The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

Ever hear that the best way to get through a tough time is just to keep going? Just barrel through and not look back? Or the more enlightened version: that the only way out is through?

That’s well-intentioned advice, but it doesn’t always help when the experience is uncomfortable, pulling you in different directions and feels painfully slow. When you’re in the thick of a crappy situation you want out NOW and the last thing you want to do is sit in that discomfort.

What you need, what you desperately want, is a way to see things differently so that problems seem to disappear, almost magically. 

Enter Stoicism. It’s the ancient Greek philosophy of learning how to endure pain and adversity with perseverance and resilience. Simply put, it’s a framework for dealing with the stresses of daily life. Some of the most successful people in history from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Steve Jobs have applied these timeless philosophical principles to overcome difficult or seemingly impossible situations.

Ryan suggests that when you’re resisting something - a big commitment, a shift in your routine, putting yourself out there for a new job or a return to school, a difficult conversation - perhaps the best way to learn from the obstacle is to work with it. To reframe what you see as an obstacle as an opportunity - maybe even an advantage.

"There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means."

This book is a bit of a love letter to Stoicism in that it’s heavily inspired by it. If you’re willing to embrace the ideas and practices, which at first may seem awkward or even overly simplistic, you’ll actively learn how to focus on what you can control and let go of everything else.

He suggests that by avoiding a problem or trying to get it “just right” out of the gate, you might be making that obstacle WAY bigger than it actually is. He explains how it’s possible that your obstacle actually becomes the guiding way forward. It all comes down to perspective. 

In the book, Ryan offers 10 Big Ideas to help you reframe your circumstances and reset your brain. Here we’ll look at just 3: 

  1. Recognize Your Power - So many of us forget that we have choices and power in our life. It’s only when we’re up against a wall that we’re forced to face the reality that only we can change our life by controlling our attitudes, beliefs and choices. This also involves taking full responsibility for our life and what happens, which many of us don’t want to do. But that’s another blog:)
  2. Mental Flip - There’s always another way to think about something. Most of us tend to be limited in our everyday thinking. It’s time to practice some mental gymnastics so that we can regularly flip what we automatically think of as one thing (bad) into something else (good). This will take time and effort, so be patient with yourself. 
  3. Failure Is A Feature - In other words, it’s NOT everything. It’s merely one part of a whole. Have you heard the saying, “Failure is feedback”? Well, that’s what we have to keep in mind when we’re labelling our experiences. Every great invention or innovation throughout history had multiple “failures” before it struck gold and got to the place where we now know it e.g., the lightbulb, iPhone, or a car. Failure is a catalyst to rethink your way out of a problem. So get into a groove where you constantly iterate, redesign and improve your output.


I found that the lessons and examples in this book have given me the encouragement to just start working on my ideas. I have committed to finding the courage to try new things in front of the very people I want to reach (you!). Finally, I am able to relax in this process knowing that I have the freedom to fail, to change up my approach and to try again (thank you!).

In the coming week, join me by doing your own exercise. Choose a quiet hour, select your favourite pen and turn to a fresh page in your notebook. Ready? Get started by listing every obstacle in your life with a free form journal approach. Have a list for your personal life and a separate list for your professional life. Now don’t be intimidated by the size of these lists - we all have a few obstacles, yes? 

Next, choose the very smallest obstacle. Something that you’ve really stalled on but absolutely needs resolution. Maybe it's a phone call. Or an errand. Commit to getting started on this task by outlining ALL the baby steps you can think of - in order - so that you can address this obstacle head-on.

Now start at baby step number one for this obstacle and get moving. Keep going by knocking just one step off this list for the same obstacle each day. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to tackling the next obstacle on your list!

Oh, and one more thing: What do Arnold Schwarzenegger &  LL Cool J have in common? They both love this book. I think you will too!


P.S. Interested in learning how to do simple movement screens for clients of all ages? Want to find out more about how these screens can reveal objective markers for progress? Curious about how to build simple exercise programs from each of these screens that can restore proper movement patterns quickly and easily?

It’s READY! Join our completely ‘on demand’ course Functional Testing for the Upper & Lower Body. Work through the content at your own pace online and join us for biweekly ‘Movement Labs’ via Zoom beginning on June 1, 2021. You’ll be able to watch a wide range of assessments in real-time and try them along with us together with your partner of choice. Check out all the course details, read what others have said about our course and sign up for the course today!

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