Ryan Holiday on Stillness Is the Key
Oct 7 2019

Stillness-Key-212x300.jpg Ryan Holiday talks about his latest book, Stillness Is the Key, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Holiday explores how stillness--the cultivation of serenity and focus--can affect how we live and how we perceive life. Topics discussed include the performance artist Marina Abramovic, Winnie the Pooh, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech. Holiday also explains how he keeps track of information and how his system makes it easier for him to write his books.

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Explore audio highlights, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Joseph Crivelli
Oct 7 2019 at 1:05pm

Really nice podcast and I did take a pause as I was riding along a riverside to watch a crane watching the river too. And I took a picture!


Thanks, Russ!

And there area obvious connections to investing.

Russ Roberts
Oct 7 2019 at 2:21pm

Watching a crane is an investment, too…

Earl Rodd
Oct 7 2019 at 7:51pm

There was a discussion about President Kennedy using the Rose Garden to slow down and gain perspective on the monumental decisions he faced. I wanted to add a perspective to this that is little known. While not certain. those close to then CIA head of the Psychological Division, John Gittinger, believe that Gittinger personally advised the president that if he blockaded Cuba (*), Khrushchev would back down and not start a war. One of Gittinger’s closest associats, Dr. Marshall Heyman, discussed this in a 2014 interview (I know/knew both of them) where he said that while he believed Gittinger advised the president, he did not know for sure. However, he did know that when Khrushchev was in the US on a “goodwill” tour, Gittinger had one of his psychologists in the “security detail” of Khrushchev watching every interaction and behavior and reported such to Gittinger every morning. Gittinger developed the powerful, but little known, personality assessment system – a model used to describe personality and predict behavior. Only those who ever saw Gittinger in action could really appreciate how good he was at this. Sadly, Gittinger is mostly known for his peripheral involvement in the drug experiments in MK-ULTRA. Gittinger retired early from the CIA partly because of how he was (mis) treated by the Senate committee which was very interested in drug parties gone astray but not in the breakthrough function available by learning the Personality Assessment System.

(*) This is not a criticism of Ryan Holiday – he knows the Cuban crisis only from history books – probably ones written by people who like casting the US military in a bad light. But I was in high school at the time. We all thought it was our last night on earth. But the ONLY issue was the Russian response to the blockade – nothing about generals wanting to attack Cuba. I don’t doubt that such was talked about, but the only thing anyone cared about was the stark reality of what the Russians would do when their ships encountered the blockade Kennedy had announced.

Luke J
Oct 8 2019 at 3:00pm

Guilty as charged.  I listen to Econtalk at 1.5x speed. Mike Munger is culpable having planted the idea in my head.

Counter-point: It is less costly to listen to episodes more than once.  Perhaps it was unlikely I’d re-listen to 2006 episodes and miss discovering “The Secret History of the Dismal Science” articles, recommended several times (and rightly so).

I’m curious what other listeners prefer: listening-to/reading something twice vs. once slowly; deliberately.

Ryan Holiday is such an interesting guest. Thanks for having him on again.

Oct 8 2019 at 8:46pm

David Robinson’s Hall of Fame speech (given the same night) was the complete opposite of Jordan’s: humble, grateful, honoring all the others who had made his success possible, and focused on how much he loved his family.

Peter B
Oct 9 2019 at 8:12am

I agree on the frustration with reading books and not being able to remember the finer concepts and points.  I read most of non-fiction on Kindle and use the highlight feature extensively…although never go back and read them.  Similar to the notecards Ryan talks about I use ReadWise app that sends me an email at a set intervals (weekly, etc.) from the highlights.  When I receive the email I set aside time to read through each carefully and sometimes go back to that part of the book.  I find it extremely beneficial in reinforcing the value in reading non-fiction.  Now if only I could highlight parts of EconTalks and have those worked in!   The broader challenge is that we do so much more listening (podcasts) and watching (video) over reading, especially as I watch my children learn, that capturing these nuggets is difficult.

Ben Riechers
Oct 9 2019 at 7:15pm

I enjoyed this more than I anticipated.  Really insightful close where Ryan said that he was writing to himself as much as to anyone else, and suggesting that he was passing along the wisdom of the ages more like a conduit or perhaps a synthesizer as opposed to advice he thought up on his own.  Good stuff.

Eric Hammer
Oct 11 2019 at 12:42pm

Quite interesting. I intend to attempt, and probably fail at, Ryan’s note taking system. I used Evernote, but it does seem largely useless because I have to remember the note to find it, as opposed to seeing it lying around to jog my memory.

I also listen at 1.5 speed, but that’s mostly because everyone talks too slowly. Bryan Caplan and I speak at roughly the same speed, to give you an idea 🙂

Oct 11 2019 at 11:22pm

I didn’t get the comments about Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech. I just re-watched it, and came away with a completely different impression. I felt like he paid a lot of deference to teammates, coaches and family. And while he engaged in some ball busting, as is the norm in sports, it was good-natured and seemed to be taken well by those in attendance.

He was an all-time competitor. But while being an athletic competitor does, on the surface, resemble anger it is a completely different animal. This is especially true if, like Jordan, one’s drive is focused mainly on training and games. Off the court, he socialized with his rivals. Clearly he understood that the intense emotions that fueled his playing career but did not need to consume his life.

And the interpretation that Ryan gave to Jordan’s invitation to his high school teammate could not have been more one-sided. It was the type of biased story telling that generally Russ pushes back at, and I’m surprised he didn’t in this case. Did Jordan really send out that invitation to make himself look good, and did it blow up all over him? I just don’t see that. He was, by reports, friends with Leroy Smith in high school and I would guess that Mr. Smith was thrilled to be invited and enjoyed the event.

Maybe the lessons of life are not perfectly suited to sports. Sure, no philosophical school argues that anger is a great tool. But no philosopher ever won 6 NBA championships.

Steve Wood
Oct 12 2019 at 12:53pm

I recommend that listeners do invest 25 minutes in watching the Michael Jordan Hall of Fame speech. I am not convinced that “anger” is the appropriate trait to describe his perspective. It comes off as a genuine expression of his competitive drive and spirit. The smiles elicited among the crowd were knowing smiles. I don’t see him calling out players and coaches as affronts. Rather they were partnerships, complicit in a challenge, motivating and competing.

Jim J
Oct 12 2019 at 6:53pm

I agree.  Listened to the speech, and I did not see the anger attributed to it in the interview.

Mark Raymond
Oct 14 2019 at 6:00am

i feel like a loser because I listened at 1.0 x speed two times as I enjoyed it that much. What a humble, wise and joyful guy.

inspiring listening to Ryan’s dedication to his craft of reading and writing. Has caused me to rethink my note taking practices.

i didn’t get a sense about whether there are any new ideas in the book. Mindfulness and presence have already been written on extensively

There is a more effective and energising alternative to anger. The mood of righteousness indignation, which harnesses a more useful energy to prove someone wrong, not to get back at them.

love the pod Rus, thank you

All the best from Melbourne Australia. Please get in touch if you’re from this part of the world!

Noémi Földesi
Oct 15 2019 at 7:56am

I really love the podcast, so thank you!


I was wondering today how realistic are for many people the practices Ryan suggests. I am 28 and working a soul-crushing job (sometimes up to 15 hours a day) and studying at the same time as trying to fit yoga, running, meditation and journaling in my day. I will graduate soon though, so that is great but I do not expect to have a job by age 32 where I have an assistant or a choice in how many appointments I have in a day.


Don‘t we all sort of already know what we would need to live happier if only we could afford it?

Gabriel Martinez
Oct 16 2019 at 8:50pm

What a great episode!

One thing that always strikes me, particularly how seldom it is a part of the conversation, is a fact connecting all those historical figures admired for their “stillness”: Jesus, Ghandi, Socrates, Confucius, Siddhartha/Buddha, the Dalai Lama. I am not sure about Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, but I will throw in Mother Teresa.

That is that none of them were parents (“are” in the case of HH).

It doesn’t invalidate any of the points, of course. Just a curiosity.

Aaron Y
Oct 20 2019 at 1:06am

I do listen to EconTalk at 1.5x, and I’d argue that this is closer to my natural speed of thought, which speed-reading advocates say is important for retention. I use 2x for some other podcasts, and 1x for most fiction, since I want to savor the author’s prose.

All that said, I really did pause the podcast for a 60-second break when Russ suggested it, and before he said “not only are you not going to do that, listener; you’ve got us at 1.5”.

My point? Craving information density in our listening material and taking time to enjoy stillness aren’t necessarily inversely correlated. In fact, one could argue that they’re positively correlated, as I could have used the 28 minutes I “saved” to meditate or otherwise enjoy stillness… I didn’t, but I could have 🙂

Regina Levy
Nov 8 2019 at 8:30pm

I truly enjoyed all of Russ’s contributions to this conversation.  As for the guest, he came off as a very nice man but not yet a mature thinker. There was a good deal of looseness to his ideas and several of his responses to questions were too “quick and easy.” Here is an example of the former: Holiday ran together the ideas of stillness and of being present. These two may come together sometimes — as they do in Marina Abramovic’s show — but they are not the same thing. A person completely focused on a competitive chess game may be fully present without “stillness” (in fact, she may feel hyperactive rather than still). One would think that a person who has written a whole book on stillness would have thought this through.

Here is an example of a quick and easy answer: Holiday suggested that the reason we don’t remember the books we read is that most books are not very well written or not worth remembering. There may well be many such books, but (a) people do not generally read books that they consider badly written or not worth reading; (b) I can easily list books that I enjoyed reading and that I thought well-written but that I do not remember well.

The question of what good books are given that we don’t remember them well (unless, perhaps, we re-read them several times or review them for a journal) is a very good and important one. Interestingly, it may be a question that requires one to take a moment and think before answering, a moment of stillness, if one wishes. I understand that it’s not the norm in podcasts for guests to be silent for any length of time after having been asked a question, but actually, I think we should probably change that norm. It is fine for a guest to be quiet for a moment. The answer will be better and listeners can, to use a verb Russ used in the podcast, savor the silence.

Comments are closed.


This week's guest:

This week's focus:

Additional ideas and people mentioned in this podcast episode:

A few more readings and background resources:

A few more EconTalk podcast episodes:

Time Podcast Episode Highlights

Intro. [Recording date: July 23, 2019.]

Russ Roberts: My guest is author Ryan Holiday. This is Ryan's third appearance on EconTalk. He was last here in April of 2018 talking about his book, Conspiracy. His latest book, Stillness Is the Key, is the subject of today's conversation.... Let's start with what you mean by stillness and why it's important that we cultivate it.

Ryan Holiday: Well, I think one of the tricky things in my book--sort of before this my book was about ego, and then this one is about stillness. There is a kind of 'you know it when you see it' element and ineffableness to stillness. So, I don't know if I have this, you know, one-sentence definition. But, I think, when I say the word, people can think to moments in their life when things were slowed down. Maybe it was a moment of sort of creative insight, or a flow[?] state, or they were staring out at something beautiful--they were in the mountains or on the beach. Or, they can remember a quiet evening at home with their children, or a book, or a spouse. It's this idea of when the world has slow down to the degree that we can see it for everything that it is; we have this sort of inner peace; we have this clarity about what's important to us, about what matters. And, what I think is so interesting about this idea of stillness and what attracted me to writing a book about it is that you see these slightly different, but at the core very similar definitions and usage of the word in essentially all the ancient traditions, from Buddhism to Stoicism to Christianity to Confucianism. They are all speaking of this idea of stillness. And, I think, when you really zoom out and you think about the sort of almost the stereotypical image of a wise man, whether it's Socrates, or Buddha, or Jesus, or the Dalai Lama, the characteristic that's sort of most defines them, that they share at the core of their being, is that stillness--a mastery of themselves, of the world they live in; of the passions and forces that swirl around inside all of us and, for the most part, I think are responsible for our unhappiness. And so, to me, this idea of stillness, then, is this key of it unlocks all these really important things that we both want to do in life and that we want out of life.

Russ Roberts: Yeah; I like your point that you know it when you feel it. It's, for me, a combination of serenity and clarity. I think there's a common Buddhist image of muddy water becoming clear as the sediment sinks to the bottom. I think Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about--I think it's his [?]--there's a little girl who watches the coffee becomes clear who watches the coffee become clear as the sediment falls to the bottom, or the tea--must be tea. And she says, 'Look. The tea is meditating.' And I think the idea of getting the dirt and this sediment to go to the bottom is a powerful metaphor as something to strive for. It's not easy; and it's not obviously clear as to what that clarity is about. But I think that somehow gets at it.

Ryan Holiday: No, I would say that it's not only not easy: it may be, like, the hardest thing that there is to do. And that may be why you see it appear--that muddy water analogy or metaphor, it's one of the few universal metaphors that we have. We see it in all the philosophies--the ones that, as far as we know, never connected. And so, independently that these wise people that, 'Oh, if you let the water sit, you get clarity,' to me, is--the essence of what I was trying to say in the book is all of these different schools cannot be wrong. And only a fool would sort of decline to listen to the wisest people who ever lived. And if these things were important in their time, when they didn't have social media, when they didn't have 24-hour news, when they didn't have smart phones, and it took 15 days to get news of something delivered from a neighboring city, how much more desperately do we need that stillness and clarity and patience today.


Russ Roberts: I want to ask you a question. You sort of deal with it in passing, but you don't really focus on it. I'll give you an example from this past week. I was fortunate enough to be walking on Saturday morning and I saw an iris, which is a flower. And, I was able to stop and look at that iris for about, probably a minute. Maybe a little more; not a lot more. And I was just struck by how exquisitely beautiful it was; and I noticed how the yellow looked like it had been painted on just for decoration. I saw some little fibers that were in the wind; and just the delicacy of different parts of it, different colors. And the word I would use to describe that experience is, it was delicious. It was just, just lovely. And then it passed, and I kept walking. And I remember appreciating, that I was able to appreciate the flower. But, what's the use of stillness? I would make a distinction--you allude to this--it's a life hack, not a productivity hack. Now, it does have a productive aspect to it. But, I think if we pursue stillness, or serenity, or clarity as a goal in and of itself--excuse me, not as a goal in and of itself, but as a tool toward being more productive, I think that kind of destroys it. And, if that's true--first, I want your thoughts on that; and then I want you to answer the question: so, what's the point? I mean, it's lovely. It's an interesting human experience, to be still in a chaotic, busy world. But, why should I care?

Ryan Holiday: No, I look at a very similar moment for myself this morning, I take my son for a long walk each morning. He's still in a stroller. And we were walking on the dirt road by our house, and I caught--and as we were going down this hill, I caught the sun coming up over our back pasture near our farm. And, I was struck at sort of how yellow and orange it was, how bright. It occurred to me that as long as I've lived in this place, I'd never actually seen it from this angle. And I felt wonderful. I felt serene. I felt calm. Now, why was this possible? It was, one, because I took myself outside. I left my smart phone inside. I was with my son. My eyes were open. I was not doing anything else. I was fully present. And so I had this moment; and like you, you just sort of appreciate the deliciousness. And then you go on. But, I think--a couple of things. So, I think, one, we know these moments are really special, and they are deeply meaningful to us. And then, it's striking to me how rare they are. The fact that you could point out this one from a few days ago--it's standing out precisely because of how rare it is. But, it seems interesting to me that, as meaningful as those moments are, basically our entire life is built around making them not possible. So, I'm not necessarily saying that we should be going out and actively searching it. I think these moments ensue more than that they can be pursued. But, we can take positive steps to encourage them, to make them more likely. And I would argue that when, an hour or so after this moment, I sat down and did my writing for the morning, that I was in a better place for having had that experience; and that had I instead been not paying attention on the walk, sending an email or playing with an app on my phone or, you know, stewing over some, you know, grudge that I was holding onto, I don't think I would have been in as good of a place. So, I don't--you know, Joseph Pieper--I'm terrible with names, but the German philosopher, he had this idea that leisure is an incredibly important part of life. And he was saying that leisure can make us better at work, in the same way that praying can make you sleep better at night. But, if you are praying to improve your sleep, you are missing the point. So, I don't think we should be seeking out these moments of stillness to get an edge over other people. But, we can know that as intrinsically valuable as they are, they do make us better at what we do. And, one of the most interesting things I found when I was researching the book was this note that Kennedy had written to the White House gardener for her important contributions to the safety of the world, because he'd spent so much time walking in the White House rose garden during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, you know, I don't think--that's not why the White House rose garden is there. But, it is an important benefit of it. And, to not avail yourself of it is a mistake, I would think.


Russ Roberts: So, I agree that those moments are rare. But I do think they can be cultivated. Cultivated is not the right word. I think you can prepare yourself, or you can act in ways that make them more likely. I guess my defense--I haven't thought about it much, but my first thought is that there's a vividness to life when you experience those moments that makes you wonder what you were doing the rest of the time.

Ryan Holiday: Yes. Exactly.

Russ Roberts: Like, I'm not really alive, and I'm just drifting along, flicking my screen and Twitter, whatever it is. Not that Twitter doesn't have some intellectual rewards; I think it does, and other types of rewards. I've seen many videos on there that brought me to tears or that moved me. I don't want to overstate the un-life, the lifelessness of Twitter, but it doesn't compare to admiring that iris for me, most of the time. And I do think we can cultivate it and certainly, as you say, prepare for those moments to ensue more often. The think that I struggle with, and I'd be curious on your thoughts, is: Given how delicious those moments are, why is distraction and busy-ness so seductive? Why is it that I rebel against slowing down so often?

Ryan Holiday: I don't know. I mean, I would imagine that this same openness and vulnerability and presence that it takes to be moved to tears by a flower or to experience the deliciousness of a sunrise or the sort of natural sounds of a stream running over rocks, that's a vulnerable place to live. Or to be, even for a few fleeting seconds. And so, maybe it's that, as much as we like those moments, we are intimidated by or scared by the potential weakness or vulnerability that we are putting ourselves in. So, I think that's part of it. I would say the other thing is that, as wonderful as these sort of--I call them moments when you are bathing in the beauty of the world, as wonderful as they are, they do require work. Right? It almost requires work to not be working, to then have that moment. And so, the other things are easier, right? Your phone--if what we are really afraid of is being bored, of opening ourselves up to what's around us to really see it, that's harder to do than just picking up your phone and having instant validation, or even instant aggravation. So, we're addicted to--I don't want to say it's a quick fix, but even an addict would tell you, like, there are these moments they have experienced in sobriety that are far better than any of the highs they ever had while they were, you know, chasing drugs or alcohol. But, even if, you know, getting high on heroin is a 7 and having the beautiful moment with your child is a 10, the truth is you can shoot up heroin any time you want. Right? And so, it's a shortcut, maybe; and that's why the distraction or these less-meaningful but much more harmful moments are the ones we choose over the other ones.


Russ Roberts: I really like your point about vulnerability. I think about how hard it is, at times, to be in the presence of emotion on the part of another person. It took me a long, long time as an adult to be open to that, from, say, an acquaintance, or a stranger, even a friend--that, when a raw emotion is on display, say, grief, or even joy, there's a natural impulse, I think, to look away. Because it's too intense. It's too human. It's too much. And, I think part of our impulse to check our phones and stay busy--and in the old days it was to flick through the channels on the television--I think the natural impulse to do that is to, is because there is a scariness and a vulnerability to intimacy or experiencing intense emotion. And I want to use that as a segue to talk about Marina Abramovic, who you write about, and her exhibit in 2010 at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art], called "The Artist Is Present." I was fascinated; I didn't know about this. It's really an extraordinary thing. Tell us what she did.

Ryan Holiday: It's possibly one of the greatest, sort of, athletic feats of human endurance that I've ever come across. It's incredible. So, the retrospective of her career: She's a brilliant performance artist. A lot of her art is sort of sexual and violent and strange and surreal. But they titled it "The Artist Is Present." And then her idea for her performance at the retrospective was that she would be present. Like, literally present; for basically the entire thing. And so, from, like, 9 to 5, each morning, or, something like three months, she basically sat in a chair, stared at her audience, and then, one by one, someone can come and sit in the chair across from her and they would look directly in each others' eyes. And, there's a fascinating documentary about it which you can watch; and there's also YouTube footage. But, you can--almost every person breaks down in tears when they are staring, because it's this profoundly moving experience, because it may be the first time that they've ever been present and experienced what it is to feel another person being present to you. What Marina is doing is, you know, basically sublimating every human desire, bodily function, boredom, itch--everything you can imagine to simply stare and look at this person. And they are just overwhelmed by it. And so, to me this--and she says, basically to do something that's close to nothing, to be present, she says, may be the most difficult kind of performance she's ever done. And, I mean, she's had performances where she's stabbed herself with knives, where she's whipped herself. You know, where she's submitted her body to extreme physical harm and pain. And actually the hardest thing was to slow down and do nothing. And this idea of being present is something we pale out of lip service to. And we know is important. And we know that we don't--we can't change the past, and we can't really influence the future. And yet, we are so very rarely present. And so, I tell this story in the book as just this illustration of like, the sheer, inhuman--this woman, that basically a warrior managed to pull off. And I think it's a very inspiring example.

Russ Roberts: And, she did it all day long. Without a break.

Ryan Holiday: She never fell asleep. She never had to get up to go to the bathroom.

Russ Roberts: Didn't eat.

Ryan Holiday: She didn't eat. She never even--I mean, to me, this is where I get anxiety just thinking about it--she didn't know what time it was. Like, she didn't--it's not like they were, 'Okay, 15 minutes left.' Like, if you are, just sat there, you had nothing to do, you'd go, 'Oh, my God.' So, like an hour has passed, right? And then you'd look at, you finally check the time, and it's like 16 minutes have gone by. To be, to do that--the sheer mental control it would have taken to slow the mind down, to prevent it from being your own worst enemy, to making the physical--like, the physical feat is only possible with sort of iron, an iron grip on your mind. And clearly that's what she has.

Russ Roberts: And she did this for 79 days, with over 1500 sitting across from her, one by one by one, day in, day out--79 days, 9-5, or whatever the hours were. It's, as you say, it one of the greatest athletic feats of all time. And maybe one of the great mental feats of all time. And she didn't speak. Of course. I mean that--that "goes without saying." But, imagine sitting for 8 hours opposite total--a set of different strangers. Roughly 30 minutes, each one. And not saying a word. And giving yourself over to their gaze. Eight hours at a time, day in, day out. I can't fathom it. It overwhelms me.

Ryan Holiday: And, not only can we not fathom that--just, I can't even fathom doing that for three hours. Right? And so, to me, it's just realizing how incredibly hard this is. And how it runs sort of counter not only to all the technology we have, and the lifestyle and the culture that we have, but it runs counter to our, sort of our most basic instincts. When they asked her--they asked her former collaborator, his name is Ulay, they used to date and then they had this sort of [?] relationship. But they asked, they were, like, 'What do you think about what she's doing?' And they describe it to him. And he goes, 'I have no thoughts. Only respect.' And that's sort of my reaction to hearing metaperson[?] did this. All I have is respect. Because I know how hard it is for me to, you know, just to enjoy, just to sit down to dinner and go, 'I'm not going to do anything but this. I'm just going to be here for dinner.' And there I have the ability to get up and go to the bathroom, or to talk, or to fidget, or do anything that I want. Or even that's extremely difficult. And so, I think if we can--one of the reasons I wanted to present that story in the book is, is realizing that she basically prepared for this like an athlete. And she saw it as an intensely active thing to be doing, even though it was close to nothing. And we have to realize that presence isn't going to be this thing that shows up. It's going to require, you know, intense focus and concentration, and commitment from us.


Russ Roberts: So, I'm going to quote Winnie the Pooh, which I don't think I've ever done on EconTalk. And I don't know where this is from. I think it actually is from Winnie the Pooh. It might, I mightn't have the--it could be urban legend. But I think it's so Winnie the Pooh-ish. So, it goes like this:

"What day is it?" asks Winnie the Pooh.

"It's today," said Piglet.

"My favorite day," said Pooh.

And I think the idea that today is the best day, and I'm not going to think about tomorrow; I'm not going to think about my vacation in two weeks; I'm not going to think about my mistakes I made last week. And that, Marina Abramovic sat there and didn't--as much as human can--didn't think about anything other than the person in front of her. And it wasn't thinking about them, actually: just gazing into their eyes and not thinking, as you point out: 'Oh, when is this going to be over? Oh, I'm itchy. Oh, I wish I could get up. What time is it?' Right? All those human impulses that we have, she was able to control them, sufficiently at least--I don't know how well she actually controlled them--but sufficiently at least that people slept overnight for the opportunity to gaze into her eyes and be gazed back at in return. And I guess there are probably many listeners out there thinking, 'This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. Why would you want to sit for 79 days doing that? Why would anyone want to sit opposite this crazy woman?' And, part of it, for me, is having been on silent meditation retreat, which, when I mention it, people always go, 'I couldn't do that.' 'Why not?' 'Well, I could not talk for 5 days.' And I always say, 'That's the easiest part.' The easiest part is the not talking. The hard part is looking into your soul for 5 days and realizing that it's not quite what you like to think it is at times. And, I'm sure, for the artist in this case, and the amateurs who sat across from her, the people who got to experience a half an hour of this, it was profound. It wasn't just a goofy--it sounds like a goofy, a parlor trick, a party trick. A stunt. I'm sure it was not a stunt. Well, it was a stunt. But it was a particularly powerful stunt. And, the part I loved about your writing about it is--I mean, that was fun. It was really interesting, thought-provoking for me. But, I also was struck by your wondering about these people who sat across from her. Then they went--they left. And they wandered out into the streets of New York. And: Were they different? Were they changed? Or was it just, like, 'Well, that was cool.' Who knows?

Ryan Holiday: Right.

Russ Roberts: But, you thought about that a lot.

Ryan Holiday: Yeah. Yeah. Because, another example would be, like, what about these people who met Jesus or have been in the same room as the Dalai Lama or sort of experienced the other sort of greats of history who had that presence and peace, so much that it's almost palpable when you are in the room with them? You know, they then went back to their normal lives. Which were stressful and distracting and they were pulled by urges and desires and frustrations and fears and anxieties. And so, we, on the one hand, we can hold things up like Marina's performance or, or, you know, we look at the inhuman stillness and equanimity and enlightenment of these sort of great wise figures that, some of them are alive, some of them are not alive. And then we, we, we are only able to access it in such a fleeting, ephemeral way. And how sad that is. And how much better the world would be if we could increase that even by 1%. Or 10%. You know? And, when I think about my own life, I think about the moments when I've done my best work. Or, when I--you know, I had my next, the book I'm going to write next. I was, you know, at the beach with my family, playing. I was not thinking of anything except, you know, this sandcastle that I was building. And there in, there pops into my head an idea that, you know, will at some point hopefully reach lots of people; it has been lucrative for me professionally; will be fulfilling creatively. And so, it's like: The more we are trying to advance in our careers, we are trying to get this stuff through sort of sheer will--I talk about the archery master Awa Kenzo, who is the main character in the famous text Zen and the Art of Archery. He was saying that sort of willful will is actually our sort of biggest enemy: When we are trying to duel this stuff on purpose, we are actually not creating room for that mastery or greatness or insight or whatever you want to call it to come in to ensue naturally. And so, you have these people who have this great moment with Marina. And that may be the only moment they have like that in their life. Because they are just not--there's no room for it.


Russ Roberts: Wish I'd had one with her. I think that's--wish I'd--it made me want to be in that line, and sleep in--I don't know if I could have slept overnight. I don't know if I could handle that. But it's, um--I had this idea, by the way, of having--and I'm throwing this out here for anyone to implement this because I think it's a fun idea. Maybe more than fun. I'd love to have a space where a Democrat and a Republican in 2019 America could come and sit across from each other and just look into each others' eyes. Now, half an hour would be a very long time. So, I think I'd start with 5 minutes, and we'd just ring a bell and let people come in and out. But, there's something about experiencing another person's humanity in that way that--I think, I mean, I've had a handful of conversations in my life that captured some of that. They are unforgettable. They weren't all with my wife or with my children or loved ones. Some of them were with near strangers. But, I was able to be present for them in a way that, again, I wouldn't have been able to have done in the past when I was younger. But, I really recommend it. Now, having said that, I think it's important to talk about the downside, or what appears to be a downside to all of this talk about presence and stillness, and today. Which is: If you are sitting, thinking about the present all the time, you are not planning your next book. And you are not daydreaming about what you are going to do next. A lot of people would say you are not going to accomplish anything. You are going to sort of drift through life in a different way than the distracted life. The distracted life is, yes, often a failure of focus. So, focus is good. And being present is good. And experiencing others in a vivid way as well as flowers and birds and sunrises. But, you know, aren't I going to miss out on all the things I could have done because I'm not planning? I mean, what shouldn't I think about the future all the time?

Ryan Holiday: Yeah. I think it's a balance. You know. I'm not sure that the people who are not planning their future are actually living in the present. They are just being drawn from one short-term pleasure to the next pleasure. So, when you and I say, think about, 'You've got to plan your future,' we are thinking, 'Okay: where do I want to end up in my life? Who do I want to be? What's important to me? What do I want to accomplish?' And obviously there's some people who can work themselves into such a state there that they completely neglect the present. But, the person who is just playing video games all day, I'm not sure I would define them as a present person. I think they're just going, 'I wanna play video games. I want to play video games for a while.' Right? Like, I think they are being drawn along by stimulation and gratification. Not necessarily fully giving everything they are doing, everything they have. To me, that's what--where this presence is valuable is when you say, 'I'm going to give 100% of myself to this moment.' And then, and then, 'I understand where this moment perhaps fits in with the other moments.' So, you know, I talked about the Cuban Missile Crisis a little bit earlier. I think that's another great example. Kennedy was--what was remarkable about Kennedy in that moment was he seemed to be the only person in the entire U.S. government at this time who was interested in thinking about what the Soviets would do in response to what the Americans would do. That was what was so alarming about the advice he was giving. They were saying, 'Look, we've got to bomb the hell out of Cuba.' That, 'We've got to invade Cuba.' And Kennedy was, like, 'Well, what happens after that?' Right? Like, what is Russia going to do when we invade them? And it was almost--it was clear that a lot of these advisers, these generals, had actually never thought that far in advance. And what Kennedy was able to do was go, 'Look, we've got to think about what they're going to do in response to what we're going to do; and then what we're going to do in response to that.' And, he said, 'It's not the first step that worries me. It's the sixth step.'

Russ Roberts: Yeah.

Ryan Holiday: Because none of us are going to be around to see that. And so, in deciding to see it that way, it allowed him to then look at the immediate choices in front of him and go, 'Okay. Let's do what we think is right here, that we think preserves the most options for our opponent, and then not get carried away about what our secret plan is,' or [?]. He was like, 'Look, my main thing is I just don't want the world to be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. So, I'm basically willing to do everything and anything that's going to get us to that point. Or, prevent that from happening.' So, when he puts in this quarantine or this blockade around Cuba, now, immediately, everyone is thinking, 'Well, they're going to cross the blockade.' You know: 'Now we have to attack.' It was clear that they weren't being in the present. What Kennedy was saying is, again, is, 'We put this into effect. Now let's wait and see how they respond to this.' And so, it was this sort of slowing down, this not getting--both not being ignorant of what's going to happen in the future, but also not fast-forwarding to there, that allows it--you know, his expression was, 'Let's use time as a tool, not as a couch.' I think that's a very philosophical insight. If I told you Buddha had said that, you'd go, 'Oh, that's very profound.' And that's the idea. We want to use, like let's say the present moment is 60 seconds, let's use all 60 of those seconds, right? And if we can do that cumulatively that's going to give us more time than the people who are just sort of whipping through one thing after another.


Russ Roberts: Yeah; it makes me want to take a 60-second break here, just to see what that would feel like. But you as a listener, of course, you can do that any time. There's a little Pause button. You pause it, just wait a minute and think about something that was said. I think that's a bizarre aspect of podcasting--that not only are you not going to do that, listener; you've got us at 1.5 [1.5 times the normal speed--Econlib Ed.] You're zipping along so you can hear this conversation in under an hour. It's just an interesting aspect of life. All my kids listen at 1.5 or 2. Not to EconTalk. They are generally not listeners. I should just reveal that right now, out of shame and humiliation. But the videos and audios that they do listen to, they tend to listen at high speed. Interesting the idea of either going at normal speed or actually pausing and thinking about what we've just said.

Ryan Holiday: It's funny: like, I know that technology exists, but it--I think this is a virtue--it doesn't occur to me that there is a speed that a conversation is happening. To me, a conversation simply is what it is. Like, when I read a book, I don't think, 'How can I speed this along? How can I get this over?' I think, 'This is the book as the author intended it, and it is intersecting with the amount of time it takes me to read it in my life.' And that that's the experience. I don't try to speed it up. I don't try to speed sex up, either. I don't try to scarf my meals down to be done with them as soon as humanly possible. I want to experience them. I want all of it. And I think--again, that's that idea: when you look at the really wise people, people we really admire, there is a deliberate slowness, almost, to how they behave and the demeanor and--to me, a sign of youthfulness is that sort of overabundance of enthusiasm and energy which is often getting you into unnecessary trouble, and a sign of maturity is a slowing down and a savoring and an ability to be a bit more philosophical and appreciative and present. And, to me, the word for that that I use is 'stillness.' I think--the people we admire have stillness. People who, when we get a peak into their lives, whether it's on television or, you know, they are a friend of ours or whatever, who lack stillness, those are the people that we go, 'Oh, man, it does not seem fun to be them. That does not seem like winning.' And, to me, that's what we should be trying to work towards, is more towards stillness and away from that sort of exhaustion and burnout.

Russ Roberts: Well, I want to mention again: When I'm on silent meditation retreat, I eat mindfully, which means that I look at my food before I put it in my mouth. I savor in as rich a way as I can; and I notice the smell of it, I notice the texture, the different parts of my palate and tongue that it touches, and the different flavors. And I love that. Well, 'delicious' is an obvious word in this case, too. And yet when I come back from retreat I eat my food quickly, while I'm reading something on the Internet. It's just interesting how hard that is to actually do.


Russ Roberts: But I want to pay you a compliment that may sound like an insult, Ryan. I think you're 32 years old. Is that correct?

Ryan Holiday: I am. Yes.

Russ Roberts: I know that because you wrote an essay on Medium, something like "32 Lessons on Turning 32" ["32 Thoughts From a 32-Year-Old"], an essay we'll link to because it's really a wonderful essay. So, I know you're 32. I'm 64, which is kind of fun--I'm twice as old as you, exactly--almost exactly. I was born a few months later in the calendar year than you, but basically I'm twice as old as you are. And you might be the oldest 32-year-old I know. You're very unlike the other 32-year-olds I know; you just revealed that because you said, you don't speed up your audio files, and you don't try to find ways to read more quickly, and so on. So, it's sort of a--you're an old man, in a certain dimension. And, I mean it as a compliment, because I know I'm not twice as wise as you are. I might be a little wiser. But I might not be. You might be wiser than I am, but you're certainly wiser than your years. And part of the reason that's true is that you've read a lot; you've thought a lot about these issues. I didn't for a long, long time. And I've enjoyed becoming aware of them; and I also have some regret--which I try not to marinate in--but, that it was an old age before I started being a little more self-aware. But, you are on a good path, at 32, you're way ahead.

Ryan Holiday: Thank you.

Russ Roberts: I don't just think you're just way ahead of me; I think you are ahead of a lot of a lot of people. But, I think the downside--now I'm going to give you a criticism--

Ryan Holiday: Please.

Russ Roberts: which is, at 32, you might not realize how unnatural many of these admonitions or encouragements or inspirations are for most of us. So, the idea of being still might appeal to people--you might be listening and thinking, 'Yeah, this sounds great. How do I get there from here?' I think for some people it does just come more naturally for some than for others. But, there's not--unless I missed it--there's not a lot in your book about how to get better at it, other than just saying, 'You're going to like this a lot. This will make your life better.' Think about--reflect on that, if you can.

Ryan Holiday: No; I can. It's actually something that I thought consciously about when I was writing. In the sense that, I'm someone--so, when you talked to me about going on a silent meditation [?], I go, 'Wow. I couldn't do that.' And, it occurs to me that there is this incredible value in this sort of stillness and serenity and peace that comes from meditation. That, clearly a huge percentage of the population either isn't ready for, or doesn't believe they are ready for; and so it's become sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People don't meditate. I mean, the amount of times I've been told to meditate and the amount of times I actually sit down and meditate--you know, it's an enormous imbalance[?].

Russ Roberts: There's a gap.

Ryan Holiday: And so, what I wanted to write the book about was, like, how can we access these things? How can we talk about it? How can we start to realize that it's important, in a way that doesn't tell people to go do a bunch of stuff that they're not going to do. If we say 90% of the population is just not going to meditate, then all of these beautiful texts that more or less start with this are really doing themselves and people a disservice. A friend of mine is sort of a finance guru, and he basically goes like, 'Look: Nobody keeps a budget.' So the fact that every personal finance expert starts with telling people to go keep a budget is not only dishonest; it's incredibly ineffective. And so, what I tried to build this book around is a little bit less the Eastern idea of stillness--you know, the sort of abandonment of self, the, you know, sort of complete inactivity, the detachment from the exterior world, that I think is wise and brilliant and something that I'm certainly trying to work towards in my own life. And I've tried to make it a little bit more Western. I think you can--I'm not saying you can think your way to stillness, because that's a paradox, a contradiction. But I think we can think ourselves a little bit closer there; we can make some progress. And so I tried to root the book a little bit more in Western philosophy--you know, the final third of the book is like, basically, how can you get stillness physically in your life? And so, we were talking earlier about going for a walk. I think intense exercise is a way to do it. You know, building a routine that's effective and sort of conducive to stillness. So, yes: I'm not saying, 'Here is a 5-step roadmap to having stillness,' because I think what that's calling on people to do is stuff they are not going to do. But I wanted to kind of chip away at it from all these different angles; and so, hopefully, you know, when people emerge from that, they'll have some insights, a larger sense of how to move closer to it. And I think I did the same thing with my book about obstacles and my book about ego. I'm not saying, 'Here's the guide for destroying your ego.' It's more like: If you start to think this way, you are going to naturally curb ego and better able to spot it when it's popping up; and then be more equipped to reduce it.


Russ Roberts: And, of course, meditation is really hard. I go off and on that regimen. I try to meditate more than I do. I think about meditating more than I actually do; as you say, there's a gap, an imbalance there. But, that is only one way--it's a common way--that people do get to this phenomenon you're calling stillness. But another way that you do talk about in the book, to be fair to you, is journaling. I want you to talk about what you mean by journaling; and then talk about your own practice, if you would.

Ryan Holiday: Yes. So, I'll start with my own practice. So, this morning I went for the walk that I talked to you about. And then I sat my son down. He ate breakfast with my wife. And then, I went upstairs, and I opened up--I have three journals. I have one journal called a 'One Page a Day' journal, or one line a day; and I just write what I was doing, what I did yesterday. And I'm three years in. So, I can see--like, it felt wonderful, for instance, as I was writing today--it was about yesterday--I wrote that I was recording the audio book for Stillness Is the Key. But I could see that the day before--or the same day that the year before, I could see what chapter of the book I was writing. And, and then, you know, the day before, the year before--I forget what it was. But, it's this idea of just, like, I don't even--like, 'That was a year ago?' That's like incredible to me, right? And so, I use that journal; I really like it. I have just a [?] journal that I write: I record sort of my exercise that I did the day before, something I'm thinking about, sort of something I'm working on; I talk about maybe a problem that I'm struggling with, what I want to improve on. And then the other journal I write in--and this isn't a plug; I just actually use it--I made a journal about two years ago called the Daily Stoic Journal, which is based on how the Stoics sort of thought about journaling and philosophy, which is this--it was this thing that you spent some time thinking about in the morning. So, you kind of prepare your intention for the day. And then, in the evening you reflect on how you did, you know, with that intention that you were thinking about. So, I--that whole process maybe takes 5, 10 minutes. It's not a long time. But, it's kind of the warm-up for me for the day, for writing that I have to do, for the mindset that I want to be in, for the person that I want to become. And that process of putting my thoughts out on paper, spilling them out--you know, Julia Cameron has called writing sort of spiritual windshield wipers, which is an analogy I love. It's just a--you know, a clearing. And, by taking that time I feel like I get the benefits of it throughout the day. And, look: There is clearly a very ancient tradition of journaling. It's incredible--the more I read about Stoic philosophy, which is the philosophy I'm most fascinated with, the more it's clear to me that, for instance, in Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, how much of that writing was him rewriting in his own words things that he read elsewhere that he was trying. So, you basically find out that Meditations is actually sort of like an unattributed quote book, more than it is the original thoughts of the most powerful man in the world. And so, the idea that people have just been doing this for as long as there have been people makes me--also finds a bit of centeredness and stillness just in--just in the idea that this is a tradition, and a practice--like prayer or taking Communion. And I think we are stronger for rituals like that.

Russ Roberts: Now, you're a big person for routine. And, you emphasize the power of routine in your book. Although, I do think some of this is very person-specific. I think for some people the idea of sitting down and spending even as short a time as 10 minutes a day doing anything--whether it's writing in a journal, whether it's meditating, whether it's contemplative silence, prayer--any of these forms of what I think of as therapeutic forms of self-awareness, is unbearable to a lot of people. It's obviously not--I don't think it's unbearable to you; I think it sounds like you enjoy it. But talk about, just talk about the value to you, at least, of routine.

Ryan Holiday: Well, I think you're right. I think a lot of people have a schedule or have a chaotic life--these can be two sides of the same coin--precisely so they don't ever have to have 10 minutes by themselves. Or 10 minutes of quiet time. And so, to me, believing that stillness is important, believing that insight and good creative work comes out of it--I try to build a routine that facilitates it, that encourages it, maybe even draws it out. Versus: I don't want to have a calendar that's filled with a bunch of other people deciding what I get to do with my time. Like, one of the rules I have for my assistant is I basically never have more than 3 things scheduled in the same day, unless I'm traveling. So, today, I've recorded an audio book; and I have this conversation with you; and those are the only two things that I've permitted to be scheduled. And, and--so, to me, my routine is in some ways kind of about control; but I think control in a healthy way. Control in the sense of autonomy. I want as much of my time to be focused on the work that brings me satisfaction, that brings me happiness, that I think I'm the only one that can do; you know, I'm not sitting there trying to write books that if I didn't write, somebody else would write. And so, I'm trying to carve out space for me to do, you know, what I think is sort of my unique calling. And my routine is there to facilitate it, to reduce potential interruptions, to make it habitual and almost a second nature. And that's what routine is to me. I think the reason you seen athletes obsess about routine is very similar--is from a very similar place. They love this game that they play. They know how easy it is to take yourself out of the mindset necessary to be great at it. And so they try to build their lives around a process of sort of, like, working themself towards that place they need to be for 90 minutes or 90 seconds or 9 seconds, depending on what their sport is.

Russ Roberts: So, what I'm excited about is that you are telling me that we have 5 or 6 hours free to just keep talking. Listeners I can hear exulting around the world. It reminds me--your different journaling habits--one of them reminds me of a really nice idea from A.J. Jacobs in our conversation about his book, Thanks a Thousand, where he talks about his "One Thing" journal, where he tries to, after a conversation or after a lecture or after some kind of experience, if there's one thing that stood out that he wants to remember, he just writes it down. And, the idea that 'I'm going to write one thing that happened yesterday' is not really one thing that happened yesterday. It's one--a description of what yesterday was mainly about. And I think that's a version of what he did, and does. And I think that's a--I've done a little of it now. I wish I did more. But, just to emphasize: I assume this is a written journal, not a typed journal. I assume you are working with pen and paper.

Ryan Holiday: I think it's got to be pen and paper. I mean, look: There are certainly people I've heard from that journal on their phone, or journal on their computer. But I think the analog nature of it is important; I think it's part of the ritual. You know, you go to Mass; you don't watch a video of other people going to Mass. I think you lose something in the reproduction or the simulation of it. And so, yeah: It's doing it by hand. And I try--and I've set some more rigorous rules for myself, lately--but I try to do this journaling process before I've really interacted with any of the technology in my life. So, before I've checked my phone, before I've pulled up my computer and looked at email. So, it's about--in a way, I'm delaying the engaging with these, I think, valuable technologies but also potentially addictive technologies. I'm just delaying the process by which I engage with them and eliminating, you know, any unnecessary dependence on them.


Russ Roberts: Now you have a very ritualistic way of reading. I don't know if you've used--I've read about it; you've written about it in detail; we'll put up a link to that, as well--the way you use 3x5 cards. And I find it--I find that deeply appealing and impossible. I've shared that with my children in case it grabs their interest. But I imagine it will not. But, I thought about this the other day when I interviewed Andy Matuschak--and this episode hasn't aired yet; it will air soon. But you have not heard it. But, he wrote an essay recently called "Why Books Don't Work." I think that's the title--

Ryan Holiday: Yeah; I've read it--

Russ Roberts: and he points out in there that we read a lot of nonfiction books that are supposed to impart knowledge, or wisdom, or understanding, or even just facts; and yet, weeks, months, days, hours after the book is done, we remember nothing. Not just, not as much as we'd like, but nothing. You are a voracious reader. You put out a wonderful, ongoing newsletter about the books you read. And your recommendations. I know you take extensive notes on them. So, I want you to first react to Andy's claim--that books don't work--and then, how you've made books work for you, by your ritual as a reader with 3x5 cards. And, of course, you're a special reader in that you write books, and you use books to use quotations and stories brilliantly to enhance your own books. So, there's a method to your madness that pays off in a literal way. But I think you would do it even if you weren't a writer, is my guess.

Ryan Holiday: No; I mean, it certainly predates my time, my career as a writer by many years. I agreed with the article in the sense that, I agree that most books don't work. The vast majority of books, even, don't work. But to me the headline is disproven by the fact of how many books have personally changed my life--and I think any person that reads a lot, you know, knows the power of books. It would be hard to find someone in this sort of literate era who accomplished anything of really major significance that wasn't a reader in some form or another. So, books work, but it's probably like democracy, where it's kind of like the worst best technology that we have. I think most books don't work because most authors don't do a great job. Most ideas aren't really worth reading about. Most authors don't do the hard work of really communicating it in a way that's likely to be absorbed by or used by their reader. When I read what I am thinking about--and I learned this from my mentor, who is Robert Greene, whose books are also very story- and anecdote-driven--is, I basically read; and as I'm reading, I'm, you know, jotting in the margins; I'm folding pages, I'm marking things that I think are interesting. And then, I give the book a little space. And then I go back through it; and then I transfer, by hand, all the things that I like onto notecards. Every single one of my books has begun this way--

Russ Roberts: You're a lunatic, Ryan! You're an absolutely lunatic. So after you've gone--which is really hard to do, to underline and write notes in the margin--you go back and re-write them? This is crazy.

Ryan Holiday: I guess it's crazy, except the ROI [Return on Investment] is clearly there--

Russ Roberts: that's Return on Investment--

Ryan Holiday: Yes. I wouldn't have this career that I've had. Every single one of my books began with an accumulation of notecards about some idea that I was seeing. You know, the idea that stillness was popping up in all these different philosophical texts that I was reading--that's what got me onto the scent of the idea that there might be a pattern here. And so, I think, it's the process of interacting with the material in some sort of active fashion. You know, so many people--I go, 'Oh'--they hear about my system and they go, 'I love your system. I have something similar with EverNote.' You don't have something similar with EverNote. That's like thinking that because you cut an article out of the newspaper, you have it memorized. You know? Or, because you shared some link on Twitter, you have some deep connection to what's going on. It's the process of reading it, kind of forgetting about it, going back through the book; noticing, 'Oh, I marked out this passage. Here's what that passage is about. Here's what I think about it. Now, I'm going to either take notes on it, or I'm going to copy it out by, you know--I'm going to copy out the entire passage; I'm going to write the page number; I'm going to write the author; I'm going to write the title of the book.' And then I'm going to file it away until--like, I have, every day I send out an email called "The Daily Stoic," which is a Stoic-inspired email. And so, right next to my computer, I have a giant stack of notecards that say 'DSE' in the corner, for Daily Stoic Email. And so when I sit down, I try to write a couple of them a day. I just pick up one of the cards, and there I have, already pre-made, you know, an idea for a piece. Or an anecdote. Or a story. Or a reaction I had to some idea. And so the reason I'm able to be as productive as I am and have written the things I've written is because I'm doing a lot of the pre-work long before it ever gets to the point where I sit down and say, 'I'm going to write something now.'

Russ Roberts: I still think you are a lunatic. But my question is: How much time each day do you spend with a notecard, writing on it? Approximately. Is there a regular regimen of notecard-writing?

Ryan Holiday: Yeah; right now I've been a little busy so I'm probably a month or two, maybe more, behind.

Russ Roberts: Oh, my gosh.

Ryan Holiday: I have a big stack of books that I have to go through that I've read. But, I would say I'm interacting with or using notecards every single day--either something that I've already done, either a note I'm--I heard something on the radio or I thought about something or I wanted to go research something. I'm using these as kind of notes to myself. It's kind of a living, breathing organism that is my brain, out on these notecards.


Russ Roberts: So, when I write a book, or an essay, and I have a strange--an extra--thought: I don't know where it goes. Or I have a quote. Or I have an idea. Or I have an article. I have a little thing at the bottom of the page where I just make a list. I don't number them. They just start filling up. And, part of it is, by the way, is--and I'm sure this is true for you with the notecards, as well--it's just a comfort. It means I have it. I don't have to worry about remembering it. And I know that it's always there. In fact, I do another crazy thing, as a writer. I don't know if anyone else does this. I don't know--I made it up, but I'm sure it's not unique. Any time I cut something--a paragraph or more--I paste it into a document called 'Things I've Cut,' related to that particular book. Because, emotionally, I know it's hard to do, as I think Truman Capote said, to kill your darlings. A genius, brilliant, wonderful passage that I've written, that I know doesn't really belong: but it's so good. And to help me cut it, I put it in a place where I know I can always find it again. Now, I never--almost never--go back to that file called 'Things I've Cut'--

Ryan Holiday: I have the same file. I have the same file, and I've never looked at it.

Russ Roberts: But it's comforting. And, similarly, when I write in books now--and I've confessed on this program before that this was something that I also did not do as a young person, but I've come to cherish it--I don't always go back to read those passages, but sometimes I do, my margin notes. And, for a book that I love--a book that I'm deeply transformed by, the kind of book you are talking about that "changed your life"--I, at the end of a chapter that is difficult, will write a little summary there, at the end of that chapter, if there's room especially. If there's not, I'm stuck--so, I might scribble a shorthand note in the margin at that point, trying to summarize the chapter in the equivalent of a tweet. But, you don't do that. You actually write it out. So, the question I asked--which you ducked--not intentionally--is how much time you spend writing on your cards, those notecards. Is it an hour a day? On average? Obviously, you say you are two months behind, which, to me, would mean: It's over. I'll never catch up. And I'll just stop doing this crazy idea. But, you're not. You're going to get back to it. And, you've written that you have, like, shoeboxes. Like, more than one. Like, one would be a big number--

Ryan Holiday: Yes. Tens of thousands of notecards--

Russ Roberts: of cards. Right?

Ryan Holiday: Sure. Yeah.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. You are single-handedly--you are good for the environment, of course, because the demand for notecards encourages the demand for trees, which--they plant them so they can make profit off of selling them to you. It's wonderful. But, how much time does it take you a day? Roughly?

Ryan Holiday: I would say it probably takes me an hour to go through a book, so I probably have--

Russ Roberts: Oh. A whole book. Oh, that's not bad.

Ryan Holiday: Like, 10 or 20 hours that I have to do to get caught up. But the real issue for me is, like when I read a really good book, as you said, like a book that changes your life. Like, when I read your book on Adam Smith, and then when I read Theory of Moral Sentiments, in a way, I'm almost, like, groaning before I finish the book, because I know that in a couple of weeks the bill on this book is going to come due. And I'm going to feel it in my hand, you know. And so, I do--it's only in those moments where it's like--look, if there are 5 or 6 index cards from a book, that's usually a pretty good book. But sometimes there might be a book where it's like, 'Oh, my God. This is, like, a hundred notecards. It's going to take forever.' Especially big biographies. I tend to get a lot of my good stuff out of biographies. So, you know, when I'm reading Robert Caro on Lyndon Johnson or William Manchester on Churchill, it's, like, I'm putting it off because I know just how long it's going to take to get me to go through this, and how much I'm going to feel it in my hand. Because, the other thing is, like, I don't really do any other writing. I write on notecards. I write to-do lists. And, then, I sign my name. And that's basically the only time I write anything by hand any more. And then, my journals.

Russ Roberts: Oh--just those things?

Ryan Holiday: Yeah.

Russ Roberts: You are so out in the right-hand tail, Ryan, it's ridiculous. I actually--I did a crazy thing--I bought a series of notebooks to improve your handwriting. One of them is, goes back to the early 20th century; the other is more modern. But, my handwriting was never great; and it deteriorated tremendously over the last 25 years--because I do all my writing on the computer. So, when you say all you write is your notecards, your journals, and sign your name, you're writing more than probably the average hundred people. But, I haven't used those notebooks, I have to confess. I just got them. It's recent.

Ryan Holiday: Do you write any cursive?

Russ Roberts: Not now. I cannot. I learned--my dad's a printer. My dad prints. And so I printed, as a child, because I thought that was, you know, admirable. My only cursive signature--the only cursive writing I do is on a check. I don't do anything else cursive. So, I write slowly and badly. And I'm looking at my notes, now, from this episode, which I write down--I jot down if you mention something that I think we should link to, or if I coughed and I want to cut that out; I make a little note. And there are times I struggle to read my own handwriting. And I love beautiful handwriting. I admire it. So, I like this idea of improving my handwriting, as my motor capacities slowly deteriorate over the next decade or so. But, so, it's a pipe-dream--it's a bit of a fantasy--but I'm optimistic--I'm not optimistic. I'm vaguely hopeful. But, that's honest.

Ryan Holiday: Yeah. I can't do cursive any more, either. And sometimes I think back and I'm upset that--like, how much of my time in school was wasted teaching this thing that I have no use for, and what important lessons in American history could we have learned instead of teaching me, you know, how to use cursive in third and fourth grade?


Russ Roberts: So, I don't think you are very active on Twitter. Are you active on Twitter, Ryan? Are you on Twitter?

Ryan Holiday: I am. But I sort of use it mostly as just another form of email. I very deliberately don't have it on my phone, don't check it. I like it in theory but I don't like what it brings out in me. It doesn't make me feel the stillness that we're talking about. I was just talking to someone the other day: I feel like Twitter has had a massively corrupting effect, particularly on journalists. I think it is--it took people whose entire profession was about long-form communication, about complicated, balanced, nuanced understanding of what really happens, about, you know, getting to the truth of things, and it turned them into being reactionary and mean and--

Russ Roberts: They yell. They yell all the time.

Ryan Holiday: biased--

Russ Roberts: Yeah; and they're biased. They reveal their actual self in a way that would have been totally unprofessional and socially unacceptable in their profession five years ago.

Ryan Holiday: Yeah; no; so I feel like it's had this almost--like, the reason journalism and our politics are as polarized as they are, I think the fact that 140 characters, and now 280 characters, I feel like that's been the radicalizing effect. So, I spend--the short answer is I spend as little time as humanly possible on it; and most of what I do tweet, I write and schedule in advance so I'm not actually using the platform in real time, where I can be tempted or distracted or riled up by what I see.

Russ Roberts: So, I like it a lot more than you do. And I've come to appreciate it a lot more than I used to. And, I used to have merely negative feelings about it and would be on it "in spite of myself," whatever that means. But, I think there are ways to use it that are more productive than others, and I'm slowly working my way toward that. I used to not Mute people--I thought that was immoral, almost. And now I Mute them or block them. And I think, 'Of course.' Somebody said, 'It's just like your living room. You don't let everybody in your living room.' It's not a--the problem is, it has a blog-like feel to it; but if you don't use it, don't always think of it that way, I think it can be more helpful. But, that's not why I mentioned, why I brought it up. I brought it up because I have an idea for you. Which you probably should resist, but I'm going to share it anyway. It's risky. It's risky. I think you should regularly tweet photographs of your notecards--

Ryan Holiday: Okaaay?

Russ Roberts: of your favorite notes. So, when you finish a book, you say, 'I just finished this book. Here are the 8 notecards I took,' or the 20, or the 3, or whatever it is. And, I think people would really like it. But that's maybe not a good thing to give in to, because then you'd start thinking--

Ryan Holiday: Well, most--I do tweet quotes that I like.

Russ Roberts: Nah. I want to see your handwriting.

Ryan Holiday: But [?] 85% of those quotes are from books--so, I left out a step in the process. So, I'm taking the notes, right? I see a brilliant quote from Churchill that I like, and I write it down on the notecard; and I say, 'Okay, this is maybe for this section of Stillness,' or I say--or maybe I have to write it twice, because I think it could also work in an email for Daily Stoic or I just want--it's a good piece of parenting advice that I want to have access to. So, I might write the same card 2 or 3 times. And then, if I feel it's short and pithy enough that it would do well on Twitter, I also type it up and upload it into my Scheduler, and it goes out automatically on Twitter, too. So, I'm interacting with this material sometimes 4 or 5 times in a very short amount of time. And that improves my recall. It requires me to see it from lots of different angles. And it's just--it's more of an immersive experience for me. So that's why I think books work.

Russ Roberts: The only thing I'm going to add to that is that: now that Twitter is here, I wonder if people try to make sure that their best and most eloquent statements are under 280 characters so people like you can share them.

Ryan Holiday: I hope not.

Russ Roberts: You know: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design"--my favorite Hayek quote. Which I throw out just because we've had very few drinking game references I think in this episode. But, I mention that, if I remember, it just fits. It's close to fitting. But then you have to put -dash dash F.A. Hayek' because otherwise people might think it's you, and that's no good. But you can always take a photo of it. That's why I like the photo of the card: you can get a more-than-280-character quote. And I just think--

Ryan Holiday: I like the idea. I'll get on it.

Russ Roberts: Yeah; don't. Don't, Ryan. It'll slow down your next book. I don't want to slow down your next book.

Ryan Holiday: I have a related anecdote to that. My book, The Daily Stoic, which is sort of one page of Stoic philosophy every day--there's an original translated quote and then a story--we noticed really early on that people kept sharing photos of it. Which is obviously wonderful. But, I would look at the comments, and invariably the first comment people would go, 'What book is this?' Because, we designed the book for people reading it in real life; and in real life, you don't need to be reminded what the title of the book is on every single page. And so we actually had to redesign the second printing of the book around making it more favorable and useful to be shared on Instagram.

Russ Roberts: Oh, that's great.

Ryan Holiday: So, we're constantly being threaded through the needle of social media, whether we know it or not.


Russ Roberts: I want to shift gears and talk about anger. And, I've said a number of times on this program and elsewhere that, unless you are at physical, risk of physical harm, anger is never productive. Passion--passion is good. But, anger is basically losing control of your mind. We use the expression, 'He went crazy.' When someone is enraged, they can't think straight. So, I'm generally against anger. And you, in a recent essay, wrote, "Has yelling or losing your temper ever made things better at home?" And, I think the answer to that is No. And, more than that, of course, is there are many, many times I've been ashamed of my anger or regretted my anger. So, I'm a big opponent of anger; and struggle with it. Because I think it does go with passion, and I'm a somewhat passionate person. You tell a fascinating story in your book that I was unaware of, of Michael Jordan's enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame. And, he spoke for a little over 20 minutes--I went back and looked at the video after you had written about it. And, to some extent it's a shocking speech. It's not delivered in anger, and yet it is a shrine to his anger, and how he cultivated it and maintained it over the years. Talk about Michael Jordon's anger and the lessons that you learn from it.

Ryan Holiday: It's a very unsettling video to watch. It's one of the most awkward speeches that I've ever seen, because you have a man who should be experiencing one of the greatest moments of his career, here--

Russ Roberts: of his life--

Ryan Holiday: All of his lifetime of achievement--yeah--is being honored. And, it becomes--I think he sets out on the talk just to show what it takes to be a champion and how he's used, sort of, feuds and rivalries and proving people wrong as a motivational force. But I think what this speech accidentally illustrates is just how combustible and dangerous a fuel like anger is. Because then it ends up sort of blowing up all over him. I mean--in a moment that I think he thought would make him look good, he invited the man, or the boy, who he was cut in favor of on his high school basketball team; and I think Jordan wanted to show, 'I was cut, and I used this to fuel me to get better.' And instead, what's obvious, is that he has been sort of hating, and resenting, and measuring himself against this totally innocent, normal human being who did nothing wrong except be a little bit taller than another high school basketball player all these years ago. And, I think, when you look at--there are almost no philosophical school that says, 'Hey, use anger. Anger is a really great tool.' This is a modern rationalization that we've come up with. We now think anger is associated with political change and righting sort of grievous social wrongs. Which is a complete misreading of history, when you actually look at it. And we also tell ourselves that, you know, anger is what successful athletes get over, or use to propel them to greatness. And, I just don't think that's true. And, when you watch this speech, you go, 'Even if it is true, I don't know if I want to be that guy. I don't know if it's worth it. I don't know if I want to have created the most successful shoe brand in the world and be at my Hall of Fame dinner complaining about how much it cost in tickets for me to bring my own children to the event.' You know? It's just really sad. And you can see that he is basically this walking, open wound. And that's, I think, what anger does. If anger is a good fuel early on in our careers--proving people wrong--the problem is, once we do that, the body and the mind and the soul are not good at going, 'Okay. You can stop that. Time to switch to something more sustainable, now.' No, it invents and cultivates, even breeds new things to be angry about. So you never get past it. And that's what you see in that Jordan speech. And I just found it to be quite sad, and very much a cautionary tale.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. And it's about more than anger. It's about resentment, and stewing, and a desire for revenge is all on display there. And, there's--it's particularly strange because he's smiling and, as he delivers it, he doesn't deliver it in an angry tone. But, it's more revealing, as you point out, than perhaps he means it to be.


Russ Roberts: I want to close with a few ideas that, toward the end of the book, that I'm going to lump together, perhaps unfairly, and then let you reflect on them. You talk about the power of enough: that the person, that the striving for more stuff is not healthy. And we had an episode with Mary Hirschfeld, talked about this at length. You talk about the virtue of not working too hard. And yet, I think about you, Ryan, as someone who is extraordinarily productive. At 32, you've written--how many books?

Ryan Holiday: Um, I'm finishing 10.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. That's kind of crazy. They are full of interesting ideas; they are full of interesting stories. Now, you have mastered the notecard: it's phenomenal. And I'm sure you will continue to do so. But, you're--forget debating or discussing your techniques and all that--you're a very productive person. Do you think you've taken your own advice about working, and not working too hard, and being satisfied? And I'll throw in one other important idea in the book, which I think all of us struggle with, which is saying No. Turning down opportunity. Which is so hard. Because you always think, 'What could it lead to? What's the harm?' And, of course, the harm is the thing I can't do, because I accept this invitation or this meeting or this time-consuming event. And, I'm curious how you--

Ryan Holiday: Yeah. The insecurity for me--it's less like, 'What could this become?' And I actually tend to look at it more--I try to catch myself when I do--and I think, 'This might be the last time I ever get offered something.'

Russ Roberts: Yeah.

Ryan Holiday: Right? And so, that insecurity, again can be adaptive in the sense that it makes us accomplish things. But, it also deprives us of what the accomplishment is supposed to bring us, which is happiness and peace and contentment. And so, it's not that I don't think I've taken my own advice. It's that, it's not my advice. I think it's a timeless insight from history, and from religion and spirituality, that I am constantly struggling with myself, and was writing to myself as much as anyone else. I do think I have a capacity to work and do things that maybe to some people seem like it must be incredibly difficult; but I feel like I have lots of time with my family; I have time to do what I want; I'm in control of my schedule. So, maybe I rationalize it a little bit. Maybe I have a slightly larger gas tank than some people. But, I definitely do overcommit; and I definitely struggle with this idea of what is enough. And it is insidious, the way that the mind, you know, says, 'Here's what success looks like.' Maybe it's a set of numbers, maybe it's in accomplishing a certain thing--it's winning a certain prize or award or promotion. And then, you get that thing, and then the mind goes, 'Ah, but wouldn't two be better?' Or, 'But look at what so-and-so has.' And so, that idea of enough--and there's this Stefan Zweig quote, who I think is one of the most underrated literary and philosophical figures of the 20th century, he said, 'History knows of no conqueror who has been surfeited by conquests.' You know, Alexander the Great thought that he would be happy when he conquered the world. Julius Caesar felt like, looked at Alexander the Great and felt insecure that he hadn't accomplished as much as he did. And then when he finally did, it was empty and meaningless. And so, it is a--we are unrelenting in our ability to deceive ourselves. More is the answer. And it just isn't. And it's something I struggle with constantly.

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