Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Timothy Ferriss Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ended: Jan. 9, 2017

More than 80% of the interviewees have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice
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.
Dr. Patrick introduced me to using teeth for stem-cell banking. If you are having your wisdom teeth removed, or if your kids are losing their baby teeth (which have a particularly high concentration of dental pulp stem cells), consider using a company like StemSave or National Dental Pulp Laboratory to preserve them for later use.
Hot baths can also significantly increase GH over baseline, and both sauna and hot baths have been shown to cause a massive release in prolactin, which plays a role in wound healing. I usually stay in a hot bath or sauna for about 20 minutes, which is long enough to significantly elevate my heart rate. I push a few minutes past dynorphin release, which usually makes one feel dysphoric and want to get out (but *not* to dizziness or lightheadedness). Generally, I’ll listen to an audiobook like The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman during the heat, then cool off for 5 to 10 minutes using an ice bath (I put 40 pounds of ice in a large bath to get it to roughly 45°F; more details on page 43) and/or by drinking ice water. I’ll repeat this cycle 2 to 4 times.
To assess your biggest weaknesses, start by finding a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) near you.
“Flexibility” can be passive, whereas “mobility” requires that you can demonstrate strength throughout the entire range of motion, including the end ranges.
Here’s my protocol for my usual monthly 3-day fast from Thursday dinner to Sunday dinner:
Have a low-carb dinner around 6 p.m. on Thursday. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, sleep as late as possible. The point is to let sleep do some of the work for you. Consume exogenous ketones or MCT oil upon waking and 2 more times throughout the day at 3- to 4-hour intervals.
Once you’re in deep ketosis and using body fat, they can be omitted. On Friday (and Saturday if needed), drink some caffeine and prepare to WALK. Be out the door no later than 30 minutes after waking. I grab a cold liter of water or Smartwater out of my fridge, add a dash of pure, unsweetened lemon juice to attenuate boredom, add a few pinches of salt to prevent misery/headaches/cramping, and head out.
It’s brisk walking—NOT intense exercise—and constant hydration that are key.
Each day of fasting, feel free to consume exogenous ketones or fat (e.g., coconut oil in tea or coffee) as you like, up to 4 tablespoons.
Once You’re in Keto, How Can You Keep It Going Without Fasting? The short answer is: Eat a boatload of fat (~1.5 to 2.5 g per kilogram of body weight), next-to-no carbs, and moderate protein (1 to 1.5 g per kilogram of body weight) each day.
Fat as 70 to 85% of calories is required.
One of the challenges of keto is the amount of fat one needs to consume to maintain it. Roughly 70 to 80% of your total calories need to come from fat. Rather than trying to incorporate fat bombs into all meals (one does get tired of fatty steak, eggs, and cheese over and over again), Dom will both drink fat between meals (e.g., coconut milk—not water—in coffee) and add in supplemental “ice cream,” detailed on page 29.
Dom noticed that dairy can cause lipid profile issues (e.g., can spike LDL) and has started to minimize things like cream and cheese.
Dom doesn’t worry about elevated LDL as long as other blood markers aren’t out of whack (high CRP, low HDL, etc.). From Dom: “The thing that I focus on most is triglycerides. If your triglycerides are elevated, that means your body is just not adapting to the ketogenic diet. Some people’s triglycerides are elevated even when their calories are restricted. That’s a sign that the ketogenic diet is not for you. . . . It’s not a one-size-fits-all diet.”
Magnesium daily. “Magnesium citrate, magnesium chloride, and magnesium glycinate . . . When I started the ketogenic diet, I started getting cramps. Now that I’m supplementing, I don’t get any cramps. . . . If I had one go-to magnesium, it would be this magnesium citrate powder called Natural Calm.”
“Fasting before chemotherapy is definitely something that should be implemented in our oncology wards,” says Dom. He adds, “Fasting essentially slows (sometimes stops) rapidly dividing cells and triggers an ‘energetic crisis’ that makes cancer cells selectively vulnerable to chemo and radiation.” There are good studies to support this.
“There is value in exercise, though, and I think that the most important type of exercise, especially in terms of bang for your buck, is going to be really high-intensity, heavy strength training. Strength training aids everything from glucose disposal and metabolic health to mitochondrial density and orthopedic stability. That last one might not mean much when you’re a 30-something young buck, but when you’re in your 70s, that’s the difference between a broken hip and a walk in the park.”
10% Happier by Dan Harris is the book that got Peter meditating regularly.
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. The latter is a book about cognitive dissonance that looks at common weaknesses and biases in human thinking. Peter wants to ensure he goes through life without being too sure of himself, and this book helps him to recalibrate.   ✸
I bolded the above, as I have many friends who’ve been tested for food intolerances and called me with: “I’m intolerant to navy beans! Egg whites, too!” Such results don’t necessarily mean you have genetics that disallow these foods. There’s a decent likelihood that A) you’ve simply been consuming too much of the same food and provoked a correctable autoimmune response, or B) the lab has made an error. I’ve seen labs return every patient (dozens) in a given week as intolerant to egg whites. Lab errors happen, equipment malfunctions, and people make mistakes. The moral of the story: Vary your food sources and confirm any scary test results with a second test.
If you’ve ever laid down in bed exhausted, then felt wired and been unable to sleep, cortisol might be a factor. To mitigate this “tired and wired” phenomenon—as well as reduce glucose levels—before bed, I take phosphatidylserine and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). For me, this also has a noticeable impact on lowering anxiety the following day.
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
Though I regularly fast and enter ketosis, the Slow-Carb Diet (SCD) has been my default diet for more than a decade.
The basic rules are simple, all followed 6 days per week: Rule #1: Avoid “white” starchy carbohydrates (or those that can be white). This means all bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and grains (yes, including quinoa). If you have to ask, don’t eat it. Rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again, especially for breakfast and lunch. Good news: You already do this. You’re just picking new default meals. If you want to keep it simple, split your plate into thirds: protein, veggies, and beans/legumes. Rule #3: Don’t drink calories. Exception: 1 to 2 glasses of dry red wine per night is allowed, although this can cause some peri-/post-menopausal women to plateau. Rule #4: Don’t eat fruit. (Fructose → glycerol phosphate → more body fat, more or less.) Avocado and tomatoes are allowed. Rule #5: Whenever possible, measure your progress in body fat percentage, NOT total pounds. The scale can deceive and derail you. For instance, it’s common to gain muscle while simultaneously losing fat on the SCD. That’s exactly what you want, but the scale number won’t move, and you will get frustrated. In place of the scale, I use DEXA scans, a BodyMetrix home ultrasound device, or calipers with a gym professional (I recommend the Jackson-Pollock 7-point method). And then: Rule #6: Take one day off per week and go nuts. I choose and recommend Saturday. This is “cheat day,” which a lot of readers also call “Faturday.” For biochemical and psychological reasons, it’s important not to hold back. Some readers keep a “to-eat” list during the week, which reminds them that they’re only giving up vices for 6 days at a time.
Whenever possible, measure your progress in body fat percentage, NOT total pounds. The scale can deceive and derail you. For instance, it’s common to gain muscle while simultaneously losing fat on the SCD. That’s exactly what you want, but the scale number won’t move, and you will get frustrated. In place of the scale, I use DEXA scans, a BodyMetrix home ultrasound device, or calipers with a gym professional (I recommend the Jackson-Pollock 7-point method).
Cossack Squat When everything else failed, Cossack squats with a kettlebell (as shown below) roughly doubled my ankle mobility, which had a chain of positive effects. Keep your heels on the ground throughout, keep your knees in line with your toes, and keep your hips as low as possible when switching sides. I do 5 to 6 reps per side for 2 to 3 sets, often supersetting with Eric Cressey’s “walking Spiderman” warmup.
3 High-Yield Exercises—Pavel’s “Simple & Sinister” Kettlebell Program One-arm swing Turkish get-up (TGU) Goblet squat Do these three exercises in some form every day, and you are guaranteed to get a great return on your investment.
“A master chief, the senior enlisted rank in the Navy—who was like a god to us—told us he was giving us an invaluable piece of advice that he’d learned from another master chief during the Vietnam War. He said, ‘This is the best thing you’re ever going to learn in SEAL training.’ We were excited to learn what it was, and he told us that when you’re a leader, people are going to mimic your behavior, at a minimum. . . . It’s a guarantee. So here’s the key piece of advice, this is all he said: ‘Calm is contagious.’”
“Most people exist between the on and off switch. They are unable to turn on and put out high power, and they are unable to turn off completely and enjoy true rest. To learn how to control your on and off switch, read the book Psych by Dr. Judd Biasiotto. He is one of the most successful power lifters in history, having squatted over 600 pounds at a bodyweight of 132 . . . drug free, at the age of 44, after back surgery.”
Brian MacKenzie (TW/IG: @iamunscared) is the founder of CrossFit Endurance and the author of the New York Times best-selling book Unbreakable Runner. Brian has created controversy by suggesting a counterintuitively minimalist approach to distance running. He challenges not only high-mileage runs, but also high-carb diets, and he utilizes intense strength training to conquer everything from 5K runs to ultra-marathons. He was prominently featured in The 4-Hour Body,
Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, which Laird calls “an incredible book about fear and dealing with fear.”
GABBY: “I always say that I’ll go first. . . . That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say hello first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: Be first, because—not all times, but most times—it comes in your favor. The response is pretty amazing. . . . I was at the park the other day with the kids. Oh, my God. Hurricane Harbor [water park]. It’s like hell. There were these two women a little bit older than me. We couldn’t be more different, right? And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first, because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out]—nobody’s going first anymore.” TF: People are nicer than they look, but you have to go first. This made me think of a line from fictional character Raylan Givens in the TV series Justified: “If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” I will often write “GO FIRST” in my morning journal as a daily prompt. Side note: Derek Sivers (page 184) listened to this episode and Gabby’s “go first” principle was one of his favorite takeaways.
“[Of 10,000 successful couples studied], there’s only one thing that everybody had in common, no matter what the dynamic. What is it? The man respected the woman.
if the woman can refrain from trying to change or mother her partner, she has a greater opportunity of putting herself in a position where the guy will respect her.
Floating in an isolation tank] is the first time that we’ve been without sensory experience, sensory environmental stimuli, since we were conceived. There is no sound, no sight, no temperature gradient, and no gravity. So all of the brain’s searching and gating information from the environment is relaxed. Everything that was in the background—kind of ‘behind the curtain’—can now be exposed. When done consistently over time, it’s essentially like meditation on steroids. It starts to recalibrate the entire neuroendocrine system. People who are running in stress mode or sympathetic overdrive start to relax that over time, and you get this bleed-over effect into everyday life. It’s not just what happens in the tank. It continues outside of the tank. You see heart rate normalize, hypertension normalize, cortisol normalize. Pain starts to resolve. Metabolic issues start to resolve.
Kelly is a legitimate fantasy and sci-fi nerd. He knows Dune by Frank Herbert and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson inside and out. For whatever reasons, many men in this book like precisely these two fiction books.
Doing light-weight overhead squats with a narrow stance, in combination with Cossack squats (page 87), for 3 months is what helped me get 99% toward passing the “campfire test”
“Here are a few things you should probably do every day: Everyone can benefit from something that looks like the cow stretch (also sometimes called “cat-camel” in yoga classes). It’s a low-level static stretch that gets you into this extension pattern, and out of the other pattern of sitting in the rounded flexion position. Spend as much time in a lunge as you can. [TF: One simple way to check this box prior to workouts is Eric Cressey’s “walking Spiderman” exercise. I touch my inside elbow to the ground before switching sides. This is also a game-changer for hip flexibility in AcroYoga.] ‘Smash’ your gut (i.e., roll on it) for downregulation before bed with a medicine ball. [TF: This really works as a sleep aid. My favorite tool was actually designed by Kelly, the MobilityWOD Supernova (120 mm). Amelia Boone (page 2) always travels with one.] Internal shoulder rotation is so crucial. Doing the Burgener warmup will help show you if you have full internal rotation of your shoulder.
“When I landed, I would check into the hotel. The second we checked in, I’d ask them: ‘Is the gym open? Can I go train?’ Even if it was to get on a bike and ride for 15 minutes to reset things. I learned early that it seemed any time I did that, I didn’t get jet lag.” TF: This absolutely seems to work, even if done at 1 a.m. and for 3 to 5 minutes. I don’t know the physiological mechanism, but I use it.
Evander Holyfield] said that his coach at one point told him, something like his very first day, ‘You could be the next Muhammad Ali. Do you wanna do that?’ Evander said he had to ask his mom. He went home, he came back and said, ‘I wanna do that.’ The coach said, ‘Okay. Is that a dream or a goal? Because there’s a difference.’ “I’d never heard it said that way, but it stuck with me. So much so that I’ve said it to my kid now: ‘Is that a dream, or a goal? Because a dream is something you fantasize about that will probably never happen. A goal is something you set a plan for, work toward, and achieve. I always looked at my stuff that way. The people who were successful models to me were people who had structured goals and then put a plan in place to get to those things.
I said, ‘You’re not wound up about this at all?’ and he goes, ‘Why would I be wound up? I’m either ready or I’m not. Worrying about it right now ain’t gonna change a damn thing. Right? Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen. I’ve either done everything I can to be ready for this, or I haven’t.’”
TF: This led me to ask myself, usually during my quarterly 80/20 reviews of stress points, etc., “What am I continuing to do myself that I’m not good at?” Improve it, eliminate it, or delegate it.
Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous’ by Jim Dator. Also, ‘When it comes to the future, it’s far more important to be imaginative than to be right’ by Alvin Toffler. Both are famous futurists. These quotes remind me that world-changing ideas will seem absurd to most people, and that the most useful work I can be doing is to push the envelope of what is considered possible.
“That you should never publicly criticize anyone or anything unless it is a matter of morals or ethics. Anything negative you say could at the very least ruin someone’s day, or worse, break someone’s heart, or simply change someone from being a future ally of yours to someone who will never forget that you were unkind or unfairly critical. It’s so common today to complain or criticize others’ work on social media, or dogpile on someone for a perceived offense. I won’t do it. It’s not my job to be the world’s critic, and I’d rather not rule out any future allies.”
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series inspired Adam to become a scientist, which is true for many of the top-tier scientists I’ve met and interviewed. [TF: Neil deGrasse Tyson has a revised version of Cosmos that is also spectacular.]
“I want to do fundamental breakthroughs, if possible. If you have that mindset, if that’s how you challenge yourself, that that’s what you want to do with your life, with your small amount of time that you have here to make a difference, then the only way to do it is to do the type of research that other people would think of as risky or even foolhardy. That’s just part of the game.”
Honey + ACV: My go-to tranquilizer beverage is simple: 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg brand) and 1 tablespoon honey, stirred into 1 cup of hot water.
Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea: If you’re trying to avoid sugar (honey), this is an alternative.
Here are five things that I attempt to do every morning. Realistically, if I hit three out of five, I consider myself having won the morning. And if you win the morning, you win the day. I’m probably not the first person to say this, but it’s how I frame the importance of the first 60 to 90 minutes of the day. They facilitate or handicap the next 12+ hours. I’ve deliberately set a low bar for “win.”
I use two types of journaling and alternate between them: Morning Pages and The 5-Minute Journal (5MJ). The former I use primarily for getting unstuck or problem solving (what should I do?); the latter I use for prioritizing and gratitude (how should I focus and execute?). I cover the Morning Pages extensively on page 224, so I’ll only describe the 5MJ here. The 5MJ is simplicity itself and hits a lot of birds with one stone: 5 minutes in the morning of answering a few prompts, and then 5 minutes in the evening doing the same. Each prompt has three lines for three answers.
I use Intelligent Change’s bound 5-Minute Journal and suggest it for convenience,
The Most Consistent Pattern of All More than 80% of the world-class performers I’ve interviewed have some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Both can be thought of as “cultivating a present-state awareness that helps you to be nonreactive.”
meditation simply helps you channel drive toward the few things that matter, rather than every moving target and imaginary opponent that pops up.
Done consistently, my reward for meditating is getting 30% to 50% more done in a day with 50% less stress. Why? Because I have already done a warmup in recovering from distraction: my morning sit. If I later get distracted or interrupted during work hours, I can return to my primary task far more quickly and completely. (Tech nerd side note: Momentum extension for Chrome is also very helpful.)
We suggest finding a “mindfulness buddy” and committing to a 15-minute conversation every week, covering at least these two topics: a. How am I doing with my commitment to my practice? b. What has arisen in my life that relates to my practice?
Do Less Than You Can I learned this from Mingyur Rinpoche, whose book, The Joy of Living, I most highly recommend. The idea is to do less formal practice than you are capable of. For example, if you can sit in mindfulness for 5 minutes before it feels like a chore, then don’t sit for 5 minutes, just do 3 or 4 minutes, perhaps a few times a day. The reason is to keep the practice from becoming a burden. If mindfulness practice feels like a chore, it’s not sustainable.
I tell my students that all they need to commit to is one mindful breath a day. Just one. Breathe in and breathe out mindfully, and your commitment for the day is fulfilled. Everything else is a bonus. There are two reasons why one breath is important. The first is momentum. If you commit to one breath a day, you can easily fulfill this commitment and preserve the momentum of your practice. Later, when you feel ready for more, you can pick it back up easily. You can say you don’t have 10 minutes today to meditate, but you cannot say you have no time for one breath, so making it a daily practice is extremely doable.
Despite the fact that people refer to Chris as a “Silicon Valley investor,” he hasn’t lived in San Francisco since 2007. Instead, he bought a cabin in rural Truckee, Tahoe’s less-expensive neighbor, and moved to prime skiing and hiking country. It is no tech hotbed. Back then, Chris hadn’t yet made real money in the investing game, but he had a rationale for buying the getaway: “I wanted to go on offense. I wanted to have the time to focus, to learn the things I wanted to learn, to build what I wanted to build, and to really invest in relationships that I wanted to grow, rather than just doing a day of coffee after coffee after coffee.”
Chris elaborates: “Generally, what all of this comes down to is whether you are on offense or defense. I think that as you survey the challenges in your lives, it’s just: Which of those did you assign yourself, and which of those are you doing to please someone else? Your inbox is a to-do list to which anyone in the world can add an action item. I needed to get out of my inbox and back to my own to-do list.”
“I gave a commencement speech in Minnesota few years ago [at the Carlson School of Management]. The core of it was to be your unapologetically weird self. I think authenticity is one of the most lacking things out there these days.” An excerpt from that speech: “Weirdness is why we adore our friends. . . . Weirdness is what bonds us to our colleagues. Weirdness is what sets us apart, gets us hired. Be your unapologetically weird self. In fact, being weird may even find you the ultimate happiness.”
Stress-Testing Ideas with a “Red Team” “Each of our GPs [general partners] has the ability to pull the trigger on a deal without a vote or without consensus. If the person closest to the deal has a very strong degree of positive commitment and enthusiasm about it, then we should do that investment, even if everybody else in the room thinks it’s the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard . . . however, you don’t get to do that completely on your own without stress-testing. If necessary, we create a ‘red team.’ We’ll formally create the countervailing force to argue the other side.”
Marc also mentioned a Steve Jobs quote in our conversation, which is printed in full below. It was recorded in a 1995 interview conducted by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, while Jobs was still at NeXT: “Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
“Show me an incumbent bigco failing to adapt to change, I’ll show you top execs paid huge cash compensation for quarterly and annual goals.”
Far more money has been lost by investors trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.’—Peter Lynch”
“In negotiation, he who cares the least wins.”
TF: This reminded me of the deal that George Lucas crafted for Star Wars, in which the studio effectively said, “Toys? Yeah, sure, whatever. You can have the toys.” That was a multi-billion-dollar mistake that gave Lucas infinite financing for life (an estimated 8,000,000,000+ units sold to date). When deal-making, ask yourself: Can I trade a short-term, incremental gain for a potential longer-term, game-changing upside? Is there an element here that might be far more valuable in 5 to 10 years (e.g., ebook rights 10 years ago)? Might there be rights or options I can explicitly “carve out” and keep? If you can cap the downside (time, capital, etc.) and have the confidence, take uncrowded bets on yourself. You only need one winning lottery ticket.
The Standard Pace Is for Chumps “Kimo Williams is this large, black man, a musician who attended Berklee School of Music and then stayed there to teach for a while. . . . What he taught me got me to graduate in half the time it would [normally] take. He said, ‘I think you can graduate Berklee School of Music in two years instead of four. The standard pace is for chumps. The school has to organize its curricula around the lowest common denominator, so that almost no one is left out. They have to slow down, so everybody can catch up. But,’ he said, ‘you’re smarter than that.’ He said, ‘I think you could just buy the books for those, [skip the classes] and then contact the department head to take the final exam to get credit.’”
“Because most of us say yes to too much stuff, and then, we let these little, mediocre things fill our lives. . . . The problem is, when that occasional, ‘Oh my God, hell yeah!’ thing comes along, you don’t have enough time to give it the attention that you should, because you’ve said yes to too much other little, half-ass stuff, right? Once I started applying this, my life just opened up.”
“Busy” = Out of Control “Every time people contact me, they say, ‘Look, I know you must be incredibly busy . . .’ and I always think, ‘No, I’m not.’ Because I’m in control of my time. I’m on top of it. ‘Busy,’ to me, seems to imply ‘out of control.’ Like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so busy. I don’t have any time for this shit!’ To me, that sounds like a person who’s got no control over their life.”
Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.
We’re both big fans of Peter Drucker and his book The Effective Executive, as well as Alain de Botton’s (page 486) How Proust Can Change Your Life.
Matt is one of the people I most try to emulate. He is exceptionally calm and logical under pressure. I’ve seen him face multiple data-center collapses with near-indifference, calmly sipping beer before another billiards shot. What should I tell a hugely influential journalist asking about it? “Tell him we’re on it.” Then he sunk another ball. He’s the epitome of “getting upset won’t help things.”
What you know doesn’t mean shit. What do you do consistently?”
“Investing in yourself is the most important investment you’ll ever make in your life. . . . There’s no financial investment that’ll ever match it, because if you develop more skill, more ability, more insight, more capacity, that’s what’s going to really provide economic freedom. . . . It’s those skill sets that really make that happen.”
The first 3 minutes: “Feeling totally grateful for three things. I make sure that one of them is very, very simple: the wind on my face, the reflection of the clouds that I just saw. But I don’t just think gratitude. I let gratitude fill my soul, because when you’re grateful, we all know there’s no anger. It’s impossible to be angry and grateful simultaneously. When you’re grateful, there is no fear. You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously.” The second 3 minutes: “Total focus on feeling the presence of God, if you will, however you want to language that for yourself. But this inner presence coming in, and feeling it heal everything in my body, in my mind, my emotions, my relationships, my finances. I see it as solving anything that needs to be solved. I experience the strengthening of my gratitude, of my conviction, of my passion. . . .” The last 3 minutes: “Focusing on three things that I’m going to make happen, my ‘three to thrive.’ . . . See it as though it’s already been done, feel the emotions, etc. . . .
“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.” Please reread the above quote. It may be the most important aspect of trapping thought on paper (i.e., writing) you’ll ever encounter. Even if you consider yourself a terrible writer, writing can be viewed as a tool. There are huge benefits to writing, even if no one—yourself included—ever reads what you write. In other words, the process matters more than the product.
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”—Thomas Edison
“How do you know if you have A-players on your project team? You know it if they don’t just accept the strategy you hand them. They should suggest modifications to the plan based on their closeness to the details.”
“Sooner or later, parents have to take responsibility for putting their kids into a system that is indebting them and teaching them to be cogs in an economy that doesn’t want cogs anymore. Parents get to decide . . . [and] from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., those kids are getting homeschooled. And they’re either getting home-schooled and watching The Flintstones, or they’re getting homeschooled and learning something useful. “I think we need to teach kids two things: 1) how to lead, and 2) how to solve interesting problems. Because the fact is, there are plenty of countries on Earth where there are people who are willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. So we cannot out-obedience the competition. Therefore, we have to out-lead or out-solve the other people. . 
“What if [you] just can’t come up with 10 ideas? Here’s the magic trick: If you can’t come up with 10 ideas, come up with 20 ideas. . . . You are putting too much pressure on yourself. Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle . . . it’s your brain trying to protect you from harm, from coming up with an idea that is embarrassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain.
[then] divide my paper into two columns. On one column is the list of ideas. On the other column is the list of FIRST STEPS. Remember, only the first step. Because you have no idea where that first step will take you. One of my favorite examples: Richard Branson didn’t like the service on airlines he was flying, so he had an idea: ‘I’m going to start a new airline.’ How the heck can a magazine publisher start an airline from scratch with no money? His first step: He called Boeing to see if they had an airplane he could lease. No idea is so big that you can’t take the first step. If the first step seems too hard, make it simpler. And don’t worry again if the idea is bad. This is all practice.”
On the Value of Selective Ignorance, After Working at a Newspaper “You’re basically told, ‘Find the thing that’s going to scare people the most and write about it.’ . . . It’s like every day is Halloween at the newspaper. I avoid newspapers.”
World Doesn’t Need Your Explanation. On Saying “No”: “I don’t give explanations anymore, and I’ll catch myself when I start giving explanations like ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t make it. I have a doctor’s appointment that day. I’m really sick. I broke my leg over the weekend’ or something. I just say, ‘I can’t do it. I hope everything is well.’”
I’ve always made it a top priority since I was a teenager—and had tons of stress-related medical problems—to make that job one: to learn how to not have stress. I would consider myself a world champion at avoiding stress at this point in dozens of different ways. A lot of it is just how you look at the world, but most of it is really the process of diversification. I’m not going to worry about losing one friend if I have a hundred, but if I have two friends I’m really going to be worried. I’m not going to worry about losing my job because my one boss is going to fire me, because I have thousands of bosses at newspapers everywhere. One of the ways to not worry about stress is to eliminate it. I don’t worry about my stock picks because I have a diversified portfolio. Diversification works in almost every area of your life to reduce your stress.”
But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1) Become the best at one specific thing. 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try. The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it. I always advise young people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who have only one skill. Or get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.
Marc Andreessen (page 170) long ago referred to the above double-/triple-threat concept, citing Scott’s writing, as “even the secret formula to becoming a CEO. All successful CEOs are like this.” He reiterated that you could also cultivate this in school by getting unusual combinations of degrees, like engineering + MBA, law degree + MBA, or undergrad physics + economics.
Many other computer companies (and their entrepreneurial owners) became rich and famous by following a simple principle: If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.
When you launch a new product, the first question to ask yourself is not “How is this new product better than the competition?” but “First what?” In other words, what category is this new product first in?
don’t be afraid to do something you’re not qualified to do.”
Ramit and I are both obsessed with checklists and love a book by Atul Gawande titled The Checklist Manifesto. I have this book on a shelf in my living room, cover out, as a constant reminder. Atul Gawande is also one of Malcolm Gladwell’s (page 572) favorite innovators. Ramit builds checklists for as many business processes as possible, which he organizes using software called Basecamp. Google “entrepreneurial bus count” for a good article on why checklists can save your startup.
Early in the rise of the web, the large aggregators of content and products, such as eBay, Amazon, Netflix, etc., noticed that the total sales of *all* the lowest-selling obscure items would equal, or in some cases exceed, the sales of the few best-selling items. Chris Anderson (my successor at Wired) named this effect “the Long Tail,” for the visually graphed shape of the sales distribution curve: a low, nearly interminable line of items selling only a few copies per year that form a long “tail” for the abrupt vertical beast of a few bestsellers. But the area of the tail was as big as the head. With that insight, the aggregators had great incentive to encourage audiences to click on the obscure items. They invented recommendation engines and other algorithms to channel attention to the rare creations in the long tail. Even web search companies like Google, Bing, and Baidu found it in their interests to reward searchers with the obscure because they could sell ads in the long tail as well. The result was that the most obscure became less obscure.
Do you really want to build and manage a big company? For most people, it’s not a fun experience; it’s an all-consuming taskmaster. There are certainly ace CEOs who thread the needle and enjoy this roller coaster, but they are outliers. Read Small Giants by Bo Burlingham for some fantastic examples of companies that choose to be the best rather than the biggest.
Note that “VA” in the below refers to “virtual assistant,” which he finds through Upwork or Zirtual.
One of the things he taught me is a simple trick using tracking. is a link shortening service used by millions of people . . . and Kickstarter. If you add a + to the end of any URL, you can see stats related to that link.
Stephen Hawking actually has the best quote on this and also [a] legitimate story. . . . [He] has the right to complain probably more than anybody. He says that, ‘When you complain, nobody wants to help you,’ and it’s the simplest thing and so plainly spoken. Only he could really say that brutal, honest truth, but it’s true, right? If you spend your time focusing on the things that are wrong, and that’s what you express and project to people you know, you don’t become a source of growth for people, you become a source of destruction for people. That draws more destructiveness.
I just decided to put myself on a ‘complaining diet,’ where I said, ‘Not only am I not going to say anything negative about the situation I’m in, but I’m not going to let myself think anything negative about it.’ . . . It took a long time and I wasn’t perfect at it, but . . . not only did replacing those thoughts helped me start moving my life in a better direction, where I wasn’t obsessing about what was wrong, . . . it also made me not feel physical pain as much, which is very liberating and kind of necessary if you want to do anything.”
“If anybody is going to go out and pitch investors, my advice is to make your first 10 meetings with investors that you don’t really want funding from, because you’re probably going to suck in the beginning. I sucked for a really long time.”
“I ran into Jeff Bezos a bit later and was saying I just got to talk with Elon, and I’m superexcited about Mars. I really hope that one day I can go. And Bezos looks at me and goes, ‘Mars is stupid.’ And I say, ‘What?’ He says, ‘Once we get off of the planet, the last thing we want to do is go to another gravity.’ “Bezos said, ‘The whole point, the reason this is so hard to get off the earth, is to defeat gravity the first time. Once we do that, why would you want to go to Mars? We should just live on space stations and mine asteroids and everything is much better than being on Mars.’ And in 30 seconds, he had completely changed the course of my life, because he’s totally right.”
Phil considers Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder and CEO of Rakuten, one of the most impressive people in the world. Almost 90% of Japan’s Internet population is registered with Rakuten, the country’s largest online marketplace. Mikitani taught Phil “the rule of 3 and 10.” “[This effectively means] that every single thing in your company breaks every time you roughly triple in size.
“His hypothesis is that everything breaks at roughly these points of 3 and 10 [multiples of 3 and powers of 10]. And by ‘everything,’ it means everything: how you handle payroll, how you schedule meetings, what kind of communications you use, how you do budgeting, who actually makes decisions. Every implicit and explicit part of the company just changes significantly when it triples.
Have you outgrown your systems or beliefs? Is it time that you upgraded? Or, on a personal level, as Jerry Colonna, executive coach to some of the biggest tech stars in Silicon Valley, would ask: “How are you complicit in creating the conditions you say you don’t want?”
Chris is good friends with science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson, who’s penned several of my all-time favorites, including Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. Many guests in this book recommend both Snow Crash and The Diamond Age (Seth Godin, page 237, and Kelly Starrett, page 122).
“I distinctly remember him saying not to worry about what I was going to do because the job I was going to do hadn’t even been invented yet. . . . The interesting jobs are the ones that you make up. That’s something I certainly hope to instill in my son: Don’t worry about what your job is going to be. . . . Do things that you’re interested in, and if you do them really well, you’re going to find a way to temper them with some good business opportunity.”
“So Gabe goes, ‘If I gave you $100 million, what would you guys go build? That by building it, there’s no value for anyone copying?’ I’ll give you an example. When Intel goes to build a new chip fabricator, it’s billions and billions of dollars, and there’s no value in anybody else copying it, because not only do they have to spend even more billions to catch up, but they have to spend more billions to learn everything else Intel knows about this, and then they have to be 10 times better for anyone to want to switch. So it’s just a waste of everyone’s time [to attempt copying].”
TF: One of the top 10 venture capitalists I know uses a variant of this litmus test as his measurement of “disruptive”: For each $1 of revenue you generate, can you cost an incumbent $5 to $10? If so, he’ll invest. As a related aside, one of my favorite business-related PDFs floating around the Internet is “Valve: Handbook for New Employees” from Gabe’s company. As Chris put it: “It’s the only HR document you will ever knowingly want to read.”
“Five days a week, I read my goals before I go to sleep and when I wake up. There are 10 goals around health, family, business, etc., with expiration dates, and I update them every 6 months.”
ScheduleOnce (get the $99 a year option): This can eliminate the never-ending “How about next Tuesday or Thursday at 10 a.m.?” back-and-forth that eats your life.
Don’t Try and Find Time. Schedule Time. On Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, Noah schedules nothing but “Learning.” This is a great reminder that, for anything important, you don’t find time. It’s only real if it’s on the calendar. My Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. are currently blocked out for “Creation”—writing, podcast recording, or other output that creates a tangible “after” product. I turn off WiFi during this period to be as non-reactive as possible.
The better wording for the advice is this: Find canvases for other people to paint on. Be an anteambulo. Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.
When you are just starting out, we can be sure of a few fundamental realities: 1) You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are; 2) you have an attitude that needs to be readjusted; 3) most of what you think you know or most of what you learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.
Attach yourself to people and organizations who are already successful, subsume your identity into theirs, and move both forward simultaneously.
Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.
Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you? The cumulative effect this would have over time would be profound: You’d learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road. That’s what the canvas strategy is about—helping yourself by helping others. Making a concerted effort to trade your short-term gratification for a longer-term payoff. Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be “respected,” you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you—that was your aim, after all. Let the others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.
Once we fight this emotional and egotistical impulse, the canvas strategy is easy. The iterations are endless. Maybe it’s coming up with ideas to hand over to your boss. Find people, thinkers, up-and-comers to introduce to each other. Cross wires to create new sparks. Find what nobody else wants to do and do it. Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away.
Because if you pick up this mantle once, you’ll see what most people’s egos prevent them from appreciating: The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.
One of his favorite tools for habit tracking and behavioral modification Way of Life app.
Hacking Blood Sugar Several months ago, I received a text from Kevin stating “I found the grail” with a screenshot of his Dexcom continuous glucose monitor showing his levels at 79mg/dL (which is healthily low) after consuming two beers, a pork chop with honey glaze, 4 slices of corn bread with honey and butter, and a side order of potato gnocchi. What was the “grail”? 25 mg of acarbose (¼ pill) with food. He learned this trick from Peter Attia (page 59), who I introduced him to.
Kevin is a rare double threat as an investor: he is excellent at investing in both early-stage tech (Series Seed or A) and publicly-traded stocks. Most who are good at one are terrible at the other. When I ask him about either, he often asks me variants of the following questions: “Do you understand it?” “Do you think they’ll be dominant and growing 3 years from now?” “Do you think this technology will be more or less a part of our lives in 3 years?”
‘The biggest mistake you can make is to accept the norms of your time.’ Not accepting norms is where you innovate, whether it’s with technology, with books, with anything. So, not accepting the norm is the secret to really big success and changing the world.”
“Freedom [app]. I have no vested interest in this, but there is this one computer program that’s probably saved my life. It’s my favorite program in the world. It says: ‘How many minutes of freedom do you want?’ You put in whatever it is—‘120 minutes of freedom.’ And then, you are completely locked off of your Internet, no matter what, for that amount of time. So, as soon as I sit down to write, the first thing I do is I put on Freedom, because if you’re writing and you want to research something, you research something, and then you get stuck in the clickbait rabbit hole. What you can do is save all of the things you want to research, and just research them when that time expires. You’ll find it so much more efficient.”
Like Chuck Close says, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will—through work—bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’”
The danger of maps, capable assistants, and planning is that you may end up living your life as planned. If you do, your potential cannot possibly exceed your expectations.”
The worst advice you hear being given out often? “‘Look for patterns.’ As an entrepreneur and investor, I am surrounded by people who try to categorize and generalize the factors that make a company successful. . . . Most people forget that innovation (and investing in innovation) is a business of exceptions. “It’s easy to understand why most investors rely on pattern recognition. It starts with a successful company that surprises everyone with a new model. Perhaps it is Uber and on-demand networks, Airbnb and the sharing economy, or Warby Parker and vertically integrated e-commerce. What follows is endless analysis and the mass adoption of a playbook that has already been played. . . . Sure, [those companies] may create a successful derivative, but they won’t change the world. “I try to learn from the past without being inspired by it. My big question is always, ‘What did they try, and why did it work?’ When I hear stories of success and failure, I look for the little things that made a big difference. What conventional wisdom was shunned? . . . I avoid using a past success as a proxy for the future. After all, the dirty little secret is that every success was almost a failure. Timing and uncontrollable circumstances play more of a role than any of us care to admit.
It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen.’ I’d put it on every college campus in the world. In our youth, we are wonderfully creative and idealistic. . . . Truth is, young creative minds don’t need more ideas, they need to take more responsibility with the ideas they’ve already got.”
“I talk to CEOs all the time, and I say, ‘Listen, the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea. If it wasn’t a crazy idea, it’s not a breakthrough; it’s an incremental improvement. So where inside of your companies are you trying crazy ideas?’
That is the number-one thing you need to do: Find out what you need to be doing on this planet, why you were put here, and what wakes you up in the mornings.”
“If Peter Diamandis or Tim Ferriss gave you $1 billion, how would you spend it besides the parties and the Ferraris and so forth? If I asked you to spend $1 billion improving the world, solving a problem, what would you pursue? “Where can you put yourself into an environment that gives maximum exposure to new ideas, problems, and people? Exposure to things that capture your ‘shower time’ [those things you can’t stop thinking about in the shower]?” [Peter recommends environments like Singularity University.]
Still struggling with a sense of purpose or mission? Roughly half a dozen people in this book (e.g., Robert Rodriguez) have suggested the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
“The other question I ask is, ‘How would you disrupt yourself?’ One of the most fundamental realizations is that every entrepreneur, every business, every company will get disrupted. I’ve had the honor of talking with Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, in his leadership team meetings. The same thing for Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, and for Cisco and for many companies. I ask them, ‘How will you disrupt yourself, and how are you trying to disrupt yourself? If you’re not, you’re in for a real surprise.’ Find the smartest 20-somethings in your company. I don’t care if they’re in the mail room or where they are. Give them permission to figure out how they would take down your company.”
Peter has a set of rules that guide his life. His 28 Peter’s Laws have been collected over decades. Here are some of my favorites: Law 2: When given a choice . . . take both. Law 3: Multiple projects lead to multiple successes. Law 6: When forced to compromise, ask for more. Law 7: If you can’t win, change the rules. Law 8: If you can’t change the rules, then ignore them. Law 11: “No” simply means begin again at one level higher. Law 13: When in doubt: THINK. Law 16: The faster you move, the slower time passes, the longer you live. Law 17: The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself. (adopted from Alan Kay) Law 19: You get what you incentivize. Law 22: The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea. Law 26: If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve
“It doesn’t get any easier . . . the challenges are bigger with bigger things.”
B.J. Novak (henceforth “B.J.”) came up with two ideas. The first was to “honor” Bob at the Harvard Lampoon, hoping that he would agree to perform in order to receive an award. The second part of the pitch was that all the proceeds of the show would go to charity. This approach was so successful that B.J. used it repeatedly later in life: When possible, always give the money to charity, as it allows you to interact with people well above your pay grade.
Schedule (and, if possible, pay for) things in advance to prevent yourself from backing out. I’ve applied this to early morning AcroYoga sessions, late-night gymnastics training, archery lessons, etc. Make commitments in a high-energy state so that you can’t back out when you’re in a low-energy state.
B.J. likes and recommends two podcasts related to debating, the second of which is completely farcical: Intelligence Squared and The Great Debates.
Below are the key questions I asked to arrive at this cord-cutting conclusion. I revisit these questions often, usually every month. I hope they help you remove noise and internal conflict from your life. Are You Doing What You’re Uniquely Capable of, What You Feel Placed Here on Earth to Do? Can You Be Replaced?
How Often Are You Saying “Hell, Yeah!”? Philosopher-programmer Derek Sivers (page 184) is one of my favorite people. His incisive thinking has always impressed me, and his “hell, yeah!” or “no” philosophy has become one of my favorite rules of thumb. From his blog: Those of you who often over-commit or feel too scattered may appreciate a new philosophy I’m trying: If I’m not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, then I say no. Meaning: When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!”—then my answer is no. When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “HELL YEAH!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
Saying yes to too much “cool” will bury you alive and render you a B-player, even if you have A-player skills. To develop your edge initially, you learn to set priorities; to maintain your edge, you need to defend against the priorities of others. Once you reach a decent level of professional success, lack of opportunity won’t kill you. It’s drowning in “kinda cool” commitments that will sink the ship.
How Much of Your Life Is Making Versus Managing? How Do You Feel About the Split? One of my favorite time-management essays is “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” by Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame. Give it a read.
What Blessings in Excess Have Become a Curse? Where Do You Have Too Much of a Good Thing? In excess, most things take on the characteristics of their opposite. Thus: Pacifists become militants. Freedom fighters become tyrants. Blessings become curses. Help becomes hindrance. More becomes less. To explore this concept more, read up on Aristotle’s golden mean.
Some words are so overused as to have become meaningless. If you find yourself using nebulous terms like “success,” “happiness,” or “investing,” it pays to explicitly define them or stop using them. Answering “What would it look like if I had ___ ?” helps clarify things. Life favors the specific ask and punishes the vague wish.
Are You Fooling Yourself with a Plan for Moderation?
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” —Richard P. Feynman
Think of what a beautiful metaphor this is for not mistaking the husk—the outer accoutrements of productivity like busyness, or a full calendar, or a clever auto-responder—not mistaking those for the kernel, the core and substance of the actual work produced. And he then says, ‘Those who work much, do not work hard.’ I love that.”
“Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic, or toughness, or some other virtue—but really, it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.” To remind ourselves of this “profound failure,” Maria, I, and at least six other guests in this book read and recommend On the Shortness of Life by Seneca.
Out of more than 4,600 articles on Brain Pickings, what are Maria’s starting recommendations? “The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long” “How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love” “9 Learnings from 9 Years of Brain Pickings” Anything about Alan Watts: “Alan Watts has changed my life. I’ve written about him quite a bit.”
“The culture of news is a culture without nuance.”
If you could guarantee that every public official or leader read one book, what would it be? “The book would be, rather obviously, Plato’s The Republic. I’m actually gobsmacked that this isn’t required in order to be sworn into office, like the Constitution is required for us American immigrants when it comes time to gain American citizenship.”
Discipline Equals Freedom To “what would you put on a billboard?” Jocko responded: “My mantra is a very simple one, and that’s ‘Discipline equals freedom.’” TF: I interpret this to mean, among other things, that you can use positive constraints to increase perceived free will and results. Freeform days might seem idyllic, but they are paralyzing due to continual paradox of choice (e.g., “What should I do now?”) and decision fatigue (e.g., “What should I have for breakfast?”). In contrast, something as simple as pre-scheduled workouts acts as scaffolding around which you can more effectively plan and execute your day. This gives you a greater sense of agency and feeling of freedom. Jocko adds, “It also means that if you want freedom in life—be that financial freedom, more free time, or even freedom from sickness and poor health—you can only achieve these things through discipline.”
you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don’t meditate on it.” These words of Jocko’s helped one listener—a drug addict—get sober after many failed attempts. The simple logic struck a chord: “Being tougher” was, more than anything, a decision to be tougher. It’s possible to immediately “be tougher,” starting with your next decision. Have trouble saying “no” to dessert? Be tougher. Make that your starting decision. Feeling winded? Take the stairs anyway. Ditto. It doesn’t matter how small or big you start. If you want to be tougher, be tougher.
“Take Extreme Ownership of Your World” While Jocko was a SEAL Task Unit commander, the SEAL Commodore, who led all SEALs on the west coast, would hold meetings with all the Task Unit commanders to assess the needs and problems of the troops, then marshal resources to help them: “[The SEAL Commodore] would go around the room, because he wants to get direct feedback from the frontline leaders. These guys are my peers. He’d ask one of the leaders, ‘What do you need?’ and the leader would say, ‘Well, the boots that we have are okay in the hot weather, but we’re getting ready to be in a cooler environment. We need new boots, and we need them this week before our next training block.’ The Commodore would reply, ‘Okay, got it.’ Then he’d ask the next person, who’d say, ‘When we’re out at the desert training facility and there’s no Internet, our guys are disconnected. We really need to get WiFi out there.’ ‘Okay, got it.’ The next guy would say, ‘We need more helicopter training support, because we don’t feel like we’re working around helicopters enough. We really need that.’ The Commodore would agree to take care of that as well. Eventually, he’d get to me. “The Commodore would say: ‘Jocko, what do you need?’ and I would say, ‘We’re good, sir.’ The implication is obvious: If I have problems, I’m going to handle them. I’m going to take care of them, and I’m not going to complain. I took extreme ownership of my world. The way that worked was twofold. When I did need something, it was something significant, it was something real. And when I told the Commodore, ‘Hey, boss, we need this right here,’ I would get it almost instantaneously because he knew that I really, truly needed it. “You can’t blame your boss for not giving you the support you need. Plenty of people will say, ‘It’s my boss’s fault.’ No, it’s actually your fault because you haven’t educated him, you haven’t influenced him, you haven’t explained to him in a manner he understands why you need this support that you need. That’s extreme ownership. Own it all.”
“It sounds horrible, but it’s almost like, sometimes, I’m not a participant in my own life. I’m an observer of that guy who’s doing it. So, if I’m having a conversation with you and we’re trying to discuss a point, I’m watching and saying [to myself], ‘Wait, am I being too emotional right now? Wait a second, look at him. What is his reaction?’ Because I’m not reading you correctly if I’m seeing you through my own emotion or ego. I can’t really see what you’re thinking if I’m emotional. But if I step out of that, now I can see the real you and assess if you are getting angry, or if your ego is getting hurt, or if you’re about to cave because you’re just fed up with me. Whereas, if I’m raging in my own head, I might miss all of that. So being able to detach as a leader is critical.”
Jocko is a big fan of the Hardcore History podcast, hosted by Dan Carlin (page 285), as am I.
If you don’t give young men a good and useful group to belong to, they will create a bad group to belong to. But one way or another, they’re going to create a group, and they’re going to find something, an adversary, where they can demonstrate their prowess and their unity.”
“You guys are programmed to succeed. The hardest thing you’re ever going to do in your life is fail at something, and if you don’t start failing at things, you will not live a full life. You’ll be living a cautious life on a path that you know is pretty much guaranteed to more or less work. That’s not getting the most out of this amazing world we live in. You have to do the hardest thing that you have not been prepared for in this school or any school: You have to be prepared to fail. That’s how you’re going to expand yourself and grow. As you work through that process of failure and learning, you will really deepen into the human being you’re capable of being.”
This is why I use Uber or pseudonyms for any car service pickups around the world. By using a made-up name for your car reservation, if you see a placard with your real name on it, you know it’s a set-up. If you become successful—or simply appear successful on the Internet—and travel a lot overseas, this is not paranoia.
TF: I spoke about personalized bioweapons nearly 10 years ago with a qualified former NASA scientist. These are real. To stretch your brain on this subject, read a great article of Marc’s in the Atlantic titled “Hacking the President’s DNA.” If you’re a potential high-profile target, you need to think defensively. CRISPR and related technologies could potentially make the near future a boom era for biological weapons. Keep your genetic data very close to your chest. Even if you use pseudonyms, I’ve seen companies that can produce facial features from DNA info. It’s going to be practically impossible to anonymize.
To get in the zone, Samy likes to code to, The Glitch Mob, and Infected Mushroom. Based on his recommendation, I found some of my current favorites—Pegboard Nerds (“Blackout”) and David Starfire (Karuna)—on AudioMolly.
Using the same Developer Tools, if a site is ever trying to force you to sign up, fill out a form you don’t want to fill out, or otherwise cover the page with obtrusive windows or darkening the page, you can use the Elements tab in the Developer Tools (mentioned above), right-click on any element in the tab, and click Remove. Don’t worry, if you remove the wrong thing, you can simply refresh the page and try again! You are only affecting the page on your own computer, but this can be a useful tool to adjust a page to your liking.
To learn about some of the starting tools a hacker, attacker, or someone just curious about security would use, I’d suggest looking at beginning tools such as Wireshark, Charles (web debugging proxy), NightHawk (ARP/ND spoofing and password sniffing), arpy (ARP spoofing), dsniff (password sniffing), and Kali Linux (penetration testing) and looking up tutorials on network intrusion, sniffing, and man-in-the-middling. Within a few minutes and with a tool like Wireshark, you can start seeing all the traffic going in and out of your computer, while tools like Nighthawk and arpy in conjunction with Wireshark can help you inspect and intercept all traffic on a network!
As we describe it, sometimes a plan can end up being a string of miracles, and that’s not a real solid plan. So red teaming is: You take people who aren’t wedded to the plan and [ask them,] ‘How would you disrupt this plan or how would you defeat this plan?’ If you have a very thoughtful red team, you’ll produce stunning results.”
Around age 35 to 40, as you get up to battalion level, which is about 600 people, suddenly, you’re going to have to lead it a different way, and what you’re really going to have to do is develop people. The advice I’d give to anyone young is it’s really about developing people who are going to do the work. Unless you are going to go do the task yourself, then the development time you spend on the people who are going to do that task, whether they are going to lead people doing it or whether they are actually going to do it, every minute you spend on that is leveraged, is exponential return.”
STAN: “I learned to run with audiobooks. My mind will stay collected on it when I lift weights. . . . I also have a little set of speakers in my bathroom. So I go in in the morning, and I’m listening to one book there. I turn it on and [I’ll listen] while I brush my teeth, while I shave, while I put my PT clothes on, because my wife’s out in the bedroom. . . . I’ve found that I go through books very, very quickly, because if you’re working out an hour and a half a day, you actually go through books much faster than you would if you just had reading time. . . 
“What you just explained is exactly what I was going to suggest. Think about how old you are right now and think about being a 10-year-older version of yourself. Then think, ‘What would I probably tell myself as an older version of myself?’ That is the wisdom that I think you found in that exercise. . . . [If you do this exercise and then start living the answers,] I think you’re going to grow exponentially faster than you would have otherwise.”
“Follow Your Passion” Is Terrible Advice “I think it misconstrues the nature of finding a satisfying career and satisfying job, where the biggest predictor of job satisfaction is mentally engaging work. It’s the nature of the job itself. It’s not got that much to do with you. . . . It’s whether the job provides a lot of variety, gives you good feedback, allows you to exercise autonomy, contributes to the wider world—Is it actually meaningful? Is it making the world better?—and also, whether it allows you to exercise a skill that you’ve developed.”
Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. This book is a friendly and accessible introduction to mindfulness meditation, and includes an 8-week guided meditation course. Will completed this course, and it had a significant impact on his life.
“One is emphasizing that you have 80,000 working hours in the course of your life. It’s incredibly important to work out how best to spend them, and what you’re doing at the moment—20-year-old Will—is just kind of drifting and thinking. [You’re] not spending very much time thinking about this kind of macro optimization. You might be thinking about ‘How can I do my coursework as well as possible?’ and micro optimization, but not really thinking about ‘What are actually my ultimate goals in life, and how can I optimize toward them?’
“If they are coughing like crazy right now [from lung cancer], how do they keep smoking? They say to themselves, ‘Well, I smoked for years and it was never a problem.’ Or they say, ‘It will get better in the future. After all, George Burns lived until 102 smoking cigars.’ They find the exception to the rule because no one knows what the future is. We can make it up, we can convince ourselves it’s going to be okay. Or we can remember a past time in which it was okay. That’s how people get out of it. “When we feel pain in one time zone—meaning past, present, or future—we just switch to another time zone rather than change, because change brings so much uncertainty and so much instability and so much fear to people.”
The Value of Intensive Meditation Retreats “In my case, [meditation] didn’t really become useful, which is to say it really didn’t become true meditation, until I had sat my first one or two intensive retreats.
Sit, Sit. Walk, Walk. Don’t Wobble. “The Zen mantra is ‘Sit, sit. Walk, walk. Don’t wobble.’ . . . It’s this idea that when I’m with a person, that’s total priority. Anything else is multitasking. No, no, no, no. The people-to-people, person-to-person trumps anything else. I have given my dedication to this. If I go to a play or a movie, I am at the movie. I am not anywhere else. It’s 100%—I am going to listen. If I go to a conference, I am going to go to the conference.” TF: This is very similar to Derek Sivers’s (page 184) “Don’t be a donkey” rule. In a world of distraction, single-tasking is a superpower.
“The dilemma is that any true forecast about the future is going to be dismissed. Any future that is believable now is going to be wrong, and so you’re stuck. If people believe it, it’s wrong, and if they don’t believe it, where does it get you?” TF: One of his tools for coming up with unbelievable (yet ultimately accurate) predictions is making a list of what everyone thinks is true or will be true, and asking “What if that weren’t true?” for each, brainstorming the ramifications.
“One of the many life skills that you want to learn at a fairly young age is the skill of being an ultra-thrifty, minimal kind of little wisp that’s traveling through time . . . in the sense of learning how little you actually need to live, not just in a survival mode, but in a contented mode. . . . That gives you the confidence to take a risk, because you say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Well, the worst that can happen is that I’d have a backpack and a sleeping bag, and I’d be eating oatmeal. And I’d be fine.’”
“The difference between the people you admire and everybody else [is that the former are] the people who read.”
instantly recognized as heralding an ugly new turn in the culture: planshopping. That is, deferring committing to any one plan for an evening until you know what all your options are, and then picking the one that’s most likely to be fun/advance your career/have the most girls at it—in other words, treating people like menu options or products in a catalog.
Alex Honnold, free solo climbing phenom: The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding and others: ambitones like The Zen Effect in the key of C for 30 minutes, made by Rolfe Kent, the composer of music for movies like Sideways, Wedding Crashers, and Legally Blonde Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress, CEO of Automattic: “Everyday” by A$AP Rocky and “One Dance” by Drake Amelia Boone, the world’s most successful female obstacle course racer: “Tonight Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins and “Keep Your Eyes Open” by NEEDTOBREATHE Chris Young, mathematician and experimental chef: Paul Oakenfold’s “Live at the Rojan in Shanghai,” Pete Tong’s Essential Mix Jason Silva, TV and YouTube philosopher: “Time” from the Inception soundtrack by Hans Zimmer Chris Sacca: “Harlem Shake” by Baauer and “Lift Off” by Jay Z and Kanye West, featuring Beyoncé. “I can bang through an amazing amount of email with the Harlem Shake going on in the background.” Tim Ferriss: Currently I’m listening to “Circulation” by Beats Antique and “Black Out the Sun” by Sevendust, depending on whether I need flow or a jumpstart.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” —Mark Twain.
Eric said “high-agency person” in passing, and I asked him to elaborate: “When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something? So, how am I going to get past this bouncer who told me that I can’t come into this nightclub? How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience?” TF: Eric describes The Martian as “The ultimate high-agency film.”
Eric also finds late nights, around 3 a.m., to be ideal for deep creative work. ERIC: “When the phone stops ringing, when you have no FOMO [fear of missing out] because everybody’s asleep. It’s a Monday night, and it’s just you and an expanse of whiteboard. That’s when the magic happens.”
“It wasn’t until I started meeting some of the most intellectually gifted people in the sciences and beyond . . . I realized that this was sort of the open secret of what I call the hallucinogenic elite, whether it’s billionaires, or Nobel laureates, or inventors and coders. . . . A lot of these people were using these agents either for creativity or to gain access to the things that are so difficult to get access to through therapy and other conventional means.”
10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it and treat it as math.
Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. You’ll avoid the tough decisions, and you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted.”—Colin Powell
“I don’t want to sound like a pretentious asshole, but I would ask people to dig deeper. We can make the world a better place. We can ask more of ourselves. We can do more for others. I think that our life is a journey. . . . Dig deep on your journey and the world will benefit from it.”
“In any situation in life, you only have three options. You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it. What is not a good option is to sit around wishing you would change it but not changing it, wishing you would leave it but not leaving it, and not accepting it. It’s that struggle, that aversion, that is responsible for most of our misery. The phrase that I probably use the most to myself in my head is just one word: accept.”
“Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” I don’t think most of us realize that’s what it is. I think we go about desiring things all day long, and then wondering why we’re unhappy. So, I like to stay aware of that because then I can choose my desires very carefully. I try not to have more than one big desire in my life at any given time, and I also recognize that as the axis of my suffering.
“What you choose to work on, and who you choose to work with, are far more important than how hard you work.”
“Free education is abundant, all over the Internet. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce.”
In his early 30s, Glenn spent a semester at Yale as a theology major and felt out of place: “[Wayne] reached across the table, and he grabbed my hand and he said, ‘You listen to me for a second, would you? You realize you belong here, right? You’re okay to be here.’ That endorsement, and as stupid as it seems, opened up my whole world. Because it was the first time somebody said, ‘You’re smart enough. You can do it.’ . . . That changed my world. I wish it hadn’t, in some ways. I wish it didn’t mean so much to me. But I’ve learned from that, now in my position, to say that to people. Because there’s something stupid in us that just makes us feel like we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough.”
“And also, it’s not about being good; it’s about being great. Because what I find, the older I get, is that a lot of people are good, and a lot of people are smart, and a lot of people are clever. But not a lot of people give you their soul when they perform.”
Josh has no social media, does no interviews (except my podcast, for which he often says to me, “You fuck!”), and avoids nearly all meetings and phone calls. He minimizes input to maximize output, much like Rick Rubin. Josh says: “I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process.”
To Turn It On, Learn to Turn It off (And Vice Versa) “One of my most beautiful memories of [Marcelo] is in the world championship, right before going to the semifinals. He’s napping on a bleacher. Everyone’s screaming and yelling, and he’s asleep on the bleacher. I can’t wake him up. “He [finally] took a stumble into the ring, [and] you’ve never seen a guy more relaxed before going into a world championship fight. . . . He can turn it off so deeply, and man, when he goes in the ring, you can’t turn it on with any more intensity than he can. His ability to turn it off is directly aligned with how intensely he can turn it on, so [I train] people to do this, to have stress and recovery undulation throughout their day.
Whenever it was raining, you’d hear moms, babysitters, dads say, ‘It’s bad weather. We can’t go out,’ or if it wasn’t, ‘It’s good weather. We can go out.’ That means that, somehow, we’re externally reliant on conditions being perfect in order to be able to go out and have a good time. So, Jack and I never missed a single storm, rain or snow, to go outside and romp in it. Maybe we missed one when he was sick. We’ve developed this language around how beautiful it is. Now, whenever it’s a rainy day, Jack says, ‘Look, Dada, it’s such a beautiful rainy day,’ and we go out and we play in it. I wanted him to have this internal locus of control—to not be reliant on external conditions being just so.”
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jamie is incredibly confident. As one of his close friends described to me: “Even when things go a little south, he ALWAYS makes you feel like he has everything under control. I see a lot of people in his circle gravitate toward him for that confidence, myself included.” I asked Jamie how he teaches confidence to his children, and he said that he asks his daughters to explore their fears with the question, “What’s on the other side of fear?” His answer is always, “Nothing.”