How to Succeed in High-Stress Situations

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“A good person dyes events with his own color…and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.” – Seneca

From the outside looking in, the last several weeks have been disaster after disaster for me:

  • Death in the family
  • Several deals that have been worked on for 6+ months fell apart at the last minute
  • I might need to sue someone for egregious breach of contract and unexpected damages
  • On and on and on…

I’ve thought of several books over and over again during this period to cope. One of them was The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday (@ryanholiday). It has helped me to turn problems upside-down, look at them through a different lens, and even uncover unique opportunities.

The Obstacle Is The Way is a collection of stories and principles about Stoicism, which I consider to be the ultimate personal “operating system” for anyone who wants to thrive in high-stress environments and situations.

If you want to be antifragile like Thomas Jefferson, Marcus Aurelius, Bill Belichick, and many of the most dominant investors in history, Stoicism offers a real playbook. If you want to make better decisions, if you want to smile when other people cower, it offers real tools.

To quote Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” What if you could be a person who is improved by crisis? At the very least, it would give you opportunities no one else can see, let alone grasp. Much more important, it would make you a happier human being.

Here are a few sample chapters from The Obstacle Is The WayPlease enjoy!


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Want to hear another podcast featuring Ryan Holiday and Stoicism? — In this episode, we discuss the “big three” Stoics, how Stoicism applies to the modern world, and how to improve your decision-making when stakes are high (stream below or right-click here to download):


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Ryan Holiday:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

  • The high cost of not being in control of our own emotions under pressure and how astronauts train to keep panic at bay on risky missions. [07:15]
  • Cultivating apatheia. [10:35]
  • What important things are you missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness, or wisdom? Does getting upset provide you with more options? [11:34]
  • Being in control of your emotions doesn’t mean you don’t have to feel them. [12:00]
  • We defeat emotions with logic. [12:54]
  • How General Eisenhower found opportunity to defeat Germany within its own seemingly unstoppable Blitzkrieg strategy during WWII. [14:48]
  • Controlling our emotions allows us to find opportunities within obstacles because we’re not discouraged, upset, or otherwise distracted by them. [17:45]
  • By assuming disaster is imminent, our preconceptions are the problem. But seeing opportunity in the obstacle gives us a chance to grow. [18:05]
  • Rising up to the challenge of our rival. [19:52]
  • Blessings and burdens are not mutually exclusive. [20:18]
  • Why “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is not a cliche but fact. [21:01]
  • Developing a piercing gaze that sees the gift of opportunity through whatever ugly wrapping surrounds it. [21:55]
  • Excellence is a matter of steps. Follow the process. [23:37]
  • Don’t think about the end — think about surviving. [25:34]
  • What meteorology pioneer James Pollard Espy learned about the process from his hero Henry Clay. [26:07]
  • We become masters of our craft by following the thread to the next action. [27:12]
  • If you keep a clear head and follow the process, being trapped is just a position, not a fate. [28:52]
  • How often do we assume that change is impossible because it’s too big? [29:55]
  • Adhering to the process conquers distraction. [31:12]
  • To do great things, we need to be able to endure — even learn to love — tragedy and setbacks. [32:28]
  • Even Edison, at age 67, wasn’t too old to make a fresh start when his research campus burned to the ground. In fact, his company quickly recovered and thrived more than ever before. [34:46]
  • If you’ve got to put up with something terrible, you might as well have a smile on your face while it’s happening. [35:54]
  • We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it. [39:36]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: June 10, 2018.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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36 comments on “How to Succeed in High-Stress Situations

  1. Hi Tim. Wanted to send you a message somewhere, and this new podcast post seems an apt place. I (and many others) lost an important hero and inspirational figure on Friday with the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. It was a shocking loss, and it seems almost no one would have expected it of someone with so much positive in their life. I know you’ve spoken on your battles with depression and seem to have it well dealt with now, but wanted to reach out and let you know you are so appreciated and loved by millions! You probably have an untold number of these messages over the years, but wanted to throw mine out there in the tiny chance that it could catch you (or anyone reading this) at a moment of darkness and could help bring some light. You’ve done and continue to do incredible work that clearly inspires millions. We can’t lose another hero (or anyone!) to suicide. Keep up the fantastic work!
    And on a related note, Bourdain was the one person that always came to mind that I wished you had interviewed, and I’m saddened we’ll never get to hear that conversation.

    Like

    • I agree, BFitz. It’s so sad that we lost Anthony Bourdain and all the great stuff he had in him and that he shared with us. And I’m feeling the same as you about reaching out to people who might need to hear how we appreciate them and want them to stay around. That’s one thing I also wanted to comment on the great podcast today. BTW, I listened twice already. The tools mentioned to beat high stress situations are excellent and simply laid out. But I’d also add that life’s battles are tough and we can use tools such as these, but we also need to feel there’s a reason to overcome them. And so our efforts to let others know how loved and appreciated they are. But it’s also a lot to put on our family and friends, or other support systems to always know what we need and when we need it. In really low moments, it’s usually just us by ourselves, and sometimes unfortunately the negativity wins. Our current media culture has a lot anger around it and it gets to people. People need to spread more positivity is the only solution I can offer here. Thanks, Tim for the great positive and useful content you share. And may you always be happy! 🙂

      Like

  2. Thanks. Impeccably good timing to have this hit my inbox tiday, really needed this. Helped me reframe things and regain composure when I needed it.

    >

    Like

  3. Hey Tim, sorry to hear about you and your family’s loss. It surely sounds like a difficult time, but I (and I’m sure the rest of your readers) appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to share. Not only share the struggle, but also share the things that have helped you get through it. Thank you for the post.

    Like

    • Sincere condolences to your family. And sorry you are going through a tough phase. Remember the valuable lessons of Vipassana – equanimity and impermanence.

      Sending much metta to you and your family!

      Like

  4. ~ I am compelled to share the observation that overly prioritized stoicism is a real intimacy blocker ~ there is a Freakonomics in to be observant of ~ I admire stoicism above all ~ stoicism and sincerity ~ and I don’t think you should sue unless you have severe financial losses ~ thank you for all that you do.

    Like

  5. “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” Love that!

    Like

  6. You have your health, head and your heart… seconds turn into minutes that turn into hours that turn into days, weeks, months and years. Losses change our perspective turning our attention into razor sharpe perspective of what really matters… sending you love and strength to endure. Thank you for all that you give.

    Like

  7. I agree with the others…thank you so much for your candor and for plucking the lessons from the really hard stuff in life so that we might all benefit. I’ve been following you for awhile – so I’m also writing to let you know that you have lots of women listeners (which I’m sure you know) and your work extends across groups…

    Liked by 1 person

    • One more thing – not many women referenced in this episode…but, I realize that you highlighted your biggest influences. Might I add Jane Goodall, Arlene Blum, RBG, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Indira Ghandi, Virginia Woolf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey…

      Like

  8. Stay strong Tim, stay stoic. Have you ever read “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca? I think you would really enjoy it, especially right now.

    Like

  9. Tim, what I most want to comment on is the death in your family. I am so sorry for your loss and pain, for that of your entire family.

    As for Ryan, I enjoy reading him on Quora, where I also write. What you are discussing here is about than bouncing back, but bouncing ahead.

    When dealing with the loss of a loved one, though, it is a difference “bounce.” May you and yours find comfort and strength.

    Terry [Moderator: full name withheld.]

    Like

  10. Tim

    Just FYI, every time you mention a book in one of the emails I get from you, the wait list for that book at my local public library really jumps up. Now, I’m not ascribing a direct cause and effect relationship here, but my gut’s telling me it’s more than simply a coincidence.

    I realize book sales make the publishing world go ’round, but it really makes me feel good to see that people still really do use their library cards!

    Like

  11. Hi Tim,

    Love your podcasts! But sorry to hear of all the challenging life stuff happening. I believe it’s helpful to share these times/experiences with others for our own healing and the healing of others.

    Thank you for all you do! Please keep it coming!

    Sincerely,
    Michelle

    Like

  12. Sorry for your loss Tim. Also had a death in the family recently and it turns everything upside for a while. Take care and be good to yourself.

    Like

  13. You are likely awash in quotes, but I just felt compelled to share this one:

    “The first being one must have compassion for is oneself. You can’t be a witness to your thoughts with a chip on your shoulder or an axe to grind.

    Ramani Maharshi said, ‘If people would stop wailing alas I am a sinner and use all that energy to get on with it they would all be enlightened.’

    He also said, ‘When you’re cleaning up the outer temple before going to the inner temple, don’t stop to read everything you’re going to throw away.'” — Ram Dass

    I am sorry for your loss.

    Like

  14. Being tough is good. However, when life is challenging, it’s also important to treat yourself with compassion, especially when you’re suffering from grief.

    BTW, I’ve taken up using cold showers, after reading your morning routines. Since using cold showers– plus starting full-on CrossFit training at age 70– I’m just about jumping out of my skin with vitality! Thanks for your inspiration, Tim.

    Like

  15. Sorry for your loss, and sorry to hear about you having a rough period: take care. Of course you’ll manage. And thanks for your generosity and inspiriation. You know you have created a tribe of people caring and whishing you well.

    Like

  16. Tim,
    Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I appreciate the work that you do that helps us all.
    I am sure that I speak on behalf of your tribe to say that if there is anything we can help you through the vicissitudes just ask. With all that you have done for me I would be keen to help in any way I could.
    Thank you for the work that you do that brings more light to dark times.
    MJ

    Like

  17. Hi Tim. I’m bipolar and am interested in becoming a stoic. I watched your Ted Talk the other day and was inspired, not only by your story, but by this insight I had that I had, in part, been adopting the practices of stoicism to survive. I know you’re busy, and I’m not looking to take up your time with my story, but like you traditional paths don’t usually work for me. I’m wondering if you could point me in a direction. Where would you start if you had to start over again?

    Like

  18. Hi Tim,

    You truly are the most resourceful person I have encountered digitally. I have had this burning question for a while and especially these days (which have been to say the least – very challenging).

    The catch?
    Well I think you are of the very few who would have the answer.

    I sincerely hope you are well!
    You have my details.

    “No man is free who is not master of himself” ~Epictetus

    Like

  19. Always love your content Tim- this is especially helpful for me right now but Spirit always finds a way to communicate at the right time! For anyone reading this and needing a chuckle, go to 3:30 and play Tim’s intro at half speed — I think we know what “Tequila Ferriss” sounds like after too many shots! Thanks again Tim!

    Like

  20. I often keep notes when listening to your podcasts. Other times I am out walking while listening. Anyway, I lost my father 2 years ago and just 7 months ago my best friend and soul sister and your podcasts have kept me company all through these losses and when feeling at a dead end they take my mind to other places. I wish to thank you for keeping me company and sharing so much information with us. I just ordered Tribe of Mentors and am waiting for it to arrive. I live in Athens, Greece most of the year. During the Summer months I work and live on the island of Syros (Greece) so am sending you greetings all the way from here, the center of the Cyclades. If you are ever in the neighborhood don’t hesitate to contact me. I would love to meet you. Thank you, once again. I can’t wait for each new episode and often listen to them several times. Be well and have a wonderful Summer, Tim!
    Sincerely, Kiki S.

    Like

  21. I started reading The Obstacle is The Way after listening to the sample chapters – thank you for those. Perhaps I’m asking prematurely, as I’m only halfway through the book, but so far the examples are all about people with very clear goals or missions. What if the “obstacle” is that you don’t know your goal or purpose? Any advice?

    PS I’m a coach so already familiar with all the go-to’s to help discover life purpose (I.e. what did you love to do as a kid? Or now? What lights you up? Brings you joy? Where do you find flow? Etc.) I guess I’m saying I’d love some more “advances” advice for when you’ve tried these, know what you love, and still don’t know what to do with it! Thanks!

    Like

  22. Tim, I have just read your book, 4 hour WorkWeek. It has given me new inspiration. Thank you for the way you give information, that’s easy to use. It is a gift. I’ve used several of your ideas to double my own business so far. I already have an automated business, so I was curious what your business is. It’s a blessing to have time freedom, automated income, and liberation to work anywhere/anytime, and to work 4 hrs a week! You may want to add it to your list as well. Cheers! You’re Awesome, Bless you!

    Like

  23. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for putting this Podcast out there for us all during times like these….

    I’m new to stoicism, put this really brings it back to the basics and has me intrigued to learn more, to stop the bloody whining and move on to be a better person.
    Adversity is part of life, it’s part of being human but when you are in the middle of the chaos you don’t see the steps out. This Podcast lays out the process, be aware of your emotions but don’t let them control you and to keep smiling rain, hail or shine 🙂

    Cheers

    Like

  24. Hey Tim,

    I won’t pretend to understand what you’re going through. I’m one of the millions of lives you have improved and most likely saved with your work.

    I’ve flamed out more times than a drunk pyromaniac in a rocket factory, but your books and your podcast have served as a constant reminder that success is possible and failures are simply steps on the path.

    It may be selfish to ask this, but we, I need you to hang in there. If this ridiculous world breaks you then the rest of us don’t have much of a chance. Thank you for leading by example and giving your fans the strength to make improvements that have tangible and practical results in our everyday lives.

    The world is a better place because of your work and that mantle of responsibility is burdensome and maybe not something you ever asked for, but it’s yours to carry and there’s still a long road ahead.

    We are with you.

    Thank you,
    Tony

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Hey Tim, recently been going through challenges in business and it got to a point where I realised I needed to withdraw and focus on myself. I looked around your book selection and singled out ‘The Obstacle is the way’ by Ryan Haliday. This book has helped me immensely in the last few weeks and I carry it with me everywhere I go. Along with the book my morning routine now also involves reading at least 1 chapter from the ‘Tao of Seneca’. Thanks for the work you do and the genuinely helpful inspiring content you put out so frequently. In true Seneca style, I leave you with a highlight from this morning’s read – Chapter 20 – ‘Practicing what you preach.
    “What is Wisdom? – Always desiring the same things, and always refusing the same things”. Farewell from sunny London, UK. –

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Dear Tim, so sorry to hear about the loss in your family, thank you for sharing so honestly,it makes me connect with you on a deep human and personal level and you have a much larger family than you know. One of fans, admirers and cheerleaders. I am one of them. I am with you in your testing times.

    I need to ask myself this question -” What if you could be a person who is improved by crisis? At the very least, it would give you opportunities no one else can see, let alone grasp.– but not allow myself any reason to stay in crisis, learn the lessons well and ensure I never repeat them.

    Like

  27. Hi Tim,
    Long time listener, first time poster… just wanted to thank you. I’ve listened to many of your podcasts, and so many of them are directly helpful, but this one landed at the perfect time to help me, and it really did. So, thank you from all the people out there you might not hear from, but who are certainly affected in a positive way from your work.

    Like