stillness is the key summary

Book Summary: Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday

The Book in Three Sentences

In this Stillness Is the Key summary, you’ll learn how to cultivate and benefit from stillness. Stillness is the ability to be steady, focused, and calm in a world that’s constantly busy. This ability is crucial to obtain happiness, discipline, and self-mastery.

Stillness Is the Key Summary


The noise (both figuratively and literally) is paralyzing. To be unaffected by noise, we need discipline and focus, but tuning out your surroundings is incredibly difficult. Developing peace within ourselves is the ultimate superpower because once you have it, nobody can touch you. Every language, culture, and religion has a different name for it, but we call it stillness. Stillness is the ability to welcome what we need and nothing else. It’s to have quietude both inside and outside and to be steady among the chaos. Stillness is the key ingredient to great performance and happiness.


The modern world is noisy, our problems overwhelm us, our inboxes are overflowing, and we have access to numerous screens. To master our own lives, we need stillness. Stillness helps us professionally and personally, but accessing it is difficult. Achieving stillness requires us to focus on the mind, body, and soul.

Part I: Mind

The Domain of the Mind

Leaders and decision-makers must see the big picture and never rush into things. Understand first and react later, not the other way around. Everyone faces different crises in life. These require mental resources rather than reactive responses. Your best weapons against difficulties are stillness, calmness, open-mindedness, empathy, and clarity.

Become Present

Cultivate discipline and strength to ignore distractions and be present. Being present is one of the hardest things in the world because it demands a lot from us. We resist living in the moment: we think, do, talk, worry, remember, or hope. In fact, we pay a lot of money to be distracted by phones, TVs, computers, or activities. The present moment is a gift, even when it isn’t ideal. To do our best, we must be present.

Limit Your Inputs

We have access to too much information and to think clearly, we must separate what’s essential from what’s inessential. Apart from television, we’re surrounded by other distractions such as gossip or drama. Ignore most of it and most trivial matters will take care of themselves. Give things space. When something important comes up, you will be able to give that matter your undivided attention. It’s difficult to act or think clearly when there’s too much information. Prioritize your inputs so that you deal with the most important things first. To produce good output, you must allow good inputs.

Question the “open door policy”, the one that makes you reachable and reactive. Never follow events minute by minute. Focus on the big picture instead. Protect your mind from the noise of the outside world. Stillness allows us to be present. To listen to ourselves, to see the truth, don’t be afraid of the silence, and don’t be afraid of missing out. Make yourself a priority and be your best self.

Empty the Mind

Instead of trying harder, clear your mind completely. Don’t overanalyze things, do your work. Thinking is an asset, but thinking too much is a liability. Our mind is overloaded and distracted. Protect your brain, not only from external factors but from yourself too. Treat your mind like the important and sacred place that it is.

Slow Down, Think Deeply

You can’t judge someone by the way they look. Slow down and take the time to see beneath the surface. Sometimes the truth reveals itself when we are patient and still. This lets us find the truth, solutions to problems, or simply something interesting.

Start Journaling

Journaling is a form of therapy, a way to practice philosophy, a tool for self-reflection, and a way to express your thoughts. Journals aren’t for readers, but for writers. Journaling is an obvious way to ask complicated questions and examine them. There’s no right way to journal, so just do it.

Cultivate Silence

Reducing the noise around you can make a difference. Welcome moments of quiet, we can get revelations, insights, or breakthroughs. The absence of voices is a great way to recharge. Quietude is rare which makes it valuable.

Seek Wisdom

Wisdom is power, so study, reflect, and ask questions. Look for mentors who guide you. Wisdom won’t make everything clearer, but quite the contrary. But let the fact that you don’t know that much humble you.

Find Confidence, Avoid Ego

Confidence stems from experience, not ego. Be aware of both your strengths and weaknesses. Humility is important, confidence is necessary and ego is perilous. Egomaniacs are at peace, but they complicate everything. Even if successful, no one would trade places with them. Confidence is the antidote for ego, but it must be earned and it must be rational and objective.

Let Go

One of the most valuable mental skills one can develop is detachment. What holds us back is the desire to be in control of everything. Stillness is being detached from the outcome. Being too conscious and insistent on something gets you away from it rather than closer to it. By focusing intently on the target, we must be neglecting the process that lets us achieve it. Mastery requires us to abandon the result-oriented mindset.

On to What’s Next

The answers we’re looking for aren’t in the news or in other people. To find them, we must look within ourselves. Ignore the noise, determine what’s essential, journal, and empty the mind. Look for stillness, not momentarily, but whenever you need it. To do so, you must find harmony among the mind, heart, and body.

Part II: Spirit

The Domain of the Soul

Sometimes you have to say “enough” or the world will say it for you. Success means nothing unless you have an open heart, meaningful relationships, selflessness, moderation, and a clear sense of right and wrong. Perseverance, self-awareness, and patience allow us to calm our emotions. Our soul can lead to happiness, contentment, moderation, and stillness. If we’re not in control, it can lead us to their opposites.

Stillness requires a strong moral compass, staying away from envy and jealousy, coming to terms with childhood trauma, practicing gratitude, and cultivating relationships.

Choose Virtue

The Stoics believed that virtue was the highest good. Virtue is the principle behind everything we do. By knowing your values and behaving according to them, you’ll achieve stillness. We can choose the kind of people we want to be and what standards to follow. The choices we make and what we stand for determine whether we’re at peace or not.

Heal the Inner Child

A lot of us suffer from childhood trauma. Wounds from childhood can lead to toxic attitudes in adulthood, so think about early experiences and how some of them bring you pain.

Beware Desire

Regardless of their greatness, everyone struggles with their own bad habits. Your worst impulses can break you. Lust destroys peace. Most desires are irrational and stillness allows us to examine them thoroughly.


Having enough is beautiful, but also incredibly difficult to achieve. This requires introspective work which challenges the assumptions we might have in our lives. Enjoy the process rather than the outcome. Rewards change nothing. The only problem money solves is financial poverty, but it doesn’t address spiritual poverty. Accomplishments (especially external accomplishments) can never make someone content. To be content, one must be able to look inside and find something you have already.

We want more, but we don’t realize what we already have. Whatever you do, do it for yourself. We mustn’t work to prove a point or to impress anyone. If you’re working to get something that will make you whole, you’ll never get it. Be present, have clarity, find the truth, gain insight, and achieve stillness.

Bathe in Beauty

Nature can be a source of peace and strength, but you can find beauty around you wherever you are, you just have to be open to it. Poets have learned the ability to see beauty everywhere and so must we.

Accept a Higher Power

Acknowledging the fact that a higher power exists is difficult. Higher power doesn’t refer to god, but faith. And its existence means that you aren’t in control, something (or someone) else is. We associate modernity with progress, but while humans live longer than ever and there’s greater wealth, there’s a pervasive sense of purposelessness and dissatisfaction.

Enter Relationships

Relationships take time, distract us, produce pain, and costs us money, but having them gives meaning to our life. Having good relationships is one of the hardest and most challenging things in life. Some people justify staying single because it may negatively impact their professional life, but this is nonsense. Success and stillness are best when we have someone to share them with. One of the best decisions you can make is to find a partner who supports you and encourages you to be better. Living without relationships is meaningless.

Conquer Your Anger

Anger is never productive and it hurts not only yourself but also those around you. Being driven by anger leads to failure and misery. The best leaders are driven by love. There are consequences to anger, so stop before you regret it. Doing things while angry can haunt us forever. We must learn to manage our temper or we’ll be unhappy, our own worst enemy. We must be able to control our temper or it’ll control us. Replace anger with love and gratitude.

All Is One

We are all one and we’re connected. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Our feelings connect us to other human beings, those who are alive now and those who are long gone.

On to What’s Next

To be still, we need a body that’s well-rested and strong.

Part III: Body

The Domain of the Body

You can be an active person and have stillness. Be physically active, have hobbies, rest when you need to, and maintain some form of routine. Never ignore the body because otherwise, you’ll never achieve stillness.

Say No

We can’t be special for not doing something. Don’t build a reputation on just doing things because this might become your weakness. There’s power in nonaction. Being still physically means being active mentally and spiritually. To solve some problems, the best course of action is to wait and think. We have to learn to say no so that we can say yes to important things.

Take a Walk

Walking can help you release stress and frustrations. It clears the mind and helps you think. While walking involves moving, it’s also stillness because it’s deliberate and it requires awareness. Anyone could have a breakthrough while walking.

Build a Routine

A good routine gives comfort and stability. Routine becomes ritual. Order allows for excellence, good habits lead to certainty, and discipline gives you freedom. Most people face an overwhelming number of choices. By establishing a routine, you limit those choices and protect yourself from the world’s chaos. Schedule your day, protect yourself from distractions, and limit your choices.

Get Rid of Your Stuff

We must question what we own. Accumulating things doesn’t say anything about how much you’re worth as a person. Having too much money can lead to more problems and having more stuff takes away your freedom. To be free, you should have no needs.

Seek Solitude

Cultivate moments of solitude. This will allow you to be alone with your thoughts and solve challenges. Eventually, you’ll have solitude inside yourself and you’ll be able to access it whenever you want.

Be a Human Being

Never work so much that you forget to be a human being. You can die from working too much. In life, there are many obligations and duties, but we must take care of ourselves. Know your limits and do things in moderation.

Go to Sleep

Lack of sleep can lead to multiple issues, including slow responses and impaired judgment. Sleep isn’t a luxury, is a basic human need. Never exchange sleep for work. Protect your sleep because you work better that way.

Find a Hobby

Leisure involves engaging in creative pursuits. Examples include painting, dancing, reading, fishing, calligraphy, poetry, cooking, learning a language, writing, camping, running, music, boxing, and collecting stamps. Hobbies should let you relax and give you peace. Leisure is for you and it can be anything as long as it isn’t your job.

Beware Escapism

Don’t escape real life. The difference between leisure and escapism is intention. You can’t escape spiritual problems by physically going somewhere. There’s one thing you can never escape from, yourself.

Act Bravely

Stillness is a tool to help others. By doing good, we’re good ourselves. Every situation, both big and small, is an excuse to be better.

On to the Final Act

Live well so that you can die well too.

Further Reading

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