How to Use Stillness to Achieve Greatness | Ryan Holiday on Conversations with Tom

Last updated: Jun 1, 2023

The video is a conversation between Tom and Ryan Holiday about Ryan's approach to building his brand through nonfiction and fiction, and the importance of balancing passion with business savvy.

The video is an episode of Conversations with Tom featuring Ryan Holiday. They discuss Holiday's approach to creating content, which includes both nonfiction and fiction works. They also touch on the importance of following one's passion while also being mindful of the business side of things. The conversation is unedited and informal, with the goal of pushing their own thinking in real time.

  • The video is a conversation between Tom and Ryan Holiday about building his brand through nonfiction and fiction.
  • Ryan is violating the number-one rule of perennial seller with his amazing books, which is not to try to do two things at one time.
  • Ryan is building his brand through nonfiction and fiction.
  • Don't have two contradictory goals at the same time.
  • You have to have the business documents.
  • It's about finding a balance between success and staying true to principles.
  • The goal is to have an impact and be respected by people who matter.
  • Cultivating stillness is incredibly powerful.
  • It is important to be able to check oneself.

How to Use Stillness to Achieve Greatness | Ryan Holiday on Conversations with Tom - YouTube

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Introduction

  • The video is a conversation between Tom and Ryan Holiday about Ryan's approach to building his brand through nonfiction and fiction.
  • The conversation is informal and aims to push Tom's thinking in real time.
  • Ryan is violating the number-one rule of perennial seller with his amazing books, which is not to try to do two things at one time.
  • Ryan is simultaneously trying to build the nonfiction side and the fiction side of his brand.
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Building a Brand

  • Ryan is building his brand through nonfiction and fiction.
  • The nonfiction side is Ryan staring directly into a camera and telling people how to think and act to get farther in life.
  • The fiction side is creating comic books, movies, and TV shows.
  • There is massive amounts of synergy between the two sides, but they are not the same audience.
  • The hope is that people will be captured emotionally with the fiction and then graduate ultimately into the nonfiction.
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Don't Have Contradictory Goals

  • The mistake is pursuing two different outcomes with one product.
  • Don't have two contradictory goals at the same time.
  • For example, trying to write a work of literary fiction for fancy people and wanting to be really famous at the same time.
  • Both Ryan and Tom do all sorts of different types of books.
  • At the end of the day, as an artist, creator, and entrepreneur, you have to be driven by business and success.
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How to Use Stillness to Achieve Greatness | Ryan Holiday on Conversations with Tom - YouTube

Passion and Business Savvy

  • You have to have the business documents.
  • If you're not savvy enough to make something profitable, you're really gonna fall by the wayside.
  • You need to have a passion and a why.
  • It's usually a mistake to shove away something you're super interested in.
  • Go where the heart goes, but don't pretend that money doesn't exist.
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The Importance of Balancing Passion with Business Savvy

  • Building an audience and helping people is a beautiful thing, but without understanding business, it's hard to get anywhere.
  • There are things that could be done to make books sell more copies, but it's not worth sacrificing intellectual honesty.
  • It's about finding a balance between success and staying true to principles.
  • Every athlete could probably get away with doping, but it's about how they want to win and feel about themselves.
  • Ultimately, how you feel about yourself should drive decision-making.
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The Story of Lance Armstrong

  • Lance Armstrong was always competitive and driven, but beating cancer became the fight of his life.
  • Winning became living, and losing became dying.
  • The tiny degrees of difference in decision-making can have a massive impact on where you end up.
  • It's important to know who you want to be and where you want to end up.
  • Doping in cycling is a complicated issue, but it's not worth making that association in your own life.
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The Goal of Being an Author

  • For some people, winning as an author means selling lots of copies.
  • The goal is to have an impact and be respected by people who matter.
  • It's not about being an obscure author that nobody has heard of, but it's also not about being liked without being read.
  • The goal is to be in the middle and have a balance between success and staying true to principles.
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The Importance of Finding a Balance

  • It's important to find a balance between passion and business savvy.
  • Success is important, but it's not worth sacrificing intellectual honesty or principles.
  • Every decision, big or small, can take you in radically different directions.
  • It's important to know who you want to be and where you want to end up.
  • The tiny degrees of difference in decision-making can have a massive impact on where you end up.
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The Trade-off of Writing for Elitist Levels of Performance

  • The books may not work as well for ordinary people.
  • Deciding who the book is for is important.
  • The idea that a number determines success is too simple.
  • Writing a book that is too simple may not work for everyone.
  • It is important to balance passion with business savvy.
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The Need for Obsession and Stillness

  • Winning itself is life.
  • People fail because they are not obsessed with figuring something out.
  • Cultivating stillness is incredibly powerful.
  • Being singularly focused may be necessary to play at a high level.
  • Michael Jordan's obsession was primarily driven by anger.
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The Cost of Obsession

  • Michael Jordan's anger meant that he couldn't enjoy the crowning achievement of his life.
  • Anger may not be the only form of fuel.
  • There may be other compromises, such as keeping the killer instinct on a leash.
  • It is important to be able to check oneself.
  • Leaving some gains on the table may be necessary to avoid giving oneself over to anything.
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Questioning the Perennial Question

  • Can you be world-class and be anything else?
  • It does not have to ruin you as a human being.
  • There may be a cost to obsession.
  • There may be other forms of fuel besides anger.
  • It is important to keep the killer instinct on a leash.
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Defining Greatness and Obsession

  • There is a difference between success and greatness.
  • Greatness is a real measurable achievement that is aimed for and either achieved or not.
  • Obsession is necessary for achieving greatness.
  • Obsession is 80% beautiful energy and 20% dark energy.
  • The dark energy is the rage to win that is effective in pushing through exhaustion and laziness.
  • Science shows that anger and aggression can increase pain tolerance by 30%.
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The Importance of Balancing Passion and Business Savvy

  • Building a brand requires both passion and business savvy.
  • Passion is necessary for creating something beautiful and meaningful.
  • Business savvy is necessary for making the passion sustainable and profitable.
  • It is important to find a balance between the two.
  • Many people fail because they focus too much on passion and neglect the business side.
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The Dangers of Obsession

  • Obsession can lead to catastrophic failure.
  • There are many stories of people who became obsessed and ended up ruining their lives.
  • It is important to be aware of the survivorship bias and not just focus on success stories.
  • Obsession can also lead to unethical behavior, as seen in the case of Lance Armstrong.
  • It is important to have a mission in life that goes beyond personal obsession and includes helping others.
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The Role of Intelligence and Talent in Greatness

  • Intelligence and talent play a role in greatness, but they are not the only factors.
  • Research shows that 50% of greatness is malleable and can be improved through hard work and dedication.
  • Biological factors also play a role, but it is important to focus on what can be changed.
  • The goal is to find the next crop of extraordinary human talent and help them achieve greatness.
  • Greatness is not just about personal success, but also about making a positive impact on the world.
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The Need to Balance

  • Imagining someone celebrating your defeat can give new energy.
  • Steeping in anger and rage too much can hardwire for it.
  • Mastering the twenty percent in addition to the eighty percent is necessary for achieving greatness.
  • Success and greatness are not necessarily the same.
  • Success or greatness is ultimately ephemeral.
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The Haunting Passage in Meditations

  • As powerful as the tools may be, ultimately, where does it end up?
  • At the end, we all become equal.
  • Adding some humility is important.
  • Reliance on anger to get over the hump is not good for living life.
  • Anger is insidious and dangerous.
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The Problem with Anger

  • Anger is in the business of self-preservation.
  • Anger is not in the business of forgiveness or letting go.
  • Anger is in the business of inventing new grudges.
  • Anger is dangerous and insidious.
  • There is a moral obligation to lead people down a path that is effective and not dangerous.
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Alternating Between Effectiveness and Danger

  • Some people are going to get hurt.
  • It is important to balance passion with business savvy.
  • It is important to be aware of the impact you can have.
  • Success and greatness are not the same.
  • Success or greatness is ultimately ephemeral.
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Advanced Class

  • People struggle with holding two competing ideas in their head at the same time.
  • Experience has taught that people oversimplify the message and cling on to one thing.
  • When something is labeled as an advanced class, it is usually because it is dangerous.
  • Playing with fire is a conservative analogy, playing with jet fuel is more accurate.
  • People can do whatever they want with the message, but the message should be delivered in a way that feels right.
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Memento Mori

  • Memento Mori means remember death or remember your own mortality.
  • It is one of the most powerful themes in ancient philosophy, specifically stoicism.
  • Seneca's writing talks about how easy it is to forget that you will die or to have the wrong attitude about death.
  • Death is not just a thing in the future, but a reminder that we are dying every day.
  • Most people die because they live a form of being dead.
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Unexpected Response

  • The Memento Mori theme has been an unexpected vein.
  • It is a timeless theme that goes all the way up to modern art.
  • Most people think that there is life and death, but there are ways of living that are essentially a form of being dead.
  • Modern life is set up in a way that people die in hospitals far from their homes.
  • Medical advancements have made death feel like it's something your fault.
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Delivering the Message

  • People can do whatever they want with the message, but the message should be delivered in a way that feels right.
  • At the end of the day, you can only deliver the message and hope that people will act responsibly.
  • People might act differently if the message didn't have caveats or warnings.
  • You have to have your own standards and know that you put the message out there in a way that you felt was right.
  • Ultimately, people are consenting responsible adults.
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Importance of Stillness

  • Life is tragic and countries go to war for a reason.
  • Having a reminder of mortality can help to stay present in the moment.
  • Having a reminder of mortality can help to balance work and family life.
  • Having a reminder of mortality can help to stay humble.
  • Having a reminder of mortality can help to stay focused on what really matters.
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Relationship with Death

  • Initially, Ryan thought he would live forever due to advancements in health technology.
  • He believed that having long-term dreams was important for achieving greatness.
  • He later realized the importance of acknowledging the inevitability of death.
  • He finds it difficult to balance the acknowledgement of death with having long-term plans.
  • He believes that it is important to focus on what matters and not waste time.
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Importance of Connection

  • Ryan believes in only doing things that matter and connecting deeply with loved ones.
  • He believes that having a reminder of mortality is not necessary for everyone.
  • He believes that acknowledging the inevitability of death can help to fight harder for long-term plans.
  • He believes that it is important to stay present in the moment and not ignore important moments with loved ones.
  • He believes that humility is important in achieving greatness.
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Personal Reminder of Mortality

  • Ryan wears a ring made from a chunk of a tombstone with the word "dad" on it.
  • The ring is a reminder of mortality and the importance of staying present in the moment.
  • The ring is a reminder of the humility needed to achieve greatness.
  • The ring is a reminder to focus on what really matters and not waste time.
  • The ring is a personal reminder that works for Ryan, but may not work for everyone.
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The Importance of Being Present

  • Marcus Aurelius and Seneca both emphasize the importance of being present and not being driven by anger.
  • Despite this, they both accomplished incredible things.
  • Stillness is about stripping out low-grade anxiety or denial and being able to focus everything in that moment.
  • Seneca's reminder that you will die today could be the last day of your life is not a call to quit what you're doing and go have an orgy or go shoot up heroin just to see what it's like, but to live today like a complete day.
  • What you control is did you do everything you could today?
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Living Every Day as a Complete Day

  • Live every day as a complete day and then when you wake up tomorrow, you're grateful because you get a second day.
  • There's no such thing as performance, only practice.
  • Even if it was game seven, you would have to tell yourself, "Hey, this is just practice, and if you mess this up, no worries, you're going to learn something from this."
  • Life is complicated, and sometimes you need to be told this moment is game seven, and sometimes you go back and forth.
  • Philosophy is about answering questions in a way that helps you live a better life.
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Writing and Publishing a Book

  • What happens to me if someone finishes my book, but it doesn't get published?
  • What you control is whether you did everything you could today.
  • Even if you write in a will to destroy your manuscripts after your death, it's not in your control.
  • Many authors have done this, and nobody listened.
  • Did you sincerely pursue making this great today, yes or no?
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Philosophy and Paradoxes

  • Life is a paradox, and different situations call for different perspectives.
  • Sometimes you need to be told this moment is game seven, and sometimes you go back and forth.
  • Philosophy is about answering questions in a way that helps you live a better life.
  • Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius answer questions in a way that helps you live a better life.
  • Philosophy is not about creating a theory of the universe.
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Importance of Perspective

  • Answers can contradict each other because of different perspectives.
  • Zoom out and get a different perspective to cure anxiety or wasting time.
  • Goal is to achieve stillness, clarity, and focus.
  • Different situations require different handles to get the right perspective.
  • Perspective is the ability to craft a different experience of reality.
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Defining Perspective

  • The German word "umwelt" means a different experience of reality.
  • A champion and an egotistical loser have different "umwelts."
  • Controlling your "umwelt" is like adjusting the focus on binoculars.
  • Stoics zoom in and out to get different perspectives.
  • How we look at the world determines what we can do to it.
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Perceiving Reality

  • Birds and fish perceive data from the world differently.
  • Sharks detect electrical signals, while humans do not.
  • Humans experience life through a limited biological system.
  • Our brains have limitations in perceiving reality.
  • Knowing our limitations can help us adjust our perspective.
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Philosophy of Life

  • Our biological system limits our perception of reality.
  • Understanding our limitations can help us adjust our perspective.
  • Goal is to achieve stillness, clarity, and focus.
  • Different situations require different handles to get the right perspective.
  • Perspective is the ability to craft a different experience of reality.
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Understanding the Elephant in the Brain

  • The deep limbic system in the brain processes things through the lens of good or bad.
  • Knocking out that part of the brain can cause people massive problems.
  • Understanding what motivates the elephant to move can help control it more effortlessly.
  • People have no sense of the elephant and how it's controlled by its environment.
  • Once you decide how you're going to see the world, it will hardwire over time.
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Realizing Our Inner Child and Trauma

  • Most of us have an inner child inside of us that is responding with some childhood trauma.
  • Realizing that we're pulled by these forces allows us to be more forgiving of people who have failed.
  • People who are in jail or not successful have the ability to change if the environment changes.
  • It's silly to write other people off or to do the attribution fallacy.
  • It's all very complicated and can escalate quickly.
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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

  • The problem isn't that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but that you can't teach your old dog new tricks.
  • It might be hard for you to change your own mind, but if you could step outside or have somebody come in from the outside, you could be easily retrained.
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Navigating Life with Stillness

  • Pursuing stillness and understanding your own motivations and desires is incredibly important.
  • Once you begin to hardwire pleasure and pain in a way that moves you towards your end goal, you can navigate more intelligently through life.
  • There is a massive amount that you can shorten to go in a direction that makes sense based on your goals.
  • There is no complete freedom over the way you can hardwire, but there is a 50/50 balance.
  • Controlling the elephant can help you achieve greatness.
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The Importance of Momentum

  • Momentum is changing suddenly, making you feel capable of something you weren't before.
  • Confidence is the most important thing for people in business and life.
  • People want the outcome but not the process.
  • Start with the smallest unit of change to build momentum.
  • You can edit crappy pages but not pages that don't exist.
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The Only Belief That Matters

  • The only belief that matters is that you can get better.
  • If you don't believe you can do something, you almost certainly cannot do it.
  • Believing you can do something doesn't mean you can do it.
  • Perfection can be spelled paralysis.
  • Approach perfection but understand that it's impossible.
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Human Potential is Nearly Limitless

  • Human potential is nearly limitless.
  • People settle for perspective that is limiting.
  • Act as if human potential is limitless.
  • Some people fall below minimum requirements and cannot make change in their life.
  • 50% of the population does not even qualify to be in the military.
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How to Build a Brand Through Nonfiction and Fiction

  • Writing a book is the hardest thing to start with.
  • Start with one tweet or one article.
  • Building the process to get there is what momentum is.
  • Write a better book if you've gotten reps earlier in the thing.
  • People are paralyzed by the idea of having something perfect.
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Believing in Limitless Human Potential

  • Ryan used to tell people that their human potential is limitless.
  • People would push back on this idea.
  • Ryan believes that if you act as if anything can be done, you're actually better off.
  • There are many things that people assume can't be done, but they actually can.
  • Ryan gives examples of bone breaking and recording dreams.
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The Importance of Realistic Optimism

  • People think that Ryan's work is pessimistic or resigned, but it's actually realistic.
  • Stoics are clear on the idea of assuming that if it's humanly possible, you can do it.
  • Being realistic doesn't mean being pessimistic.
  • Knowing what is actually possible can give you a sense of agency.
  • Assuming that you can go an unlimited amount is also a valid approach.
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The Malleability of Human Beings

  • Tom asks Ryan how malleable he thinks human beings are.
  • Ryan believes that we can change our values, the wiring of our brain, and our neurochemical response.
  • He thinks that we can go very far with this.
  • Ryan suggests pushing back on the idea of limiting ourselves and assuming that we can go an unlimited amount.
  • People spend a lot of time trying to disprove whether self-help works, but Ryan believes that it can work.
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The Importance of Stillness

  • Ryan talks about his book "Stillness is the Key."
  • He believes that stillness is the key to unlocking our potential.
  • Stillness can help us make better decisions and be more creative.
  • Ryan suggests practicing stillness through meditation, journaling, and spending time in nature.
  • He also talks about the importance of balancing passion with business savvy.
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Importance of Pursuing Knowledge

  • Free speech should allow the pursuit of any knowledge.
  • Responsibility should be taken with all knowledge.
  • Nothing should be off-limits in terms of what is studied.
  • IQ points matter little in hiring at a smaller scale.
  • IQ points only become statistically significant at a massive scale.
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Ability to Grow and Improve

  • People can grow and improve their skills.
  • Key moments and people can impact the course of one's life.
  • Ability to grow is the core of success.
  • People can get obsessed with studies and lose sight of improvement.
  • Successful people need to find ways to sprinkle their success on others.
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Limiting Potential

  • Some people use information as an excuse for reducing human agency.
  • There is a way to limit potential.
  • People can turn off an empowering message if they sense dishonesty.
  • The Secret is half powerful and half dishonest.
  • Guests on a show should not undermine the message of empowerment.
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