The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett — Two Legends on Competing, Overcoming Adversity, Must-Read Books, and Much More (#494)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett.

Michael Phelps (@michaelphelps) is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time. He captured 28 medals, including a record-setting 23 gold medals, and set 39 world records over the course of his career. Michael utilized his performance bonus for winning eight gold medals in 2008 to establish the Michael Phelps Foundation, which promotes water safety, healthy living (physical and mental), and the pursuit of dreams. The foundation’s signature program—IM—is a learn-to-swim, healthy living, and goal-setting curriculum based on the principles and tools Michael utilized in his swimming career and is available through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Special Olympics International. His advocacy for water safety and mental health has earned him the recognition of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (Champion of Youth), American Image Awards (Humanitarian Award), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Special Recognition Award), the Ruderman Family Foundation (Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion), and PR Week (Health Influencer 50 and 2020 Communicator of the Year), among others.

Michael served as an executive producer and featured talent in the HBO documentary The Weight of Gold, which explores the mental health challenges Olympic athletes often face. In addition, he has published two autobiographies, No Limits: The Will to Succeed and Beneath the Surface, which were New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, and one children’s book, How to Train with a T-Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals.

Grant Hackett (@grant__hackett) represented and captained Australia in swimming at the Olympic Games. He collected a total of 58 medals over the course of his swimming career—with 26 gold at Olympic, Commonwealth, and World Championships levels—along with 16 world records. He remained unbeaten for 11 years in his pet event, the 1500m freestyle. Grant also received prestigious honors such as the Order of Australia, Centenary Medal, and Australian Sports Medal. Grant is a member of the Sports Australia Hall of Fame and International Swimming Hall of Fame.

His qualifications include an executive master of business administration with first-class honors, a diploma of business law, and a diploma of financial services. Grant is the CEO of Generation Life, an Australia-based investment firm managing more than $1.3 billion.

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors.

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#494: Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett — Two Legends on Competing, Overcoming Adversity, Must-Read Books, and Much More


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Tim Ferriss: Michael and Grant, welcome to the show.

Grant Hackett: Thank you, Tim. Thanks for having us.

Michael Phelps: Thank you, Tim. What’s up, Grant?

Tim Ferriss: Thrilled to have us all together. This was the DaVinci Code of scheduling, the Fermat’s Last Theorem of coordination because we have people in every possible time zone and multiple countries. So I appreciate you guys being flexible with both making it happen. And I thought we would start with difficult or particularly notable races. And I’d love to start with you, Grant, because I was confessing to both of you before we started, I enjoy swimming. Actually I didn’t even learn to swim until I was in my 30s, which is a whole separate story, but I really enjoy swimming. But I know very, very little about competition and the history of competitions and notable races, and so on. Grant, please speak to and describe for people what happened in the 2004 Olympics in the 1,500 meter freestyle.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, that was a particularly tough Olympics for me. That year, I actually got pneumonia at the start of the year because I was just overtraining. I got a little bit sick and never missed a session. And I used to do 8k on average per session and used to flog myself. And then I got pneumonia, went to hospital, that turned into a chronic chest infection because I didn’t stop training as soon as I came out of hospital because I couldn’t because I’d miss the Olympic games. And then when I got to the Olympics in Athens in 2004, my only one objective was to win three gold medals. And I got two gold medals, both by 0.1 of a second, two silver medals sorry, by 0.1 of a second, and wasn’t too happy about that. Then I raised the 1,500 meter freestyle and I actually had to deal with a partially collapsed lung on my left side because it was blocked with mucus for so long that that race, I probably pushed myself through more pain than I’ve ever had.

And one of Michael’s teammates, Larsen Jensen, was breaking the American record by about 12 seconds doing a personal best time. And so it pushed me to the nth degree and that was brutal. I came home, I went under a CAT scan and they said, “Oh, there’s a massive lump on your lungs. We’re going to have to inject you with iodine just to see what’s going on.” And they said, “Oh, it’s a big ball,” and injected me with iodine. And I had a look and they said, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s okay.” And I said, “What do you mean is it okay?” And they said, “Well, your lower left lobe has got no oxygen for so long that it’s actually just deflated. And it’s just sitting up in a big ball.” And I’ve got a huge lung capacity of 12.6 liters.

And apparently that took something like a quarter of it off. So that race to win that gold medal was the most painful moment that I’ve ever had in my career. But probably the most rewarding at the same time. But certainly after that, I promised I would never, never race like that again. And Michael knows how much of a sore spot that 4×2 freestyle relay was a few days before where we lost by 0.1. He loves it.

Tim Ferriss: So I have two follow up questions related to this. The first is you mentioned lung capacity, 12.6 liters. Do you have any idea just as a point of reference, what average muggle heart capacity is? Like “normie,” as one of my Olympic friends put it, “normies.” What that is compared to a non-Olympic swimming champion lung capacity?

Grant Hackett: So when that was done, because I’m referring to actually the stats in 2004, it’s 160 percent above what it should be for my heart and my age at the time. So yeah, it was 12.63 liters, my total lung capacity. So it’s one of those genetic things that helps.

Tim Ferriss: At that level, with swimming and a lot of sports, it’s like at the junior high level, you see all sorts of different body types. And then as you get a little bit higher, you see still different body types, but there’s a point where they start to converge on very particular sets of physical characteristics. On the lung, so partially collapsed lung. To most people listening, that just seems completely baffling because so much of swimming would seem dependent on utilizing your full lung capacity. What did it feel like? You said painful, but what does it feel like to swim at max capacity with a partially collapsed lung?

Grant Hackett: It’s not good, Tim, let me tell you that. The way I described that race is like handcuffing someone to a treadmill, putting it on max incline, max speed, and then just going for 15 minutes. That will be the intensity of the pain. Normally, where I felt that intense pain at the 1,000 meter mark, I felt at the 500 meter mark in that race. And it’s excruciating those thresholds that you have to go through. So yeah, to push myself through that.

The funniest thing about that race, I hadn’t lost it in eight years at that particular point in time. And I was going to the last 100 meters and it was the first time I had actually turned with someone next to me with 100 meters to go. And I actually came home faster in the last 100 meters than what I did than when I broke the world record by seven seconds, three years earlier. So it actually taught me the value of competition in my worst situation that I can actually extrapolate or get more out of myself, even feeling like that. But the pain was, yeah, I actually said I’m going to retire if I can’t get better after those Olympics, I’m actually going to retire from the sport because I didn’t want to race like that again.

Michael Phelps: Were you doing lactate testing then, Hackey?

Grant Hackett: Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Phelps: Do you remember what it would have been after that?

Grant Hackett: It’s funny, it was never that high after my 15, but I think I hit about a 12 after that, where the 200 I could hit a 13 or 14 and the 1,500 would normally be like a nine. But I produced a bit more there, because the oxygen saturation wasn’t going down into my blood. So yeah. So it went up. It’s a good point. No one’s actually ever mentioned that, M.P.

Michael Phelps: That’s just something I like snap think about, because you know me, I was always somebody who, and still am, just a numbers driven person. So that stuff always just sends little key messages, whether it’s to me or to Bob or to Keenan, my trainer, of things we need to improve on or fix, or maybe what we need to get tested for, too.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, absolutely. That was excruciating. But you still want to see stats afterwards. It’s like the Olympics is over, that’s the last day always of the Olympics. And you would have been doing the 4×1 medley probably that day as well. And you still want to do everything like, see how quickly you remove the lactate out of your muscles after you cool down. And that’s one thing that Michael and I always share is the stats. We can pull out any swimming time, any split, any world record split. We know it back to front.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I was going to continue with the tough race question and Michael, you can feel free to go there first, but I also have a question about that training obsession, competitive drive, and also just the familiarity with the numbers. Right? I do have some questions about that. But do you have a particularly tough race or competition that you’d like to mention, Michael?

Michael Phelps: The 200 fly, I’m really happy it was only 200 meters, in 2016. Had it been 201 meters, I would’ve lost. So that one sticks out. Other than that, I look back at most of my races and I can say they were pretty much pain-free, but that was just because I was prepared. That literally is the only reason. So I was probably 75, 80 percent of the time really prepared, and 2012 and like 10 to 12 are kind of my fake 65, 70 percentish.

Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about prep since that’s where I was going to head next. I’m looking at a quote from your coach, Michael, from 2003 and he’s referring to both of you guys. And he’s asked about the similarities between the two of you. And he said, this is from an interview at some point, “They both enjoy training, it’s not an ordeal for them. They are both really aware of what’s going on in practice in relation to their times, speed, where everyone is, and, most importantly, where they are in training compared to their goals.” And I’m sure you guys get questions about competitive drive all the time. So I don’t want to obsess on that phrasing exactly. But is that familiarity with the numbers and that awareness common across other team members or is that something that is abnormally developed in the two of you? And if so, do you have any theories on why that is?

Michael Phelps: I think a lot of it really is just God given feel and ability, right? For me, I’m somebody who is really a feel swimmer and I was taught the process of it. So I was taught to swim as efficiently as I possibly could at all times. So I think that’s really what allowed me to be able to do the repeats and feel the exact times with the stroke counts or whatever we were trying to do. Training, I knew I had to be perfect if I ever wanted to do something that no one had ever done. Right? I was trying to compete and do things that people had never seen before, period, in the Olympics and swimming.

So it’s like I had to, from a workout standpoint, I had to be as hungry as possible. And Bob says “Jump,” and I’m always saying, “How high?” and I always wanted to break as many world records as I possibly could. So that’s why I love training. And I know that, you can ask Hackey and I think he’d agree that you, put the two of us in a pool together training, it’s pretty much like we’re going toe to toe no matter what it is, no matter what stroke it is, just basically trying to rip each other’s head off in just the pure love and competition of what we do. I think that’s something that made us very special. But the feel — I think that’s something that only one, two, three, four percent of people, five percent of people in the top of all sports probably really have any idea what we’re talking about.

Grant Hackett: It’s quite funny. I think just when Michael was talking, I started thinking of the movie Days of Thunder, when they’re in the wheelchair in the hospital and they come up and then the other one pushes forward. That’s exactly how Michael and I try to get up. It’s just constantly pushing each other and trying to take it to the next level. And you just disregard the pain in that. The goal is always more important. The outcome is always more important than what you have to go through. I think that’s the way we always approached it.

Tim Ferriss: So I’d love to, as background for people listening, provide some context on how the two of you know each other. And those in the swimming world will know the history and the similarities in trajectory and so on. But either of you could take a stab at this. So I’ll let maybe Grant, just to describe the backstory. How did you guys get to know each other?

Grant Hackett: It’s really funny. I remember hearing Michael. I mean, there’s a lot happening in our country right now, because it’s the 20-year anniversary since the Sydney Olympic games. So there’s plenty going on. And that was Michael’s first Olympics. And I remember when he got fourth, I think in the 200 meter fly there and he was like a 15-year-old on the swim team.

Michael Phelps: Fifth. 

Grant Hackett: What was it, fifth?

Michael Phelps: Come on, man. Fourth, I would’ve been a little happier.

Grant Hackett: That’s close to fourth though, right next to it. So I remember just thinking, “Wow, what a freak. A 15-year-old, I wonder if we’ll ever hear of him again.” And then the next year when he broke the 200 meter butterfly world record at the world championships. Was that 1:52? Am I right on that?

Michael Phelps: No, 1:54. I was 46, 54.9 in spring.

Grant Hackett: And then I couldn’t believe that a 16-year-old actually did that. And I got to know Michael from that moment moving forward. And then we got to train together and I think I just saw eye to eye on Michael on things, like the approach towards swimming, the approach towards competition.

Tim Ferriss: How did you end up training together? Just for those who might say, you both sound like you have strong New Jersey accents, but I suspect you’re from different places. How did you end up training together?

Grant Hackett: Back in 2003, Michael and his coach, Bob, just came over to Australia for a coaching conference. And so he spent a few weeks in Australia. So he ended up training then. And I think at that point in time, we really got to know each other and I saw Michael’s level of application towards his training and all the new things that he was trying to bring to the sport, like the underwater off every single wall. Which, for your listeners, Tim, not too many people know, but when you’re in the middle of a race and you’re at like the 200, 300, 400 meter mark, and then you try and push and go 15 meters off the wall, it is one of the most difficult things that a person can ever do. It’s like a free diver, right in the last little bit of holding their breath. It is tough.

And Michael started doing all these sorts of things and I thought, “Man, I wonder if that’ll actually work.” And so I saw just how creative and innovative in the sport that he was, and he was just a great guy. I just enjoyed hanging out. We’d go out to dinner and do things together. And I think the basis of our friendship was, in 2003, springboarded from there. And every time we saw each other at meets, because we’d obviously be traveling all the time, we just always connected and got along well. And we had a lot of mutual respect for each other and what each other was bringing to the sport. And also, there was another counterpart of mine, Ian Thorpe, who’s through that era. And I think both Michael and I had a lot of respect for Ian. So we’d all spend a lot of time together and respect what each other was doing for the sport at that time, too.

Tim Ferriss: And you mentioned, I’m going to do a follow up here with you, Grant, then I’m going to come back to you, Michael, to ask you what you first noticed about Grant. To you Grant, when you mentioned innovation and new things being brought to the sport, what else did you notice? What were some other examples that you saw in Michael or through Michael?

Grant Hackett: Michael is the sort of guy that you never ever want to say that he’s not going to do something. You never want to be critical of Michael, because he will stick it so far up you, it’s not funny. And not many competitors do that. If I actually said something about one of my competitors or tried to intimidate them a little bit, not even meaning to, half the time it would get under their skin. It could almost go into their performance in a negative way. Do that to Michael and it’ll improve his performance by about 400 percent. That was one of the things, very early on. Even when we play golf today, if I’m betting on him on the last hole, it’s with this intensity of focus and athletic prowess and everything else you can imagine that makes him great, just comes into play, even if he’s had the worst 17 holes beforehand.

Michael Phelps: I go from a 20 handicap to a zero in no time, just on one hole just to stick it to him.

Grant Hackett: Yeah. And I keep testing it, right, because I’ll start jeering him up before that hole, just to see if my theory about him is correct. And 100 percent of the time I’m proven right. So that’s probably one of the other things about Michael and that’s an interesting characteristic that I haven’t seen in many athletes across a lot of sports that are able to have that ability to increase performance to that extent because of maybe a slight bit of criticism or questioning. So that was one of the other things I really noticed about him very, very quickly.

Tim Ferriss: I have some additional questions about that, but I’ll hit snooze on those. Michael, what did you notice about Grant? What were some of your first impressions?

Michael Phelps: I don’t know if you guys, or the listeners can pick up, but I mean, as a kid growing up, I was a massive swimming geek. I was a nerd, I was very into it. I was trying to learn anything I possibly could. But also, I just respected other great athletes, other great swimmers. And growing up idolizing some of the greats that walked before Hackey and I, I learned so much history. So being able to understand swimming from a global level, very early on, through my sister in a way, I just really connected with him. And as you heard, with Thorpie as well. Those two guys are probably the two closest swimming friends that I have to this day. I feel like I was closer with the Aussies than I was really with the Americans. And so it was kind of strange, but I do remember those 2003 days. Bob and I were going back to some of those old sets a few weeks ago, Hackey, and pretty good seeing some of those kicking sets, some of the pulling sets, the underwater stuff that we were doing with fins. I mean, just everything.

And that’s what I mean. There aren’t many athletes that can really take it to that level back to back days. And that was something that I saw in Hackey, And obviously, I respected the hell out of him. And the chance that we got to spend together was always very special, always very meaningful. And obviously he turned into more of a brother than anything else. And so yeah, it’s been cool to see, it’s been, oh my gosh, unbelievable. So many great stories. I’m a scatterbrain, so I’m popping all over the place and I feel like I’m going to take some of your questions away. So I’ll stop.

Tim Ferriss: Feel free to bounce around scatterbrained. I’ve made an entire career out of it on this podcast. So feel free. Grant, I want to ask you about intensity, and I’m going to do it in a somewhat sideways fashion. But both of you are known for being beasts in training and having just ungodly work capacities. And I don’t know if I’m getting the hours right, please correct me if I’m wrong, but 30 to 40 hours of training a week, maybe more at times. I want you to correct that in your answer if need be. But it seems like the combination of that volume plus the intensity that you’re both famous for, would drive anyone into the ground. And I’m just curious how you prevented that from happening, if maybe you could speak to that, Grant?

Grant Hackett: I think, first and foremost, around the 30 or 40 hours, that’s right. We would train anywhere from five to seven hours a day, six days a week. I know Michael would do seven days a week. I think he trained like 530, 540 days straight into Beijing.

Michael Phelps: A little more, but it’s okay.

Grant Hackett: What was that?

Michael Phelps: A little more than that, but it’s okay. Five or six straight years.

Grant Hackett: Yeah. So, yeah, wow. So I mean, that degree of application is one thing. But you’re right, you have to be doing it better, farther, harder than the guy on the other side of the world. And I think the goal, the outcome, was just so strong, the desire. And I think when something is so meaningful and purposeful to you as an individual, you’re willing to do anything. And it’s funny, the body does get used to it, to an extent. You get used to getting up at 4:45, doing that eight kilometers, doing it to the intensity that you need to, then going into the gym for 90 minutes doing that, then going back in the afternoon and doing it all again. And it’s amazing how much more you can absorb than what you give yourself credit for. But one of the things I always tried to do is whenever my coach would set something, like an insanely hard set, and if I finished it, I would do one or two more reps.

And he was known as having one of the top three intense programs in the world, from a lot of the physiologists out there. So I always just try to take it to the next level every single time. I knew with my event, which probably is different to some of the finesse that Michael had in his events in terms of his underwater and skills. For me, it was about being tough. And he’s trained with a great 1,500 swimmer called Erik Vendt. So he knows the intensity and the mindset.

And I was very similar to Erik in terms of if you have to pull me out of the water after this session and put me in an ambulance, I do not care as long as I get every ounce out of myself. And you’ve got to show up with that attitude every day, because that’s how tough the guys are that you’re racing. And it’s just the way it is. And I think when you get the wins, it keeps you going, right? It keeps you going to the next step. It makes the bits a little bit more digestible. And I just love that feeling. I just love that feeling afterwards. And I knew when I rocked up to race day, that if I’d done that work, that no one was ever going to touch me in my race.

Michael Phelps: And that’s the thing though, because it’s like there are days, obviously, you don’t want to go, Grant, right? Every day wasn’t perfect for us. On those days, you have to be able to find that 10, 20, 30, 50 percent, instead of zero, where you could just full on pump the whole day, the workout, skip, be lazy, like do whatever the hell you wanted to. To be as consistent as we both were, throughout our career, literally every single session, every single stroke mattered. For the listeners out there, it was the smallest, finest details you could possibly think about. We had to go through and fine tune daily.

I almost talk to it as like you’re going to college. And the top level is the 10,000 level class or the 1,000 level class, whatever the hell you want to call it. If you skip a few of those classes, you’re missing key steps that are going to help you at the very top level, when the lights are on, when you might’ve had a bad night’s sleep, or your roommate might be sick, or maybe the food and the dining hall wasn’t very good, or your air conditioning doesn’t work. So it’s like all of the things that you’re doing daily are prepping you for any kind of situation that you’re going to face at the Olympics, at World Championships, whatever your big event is.

Tim Ferriss: Totally. And I suppose that’s something that wasn’t in my mind when I asked the question and that is, it’s not just about developing more strength. It’s not just about developing the brute attributes. It’s also about the smallest technical details that you have to train to be second nature for competition.

Are there any particular, Michael, tools or techniques for recovery that you found to really pull their weight, so to speak, and have an impact? Because as a mirror, 5’8 meat cube, I’m not really built for hydrodynamics. I think about training as you did for five to six years straight. And I just can’t imagine a human body withstanding that without some portfolio of recovery techniques. Was there anything that stands out?

Michael Phelps: We had to be. We had to be on top of everything. Like I was saying before, trying to do something that no one’s ever done before, give yourself the chance, it’s like you really have to approach it in every single different way possible than ever has been done before. There is no blueprint for it. So for us, it was one step at a time. For me to be able to swim at such a high level every single day, I had to be on top of whether it’s nutrition, sleeping, drinking water. I treated my body like I was a Ferrari. I treated my body like I’m a high performance race car because I’m asking it to do so many things. So I was sleeping probably eight to 10 hours a night with a two-hour nap during the day. I was eating eight to 10,000 calories a day. I used to have massages. I had one PT strength conditioning guy for 15 years that did all of my massages, all of my stretching, all of my graston, all of my cupping. I had to be super, super anal about it because I needed to ask my body to do so many things every single day.

So, yeah, I guess I’m kind of old school. I never really got into cryo or anything like that. But still to this day, I work out six, seven days a week. And for me to be able to do everything I need to do, from playing golf, having enough energy with the kids, and doing everything I need to do personally, I have to recover. So I am stretching probably 45 minutes a day. I’m probably icetubbing once, maybe twice a week. I go to acupuncturist, cupping, twice a week. So I think LeBron said something about it earlier in the year. He spends a million dollars a year on recovery. And honestly, that just makes sense to me because if he’s like, from what I just said, he’s asking his body to do so much at such a high level, you have to treat it. It should be treated. Right? You have to give it everything it needs. And that’s the very basic stuff. I mean, I have all of my stats, blood work, sleep numbers, lactate numbers. Anything you can possibly imagine about health or recovery, I have it logged for the last 15 years, 20 years of my career. So I was very anal about it because I needed to be; I was selfish in a way.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That makes all the world of sense. And I think we’re going to come back to that focus and the pros and cons of it. Grant, I’d love to ask you about anything you have found helpful for sleep. And that comes to mind because Michael, you also mentioned LeBron James, who’s been on this podcast, and has a number of different techniques, including using Calm app and other technological tools for helping with getting to sleep. Right. Did you find anything in particular, I mean, aside from training many, many hours a day, which I’m sure helps, for sleep, during your training or post competitive career?

Grant Hackett: Yeah. I always found some of the apps are great. I actually used to put on one of these apps that used to just have the rain water coming down and falling on the leaves and those sorts of just calming type of things. It’s really funny, today, the best way I find to fall asleep is just breathing exercises. And just focusing away from everything that kind of matters in your life around work and the things that you’re responsible for that normally keep you awake at night. But it’s quite funny, to Michael’s point just around recovery, sleep is obviously the ultimate thing to rest the body. And I track everything. I’m sitting here with one watch on one hand, another one on the other hand, I don’t even know if either of them tell the time, but they’re tracking my heart rate variability, they’re tracking my sleep, they’re tracking my recovery. And I check these stats like there’s no tomorrow, like I’m still a professional athlete. I think you’re just hardwired to be like that.

And it depends what phase you’re going through in your career. There’s points where I had injuries in my shoulder, my shoulders would be aching at night. So I’ll be sitting there with bags of peas on my shoulders just to get the inflammation down. There’s so many different sort of cycles throughout my career where you’d have trouble sleeping. Sometimes I would feel the pressure too much coming to competitions half the time for some reason. And those are the difficult times where you need your recovery more than ever, but you’re finding it hard to be able to get that rest.

So what’s good for one person is not necessarily good for another. But what I know today is if I just did a lot more meditation, a lot more things of slowing down, a lot more mindfulness, those are the sorts of things that would have helped me a lot more throughout my career. Because they’re great techniques that I use today. And I probably sleep better today because of just the foundation of knowledge that I’ve been able to build over the time, because we were just so anal and just so focused on recovery and trying to find ways to go, okay, the body is gone. How am I going to get it back. To Michael’s point, this is not a tractor, it’s a Ferrari. And if a bolt’s a little bit loose, this thing will not perform. So everything has got to be right.

I used to — if I had to walk somewhere, I would sit down as soon as I got there just so my hip flexors wouldn’t tighten up, because I wasn’t as good a kicker as what Michael was or Ian Thorpe. So I had to do everything on my legs. So I was better on the upper body. I could do that. I can pull, it’s called pulling. You sort of tie your legs up and swim with your arms only. That was my strength, but my lower wasn’t. So I used to just be fixated on that every minute of the day to make sure whenever I rocked up to training and particularly competition, my legs were loose, my hip flexors had full range, and I was going to get the most out of them. So yeah, it’s an obsession and that’s the way it needs to be.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I was spending some time, Grant, with one of our mutual friends who’s deep in training right now. And we were hiking. And he said, “This is great. I just can’t do too much hiking.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because I don’t want my ankles to be overly stable or strengthened because I need the flexibility. I want the looseness in the ankles.” And I was like, “Wow, that’s not something I hear every day.”

Grant Hackett: It’s really the only sport where you want loose ankles. You look at tennis players, they’ve got all the support in place. We’re doing the opposite. We’ll have a panel of wood where you’ve got a strap across the top. And you chuck your foot in there and you’re leaning back to try and create more flexion and angle. And that’s the thing, Michael and Ian Thorpe are incredibly flexible and incredibly strong and incredibly mobile. And I didn’t have that last part around the mobility that these guys have, because think about it, your feet are like flippers in the water. So if you get that extra bit of angle and you get that flick right at the end, it’s going to propel you just that little bit more. I’m sitting here at an Olympic games where I got two silver medals, I think it’s over the course of about 1,200 meters of racing and thereby 0.2 of a second in total. So every little bit matters.

Tim Ferriss: Michael, I want to revisit a name that has come up a lot so far in this conversation and that is Ian Thorpe. And it ties into what Grant was saying about using critical or negative or doubting comments as rocket fuel for your motivation. In the course of doing homework for this conversation, I came across a note on Wikipedia that said Ian Thorpe —

Michael Phelps: Which quote? He has two quotes. There’s two of them that I remember. Go ahead. I’m interrupting to see which one you have.

Tim Ferriss: So, Wikipedia — feel free to correct any of this. It’s not so much a direct quote, it just says, “Thorpe initially said that it would be highly unlikely for Phelps to win eight gold medals at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. Phelps used the remarks as motivation and taped the words to his locker during the games.” So I just wanted to fact check that. Is that true?

Michael Phelps: A hundred percent. Without a question. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: What were the words that you put on your locker?

Michael Phelps: I think at that time, Bob and I, a major chunk of my career, I’d say we were big on highlighting different quotes or times that people had done or things that we were trying to do. So for me, every morning I got out of bed and I saw my goal sheet of the times I wanted to do that year or at the Olympics or whatever written down. So when I was getting out of bed, I was getting out of bed with a purpose. So then when I got to the pool, that’s where that quote was. Just honestly, if I was kind of having an off day, I’d use that, as Hackey said it, a little extra fuel. That was something that if somebody did say it was impossible, I was going to make them eat their words, no matter what. There is no if, ands, or buts about it.

And again, in 2016, I believe he said something along the lines of “It’ll be impossible or almost impossible to see somebody over the age of 30 win an individual gold medal.” And funny enough, I was giving him shit about it after the Olympics in ’16. And he goes, “I know how you work.” He said, “So I was helping you get that extra fuel to really give you some extra motivation to really make sure you’d kick some ass.” To Grant’s point though, I knew Grant probably better than any other athlete in the world, I knew Thorpie would be better than any other athlete in the world. And the same way for them. We knew about each other because we all were just trying to learn whatever we could and use it into our everyday lifestyle to help us accomplish the goals that we wanted.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And to Ian’s credit or defense, I will read one of the actual quotes that isn’t Wikipedia in which he says, “I’m really proud of him, not just because he won eight golds, rather, it’s how much he has grown up and matured into a great human being. Never in my life have I been so happy to have been proved wrong.” So ultimately he was proved wrong. And as we’re talking about this translation of using the negative or the critical and into rocket fuel, like you said, Grant, it is — at least in my experience, which is very limited. But it’s rare to see.

The one other exception that I can think of, and maybe you guys will have seen this, is Michael Jordan in The Last Dance where every episode, there is an example of this. And someone will say something to him, and then they’ll say, “Fuck, shouldn’t have done that.” And he comes back and breaks some universal record in the next quarter. And it was so remarkably consistent. And yet when you flash forward and you are watching this current day footage of Michael, you can’t help but get the feeling that he is still very angry, but he has lost a target at which he can direct this anger. And so I’m curious to hear from you, Michael, because I’ve lived in my life with a lot of anger. Have you found that to cut both ways? What has been your experience with anger during the competitive years or afterwards?

Michael Phelps: I mean, naturally, Hackey can agree, I carry a lot of anger. And a lot of that, I would say, stems from my childhood and some of the things that I experienced. But I also think anger is really, really what did fuel me on those days where I just didn’t want to swim. Those were the biggest things. It was almost like turning a switch on, in a way. But I’ll say now, knowing what I know about depression, knowing what I know about anxiety, mental health, and about myself as well, I know that I can’t approach my life or anything that I do in my life like I did in swimming, just because — I guess I could say I was a professional or I was a doctor or whatever the hell you want to call me in the swimming world. But I understood swimming, I’d like to think, almost better than anybody and I definitely feel for it.

So I don’t have enough practice doing what I’m doing now in life, so I do have to take steps back and take deep breaths or I’ve found that through COVID, my wife and I’s communication level has gone up another level. So, it’s little things like that. For me, I’m constantly learning more and more about myself and about why I am how I am. So, yeah. Do I still get angry? Of course, but I play a lot of golf. As I said, I work out six or seven days a week. I lift weights three days a week, for anywhere 60 to 90 minutes. And then, the other four days, I’m either swimming, riding a stationary bike, or I am on an elliptical. So those are kind of the outlets for me. But it does get scary at times. And I will say Hackey has always been there for me through any single moment of my life, through those dark times.

But I can also say, during this quarantine, it’s been difficult for me. I’ve been very open about that recently. And through all of this. And I can imagine that it’s been difficult for more and more people. And I’ll say the one thing to the listeners out there who are listening to it, you’re not alone. That’s the one thing I truly, truly want to repeat. You’ll hear me say it a lot of times in this podcast. But you are definitely not alone with your thoughts, your emotions. But if you are afraid or you’re scared or nervous, reach out to somebody for help, a trained therapist or a trained doctor. This is just a very uncertain time for everybody in the world. That was a little rant, so go ahead.

Tim Ferriss: No. I enjoy rants. That’s why we have a long format. You mentioned dark times, I’d like to talk about this because I feel like both of you have been very open about this, which is a huge service. I mean, it is a huge public service to people who feel alone, and it’s a huge public service to people who feel like they are uniquely flawed or are in a place of shame because mental health and depression and so on can be very stigmatized, still. Michael, could you speak to when you knew you needed help or when you hit rock bottom, could you just tell the story of that moment or moments?

Michael Phelps: I mean, the first time I experienced depression, I’d say it was back in 2004, coming back after all that success. And obviously you expect it to continue and you get back and it’s good for a week or so. And then, you kind of feel like you fall off the face of the earth. For me, it was just beginning to open talk about these things. Honestly, I felt there was a weight lifted off my shoulders. Now, these were things that I carried for probably 20 years, 15 years. When I really do get into those dark times, I basically isolate myself and give everybody the Heisman because I almost feel like I am causing more stress to their life or I’m a burden or this, that, or the other.

So I go strictly internal and almost I pick at scabs or like internal scabs that really hurt. So I almost try to inflict pain, but not literally inflict pain. So it gets bad. And when it does get bad, it really spirals. Also, one thing, Hackey was over here — was that two years ago, Hackey?

Grant Hackett: Yeah. Two years ago. Yeah, 2018.

Michael Phelps: Yeah. I mean, that was one of the scariest ones that I’ve really experienced. Honestly, I feel like I’m alone, and I feel like everybody’s attacking me. And yeah, it’s an uncomfortable feeling. But I guess the easiest way for describing it would be like a turtle going back into its shell. I want more than anything to feel like I am a human being. Because I feel like that’s what I am. I feel like I had a great talent and I put my mind to something and, shit, I didn’t give up. I went through ups and downs and I was able to accomplish some pretty amazing goals. But at times, I feel like I’m almost a piece of meat and an object. And I think especially during those times when I start going there, when I’m in dark times and start going there, it just downward spirals. So that’s why I alluded earlier to talking about how much, mine and my wife’s communication has really just grown through quarantine because I would say I had a similar incident like I had in 2018 where it was very scary.

And I know Nicole was doing everything she could to help and we were almost forced to grow and to change as a couple because of the current situation and the situation at the time. It was difficult, but honestly, that’s the coolest thing for me that I am so excited about with having depression or with having anxiety, because it honestly makes me who I am. I understand it’s never going to be fixable. And it’s a part of me for the rest of my life. But you know what? I think it’s something that I want to learn more about and something I’m excited to wake up every day and have that chance to learn more about. I’ve spoken about my wife and I just communicating so much more. It’s crazy to even think that that was possible, but just going over leaps and bounds, just learning more and more about how we both work and things we need to be careful of so we don’t trigger one another. It’s been almost a blessing in disguise for us.

Tim Ferriss: And if I could just jump back to one thing you said —

Michael Phelps: Whatever you need, please, always.

Tim Ferriss: And if I’m misquoting, please correct me. But for those who aren’t familiar, could you describe what made 2018 scary? What was the experience?

Michael Phelps: I mean, in 2018, I actually took a pair of golf shoes and I hit myself in the head with them. That was one of the very last times that I’d tried to inflict pain on myself. And I knew at that point, that right there, I’d never done something like that. I’d never even thought about doing something like that. And the fact that I did, that right there was a message for me. It was a red flag. So coming back to the house and I had kind of a meltdown, but talking to Grant, talking to my wife, that was just a learning experience. For me, I basically am a pot of water, at the very last second I’m ready to blow. And when I blow, it’s pretty bad and it gets pretty ugly.

I would say throughout my career, I’m great at compartmentalizing. I would say I could probably win a few more gold medals of that. But that’s not something to be proud of. So, I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned. Just to really talk about it. I’ve learned more about my emotions and if I have something I don’t like, I talk about it or ask questions about it. So I think, with the experiences that I’ve gone through and the struggles that I’ve gone through, I feel like I have almost let my guard down in a way, if that kind of makes sense, like drop my shoulders, like take in a deep breath, and just try to relax.

Because I think, throughout my whole entire life, I’ve been trying to shave hundredths of a second off my time. Right. And now, for everyday life, I’m trying to slow it down. So it’s crazy now for me to look at life. So yeah. The last four years have been interesting. But that in 2018, to this day was one of the scariest times of my life. That and 2014, after my second DUI. We talked about sleeping earlier, and I have opened up more and more about this story just because it’s a part of me.

So basically throughout my entire life, most of my swimming career, we were prescribed Ambien for traveling, for trips, to try to acclimate to times. And that night after my DUI, I was happy that I only had two Ambien left. That was a sleep aid that I had. And who knows what would’ve happened if I had more. Those two moments for me are the two scariest moments of my life. And recently, I’d say within the last handful of weeks, I’ve had a couple of real scary breakdowns where I almost really start shaking because I just don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to control anything. Yeah, that’s about it.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you for sharing that, Michael.

Michael Phelps: Yeah. But honestly for me, yes, it is. It’s wild to think about, it’s wild to talk about. But it’s what makes me me. And how, if I can learn from just understanding why I am certain ways or why I react certain ways, then I feel like I’m setting myself up to be a better person. And at the end of the day, that’s all I want. I want to learn more. You’ve heard us talk about stats, numbers, I want to know stats, I want to know numbers, I want to know why. I just had — I don’t know why, why, why to every single question that you can possibly think about. So I always know there’s so many other options out there and if I come to a dead end, I can reach out to one of those options or I can backtrack a few steps and take a different route. So yeah. I think, really trying to simplify life and trying to slow things down for me, those are the two things that I would say I focus on on a daily, daily basis. Yeah. Just to give myself a chance.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And Grant, I’m going to come back to you in just a minute, because I want to sort of do a similar expedition into some of the dark chapters, to hear your stories. Before we get to that, I am looking at just a paragraph from an ESPN article that includes you, Michael. And I want to read a small portion of it and ask a question. So, here’s the portion, it says, “In treatment, Phelps earned the nickname Preacher Mike because each day began with a chapter of The Purpose Driven Life, a book given to him by former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and good friend Ray Lewis. ” I don’t know if you would still recommend this book or how you feel about it, but are there any books or resources that you have found particularly helpful in your journey in experiencing these things?

Michael Phelps: So I have a very close friend of mine who I feel very comfortable opening up to and asking a lot of questions about — I think you know who I’m talking about, Hackey. But he passes me a bunch of different books. And some of the ones recently, I guess — I was never somebody who liked to read books. And when Ray gave me that book, I wasn’t spiritual in any way, I wasn’t religious, but I think through my journey, I, a hundred percent am spiritual. Without question. There is a power that’s greater than me. I don’t know what it is, but through my journey, I feel like I’ve learned so much from the books that I have received.

The Purpose Driven Life is one amazing one. The Power of Now is an amazing one. Ego Is the Enemy is one that I go back to a lot. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is a great one. I loved It Takes What It Takes. I thought that was a great one. Just little books like that, where I can. For me, whenever I’m listening — I tend to do Audibles. And when I’m listening to it, it’s what we’re all supposed to do, but I love just taking little small pieces that are similar to things that I did in my career. For me to be as efficient as I was in swimming, I had to learn the absolute bottom line of every single stroke. Right. I had to be as efficient as I could with my body that I was given.

So it’s like I’ve almost done that in ways, it’s opened my mind into some really interesting new thoughts. It’s given me new journeys to travel down, roads to go down. But yeah. I mean, I would say I cycle through a lot of those, depending on, as you heard before, the dark moods that I’m in. I went back to The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck just because I felt like I was just attacking myself too much. And I just needed to get a handle of a few things and do what I’m teaching my kids, take a lion breath, take a deep breath every once in a while and relax. It’s not about racing the clock in every single thing that you do in your life. So that’s one big key thing for me is just trying to be as simple in every form of life as I possibly can.

And it’s honestly looking at my kids, and that’s the greatest example. I mean, we were talking about it earlier. My two oldest boys were playing with a metal trash can the other day. And you know one of the trash cans where you step on it, the lid pops up. One is banging on the top like it’s a drum. The other one is stomping on the lid. And I was like, “Boomer, what are you guys doing?” And without missing a beat, he looks over and said, “Dad, I’ve never seen one of these things before.” And look, I couldn’t do anything but start laughing. So, I was like, “All right. Yeah, whatever. Go ahead.” Meanwhile, there’s a hundred different noises going on. I mean, I was going crazy, but I laughed out loud. I damn near fell on the ground laughing. I was like, that’s what kids are, they are the best example of really living in the moment. And for me, I feel like having the time that I have around my kids during this quarantine, I feel like I have a few things that I can kind of log into the memory bank and go back to when Boomer is pressing that red button that I hate to be pressed inside of me and he’s trying to get my nerves and go crazy, I mean. But kids are kids and honestly I’ve seen the — one of the coolest things is they want to be us so bad and, honestly, they just love us. And it’s — for me, I told you we’d get tears. For me, honestly, it’s taken some of the dark times that I’ve been through, just literally being crying and having your kids come up and give you a hug, those things. That right there, it’s the greatest thing on the planet. So, yeah. It’s been a treat and, yeah, as a dad, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Michael. Grant, we’re going to go back into the depths here a bit.

Michael Phelps: Oh, I was going to say, if you want to keep going, you can. It doesn’t bother me, man. I just need a second to wipe to tears off and I’m good.

Grant Hackett: I’ve already been through a whole heap of emotions, just listening to that, just going back to 2018 and the day when Michael was not Michael, or was Michael, just the other side of success. And I just think it was tough to listen to that. I actually have water in my eyes just listening to it because it was, seeing one of your best mates that you’ve known for so long and been through everything together just go through that. It was brutal. It was really, really tough.

Tim Ferriss: Sounds brutal. What of your personal experience? What did the dark times look like for you? Are there any particular instances that come to mind in terms of knowing when you needed help or hitting rock bottom?

Grant Hackett: The first thing I’ll say at the outset, it’s really funny. As an athlete, you were told from day one. I mean, I started swimming when I was four and being competitive when I was five. So everything throughout my childhood and throughout my sporting career was, “Hey, if there’s an obstacle, go through it, overcome it, beat it. You’re injured, you’re sick, whatever, just turn into a gladiator and just keep going forward. That is your job.”

And it was almost like adversity was your friend and you used to — I call the expression now with mental health, it’s like I got used to iron-fisting my way through difficult periods in life. And that’s not right. That’s great as an athlete, that’s a great attribute to have, to push through pain and overcome those challenges to get the outcome. But in life that actually doesn’t work, and I found that out the hard way and I’ve realized how real mental health was.

So I think, for me, I remember I’ve been through the ups and downs and I really never recognized that about myself because I just kind of thought, “Okay, just put your boots back on and keep going.” But a few years ago, when I went through a really public divorce here in Australia and everything that followed from that and innuendo and speculation and people questioning your value set, just undid me. And I just didn’t realize how much it undid me and how much it took me down. And I got to a point where in early 2017, just kind of one more thing. It’s one more thing where I was sitting in a hotel room, completely isolated, two security guards on that floor so no one would come near my room. Seeing on the front page of the newspaper and the news just what’s going on with me.

Then I think the four days that I had there and I was texting Michael at the time, I literally had over a thousand messages in my phone, on WhatsApp, on my email, and on my SMS within about a three-hour timeframe. And I think I got back to three people, and Michael was one of them, and Allison Schmitt, who lived with Michael too, were the only people that I got back to. And I think I’ve used words like, “Oh, I’m just scared.” And everyone thinks you’re invincible for what you’ve done, but like everybody else, you just have those vulnerabilities. And when it’s so public, it just exaggerates the situation and amplifies it and creates another layer of complexity that you have to deal with.

And I just made a commitment to myself, I think, at the end of that, that I’m never going to allow myself to get to this spot again. Any time that I feel like you’re getting pushed to that edge or things are going wrong, I’m just going to adopt the strategies that I now know, instead of denial. Because I would always put myself in denial. I wouldn’t let myself be vulnerable. And even my fiance Sharlene now, like if I start talking about the way I’m feeling in isolation or going through a stressful period, and she goes, “Oh.” She is so proud of me. She goes, “Oh, I just love it when you’re vulnerable.” And I said, “Oh, I feel like a bit of a pussy to be honest, but yeah. Cool.”

So it’s like, and then I’m like, “Wow, I feel better afterwards.” That open and honest transparency and my relationship is better as well. So it’s like, wow, doing this vulnerability thing, which was the number one thing that I found I had to tap into going through those stages in life and phases whenever they embark upon you. And they come across at the weirdest times, too. Like even when things are great and going well, sometimes it can be a low point after that, that you have to deal with that.

So, yeah, I mean, I made that decision back in 2017. I basically lived with Michael most of that year, and he was my biggest supporter. When I went and did therapy and got some help, he was the guy, drove me there and dropped me off. And we had talks till 2:00, 3:00 a.m. sometimes later in the morning. He’d come in and wake me up in the morning with the dogs and Boomer crawling on the bed all over me, which I really appreciated. But it’s those sorts of times where we’ll just always be there for each other.

But people see us as these people who’ve achieved great things and won multiple Olympic gold medals and world records and all that sort of stuff. But yeah, just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that you don’t fall into the same fate as everybody else when it comes to mental health or just being a human. Yeah, I had to learn those things definitely the hard way.

Tim Ferriss: You were mentioning the vulnerability with your significant other. I was just having a conversation last week with a coach who you could really consider on some level a therapist. And he said to me, “Candor is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” It seems to have a lot of benefits, not just singular benefits.

And you mentioned strategies. I’d love to hear what other rules or strategies you have found or developed for yourself so that when you sense yourself edging towards the brink, you’re better able to reel yourself away from it.

Grant Hackett: I think I’m just doing everything proactively. I exercise like Michael six days a week. I try and make myself have a recovery day, which is hard when you’ve got personalities like ours. We know the importance of recovery, but we just like to keep going and going and going. So that’s one thing.

The other thing that I do, it’s funny, I went to stop drinking for a year and then I got to a year and I was kind of like, “You know what? I don’t even feel like drinking anymore.” And it’s not like I was ever a person who drank every day by any means. It would be far and few between, but I could go hard if we were having a night with the boys or something like that, or use it to escape. So I stopped drinking, full stop. I got to a year and I was like, “You know what? I don’t even feel like that anymore. It’s not something in my life that I value or I like, or it brings value to me.” So I don’t do that.

I also make sure that I get enough sleep. That’s really important for me. I eat very healthy. Diet has been a big part and just that whole sort of health regime that I have to follow, just to make sure that I’m in a good space.

And the one thing that I still find difficult that I do and we just touched on is I talk about it. I talk about where I’m at, how I’m feeling, why I’m feeling like that instead of bottling it up. Michael and I, we’re the kings of compartmentalizing things and actually just locking them away. I’ll deal with that box when I need to deal with that box. But unfortunately that box is growing and being fueled. And when it goes to 10, it’s no good. It’s not good at all. And Michael and I know this best. So I try and jump into that box and I try and work through it, try and get it out.

So I think for me, it’s all that sort of proactive stuff that I’m doing and I feel more settled in my life now than I ever have. And you know what, and I know this with Nicole because I know Michael’s wife extremely well and the wonderful human being that she is, just how good she is for Michael in that situation and how much she cares and loves him it’s actually beautiful to watch. Because I’ve been through this stuff with her and we’ve spoken about how we were there for Michael.

And Sharlene’s the same for me. Just that partnership of someone who gets you. Like she gets me. She gets my drive and ambition. And yet that other mental sort of fault that, whatever you want to call it, vulnerability, those things that are imperfect, she gets that and she likes it and works with me on it. So I think I haven’t necessarily had the right partnerships in life as well. So I think, Tim, that’s a really important part of who you’re surrounding yourself by, but that significant other can make and break in many respects, too, because they’ve got to connect with a unique personality, which I know Michael and I certainly share a uniqueness like that. So they’re kind of the things that really matter.

And look, it’s been a journey to get to know all those things because I’ve made so many mistakes along the way, but I just know what makes me feel like more of me now and feels like a purpose and the things that help support and maintain that.

Tim Ferriss: Grant, do you see someone like a therapist on a regular basis, or are they used only in cases of emergency or beginning to red line?

Grant Hackett: I do if I’ve gone through a hard period. I won’t say on a consistent week-to-week, month-to-month basis. But if I am going through a stressful period, I’ve definitely got that support network there and I’ll jump online, have a talk, get it out. Because sometimes, and I’ve learned this, too, I didn’t ever really use a sports psychologist too much when I was swimming because I always thought I was invincible and that was a weakness if I had to go up into that. Little did I know that would’ve really helped me and I might’ve had a better trophy cabinet than what I’ve got if I recognized that at the time.

But now, sometimes family members, I know I spoke about a significant other then, but I know family members sometimes aren’t necessarily the ones you should be tapping into because the emotion is just too close. So having someone else a little bit more objective, has the skillset, has the understanding, somebody you can have a different type of conversation with is really important. So definitely got that network in there, tap into it when you know that the flags kind of come up.

Tim Ferriss: What are the flags like? When do you know it’s time to take yourself in for a 60,000-mile checkup with a professional? What are some of the signs that you notice?

Grant Hackett: Oh. I mean, we spoke about anger before. Michael was talking about that, and the way he’s able to channel it. And look, there’s a negative connotation with anger because it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes anger can push you to get more out of yourself to deliver an outcome that is amazing.

But sometimes when you’re edgy, you’re irritable, you’re not sleeping well, things just are escaping the mind, I think all those kind of little red flags that sort of start to add up and compound, and you’re just not removing that stress, that weight, they’re kind of the things that you start to recognize and go, “Hey, I’m going through a bit of — this is not just a one-off right now. This is not a two-off. This is kind of been a little bit more sustained than what I would like.”

And I think I have a much greater ability to check in with that now than what I’ve ever had. Where before it would be like, that little box that I said it goes into, let’s just stuff it back in there with the others. And I don’t let that happen anymore. So yeah, it’s mood more than anything else. And if it’s a sustained poor mood, then yeah, that’s the thing that I go, “Okay, we’ve got to do something about this.”

In a situation where I’ve got twins from a previous marriage and I miss them like crazy when they’re not here, and the impact that that had on me for so many years that I failed to even really talk about has been a big thing that I just highlight now. And I’ll just go, “Sharlene,” I’m just like, “Oh, I’m really missing Jagger or Charlize,” and I’ll just start to talk about it. And then all of a sudden you kind of get on the other side of that. So they’re kind of the things that I recognize now that aren’t as big of blind spots as they were previously.

Tim Ferriss: When you talk to a professional, if you do, what does the format look like? Is it more about really just getting it off your chest and talking to someone, or is there a particular type of guidance or a format that is helpful to you?

Grant Hackett: I have a guy who I tap into. And he’s almost got a comical element to his style, which I really connect with. I love that, because he’s extremely intelligent, very, very bright. And look, I’ll write down the things that I’m feeling and that I feel like I’ve got to really check in with and get through and ask questions about. So I’ll do that. So that’s a structure I come in with.

He’ll then just pull out stuff on all of that that just takes the emotion out of it almost. It almost — because it’s more pragmatic. He goes, “This is why that would happen. This is why you feel like that. You know what? You’re kind of catastrophizing that. That’s not as big as you seem.” Then he’ll make comparisons and perspectives around other people or other situations and it kind of gives you a different view. And it’s like, he just comes in and provides these additional lenses that I didn’t have that he’s just given me. And I kind of cover off all the topics like that. And we have a laugh through it all, too, once you kind of get on the other side of each of those areas. So I find that that style has really worked with me. It’s a good question, Tim. No one’s ever actually asked me that before.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, well, if I can get one novel question in, I’m quite pleased with myself. You guys have been interviewed 500 million times, so I’m glad to give myself a pat on my bald head for that one. And I’ll follow it up because you mentioned something that I find very interesting, and that is sending something in written form to this therapist beforehand. Is it a stream of consciousness? I am feeling this because of this and — is it just like one gigantic paragraph or page? Or is it something else? That just seems like such a time-saver to provide that context to someone in advance so they can actually put some thought into how they might respond to you?

Grant Hackett: I think, I mean, you probably got the sense through the chat. Michael and I, we’re very analytical. We think through everything and every situation and every outcome. That’s the reason we know every time with respect to our events and the timeline and history of our sport so well. And I think if I’m going to approach something, I might as well do it properly and get the absolute most I can out of it. So it’s just dot points, dot points and specific areas, like things that have been on my mind, situations —

Tim Ferriss: Dot points? Dot points are bullet points, I guess?

Grant Hackett: They’re bullet points, yeah.

Michael Phelps: In Aussie terms yes, so.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, that’s it.

Michael Phelps: I can decipher all of that stuff for you Tim.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

Michael Phelps: I got you. I’m fluent. It’s good.

Grant Hackett: When I go over and stay with Michael, we’ll go out and I’ll say something and he’ll repeat it for me. And I was like, “Yeah, what he said,” because everyone sort of looks at me like I’ve got two heads, but Michael’s the ultimate at deciphering Aussie slang. He knows a bit. Yeah. So bullet points is exactly what I jot down.

Tim Ferriss: Dot points.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, dot points. Yep. Yeah. And so for me, that works. They kind of just cover the areas, the topics that have been on my mind or the situation. Normally, it’s more of a situation for me. Day to day I’m pretty good. It’s more if I’ve come across something that’s sustained stress or I can’t work through myself. And look, to be honest, that seems to be happening a little bit less in my life. But in saying that, I know it could intensify at any point in time, and I recognize that you’ve got to always stay on top of those things.

And it’s been great for the work that I do now and the life that I have and the dad that I am. I think I’ve just improved across so many different areas. And it’s probably where I refer back to sport. I’m like, “Damn, I wish I used that sports psychologist a lot more and tapped into that.” I didn’t even recognize the vulnerability for a split second throughout basically my entire career. And I feel like that was a bit of a disaster now. And actually probably would have set me up better for post-sport career as well.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, it seems like a lot of superpowers have on the other side of the coin super weaknesses almost by definition, right? Because if you have a hyper focus on anything in life, by definition you have to neglect other things. You cannot — you only have so much attention to slice and dice, right? And if you’re using compartmentalization as one of the tools for optimizing as a competitor, which every competitor I’ve interviewed on this podcast seems to be very good at, then there’s sort of a price associated with that when it’s applied more broadly speaking.

Michael, do you meet with therapists or professionals on a regular basis?

Michael Phelps: I’m online all the time. I mean, with everything, with traveling as much as I do, I spend a lot of time on Talkspace. I’ve worked with Talkspace for a few years now, and honestly for as much time as we’re on our smartphones, it’s just kind of a no brainer. But also besides that, like to Hackey’s point, I’ll be the first one to admit, I still compartmentalize a little bit, but I’ll say I don’t think I would make the podium anymore if I was competing in it. So I think I’ve definitely improved, but my big thing is just, I pile things up sometimes, and I can agree with what Hackey said and what you were saying as well, Tim. Like when we did that in our career, I was almost selfish in a way where everything I was doing in my life was based around swimming. Every single decision I made.

And now with a family, it’s not that way. My life is different. So I have to take a step back and almost reassess everything. And that’s what I was saying. Really simplifying everything to the smallest form because that’s what Grant and I did during our career. And honestly, I was sitting here taking notes, listening to what Grant does when he kind of feels himself spinning and I literally, it was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s exactly what I had to do if I wanted to learn underwater dolphin kick,” or like I had to break it down to the simplest form. That’s really what I have to do more and give myself a little bit more credit from time to time where I’m as hard on myself as I am.

Grant Hackett: You are the toughest person on yourself that I know.

Michael Phelps: Oh, it’s brutal, bro. Bro, I’m sitting here looking at like, I mean, I can’t even — some of these names that I have on my desk I’m not going to repeat, but I mean Hackey, you know. Also to Hackey’s point, I love writing stuff down, writing stuff down to see, especially with dates because times for me are so important. So if I know I’m going through a dark phase, what was I writing? Why was I thinking these things? So like here, “I’ve felt alone” or “I’ve felt dark lately.” So those are the things that I have written on my calendar. So if I sit down, I see that and I’m like, “Why was I feeling dark? I have so much to be happy for, I have so much to be proud of. There’s so many amazing things going on in this world with me, with my life, with everything. Why am I dark? Why am I afraid? Why do I feel worthless almost?”

I feel like writing stuff down really helps. That’s why for listeners out there in particular, if you guys find ways to simplify things, because we live in an over, in a crazy, crazy moving — crazy, fast-moving world where there’s always things trying to get our attention. So if we can simplify things and focus on what’s important to us, I think it just, it makes our life easier, right? There’s less stress to worry about.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Phelps: And you hear Hackey, like Hackey communicating. Shit. I made the joke that I learned how to communicate at the age of 30. Yeah. It’s — I mean, I can laugh about it because I was really good at compartmentalizing, but that’s not good. That’s why I talked so much about this quarantine and how much it forced us to become vulnerable in a way, because there’s so much unknown. So it’s like, if we want to give ourself a chance, then we have to do something different. So if it’s opening up and talking about something that is scary, try it because I’ll say like all this stuff that I’ve talked about throughout, that happened throughout my career. I mean, should I carry that thing, like all that stuff along for 10 years?

So having that out and open, one, makes it so much easier to talk about, but two, there’s so much less weight on my shoulders. I feel normal. Like talking about this stuff that I know there’s so many other people that go through the same thing or in similar different ways. I don’t know. I feel so much better, like my shoulders drop, and that’s just something that I will always say and try to push.

Tim Ferriss: Well, there’s a weight to secrets or keeping things inside, or there can be. And it makes me also want to mention that there is a new documentary, HBO documentary out called The Weight of Gold in which you’re featured very heavily. Why be part of that? And I think we’ve probably mentioned a lot of the reasons why. And maybe a better question, because that’s kind of a lazy question and I should know better. Better question is: how does it feel having done that?

Michael Phelps: Incredible.

Tim Ferriss: And maybe you could describe what it feels. Yeah, please say more. And just for those who don’t have any context, The Weight of Gold is an HBO sports documentary. Very, very well-shot, exploring the mental health challenges that Olympic athletes often face. And just wanted to provide that since I didn’t explain it. But could you expand, say more about —

Michael Phelps: Sure, sure, sure.

Tim Ferriss: — what it felt like to do that.

Michael Phelps: Yeah. I mean, as you’ve heard or as people have seen or read, I struggled throughout my whole career. In 2016, where I was probably more aware of just life in general and everything that was going on, more than I ever have in my life. At that point I saw that there were other athletes that were going through similar things like I was, going through opening ceremonies and seeing athletes, almost body language. I feel like that’s something that I’ve learned to read really well throughout my life.

But I started reading people, but I also started hearing things that people were saying, seeing things that people were posting or this or that. And I was like, “Oh,” like literally I said, “Oh, shit, this is a lot bigger than I thought.” Because I always knew it was … mental health in general was something that was very big, but I almost, I felt like it smacked me in the face at the 2016 Olympics, and with losing way too many of our family members in the Olympic world over the last five years, I mean, I literally, I want to cry every time I think about it. So for me-

Tim Ferriss: And by losing, you mean to suicide?

Michael Phelps: Committing suicide, yes. So for me to be able to do this documentary with the athletes that we had who were so vulnerable, I honestly can’t thank them enough for opening up and being them, being their authentic self, and feeling, I guess, sharing some stories about what we experienced and what we go through.

But as we stated earlier, there’s a massive stigma around mental health, and this is something that, a journey that I’ve started on and I’m breaking the wall down as fast as I can. And the more that people stand up and talk about their stories and their struggles, we’re going to break it down piece by piece. And doing this documentary, I feel it’s an awesome first step. And just kind of overall look at some of the things that go through our heads and that we experience. We’re not this statue. We are a human being, and I think it was something. Yeah, like I said, I can’t say enough. I’m super proud of. It just shows just, yeah, just — I was a kid in a candy store working on it. This is something. It’s like my baby.

I guess really, since I opened up in 2014 about my struggles with depression and anxiety, I really kind of took it by the horns, so to say, and this is my mission. I’m going to do everything I can, one, to learn as much as I can about mental health, but also try to help as many people as I can break this wall down. The suicide number is continuing to climb, and it frustrates the hell out of me. I mean, I read a story last night going to bed, of two brothers that are on a show over in London. And honestly, I just — my heart hurts because I feel some of the pain that they go through. And I mean, I think the biggest thing, I want people to know that there is help on the other side. I’ve been, and I’ve seen a lot of really dark places throughout my life, but I also know that I’m not alone. So when I look at that word on my desk that I wrote down, like I am not alone, but that’s part of my darkness. And I think just always, always knowing that there is somebody out there, that’s what we all have to realize. No matter what we’re going through, somebody is there to hold your hand, to give you a hug, to — whatever it is that you need, because we are not alone in life and honestly, we can’t do anything in life by ourselves. It’s really hard if you think about it and if we can include other people that love us and want to be around us, then it makes life 10 times better.

That was one thing that I had to learn the hard way with compartmentalizing throughout my career is I couldn’t do it by myself. It was impossible. I couldn’t handle the stress of the emotions and the feelings, all that stuff that was building up inside of me while I’m trying to perform at the absolute best. It’s impossible. It’s unhealthy. So I think that’s the biggest thing. Really being able to do it and put it together. And I was honestly frustrated with how long, I mean, I’m somebody that wants stuff done fast. So I never realized how long of a process of making a piece like that takes. 

And to be honest, I’m extremely thankful that it came out and we were able to launch it during COVID, because it’s the single — that was the one thing that I was deathly afraid of when everything started happening was the impact on everyone’s mental health that this was going to take. And we’ve seen suicide numbers increase. So I can’t stress enough how important it is to — you have something going on inside of you that’s not normal, say something to somebody, write it down, something. Don’t hold onto it. I think life is definitely too damn short. And as I said earlier, I want to slow down time as much as I can, and be able to enjoy everything that life has to offer.

Tim Ferriss: Totally. One way of slowing down time is sharing time with others and it strikes me that, of course, on one level, I respect both of you tremendously as just icons of competition, as champions of achievement. But what impresses me even more than that is the model of male friendship and brotherhood and mutual support that you guys have demonstrated, certainly privately, but also publicly. And I’m just so happy to have both of you on this call, because that seems so foundational to your success as not athletes necessarily, although that could be part of it, but as humans is having that deep bond and mutual support. And like you said, Michael, even if you are out there and feel alone, which is very easy during COVID, and it’s easy all the time in modern industrialized cultures, because we are very much compartmentalized, physically, and separated from a lot of interaction and cohabitation and so on.

There are tools like Talkspace, there are professionals who are available, and just reaching out to someone can release so much pressure in the system, and there are options. So I feel like The Weight of Gold as a doc coming out now is great timing during very bad times for millions of people. So I couldn’t agree more. And Grant, I realized I did not come back and ask you one of the questions that I’d asked Michael, which was related to books or resources that you’ve found helpful. My audience is always interested in books, certainly any resources or tools, but are there any books that come to mind for you that were either particularly helpful with respect to challenging times or books overall that you’ve recommended or gifted the most to other people?

Grant Hackett: I gave The Subtle Art to Michael. So that was one gift.

Tim Ferriss: Which was that?

Grant Hackett: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Tim Ferriss: Ah, yes. Mark Manson.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, that one. I just reread that probably a couple of months ago. That that book always just takes me back one or two steps and renews my perspective on situations because I’m a hyper focused individual when I get onto goals and tasks and things that I want to deliver. Like I sometimes get the blinkers on in such an intense way that I can lose perspective on things around me. So I’m really a lot more aware and conscious of that now. And I make sure I’ve got things like that. His follow up book was great. I really enjoyed that. I actually read that and bought it for a mutual friend of ours, Tim, Matt Targett, over for his birthday last year in December.

So I enjoy his reading. I read a lot of journals. I even read a lot of Harvard Business Review articles. There’s one I like in particular, and it’s really funny. This will sound a little bit counterintuitive around mental health, but it’s about mental toughness and they’ve got the sort of mini books that you can read all the journals that they’ve had around that particular subject matter. And I love that because it resonates with me 100 percent. So I find I actually need to not just read things that give me renewed perspective, but actually things that make me feel more like me. And that’s one of the things that the psychologist that I’ve dealt with, because we always talk about purpose and meaning and all this sort of stuff. And he had this really interesting thing that he said to me because people have this high expectation of you once you’ve achieved certain things in life and you have a greater expectation of yourself more than anybody else.

And he just said to me, he goes, “Just do more things that make you feel like you.” That has always stuck with me because it’s like, “Okay, what do I value? What do I truly value?” And it’s funny that upon the basis of that saying or that statement, I really got back to my own core values. And then I did things that sort of checked into those values. And it’s funny because I always had people tell me, “Oh, Grant just slow down, just enjoy it, just relax. Don’t don’t try and do everything to the top level every single time.”

Michael Phelps: I hate when people say that shit. God, it pisses me off so much.

Grant Hackett: I tried that, and you know what I realized? That’s not me. Like doing things mediocre is not me. I can’t stand that. And it was funny, all the things that disconnected with my value set destabilized me. And so I focus on reading things, reading journals, doing things that connect more with me and those things like mental toughness, reading about Navy SEALs, reading about different training strategies, that sort of stuff I really love. And I find that an escape from my personality. So that’s quite a good thing. And then I love commerce and love business. So I read a lot of different business books and articles. So they’re kind of the things that I just enjoy. So yeah, it’s always just reconnecting with purpose for me that actually slows my mind down. It gives me perspective. And then yeah, the books that I just referred to certainly have helped me round out that view even more so.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have any favorites since you mentioned it? I know this might seem off topic, but it’s not since this is about your lives and not just one facet. Any particular favorite business books? And I’ll just mention for folks also, Harvard Business Review has a book, which is HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness and features Martin Seligman, Tony Schwartz, Warren Bennis, and others. And that’s $24, $25. You can find that online and I’ll link to that in the show notes. Are there any business books that are real standouts for you?

Grant Hackett: Oh, there’s one I’m reading at the moment that I’m really enjoying, which is Phil Knight, Shoe Dog.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve got to read this book. I’ve got to read it. It’s been recommended to me a hundred times.

Grant Hackett: Yeah. So I’m in the middle of that. I’ve got to say that’s definitely one that springs to mind. That’s definitely top of the list. Other ones that stand out, I mean, probably that one for now. The other ones that I enjoy reading, I enjoy just general sort of leadership. So I read a lot of stuff that relates to that in business and knowing and understanding what the fundamentals are. I’ve probably got, if I walked into my bedroom, seven or eight books that I want to read, that I haven’t at the moment. I always enjoy reading things around Warren Buffet. I’ve read a lot of books that relate to him just on his mindset and his approach towards things. Because the one thing that I’ve really found in high performance, you don’t actually have to read always on your specific subject matter because when it comes to business, I always find, I read articles, mostly like strategy articles or growth initiatives, or what was the change in Boeing and Airbus when Airbus said, “Okay, we’ve got to do the A380. But if we get this wrong, it’s actually going to send us bankrupt.”

What was the inflection point where business became great? And I enjoy Jim Collins, like his books Good to Great are really interesting just to learn about. I find any sort of success story is the same. It is just a daily grind of mundane things that you just have to keep getting right and improve by 0.1 of a percent and then do it again the next day, then do it again the next day. And then eventually momentum and the flywheel as it’s referred to in that book, kind of clicks into place. And then all of a sudden, many years later you’ve got this outstanding result that people think is an overnight success that took you 15 years to get there. So that’s the way I find most things work. And so I love reading around the principles of high success, high performance and success in any single field, whether it’s a Navy SEAL, whether it’s business, whether it’s sport, whether it’s in music. The school Juilliard or whatever it might be, those principles are the same.

And I’m always trying to identify those because I got to be honest, I love it. I’m passionate about it. I’m passionate about learning about it, talking about it, reading about it. So yeah, they’re probably always the things that I try and tap into. And again, it comes back to that saying that I said before, just do things that make you feel more like you. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, winning Olympic gold medals is not everybody’s cup of tea because the sacrifice you have to make for that, for most people, is probably not often worth it. But for the two guys you’ve got on this call, we’ll do anything to get those things, and sort of have the same approach to everything else that I try and achieve or want to achieve.

Tim Ferriss: I love that expression, “doing more things that make you feel like you.” I’ve never heard anything, or I never heard the message worded quite that way, but it’s very succinct and very deep if you spend some time on it. Thank you for sharing that. Michael, are there any other books or resources that you would like to mention just to give you another dip at the well?

Michael Phelps: I was sitting here looking at my, like the little bookshelf that we have behind — just scattered in here, but I was sitting there looking at these books and there’s two of them that popped into my head that one, I’ve gone back to. So for time to slow things down, I tried to mix in more of a daily reading. So Mark Nepo has a good one, The Book of Awakening and then The Daily Stoic. I mean, I feel like some of those things, you can really just almost take a step back, right. Take a deep breath, let it — like read a quote, read a single page, whatever it is, let it marinate. And just for me, it’s just something that’s so easy to do, but something that’s so awesome to do to start your day. I just feel like it just gives you some kind of purpose of what you’re doing and when life is too fast, again, it gives you that second to take that step back.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Daily Stoic and Ego Is the Enemy. You’ve got a whole lot of Ryan Holiday on your bookshelf.

Michael Phelps: Honestly, it’s funny because I just got The Daily Stoic from my coach, or my old coach, sorry, Bob Bowman. And I’ve gotten a few of the other books as I was saying earlier from — you know Seth, Hackey, right?

Grant Hackett: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michael Phelps: Yeah so he’s one of my favorite human beings on this planet to have a communication or conversation with, excuse me. Some of the books that he’s given me really have… I feel like he has a really good understanding about me as a person and how I work and he’s a very, very smart human being. So I feel like some of the things that he’s given me to read are, again, back to my point, just simple ways for me to understand something that I might be too hard on myself with, or I might be too hyper focused on one thing.

So almost giving me that bigger picture. Trying to be that lake instead of being that glass of water. So yeah, I think a lot of the books that I have that I’ll rifle through time and time again, I think it’s been super helpful just to — yeah, I mean, I think more than anything, just give me a chance. I feel for me, a lot of my life was focused on swimming and that really was it. Like Hackey knows, being an Olympian, your life is focused on one thing. Nothing else matters in life but that. I’m honestly really learning how to live on dry land, so to say. I kind of made the joke throughout last few years, I feel like I’ve taken more strokes in the swimming pool than I’ve taken steps on land.

So it makes it challenging when you have a freight train trying to come down in the middle of the street with no tracks on it. So It’s been difficult at times slowing me down. But I feel like some of those simple kind of different approaches to looking at things for me have benefited so much just because I can’t expect to fill up everybody’s cups if my cup isn’t filled up, right. I have three boys and an amazing wife and a household here that I’m in charge of my roles, right. So if I’m not taking care of myself and filling my glass up by taking the time that I need for me, I have no shot in being able to be a good husband, a good friend, a good dad. So I just want to have a chance. And I feel like that’s what I did, my career, my preparation, it was the process. It was the whole process of it all that I learned, but the preparation was so key. So yeah, just trying to slow things down. I don’t know. I don’t know if that makes sense, but yeah, it’s something that —

Tim Ferriss: It does.

Michael Phelps: Yeah. It’s been enjoyable, but as you can imagine, something that’s been extremely challenging at times. As you hear Grant and I talk about, we want to go fast and we want to get to point A to point B as fast as we can, the fastest way, but also the most effective way. So how can we do it for, you know what I mean? [crosstalk].

Tim Ferriss: Totally. Sometimes you want to be the lake, and other times you want to take a jet ski at a hundred miles an hour across the lake. And some days it’s hard to decide which one you want to do.

Michael Phelps: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, man. Well, this has been such a fun conversation for me. And I just have one more question and it’s sometimes a difficult question. So if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I’ll give it a shot. And that is actually, before I get there, I have to say, I’ve also found stoicism very, very helpful. And It’s such a small world because I actually published the audiobook versions of both Ego Is the Enemy and The Daily Stoic, believe it or not.

Michael Phelps: I’ve listened to your voice a lot. I’ve heard it a lot. I think you’ve done some stuff with Trevor Moawad as well, I believe?

Tim Ferriss: I may have. Yeah. 

Michael Phelps: I might be wrong! Sorry.

Tim Ferriss: It’s just such a small world. So let me ask a question that sometimes doesn’t work, because it is sometimes a hard question. I’ll ask it of both of you. And the question is this, if you could put anything on a billboard, this is metaphorically speaking. It could be an image, a quote, a question, a word, anything non-commercial on a billboard to get something in front of billions of people, what would it be? And if either of you want to take a stab at it, feel free to jump.

Michael Phelps: You can go if you want, Hackey. If you want to go, go ahead.

Grant Hackett: Yeah, something popped in my head, but you go first, bud.

Michael Phelps: I mean, I would just say it’s okay to not be okay. I think that’s something that for me, even in my darkest scariest moments, that’s the one thing that Nicole always says to me and she’ll throw her arms around me or ask if she can give me a hug sometimes if I am just — if I really want to be alone, that’s the one thing, she’ll ask me because sometimes I just need that moment by myself. She’ll ask to give me a hug. My wife will ask me to give me a hug. So we’ve just been able to, I mean, again, I can’t say it enough, grow so much. So I would say again to everybody out there, it’s okay to not be okay, and you’re not alone. Those two things I think can just go together. Just, I mean, with everything we’ve talked about on this call, it’s just that in a difficult time, it’s something to just simplify it, take a step back, take a breath and relax.

Tim Ferriss: Those are great. Those are great. Grant, any thoughts?

Grant Hackett: Yeah. The first thing that popped into my head, and I often think that’s always the right and best answer was, if you want to put something in a billboard, just be you. Be you.

Tim Ferriss: Be you.

Grant Hackett: Two words, very simple, because the more you do the things that make you feel like yourself, or it brings out your personality. It brings out who you are, makes you feel good about yourself, and you don’t have to be something that’s false or superficial or create an image for anybody else or anything else. And I think once you get back to that simplification and to Michael’s point, I think often you feel best about yourself, often you find the things that you enjoy doing more often, often enough, you’re living a life that just makes you feel good about yourself and connect better with the people around you. So I think just be you and feel comfortable in that.

Tim Ferriss: Excellent.

Michael Phelps: Good man. Honestly, just hearing you say that through the last hour that you’ve mentioned it, to me, it’s brought up so many things that would help me just simplify life. And it just totally makes sense. There are times — I can say I played golf with, or I’ve had the chance to play golf with a lot of professional golfers and I recently got to play with, I got to know John Ram a little bit. So the first time playing with him, I’m like, shit, I want to try to play as good as I can. I want to be on my A game, yada, yada, yada. And I’m like, well, that’s not me because I don’t have the time and the preparation to perform how I expect to perform. So I can’t expect to be somebody else. I have to be me.

And I think that’s something that I struggled a lot with, and at times still do that where I feel like sometimes I am just a swimmer and because I feel like that’s what the story has been, right? Every single headline was about swimming, swimming, swimming, and finally now, that’s why I’ve really, I’m so happy with everything we’re doing with mental health, but that’s one thing that I really just saw myself as, not a human being. So I want to say, thank you because that quote right there, “Just be you,” I think can simplify a thousand things for me. and I mean, I don’t know how I’ve never heard anyone say that, but thanks. I appreciate you bringing that up today.

Grant Hackett: It just popped into my head. I just went with it.

Tim Ferriss: Well, this has been really fun to have both of you on, and for everybody listening, we’ll link to everything in the show notes as usual at so you won’t miss anything. The documentary that was mentioned is The Weight of Gold. That is an HBO documentary. Grant, people can find you on Instagram @grant__hackett, H-A-C-K-E-T-T. Two underscores, and then Michael, people can find you on Twitter @michaelphelps, Facebook, Michael Phelps, Instagram @m_phelps00. Is there anything else that you gentlemen would like to mention? Anything else that you’d like to add as a closing comment or anything at all?

Grant Hackett: Oh, I’ve got to say, I just, I’m so proud of Michael as a friend. He knows I love him like a brother. But people have seen him as a product, right, because he got so successful and so amazing and achieved things that no one else ever has in the history of sport. But to hear how open and honest and transparent and forthright he is around mental health, because I know he wants to help other people, to me is just an outstanding characteristic. And you could never under underestimate that strength, but Michael always has that strength to do that sort of stuff. So, yeah man, it was awesome to hear today. It was emotional for me sitting on the other side because I’ve been there. I’ve been right there with you sitting in the closet, talking.

Michael Phelps: Launching my phone, right? You shattered that thing!

Grant Hackett: I think, yeah no, that’s just been awesome. And I’ve really enjoyed that today and look, I’m sure that that will help a lot of people. And I know that’s exactly what you like to do.

Michael Phelps: Honestly, likewise, bro. I mean, we’ve both been through our fair share of ups and downs publicly and privately and as you know, my circle is super tight and I love you like a brother and honestly it’s awesome to see the journey that you’ve been on and honestly just welcoming a new baby. Jeez, it’s so cool. It’s so special. Awesome to watch. I miss you like hell. As selfish as it is, I wish you lived next door. We need our compound.

Grant Hackett: We’ll still do that.

Michael Phelps: Tim, honestly, it’s been great. For me, even though with the relationship and as close as I am with Hackey, I’ve been able to learn even more about him today and I’m excited that somebody finally put this together, the two of us to be able to just chat for two hours. Honestly, it was a treat and we’ve listened to a lot of you over the years. I look forward to listening to a lot more. If it’s okay, I’d love to grab your email from the team and stay in touch.

And honestly, if you have any books or anything, I truly add something that, as I said, I think, I think I’ve read more books in the last five years or listened to more books in the last five years than I have in the previous 30. So I think it’s funny how life works and how open I am or how much more open I am now and that wall is down a little bit more. So yeah, anything that I’m always eager to learn and it’s just been a fun process. I can’t thank you enough for having us on today. This was a true treat.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. A total blast for me, an experiment, certainly especially scattered across the world as we are. And it worked out. I’m so happy that we were able to come together and thanks for the kind words. Also, the book that I would recommend more than any others, not one of mine, it’s actually a book called Awareness by Anthony De Mello. It’s a short book, D-E-M-E-L-L-O. Anthony De Mello. And I will definitely, I’ll share my email and cell with both of you guys and you can feel free to reach out anytime, certainly. And hopefully we’ll meet in person sometime and it has been such a treat. So thank you both very much, and I wish you both a wonderful weekend.

Grant Hackett: You too. Thank you so much for having us, Tim.

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: Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett — Two Legends on Competing, Overcoming Adversity, Must-Read Books, and Much More (#494)”

  1. Tim please please please, i’ve been going nuts trying to dig this up. In this interview Michael Phelps says something about how his mind works (in unstructured ways), i can’t recall the phrase but i’m going crazy trying to find it!!! Can you or anyone for the love of all that’s mighty dig it up?