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Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

There is no end to the advice out there in the ether about how to live life well.

Sometimes I admit to personally rolling my eyes - I mean is there a more ubiquitous topic and can’t we think of anything else to discuss?

Other times, however, I acknowledge that its ubiquity actually points not to a lack of creativity around what to write about, but is instead a signal of just how important it is.

It is, after all, one of the central questions of the human experience.

And I believe, part of what leads me to take the latter attitude is in the delivery of such message. When delivered with the kind of elegant simplicity, completeness, and humility it is in Stillness is the Key, for instance, that’s when I am truly moved. That’s when I am inspired to take these tenants of a life well-lived and actually consider whether I am putting them into practice; then to actually work to put them into practice.

A word of caution to keep in mind as I share, however, as much for myself as for anyone else: no one can perfectly implement these at every moment, so no judgment need ensue. Think of this as more of a blueprint to strive for over a whole life as opposed to a checklist to mark off in a snapshot of time.

Oh, and one other note. I feel no guilt whatsoever in sharing this with you as it is not in any way a spoiler - the book is still well worth the time and effort of a thoughtful read - these are simply the titles of his chapters, with a little additional clarification from me when called for.

“My mind is empty. My heart is full. My body is busy.”


  • Become present. Don’t get too caught up in either the future or the past.

  • Limit your inputs. And I would add, be thoughtful about what you take in as well; it does make a difference.

  • Empty the mind. In other words, don’t overthink. This helps me to picture what he means: “…when clay is formed around emptiness, it becomes a pitcher that can hold water.”

  • Slow down, think deeply.

  • Start journaling.

  • Cultivate silence.

  • Seek wisdom. Or rather, keep an open mind - intellectual humility he calls it, which is so brilliant. Be ok with not knowing because that’s the only way you learn.

  • Find confidence, avoid ego.

  • Let go. That is, let go of the outcome.


  • Choose virtue.

  • Heal the inner child.

  • Beware desire. This is because desire can become unhealthy and lead to jealousy and envy.

  • Enough. As in, feeling satisfied with yourself and your work.

  • Bathe in beauty.

  • Accept a higher power.

  • Enter relationships.

  • Conquer your anger. Not eradicate it mind you; learn how not to let it take over. Experience it, but challenge yourself not to act from it.

  • All is one. Additionally, we are one; we are all the same; we are connected.


  • Say no. Or as he puts it, practice wu wei, meaning non-action. Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do.

  • Take a walk.

  • Build a routine.

  • Get rid of your stuff. Not all of it, of course; his point here is to simply be considerate about what you own and consume.

  • Seek solitude.

  • Be a human being. This as opposed to always doing; so don’t work yourself to death.

  • Go to sleep.

  • Find a hobby.

  • Beware escapism. Instead, truly cultivate leisure, which at its essence means the pursuit of higher things. And the difference here - between escapism and leisure - is in the intent; it’s restoring yourself vs distracting yourself.

  • Act bravely.

“Epicurus once said that the wise will accomplish three things in their life: leave written works behind them, be financially prudent and provide for the future, and cherish country living. That is to say, we will be reflective, we will be responsible and moderate, and we will find time to relax in nature.”

That seems to say it all.

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