This is a continuation of our Virtual Book club series. The first part can be found here. This post derives lessons from Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way. All quotes are from this book unless otherwise noted. Not part of the Virtual Book Club yet? Read more about it or join here.

How can we turn our obstacles into advantages? Or problems into solutions?

The change must begin with our perception because everything that we think or do begins with perception.

First, we must develop our nerve. Any time that we “aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride… The risk of being overwhelmed is always there” Holiday writes.

What is nerve exactly? Nerve is largely about taking the attitude “I refuse to be intimidated” and “I don’t have the luxury of being shaken up about this”. Nerve is about staying calm, or at least in control, when everything else is going sideways.

If our nerve fails, our ability to use all our other skills is greatly diminished. Nerve allows us to “focus (our) energy exclusively on solving problems rather than reacting to them”.

It’s not that we should stop feeling emotions, this is impossible and foolish. But, Holiday says we must “domesticate” our feelings.

How often does getting upset offer us an advantage? Almost never. It narrows our viewpoint, lowering our potential options for dealing with a problem. It clouds our minds and makes us act rashly. Rarely does this lead to better outcomes.

Defiance sticks out as a key attribute to develop – I won’t let this emotion control me. I am in charge, not my “lower self”. 

Cultivating Calm

Nerve is not something we are born with, it can be developed. Holiday recounts the story of astronaut John Glenn whose heart rate never went above 100 during a shuttle launch.

Was Glenn superhuman? No, he simply trained and mentally prepared for that launch for months, going through simulations & mental exercises. In a shuttle launch, losing nerve for even a few seconds can cause a critical mistake resulting in catastrophe.

We also should prepare and fortify our nerves for our daily challenges and for those critical moments when our actions mean so much. If Glenn can control his heart while hurtling into outer space, we can learn to control ours while facing competitors, clients, our children, our spouses, and our family members.

The lesson here is that building nerve is not a matter of a one-time decision. Glenn invested time and sustained effort into building his. It’s a process.

“The observing eye sees what is there. The perceiving eye sees more than what is there.”

Holiday writes that it is our perceptions, not events themselves, that are often our biggest problem. We decide an event is “good” or “bad”. And, sometimes, when we have a perception that an event is “bad”, our perception can lead to a chain reaction of worsening problems.

Events simply “are”, they are not inherently good or bad. It’s our thinking that decides they are one or another.

Ever notice that when your friend shares his or her problems with you, the answers seem crystal clear? We never have this clarity about our own problems.

What’s missing when you talk about someone else’s problems? “The baggage”, writes Holiday, “with other people we can be objective”.

Consider backing up from your problem and pretending it isn’t happening to you. What if this were happening to your friend? How would you perceive it then? What advice would you give if you weren’t so emotionally involved?

Our Perceptions Are the Basis of All Our Actions

We can’t change the obstacle we face, but, we can change how we look at it. The “worst case” explanation that we jump to isn’t necessarily the right one. Consider the alternatives. Backup and look at this problem from someone else’s point of view. Look for alternate points of view of ways to attack the problem.

This quote from Holiday sums up this first section of The Obstacle Is the Way: “Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”

The first step to turning our problem around is to change our perception. Our perception is a domino falling that will cause a chain of thoughts & actions that can either make matters worse or better.

Control your perception, control your life.

Come back for Part 3 of the Obstacle is the Way edition of Virtual Book Club on Monday. In Part 3, we will learn how to focus our thought & energy to achieve optimal results and to overcome our problems.

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Want to skip ahead and read the full book now? Check out The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.