What Stands in the Way Becomes the Way: A New Perspective for Overcoming Obstacles

the way

“What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Marcus Aurelius


Encountering new obstacles in life is inevitable. Whether it’s in our work, relationships, health, or personal goals, life is always changing – and with that brings new situations we too must change and adapt to.

The simple truth is you’ll never reach a point where life stops throwing you new obstacles. The best thing you can do is know how to better approach these obstacles in your life, and thereby transform them into opportunities for growth and self improvement.

This is a very old idea, but it never stops being true. In the great book The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, Ryan Holiday turns toward the ancient philosophy of Stoicism to show us why these ideas still carry a lot of power today.

    “You will come across obstacles in life – fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.”

The types of obstacles that stand in our way can be very different from person to person.

They greatly depend on our environment, our biology, and our ambitions. However, the right perspective to take when facing obstacles doesn’t change much. It is an immutable law of success and motivation. It is the way, no matter who you are.

There are many gems of wisdom in this book that I wish to share, but here are the most important ones to keep in mind whenever you encounter a new obstacle in your life.

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How to Be a Skeptical Thinker About Facts and Statistics You Find on the Internet

skeptical thinker


It’s commonly said that the “information age” could just as easily be the “misinformation age.” Now more than ever it’s important we become skeptical thinkers.

While the internet allows us to have so much information readily available at our finger tips, it also allows anyone to share a misleading statistic (or a complete falsehood) which quickly becomes viral and spreads through tweets, status updates, blogposts, and online magazines.

We have to be super careful of the information we take in on a daily basis. Many times, just the presence of information can sway our beliefs and opinions before we get a chance to look at it critically or question it’s validity.

In one of the best selling statistics books How To Lie With Statistics, author Darrell Huff does a fantastic job walking you through how statistics are commonly manipulated and abused to support a certain viewpoint.

Of course very few people are statisticians. Most of us probably haven’t taken a statistics course since high school or college, if at all. However, it’s still important we learn the basics behind how statistics are often presented to us, because they make up such a big part of our day.

Every news article, commercial, and political speech is filled with numbers and statistics. And how we are presented with those statistics is going to influence what we think is true or not true – and thus the choices we make, whether it’s buying a product or voting for a candidate.

If done properly, statistics represent real facts. But it’s often the story told about a statistic (and what it accurately portrays) that can be muddled and misrepresented to push a certain agenda. We must be careful of how we look at statistics and what we take away from them.

This article will layout some basic considerations to keep in mind whenever you are presented with a statistic or fact.

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How to Communicate Your Feelings Without Becoming an Emotional Manipulator

communicate your feelings


It’s important to be open and honest when you communicate your feelings to others, but we also have to be careful not to turn ourselves into “emotional manipulators.”

Too often we believe that merely speaking our feelings (“That makes me angry!” or “That makes me sad!”) should be enough to change people’s behaviors and get what we want out of them.

However, when you communicate your feelings with the expectation that it should automatically change others, this is often a counter-productive approach and you are often setting yourself up for disappointment.

When feelings are used as tools for manipulation, and people believe that you are just expressing an emotion to get a certain response out of them, that can often have a “backfire effect” where the person becomes less willing to do what you want them to do.

In the classic book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg shares his fantastic system for communicating our feelings and needs in a peaceful way that minimizes hostility and aggression.

If you have plans with someone and you cancel it last minute, your friend might tell you, “Oh that’s fine. I’ll just stay home all by myself on a Saturday night!” But while your friend has a right to feel upset, you can tell that they are ultimately guilt-tripping the person for bailing out on them.

Of course we have a right to our feelings. We have a right to feel angry, upset, guilty, or frustrated – but it’s also important that we express these emotions in a constructive way that doesn’t just add more fuel to the emotional fire.

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What Great Apes Teach Us About Emotions, Morality, and Civilization

great apes


As civilized humans, we don’t often like to think of ourselves as animals, but that is exactly what we are.

When it comes to the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans), we share over 90 percent of our genes with these species, making them our closest evolutionary cousins. Neuroscientists also now know that we share very similar brain structure and neural circuitry with great apes (and other social mammals).

According to primatologist Frans de Waal in The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, while we tend to think of civilization and morality as wholly unique to us, you can often find strong evidence of them in apes (as well as other species like elephants and dogs).

    “Just like us, monkeys and apes strive for power, enjoy sex, want security and affection, kill over territory, and value trust and cooperation. Yes, we have computers and airplanes, but our psychological makeup remains that of a social primate.”

Basically, we share much of the same natural drives and instincts as apes. This includes both our desire for power, food, sex, and security, but also moral instincts like empathy, trust, fairness, and equality.

All social species (especially mammals) have ways of regulating the behavior of their members. This includes punishing those that are bad for the group and rewarding those who are good for the group. In this way, these species have a type of civilization, a code of moral conduct or rules to follow.

One of the main themes throughout the book is that our own sense of morality is “bottom-up” rather than “top-down.” This means morality is largely something that comes from our natural instincts, rather than something that is solely imposed by a religion or government.

According to Waal, while religion and government can be very important institutions to create and maintain our civilization, he seems them as largely a byproduct of our complex moral instincts. They come primarily from our biology and nature.

It’s very enlightening to think about civilization and morality from an evolutionary perspective. It can tell us a lot about who we are and where we come from. One of the best ways of doing this is by observing the similarities (and differences) between us and our evolutionary cousins, such as bonobos and chimpanzees.

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How to Escape From the Vicious Cycle of Shaming in Our Digital World

shaming


Shaming can be a double-edged sword in our society.

One benefit of shaming is that it can be an effective way to regulate people’s behaviors in a relatively peaceful and nonviolent fashion.

When a corporation is found doing something misleading or fraudulent, public shaming can be an effective way to put pressure on them to change their ways and satisfy the public. Or when a celebrity engages in hate speech or domestic violence, public shaming can be used to steer away sponsors, commercial deals, and future work.

Our reputation is very important to us – it matters to us that we showcase a positive “image” to others. Shame is a very social emotion that is often coupled with this desire to be accepted and respected by others.

When used properly, shame can help society regulate itself and influence people to change undesirable behaviors. At the same time, shaming can also be used as a tool to manipulate and destroy others.

In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, journalist Jon Ronson explores popular stories in public shaming – he dissects why it happened, how the person being shamed responded to it, and whether or not this shaming was justified or not.

There are no clear answers in this book on how we should properly use shaming, but Ronson does a good job asking the right questions and illustrating how shaming has become one of the most powerful forces in our society today for better and for worse.

This is especially true in our current digital world, where “shaming” can become a very spontaneous force that everyone has access to participate in on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

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