Things I've Learned and Loved in 2008


Training in horseback archery in Nikko, Japan. (Photo: David West)

2008 has been one of the most exciting years of my life. I did more dealmaking and met more people than in the last 5 years combined. This produced many surprise insights about business and human nature, especially as I uncovered tons of my own false assumptions.

Here are some of the things I learned and loved in 2008. I’ve linked to posts that I wrote when exploring some of the concepts in more detail…

Favorite reads of 2008: Zorba the Greek and Seneca: Letters from a Stoic. These are two of the most readable books of practical philosophies I’ve ever had the fortune to encounter. If you have to choose one, get Zorba, but Lucius Seneca will take you further. Both are fast reads of 2-3 evenings.

Don’t accept large or costly favors from strangers. This karmic debt will come back to haunt you. If you can’t pass it up, immediately return to karmic neutrality with a gift of your choosing. Repay it before they set the terms for you. Exceptions: ubersuccessful mentors who are making introductions and not laboring on your behalf.

You don’t have to recoup losses the same way you lose them. I own a home in San Jose but moved almost 12 months ago. It’s been empty since, and I’m paying a large mortgage each month. The best part? I don’t care. But this wasn’t always the case. For many months, I felt demoralized as others pressured me to rent it, emphasizing how I was just flushing money away otherwise. Then I realized: you don’t have to make $ back the same way you lose it. If you lose $1,000 at the blackjack table, should you try and recoup it there? Of course not. I don’t want to deal with renters, even with a property management company. The solution: leave the house alone, use it on occasion, and just create incoming revenue elsewhere that would cover the cost of the mortgage through consulting, publishing, etc.

One of the most universal causes of self-doubt and depression: trying to impress people you don’t like. Stressing to impress is fine, but do it for the right people — those whom you want to emulate.

Slow meals = life. From Daniel Gilbert of Harvard to Martin Seligman of Princeton, the “happiness” (self-reported well-being) researchers seem to agree on one thing: meal time with friends and loved ones is a direct predictor of happiness. Have at least one 2-3-hour dinner and/or drinks per week — yes, 2-3 hours — with those who make you smile and feel good. I find the afterglow effect to be greatest and longest with groups of 5 or more. Two times that are conducive to this: Thursday dinners or after-dinner drinks and Sunday brunches.

The two blog posts whose principles I’ve practiced the most in 2008: The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (from 2007)
; The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle: 6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm (from 2008)

Adversity doesn’t build character; it reveals it.
(Suggested reading: How to Test-Drive Friends)

Related: Money doesn’t change you; it reveals who you are when you no longer have to be nice.

Total Immersion swimming
(Suggested reading: How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days)

It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do. If you have a strong informed opinion, don’t keep it to yourself. Try and help people and make the world a better place. If you strive to do anything remotely interesting, just expect a small percentage of the population to always find a way to take it personally. F*ck ’em. There are no statues erected to critics.

Related: You’re never as bad as they say you are. My agent used to send me every blog or media hit for The 4-Hour Workweek. Eight weeks after publication, I asked him to only forward me positive mentions in major media or factual inaccuracies I needed to respond to. An important correlate: you’re never as good as they say you are, either.

It’s not helpful get a big head or get depressed. The former makes you careless and the latter makes you lethargic. I wanted to have untainted optimism but remain hungry. Speaking of hungry…

Eat a high-protein breakfast within 30 minutes of waking and go for a 10-20-minute walk outside afterward, ideally bouncing a handball or tennis ball. This one habit is better than a handful of Prozac in the morning.
(Suggested reading: The 3-Minute Slow-Carb Breakfast, How to “Peel” Hardboiled Eggs without Peeling)

I dislike losing money about 50x more than I like making it. Why 50x? Logging time as an experiment, I concluded that I often spend at least 50x more time to prevent a hypothetical unit of $100 from being lost vs. earned. The hysterical part is that, even after becoming aware of this bias, it’s hard to prevent the latter response. Therefore, I manipulate the environmental causes of poor responses instead of depending on error-prone self-discipline:

I should not invest in public stocks where I cannot influence outcomes. Once realizing that almost no one can predict risk tolerance and response to losses, I moved all of my investments into fixed-income and cash-like instruments in July 2008 for this reason, setting aside 10% of pre-tax income for angel investments where I can contribute significant UI/design, PR, and corporate partnership help.
(Suggested reading: Rethinking Investing – Part 1, Rethinking Investing – Part 2)

A good question to revisit whenever overwhelmed: Are you having a break-down or a breakthrough?

Rehearse poverty regularly — restrict even moderate expenses for 1-2 weeks and give away 20%+ of minimally-used clothing — so you can think big and take “risks” without fear. (Seneca)

A mindset of scarcity (which breeds jealousy and unethical behavior) is due to a disdain for those things easily obtained. (Seneca)

A small cup of black Kenyan AA coffee with cinnamon on top, no milk or sweeteners.

It’s usually better to keep old resolutions than to make new ones.

Chloe Sevigny. ‘Nuff said.

To bring in a wonderful 2009, I’d like to quote from an email I received today from a mentor of more than a decade:

While many are wringing their hands, I recall the 1970s when we were suffering from an oil shock causing long lines at gas stations, rationing, and 55 MPH speed limits on Federal highways, a recession, very little venture capital ($50 million per year into VC firms), and, what President Jimmy Carter (wearing a sweater while addressing the Nation on TV because he had turned down the heat in the White House) called a “malaise”. It was during those times that two kids without any real college education, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, started companies that did pretty well. Opportunities abound in bad times as well as good times. In fact, the opportunities are often greater when the conventional wisdom is that everything is going into the toilet.

Well…we’re nearing the end of another great year, and, despite what we read about the outlook for 2009, we can look forward to a New Year filled with opportunities as well as stimulating challenges.

Happy New Year everyone!

Goofing around at a maid cafe in Akihabara, Tokyo. (Photo: David West)

Posted on: December 31, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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181 comments on “Things I've Learned and Loved in 2008

  1. Hey Tim,

    Loved this post. I’ll incorporate the walking while bouncing a tennis ball into my routine tomorrow.

    2008 was full of crazy things I never thought I’d do. I went fully freelance and, thanks to your book, have some pretty massive things going for 2009.

    I’m beginning to lose weight (11lbs in 2 weeks) and tracking it on my blog, hoping to perhaps help anyone who might come along.

    Anyway, thanks for your book and if I could get a chance to talk with you through email I’d appreciate it. Not expecting it but thought I might try.

    Have a great New Year and I’m looking forward to your next book. And also, I’m kind of curious about the education system research you talked about in the video in your last post. (I’m an avid hater of public education).

    Thanks man!



  2. Karmic debt… I know this blog isn’t about spirituality but sometimes I wonder if all those torrents I’ve downloaded will come back to haunt me in some way.


  3. I really enjoyed this post, Tim.

    I’ve been telling fellow directors, actors, producers & writers about 4HWW since it was released. You have many fans in Los Angeles.

    Hope to work/play with you in some capacity, soon.

    All the best,



  4. Tim, this may be your best blog post of the year, in my opinion.

    I love this:

    “…If you strive to do anything remotely interesting, just expect a small percentage of the population to always find a way to take it personally. F*ck ‘em. There are no statues erected to critics.”

    Happy New Year Tim!


  5. Hi Tim,

    Thanks so much for all your efforts this past year, they have inspired and moved me. I only wish that I had 1/10th the creative juice that you had, but your ideas have helped me personally.

    I love the statues to critics idea.

    Best wishes for a fantastic 09.


  6. Happy New Year,
    I’m just amazed how you continue to love Japan — I thought my home country went out of fashion more than 10 years ago . . .
    Very good read — I especially like the slow meal and “What matters is how many people do” part.


  7. so much of what you said resonated with me. it came at a perfect time in my career and life…

    so many changes to be made, it is good i know have a better understanding of who i care to impress and what i am really striving for in my life.


  8. Thanks so much for commenting, all!

    To Bryan — why bounce a tennis ball or handball? — because it’s fun and makes you smile! It’s just enough to make you present-focused and pull you out of your preoccupied head for nice walk.

    Happy 2009! It’s going to be a great year :)

    G’night y pura vida a todos,