I shake my head and smile every time Ryan Holiday sends me an advance copy of his latest book. Even though his skill as a writer makes me feel weighed, measured, and found wanting, I immediately put down whatever I was reading and dive right in.
To Ryan, stillness isn't inactivity; stillness is the ability to be steady while everything spins around you. To act with purpose when others simply react. To listen to everything, but only hear what needs to be heard. To slow down when others speed up.
Why? Stepping back, staying calm, and finding stillness is when inspiration strikes. When thoughts crystallize. When purpose and meaning step to the front.
All of which is why stillness is what people chasing big dreams, big goals, and big plans sometimes need the most.
So how can you draw on the power of stillness to stay steady, disciplined, and focused, to access your full capabilities at any time, in any place... and despite every distraction and difficulty?
That's a question Stillness answers in full, but here are a few strategies to get you started:
Manage Your Inputs
Napoleon told his secretary to wait three weeks before opening any mail or correspondence; he wanted to see what problems would handle themselves. (Give your employees the opportunity and they will take care of most problems without you.)
I rarely open pitches from PR reps I don't know; build a relationship first, and then you can pitch me. I rarely give out my phone number; email lets me respond in my own time (and with a lot more thought.) I also rarely text; texting while working means I'm unable to focus well on either.
Figure out how you work best and then "train" people to let you work that way. Let employees interrupt your meetings or phone calls whenever they like... and they will so. Drop what you're doing every time someone calls... and people will naturally expect immediate attention. Return emails immediately... and people will naturally expect you to respond within minutes.
The goal is to create stillness that allows you to give your full attention to what really matters -- and then give your full attention to whatever matters next.
Spend Time Alone
"If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the Information Age," four-star Marine Corps general and former secretary of defense James Mattis has said, "it's lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting."
That's why people like Bill Gates schedule "think weeks" where they go off by themselves and read, think, journal, etc.
But spending time alone doesn't mean finding a cabin in the woods. Ryan likes to swim and run. I like to cycle; something about the suffering strips away all the clutter and noise. Randall Stutman surveyed several hundred senior executives of major corporations and found a variety of activities used to recharge: swimming, sailing, long-distance cycling, listening quietly to classical music, scuba diving, riding motorcycles, fly fishing....
One thing those activities did have in common was an absence of voices -- because when you're constantly surrounded by other people, you never have time to truly think for yourself.
Which is exactly what you need, especially if you hope to be different from everyone else.
It's easy to assume many most successful people are prisoners to the regimentation of their routines. Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his morning routine -- not just his morning, his morning routine -- at 3:45. General Motors CEO Mary Barra gets to the office by 6 a.m. Best-selling author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code, etc.) gets up at 4 a.m., has a smoothie and a cup of bulletproof coffee, and then grinds away.
You would think that success would create freedom from routines, from schedules, from the grind... but in fact the opposite is true: Routines build success.
Following a daily routine can help you establish priorities, limit procrastination, keep track of goals, and even make you healthier. It lowers your reliance on willpower and motivation because, as Tynan, the author of Superhuman by Habit, says, habits are "action[s] that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought."
Routines also reduce the number of choices you need to make, which reduces the need for motivation or willpower.
And leaves you a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
Do Something Kind, Simply Because You Can
Most people lend a hand when someone asks. Very few people offer help before they are asked, even though most of the time that's when a little help can make the biggest difference.
When you see someone struggling, offer to help. But not in that vague, "Is there something I can do to help you out?" way.
Offer specific ways you can help so you you can push past the reflexive "No, I'm okay," response and make a real difference in another person's life.
Which will make a real difference in your life.
After all, the best way to feel good is to do good -- and when you feel good about yourself, stillness naturally follows.