Weekly Reading #5: The Obstacle Is The Way (Part 1/3: Perception)

The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

What is perception? It’s how we see and understand what occurs around us — and what we decide those events will mean. Our perceptions can be a source of strength or of weakness… It takes skill and discipline to bat away the pests of bad perceptions, to separate reliable signals from deceptive ones, to filter out prejudice, expectation, and fear. But it’s worth it, for what’s left is truth.

The discipline of perception

What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.

  • Warren Buffet’s famous adage: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”
  • “Oh, how blessed young men are who have to struggle for a foundation and beginning in life,” he once said. “I shall never cease to be grateful for the three and half years of apprenticeship and the difficulties to be overcome, all along the way.”
  • You will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.
  • Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness — these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize that nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.
  • Outward appearances are deceptive. What’s within them, beneath them, is what matters.
  • When faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle we must try: be objective, control emotions and keep an even keel, choose to see the good in a situation, steady our nerves, ignore what disturbs or limits others, place things in perspective, revert to the present moment, focus on what can be controlled.

Recognize your power

They will never control our thoughts, our beliefs, our reactions.

  • No one can force us to give up or to believe something that is untrue. They can throw us in jail, label us, deprive us of our possessions, but they will never control our thoughts, our beliefs, our reactions.
  • “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as Shakespeare put it.
  • We face things that are not nearly as intimidating, and then we promptly decide we’re screwed. This is how obstacles become obstacles.

Steady your nerves

There is always a counter move, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up.

  • When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. Stuff is going to happen that catches us off guard, threaten or scare us… In these situations, talent is not the most sought-after characteristics but grace and poise are.
  • Nerve is a matter of defiance and control.
  • Like: I refuse to acknowledge that. I don’t agree to be intimidate.I resist the temptation to declare this a failure.
  • There is always a counter move, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up.

Control your emotions

Obstacles make us emotional, but the only way we’ll survive or overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check

  • Uncertainty and fear are relieved by authority. Training is authority. It’s a relief valve. With enough exposure, you can adapt out those perfectly ordinary, even innate, fears that are bred mostly from unfamiliarity.
  • Obstacles make us emotional, but the only way we’ll survive or overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check — if we can keep steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external events my fluctuate.
  • The Greeks had a word for this: apatheia — the kind of calm equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions.
  • No one say you can’t ever cry. Forget “manliness”. If you need to take a moment, by all means, go ahead. Real strength lies in the control or, as Nassim Taleb put it, the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.
  • When face a challenge or obstacle, ask: Does what happened keep you from acting with justices, generosity, self-control, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness?
    Nope.
    Then get back to work!

Practice objectivity

Objectivity means removing “you” — the subjective part — from the equation. Just think, what happens when we give others advice?

  • The perceiving eye is weak, the observing eye is strong. The observing eye sees simply what is there, the perceiving eye sees more than what is there.
  • Having steadied ourselves and held back our emotions, we can see things as they really are. We can do that using our observing eye.
  • Perceptions are the problem. They give us the “information” that we don’t need, at the moment when it’d be better to focus on what is immediate in front of us.
  • Objectivity means removing “you” — the subjective part — from the equation. Just think, what happens when we give others advice? (Ryan: removing us from the equation helps me become more objective)
  • The more skilled you become seeing things for what they are, the more perception will work for you rather than against you.

Alter your perspective

Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

  • Perspective is everything.
  • The task is not to ignore fear but to explain it anyway. Take what you’re afraid of, when fear strikes you, and break it apart.
  • The right perspective has a strange way of cutting obstacles — and adversity- down to size. But for whatever reason, we tend to look at things in isolation. (Ryan: We should look at the bigger picture. Missing an opportunity is not the end of the world).
  • Richard Branson, “business opportunities are like buses; there’s always another coming around.”
  • What we can do is limit and expand our perspective to whatever will keep us calmest and most ready for the task at hand. think of it as selective editing — not to deceive others but to properly orient ourselves.
  • The difference between the right and the wrong perspective is everything. How we interpret the events in our lives, our perspectives, is the framework for our forthcoming response.
  • Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

Is it up to you?

What if you focus on what you can change? That’s where you can make a difference.

  • One in one hundred is larger than zero. Always take 1% over doing nothing.
  • What if you focus on what you can change? That’s where you can make a difference.
  • “Ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin.” — What is up to us, what is not up to us.
  • What is up to us? Our emotions, judgments, creativity, attitude, perspective, desires, decisions, determination.
  • To see an obstacle as a challenge, to make the best of it anyway, that is also a choice — a choice that is up to us.

Live in the present moment

Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.

  • We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what every thing means, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is going.
  • Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.
  • Emerson: “We cannot spend the day in explanation.” Don’t waste time on false constructs.
  • Remember that this moment is not your life, it’s just a moment in your life. Focus on what is in front of you, right now. Ignore what is “represents” or it “means “or “why it happened to you.”

Think differently

When given an unfair task, see it as a chance to test what we are made of.

  • To aim low meant to accept mediocre accomplishment. But the high aim could, if things when right, create something extraordinary. [Steve Jobs] was Napoleon shouting to his soldiers: “There shall be no Alps!”
  • Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly large degree, what we are and are not capable of. In many ways, they determine reality itself.
  • We don’t control reality, our perceptions do influence it.
  • When given an unfair task, see it as a chance to test what we are made of. Our best ideas come from there, where obstacles illuminate new options.

Finding new opportunity

“There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”

  • After you have controlled your emotions, and you can see objectively and stand steadily, the next step becomes possible: a mental flip, so you’re looking not at the obstacle but at the opportunity within it.
  • Blessings and burdens are not mutually exclusive. It’s a lot more complicated. Socrates had a mean, nagging wife; he always said that being married to her was good practice for philosophy.
  • “What doesn’t kill you make you stronger” is not a cliche but fact.
  • “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”

Prepare to act

You’ve managed perception properly, what’s next is to act.

  • Problems are rarely as bad as we think — or rather, they are precisely as bad as we think.
  • Once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act.
  • Decide to tackle what stands in your way — not because you’re a gambler defying the odds but because you’ve calculated them and boldly embraced the risk.
  • After all, now that you’ve managed perception properly, what’s next is to act.


About Weekly Reading

Weekly Reading is a personal project to expand my knowledge by exposing myself to new ideas. Every Saturday, I lock myself in the neighborhood Barnes & Nobles and consume a book.

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