The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)


The menu in the Slovak Republic: full-contact video below.

Long time no see! I just landed back in CA from a long overdue mini-retirement through London, Scotland, Sardinia, Slovak Republic, Austria, Amsterdam, and Japan.

Some unpleasant surprises awaited me when I checked in on the evil e-mail inbox. Why? I let them happen.

I always do.

Here are just a few of the goodies that awaited me this time:

-One of our fulfillment companies has been shut-down due to the president’s death, causing a 20%+ loss in monthly orders and requiring an emergency shift of all web design and order processing.

-Missed radio and magazine appearances and upset would-be interviewers.

-More than a dozen lost joint-venture partnership opportunities.

It’s not that I go out of my way to irritate people — not at all — but I recognize one critical fact: oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.

What did I get in exchange for temporarily putting on blinders and taking a few glancing blows?

-I followed the Rugby World Cup in Europe and was able to watch the New Zealand All Blacks live, a dream I’ve had for the last 5 years.

-I was able to shoot every gun I’ve ever dreamed of firing since brainwashing myself with Commando. Bless the Slovak Republic and their paramilitaries (video at the end of this post).

-I was able to film a television series pilot in Japan, a lifelong dream and the most fun I’ve had in months, if not years.

-I met with my Japanese publisher, Seishisha (Tel: 03-5574-8511) and had media interviews in Tokyo, where the 4HWW is now #1 in several of the largest chains.

-I took a complete 10-day media fast and felt like I’d had a two-year vacation from computers.

-I attended the Tokyo International Film Festival and hung out with one of my heroes, the producer of the Planet Earth television series.

Once you realize that you can turn off the noise without the world ending, you’re liberated in a way that few people ever know.

Just remember: if you don’t have attention, you don’t have time. Did I have time to check e-mail and voicemail? Sure. It might take 10 minutes. Did I have the attention to risk fishing for crises in those 10 minutes? Not at all.

As tempting as it is to “just check e-mail for one minute,” I didn’t do it. I know from experience that any problem found in the inbox will linger on the brain for hours or days after you shut-down the computer, rendering “free time” useless with preoccupation. It’s the worst of states, where you experience neither relaxation nor productivity. Be focused on work or focused on something else, never in-between.

Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.

Here are a few questions that can help you put on the productivity blinders and put things in perspective. Even when you’re not traveling the world, develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things, whether important tasks or true peak experiences. If you do force the time but puncture it with distractions, you won’t have the attention to appreciate it.

-What is the one goal, if completed, that could change everything?

-What is the most urgent thing right now that you feel you “must” or “should” do?

-Can you let the urgent “fail” — even for a day — to get to the next milestone with your potential lifechanging tasks?

-What’s been on your “to-do” list the longest? Start it first thing in the morning and don’t allow interruptions or lunch until you finish.

Will “bad” things happen? Small problems will crop up, yes. A few people will complain and quickly get over it. BUT, the bigger picture items you complete will let you see these for what they are–minutiae and repairable hiccups.

Make this trade a habit. Let the small bad things happen and make the big good things happen.

[This post kicked up some strong comments! If you'd like to see my responses, just search for "###" in the comments.]

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Odds and Ends:

-Here is another signed original 4HWW manuscript with the bonus stories that didn’t make it into the published version! Perhaps you saw recently that a 1st-printing Harry Potter fetches more than $40K. 4HWW is no Harry Potter yet, but unedited manuscripts are a rarer item. The Ebay auction is here, and you have 72 hours. The last one sold for $1,525 and there were 8 copies available. Now there are only 6 left. The total winning bid will be donated to this school in Nepal, where your name will appear on a plaque on the door. If you would like to skip the auction, just PayPal $2,000 for however many copies you want (max of 5) to The total will also be donated to education. If someone beats you to the punch, I’ll refund you.

-For those interested, I’m featured on pg. 67 of this month’s Men’s Fitness. Nothing fitness-related, just 4HWW stuff.

-I did a fun interview on .SAP INFO, where I talk about all things quantifiable.

Weapons of Mass Distraction: boys love guns. I’m sorry, but that’s how we are wired, especially at $80 for a full Soviet arsenal, complete with anti-tank machine gun. Don’t worry, I’m just a target shooter. No strapping guns to my bed just yet.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

184 comments on “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)

  1. @ Jesse & Fellow Student..
    “More than a dozen lost joint-venture partnership opportunities” – this negatively affected Tim, depending on how you look at it.
    He points out that the world won’t end if you disappear. We’re not as singly important as we’d like to think, but everything we do should be important to us in some way or another.
    Moreover, close friends and family would either have already blessed your new way of life or forsaken you, in which case, they wouldn’t be trying to reach you.

  2. Hey Tim,

    We can’t do everything, so we have to prioritize doing what’s important and ignore the rest.

    We have limited resources during a day. The more things we do, the less time and energy we can put into each. If we analyze what’s important to us, and focus only on doing those things while ruthlessly ignoring the rest, we can maximize our enjoyment of them.

    Getting comfortable with letting bad things happen lets us detach ourselves from situations.

    Problems and the like become external objects, and we become okay with letting the occasional weed grow in our garden so that we can focus on playing in it and eating the delicious fruits and vegetables.

    Thanks for sharing your story of how important 80-20′ing your life is. Seems like it was an incredible time, and I enjoyed watching the Japan episode of your show Trial By Fire (is that not getting picked up for a season I’m assuming?).

    Pura vida,

  3. This is an amazing tip. It’s so true, most things can wait till the next day and are not truly urgent. As a pediatrician, when I was on call, this was not always true, as there are some actual true emergencies, and yet even in this situation, many things which are considered urgent can actually wait till the next morning.

    Now, as I have moved away from taking call and now own a business with a few employees, I find myself still falling in the same mode of always being “on call,” and attending to “emergencies.” However, this last month, I was forced to go out of town, and what I found was… although there were many urgent issues, many of them were dealt with by my employees, which helped them become more prepared and independent for future crises, and this allowed me to trust and give them more responsibilities. And with the issues that still needed my help, being out of town forced me to set up systems (automated steps or policies) to deal with similar issues in the future. I guess it’s a start on the road to the 4-hour workweek.

    If anyone is having a hard time letting the bad things happen or finding time for the big things, I would recommend a forced vacation for a few weeks where you have very little contact with your work.

  4. I love the alternative points of views presented by Mr. Ferriss. And though I think it would be difficult for me to transition over to this way of thinking and doing, I find it intriguing, and closer to “right” than most of the “lessons” I’ve learned in life (that make so little sense).

    I did, however, have a problem with one of the “little problems” – specifically the mention of -

    missed radio and magazine appearances and upset would-be interviewers -

    Did I misinterpret? – did you have these meetings set up and then fail to show up as you went after your once in a lifetime dreams? Or did you only miss POTENTIAL PR opportunities?

    I interpreted it as meetings already set, then missed, in which case it doesn’t seem appropriate to take their time and then waste it for them. In that case, there would be responsibility to not have made the appointments, cancel beforehand, or, if needbe (previously forgotten) on your mini retirement.

    Hopefully I misinterpreted, and you were expressing you had opportunities you COULD have accepted, that they wanted you to accept, had you been home.

    So much of what you say is inspiring. Thank you for your open posts, thoughts, and adventures that you share.

  5. I never imagined that I would leave a message here, but I am gratified to see that you are still answering posts to these older topics.

    This a great post about not letting others run your life with their “issues”.

    I personally have always been a people pleaser… a hard habit to break. I let others push their priorities on me, and I do not want to disappoint, as I have always gotten my self worth satisfying others. I have strived to be true to “Know thyself”, and this is one of the things I have learned about myself over the years. Like being stuck in mud. There is a “suction” effect. Hard to get out.

    Realizing large dreams means letting some be disappointed. I can’t be there for everyone for everything. They have developed a comfort level in knowing I will be there, to save them from their problems, boredom, excesses, etc. I need to let them grow by letting them step out of their comfort zones, too.

    Don’t worry. I will still serve people, as that is part of making the world a better place. But I will not let them push their priorities on me.

    I am working on that automation to free me for World Travel.

    BTW, if you get to Phoenix, I will take you to a great mexican eatery.


  6. I was really interested in reading Greg’s comment above – the freelance web designer – who’s now off to Australia and New Zealand courtesy of his affiliate work. I’m also in that line, but have struggled with the idea of only doing the work which I really want to do – that’s why I went freelance – which has effectively cut myself off from doing things that will actually secure my time back again. This is a very interesting conundrum. There’s so much good advice here which really shakes up my ideas about how I should or want to go about things. Many thanks indeed for that – it doesn’t happen often.

  7. So, I just tried the “auto-response”. Within 24 hours, people in the office started to complain…to my bosses…who ordered me to turn it off. Funny thing is, it’s FINE if i don’t RESPOND to email until noon and 4pm, I just can’t TELL people that’s what i’m doing. Dumb, if you ask me. Rrrrrgh.

  8. Interesting choice of headline and photo… certainly offers a lesson in not jumping to conclusions. Yet, it remains a bit unsettling as there is such a fine balance many of us feel about ‘letting things happen’ vs doing something about them when it involves guns or injustice. But I guess that was your aim.

    The best message in all of this for me was your point on focus and productivity, and the high priority role that “valuing attention over time”, plays in this. Now that’s something I really will benefit from practicing! Thanks.

  9. Love the video! I’ve been trying to convince my husband to listen to the 4HWW audio book for weeks now, but this video sealed the deal – he now decided that you have credibility and put the CD set in his truck ;)

  10. Ok first thing,
    Hats off to you for donating to a school in Nepal. I am actually a Nepalese and i know how much help our education system needs. It’s always great to see people like you doing something great for people who are born in a country where opportunities are severely limited. So as a Nepalese born and raised in Nepal, I’d like to thank you Tim.

    I am so darn JEALOUS. I’ve always wanted to know how it feels to shoot a gun. Not that i’m a violent person or anything but like you said, boys and guns lol they’re just hard wired in our brains. I’d love to do something like that someday.

    Your point about letting small bad things happen is something that I’ve experienced myself. and I feel sorry for those who try to make everyone happy and end up living all their lives for others. Everyone likes them but they live such depressing lives and YET it’s a very hard concept to implement for people.
    Specially once you get into the habit of being an opportunist. You sorta depend on your ability to seize opportunities so that you can get to what your goals are. But after you attain a certain level of success, its more about committing to the right opportunities and not just diving towards every opportunity you find. i think it’s more a matter of choice. It becomes a much bigger factor once you get to a stage where you are flooded with opportunities on a daily basis. Just a two cents.

    Anyways, once again, i think its great that you’ve decided to help out a Nepalese school.
    Thank you

  11. Great article. This has been on the fore front of my mind for sometime. Dealing with crisis and stresses. I have a small start-up managing securities and growing money reserves.

    It has proven to be an emotional roller coaster. Some months my partners and I are in the green and other months we’re down. I have to deal with emotions of entire team while remaining calm and indifferent.

    Most recently I experienced a nearly 100% loss in the business. Emotions are running high. It’s a demanding challenge to face. I feel if I can face challenges like this. Remain calm and clear headed whilst indifferent I can face just about anything.

  12. TF – this was short yet VERY powerful.

    My g mail was blocked out for 24 hrs and now my blackberry needs 2 re-activate e mails

    I kinda like the disconnect

    this article definitely pushes me more towards letting e mails slide and kickin ass on the bigger stuff

    good shiz bro, MUCH thnx!


  13. Was so interested to see that 4HWW is out in Japanese and is doing so well there — congrats.

    Curious about the reaction over there, and since I read Japanese, I checked out the page for the book, and according to the comments evidently the Japanese translation is riddled with errors, to the point of being very annoying. This is a common problem with books translated into Japanese, as native Japanese translators may miss the nuances, or the entire meaning, of something that is written in colloquial English (like much of 4HWW is).

    In order to ensure true quality of a translation, what you need is to have a native speaker of the orignal language who is fluent in the target language check the translation. Since I qualify (native speaker of English, fluent in Japanese, and have written a bunch of books in Japanese), perhaps I could help you out? (As a Room to Read volunteer, I helped check the Japanese translation of John Wood’s book when it came out a few years ago, so I’m experienced in this kind of thing.)

    It seems like the Japanese readers are disappointed, and the impact of your book is being blunted. Since the book is selling well, there’s bound to be a reprinting, which should be an opportunity to improve the translation a bit.

  14. Wow, Tim this is great stuff!
    Since I read your book, I’ve changed so much about my life. I now work 1/2 the hours as before – done instantly before I even finished reading the book. This is just the start as both my wife and I work from home and take months off each year. Your words continue to be an inspiration.

  15. Tim,
    Congrats on your holiday! Sounds like you really had a holiday not just working from the beach type break! Which can be good as well.

    A change of pace is critical to be ready to take your life to the next level.
    Thanks for the pointers on attention! I will be thinking about that as we try to grow our 2 businesses.

    Take care.

  16. Tim, i’m a 20 year old college student ‘diagnosed’ with adhd. My intelligence has gotten me this far… but school work is AGANIZING. I took aderal for the first time yesterday…. (30mg), i’m about 170, 5’9, scored 19/100 (100 being averagr) for attention deficiet disorder…. and It was a TRIP. at first i felt super focused… but it had all these side effects that were RIDICULOUS… I don’t really want to be on it… and the only reason i took it was to get my mind to stop wandering from school work…. but I HATE school. I want to be an entrepreneur, and start my company in the real world. I’m not sure i’ll get past school without the meds… as it’s gotten to be unbearable. Quite franky, i’m not sure if school is even worth it… I only really want the ‘college’ experience… i feel like i’ll ‘miss’ out if i don’t go (to a university away from home living on campus)… but then i also am worried that it’s just a waiste of time… not sure what to do. My mom thinks i would be idiotic to not get my degree. I kinda feel like I should finish what i started… but it feels unbarable, and i’m not sure wether I’m going to ever take an aderal pill again…. maybe lower dosage, but either way, drugs, besides alchohol and tobacco, make me feel ‘out of control’ and i HATE it. So i’m facing a dilemma… follow my passion or finish what i started/ enjoy the college experience… I’m sort of confused. I have a good mentor, my friend arie, persian guy, 24, entrepreneur, he mentioned you guys are friends, which is pretty cool…. but i’m just afraid on what to do and afraid of ‘missing out’ on something like the ‘wild college experience and friends, and owning the school, etc’ and i’m not sure if i really want that or i’ve been programmed that that is the ‘cool’ thing to do… just like people are programmed that college is the ‘right’ thing to do…. words of wisdom would be awesome.. And do you have adhd or anything like that, and how do you use it to your advantage and deal with it? I read that we are very able to focus on things that motivate us very intently and not on things that bore us, like school

  17. Your solution is to be selfish and self minded. Never mind others, who cares about wasting time answering to mails (which are ways for people to communicate) ! Doing what you want is the only thing that’s important. Just care about yourself !

    Great advice ! It will make the world a horrid place, but we will be better off that the others, and that’s the main and first goal of them all !

  18. Hi Tim,

    I doubt this will reach you but I figured I’d give it a shot. I recently purchased a 100lb chrome plated dumbbell set off ebay for a little over $100, upon receiving it (with free shipping no less) I noticed a powerful smell coming off the chrome plates. I tried washing and scrubbing them – no substantial improvement. What concerns me is that in just a day I’ve developed respiratory issues, sore nasal passages, red inflamed skin on my hands, and a sore throat. This doesn’t feel like a cold or flu bug, more like an allergic response.

    They say caveat emptor, but I’m concerned, is it at all possible that these weights came directly from an unregulated factory in China? Could these in fact contain a powerful carcinogen like Hexavalent Chromium known to cause cancer and other issues? I noticed on the invoice it said it came from an unrelated company “SY Supllies” Misspelled and all.

    I’ve been burned by Ebay for counterfeit earbuds and other merch, this is the last time I buy from them, I’m seriously concerned however that this person might be selling cancer causing weights to unsuspecting customers. Is there any way to find out? I don’t have the funds to test the materials myself but here is the link:

    I don’t want to seem like a hypochondriac, but it is a genuine concern.

    Cheers Tim I hope this reaches you.

    • Just as an update I requested a refund, looks like they are all for it here’s the message I received:

      Thank you for contacting with us and sorry for the inconvenience, the painting no risk for the health but no excuse, we will send return label to your email,please send it back ,we will fully refund you upon receiving them

      Thank you


      Peculiar to say the least, but at least I’ll be getting a refund. I’ve sealed off the weights and effectively sanitized the environment I tried cleaning them in. Feeling markedly better today – albeit the lingering chemical smell.

      Let’s hope exposure to that pseudo chrome won’t bite me in the ass years from now lol.

      Hope you’ve been well in this off-holiday season!

      • Markedly better may not be a proper term now, mild nose bleeding today with accompanied soreness, seeing about scheduling an ENT visit. Hoping this is just a coincidence !

  19. Hey Tim,

    Great post….

    Have you thought about how similar this is to the concepts in Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s new book Antifragile…?

    Letting small bad things happen… protecting yourself against negative black swans…. whilst opening up to the positive ones.

    Really cool how your philosophy and life is essentially an Antifragile system – getting stronger and more effective with volatility (in this case: your ‘bad things’)….

    rather than the bulk of workers who set up fragile systems, where if (or more likely: when) a black swan happens, like a missed month of work due to illness, then their life might fall apart because they spent it setting up the wrong status quo (e.g. “I am always here to be interrupted and am at your beck and call, whoever you are and regardless of how important it is”)

    Just some thoughts for you….thanks for changing my life!


  20. I’m late to the punch but this is a great concept. I have started small with the bad things and building up courage to allow bigger bad things to occur. It’s the battle of allowing your attention to take priority over certain results.