Stillness Is the Key — Ryan Holiday

Hannes Kleist
10 min readNov 17, 2021

Buch-Review — Hannes Kleist — 10.06.2020

I read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday and loved his mash-up of Buddhism and Stoicism. So I gave some of his earlier work a try and he does not disappoint. This book gives beautiful guidance on why and how to find peace and quiet in your life.


To be able to tune out our surroundings, to access one’s full capabilities at any time, in any place, despite every difficulty? How wonderful that would be! What we’d be able to accomplish! How much happier we would be! It’s a powerful idea made all the more transcendent by the remarkable fact that nearly every other philosophy of the ancient world came to the exact same conclusion.


Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It inspires new ideas. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections. It slows the ball down so that we might hit it. It generates a vision, helps us resist the passions of the mob, makes space for gratitude and wonder. Stillness allows us to persevere. To succeed. It is the key that unlocks the insights of genius, and allows us regular folks to understand them.

He sure knows how to pitch.

Part I: Mind

In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save face. Put yourself in his shoes — so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil — nothing is so self-blinding.

Interestingly, I have yet to see anybody being convinced of anything by a self-righteousness, Hollywood-style diatribe like “Do you know who I am?”

Even the head hostage negotiator of the FBI recommends sympathy rather than bullying people.

The less energy we waste regretting the past or worrying about the future, the more energy we will have for what’s in front of us.

Now here is it that mindfulness meditation comes in really handy. I found it helps you a lot to catch yourself when your mind goes off for hours.

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

I am on a strict information diet that is getting stricter every year. I started by not watching the nightly news, then removed newspapers and magazines, last year I removed all social media apps from my phone.

What impact has following the news on your life? Does an hour of reading the newspaper or magazines affect your life in a positive way?

Also, consider this: Have you ever compared a hard news article with the real world in an area that you have insides? I used to read Spiegel and FAZ for years and found them lacking big time whenever they talked about economic theory or my employer.

It’s so nice this quite. ☮️

It’s also a great topic for any conversation. I pick up on the world’s events by talking to friends.

It’s not enough to be inclined toward deep thought and sober analysis; a leader must create time and space for it.

You need to carve out time. My recommendation: Have a dedicated slot in your day. Mine is from 10:00–11:00. Nothing is allowed to interfere in this.

“If you wish to improve,” Epictetus once said, “be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.”

Nobody is ever impressed if you already know the things they wanna tell you about.

There is ego in trying to appear the most informed person in the room, the one with all the gossip, who knows every single thing that’s happening in everyone’s life.

There is that ego again.

Talking about reflection now…

Indeed, it is in Stoicism and Buddhism and countless other schools that we find the same analogy: The world is like muddy water. To see through it, we have to let things settle. How you journal is much less important than why you are doing it: To get something off your chest. To have quiet time with your thoughts. To clarify those thoughts. To separate the harmful from the insightful. Once, twice, three times a day. Whatever. Find what works for you. Just know that it may turn out to be the most important thing you do all day.

I have two notebooks:

In one, I reflect at the end of every day on the meetings of the day. I basically do quick “Scrum-style” retros:

  • What did I do well?
  • What could I have handled better?

The second notebook is just for deep thoughts. All topics, that I want to meditate on, get a page. With the word in the middle. And then in that dedicated thinking-hour every day, I doodle and mind map on the topic.

Really clears my head.

“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise,” he would say. “When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.”

My favorite exercise during meditation is listening far and wide.

Off-topic: Did you know that in most rain showers, it’s not the initial impact of the raindrop that makes the sound. It’s a couple of raindrops that collect on leaves that combined hitting another leave below.

Talking about what busy managers do to think:

The answers were things like sailing, long-distance cycling, listening quietly to classical music, scuba diving, riding motorcycles, and fly-fishing. All these activities, he noticed, had one thing in common: an absence of voices. Find people you admire and ask how they got where they are. Seek book recommendations.

Here is my list of book recommendations 😉

Talking about goals…

They are outcome-focused. They want to get the best grade or the highest score.

He is rather advocating focusing on process goals. Sit down every day, practice for practice´s sake. Enjoy the repetition regardless of any outcome.

Part II: Spirit

Develop a strong moral compass. Steer clear of envy and jealousy and harmful desires. Come to terms with the painful wounds of their childhood. Practice gratitude and appreciation for the world around them. Cultivate relationships and love in their lives.


Talking about the hurt inner child…

How much better and less scary life is when we don’t have to see it from the perspective of a scared, vulnerable child? How much lighter will our load be if we’re not adding extra baggage on top? It will take patience and empathy and real self-love to heal the wounds in your life. Take the time to think about the pain you carry from your early experiences. That’s your inner child. They need a hug from you. They need you to say, “Hey, buddy. It’s okay. I know you’re hurt, but I am going to take care of you.” Each of us must break the link in the chain of what the Buddhists call samsara, the continuation of life’s suffering from generation to generation.

I was talking about that with my mother a couple of months ago, that there are some quirks (to say the least) in our family, that I refuse to hand down to our boys.

Talking about desires…

Indeed, most desires are at their core irrational emotions, and that’s why stillness requires that we sit down and dissect them. To the Epicureans real pleasure was about freedom from pain and agitation. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita calls desire the “ever-present enemy of the wise . . . which like a fire cannot find satisfaction.” Imagine the stillness that sense of enough brought Joseph Heller and everyone else who has it. No ceaseless wanting. No insecurity of comparison. In a way, this is a curse of one of our virtues. No one achieves excellence or enlightenment without a desire to get better, without a tendency to explore potential areas of improvement.

I wonder about that a lot. How can I be both content and still want to improve myself?

Now comes one of my favorite parts. My coach Alexander Petrowsky first introduced me to the idea of how pointless it is to strive for “achievements”. Back then, my goal was to grow my company to 500 people.

Braces yourself for a hard truth:

Sisyphean torture where just as that feeling appears to be within reach, the goal is moved just a little bit farther up the mountain and out of reach. You will never feel okay by way of external accomplishments.

To achieve a full sense of bliss and accomplishments, you need to let go of goals that you cannot 100% control. Why would you tie your feeling of self-worth and happiness to results that you do not entirely control — like a promotion, a closed deal, a million dollars in the bank. You tie your happiness to chance and external effects. That’s pure madness.

Rather, the Stoics recommend that you choose goals that you entirely control: Your perspective, your inner strive, your discipline.

I chose goals for the next few years like reducing my sense of self (getting rid of my ego), overcoming my aversion of meeting new people, becoming kinder, fighting my procrastination, reducing immediate gratification and addictions, taking more time for myself and my family.

They weren’t doing it to prove anything. They didn’t need to impress anyone. They were in the moment. Their motivations were pure. There was no insecurity. No anxiety. The term for this is exstasis — a heavenly experience that lets us step outside ourselves. And these beautiful moments are available to us whenever we want them. All we have to do is open our souls to them.

I managed to have this feeling in moments of mindfulness a couple of times per week. Usually when I am with my kids playing but even sometimes during a sales call.

When we feel our temper rising up, we need to look for insertion points (the space between stimulus and response). Points where we can get up and walk away.

That is for me where the power of mindfulness meditation comes in. That is what you train for. Catch yourself when you feel strong emotions before you react automatically. You give yourself a moment to choose your action deliberately, rather than having your ego do the same automated knee-jerk reaction.

Part III: Body

Churchill got up around eight and took his first bath, Freshly bathed, he would spend the next two hours reading. Then he responded to his daily mail, mostly pertaining to his political duties. Then he tackled whatever writing project he was working on — likely an article or a speech or a book. By early afternoon he would be writing at a fantastic clip and then abruptly stop for lunch (which he would finally dress for). After lunch, he would go for a walk. At 3 p.m., it was time for a two-hour nap. A second bath before a late, seated and formal dinner (after 8 p.m.). After dinner and drinks, one more writing sprint before bed.

I found a similar rhythm helpful. Getting up at 5, writing for an hour, responding to emails for an hour, 30 minutes weight lifting and getting pretty for the day, followed by one hours-long blocks of meditation, reading and thinking (away from the computer).

That’s 5 hours every workday that are entirely dedicated to my priorities.

Each of us will need to: Rise above our physical limitations. Find hobbies that rest and replenish us. Develop a reliable, disciplined routine. Spend time getting active outdoors. Seek out solitude and perspective. Learn to sit — to do nothing when called for. Get enough sleep and rein in our workaholism. Commit to causes bigger than ourselves. A master is in control. A master has a system. A master turns the ordinary into the sacred. And so must we.


Now to some interesting thoughts about desires…

John Boyd, a sort of warrior-monk “If a man can reduce his needs to zero,” he said, “he is truly free. But now that we have more, our mind begins to lie to us. You need this. Be anxious that you might lose it. Protect it. Don’t share. Which is why philosophers have always advocated reducing our needs and limiting our possessions. Monks and priests take vows of poverty because it will mean fewer distractions, and more room (literally) for the spiritual pursuit to which they have committed.

Here is how I am starting on this:

  1. I am reducing my wardrobe. For each item (socks, shorts, shirts, shoes) I am looking for a non-brand, high-quality item. I will look the same every day — perhaps with a “business version” and a “casual version”.
  2. I will replace my SUV after the lease is up with something 100% practical, like a VW Transporter.
  3. I reduced the number of subscriptions in my life. Netflix, YouTube Pro, Spotify. I am keeping only health stuff.

My current struggle is with gadgets. I tried replacing my iPhone 13 and my Apple Watch with an iPhone 5S and a Garmin tracker. But they are so bad that my job was suffering (Do not try Zoom on an iPhone 5S! Ever!). And the tracker was just not good enough as a fitness tracker.

I so much enjoy buying IoT devices and hooking them up in my home.

Start by walking around your house and filling up trash bags and boxes with everything you don’t use.

He does not say, give it away or throw it out, though. 😆

Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.” Breakthroughs seem to happen with stunning regularity in the shower or on a long hike.

Indeed. I scheduled an hour per day for just thinking and reacting.

If solitude is the school of genius, as the historian Edward Gibbon put it, then the crowded, busy world is the purgatory of the idiot.


Buddha needed seclusion in his search for enlightenment.

There you go.

The more they try, the worse it gets and the angrier they get that no one appreciates their sacrifice. The bloodshot engineer six Red Bulls deep has no chance of stillness. Nor does the recent grad — or not-so-recent grad — who still parties like she’s in college.

Been there. Not fun.

How do I find the time? If Churchill had the time, if Gladstone had the time, you have the time.

Remember: Busyness is not effectiveness. A deep and well thought of plan can save you days or even months of work and pain.

Now talking about people “relaxing” on vacations or weed.

A plane ticket or a pill or some plant medicine is a treadmill, not a shortcut. What you seek will come only if you sit and do the work, if you probe yourself with real self-awareness and patience. Marcus Aurelius pointed out that we don’t need to “get away from it all.” We just need to look within. “Nowhere you can go is more peaceful — more free of interruptions,” he said, “than your own soul.”

This is also saving you a lot of money — and with weed, it saves you lots of calories from the munchies 😂

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Hannes also shares sales strategy and tutorials for startups on YouTube and at his consultancy’s blog.



Hannes Kleist

MBA, 10 years strategy at ProSiebenSat.1, 5 years app startup (exited), 5 years digital agency, now helping startups with sales