Testing The “Impossible”: 17 Questions That Changed My Life

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Learning to zig instead of zag during horseback archery in Japan. (Photo: David West)

My life has been a series of questions and odd experiments. Here, horseback archery in Japan. (Photo: David West)

The following is a sample chapter from my new book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. Any page numbers are from the print edition.

Enjoy!
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—-“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain

Reality is largely negotiable.

If you stress-test the boundaries and experiment with the “impossibles,” you’ll quickly discover that most limitations are a fragile collection of socially reinforced rules you can choose to break at any time.

What follows are 17 questions that have dramatically changed my life. Each one is time-stamped, as they entered the picture at precise moments.

#1 — What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?

In 2000, I was selling mass data storage to CEOs and CTOs in my first job out of college. When I wasn’t driving my mom’s hand-me-down minivan to and from the office in San Jose, California, I was cold calling and cold emailing. “Smiling and dialing” was brutal. For the first few months, I flailed and failed (it didn’t help that my desk was wedged in a fire exit). Then, one day, I realized something: All of the sales guys made their sales calls between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Obvious, right? But that’s part one. Part two: I realized that all of the gatekeepers who kept me from the decision makers—CEOs and CTOs—also worked from 9 to 5. What if I did the opposite of all the other sales guys, just for 48 hours? I decided to take a Thursday and Friday and make sales calls only from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. For the rest of the day, I focused on cold emails. It worked like gangbusters. The big boss often picked up the phone directly, and I began doing more experiments with “What if I did the opposite?”: What if I only asked questions instead of pitching? What if I studied technical material, so I sounded like an engineer instead of a sales guy? What if I ended my emails with “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far,” instead of the usual “I look forward to your reply and speaking soon” presumptive BS? The experiments paid off. My last quarter in that job, I outsold the entire L.A. office of our biggest competitor, EMC.

#2 — What do I spend a silly amount of money on? How might I scratch my own itch?

In late 2000 and early 2001, I saw the writing on the wall: The startup I worked for was going to implode. Rounds of layoffs started and weren’t going to end. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I’d been bitten by the startup bug and intoxicated by Silicon Valley. To explore business opportunities, I didn’t do in-depth market research. I started with my credit card statement and asked myself, “What do I spend a silly amount of money on?” Where did I spend a disproportionate amount of my income? Where was I price insensitive? The answer was sports supplements. At the time, I was making less than $40K a year and spending $500 or more per month on supplements. It was insane, but dozens of my male friends were equally overboard. I already knew which ads got me to buy, which stores and websites I used to purchase goods, which bulletin boards I frequented, and all the rest. Could I create a product that would scratch my own itch? What was I currently cobbling together (I had enough science background to be dangerous) that I couldn’t conveniently find at retail? The result was a cognitive enhancer called BrainQUICKEN. Before everyone got fired, I begged my coworkers to each prepay for a bottle, which gave me enough money to hire chemists, a regulatory consultant, and do a tiny manufacturing run. I was off to the races.

#3 — What would I do/have/be if I had $10 million? What’s my real TMI?

In 2004, I was doing better than ever financially, and BrainQUICKEN was distributed in perhaps a dozen countries. The problem? I was running on caffeine, working 15-hour days, and constantly on the verge of meltdown. My girlfriend, who I expected to marry, left me due to the workaholism. Over the next 6 months of treading water and feeling trapped, I realized I had to restructure the business or shut it down—it was literally killing me. This is when I began journaling on a few questions, including “What would I want to do, have, and be if I had $10 million in the bank?” and “What’s my real target monthly income (TMI)?” For the latter, in other words: How much does my dream life—the stuff I’m deferring for “retirement”—really cost if I pay on a monthly basis? (See fourhourworkweek.com/tmi) After running the numbers, most of my fantasies were far more affordable than I’d expected. Perhaps I didn’t need to keep grinding and building? Perhaps I needed more time and mobility, not more income? This made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could afford to be happy and not just “successful.” I decided to take a long overseas trip.

#4 — What are the worst things that could happen? Could I get back here?

These questions, also from 2004, are perhaps the most important of all, so they get their own chapter. (See “fear-setting” on page 463 in Tools of Titans.)

#5 — If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?

After removing anxieties about the trip with fear-setting, the next practical step was removing myself as the bottleneck in my business. Alas, “how can I not be a bottleneck in my own business?” isn’t a good question. After reading The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber and The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch, I decided that extreme questions were the forcing function I needed. The question I found most helpful was, “If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?” Honestly speaking, it was more like, “Yes, I know it’s impossible, but if you had a gun to your head or contracted some horrible disease, and you had to limit work to 2 hours per week, what would you do to keep things afloat?” The 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto’s law, is the primary tool in this case. It dictates that 80% (or more) of your desired outcomes are the result of 20% (or less) of your activities and inputs. Here are two related questions I personally used: “What 20% of customers/products/regions are producing 80% of the profit? What factors or shared characteristics might account for this?” Many such questions later, I began making changes: “firing” my highest-maintenance customers; putting more than 90% of my retail customers on autopilot with simple terms and standardized order processes; and deepening relationships (and increasing order sizes) with my 3 to 5 highest-profit, lowest-headache customers. That all led to . . .

#6 — What if I let them make decisions up to $100? $500? $1,000?

This question allowed me to take my customer service workload from 40 to 60 hours per week to less than 2 hours per week. Until mid-2004, I was the sole decision maker. For instance, if a professional athlete overseas needed our product overnighted with special customs forms, I would get an email or phone call from one of my fulfillment centers: “How should we handle this? What would you like to charge?” These unusual “edge cases” might seem like rare exceptions, but they were a daily occurrence. Dozens per week hit me, on top of everything else. The fix: I sent an email to all of my direct reports along the lines of “From this point forward, please don’t contact for me with questions about A, B, or C. I trust you. If it involves less than $100, please made the decision yourself and take a note (the situation, how you handled it, what it cost) in one document, so we can review and adjust each week. Just focus on making our customers happy.” I expected the worst, and guess what? Everything worked, minus a few expected hiccups here and there. I later increased the threshold to $500, then $1,000, and the “reviews” of decisions went from weekly, to monthly, to quarterly, to—once people were polished—effectively never. This experience underscored two things for me: 1) To get huge, good things done, you need to be okay with letting the small, bad things happen. 2) People’s IQs seem to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.

#7 — What’s the least crowded channel?

Fast-forward to December 26, 2006. I’ve finished writing The 4-Hour Workweek, and I sit down after a lovely Christmas to think about the upcoming April launch. What to do? I had no idea, so I tracked down roughly a dozen best-selling authors. I asked each questions like, “What were the biggest wastes of time and money for your last book launch? What would you never do again? What would you do more of? If you had to choose one place to focus $10,000, where would you focus?”

I heard one word repeatedly: blogs. They were apparently both very powerful and under-appreciated. My first question was, “What the hell is a blog?” My next questions were “How are people currently trying to reach bloggers?” and “What’s the least crowded channel?” The people pitching bloggers were generally using email first and phone second. Even though those were my strengths, I decided to experiment with in-person meetings at conferences. Why? Because I felt my odds would be better as one out of five people in a lounge, rather than one email out of 500 emails in an overflowing inbox. I packed my bags and headed to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show in January, which had more than 150,000 attendees in 2005. It’s like the Super Bowl of technology releases, where all the geeks get to play with new toys. I never even walked in the front door. I parked myself at the offsite Seagate-sponsored BlogHaus lounge, where bloggers were invited to relax, recharge their laptops, and drink free booze. I sipped alcohol, asked a lot of dumb questions, and never overtly pitched. I only mentioned the book if someone asked me why I was there (answer: “I just finished my first book, and I’m really nervous about the launch. I’m here to learn more about blogs and technology”). Famous tech blogger Robert Scoble later described my intricate marketing plan as “get drunk with bloggers.” It worked surprisingly well.

#8 — What if I couldn’t pitch my product directly?

During the 2007 book launch, I quickly found that most media rightly don’t give a rat’s ass about book launches. They care about stories, not announcements, so I asked myself, “What if I couldn’t pitch my product directly? What if I had to sell around the product?” Well, I could showcase people from the book who’ve completely redesigned their lives (human interest); I could write about unrelated crazy experiments, but drive people to my book-focused website (Google “Geek to Freak” to see the result. It was my first-ever viral blog post); I could popularize a new term and aim for pop culture (see “lifestyle design” on page 278 in Tools of Titans); I could go meta and make the launch itself a news item (I also did this with my video “book trailer” for The 4-Hour Body, as well as the BitTorrent partnership for The 4-Hour Chef). People don’t like being sold products, but we all like being told stories. Work on the latter.

#9 — What if I created my own real-world MBA?

This kicked off in 2007 to 2008. See page 250 in Tools of Titans for full details.

#10 — Do I need to make it back the way I lost it?

In 2008, I owned a home in San Jose, California, and its value cratered. More accurately, the bank owned the home and I had an ill-conceived adjustable-rate mortgage. On top of that, I was on the cusp of moving to San Francisco. To sell would have meant a $150,000 loss. Ultimately, I picked up and moved to San Francisco, regardless, leaving my San Jose home empty.

For months, friends pressured me to rent it, emphasizing how I was flushing money down the toilet otherwise. I eventually buckled and followed their advice. Even with a property management company, regular headaches and paperwork ensued. Regret followed. One introspective night, I had some wine and asked myself: “Do I really need to make money back the same way I’m losing it?” If you lose $1,000 at the blackjack table, should you try and recoup it there? Probably not. If I’m “losing” money via the mortgage payments on an empty house, do I really need to cover it by renting the house itself? No, I decided. I could much more easily create income elsewhere (e.g., speaking gigs, consulting, etc.) to put me in the black. Humans are very vulnerable to a cognitive bias called “anchoring,” whether in real estate, stocks, or otherwise. I am no exception. I made a study of this (a lot of good investors like Think Twice by Michael Mauboussin), and shortly thereafter sold my San Jose house at a large loss. Once my attention and mind space was freed up, I quickly made it back elsewhere.

#11 — What if I could only subtract to solve problems?

From 2008 to 2009, I began to ask myself, “What if I could only subtract to solve problems?” when advising startups. Instead of answering, “What should we do?” I tried first to hone in on answering, “What should we simplify?” For instance, I always wanted to tighten the conversion fishing net (the percentage of visitors who sign up or buy) before driving a ton of traffic to one of my portfolio companies. One of the first dozen startups I worked with was named Gyminee. It was rebranded Daily Burn, and at the time, they didn’t have enough manpower to do a complete redesign of the site. Adding new elements would’ve been time-consuming, but removing them wasn’t. As a test, we eliminated roughly 70% of the “above the fold” clickable elements on their homepage, focusing on the single most valuable click. Conversions immediately improved 21.1%. That quick-and-dirty test informed later decisions for much more expensive development. The founders, Andy Smith and Stephen Blankenship, made a lot of great decisions, and the company was acquired by IAC in 2010. I’ve since applied this “What if I could only subtract . . . ?” to my life in many areas, and I sometimes rephrase it as “What should I put on my not-to-do list?”

#12 — What might I put in place to allow me to go off the grid for 4 to 8 weeks, with no phone or email?

Though wordy, I have asked variations of this question many times since 2004. It used to end with, “. . . allow me to go on vacation for 4 to 8 weeks,” but that’s no longer enough. Given the spread of broadband, it’s extremely easy to take a “vacation” to Brazil or Japan and still work nonstop on your business via laptop. This kind of subtle self-deception is a time bomb.

For the last 5 years, I’ve asked myself, in effect, “What can I put in place so that I can go completely off the grid for 4 to 8 weeks?” To entrepreneurs who are feeling burned out, this is also the question I pose most often. Two weeks isn’t enough, as you can let fires erupt and then attempt to repair things when you return. Four to eight weeks (or more) doesn’t allow you to be a firefighter. It forces you to put systems and policies in place, ditch ad-hoc email-based triage, empower other people with rules and tools, separate the critical few from the trivial many, and otherwise create a machine that doesn’t require you behind the driver’s wheel 24/7.

Here’s the most important point: The systems far outlive the vacation, and when you come home, you’ll realize that you’ve taken your business (and life) to the next level. This is only possible if you work on your business instead of in your business, as Michael Gerber might say.

#13 — Am I hunting antelope or field mice?

I lifted this question around 2012 from former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. I read about it in Buck Up, Suck Up . . . and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room, written by James Carville and Paul Begala, the political strategists behind Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign “war room.” Here’s the excerpt that stuck with me:

Newt Gingrich is one of the most successful political leaders of our time. Yes, we disagreed with virtually everything he did, but this is a book about strategy, not ideology. And we’ve got to give Newt his due. His strategic ability—his relentless focus on capturing the House of Representatives for the Republicans—led to one of the biggest political landslides in American history.

Now that he’s in the private sector, Newt uses a brilliant illustration to explain the need to focus on the big things and let the little stuff slide: the analogy of the field mice and the antelope. A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope. The distinction is important. Are you spending all your time and exhausting all your energy catching field mice? In the short term it might give you a nice, rewarding feeling. But in the long run you’re going to die. So ask yourself at the end of the day, “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?”

Another way I often approach this is to look at my to-do list and ask: “Which one of these, if done, would render all the rest either easier or completely irrelevant?”

#14 — Could it be that everything is fine and complete as is?

Since starting deep work with “plant medicines” in 2013 (see James Fadiman, page 100), I’ve doubled and tripled down on cultivating more daily appreciation and present-state awareness. The above is one of the questions I ask myself. It’s accompanied by complementary tools and rituals like the 5-Minute Journal (page 146), the Jar of Awesome (page 570), and thinking of “daily wins” before bed à la Peter Diamandis (page 373). To reiterate what I’ve said elsewhere in this book, type-A personalities have goal pursuit as default hardwiring. This is excellent for producing achievement, but also anxiety, as you’re constantly future-focused. I’ve personally decided that achievement is no more than a passing grade in life. It’s a C+ that gets you limping along to the next grade. For anything more, and certainly for anything approaching happiness, you have to want what you already have.

#15 — What would this look like if it were easy?

This question and the next both came about in 2015. These days, more than any other question, I’m asking “What would this look like if it were easy?” If I feel stressed, stretched thin, or overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m overcomplicating something or failing to take the simple/easy path because I feel I should be trying “harder” (old habits die hard).

#16 — How can I throw money at this problem? How can I “waste” money to improve the quality of my life?

This is somewhat self-explanatory. Dan Sullivan is the founder and president of a company called Strategic Coach that has saved the sanity of many serial entrepreneurs I know. One of Dan’s sayings is: “If you’ve got enough money to solve the problem, you don’t have the problem.” In the beginning of your career, you spend time to earn money. Once you hit your stride in any capacity, you should spend money to earn time, as the latter is nonrenewable. It can be hard to make and maintain this gear shift, so the above question is in my regular journaling rotation.

#17 — No hurry, no pause.

This isn’t a question—it’s a fundamental reset. “No hurry, no pause” was introduced to me by Jenny Sauer-Klein (jennysauerklein.com), who, along with Jason Nemer (page 46), co-created AcroYoga. The expression is one of the “9 Principles of Harmony” from Breema, a form of bodywork she studied for many years. I routinely write “No hurry, no pause” at the top of my notebooks as a daily reminder. In effect, it’s shorthand for Derek Sivers’s story of the 45-minute versus 43-minute bike ride (page 190)—you don’t need to go through life huffing and puffing, straining and red-faced. You can get 95% of the results you want by calmly putting one foot in front of the other. One former Navy SEAL friend recently texted me a principle used in their training: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but my definition of luxury has changed over time. Now, it’s not about owning a lot of stuff. Luxury, to me, is feeling unrushed. No hurry, no pause.

***

So, kids, those are my questions. May you find and create many of your own.

Be sure to look for simple solutions.

If the answer isn’t simple, it’s probably not the right answer.

###

Tools of Titans is available at Barnes & Noble, AmazonBooks-A-MillioniBooksIndiebound, Indigo, and more. If you enjoyed the above, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the whole thing. Thanks for reading!

 

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TOOLS OF TITANS — Sample Chapter and a Taste of Things to Come

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tools of titans

This blog post will share the first chapter in my new book, Tools of Titans. It’s been nearly five years since my last book.

But before we get to that, a short story…

Three weeks before my book deadline, I was burning the midnight oil on rural Long Island. I’d set up a treadmill desk and purchased endless supplies of yerba mate tea, powdered MCT oil, and other assorted goodies to keep me sharp at 3am.

Joining me in the insanity was Kamal Ravikant, a close friend. He’d just finished his first novel and volunteered to help proofread chapters with fresh eyes. During our first day together, we rotated between reading, editing, and sauna breaks.

Kamal was uncharacteristically quiet, which made me nervous.

Had I screwed up the structure? Were the profiles hard to read? He kept his eyes on the screen, and I kept my insecurities to myself. We continued into dusk and, soon, it was dark outside. Eventually, we popped a bottle of wine in the living room to relax for 30 minutes before diving back in. It was at this point that I couldn’t help myself — I asked Kamal how his proofing was going. He paused, smiled, and looked at me:

“You know, Tim, I’ve given The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body to specific friends. One might want to start a business, another might want to lose a few pounds. But my God… This book applies to everyone.”

I smiled and he took a swig of wine:

“I mean, look,” he pointed at his phone, “I’ve been taking notes on new things to do and try, starting tomorrow. I’ve ordered 11 things on Amazon Prime so I can start using them as soon as I get home. There is so much gold here. The truth is that I feel like I’ve already improved. I’d buy it for anyone, even my mom.”

Flash forward to today — I couldn’t be happier with how Tools of Titans has turned out.

Just three notes before the sample chapter:

– Even if you’ve heard every podcast episode, there is a ton of new content in this book. New recommendations and details from past guests, new “guests” you haven’t heard, new content from me, and much more.

– I rarely make direct “asks,” but I will here. If you’ve benefited from any of my work in the past, including the blog (700+ free posts) or podcast (~200 free episodes), please grab Tools of Titans for yourself and consider it for your family, friends, or employees. It’s one hell of a holiday gift. I can promise you that. It delivers.

– I am NOT planning on doing an audiobook version anytime soon. More to come on this, as I have some crazy ideas, but suffice to say: don’t wait for audio. Please grab the print and/or ebook version, and don’t miss the illustrations.

Now, please enjoy this little sample to whet your appetite…

READ THIS FIRST—HOW TO USE THIS BOOK

“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things—the people on the edge see them first.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”
— W.H. Auden

I’m a compulsive note-taker.

To wit, I have recorded nearly every workout since age 18 or so. Roughly 8 feet of shelf space in my home is occupied by spine upon spine of notebook upon notebook. That, mind you, is one subject. It extends to dozens. Some people would call this OCD, and many would consider it a manic wild goose chase. I view it simply: It is the collection of my life’s recipes.

My goal is to learn things once and use them forever.

For instance, let’s say I stumble upon a picture of myself from June 5, 2007, and I think, “I really wish I looked like that again.” No problem. I’ll crack open a dusty volume from 2007, review the 8 weeks of training and food logs preceding June 5, repeat them, and—voilà—end up looking nearly the same as my younger self (minus the hair). It’s not always that easy, but it often is.

This book, like my others, is a compendium of recipes for high performance that I gathered for my own use. There’s one big difference, though—I never planned on publishing this one.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Paris overlooking the Luxembourg Garden, just off of Rue Saint-Jacques. Rue Saint-Jacques is likely the oldest road in Paris, and it has a rich literary history. Victor Hugo lived a few blocks from where I’m sitting. Gertrude Stein drank coffee and F. Scott Fitzgerald socialized within a stone’s throw. Hemingway wandered up and down the sidewalks, his books percolating in his mind, wine no doubt percolating in his blood.

I came to France to take a break from everything. No social media, no email, no social commitments, no set plans . . . except for one project. The month had been set aside to review all of the lessons I’d learned from nearly 200 world-class performers I’d interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show, which has more than 90,000,000 downloads. The guests included chess prodigies, movie stars, four-star generals, pro athletes, and hedge fund managers. It was a motley crew.

More than a handful of them had since become collaborators in business and creative projects, spanning from investments to indie film. As a result, I’d absorbed a lot of their wisdom outside of our recordings, whether over workouts, wine-infused jam sessions, text message exchanges, dinners, or late-night phone calls. In every case, I’d gotten to know them well beyond the superficial headlines in the media.

My life had already improved in every area as a result of the lessons I could remember. But that was the tip of the iceberg. The majority of the gems were still lodged in thousands of pages of transcripts and hand-scribbled notes. More than anything, I longed for the chance to distill everything into a playbook.

So, I’d set aside an entire month for review (and, if I’m being honest, pain au chocolat), to put together the ultimate CliffsNotes for myself. It would be the notebook to end all notebooks. Something that could help me in minutes but be read for a lifetime.

That was the lofty goal, at least, and I wasn’t sure what the result would be.

Within weeks of starting, the experience exceeded all expectations. No matter the situation I found myself in, something in this book was able to help. Now, when I’m feeling stuck, trapped, desperate, angry, conflicted, or simply unclear, the first thing I do is flip through these pages with a strong cup of coffee in hand. So far, the needed medicine has popped out within 20 minutes of revisiting these friends, who will now become your friends. Need a reassuring pat on the back? There’s someone for that. An unapologetic slap in the face? Plenty of people for that, too. Someone to explain why your fears are unfounded… or why your excuses are bullshit? Done.

There are a lot of powerful quotes, but this book is much more than a compilation of quotes. It is a toolkit for changing your life.

There are many books full of interviews. This is different because I don’t view myself as an interviewer. I view myself as an experimenter. If I can’t test something or replicate results in the messy reality of everyday life, I’m not interested. Everything in these pages has been vetted, explored, and applied to my own life in some fashion. I’ve used dozens of these tactics and philosophies in high-stakes negotiations, high-risk environments, or large business dealings. The lessons have made me millions of dollars and saved me years of wasted effort and frustration. They work when you need them most.

Some applications are obvious at first glance, while others are subtle and will provoke a “Holy shit, now I get it!” realization weeks later, while you’re daydreaming in the shower or about to fall asleep.

Many of the one-liners teach volumes. Some summarize excellence in an entire field in one sentence. As Josh Waitzkin (page 577), chess prodigy and the inspiration behind Searching for Bobby Fischer, might put it, these bite-sized learnings are a way to “learn the macro from the micro.” The process of piecing them together was revelatory. If I thought I saw “the Matrix” before, I was mistaken, or I was only seeing 10% of it. Still, even that 10%—“islands” of notes on individual mentors—had already changed my life and helped me 10x my results. But after revisiting more than a hundred minds as part of the same fabric, things got very interesting very quickly. For the movie nerds among you, it was like the end of The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects: “The red door knob! The fucking Kobayashi coffee cup! How did I not notice that?! It was right in front of me the whole time!”

To help you see the same, I’ve done my best to weave patterns together throughout the book, noting where guests have complementary habits, beliefs, and recommendations.

The completed jigsaw puzzle is much greater than the sum of its parts.

WHAT MAKES THESE PEOPLE DIFFERENT?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”
— Pierre-Marc-Gaston de Lévis

These world-class performers don’t have superpowers.

The rules they’ve crafted for themselves allow the bending of reality to such an extent that it may seem that way, but they’ve learned how to do this, and so can you. These “rules” are often uncommon habits and bigger questions.

In a surprising number of cases, the power is in the absurd. The more absurd, the more “impossible” the question, the more profound the answers. Take, for instance, a question that serial billionaire Peter Thiel likes to ask himself and others:

“If you have a 10-year plan of how to get [somewhere], you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months?”

For purposes of illustration here, I might reword that to:

“What might you do to accomplish your 10-year goals in the next 6 months, if you had a gun against your head?”

Now, let’s pause. Do I expect you to take 10 seconds to ponder this and then magically accomplish 10 years’ worth of dreams in the next few months? No, I don’t. But I do expect that the question will productively break your mind, like a butterfly shattering a chrysalis to emerge with new capabilities. The “normal” systems you have in place, the social rules you’ve forced upon yourself, the standard frameworks—they don’t work when answering a question like this. You are forced to shed artificial constraints, like shedding a skin, to realize that you had the ability to renegotiate your reality all along. It just takes practice.

My suggestion is that you spend real time with the questions you find most ridiculous in this book. Thirty minutes of stream-of-consciousness journaling (page 224) could change your life.

On top of that, while the world is a gold mine, you need to go digging in other people’s heads to unearth riches. Questions are your pickaxes and competitive advantage. This book will give you an arsenal to choose from.

PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DETAILS

When organizing all of the material for myself, I didn’t want an onerous 37-step program.

I wanted low-hanging fruit with immediate returns. Think of the bite-sized rules within these pages as PEDs—performance-enhancing details. They can be added to any training regimen (read here: different careers, personal preferences, unique responsibilities, etc.) to pour gasoline on the fire of progress.

Fortunately, 10x results don’t always require 10x effort. Big changes can come in small packages. To dramatically change your life, you don’t need to run a 100-mile race, get a PhD, or completely reinvent yourself. It’s the small things, done consistently, that are the big things (e.g., “red teaming” once per quarter, Tara Brach’s guided meditations, strategic fasting or exogenous ketones, etc.).

“Tool” is defined broadly in this book. It includes routines, books, common self-talk, supplements, favorite questions, and much more.

WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON?

In this book, you’ll naturally look for common habits and recommendations, and you should. Here are a few patterns, some odder than others:

  • More than 80% of the interviewees have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice
  • A surprising number of males (not females) over 45 never eat breakfast, or eat only the scantiest of fare (e.g., Laird Hamilton, page 92; General Stanley McChrystal, page 435)
  • Many use the ChiliPad device for cooling at bedtime
  • Rave reviews of the books Sapiens, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Influence, and Man’s Search for Meaning, among others
  • The habit of listening to single songs on repeat for focus (page 507)
  • Nearly everyone has done some form of “spec” work (completing projects on their own time and dime, then submitting them to prospective buyers)
  • The belief that “failure is not durable” (see Robert Rodriguez, page 628) or variants thereof
  • Almost every guest has been able to take obvious “weaknesses” and turn them into huge competitive advantages (see Arnold Schwarzenegger, page 176)

Of course, I will help you connect these dots, but that’s less than half of the value of this book. Some of the most encouraging workarounds are found in the outliers. I want you to look for the black sheep who fit your unique idiosyncrasies. Keep an eye out for the non-traditional paths, like Shay Carl’s journey from manual laborer to YouTube star to co-founder of a startup sold for nearly $1 billion (page 441). The variation is the consistency. As a software engineer might say, “That’s not a bug. It’s a feature!”

Borrow liberally, combine uniquely, and create your own bespoke blueprint.

THIS BOOK IS A BUFFET—HERE’S HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF IT

RULE #1: SKIP LIBERALLY. 

I want you to skip anything that doesn’t grab you. This book should be fun to read, and it’s a buffet to choose from. Don’t suffer through anything. If you hate shrimp, don’t eat the goddamn shrimp. Treat it as a choose-your-own-adventure guide, as that’s how I’ve written it. My goal is for each reader to like 50%, love 25%, and never forget 10%. Here’s why: For the millions who’ve heard the podcast, and the dozens who proofread this book, the 50/25/10 highlights are completely different for every person. It’s blown my mind.

I’ve even had multiple guests in this book—people who are the best at what they do—proofread the same profile, answering my question of “Which 10% would you absolutely keep, and which 10% would you absolutely cut?” Oftentimes, the 10% “must keep” of one person was the exact “must cut” of someone else! This is not one-size-fits-all. I expect you to discard plenty. Read what you enjoy.

RULE #2: SKIP, BUT DO SO INTELLIGENTLY.

All that said, take a brief mental note of anything you skip. Perhaps put a little dot in the corner of the page or highlight the headline.

Could it be that skipping and glossing over precisely these topics or questions has created blind spots, bottlenecks, and unresolved issues in your life? That was certainly true for me.

If you decide to flip past something, note it, return to it later at some point, and ask yourself, “Why did I skip this?” Did it offend you? Seem beneath you? Seem too difficult? And did you arrive at that by thinking it through, or is it a reflection of biases inherited from your parents, family, friends, and others? Very often, “our” beliefs are not our own.

This type of practice is how you create yourself, instead of seeking to discover yourself. There is value in the latter, but it’s mostly past-tense: It’s a rearview mirror. Looking out the windshield is how you get where you want to go.

JUST REMEMBER TWO PRINCIPLES

I was recently standing in Place Louis Aragon, a shaded outdoor nook on the River Seine, having a picnic with writing students from the Paris American Academy. One woman pulled me aside and asked what I hoped to convey in this book, at the core. Seconds later, we were pulled back into the fray, as the attendees were taking turns talking about the circuitous paths that brought them there that day. Nearly everyone had a story of wanting to come to Paris for years—in some cases, 30 to 40 years—but assuming it was impossible.

Listening to their stories, I pulled out a scrap of paper and jotted down my answer to her question. In this book, at its core, I want to convey the following:

  1. Success, however you define it, is achievable if you collect the right field-tested beliefs and habits. Someone else has done your version of “success” before, and often, many have done something similar. “But,” you might ask, “what about a first, like colonizing Mars?” There are still recipes. Look at empire building of other types, look at the biggest decisions in the life of Robert Moses (read The Power Broker), or simply find someone who stepped up to do great things that were deemed impossible at the time (e.g., Walt Disney). There is shared DNA you can borrow.
  1. The superheroes you have in your mind (idols, icons, titans, billionaires, etc.) are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths. Humans are imperfect creatures. You don’t “succeed” because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them. To make this crystal-clear, I’ve deliberately included two sections in this book (pages 197 and 616) that will make you think: “Wow, Tim Ferriss is a mess. How the hell does he ever get anything done?” Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. The heroes in this book are no different. Everyone struggles. Take solace in that.

A FEW IMPORTANT NOTES ON FORMAT

STRUCTURE

This book is comprised of three sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Of course, there is tremendous overlap across the sections, as the pieces are interdependent. In fact, you could think of the three as a tripod upon which life is balanced. One needs all three to have any sustainable success or happiness. “Wealthy,” in the context of this book, also means much more than money. It extends to abundance in time, relationships, and more.

My original intention with The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW), The 4-Hour Body (4HB), and The 4-Hour Chef (4HC) was to create a trilogy themed after Ben Franklin’s famous quote: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

People constantly ask me, “What would you put in The 4-Hour Workweek if you were to write it again? How would you update it?” Ditto for 4HB and 4HC. Tools of Titans contains most of the answers for all three.

PATTERNS

Where guests have related recommendations or philosophies, I’ve noted them in parentheses. For instance, if Jane Doe tells a story about the value of testing higher prices, I might add “(see Chase Jarvis, page 170),” since he explains in depth how and why he chose to “go premium” with his pricing as a photographer from day one.

HUMOR!

I’ve included ample doses of the ridiculous. First of all, if we’re serious all the time, we’ll wear out before we get the truly serious stuff done. Second, if this book were all stern looks and no winks, all productivity and no grab-assing, you’d remember very little. I agree with Tony Robbins (page 210) that information without emotion isn’t retained.

NON-PROFILE CONTENT AND TIM FERRISS CHAPTERS

In all sections, there are multiple non-profile pieces by guests and yours truly. These are typically intended to expand upon key principles and tools mentioned by multiple people.

YOUR SEND-OFF — THE 3 TOOLS THAT ALLOW ALL THE REST

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is recommended by many guests in this book. There is one takeaway that Naval Ravikant (page 546) has reinforced with me several times on our long walks. The protagonist, Siddhartha, a monk who looks like a beggar, has come to the city and falls in love with a famous courtesan named Kamala. He attempts to court her, and she asks, “What do you have?” A well-known merchant similarly asks, “What can you give that you have learned?” His answer is the same in both cases, so I’ve included the latter story here. Siddhartha ultimately acquires all that he wants. Bolding is mine:

Merchant: “. . . If you are without possessions, how can you give?”

Siddhartha: “Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.”

Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?”

Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”

Merchant: “Is that all?”

Siddhartha: “I think that is all.”

Merchant: “And of what use are they? For example, fasting, what good is that?”

Siddhartha: “It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But, as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it. ”

I think of Siddhartha’s answers often and in the following terms:

“I can think” → Having good rules for decision-making, and having good questions you can ask yourself and others.

“I can wait” → Being able to plan long-term, play the long game, and not misallocate your resources.

“I can fast” → Being able to withstand difficulties and disaster. Training yourself to be uncommonly resilient and have a high pain tolerance.

This book will help you to develop all three.

I created Tools of Titans because it’s the book that I’ve wanted my entire life. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Pura vida,

Tim Ferriss

Paris, France

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Tools of Titans is available at Barnes & Noble, Books-A-MillionAmazon, iBooksIndiebound, Indigo, and more.

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The Random Show, Ice Cold Edition

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The random show

“We were in the locker room getting naked and two guys were like ‘Tim! I love your book!'” -Kevin Rose

This is not going to be a long-form interview where I dissect and deconstruct a world-class performer. Instead, this is a special edition of The Random Show.

I am joined by Kevin Rose (@KevinRose), serial entrepreneur, and all around wild and crazy guy!

Have just 2 minutes? Learn about the dating app I think is even better than Tinder. 

Enjoy!

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Want to hear this fascinating episode with Dom D’Agostino? I mentioned that he deadlifted 500 pounds for 10 reps after a seven-day fast. Listen to our conversation in which we discuss fasting, ketosis, and the end of cancer. (Stream below or right-click here to download):


This podcast is brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and now has more than $2.5B under management. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.

Check out wealthfront.com/tim, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you—for free–exactly the portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Well worth a few minutes to explore: wealthfront.com/tim.

This podcast is also brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. I have used them for years to create some amazing designs. When your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99Designs.

I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What other recovery and/or self-improvement techniques would you like to learn more about? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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Daymond John and How to Turn Weaknesses into Strengths

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power of broke
Usually, it’s my job to deconstruct world-class performers. This time around, the tables are turned. Many of you have asked to hear me interviewed, so this week Daymond John (@thesharkdaymond), star of ABC’s Shark Tank and CEO and founder of FUBU, is in charge and asking the questions. Daymond has a new book called The Power of Broke, and he is an expert interviewer and interrogator.

In this episode, you’ll learn untold stories about my beginnings and rough starts. If you’ve ever felt like a beginner in business, or found your back against a wall, you will learn how to take your lack of resources and turn it into a strength.

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Want to hear another story involving an entrepreneur who built himself into an astonishing success? — Listen to my conversation with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this episode, we discuss psychological warfare and much more (stream below or right-click here to download):



This podcast is brought to you by Audible. I have used Audible for years and I love audio books. I have 2 to recommend:

  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  2. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

All you need to do to get your free audiobook and a free 30-day trial is go to Audible.com/tim. Choose one of the above books, or choose between more than 180,000 audio programs. That could be a book, a newspaper, a magazine or even a class. It’s that easy. Go to Audible.com/Tim and get started today. Enjoy!

This podcast is brought to you by TrunkClub. I hate shopping with a passion. And honestly I’m not good at it, which means I end up looking like I’m colorblind or homeless. Enter TrunkClub, which provides you with your own personal stylist and makes it easier than ever to shop for clothes that look great on your body. Just go to trunkclub.com/tim and answer a few questions, and then you’ll be sent a trunk full of awesome clothes. They base this on your sizes, preferences, etc. The trunk is then delivered free of charge both ways, so you only pay for clothes that you keep. If you keep none, it costs you nothing. To get started, check it out at trunkclub.com/tim.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: If you were to interview me, what questions would you most want to ask? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Enjoy!

Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • On landing a book deal: motivation, mentors, and how to know when your product is an “A” or an “F” [6:37]
  • The last thing I said to the publisher of The 4-Hour Workweek that secured the deal [12:17]
  • How the constraints became the path to success while marketing The 4-Hour Workweek [16:47]
  • Presentation skills learned under the critical eye of chihuahuas [22:07]
Chihuahuas as Speaking Coaches

“CHIHUAHUAS” by Toronja Azul – originally posted to Flickr as CHIHUAHUAS. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

  • On the success of The 4-Hour Workweek [26:22]
  • On choosing Amazon Publishing for The 4-Hour Chef [29:32]
  • Daymond John sums it all up [36:22]

People Mentioned

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25 Great Things I Learned from Podcast Guests in 2015

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tim_BM_en_route
Best_of_2015-PartnerBadge-Podcasts-EN

The Tim Ferriss Show has been selected as one of iTunes’ “Best of 2015.” Thanks for all the incredible feedback this year! It’s what makes the show fun for me.

To celebrate, this short episode (approximately 30 minutes) describes 25 of my favorite learnings from 2015: tips, gadgets, and quotes from podcast guests that I’ve incorporated into my own life.  Enjoy!

 

And thanks so much for listening. I’ll try and make 2016 my best year of content yet🙂

Happy holidays to you and yours,

Tim

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Want to hear a podcast about my rituals? — Listen to the episode where I share how to win each day. In it, I discuss my morning routine and habits that set me up for success. (Stream below or right click here to download):


This podcast is brought to you by Mizzen + Main. These are the only “dress” shirts I now travel with — fancy enough for important dinners but made from athletic, sweat-wicking material. They are a personal favorite of NFL phenom J.J. Watt, alongside many professional athletes. Mizzen now also make chinos, which stretch in four directions, and are perfect for all climates. For all of their clothing: no more ironing, no more steaming, no more hassle. Click here for the exact shirts I wear most often. Just go to fourhourworkweek.com/shirts and find what you like.

This podcast is also brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple and world-famous investors. It has exploded in popularity in the last 2 years and now has more than $2.5B under management. In fact, some of my good investor friends in Silicon Valley have millions of their own money in Wealthfront. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.

Check out wealthfront.com/tim, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you—for free–exactly the portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Or, as I would, you can set it and forget it.  Well worth a few minutes: wealthfront.com/tim.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Who was your favorite guest in 2015, and what was your favorite tip or lesson? Please let me know in the comments.

Enjoy!

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Drunk Dialing Fans–Celebrating The 100th Podcast Episode!

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Tim cheat day

100 episodes! Whaaat?!

This celebratory episode involves me drunk dialing a bunch of you on Skype. We’ll get to that. But first, a little background and thank you…

My podcast–The Tim Ferriss Show–was started on a whim. It was intended as a break between big book projects. “I’ll do six episodes to get better at interviewing” was the grand goal.

In the first episode and after two bottles of wine, Kevin Rose nicknamed the show TimTimTalkTalk (damn you, KevKev). Later, after reviewing my ridiculously slurred and iffy questions (“If you were a breakfast cereal, which would you be?”), I let out a long sigh. I’ve always hated the sound of my own voice, but this was the worst. The podcast experiment wouldn’t last a month.

Or so I thought.

Now, here we are, passing the 100-episode mark. It’s crazy, and I can say one thing for certain — I’ve only made it this far because of YOU.

Your amazing feedback, support, questions, and comments are what kept this podcast alive. Amidst self-doubt (similar to this) and many mistakes, I’ve wanted to throw in the towel more than once. But, through thick and thin, you’ve been there, telling my monkey mind to chill the fuck out, to take a deep breath, to go to sleep, or to fight another day.

Many, many thanks.

And to celebrate, I decided on a throwback to episode #1. I posted a note on Twitter and Facebook asking fans to put their contact information in a short Google form (note: I’ve deactivated the link):

The results of this vodka-infused orgy of telephonic idiocy is below!

We cover a lot of subjects, including:

  • Tantric sex
  • How I view and organize my various income streams
  • Marketing yourself in job interviews
  • My views (and challenges) with family and kids
  • How I dig out of negative downward spirals
  • And much more…

I also left semi-coherent voicemails for a number of you.

Once again, thank you so much for listening to this podcast. It means the world to me and keeps me going.

You guys rock.

Here’s raising a glass to many more adventures!

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This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.  Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run…

This podcast is also brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple and world-famous investors. It has exploded in popularity in the last 2 years and now has more than $2.5B under management. In fact, some of my good investor friends in Silicon Valley have millions of their own money in Wealthfront. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.

Check out wealthfront.com/tim, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you—for free–exactly the portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Or, as I would, you can set it and forget it.  Well worth a few minutes: wealthfront.com/tim.

Selected Links from the Episode

People Mentioned

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How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time

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How to build a world class network

Photo by Ron Herrman

“Don’t dismiss people, don’t be a dick, and don’t rush. Play the long game.”
– Tim Ferriss

 

Welcome to a special edition of The Tim Ferriss Show. Back in 2007, I experienced a massive tipping point for The 4-Hour Workweek at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference held in Austin, Texas. Two or three days played a key role in the book becoming a worldwide bestseller in 40+ languages.

So what exactly happened at the event? How did I optimize those 2-3 days?

The below audio is a presentation I recently gave about a better, more effective way to network. My suggestions might surprise you or seem counterintuitive–the best way to build a world-class network quickly is to spend very little time networking, at least not in the “ugh, gross” sleazy sense of the word.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How SXSW played a role in the success of The 4-Hour Workweek
  • How you can “stack the deck” for your own product launches
  • Simple biohacks for handling booze overload and sleep deprivation
  • Why it’s so important to meet people in person  to build your network
  • The most common mistakes people make when attempting to “network”
  • How to interact with A-listers (or opt not to)
  • How to enjoy the ride and not end  up exhausted with a pocket full of business cards that do nothing
  • And much, much more…

If you are able to apply a few lessons from this talk, you may find that you never have to network again.

There is a better way.

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Want to hear a podcast relating to mental performance and stamina? — Listen to my conversations with my friend, Ed Cooke, a Grandmaster of Memory. In this episode, we discuss mental performance, imagination, and productive mischief (stream below or right-click part 1 here and part 2 here to download):


Still looking for more? — Listen to my conversations with Pavel Tsatsouline on the science of strength and art of physical performance (stream below or right-click here to download):



This episode is brought to you advertisement-free. Want this to happen more often?

Every Friday, I send out a very short email called 5-Bullet Friday. It includes the coolest things I’ve been playing with that week, such as favorite articles, gizmos and gadgets, movies, and other stuff you can use immediately.

Sign up for a week and give it a try.  It’s 100% free, super short, and a small dose of awesome to kick off every weekend.

You can see a lot of people are excited about this on Twitter.  Please check it out here!

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever learned about “networking” or interacting with big wigs? Please share in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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