Review and Summary: Master of Change

Master of Change Book Cover

In Brad Stulberg’s “Master of Change”, readers are introduced to the paradigm of rugged flexibility. Stulberg’s neutral tone, underscored by empirical studies, offers a refreshing break from the standard motivational fare, grounding the book in evidence-based research. While some of the ideas might ring familiar to avid readers of self-help, the book shines in its structured approach to navigating personal and professional transformation.


  • People experience 36 disorder events in the course of their adulthood—or about 1 every 18 months.
  • Ancient wisdom and modern science agree that impermanence is an undeniable reality, a fundamental truth of the universe.

Non-dual thinking

  • Non-dual thinking recognizes that the world is complex, that much is nuanced, and that truth is often found in paradox: not this or that, but this and that.
  • When you apply non-dual thinking to stability and change, an interesting thing happens. The goal is not to be stable and therefore never change. Rather, the goal is to marry these qualities to cultivate rugged flexibility.

Rugged flexibility

  • To be rugged is to be tough, determined, and durable. To be flexible is to consciously respond to altered circumstances or conditions, to adapt and bend easily without breaking.
  • Rugged flexibility recognizes that after disorder there is no going back to the way things were—no more order, only reorder

Change is rarely, if ever easy.

  • Science shows that when you chronically fight change, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with metabolic syndrome, insomnia, inflammation, muscle wasting, and countless other ailments.

Our happiness in any given moment is a function of our reality minus our expectations.

  • Countries that consistently rank as the happiest are not necessarily better than their neighbors. But the citizens in these countries tend to have lower expectations.

Tragic opitimism

  • The ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its inescapable pain, loss, and suffering. It is about acknowledging, accepting, and expecting that life will contain hardship, that sometimes impermanence hurts, and then trudging forward with a positive attitude nonetheless.
  • With tragic optimism, if a situation doesn’t unfold as badly as you thought, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


  • Not the same thing as pain: suffering = pain times resistance
  • The more you resist your pain, the exponentially worse your suffering becomes.

Fluid identity

  • Advantage: became less fragile to the inevitable ups and downs of career by diversifying the source of meaning in life
  • Fluid contains both mass and volume but not shape → allows it to flow over and around obstacles, changing form while retaining substance, neither getting stuck nor fracturing when unforeseen impediments manifest on its path.
  • If your identity becomes too enmeshed in any one concept or endeavor—be it your age, how you look in the mirror, a relationship, or your career—then you are likely to face significant distress when things change, which, for better or worse, they always do.
  • You want it to be attached enough, but not too much.
  • If you can learn to define yourself broadly, then change—be it aging or retirement, gain or loss, success or failure—becomes less threatening.

Voluntary simplicity

  • Intentional choosing to simplify our lives by taking out clutter, be it physical, psychological, or social.
  • Our daily stress is a consequence of having too much to do and track, most of which is not valuable, let alone essential.
  • Focus on what matters most, what gives us a chance at feeling goof and persisting, and then be okay substracting everything (or at least everything we can).

Author: Brad Stulberg

Publication date: 5 September 2023

Number of pages: 240 pages


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