The Obstacle is The Way – Will


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I have recently finished the book The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday. I find it really fascinating. It presents a refreshing point of view on what we deal with in our life. The book is composed from three parts: perception, action and will. I have already written my core thoughts about first and second part. While the perception part was a little controversial and hard to admit for me, I really liked the one about action. The part about the will keeps the same level of the previous ones and gave me new insights and perspectives.

While perception and action are disciplines of the mind and the body, the will is the discipline of the soul. We can control it completely. It is about the ability to persevere, act and not give in to hopelessness. It is about determination and energy. Sometimes it is just about the will to endure. Strong will allows us to lead and provide strength in difficult times. Thanks to it we can derive meaning from obstacles that we cannot destroy. It gives us strength to perceive and act as we want. It determines how we behave during a crisis. The will provides us with confidence, calmness and readiness to work no matter the circumstances.

It is much easier to control our perceptions and emotions than it is to give up our desire to control other people and events. It is easier to persist in our efforts and actions than to endure the uncomfortable or the painful. It is easier to think and act than it is to practice wisdom.

We can prepare ourselves to persevere in difficult times. One of the techniques is premortem. It is about envisioning what might go wrong in advance, before we even start. Plans and things that we are anticipating are rarely consistent with reality. It is good to have a backup plan. We should always be prepared for disruptions and incorporate them into our plans. If something can be guaranteed it is:

Things will go wrong.

If you have rehearsed in your mind what could go wrong you will not be caught by surprise. If you are ready to be disappointed, you won’t be.

Another principle worth remembering is that some obstacles cannot be overcome. It doesn’t mean that we will not reach our desired goal but that some path is blocked and we need to follow another way. As we do not discuss a diagnosis with our doctor and more or less simply accept it, we should do the same with problems that cannot be solved. We should accept them and move forward, possibly in another direction. There is no point in fighting that with which we cannot win:

Nature, in order to be commanded, must be obeyed.

If we are able to accept the surrounding reality the next step is loving everything that happens to us. No matter what happens we should discard our expectations, understand that it is already out of our control and face it with cheerfulness. There is no point in losing energy for things that we cannot change while there are activities that have real impact. We do not choose what happens to us but we choose how we feel about it and react to it. And the best reaction is with a smile. It is a very hard lesson, but very true. Being happy about what happens to us gives us a lot of fuel for future endeavors.

Sooner or later everybody finds out that after every obstacle there is a new one, usually bigger. To get through them and constantly push forward you need a very important and unique skill: perseverance. The ability to endure, persist and persevere. It appears that

there are far more failures in the world due to a collapse of will than there will ever be from objectively conclusive external events.

Our actions can be constrained, but not our will. It is only up to us if we will be trying until victory or just give up.

Another thought worth remembering is: do not think about yourself and your gains. You should always have higher motives and incentives. Without them, you are much more vulnerable for giving up and failure. If your work would help and provide real value to other people, it will be hard and selfish to just quit. If you cannot help yourself, think if you can somehow help others in this context. Such behavior opens up a lot of new opportunities and allows you to persevere. While your will might possibly be already broken, a desire to help would not be.

Be strong for others, and it will make you stronger.

One of the last topics is preparing to start again and again. The more you accomplish, the more obstacles you will encounter. It is important to understand that life is not a sprint but a marathon. The fight will not end tomorrow or next week. There is no holy grail. We will be overcoming (or not) obstacles until our very last days. Do not expect that it will get better but prepare and learn to be able to deal with more difficult things that will stand in your way.

Reading the book was a pleasure and I consider it as one that I will read once more within two years. It greatly emphasizes on different levels the importance of focusing on things which are in our control and not wasting even a second of our time or any amount of energy on ones which are not. We became aware of how it starts with our perception, what an action really means and how our will embraces the first two entities. The book also teaches us that obstacles are common and overcoming them is a real way to self improving and achieving success. I have already recommended it twice, and here I will do it for the third time.

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