Timothy "Tim" Ferriss is an American author, entrepreneur and public speaker. He has written a number of self-help books which have appeared on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists, starting with The 4-Hour Workweek.
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Hey reddit, Tim Ferriss here.
I’m best known for my books including “The 4-Hour Workweek”, “The 4-Hour Body”, “The 4-Hour Chef” and my most recent, “Tools of Titans”, which was released Tuesday.
“Tools of Titans” is the playbook I created after interviewing 200+ world-class performers on my podcast The Tim Ferriss Show, which recently passed 100,000,000 downloads. The book distills the tools, tactics, and routines these guests use to become the best in their respective industries. The guests included chess prodigies, movie stars, four-star generals, pro athletes, hedge fund managers, and more. If you’d like, you can read a sample chapter here or read the foreword from the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, here. I created this book, my ultimate notebook of high-leverage tools, for myself. It’s changed my life, and I hope the same for you.
Outside of podcasts and books I’m also an angel investor and startup advisor in companies such as Uber, Duolingo, Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba, and 50+ more (Most are here: http://angel.co/tim).
I’m excited to be back and answer your questions. AMA!
UPDATE: Thanks so much, all! This was a blast. I have to take off now. If you have more questions, you can find me on Twitter at @tferriss All the best to you and yours!
What was the most common routine shared by your guests?
Short but regular morning meditation for sure. More than 80% of the guests (chess prodigies, movie stars, 8x NYT bestselling authors, athletes, etc.) I interviewed have some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Both can be thought of as “cultivating a present-state awareness that helps you to be nonreactive.”
It is a “meta-skill” that improves everything else. You’re starting your day by practicing focus when it doesn’t matter (sitting on a couch for 10 minutes) so that you can focus better later when it does matter (negotiation, conversation with a loved one, max deadlift, etc).
Maria Popova recommended a simple guided meditation I like a lot, which she listens to daily: Tara Brach's "Summer 2010 Smile Meditation." That audio is online for free.
As a teacher, I'm curious. What changes would you make to our current, typical, American public school curriculum?
I've looked at this very closely, and I'm on the advisory council and board of a few great non-profits, like DonorsChoose.org and QuestBridge (for getting high-promise but high-need kids into top colleges).
I don't think the curriculum is the biggest problem. I think that those running schools and the school system are unable to fire bad teachers and pay for the good ones. So, that's where I would focus.
Seth Godin has some great thoughts on how to raise and teach children, and he walks the talk. We discuss it at some length in our podcast together.
What does your morning routine look like these days?
I try to do 5 things each morning. Realistically, if I hit three out of five, I consider myself having won the morning. And if you win the morning, you win the day.
This might seem ridiculous, but bear with me. To quote Naval Admiral William McRaven, head of JSOC (think Special Ops) during the Osama bin Laden raid:
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”
At least 80% of all guests profiled in Tools of Titans have a daily mindfulness practice of some type. Sometimes I will do “Happy Body” mobility exercises from Olympic weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek in place of meditation. Pattern: Males seem to gravitate to TM (tm.org) and women to vipassana, but it's not 100% correlation, of course. The Headspace app also pops up a lot in my interviews.
The 5 to 10 reps here are not a workout. They are intended to “state prime” and wake me up. Getting into my body, even for 30 seconds, has a dramatic effect on my mood and quiets mental chatter. I like pushups and planche leans with mini-parallettes or, ideally, pushups on rings (with turn out at the top), which light you up like a X-mas tree.
I prepare loose-leaf tea in a Rishi glass teapot but you could use a French press. The below combo is excellent for cognition and fat loss, and I use about 1 flat teaspoon of each:
Pu-erh aged black tea
Dragon well green tea (or other green tea)
Turmeric and ginger shavings (often also Rishi brand)
Add the hot water to your mixture and let it steep for 1 to 2 minutes.
I use two types of journaling and alternate between them: Morning Pages and The 5-Minute Journal (5MJ). The former I use primarily for getting unstuck or problem solving (what should I do?); the latter I use for prioritizing and gratitude (how should I focus and execute?).
Hope that helps!
I can't remember if you've ever answered this elsewhere but what's the best book you've read this year?
"Best" is always tough, but I really enjoyed "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" by Mohsin Hamid (sp?), which was recommended to me by billionaire Chris Sacca. "The Baron in the Trees" by Italo Calvino is also beautiful. Why not non-fiction? I still read non-fiction, but these days, I'm trying to A) read fiction before bed to help reduce insomnia, and B) appreciate the beauty in life as much as the type-A personality goal setting. I find that when I'm constantly trapped in the future, thinking about plans and next steps (e.g. reading "productive" non-fiction only), I tend to be more anxious. Really good fiction is good medicine for me.
Hey Tim, big fan! I like your method for quickly and effectively learning new skills. However, I have trouble applying it to my biggest weakness in life: Social skills.
Can you recommend a game plan for me to drastically improve my charisma, quality of social interactions, and my social networking game?
For sure. Here are two things that might seem ridiculous, but they'll check all the boxes, and they work together:
1) Join your local Toastmasters and start talking on stage and polishing. It'll be terrifying at first but fantastic in the long run, and the members tend to be fun.
2) Commit to taking at least two weeks of dance classes for a partner dance. My favorite is Argentine tango (very sexy stuff), but salsa, samba, and others are also great.
Which of your podcast guests surprised you the most? In terms of having a different outlook or insights than you expected they would have.
First to mind is BJ Miller, MD. He's a hospice care physician and triple amputee who has helped 1,000+ people to die. In doing so, he's learned a lot about how to live well. His thoughts and advice were really profound and sometimes counter-intuitive. Definitely worth a full listen (or he's in the new book), but here was his answer to my "What would you put on a gigantic billboard?" question: "Don't believe everything you think."
What's your Every Day Carry?
During book launches, I always have a backpack with me, and the most important EDC elements are: Ito-En or Teas' Tea unsweetened green teas, taurine supplementation, l-tyrosine, desiccated liver capsules, sprayable zinc and vitamin C (for immune support, and I take about 1g vit C per hour when meeting 100s of people), and a handful of other things. Not EDC, but I keep a trunk in all the cities I travel most with everything I'd need for a week, like a Rumble Roller, mini parallettes, etc.
Hey Tim, it's Ryan. How has getting a dog changed your life?
Part 1 -- Getting a dog has made me a better person and a better Stoic. My pup Molly has no bad intentions when she does most "bad" things, for instance. As a puppy, she did what puppies do, of course: peed in the wrong places, chewed things up, disobeyed or ignored commands (mostly because I was unclear), etc.. She trained me to not overreact and get mad, which was pointless and actually made things worse for both of us.
Part 2 -- Studying dog training, and really dedicating myself to good books and teachers (like "Don't Shoot The Dog!" and "Command Performance" (Whole Dog Journal), or Susan Garrett) taught me a ton about training any mammal, including humans and myself. It's been a great way to learn more about how we all respond to rewards, punishment, and feedback. This awareness has helped me to become a less stressed and more effective person.
What's your excersise routine looking like right now?
During something like book launch (right now), when I'm running like mad 24/7 for 1-2 weeks, I keep it simple:
1) 2-5 min upon waking of something simple, just to get the nervous system going, like pushup --> downward dog --> pushup --> downward dog, etc.
2) 20-100 reps of two-handed kettlebell swings sometime after work but before dinner. This takes only a few minutes, and I'll generally do this 2-3x weekly.
3) Might not seem like "exercise," but cold-hot contrast, so Russian baths, or hot baths alternated with ice-cold showers. Usually before bed.
Was there a routine, method or philosophy that you just absolutely could not do?
Ahhh... waking up at 4:45am consistently like former Navy SEAL Commander Jocko Willink or super athlete Amelia Boone! I'm a night owl, plain and simple. Fortunately, not all the world-class performers out there rise with the Amish. There are plenty of folks, like me, who are barely alive until 11am or later.
Tim, I have heard many times, "you are the product of the five people you spend the most time with." I don't have a lot of über successful peers or family members. However I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and reading books of yours, Tony Robbins, Sam Harris and Jocko. Would you consider this a decent substitute for the lack of real life influencers?
PS- thank you for all you do! Love your books and podcast!!
I absolutely think podcasts are a great way to "surround" yourself with people who can help you average up. I use podcasts this way, and I listen to Dan Carlin (Hardcore History), Jocko, Sam, and Tony regularly myself!
If you want to improve yourself physically with good peers, it usually sometimes requires in-person, but that can be figured out. Group exercise at gyms, AcroYoga jam sessions, and even searching or browsing https://www.meetup.com/ can be super helpful.
Best tips for getting out of a so-called 'funk', whether that be depression, lack of motivation, recovery from failure? And, likewise, tips for overcoming that fear of failing in the first place?
I'll answer in reverse order:
For overcoming fear, I think that an exercise called "fear-setting" is extremely helpful. If you search that and my name, you'll find it.
Regarding getting out of funks and dips in your life, you might find this article of mine helpful, titled "Productivity Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)": http://fourhourworkweek.com/2013/11/03/productivity-hacks/
What made you want to write another book? Why is 4-Hour not in the title?
Ah, the 4-Hour blessing and curse! That title and accidental brand has been great to me (and caused a lot of headache), but I think it's time to retire that jersey. I don't want to use that as a crutch or limitation, so I'm taking off the training wheels.
As to why I wrote another book...
I actually wrote this book for myself. I never intended on publishing it.
After I had interviewed almost 200 guests on my podcast, I took a break from everything and set aside a month in France to review all of the lessons I’d learned, to distill everything into the ultimate CliffNotes quick reference for myself. I have dozens of notebooks everywhere, and I wanted this to be my one go-to cheat sheet.
So, I took the time to analyze thousands of pages of transcripts (around 10,000) and hand-scribbled notes I had. The goal, among others, was to see if there were common habits or recommendations. What were the low-hanging fruit with immediate returns?
About 1/2 way though putting it all together, I realized that it was exactly what my listeners and readers had been asking for. It was also, in effect, the sequel to all three of my previous books. I bit the bullet and decided to polish and share it.
I wanted the "notebook" (which became Tools of Titans) to be something that could help me in minutes but be read for a lifetime. I’ve used and vetted all of the lessons in some way and found it’s already changed my life. My hope is that is does that for readers, too.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
The entire process is generally around 3 years. Typically, 2 years for research and 1 year for writing. I use Evernote to gather all information (scans, pulling articles to offline, etc.), then Scrivener to put it all together.
Which 1 new piece of advice from Tools of Titans have you found the most helpful in your own life?
My answer might seem odd. AND IMPORTANT CAVEAT: I'm no doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet, but one answer that comes to mind is: very low-dose (5mg or less) lithium orotate. It's had a tremendous effect on my sense of well-being and anxiety/depression levels.
This came from conversations with Peter Attia, MD, and we discuss it quite a bit in Tools of Titans, and also reading pieces like the NYT's "Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?" https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/opinion/sunday/should-we-all-take-a-bit-of-lithium.html?_r=0
Would Headspace be a good place to start?
Headspace would be a great place to start. Or Calm, which some people prefer for the background nature sounds. Several of my guests also use Headspace (or ambitones -- give a Google) to help them get to sleep.
A few other options:
Guided audio meditations from Tara Brach or Sam Harris (samharris.org, I believe)
Take a TM course (tm.org). It will probably cost $1,000 or more, but this option offers a coach and accountability. For me, this is what kicked off more than 2 years of consistent meditation.
If you want to try mantra-based meditation like TM without a course, you can sit and silently repeat one two-syllable word (I’ve used “na-ture” before) for 10 to 20 minutes first thing in the morning. TM purists would call this heresy, but you can still see results. Aim for physical comfort. No crossed legs or yoga-like contortion required. The default is sitting reasonably straight on a chair with your feet on the floor, hands on your thighs or in your lap, and back supported.
I think the biggest takeaway here, for me, is considering 3/5 a win. I have a similar 5-6 items on my morning routine and when I don't hit all of them, it ends up having the opposite of the intended effect and my day suffers from there. Having more realistic expectations is wise since, frankly, hitting even just 3 of those each day puts you ahead of 80% of people. Thanks!
This is a SUPER critical observation. With routines, you don't want your threshold for "success" to be checking 100% of the boxes. Look for 3/5 wins or 2/5 wins. Otherwise, the human inclination is self-sabotage with "Well, I miss A or B, so I failed today," or "Now today is going to be harder" and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rig the game so you can win. Researcher BJ Fogg and his Persuasion Lab work have interesting observations here.
As someone who always gets sick this is really interesting. Is it just vit C immune support or the other stuff as well? Maybe the zinc?
I used to always get sick, especially in winter. But for the last 2-3 years, I've perhaps had 1-2 colds. I credit this to doing the above regularly, frequent cold exposure (see 4-Hour Body or Wim Hof in the new book), and meditating 20 min in the mornings.
As a follow-up question, what does your book research process look like on a macro level? Starting with a general idea of what might work, what would be the high-level process you go through from idea to starting the first draft?
As Cal Fussman would say, "The good shit sticks." I start with a tentative 3-part structure (like in Tools of Titans -- healthy, wealthy, and wise) and I begin slotting in empty documents with placeholder chapter titles. Then I drop in the "shit that sticks" -- i.e. the details that is firm in my memory and that comes to mind. Once that's done, I build around it all and begin to refine.
What do you feed Molly?
These days, I feed her Taste of the Wild and use Stella and Chewy's freeze-dried raw meat (avoiding fowl) as a topper. I hydrate all of this and often drizzle on some sardine oil to finish. That's the basic, though I also feed her raw liver and other goodies on occasion.
glad to know you do your research and not just churn out material!!!!
Research, research, research. Sebastian Junger had some wonderful things to say about this on my podcast. He hates lazy writers who use pretty prose to cover up gaps in their homework.
Do you have a process for your research?
I probably have some micro-processes related to digesting it all, but the gathering phase is just a big brain dump. I drop it ALL into a gigantic notebook on Evernote and slowly move the good stuff (based on a weekly review) into a "Research" bucket in the left-hand pane of my Scrivener table of contents.