicated to a specific theme. Part 1 discusses the discipline of perception, under which we have the first four months devoted to the topic of Clarity, Passions and Emotions, Awareness, and Unbiased Thought. Part 2 follows the discipline of Action from May to August, sharing lessons on Right Actions, Problem Solving, Duty, and Pragmatism. Finally, Part 3 talks about the discipline of Will from September to December, following the lessons on Fortitude, Virtue, and Kindness, Acceptance/Amor fati, and Meditation and Mortality.
This book is an ideal book for beginners who are just starting with non-fiction, self-help, and philosophy. The quotations are highly relevant, and the commentary directly links the wisdom to solve modern-day problems. The fact that the chapters are in bite-size portions makes them refreshing, easy, and accessible. So, in my opinion, if there is one non-fiction book that everyone should have on their bookshelf – this is the one!
Four times NBA Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, Manu Ginobili, said that “Ryan’s trilogy of The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy and Stillness Is the Key are for sure must-reads.” Honestly, I couldn’t agree more. These books will teach you some outstanding life skills that no amount of school and college education will guide you through. In a world that only focuses on an individual’s intelligence quotient, building a solid emotional quotient is an incredible advantage. It helps to establish a work-life balance, and you tend to feel happier and more content. Over and above the trilogy, ‘The Daily Stoic’ is like a holy scripture that will transform your life one day at a time.
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