Through this book, Ryan Holiday shares stoic philosophy and explains why we should see our problems as trials or opportunities with courage and use them to grow in life.
- Hardcover Book
- Ryan Holiday (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 230 Pages – 01/01/2014 (Publication Date) – Generic (Publisher)
Last update on 2023-12-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon
The Obstacle Is The Way Detailed Summary
If you are facing lots of problems in your life, you might not realize it, but you are lucky.
Read this book summary and learn the best insights to know the answer.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
Lesson #1: Most of our obstacles are imaginary and based on flawed perceptions.
In the first chapter of the book, the author discusses how our flawed perceptions only add to our troubles.
When most people see a problem, they lose all hope.
They lose their calm and immediately label it as something bad or unfortunate.
Instead of seeing it as a stepping stone, they start worrying and never take action.
You will rarely see a person who gets excited after seeing obstacles.
It doesn’t matter whether you call life fair or unfair. One thing is certain: life will throw adversity at you.
If only we change our perception and start looking at life as it is, we will become better at dealing with obstacles.
Problems aren’t problems.
It’s our attitude towards them that is the problem.
Our brains are such that they see obstacles as threats. And thus, it’s our first response to avoid any sort of obstacle.
Look, some obstacles are real obstacles. And we should get rid of them.
For instance, if you are fat and can’t even run a kilometer, it’s a problem. And you should be worried about it.
It’s good to feel bad when the problem is real.
But most of the time, it’s our flawed perception that creates imaginary problems. We feel threatened when there is no real danger.
For instance, what other people think of us can’t really harm us unless we have some kind of severe anxiety problem.
But we create imaginary scenarios in our minds.
It’s our perception that makes us think that the problem exists, when in reality, it’s not something to be taken very seriously.
We have the ability to deceive ourselves.
By thinking differently, we can either think positively or negatively about the same situation.
It’s all about how you see a situation or a problem.
Smart people see opportunities in problems. While others see problems in opportunities,.
You can simply choose your perception, and your action will follow accordingly.
Simply ask, “Is this perception helping me grow in life?”
If not, then it’s time for you to bring about a shift in how you think and perceive reality.
Maybe you are living in a false reality that’s stopping you from doing great things in life.
Nobody can enter your mind. You will have to do this yourself.
Every obstacle in your life will give you the opportunity to question your reality and see if you are moving in the right direction or not. You just have to pay attention.
Lesson #2: Don’t get too emotional. Or you won’t be able to control your emotions.
We often struggle to overcome obstacles because we rely too much on our emotions.
When the emotions are extreme, they prevent us from thinking freely.
This is why we must know how to maintain our composure in tough situations.
Yes, it’s hard to not feel worried when stuck in a problem.
Yes, you will feel very bad at that time.
But when you see that the problem is an external event and you are in control of what happens in your mind internally, you regain control over your emotions.
Those extreme emotions change with time.
When you cultivate this skill of staying calm, you are able to choose your actions. This gives you an edge too, as most people can’t do this properly.
Remember, you can choose to worry or you can choose to challenge your beliefs and ask, “Why am I worrying so much? Is this problem really bigger than me?”
Introspection is better than worrying. This is what wise people do.
They don’t complain. They think rationally and act.
Also note that we are not trying to disregard our emotions here.
They will always be in your head, and you just can’t always ignore them.
This is why you should start seeing emotion management as a skill; the more you practice taming your emotions, the better you get at it.
Most people remain clueless and directionless their entire lives, as they never learn about their emotions.
So as soon as they experience extreme emotions, they get lost in confusion and anxiety.
The author shares a great technique to deal with extreme emotions in tough situations.
Say to yourself, “This situation is tough on me, but I’m not going to die from it. I’m not going to die from this. I’m not going to die from this.”
Keep repeating this sentence.
It’s true. You won’t die in 99 percent of cases, but you will feel those extreme emotions that make you think so regardless.
So when you remind yourself that the problem isn’t as threatening as you feel it is, you instantly wake up to reality and stop freaking out.
Lesson #3: Start seeing things for what they are, not how you perceive them.
Pay attention now. This could be a life-changing insight for you.
All your perceptions are not representations of true reality.
We aren’t much different from animals when it comes to our bodies.
The author discusses how perception can cause problems by deluding us.
When you perceive anything, you are constantly taking in some information.
First, we consume information through our senses, then it reaches our brain for processing. Once, it is processed, we interpret it and make meanings. And then we finally act on it.
That’s how our brain works in simple terms.
The problem is: We don’t have much control over the information we consume through our senses.
Perceptions give us information that we often don’t need exactly in that moment.
This distorts our judgment of reality and as a result we make bad decisions.
While solving problems or facing tough situations, you must try to be objective. That meaning taking control of your emotions and only focusing on the problem by getting rid of extra information.
If it sounds confusing to you, then let me explain with a simple example.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy to give advice to a friends compared to thinking for ourselves?
When you are giving advice to someone, your own mental baggage is out of the equation and you are focusing only on the problem.
This is called objectivity.
But when we are stuck in a problem, things get complicated really fast.
Now you don’t have to just deal with the problem, you have to deal with your rampant thoughts and emotions — and also with our memories.
It gets messy in the head, doesn’t it?
From now on, when you face a problem, try separating yourself from the problem and then think.
For instance, when you are confused about what to eat in your lunch and you are lost in all the choices avaiable, simply see that most food items are don’t have much nutritional value.
Most junk food today looks heavenly, but when you really see things as they are, it gets easier to make decisions.
Trust this process. Practice objectivity in all areas of life as start seeing things as they really are. Don’t get lost in the details.
Another example is that when you are buying a car, you are just buying a piece of metal with some tyres and accessories. Most people attach their self-worth with the objects they buy. And they get lost in the details.
As long as your car does what it’s supposed to do — which is to give a great mileage and not stop working in the middle of the road, it’s fine.
The main idea here is that it’s not always necessary to focus on all the information.
Sometimes, being superficial is good too.
Lesson #4: Always try to focus on what you can change instead of what you can’t change.
Regardless of how bad a problem is, these are the things you can change:
- your emotions
- your judgments
- your creativity
- your attitude
- your perspective
- your desires
- your decisions
- your determination
So never ever say that you are powerless — that you can’t do or change anything.
The author challenges the convention phrase that sometimes it’s unfair. He says that is never completely unfair. it’s a level playing field as the our personal freedom is always in our control.
Think of life as a football game.
Imagine it starts raining all of a sudden and field gets slippery, you can’t do those cool dribbling skills anymore, and you are losing the game already, very little time is left. Everything seems against you so much so that it feels that you were destined to lose the game.
Most people would give up in such a situation.
But the best players know that complaining is totally useless. They can still fight and there is a one in a hundred chance that they will score a goal. So they persist and try their best.
They control their attitude, judgements, and emotions to their advantage.
Looking life as a game is a great mental model that we should all practice everday.
When you see clearly what you have power over and also what you don’t have power over, you learn the rules of the game and eventually play by the rules.
But when you only focus on what you can’t control, you act like a lazy player who is just too lazy to even learn the rules. You destroy all the possibility of winning the game of life.
Learning the rules increases the probability of you winning the game.
Lesson #5: Don’t stop trying new things just because the path is not clear.
Obstacles will try to stop you.
But you will have to see the other side of the obstacles. i.e They give you a chance to test your character.
Obstacles don’t just slow you down, they also try to show you different new paths. If your attitude is right and you are will to persist, you will see new ways to overcome those obstacles.
Try thinking like entrepreneurs when you see obstacles.
Entrepreneurs always try to build new things.
Imagine if they give up easily as soon as they see a problem.
Entrepreneurship is filled with so many challenges and they have to persist. Nobody can predict the future and there are always risks.
They don’t expect life to be fair.
They accept that life is unfair, but it also comes with opportunities.
They see obstacles as opportunities.
And that is the reasons that many startups revolve around solving problems.
All entrepreneurs keep faith in their abilities.
Note that when we talk about faith, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be realistic.
The problem is that we use the term “realistic” as an excuse to avoid challenges and the hard work that comes with them.
Instead of saying “Yes, I can do this even if it seems unrealistic,” we say “It not realisitc to do all this hard work. Who knows how much time it will take? It’s so risky.”
The point is that faith and a little bit of craziness can sometimes give you unfair edge when the challenges are big. That’s because most people give up too early.
So even if something looks unachievabe at first thought, don’t think that it’s impossible to do. Try approaching problems in different ways and keep faith in your abilities.
You know what’s interesting here? You will realize that most problems aren’t as bad as we think they are.
Most of them demand boldness and creativity from your side.
And of course, you have to be mindful and aware of the risks while being bold.
The Obstacle Is The Way Review
In this book, the author draws lots of teachings from Stoic philosophy.
You can sum up the entire book in this sentence “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
This is a kind of user manual for life as it teaches you about facing impediments in life and turning them into advantages.
But yes, if you are a self-help reader like me, there wasn’t much unique in this book. It talks about almost same stuff that other self-help books talk about — just with a flavor of stoicism.
I found the second half of the book totally pointless. Everything that the author wanted to say were discussed in the first half. So I don’t see why someone would continue reading after reading first few chapters.
I think it’s a decent book. But don’t expect too many new insights from it. This is not to say that there is nothing new.
There are a few concepts that are intriguing as well.
For instance, in one chapter the author talks about how our animalistic brain tries to compress the space between impression and perception. Like how we often try to avoid thinking and tend to act on impulses.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.
Who is this book for?
- Someone who is facing lots of challenges in life.
- An entrepreneur who has just started his startup and not having much clarity.
Who shouldn’t read this book?
- Anybody can read this book. However, if you are bored of reading motivational books and still stuck in your life, this might not be the best for you.