This world is a hectic one. Technology only exacerbates the feeling that no matter how quickly we move, how much we accomplish, it’s never enough. To combat that, Ryan Holiday turned to the ancient Stoics. In his recent book, Stillness Is the Key, he analyzes how stillness—physical, spiritual and mental—can save us from the chaos. What is stillness? It’s the art of finding inner peace.
“If a person could develop peace within themselves—if they could
achieve apatheia, as [the Stoics]
called it—then the whole world could be at war, and they could still think
well, work well, and be well,” Holiday writes.
and wildly difficult. It is. Holiday isn’t one to sugarcoat. But like any of
the great ways to change our lives, easy isn’t part of the recipe. With
practice, patience and dedication, you can reap the benefits.
Here are 22 ways to practice stillness within your mind, spirit and body.
Stillness of the
within the space between your ears. If we can’t quiet our thoughts long enough
to think about things bigger and deeper than the daily torrent of thoughts,
then we’ll never achieve the kind of stillness that Holiday writes about. Here,
he offers seven ways to find mental stillness.
1. Be fully
Much of our daily
thoughts are consumed with what was and what is to come. We’re thinking about
how we handled a past conversation, or we’re planning how to handle a future
task or problem. Take time every day to think only of this moment, right now.
Nothing else matters.
2. Empty your mind
It’s a survival
instinct for humans to take past situations and apply knowledge of that
experience to the future. We want to anticipate how things might go. The
downside, of course, is that we’re unable to accept the present moment for what
it is if we’re constantly trying to predict how it will turn out.
3. Take your time.
Stillness isn’t something you’ll learn in a 30-day challenge
4. Sit quietly and
This is especially
important during times of big change or stress. Considering a career move? Take
some time—as much as you can—to sit with your thoughts and analyze it from all
angles. How does this change make you feel? What possible outcomes scare you?
Which ones excite you?
happen on the couch with Netflix in the background, at least not in the
beginning. Stillness is an internal state of being, but it takes time to build
up the muscle that allows you to be internally still while external
distractions are present.
6. Weigh advice
against the counsel of your convictions.
Let’s return to the
career example. You’ve likely reached out to peers, family and trusted friends
for help making your decision. Although well meaning, much of that advice is
likely conflicting, and it represents the perspectives of another person who
has lived an entirely different experience from you. Trust your intuition by
giving your mind time to deeply analyze the decision.
without being paralyzed.
A word of caution
for the overthinkers: Don’t mistake thoughtful reflection and analysis with
action. The decision must be made, and even avoiding a decision is one, too. If
you’re feeling paralyzed, set an expiration date for yourself.
Stillness of the Spirit
Not to be confused
with any religious notions, a still spirit is one that is connected to brain,
body and world. It’s an honest and patient look at how our past has shaped us
and to work through those issues and defects of character that prevent us from
growing into our best selves.
8. Develop a strong moral compass.
Our pasts certainly shape us, but they don’t define us. If
you grew up amid chaos, deceit, anger or abandonment, spend some time working
through your beliefs and question whether they are true to the values that you
want to hold. For example, someone with a history of passive-aggressive
communication skills might have trouble recognizing those as harmful. Take the time
to educate yourself on healthy, direct communication to break habits and build
9. Steer clear of envy and jealousy and harmful desires.
Beyond useless, these feelings can tear down our abilities
to focus on what’s truly important. If you’re focused on someone else’s life,
who is focused on yours?
10. Come to terms with the painful wounds of your
Everyone has baggage. It’s human nature. To be a victim is
to surrender to our childhood wounds and say, “Well, this is just the way it
is. I can’t help that I was dealt a bad hand.” You have the power to work
through and heal from those wounds. You may not be able to do it alone, and it
might take years of dedicated work with a professional, but the person that
you’re working to be is on the other side.
11. Practice gratitude and appreciation for the world.
No matter your life situation, there is always something
to be grateful for. Wake up and fill a notebook with your gratitude list. Make
it specific. Think about small things like hot coffee and warmth of your pet’s
fur nestled up against you in bed.
12. Cultivate relationships.
You likely have a plethora of friends and social events,
but when was the last time you worked to deepen those relationships? Skip the
bar scene and head to coffee. Start a book club. Ask deeper questions than,
“How’s your job?” or “What’s new with you?”
13. Place belief and control in the hands of something
larger than yourself.
This doesn’t have to be a religious entity, though it
certainly can be. This is about relinquishing control over that which you don’t
have control anyway. You can’t control whether you lose your job or your spouse
decides to end your marriage. You don’t have to have your life figured out and
you’re not “behind.” When you truly accept this fact, you can breathe easier
and focus on your response to the world around you, which is what you can
14. Understand that there will never be “enough” and that
the unchecked pursuit of more ends only in bankruptcy.
We live in a culture of “more.” Social
media and the comparison factor amplifies this feeling. When you’re tempted
to fill the hole of not-enoughness with a “thing,” remind yourself that
happiness and contentment are things that come from within. Wait a week to
purchase that thing and decide whether you truly need it.
Stillness of the
Stress and overwork can wreak havoc on our bodies. Ongoing stress can cause issues in everything from the cardiovascular to nervous systems. By finding physical stillness, we allow ourselves to just be. Start with the below.
15. Rise above your physical limitations.
If you’ve never been flexible, yoga might seem out of the question. Challenge yourself. Learn positions that are made to increase flexibility. Work with a yogi to strengthen your muscles. Practice every day. Relish the feeling of being bad at something new.
16. Find hobbies that rest and replenish you.
No, not something that you can eventually turn into an
Etsy business or flaunt on your social media platforms. This is a hobby that is
purely for you. If it doesn’t involve internet, even better.
17. Develop a reliable disciplined routine.
Some of the most successful people in the world cite a daily routine
as one of the biggest contributors of their success. Don’t design it based on
what works for someone else. Take the time to think and develop a plan that
works around the times and environments in which you’re at your best.
18. Spend time getting active outdoors.
Move your body every day. Do it outside. It’s free, it’s
easy, and it allows you to disconnect from the chaos and reconnect with the
larger world around you.
19. Seek out solitude and perspective.
Even 20 minutes of daily solitude allows
you to reset and refocus. A morning full of meetings can leave your brain
overfilled and your body fatigued. Solitude gives you the time and space to
sort through those thoughts and prioritize what’s most important for you.
20. Learn to sit—to do nothing when called for.
Stillness isn’t about physical stillness, though the act
of not doing anything can reap many benefits. It’s a physical reminder to your
brain and spirit to breathe
and just be. This will be
difficult. We’ve learned to move, to do, to multitask. Try it for five minutes
a day and see how you feel after a week.
21. Get enough sleep and rein in your workaholism.
There isn’t a set number of hours that works for everyone,
but generally, you should aim for at least seven hours per night. Prioritize
this above all else. If you’re not rested, how can possibly face the challenges
that come with personal growth?
22. Commit to causes bigger than yourself.
We all need reminders that we aren’t the center of the universe. This can look like different things. Volunteer once a month in a way that gets your body moving and lets you interact with others.
Image by @obodnikova/Twenty20
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