The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: The Answers to My Favorite Questions (#284)

Please enjoy this transcript of my answering my own 11 questions that are the foundation of Tribe of Mentors (and added in a few bonus answers). Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the interview here or by selecting any of the options below.

The Answers to My Favorite Questions


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Hey, guys. Tim Ferriss here. Before we jump into this episode, I’m gonna do something I very rarely do, and that is to make a direct ask, with hat in hand. My brand-new book just came out today. It is called Tribe of Mentors, subtitled: Short life advice from the best in the world. If you like the podcast, you will love this book. I reached out 130 people who are the best at what they do in sports, investing, business, acting, directing. You name it, we got it. Crypto-currency? Done.

And it turned out better than I ever could have expected. Many of my friends think of all my books, it is the easiest to read, the easiest to use. So, check it out. Please take a look. I put out so much free material. The podcast is free. The 700+ blog posts are free. Every once in a while, I put out something like this. And it’s not that expensive. So please take a look.

And it does make a great holiday gift or gift for others. There’s something for everybody in here. It is really a choose your own adventure guide. A buffet of options for improving your life, both in business and in the personal sphere. So, take a look. I appreciate you taking a look. or anywhere the books are sold.

Hello boys and girls and friendly little Mogwai. That’s what that was. This is Tim Ferriss, and thank you for listening to yet another episode of my meandering conversations. In this case, it’s gonna be a little bit unusual. Instead of the typical interview format where I ask other people many questions, including the 11 questions that I asked everyone, 130+ world-class performers in the book Tribe of Mentors. Check it out. Instead of that, I am gonna do what thousands of you have asked me to do, and that is answer those very same 11 questions, which have been refined over many hundreds of interviews, and I hope my answers don’t disappoint. These were all recorded in the capital of weird, Austin, Texas, which I think is appropriate. So, I hope you enjoy this solo episode, and that you glean something from the chaotic, unplanned experience that has been my life. And, as always, thank you for listening.

So, in the last five years what beliefs, behaviors, or habits have most positively impacted my life? A few come to mind. The first came after my good friend Matt Mullenweg, a very impressive guy, considered the lead developer of WordPress, which now powers 30+ percent of the entire internet. He also runs a company that happens to worth more than a billion dollars. He recommended that I read an article called “The Tail End” by Tim Urban on a blog called Wait But Why. And it makes the point very clearly, also with visuals, that, and I’m gonna paraphrase this, by the time you leave for college, or by the time you graduate from high school, you’ve spent more than 80 percent of the total number of hours you will ever spend with your parents before they die. Right? Think about that. I encourage you to read it, but that led me to make the decision to take my parents, and when possible, my brother, he has a real job, on a trip every six months. So, for the last few years, I’ve sat down with my parents, or my brother, or one of my parents to think up a dream location. Where could I take them? Where haven’t they been?

So, could I take my mom to Paris? She’s never been to Paris. I’ve never spent time in Paris, really. So, I took my family to Paris. And so, basically every December or January, around the holidays, and then again around June or July, I try to take my entire family on a trip somewhere. And for those people watching this or hearing this, this doesn’t have to be fancy. In my case, though, I’m thinking about any place that could be really fun. It could be just a national park somewhere in the US, right? Going to Zion. And that has made our relationships better than they have ever been. I’m 40 now. And in the two years, I just feel our bonding ability, our care for one another, our love for one another, has just gone through the roof. And it’s really made me appreciate the finite time that we have left, that we all have left. But especially with my parents. And that’s just been a really joyful discovery. So, thanks Matt.

The next one that comes to mind is a belief. And this is a very recent one. I always viewed positive self-talk and being nice to myself as self-indulgence and optional. I prefer to just view myself as an instrument for competing, doing well, achieving. And after reading books like Radical Acceptance for instance, by Tara Brach, which is spectacular, and realizing how much of the things that I want to work on or fix can be traced back to negative self-talk and critical self-talk, the belief that if you want to love others fully, you have to love yourself. Period. Full stop. End of story.

You can’t berate yourself constantly and think that you can fully express love to other people. I just don’t think it’s possible. So, that’s the belief that in order to love others fully, you have to love yourself, which, believe me, as someone who’s tried to be the terminator his whole life, on some level, pains me to admit, but I think it’s true.

And last, I would say two things. No. 1, and do not explore this without professional, legal, and medical advice, but is looking into and supporting research related to psychedelic research. And if you want to hear a bit more about that or read a bit more about that, you can listen to my podcast episodes with James Fadiman, F-A-D-I-M-A-N or Dan Engle, E-N-G-L-E. Closely related to that, although you might not think, is meditating on a daily basis.

I went through a huge burnout period right after The 4-Hour Chef, and two people who are world-class performers, Chase Jarvis, incredibly successful photographer, also startup CEO, has really killed it in many, many fields, and then Rick Reuben, perhaps the most legendary music producer of all time, both said, in effect, “Dude, have you ever thought about trying transcendental meditation?” And I had a lot of pushback. A lot of pushback. I was like, “Eh, seems culty. And they charge you to give you a mantra. Are you kidding? Not gonna do it.” And they said, “What do you have to lose. Seems like you have no downside here because you’re sort of at red line.” And I did it. And it doesn’t have to be transcendental meditation, but meditating 20 minutes, certainly first thing in the morning, and then when possible, before dinner at some point, has completely changed my life, in terms of being able to capitalize on that small gap between event or stimulus and my response. And that little gap is your life. That little gap is reality. So, being able to widen that gap just enough so that I can choose my response instead of being completely reactive has been huge. So those are a few things that have dramatically changed my life in the last five years

So, purchases of less than $100.00 that have most improved my life. In recent memory, because there are many purchases of less than $100.00, there are a few, right off the bat. No. 1 is this hat. This is the Sitka Dakota beanie, and it’s camo, just so people don’t see your head when you’re walking around. You look like the headless horseman in your turquoise shirt. But extremely comfortable hat, that for whatever reason, and I can’t properly explain this, I can wear, say, in warmer temperatures, like 60, just because I don’t have much coverage. I can also wear it sub-freezing, and it works in both environments.

I first got exposed this – Sitka’s a hunting brand. It’s kinda like the Lululemon, the most comfortable clothing in the hunting world, really high-quality gear, when I was in Colorado. And I travel with this everywhere. I also use it as a murse. Man-purse. So, I’ll stick, say, a piece of recording equipment into this hat to protect it because it’s semi-padded. So, this travels with me constantly.

That’s No. 1. Might as well show you this, No. 2, which is spray zinc. This is Thera Zinc Spray, which is zinc gluconate. And I use this for immune support. So, this travels in the side of my backpack, and I will spray, like the knock-off, but five or six sprays around the mouth, and I will do this two or three times, probably per day, when I am traveling. And I’ve found it, as it appears, at least to me, to make a substantial difference. If there are a lot of people getting sick and continuing to get sick, coughing and so on on a trip or on a plane, this helps me not to succumb. So, this is always with me.

The next one that is always with me, and all these items travel with me 24/7, effectively. They live in my backpack. This is the rubs device, and no it is not a massage parlor with black windows. It is what looks like a golf ball, and it has these little nubs on it. It was gifted to me. This is very, very cheap. It’s like $6.00. Gifted to me by Amelia Boone, thank you Amelia, who is a four-time world champion in obstacle course racing. And you roll out your feet or your hands or your forearms, in my case, with this device. And it is incredible how much it relieves pain throughout the body if you just roll out your feet properly, which is something I picked up not only from Amelia Boone, but from Ed Coan, who’s the most successful legendary powerlifter in the history of the world. I think he deadlifted 901lbs at 220, or something insane, like that. And a lot of back pain, leg pain, in my experience, goes away when you just rub out your feet.

So, if land at a hotel or when I wake up after a bunch of travel, I use this on the feet. Next up, we have this device. This isn’t the most interesting angle, though. That is the most interesting angle. This is the Logitech Keys To Go keyboard. And it holds a charge for a very, very long time. And I stick this in the laptop pocket. Why? Because I like to work in, say, restaurants. I like to type, I like to brainstorm in restaurants. But I don’t wanna have a laptop out. Or if my laptop has a problem, and I can’t use it, I still wanna be able to type and not poke at my iPhone screen. So, I will take my iPhone, lean it against, say, a glass of iced tea, or wine, or whatever, and then I will pair it to this keyboard, and I can type an entire chapter out. It’s really cool. And people don’t even notice, necessarily, that I’m working. They just think I’m a crackhead staring at my iced tea for two hours straight.

All right, the last up – and this is increasingly important as I travel to louder and louder cities, let’s say, in some cases, is the following. Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Putty. And this is what it looks like. These are earplugs, and they’re not foam. And what this allows you to do is sleep very, very, very well. And that includes laying on your sides. What happens if you, say, roll up foam earplugs, stick them in your ear, and then you lay on your side? You feel like you have a nerf ice pick being jabbed into your eardrum, which is not very comfortable. And I find these do also dampen sound more effectively than foam, typically. Fantastic. So, those are handful of the purchases, less than $100.00, that have most impacted my life and continue to. They travel with me 24/7.

All right. So, what would I put on a billboard? If I could put one message on a billboard to get to millions or billions of people, it would be, “You are the average of the five people you associate with most,” which also happens to be probably the best advice that I received between the ages of 10 and, say, 15. I remember that a mentor at the time, who I think was borrowing from Jim Rohn, R-O-H-N, who happens to be the mentor of Tony Robbins, long story, but he left a message on my answering machine with tapes. Remember those, kids? And he left that bit of advice. He said, “Just remember, you’re the average of the five people you associate with most.” Right? And that means financially, emotionally, physically, mentally. You are going to be the average of the five people you spend the most time around. All right? So, choose those people as well as you can.

What do I do when I feel unfocused or overwhelmed? There are a few things. First, I have a short checklist. Am I eating enough? All right? So, it’s very fashionable with intermittent fasting to skip breakfast, skip that meal, skip another meal. For myself, I’ve realized unless I am in ketosis, unless I am on a ketogenic diet, or fasting, or have ketones in my blood, which is an alternate fuel to glucose, I need to eat. And of course, you can supplement with exogenous ketones, but am I eating enough? If I skip breakfast and it’s 1:00 p.m., and I haven’t had lunch, and I’m feeling unfocused or overwhelmed, I probably don’t need to sit there and journal on my existential dilemmas. I need to eat some fucking macadamia nuts and maybe have some beans or salad or something like that. All right? So, simple, simple, simple.

The second would be am I consuming too much caffeine? Real simple. For me, if I’m feeling anxious, overwhelmed, very often, if I wanna achieve a more Zen-like state, there are at least two things I can do. And one is to meditate twice a day, which I like to do. Doesn’t always happen. Meditate twice a day and do all of these other things related to cultivating peace of mind. The second one is to stop consuming so much caffeine. All right? Real, real, really simple. Then, last are a few tactical and strategic questions. And being overwhelmed and unfocused, I think are quite different things, typically. Sometimes they come along together. There’re two questions, or I should say two pairs or groups of questions that I use a lot. The first one is an 80/20 analysis. And there are two questions as part of that. And I put this on paper, always on paper because I wanna trap my thoughts on paper to see if they hold any weight, to see if there’s any insight, to see what is ridiculous. Maybe I have worries that, once I put them down, are really unfounded and kind of ludicrous.

The first question is what are the 20 percent of activities or people that are producing 80 percent or more of the results and positive emotional states that I want? The positive emotional states part is really important. All right. So, you spend one or two pages on that. The second part is the opposite. What are the 20 percent of activities, responsibilities, or people that are producing 80 percent or more of the pain, the headache, and the negative emotional states that I would prefer not to have. Do another page or two. And then the last question: If you’re engaged with a specific project or relationship, could be anything really, is very simple. It’s what would this look like if it were easy. I think very much if we’re Type A personality, we’ve competed in school, we’ve competed in X, we’ve competed in Y and Z, we are trained by ourselves to believe that if we’re not redlining it, if we’re not overcome with effort, that we’re not doing a good job. We’re not trying hard enough. And I think that often leads us to seek complicated paths with many, many moving pieces.

So, what would this look like if it were easy? So, for instance, if I’m having trouble with a book, and I have three months left to write it, I’ll ask myself, “What would this look like if it were easy? What if I had to finish this book in a week? If I had a gun to my head? Or a gun to my dog’s head?Poor Molly!” And I had to save Molly? What would I do? All right, you have a week. That’s it. Period. How would you write this book? And that gets rid of a lot of fluff, and I start to stay, “All right. Well, how could I use money instead of time to fix this problem? How could I ask other people for help instead of trying to do it all myself, in this situation? What would this look like if it were easy?” And you can find a lot of gems that way.

And just expect 95 percent of what you write down is going to potentially be ludicrous, and you should come up with the absurd, right? Don’t edit when you’re putting stuff down. But within that, you might find one or two things, and you’re like, “That’s it. Now I can save 80 percent of my headache, 80 percent of my angst because I don’t have to do it the hard way.” And then you can find an elegant solution that produces an even better product, even better outcome. So, those are a few of the things that I regularly do when I’m feeling overwhelmed or unfocused or distracted.

So, what is my favorite failure? The failure or a failure that set me up for later success? There are many. I mean, I have struck out a lot. And it’s important to remember, say, Babe Ruth, right? Homerun king, also the strikeout king. And I’m not saying I’m Babe Ruth in either capacity, but one that comes to mind that is relatively fresh is The 4-Hour Chef. The 4-Hour Chef was my third book, and I’m very proud of it. I think it’s a – I was gonna say fantastic book, but it sounds a little self-indulgent. But I’ve put a lot of effort into it. I think it is a solid book.

But it was the first major book acquired by Amazon Publishing. So, Amazon announced that it was going to compete head-to-head, in a way, with publishers by forming its own imprint, basically. And the book was boycotted by everybody imaginable. So, Barnes and Noble, I wanna say Costco, Walmart, all of these big box stores would not distribute the book. Indies, also.

Most indies would not carry the book. So, despite the fact that I felt like we had a great product, it sold a small fraction of what I hoped it would. Certainly, I think most people on the team hoped it would. And that was really, really painful. It was also my first four-color book, and I thought it would be a good idea to take 30, 40 percent of the photographs myself, to learn how to do photography. Turns out, you probably wanna tackle those one at a time and not all at the same time.

And it was brutal. I mean, I had, I would say, a nervous breakdown during that period. My relationship suffered I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was using stimulants to keep awake. It was a bad time for a lot of reasons, and I was burned out. So, after that, I was completely depleted. And I decided, in the process of promoting The 4-Hour Chef, because I had done a handful of podcasts like Joe Rogan Podcast, Marc Maron, which is WTF, Nerdist, Chris Hardwick, and so on, and I really enjoyed them, I could be myself, what if I just took a break? No more books. I’m gonna stop books and I will do six episodes of a podcast where I’m asking the questions because it would allow me to develop skills and relationships that would transcend that. So, I’d get better at asking questions. I’d get better at fixing verbal tics. That could be applied to later projects, later books. But never really thought much of it.

So, I proceed to do the podcast. Pretty quick and dirty. First episode, get sloppily drunk with Kevin Rose, my close friend. It’s an embarrassing first episode, and ended up falling in love with it. And now, the podcast generates 10 times, I would say, the annual revenue of all of my books combined. I still love doing it. I’ve done more than 300 episodes. Has more than 200 million downloads. And the vast majority of people who know me, that is as, say, fans or consumers of anything I do, mention the podcast. If they see me in the streets, see me in a coffee shop, they mention a specific episode of the podcast. They don’t even mention the books. And that’s totally fine with me. So, I would say that set me up for a lot of what I’m doing now. Couldn’t be happier. So, thanks for that failure, universe.

So, books I’ve gifted the most to other people. There are many. The first that comes to mind is any collection of the Letters from a Stoic, or more commonly known in academic circles as The Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca. So, I actually gave away these for free because they’re in the public domain with illustrations and so on, as The Tao of Seneca. So, I’ve given away hundreds and thousands of copies. It really teaches you what I consider, perhaps the ultimate operating system for thriving in high-stress environments. At least one of them. Then I would say, also, because I read nothing but nonfiction for more than a decade,

I really like to gift people I know, Type A, driven people fiction because I think many of the principles and truths contained in stories are better absorbed through fiction. Zorba the Greek, specifically stands out, which chronicles the adventures of this very brainy, very analytical person, which I see as more myself, who makes all manner of mistakes in life because of that, and then this free-wheeling, crazy person, Zorba the Greek. So, I highly, highly recommend that book.

And then, also, there’s a book called Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, which is incredible. And if you’ve ever wondered where the word “grok” – “Oh, I grok that. I don’t grok that.” – where that came from, it’s commonly used in tech circles, came from that book. And it’s about a Martian developing as a human being on Earth. It’s a spectacular, spectacular book. And, I would say last, but certainly not least would be Surely – I think it is Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Along those lines. You’ll find it. And it is a book written by Richard Feynman, incredible physicist involved with Manhattan Project, but also a polymath and had taught himself how to play the bongos, how to crack safes, how to paint, which he learned doing in strip-clubs. A fascinating, hilarious guy, expert at problem solving, and also a very, very, very famous teacher. He could take complex physics concepts and break them down to the point where all he needed was, say, an apple and a pen, and he could explain something that would normally take years of pre-reqs. So, those are a few of the books that I’ve gifted the most to other people.

So, questions. Let’s talk about questions. Why are questions important? Questions are critically important because, first and foremost, thinking, goes on here, is largely asking yourself questions and answering them. Secondly, if you want to get anything in life, chances are it’s inside someone else’s head: The knowledge, the skills, the blueprint. And the pickaxe for getting that gold is in the form of questions, all right? So, there are a few things that you can do to improve questions. No. 1 is study questions. Watch Inside the Actors Studio. Listen to Terry Gross. Listen to podcasts, whether mine, or Joe Rogan’s, or others, so that you can borrow questions and test them on other people. And there are a few things to consider when you’re formulating questions. No. 1 is can it be answered relatively quickly?

So, for instance, if you found someone you idolized, you’re in an elevator, “Oh my God, it’s Jimmy Fallon.” If you ask Jimmy a question, could he come up with a really concrete answer in five seconds or less? If the answer’s no, find a different question. For you or for other people. So, “What is your favorite book?” for instance, not a good question because people have read hundreds or thousands of books, in many cases. But, “What book or books have you gifted the most to other people?” It’s gonna be a short list. The search query is really refined. It’s fast. Click. All right? Much like asking yourself, “What makes me happy?” is not really a great question. It’s too broad, right? It takes too long to search. But, let’s just say, “What makes me feel most relieved after work when I get home? Or what activities, which people?” All right, now we’re more refined. You can answer it much more quickly, and it’s more actionable.

Think, also, of the sequence of questions. So, if you wanna ask someone, as I do very often, a question that could be kind of heavy or really involved, like, “What would you put on a billboard? If you had a gigantic billboard, metaphorically speaking, to reach millions or billions of people, what would you put on it?” All right, that’s a fair amount of pressure, and people in my case know they might get quoted. So, to get them warmed up and ready for that, I don’t lead with that. I’ll ask them other questions that are much, much easier and less intimidating. So, “What purchase of $100.00 or less has mostpositively impacted your life in the last, say, year, or recent memory?” or the books question. And that gets them flowing. It gets them engaged. And then I can ask a question like that. Another trick you can use when you ask what might be a difficult question, is you can give an example. So, could be a personal example or it could be something else.

So, if I ask someone, “What is something absurd that you love doing?” because I want that little shred of personality. I don’t wanna just have the actionable business stuff. I wanna get to know them as a human. And I will then say, “Well, for instance, the number 555 is good luck to me for many reasons, so when it appears on my phone, I take a screenshot and –” I elaborate a little bit. Or Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild likes to disassemble sandwiches and rearrange all the ingredients so each bite is uniform. That gives them 30 seconds to think about their answer and gives them some examples. All right. A few things you should not do if you meet someone who is, say, just above your weight-class, in terms of professional development, and you want to connect with them, don’t ask them questions that you could answer on Google, No. 1. All right? No. 2, don’t ask them really broad questions they couldn’t conceivably answer quickly? All right?

“What should I do? What advice would you give me for succeeding?” These are not good terms. If you can’t define success in, say, 10 words or less, get rid of it. Lose it from the question. All right? And I would encourage you to strive to be interested in the form of good questions. If you seek to be perceived as interesting, stop talking. Start thinking about questions. And then stop and listen.

One of the commonalities, one of the patterns that you spot really quickly if you interview hundreds of world-class performers, and I just interviewed 130 or so, for my new book Tribe of Mentors, is the fact that they have consistent morning routines. They have some type of recipe, a boot-up sequence that they use to win the day in some fashion. And it ranges from, for instance, mindfulness, and that could be mindfulness meditation, where you find, say, Evan Williams, who is well-known for blogger, Twitter, also Medium, who spends time every morning, as I do, with some type of meditative practice.

Could be insight, it could be transcendental meditation. You could use an app like Headspace, which I think is a great place to start. And it trains you. It allows you to practice becoming more aware and less reactive, so that you’re not thrown off by the unexpected challenges and problems of the day. And that helps you to be much more productive and much more centered. You can achieve that in other ways. Gratitude is a common element. So, Tim O’Reilly, who’s just an incredible entrepreneur, thinker, writer, and though-leader in Silicon Valley, goes for a run and will take a photograph of a single flower on his run every morning. This teaches you to pause. To pause and to assess how you’re responding to things.

So, that is a really beautiful practice that can be done with gratitude lists. I use something called The Five-Minute Journal, but Whitney Cummings, incredible stand-up comedian, writer, and much more also has gratitude lists. And this is, say, naming three things that you’re grateful for each morning. Tony Robbins does this. Brian Grazer. Incredibly well-known, iconic TV and film producer also does this. I think he’s had 180 Emmy nominations or something like that.

And that achieves very much, the same thing of present state awareness and looking for the positive as opposed to fixating on the negative. And last, but not least you have Jocko Willink, retired Navy SEAL commander who will lay out his clothing, his workout clothing, the night before, so that there’s no conscious decision required where willpower or lack thereof could intercede. His clothing is ready, he’s already set his to-do list for the next day. He wakes up at 4:30. That’s not quite when I wake up. And grabs the clothes, boom. Directly to the gym. And he has a home gym where he does his workouts.

This is also very common, where people recognize – these very busy, very driven people, that if it’s inconvenient to workout, they probably won’t do it. So, Jocko has a home gym where barbell, plates, squat rack, three sets of rings at different heights, a cattle bell, and you’re good to go. That’s all you need. So, these are a few of the things that I’ve seen repeatedly, in different forms with hundreds of top performers, that they use to win the morning, so they can win the day.

All right. So, in recent memory what have I become better, say, in the last year or two, at saying “No.” to? And are there any approaches that have worked well for me? There are quite a few. So, if you were to look at my inbox right now, I do not believe in inbox zero, as a goal. I have more than 340,000 unread email. And I don’t give out my email freely. 90 percent of those, I would say, are pitches of some type. People asking for time, or favors, introductions, whatever it might be.

A few things about me a lot – so, for instance, with something like speaking engagements, I was chatting with my friend Josh Waitzkin, who’s considered a chess prodigy. He’s the basis of Searching for Bobby Fischer, and so on. An amazing guy, and good at a lot of things, especially thinking. And his role was, instead of getting stuck in the middle, negotiating for different fees, and travel, and this, that, and the other thing, he only does – and actually right now, he does zero, which is the best policy, perhaps, for a lot of things. He does either free, for causes, groups he believes in, and then full-retail. That’s it. Non-negotiable, this is my price list, there is no discount in any case. That’s that. Also, for speaking, I remember chatting with someone I won’t name, but very well known, and they said, “The further away from my house it is, the more costs. That’s it.”

And so, they have prices. They live on the East Coast. They said, “If it’s down the street, in New York City, it’s X. If it is in the same state, but requires more than an hour, it’s Y. If it’s in the US Domestically – outside of that – and so on and so forth.” International, they almost never do, but then there is a set price. No negotiating. And a speaking engagement could be almost anything, right?

One that I’ve learned recently, which has been fantastic, which is actually in my newest book, Tribe of Mentors, is from Kyle Maynard. And you can look him up separately, but amazing, amazing, amazing guy. And he learned from a CEO who used this framework for hiring because the CEO, as part of the process, would ask his employees to interview the potential new hire. And then he would have them rank the prospect from 1-10, but he had a twist. And the twist is important. It’s the most important. You can’t use 7.

And what Kyle realized, is when he accepted certain invitations or offers or business deals, and he ranked it as a 7, he was doing it out of obligation, or out of fear or missing out, or some other motivation that really isn’t or shouldn’t be a driver for your decisions. One you have to rank something a 6 or an 8 – 6 is like a C grade. It’s barely passing. That’s a no. If it’s an 8, you’re really stoked. Okay? It’s not like euphoric, “I’m on Cloud 9,” 10-stoked. But you’re pretty stoked. You’re really stoked. So, rank opportunities, invitations from 1-10 and you can’t use a 7. That’s one that’s really helped me a lot, and I picked that up very recently.

Another comes from a friend, Derek Sivers, who’s an incredible entrepreneur, and musician, and writer, and fill in the blank. His heuristic is if it’s not a “Hell, yes!” it’s a no, which actually goes hand-in-hand with Kyle’s guideline, but if it’s not a “Hell, yes!” like “Fuck, yeah! I wanna do that.” It’s a no. Nothing in between. So, you’ll notice the commonality with these is nothing in between. So, there’s some aspect of nothing in between. So, I try to, in many cases, make binary decisions. So, if I’m going to prepare for book launch, yes, I will do media of certain types with these following guidelines, but otherwise, say, if I’m on book deadline, and I’m writing, zero media. Even if there are good opportunities because the great ideas and the great opportunities die. They get crowded out because you say, “Yes,” to too many good things. Reasonably competent people don’t lose, so to speak, in various aspects of their lives because they pursue a lot of bad ideas.

It’s because they say, “Yes,” to too many kinda cool, good things, and then they don’t have space for the once every six months or once every year opportunities that come along that are like, “Oh my God, that is exactly what I want to do.” But it’s too late because they’re calendar’s full.

So, whenever possible, try to say, “No,” across the board to certain categories of things. So, for me that would be interviews, speaking engagements, or coffee meetings. Any type of in-person meeting. And I learned from a very famous billionaire investor, indirectly because I was turned down for a meeting. I know him quite well, and I said, “Hey, would you wanna get together, have lunch? I have a couple questions about X, Y, and Z.” And he said, “I’d love to. Unfortunately, I am on a no-meeting diet. And I’m doing everything via email and only when absolutely necessary, phone. But I’m doing no meetings, whatsoever for the next six months because I realized it was just too disruptive, and I wasn’t able to focus on my projects.” So, I’ll very routinely go on no-meeting diets. No-conference-call diets. No-fill-in-the-blank diets.

And people are incredibly understanding, for the most part. And if someone isn’t understanding, that also tells you something very valuable. That they are highly sensitive, reactive, perhaps you shouldn’t associate with them at all if they can’t understand that, which is very nonpersonal.

So those are a few of the things that have helped me to get better at saying no, which historically, I’m actually not very good at. I like to please people. I like to be liked. But I’ve become much, much better, and it’s by having rules. It’s by having policies, and realizing that if you follow that policy, and you’re afraid of missing all these opportunities, you can test it for a month and then look back at what you missed.

A month – you can do almost anything for a month, and then you can assess. And 99 times out of 100, you’re gonna realize nothing catastrophic happened. In fact, nothing bad happened, and look at all these good things. Look at all these fun things. Look at all these really high-impact things that I was able to. Hope that helps. Learn to say no.

So, what is one of the most worthwhile investments I’ve ever made, of energy, time, whatever it might be. I would have to say creating my own real-world MBA.

And for that, some context. Way back in the day, I was pining after going to the Stanford GSB, Graduate School of Business, because I really wanted to go there undergraduate. I ended up not going. And then I thought, “Wait. But I can get back to the pine trees, and the beautiful terra cotta buildings for business school.” And it also would be a nice two-year vacation that looks good on a resume. And I went through the process of applying twice. I went through everything, and it always ended at the tour of classes because I would find one or two classes I loved.

There was one, I think it was called Inside Venture Capital with Peter Wendell, which was fantastic. But then, there were all of these theoretically heavy, abstract, conceptual classes that were really uninspiring to me. And I just felt demoralized. Didn’t know what to do. So, what I decided at the time because I was also having lunches with someone named Mike Maples, Jr., who’s a spectacular investor.

And he would ask me for PR or launch marketing advice related to his startups. And I would ask him, then, about deal structure. Why he chose one startup instead of another. And ultimately, I decided, “Wait a minute. Why don’t I take what I would have spent on business school,” which was $120,000.00 at the time. Like, $60,000.00 a year. So, “$120k over two years and just create the ‘Tim Ferris fund,’ which would be my real-world MBA.”

And I would ask Mike if I could invest alongside him, just small amounts of money. The assumption, this is the most important part, being that I would lose the $120k. It’s a sunk cost, right? And the same with tuition. It’s gone. Once you pay, it’s gone. And you hope that, at business school or in my real-world MBA, the skills I would develop, all the things I would learn, the people I would meet, the network that I would build would be worth more than that $120k over time. And right out of the gate, I made a stupid decision and lost the first $50k! What a dummy. On the first investment. Oh! So, I was just like, “Okay. Now what?” And I remember Mike saying, “That seems a little aggressive.” And I was like, “No, man. This is gonna be the next Google.” Boom. Like, shoot my head. And yeah. Complete, like Walking Dead, immediately. And I continued, then, to refine things. And ultimately, that led to early-stage investments in Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Ollie Bobba. You go down the list of 50+ companies over the next ten years following that because I ended up enjoying it, and it worked out.

By far, the biggest financial wins of my life, probably forever, quite frankly, have come from the initial experiment of doing a real-world MBA where I expected to lose all the money I put in, $120k over two years. And that just blows my mind. So, that was the best investment I’ve ever made. And you can mimic it in other, smaller ways. Whether you want to or dream of being a novelist, dream of being an A, B, C, D, or E. You can create that type of real-world education.

All right. Should you write a book? Should someone or anyone write a book? I get asked questions about launching books all the time. “How can I make my book a best seller?” “Have you written a book?” “No. I’m going to write a book.” “Have you written any books before?” “No.” “Why are you writing a book?” And we get into this conversation, and ultimately, I ask one question, and that is, “For the period of a year, can you make this your No. 1 priority? For a period of at least a year, can this be your No. 1? If you have a company, that means your business is No. 2. If you have a family, that means your family is No. 2. Can this be your number one priority for a year?”

That’s the general Litmus test because if you put out a mediocre book, or even a good book, a good enough book, which by the way, equals shitty, as Brian Grazer, legendary film and TV producer would say, it’s more of a liability than a help. Okay? So, a mediocre book is more of a liability than no book at all. You can’t take it back. So, as Michael Gerber told me, who wrote The E-Myth Revisited, which is a book that had a huge impact on me before I launched The 4-Hour Work Week, he said, “If you’re going to write a book, write a fucking book,” meaning you’re all in. All of your chips are into this book. So, how did I know that I should do The 4-Hour Work Week? Right? Was it that obvious? Was it clear? Was I dying to be a writer? Which, by the way, I don’t think is a necessary checkbox. You don’t have to write the book yourself, necessarily.

Open, by Andre Agassi, was ghost-written, but it was a collaboration that took a long time and a lot of Andre’s time. Beautifully written, but nonetheless, required a lot of focus from him. So, you can have a collaborator.

But my, I suppose, hurdle, was it was easier for me to get it out of my head than it was for me to live with it in my head. It was less painful to put it down than to have it ricocheting inside my head. And I had all these experiences from 2004 to end of 2005 where I was restructuring and reformulating my entire business to run without me, traveling the world for 18 months without any set schedule, meeting all these case studies.

And I was teaching a class at Princeton twice a year, sometimes in person, sometimes remotely, in high-tech entrepreneurship, where I was sharing my findings about scaling a boot-strapped business. And that slowly morphed into lifestyle design, how to create a business or career to allow you to take advantage of the most valuable non-renewable resource, which is time. So, I’m already giving these two- to three-hour classes, and I would take notes and over time, because one of the students said, “Why don’t you just write a book and be done with it? As opposed to teaching a class of 40 students,” which was actually a snarky, Princeton student, response. It wasn’t a real suggestion, I don’t think. Nonetheless, I had insomnia for many, many, many, many years, and I couldn’t get to sleep because these chapter ideas would come. These stories would come to mind, and I just couldn’t get to sleep without jotting down a little note on a piece of paper.

And I ended up with a huge pile of paper on lessons learned and so on. And I knew that at least two of my friends, and there were two specific friends in mind, one who was trapped in a decent paying job where he had no time, disliked what he was doing, but he could finally afford that nice car. So, he felt like he was trapped. And then I had a friend who had started his own company, who similarly was making decent but felt trapped in a monster of his own making. And I felt these notes would help them. Did not want to write a book at that point. Actively did not want to write a book. But I felt a moral obligation to share this material somehow, and a few of my friends who were authors recommended that I explore the path to publishing it. And I made a few assumptions going into it because keep in mind, I did not want to write a book. I assumed it was gonna be extremely difficult and brutal to write the book, which it was. I mean, we’re talking repeated moments of doubt. “I should throw in the towel. I am going to have a nervous breakdown.” Repeatedly. That has more or less been the case for every book that I’ve written. I’m at five now.

The second assumption was that I was going to probably hate the book, itself, which I did. And that has been largely true for every book I’ve done. Assume that up until a year after the book comes out, you’re gonna look at it and be disappointed with what you’ve produced. Given that, the third assumption was that I would write the book and, if it even changed the life of one or two people, that would justify all the pain, all the self-loathing, all the loathing of the book, all of the opportunity cost of putting it together. And that, last but not least, it was easier for me, less painful for me to get it out and throw a Hail Mary and hope for the best, than to keep it inside of me and wonder, “What if?”

So, a lot of different checkboxes. And the book, keep in mind, 4-Hour Work Week was rejected by 27 publishers. And then, when it was finally printed – first-print run was about 10,000 copies, you don’t even get national distribution with that. Nobody really expected a whole lot. And then, with the same amount of focus that I put into the writing, put into the launch. Ended up hitting the New York Times bestseller list, and now it’s millions of copies in 40+ languages. But I don’t think you get to millions of copies in 40+ languages trying to write a book for the world that is going to help your business. I just don’t think it happens. I’ve never seen it happen. And instead, check all the boxes that I mentioned. And I wrote this book for two friends, very specifically. And by personalizing it in that way, by talking to them in a very conversational way, we ended up with the results that we had. Could have very easily gone in a different direction.

But if you can listen to everything I’ve just said, and you think to yourself, “I should write a book,” then by all means, go for it. But for most people, this doesn’t mean, “I am a great writer; therefore, you need to be a great writer.” No. I’m just saying it was less painful for me to put it out than to keep it in my head. All right. What are some unusual habits that I have, or absurd things that I love?

Let’s start at the top. Since I spend a lot of time trying to be analytical and rational, I have a few prized superstitions. One is that I don’t use red ink for signing anything. And I wanna say I picked this up somewhere in Asia, but that could be completely made-up. I don’t use red ink for signing things, even a check at a restaurant.

The second would be I don’t cheers with water. Pretty sure I picked that up from an Italian. No cheersing with water. So, I’ll actually fist-bump other people at a table, which I did at a really fancy dinner two days ago, and people thought it was very odd. But everyone else had wine. I hadn’t – actually, I had drained my glass. That’s another thing. So, even if it’s an empty wine glass, no. It has to be full of alcohol, and so I went around fist-bumping other people’s glasses of wine. Pretty odd, I would say.

Let’s see. In addition to that, very personal – it’s not a superstition. I suppose it is. It’s more of a good-luck charm. The number 555 is good luck to me because I finished the last line of editing my second book, The 4-Hour Body, looked at the clock in Samovar Tea House, in San Francisco, in Hayes Valley at the time, and it was 5:55. And I love repeating numbers. So, 5:55, if it shows up on my phone, I always take a screenshot of it. And if I look at my phone and it’s 5:53, 5:54, I’ll wait, wait, wait, screenshot. So, I always take a screenshot at 5:55.

Another unusual habit – I don’t think of it as unusual, but people have told me is unusual, is leaving my phone on airplane mode 80 to 90 percent of the day to avoid distraction. This is particularly important when I go to bed. So, I will put it onto airplane mode, and it doesn’t come off of airplane mode until I’ve finished my morning routine because if I wake up and I see a barrage of texts and emergencies, real or manufactured, forget about mediation. Forget about everything else. And I use a meditation timer on my phone: 20 minutes plus a two-minute exit phase, roughly. And if I look at my phone to start that timer, and it’s notification, text, and so on, forget about the quality of that meditation session. So, very frequently, my phone is on airplane until I have finished the first hour of my day, my boot-up sequence, and then I’m ready to face whatever might otherwise make me overly reactive.

Many people do intermittent fasting of 16-18 hours. But I’ll do 5, 7, 10 days of fasting. I’m not a doctor, don’t play one on the internet, so do not be stupid. Only do that with medical supervision. I have many doctors at my disposal, and I have them to help me and supervise me. That can be very dangerous if you do it unsupervised.

And the last odd thing that I like, not to end on the don’t die fasting bit, is using a makeshift eye-shade when I go to sleep. So, I travel with various types of eye-masks. The Sleep Master being the best, in my opinion.

But it’s very thick. It’s hot. So, what I started doing when it was warm, and I wanted to cover my eyes, so I wouldn’t get woken up too early, is I would take a tee-shirt, and I would fold it lengthwise. So, imagine I’m folding a tee-shirt lengthwise. And then I’d lay the folded edge right here, along my nose, so it’s kind of covering my head, and tuck one side under my head so it’s pinned to the pillow. And I just go to sleep that way. So, almost every night I go to bed with a tee-shirt tucked under one side of my head, kind of draped over this way, with the fold right here at the bottom of my eyes.

So, what are your unusual habits or absurd things that you love because, as they say, normal people: just weirdos you don’t know well enough yet. So, let me know what your weird habits are.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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One Reply to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: The Answers to My Favorite Questions (#284)”

  1. Great idea on the 1-10 scale — been using that the last few weeks on a market research project for a private equity client. People love the mind hack – it wakes them up, and when I tell them they can’t use a wishy-washy 7, it forces them to think and commit to a real answer. Thanks!