Ryan Holiday — How to Use Stoicism to Choose Alive Time Over Dead Time (#419)

Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday

“Anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”

Krista Tippett

Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) is one of the world’s foremost thinkers and writers on ancient philosophy and its place in modern life. He is a sought-after speaker and strategist and the author of many bestselling books, including The Obstacle Is the WayEgo Is the Enemy, and The Daily Stoic. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold more than two million copies worldwide. He lives with his family outside of Austin, Texas. You can subscribe to receive his writing at RyanHoliday.net and DailyStoic.com. Ryan was also the fourth-ever guest on the podcast in the very beginning, and he has written multiple popular guest posts for my blog, which you can find at tim.blog.

His latest book is Stillness Is the Key, which was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller and Wall Street Journal bestseller.

This episode focuses on Stoic philosophy and how to apply it in our current uncertain times.

Please enjoy!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch the interview on YouTube.

This podcast is brought to you by LegalZoom and Trello. More on both below. 

#419: Ryan Holiday — How to Use Stoicism to Choose Alive Time Over Dead Time

This episode is brought to you by LegalZoom. I’ve used this service for many of my businesses, as have quite a few of the icons on this podcast, including Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with Ryan Holiday? In this conversation, we discuss empathy cultivation, why competition is for losers, lifestyle design, reading-list methodology, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#410: Ryan Holiday — Turning the Tables


  • Connect with Ryan Holiday:

RyanHoliday.net | Daily Stoic | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • How do the ideas of the ancient Stoics help me face the trials and tribulations tracked in by our apparent apocalyptic horseman du jour during the age of COVID-19 — for example, the roller coaster ride that my stock portfolio’s value has become? [05:12]
  • Contemplating the amount of war, pestilence, and famine the world’s gone through since the Marcus Aurelius statue that sits on Ryan’s desk was carved in 1840 — and reminding ourselves that as bad as things get, history marches on (with or without us). [11:27]
  • How Ryan prepared in anticipation of the pandemic, what he’s been struggling with most since then, and what I’ve been doing to cope with the same struggle. [12:48]
  • It doesn’t matter how many opportunities you miss; it matters how many opportunities you take advantage of. [16:06]
  • There are times when I may make very fast good decisions, but I almost never make good rushed decisions. [21:08]
  • How would the Stoics suggest processing the anger we might be feeling over our government’s delayed response toward the pandemic — especially if we were already advocating precaution in the weeks before and being denounced as Chicken Littles for our trouble? [00:00]
  • How am I thinking about fear, and what would I say to someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by fear right now — for themselves and loved ones — under circumstances that are “unfair” and beyond anyone’s control? [31:48]
  • How can you make the next three to six months something you look back upon as a sacred time that you really treasure, not just survive? Is it going to be “alive time or dead time,” as Robert Greene would say? [40:17]
  • A few more thoughts on fear. [45:05]
  • Why I’m confident (and optimistic) that crisis will overcome incompetence in how the United States comes out of this ordeal. [48:08]
  • When stuff breaks down, real leaders stand up — like Emperor Marcus Aurelius working to keep Rome’s economy going during 15 years of a pandemic instead of fleeing to the countryside for safety. With different levels of skills and resources, how might we each channel our inner Stoic to be of service to the world during this crisis — and see it as an opportunity rather than something to simply be survived? And can you simultaneously be a pleasure-loving Epicurean and duty-bound Stoic? [51:08]
  • Since anger and complaining accomplish about the same amount of nothing, quarantine might be an excellent time to revisit Will Bowen’s 21-day no-complaint experiment. [1:02:20]
  • And if you want to further your contribution to ensuring the world doesn’t grind to a total standstill, maybe try the Daily Stoic’s Alive Time, Dead Time Challenge! [1:04:18]
  • Using this rare window of time to foster a sense of community where it has largely broken down. [1:05:15]
  • The origin story of the expression “alive time or dead time,” how some of the most brilliant minds have expressed their greatest work during times of quarantine, and parting thoughts. [1:06:16]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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20 Replies to “Ryan Holiday — How to Use Stoicism to Choose Alive Time Over Dead Time (#419)”

  1. Nice. Sounds like stocks aren’t for you? 🙂
    Sounds like you’ve put yourself into some political situation(s) that you aren’t happy with?
    Lots of good stuff in here too.
    Maybe a mushroom trip can bring insight?
    You’re a genius either way.

  2. Hello Tim,

    Great podcast! I wanted to ask you a couple questions/give my perspective on some of the things you two discussed.

    1. Uber Stock- What are your thoughts on Uber’s balance sheet and income statements?

    The Uber CEO mentioned they have enough cash on hand to handle this issue and based on my analysis I have to agree. Although we will see a dip across the board for most companies- it is looking more and more likely the route the U.S will take is individualizing will be contact tracing/social distancing once a downward trend in cases is shown. I will not be investing in Uber for various other reasons, but I was curious the depth at which you researched the company.

    2. Anger seemed to be a large portion of the podcast. Were you making the point that you must raise awareness to what angers as a first step to controlling anger?

    I’m curious on this because I have been interested in taming anxiety and fear. Like you I am worried about my parents and have taken precautions to make sure they’re safe. The way that I looked at anxiety is that it can be a wild hors, or a tamed horse. Slowly but surely, I am realizing taming the horse consists of first becoming aware of emotions (anger, sadness). I feel that it’s 50% of the battle. Once gaining awareness it has less control over you.

    These were just a couple thoughts I had and was wondering if you think I am headed in the right direction with my thoughts. I’m a recent graduate and have been feeling stuck and your advice is always appreciated!


  3. Re: the last point about staying productive: I totally agree, but this leads to the question “in which areas should we focus our productivity? This question has caused me inner conflict during this unique time. For example, I am fortunate to be in a research profession for which my work can be done from home. Should I focus on making this period of self isolation more productive for my focal research, or should I take the opportunity to be productive in other areas (new research topics, non-technical writing, relationships, etc.) that more ‘normal’ conditions may not afford? It would be helpful to hear some discourse on this topic in your podcast.

    Podcast highlight: The question (paraphrased) “How can we make this time one that will look back on as being sacred”, following by the Mandela prison quote about ‘preparing’. You turned a home run into a grand slam.

    Parting comment: Thank you for reminding people to take fairness out of the equation. Parasitism is, by definition, unfair. Parasites extract take resources from us (the host) without giving back. The pandemic therefore can provide a useful lesson on unfairness in ecosystems.

  4. This is in Reply to todays Five Bullet Friday. Thanks for having your hand out for donations Tim. I’m opting out of donating to an organization. I’m currently paying my housekeepers – who I do not want in my house until this is over. Would you remind your readers to see if they have people who regularly work for them who may not get unemployment or any other help? Keep paying your gardener, housekeeper, dog -walker etc. Even if it’s just a little bit. Charity begins at home

  5. You forgot to wish everyone a Happy Easter. It is Good Friday and we are in the middle of the Christian Holy Week. I give you the sign and counter sign “Jesus has risen”. “Jesus has risen indeed!”

  6. Hello Tim,

    a bit of critical feedback: this episode seems to me below your usual quality. For example, I’m a little confused as it appears to me that you and Ryan did not expect a strong downturn in stock prices. From your previous podcasts that covered markets and investing I felt to a certain extent mentally prepared for such a scenario and I’m surprised that you didn’t seem prepared.
    You sound to me like you are under the weather. How are you holding up under this crisis?

    Given the current events I wish you could interview Nicholas Nassim Taleb some time. His work is the other part that prepared my crisis thinking and build up precautionary measure for my family (I’m have no money in stocks or similar).

    Hopefully you keep the episodes coming as they are very informative and inspiring to me.

    I wish you all the best,

  7. This was a great discussion.

    My favorite part of this was Ryan mentioning the story of how Marcus Aurelius stayed in Rome while the city was dying of a plague. He chose legacy over currency.

    Also, Tim’s reminder to not beat yourself up about missing opportunities is important as well. Focus on your core competency and figure out how you can not just survive, but thrive in this situation.

    Health and safety to all.

  8. Listening to this after the Hackernoon podcast interview with the “post blockchain” Holochain founders where 34m in Arthur Brock discusses how a project enables the creation of currencies from value. It would be fabulous to listen to a discussion between Tim and Art! The Platform Design Toolkit also has a new podcast with Art that provides a higher level discussion on unenclosable carriers that holochain enables.

    I’m also a big fan of Pierre Levy’s IEML – Information Economy Meta Language project which provides a layer for collective intelligence. That combined with holochain will enables us to scale collaboration across the globe and across different languages.

    Truly exciting times as we rapidly migrate from Industrial Age to Information Age and thanks Tim for helping me understand a wide range of views… and for liking my tweet of his Godard quote the other week, reminded me we are all in the void and this is all but a dream 😉

  9. Tim please talk about or research about vaccines, about the nature of virus. the link between 5g and viruses. you the only one i trust we really need you to dig deep as you always do

  10. Thank you for inviting Ryan. On a few occasions during this podcast when Ryan was given an opportunity speak, his thoughts and comments sounded very insightful. Can you please invite Ryan again and let him speak? Particularity, about Stoics and stoicism, and generally, about everything else. This episode went sideways right from the beginning while Ryan had to remain silent most of the time. Nevertheless, many thanks for this episode; it was a good learning experience, in some ways, regardless…

  11. Thank you for sharing – no doubt this will be helpful in dealing with the uncertainty of this crisis. The ability to be able to control our own thoughts and emotions is very beneficial.

    I found this conversation interesting and although I’m not an expert in Stoicism like Ryan and Tim, what struck me the most about Stoic philosophers is that they seemed to share a love for the world and humanity, not just for their own country. Marcus Aurelius had a love for Rome while also seeing the world as ‘one nature, one soul.’ He used a technique called ‘a view from above’ to help put things into perspective and to observe things rather than get caught up in them. A quote from Seneca, “I am not born for one corner, the whole world is my native land.” They seemed to share the idea that we are citizens of the world.

    Tim made a good point about helping people around you locally during this difficult time. To add to that, yes act locally and help people in your own country, but try to reach out globally too if you can. It can be something very simple – signing a petition for a friend living overseas, buying something that will be donated to a person in another country etc. Every small thing counts.

    Helping to create something new during this time is something that Ryan touched on ‘this is where entrepreneurship comes in.’ It reminds me that out of this mess, we have the opportunity to create and rebuild.

  12. Hey there, just a proposal. Since you show interest in health, nutrition and fitness. Have you ever considered interviewing Jeff Cavaliere for the podcast? I am huge fan of both of you and very grateful for all the content you create.

    Thank you form Spain!

  13. TIm, I am felling very gratefull with this episode, I am learning English, so I cant understand all that you are talking, but what I could understant made me feell thinking so much about. I live in Brazil, on quarentine very alone on my apartmente, but you are always with me and you are my inspiration, everyday I listen you podecast and watch you videos on YouTube. Im reading abou stoicism too. Home to meet you some day. Thank you to be you. Love you. Best wishes from Brazil.

  14. I’d like to see more discussion about the ethics of investing. One of the investments mentioned is part of the gig economy where employees are more contract worker than traditional employee. These employees, along with so many service-sector employees, are in a terrible economic position during the lockdown due to loss of work. Worse still if they or anyone in their family falls ill.

    Should that factor into how one invests? Or does one ignore it? Is it virtuous to invest in such companies?

  15. Apologies if I didn’t hear correctly, but approving the shorting of stocks under current conditions strikes me as morally questionable as making money by trampling on so many of the social good issues you promote. Bottom line, shorting stocks is helping to destroy the livelihoods and retirement accounts of so many who have been victimized by the epidemic on many levels.

  16. I made my Master in Philosophy in Foucault and his re-discovery of stoicism. I am giving a short lecture next June and I will mention your interest in stoicism as a modern take on the ancient school. I really would like to ask you a couple of questions about this. Have you read Paul Veyne´s book on Seneca? Have you read Foucault´s Hermeneutics of the Subject and his take on Stoicism.
    In that case I would like to know your opinions and thoughts. My (elder) philosophy teachers deem stoicism dead and sterile. And I am totally against this opinion. And I really like that you have taken the time of publishing Seneca and all you do. So. This is my pitch. My name is Florencia, I live in Argentina and as bribe I can offer good malbec and yoga classes.

    All the best

  17. I love Ryan Holiday’s books. Because of what happened at the Oscars (03/27/2022), and without sounding trite about it, I sincerely think that we saw in Will Smith a perfect example of what Ryan Holiday’s book, “Ego Is The Enemy” outlines. Most people have gotten a little too big for their britches at some point or other, and when I saw that violence from Will Smith on television and on the internet, I thought immediately of Mr. Holiday’s book.