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How can silence help us? A new book tries to cut through the noise.

Stillness Is the Key - Review

by Ryan Holiday 2019

Four of five stars ****

We live in a noisy world that would rather we don't think too hard or too much. The average American is barraged with 34 Gigabytes of information, (roughly 100,000 words) and between computer, cell phone and television screens we are never at a loss for things to process. I'm honored that you took a few minutes to join me here.

Our brains are incapable of processing all of this information, which is why so many biases, shortcuts, and mistakes emerge as the deluge spills out of our ears and into the world. Human brains actually have three parts- a reptilian brain for basic housekeeping functions like breathing and survival, the limbic system that processes feelings and emotions, and the cortex which is responsible for consciousness and higher executive functioning that makes us who we are. The cortex is the most evolutionary advanced of the three parts and is the key to us making sense of the 34 Gigabytes. In there you can find meaning, connections, and stillness.

Some 70 years ago general and president Dwight Eisenhower became known for the Eisenhower matrix, where data is sorted by what's urgent and what's important. We spend much of our days with the unimportant things that don't make a difference, and put off the harder and more growth-inducing projects that can truly transform our lives and those around us. In the past 70 years things have sped up so fast that figuring out what's important is more critical than ever.

Take a few seconds out of your busy day to watch some of this video:

The video is 30 minutes long, and there are many longer ones out there, but hopefully you feel a little more at peace after seeing it. Now on to the book review.

Ryan Holliday is a young writer whose other books include Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way, both of which were best sellers. He is a big fan of the Stoic philosophers, a group that goes back to the 3rd century B.C. in Greece.

Stillness is the Key is 34 short essays on quiet and how it makes us more peaceful and powerful. He breaks the book up into three sections- Mind, Spirit, and Body, organizing his essays around those topics and how they relate to stillness.

While the topic is important and has been covered many times before, I enjoyed Holliday's story telling abilities, as he wove tales of famous figures like JFK, Da Vinci, Mister Rogers, and Winston Churchill to describe how you can prevail with calmness during the biggest of challenges. He also uses negative examples like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and JFK again to show how not using the power of stillness brings sadness, anger and feelings of inadequacy.

Happiness and success can't be forced. For every action there at some point needs to be a step taken back to assess, rest, and remind yourself about the big picture. Star athletes can't punish their bodies continually to get better- they need to feel confident, still and loose to get in the zone they need to win. Great relationships don't come from stalking and pushing- they come from patience and empathy. Money doesn't buy happiness, because the more you seek it the more it feels like it isn't enough.

Here are some of the suggestions that I came away with in the 34 essays:

- Limit your inputs (close the door, turn off the electronics, and remove distractions)

- Journaling helps you clear your mind and get better perspectives on what's there.

- Avoid ego and don't be afraid to ask questions and get out of your own way.

- The stoics were big on virtue- if you act with virtue in mind you will doubt yourself less.

- Learn when enough is enough

- Appreciate nature, beauty and everyday wonders

- Accept a higher power, whatever that means to you. Let go of your challenges enough to imagine that there is a bigger purpose for you and those around you.

- Everyone is necessary and connected. No one is totally separate.

- Don't be afraid to say no if things don't feel right. Closing one door opens other possibilities.

- Get rid of your excess stuff, take walks, build relationships, sleep well, get a hobby and don't be afraid to seek solitude. Embrace emptiness once in a while so that your brain, mind and body have a chance to prepare for the 34 Gigabytes of information headed their way.

Again, much of this advice can be found in other books, but this is a nice review of the principles of stillness, complemented with interesting stories that illustrate the points. If nothing else it got me watching nature videos again.

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