“A deer’s brain tells it to run because things are bad,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way.  

“It runs. Sometimes, right into traffic.”

1: There is a better way. We can learn to slow things down. Steady our nerves. “We can question that impulse. We can disagree with it. We can override the switch, examine the threat before we act.”

The phrase “This happened, and it is bad” is actually two statements, Ryan observes. The first statement: “This happened,” is objective. The second statement: “It is bad,” is subjective.

“The sixteenth-century Samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi won countless fights against feared opponents, even multiple opponents, in which he was sword less,” Ryan writes. “In The Book of Five Rings, he notes the difference between observing and perceiving. The perceiving eye is weak, he wrote; the observing eye is strong.”

Miyamoto recognized that our observing eye sees what is there. Our perceiving eye sees more than what is there. “The observing eye sees events, clear of distractions, exaggerations, and misperceptions,” Ryan writes. “The perceiving eye sees ‘insurmountable obstacles’ or ‘major setbacks’ or even just ‘issues.'”

2: How often do we see what is actually there versus what we think is there or should be there?  

“Think, perceive, act—with milliseconds between them,” writes Ryan. Our human brains compress the space between stimulus and response. In that space, however, is “our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom,” Victor Frankl writes.

This ability requires strength. “It’s a muscle that must be developed. And muscles are developed by tension, by lifting and holding,” Ryan writes. “This is why [Miyamoto] and most martial arts practitioners focus on mental training as much as on physical training. Both are equally important—and require equally vigorous exercise and practice.”

To be objective means learning to remove “us,” the subjective part, from the equation.

3: Ryan suggests we consider how we respond when giving advice to someone else. “Their problems are crystal clear to us, the solutions obvious,” he writes. “With other people we can be objective.”

Not so much when it comes to the obstacles we face: “Selfishly—and stupidly—we save the pity and the sense of persecution and the complaints for our own lives.”

What if the next time we face a challenge, we greet it calmly and pretend “it is not important, that it doesn’t matter,” he suggests. “How much easier would it be for [us] to know what to do? How much more quickly and dispassionately could [we] size up the scenario and its options?”

Another approach? Think of all the ways someone else could solve our problem. “No, really think,” Ryan tells us. Focus on “clarity, not sympathy—there’ll be plenty of time for that later. It’s an exercise, which means it takes repetition.” The more we practice, the better we get at it.

“The more skilled [we] become seeing things for what they are, the more perception will work for [us] rather than against [us].”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Consider a current challenge. Pause. Break apart the objective from the subjective.

Action: Journal about it.

What did you think of this post?

Write A Comment