5 Things to Learn From ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ By Ryan Holiday

Obstacle Is The Way

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No matter who you are and what you want to be, obstacles are going to come on your way to stop you from achieving your goals. In fact, pick any successful person from history and you will see a common pattern behind their success- the pattern of not giving up irrespective of the level of problems.

Note: Before we jump into the article you can buy The Obstacle Is The Way on Amazon through this link.

Although, as society we have developed a lot and every information that you need to become successful is also available for free at your fingertips yet if you look around or rather look deep inside you, you will realize that consciously or unconsciously, you have made a list of ‘genuine problems’ (which can also be addressed as excuses) that restricts you from reaching to your destination.

To challenge our fixed mindset on obstacles, Ryan Holiday has shown us how obstacles are nothing but a chance to improve yourself. In his bestselling book, The Obstacle Is The Way’, Ryan has shared the three-step simple formula of converting obstacles into opportunities which is as follows:

  1. The Discipline Of Perception: how you look at your problems;
  2. The Discipline Of Action: how to tackle problems in actionable parts; and
  3. The Discipline Of Will: how to cultivate and maintain your inner being to conquer problems and difficulties.

Here are 5 great lessons that will help you convert obstacles into opportunities:

1. Realize Your Power

One of the biggest tragedies of humans is that it takes only a fraction of a second for us to forget the power we hold. As soon as a problem comes on our way, we lose our mental capability to think and choose how to respond. 

No one is denying the fact that you are facing problems and that only you know the amount of pain you go through yet what you forget is- no matter how big a problem is, you are always in the power. How?

For example: When Dr. Victor Frankl was arrested among hundreds of other Jews, he was tortured every day, he had no idea what happened with his wife until his last breath, he was deprived of basic rights like bathing, sleeping, etc, he was forced to work day and night like a donkey just because he was a Jews. If you had faced a similar situation, what would have been your reaction? Probably, like other Jews, I would have been waiting for my heart to stop beating.

Yet, after all this, Victor Frankl didn’t give up his power. He said that the Nazis can make him a prisoner, they can treat him as a prisoner, but he is not ready to accept himself as a prisoner. He CHOOSE to remain free even when he was in jail. He said Nazis can definitely torture my body and take away everything I own yet they can never take away my CHOICE and my the FREEDOM of my mind. Hence, even after living life as a prisoner for more than a decade, he was free like you and more powerful than any of the Nazis who tortured him. 

Similarly, in any given situation, you have the power to CHOOSE how you are going to respond. The simple truth that you need to acknowledge is that you didn’t choose the problems yet they happened but what you can choose is how you respond.

Either you can sit there, cry over your fate, and blame everyone for your misery or you can get up and fight back. The choice lies in your hand and this choice is your supreme power because the power to choose cannot be taken away from you.

Just like the Nazis tried, people will try to hurt you, hunt you down, and conspire against you yet they cannot win until you submit your power to them. 

Even if people try to cage you like Victor Frankl was caged, they cannot take away your freedom until your mind is free and has the capability to think objectively. 

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”

2. Control Your Emotions

Shakespeare once said, ‘everyone can master a grief but he that has it’. It’s actually quite easy to talk positively and give all the motivational Ted Talk when everything is going good in our own lives. However, when problems come in real life, we are bound to lose our calm, patience and develop fear and panic. 

The reason why our mind loses the calm and panic lies in our own animal side. 

Ages ago, when humans used to live as hunter-gatherers, the essential concern was safety. Clearly, in light of the fact that any animal could attack anytime, the hunter-gatherers were always alert and used to panic even at the slightest signal of a problem. If hunter-gatherers realized that any animal was nearby or they were in danger, the first thing their minds could think of was RUN with fear in mind.

Although, we have developed quite a lot since then and safety is no longer such a big concern for us yet our mind thinks like hunter-gatherers. And that’s the reason even the small problems make us all sweaty and fearful. We lose our calm, patience, capability to think and look for running away to find a safety net.

“If an emotion can’t change the condition or the situation you’re dealing with, it is likely an unhelpful emotion.”

What you need to realize is if you don’t control your emotions, you will lose your mental strength, and then any problem can take over you. In this case, you have to act like a human and take a deep breath, pause and remind yourself that the problem is waiting outside the door. Let’s see how we can kick its ass.

Also, fear and sadness are common emotions that are going to knock on your door whenever you face a problem. In that case, ask yourself, “Does getting upset provide me with more options?”

3. Become Objective

Have you ever wondered how you automatically become a motivational speaker and start coming up with the best solutions whenever your friend faces a problem? In fact, you begin to think ‘why is he/she thinking so much about such a small problem while the solution is sitting right there?’

And when you face a problem yourself, you begin to curse your fate, God, people and give up without even trying. Now, why does that happen?

The reason behind this is quite simple. When we look into others’ problems, we see them objectively while we perceive our problems as subjectively.

For example: I have a problem (objective) and it is bad (subjective).

Remember the example of hunter-gatherers? When we look into our own problems, our brain thinks ‘how this problem can affect me’ and we begin to panic. With panic and fear in mind, you can’t think of solutions, can you?

While we look into others’ problems, we look objectively as humans because our mind knows that nothing bad is going to happen to us, hence you don’t lose your calm and mental strength which helps you think clearly and strategically.

Objectivity means removing “you” — the subjective part — from the equation

Hence, the next time you face a problem, remove ‘you’ from the problem. Look at the problem and yourself separately so you don’t end up creating imaginary suffering. 

4. Develop The Action Attitude

Well-known Greek speaker, Demosthenes, was a debilitated kid with a genuine speech impediment. He lost his dad at 7 years old and his legacy was taken by his relatives. Rather than crying over his bad fate and self-sabotaging, Demosthenes went to outrageous lengths to overcome the obstacles he had. 

To beat his speech impediment and fortify his voice, he started to practice by talking with his mouth loaded with stones or while running up steep inclines. Rather than going out to play, he locked himself underground to self-study. And to control his desire of going out, he shaved his head in half.

Demosthenes in the end won a suit against his relatives, won back what was left of his legacy, and proceeded to turn into an incredible speaker. 

This is what consistent action and practice can do. As I said, obstacles are going in your way, no matter who you are, what you do, what matters is what you DO. Fate, God, or whoever you have got to blame has done what they wanted and now it’s your turn.

Once you understand that you can change situations by controlling your perception and emotions, it is time to take ACTION. Get up and follow what Ryan suggests:

  • Stay in Motion
  • Persist till you find a Solution
  • Fail Forward
  • Take One Step at a Time
  • Do Every Job Well
  • Go for the “Right” Approach (i.e. What Works)
  • Choose Strategy over Brute Force
  • Let Obstacles Eliminate Themselves
  • Put your Frustration to Work; and
  • Use Adversity to your Advantage

While taking action, you will face issues like procrastination and you might feel overwhelmed too by all the work you have on your plate. Those are the times, when you need to remind yourself, just one step at a time. Don’t think of winning the race, think of running, think of participating, think of what you can do now, think of one thing that can help you improve one percent, and success will automatically start chasing you.

5. It’s Time For Willpower

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth leader of the United States, confronted endless impediments in his day to day existence. He needed to battle with lack of money, the loss of the woman he loved and his mother, teach himself, oversee legislative issues, sadness, nationwide conflict and the battle against subjugation.

Even after going through all this hell, Lincoln was willing to go ahead and face all the obstacles life has to offer him with courage. All this time when he was going through everything alone, his willpower gave him strength and he believed on ‘This too shall pass”

Be it Abraham Lincoln or Victor Frankl or any legend in history, all of them had one thing in common. Yes, you guessed it right. They all had a strong will to change their current situations.

“Whatever you can’t change is not yours to complain about.”

Even Victor Frankl didn’t have anything, he wasn’t hopeless, he had a strong will to inspire others, experience the real world and the rest is history.

And today, even if you learn the power of perception and continuous action, nothing will change in your life until you have a WILL to change. And as Ryan says in his book:

  • Use Good Times to Prepare for Bad Times
  • Plan for your Failures
  • Accept your Problems
  • Love Everything, including your Obstacles
  • Persevere Till the End
  • Focus on Helping Others
  • Contemplate Death; and
  • Embrace the Cycle of Life

The stoic philosophy suggests you accept the things you can’t change, and instead focus on changing the things you do have control over.


Ryan Holiday has transformed the ancient philosophy of Stoicism into an easy and digestible format through, The Obstacle Is The Way which helps you endure the struggles of life with courage and resilience. The entire book has numerous examples of ancient heroes, former presidents, modern actors, athletes, and how they turned obstacles into success, thanks to the discipline of perception, action, and will.

If you think that problems are only in your life or you think you have a genuine reason behind your failure, Ryan will present the examples of people who have gone through similar problems as yours (be it mental or physical) yet they didn’t stop until they reached their final destination. 

Ryan’s book, The Obstacle Is The Way is a blessing in disguise for you. If you read only one chapter or a single page in a day, that will be more than enough for you to own your day. Make sure to read my other post on his other classic book titled The Daily Stoic.