This used to be my morning commute: I’d sit in bumper to bumper traffic in San Francisco trying to get to work. Out of boredom, I’d turn on the radio….static, commercials and that one Justin Bieber song I’ve heard a million times.
How have my morning commutes changed?
One word. Podcasts!
There’s only so much Justin one person can take (I know some of you strongly disagree), but I digress. The point is that I’ve substituted the radio with podcasts and it has been game changing.
The best podcast I’ve come across is the Tim Ferriss Show. He interviews top performers in various fields from athletes, celebrities to CEO’s. You can guarantee that if someone was on Tim’s podcast, they’ve accomplished pretty epic stuff.
Today I want to share 23 life lessons I’ve learned from listening to Tim’s podcast and how you can live these lessons NOW.
Before we get started, a quick primer. Each lesson includes:
- “Who” – who Tim interviewed with a link if you want to learn more about them
- “Why it matters” – more context around the lesson and why it’s important
- “How to do it” – an actionable strategy you can use to start living this lesson, today
- “Where” – a link to the podcast episode and Tim’s show notes
Lesson #1: Being “busy” is cowardly.
Why it matters: Everybody does this and I’ve never realized how ridiculous it is. When people ask how you are, do you always answer with
What a cowardly thing to say!
Kreider describes how “busy ness” is simply a boast disguised as a complaint, a way to make ourselves feel important because we’re addicted to being busy all the time.
Tim reminds us that idleness is important and good for the brain, it’s not something we should feel guilty about.
How to do it: Make a point of having idle time throughout your day. You can start off small. It may be a 10-minute afternoon stroll without your phone or perhaps it’s making sure you stop working by 6pm so you can have the evening to let your mind wander or hang out with your family without distractions. Take time for a respite.
BTW Your brain needs breaks. Studies show that your brain is still active at rest (in the default mode network) and that downtime is necessary to explore ourselves, our values and morals.
Where: Lazy: A Manifesto
Lesson #2: When making a decision, ask yourself is it a “fu** yes or a fu** no?”
Who: Derek Sivers
Why it matters: Making decisions is hard. But the most efficient and effective way to make them is to have clearly defined rules. And this is one of the best rules I’ve ever come across.
Look, life is too short to not be 110% excited to do something.
How to do it: Whether it’s deciding to grab drinks with someone or choosing a new job, ask yourself how enthusiastic you are about it. “Is it a fu** yes or no?!” There’s your answer.
Lesson #3: Value “working hard” over being “smart.”
Who: Luis von Ahn
Why it matters: In this episode, Luis talks about how his Mother used to compliment him as a child by saying “you worked hard.” Contrast that with some parents who praise their child for succeeding by simply being “smart” or “gifted.” That helped solidify his work ethic and allowed him to have a “growth mindset.”
Tim mentions the “growth mindset” pioneered by psychology professor Carol Dweck, it’s the fact that believing that your intelligence is flexible (rather than fixed or inherent), leads to better performance.
Dweck conducted a 1975 study of “helpless” elementary school kids. The takeaway was that experimenters trained the students to blame errors on insufficient effort, rather than on their personalities (i.e. they weren’t smart enough).
The kids who underwent the training ended up performing better in school compared to the control group, who declined academically.
How to do it: Rather than praising coworkers or your kids for being inherently “smart,” praise their process, hard work and critical thinking that got them to success. This will help them develop the “growth mindset.” By the way, our brains truly are flexible. When we learn skills and experience new things, our brains change.
Lesson #4: It’s okay to be grim.
Who: Alain de Botton
Why it matters: What!? Isn’t that going against all of the self-help books ever written? Possibly, but the point that Alain was making is that the darker things in life make the small things in life brighter. Without that contrast, you may not be able to appreciate simple things like clean water or a great conversation with a friend.
I loved this statement because it flies in the face of “be happy/optimistic all the time.”
You can’t control everything that’s dark in life, but by acknowledging it you can be appreciative for what you do have.
How to do it: By being realistic about the state of the world, you can increase your levels of gratitude for the small things in life that we constantly take for granted.
At the least, I’d encourage you to think in “neutral terms.” Rather than trying to judge the world as fair or unfair, realize that it just “is.” This will help you shed the judgements you may have about problems you’re facing and open up your mind to new ways of thinking.
Lesson #5: Stop making judgements.
Who: Naval Ravikant
Why it matters: This was one of my favorite episodes with so many nuggets of wisdom, but this one really stuck out to me. Although this seems super simple, it’s incredibly hard.
As humans, we end up making judgements all the time…it’s ingrained in our evolution as a species. Our ancestors had to make snap judgements about if someone was a friend or foe, it meant life or death. Because of that, we’ve been accustomed to constantly making judgements.
Think about it, we’re constantly judging ourselves, our friends…heck even strangers walking down the street! A lot of our self-talk is centered around judgements.
How to do it: In order to stop constantly making judgements, Naval recommends trying not to judge anyone for 24 hours. It’s freaking hard, but it will make you realize how frequently you make judgements about other people and yourself. Kicking this habit will help you feel more focused and present.
Lesson #6: Change your state when doing deep work.
Use a mantra or a “cue” of something totally out of whack to change your brain to get into the act of creation.
Who: Eric Weinstein
Why it matters: I work one and a half jobs. I work FT for a demanding startup, but I also blog part-time. It takes a lot of discipline, but to make it easier, I’ve developed a cue to kick me into “blogging mode.” After a long day at work, my cue is to go to a nearby Starbucks by my office, grab a latte, turn Spotify on to my favorite song and begin working. (I’m working on the mantra part 🙂
Once I hear that song playing, I get into a different mode. I’m feeling the rhythm of the music and somehow my brain shifts into “writing mode.”
In Eric’s case, he has a 7-second private mantra that he says out loud to get him into this “state.”
How to do it: Use a mantra or a “cue” to shift your brain into a state of creativity or flow. It could be your favorite song, a personal mantra that’s meaningful to you, or images you look at.
Lesson #7: When you’re scared, ask “what’s on the other side of fear?”
Who: Jamie Foxx
Why it matters: This question is a great way to transform a challenge into an opportunity. By digging into what is it that you’re really scared of, you usually end up with answers that can be overcome.
It’s a great “go to” question when you feel yourself becoming fearful or apprehensive. When you’re about to take a leap, ask yourself “what’s on the other side of fear?”
Remember, when you define a situation as a “threat” rather than a “challenge” your anxiety increases and you lose your personal power. (Source)
Tony Robbins also teaches that the questions that we ask ourselves form the foundation of our mindset on life. This is a powerful question to have in your arsenal.
How to do it: The next time you want to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and are feeling hesitant, ask yourself “what’s on the other side of fear?” You’ll likely realize its something that can easily be defeated.
Lesson #8: Take initiative first and good things will follow.
Who: Jimmy Chin
Why it matters: If you think about some of the most “successful” moments you’ve had in your life, it was likely preceded by some sort of action you took to move towards a goal.
Perhaps you asked someone to coffee and ended working for or with that person a few months later. Perhaps you made the first move to get in touch with someone you liked romantically that led to a relationship.
The point Jimmy was trying to make is that the first step is the most important step because it builds positive momentum.
The truth is, if you don’t take that first step there’s nothing positive to be had.
How to do it: When working towards your goals, make sure you take action first. In the podcast Jimmy talks about how he drove across the country to visit the office of a photographer he greatly admired. He ended up waiting in the lobby day after day with an assistant who kept on making excuses for her boss.
Finally, he was graciously invited to his role model’s office and ended up meeting with him for hours! This man became a mentor of his and inspired him to go on his first rock climbing/photography session in a prized and remote location.
Lesson #9: Befriend yourself.
Who: Tara Brach
Why it matters: Do you constantly talk down to yourself? Call yourself dumb for making a minor mistake? I think we’re all guilty of this to some degree. The sad thing is, we rarely show ourselves compassion.
If you overheard a friend telling herself how dumb she was because of a tiny mistake, wouldn’t you tell her to show herself some compassion?
You probably would… So why do we treat ourselves this way!?
In this episode, Tara shares how her spiritual awakening was rooted in realizing the importance of self-compassion. It’s important to show yourself some love.
How to do it: The next time you catch yourself getting into “negative self-talk” mode, develop a mantra or a cue to snap out of it. It could be something like, “I’m a work in progress” rather than saying something like “I’m so stupid.” You can steal a line from the “growth mindset” idea we talked about and say something like “I’m still growing and improving.” Be good to yourself. There’s only one you.
Lesson #10: When you’re struggling with creativity, just get started.
Who: Seth Godin
Why it matters: Seth is a prolific writer, so I was all ears when he shared one of his tips for beating writer’s block.
Just get started…even if it’s horrendous! Sometimes you just need to force yourself to write or brainstorm and that’s all it takes to get into a flow.
Writing consistently has been such a difficult habit for me, but Seth is totally right. The only way to create a habit is to have a consistent cue to get you into the routine. The act of typing or handwriting gets the juices flowing. (BTW if you’re into habits, you must read The Power of Habit).
I used to mentally block myself from writing by thinking I had to summon all this energy and be “mentally prepared,” but when I force myself to write (even if I’m off to a rough start) it gets progressively better.
How to do it: Push through the times when you feel like you’re stuck. Don’t give up! Persistence is key, if you have to write about a certain topic that is totally unrelated to what you were intending to write about…go for it!
Just get some momentum going, doing something as simple as writing about your day is enough to break the block and get “in the zone.”
Lesson #11: Know your “why.”
Who: Phil Libin
Why it matters: Do you ever find yourself doing things “just cuz.” You may be sitting at your desk doing pointless work or hanging out with someone who you know is a waste of your time. Living life without a “why” or a philosophy on life is what leads you to these types of pointless situations.
In the interview Phil talks about why you should have a philosophy on life-it frames and gives you a reason to do things. You should be asking yourself “why” and formulating a “why” for your life.
Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to be super vigilant with my time by making sure that I spend it on activities that answer my “why.” It makes life more fulfilling when you feel like there’s a reason you’re doing something.
How to do it: Sit down and think about what values matter most to you. Why do you do the things you do? What is your philosophy on life? Why are you on earth?
Taking some time to reflect on these deeper questions will bring new insights into the way you view life. It will also help you realize what matters most to you so you can work towards whatever those values are. When you come up with answers, write them down. Writing down and affirming your values has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression.
Lesson #12: Speak up when you believe in something.
Why it matters: In this episode Daymond John from Shark Tank is interviewing Tim about how he ended up publishing The Four Hour Work Week which turned into a NY Times Bestseller. Tim shares the story of his last meeting with a major publisher after a series of rejections. Essentially, the meeting wasn’t going all that well. The publishers understood it, but didn’t love it.
At the end of the meeting, the key decision maker asked Tim if he had anything to say….and Tim spoke up. He said that he doesn’t “half-ass” anything and that he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure this book becomes a best-seller.
He got the deal. Years later, Tim learned that that statement was what sealed the deal.
How to do it: When you truly believe in something, don’t be afraid to speak up! Whether you want to share your experiences through a blog or turn that product idea into a business, give it a shot! You have one life to live, so make it count.
Lesson #13: Constantly expose yourself to new stimuli.
Why it matters: When Kaskade was a struggling DJ, a lot of his music was “on trend.” It sounded like what everyone else was putting out there and he found it difficult to stand out.
As he was producing, he got a gig at a record company to learn more about the business and to gain exposure to new artists in the dance/electronic space. He met great songwriters who influenced him and pushed him to think differently about the music he was making.
Namely, they convinced him that his melodies were only “half a song,” they were missing the vocals. Because of that advice he started focusing on both the instrumental and vocals which is his musical trademark to this day.
Sidenote: My personal opinion is that Kaskade was at the forefront of this genre and ended up influencing other electronic DJ’s in the space who followed the same format and made house music much more mainstream.
The point is, when you expose yourself to new stimuli you gain new perspectives and opinions that will challenge your norms.
How to do it: On a monthly basis, try one thing that’s totally “left field” for you. It may be something like going to a concert of a music genre you’re not a huge fan of or hanging out with a new group of people. Exposing yourself to new stimuli will get you out of your comfort zone and will open up your mind.
Lesson #14: Provide value upfront.
Who: Ramit Sethi
Why it matters: Ramit is an online mogul whose courses gross millions of dollars. This guy knows what he’s doing. In this episode, Tim talks about his reticence to monetize his email list (even though Tim gives away a huge majority of his work for free). Ramit tells Tim that when it’s time to sell….sell hard. Be unapologetic about it.
But the lesson I want to focus on is how both Ramit and Tim provide value upfront. This is a similar lesson to Jimmy Chin’s approach of taking initiative first, then good things will come.
Tim and Ramit put out tons of amazing free content that has changed people’s lives in a meaningful way. Ramit’s philosophy is that his free material is better than the material out there that people charge for.
How has that strategy paid off? It has helped him make $5 million in one week.
In both my full-time job and on my blog I’ve made it a point to provide value upfront. In the workplace I focus on proving myself first before asking for things. With my blog, I give away a ton of free content that takes me hundreds of hours to create, but I’m in it for the long term. And when it’s time to sell, I’ll sell 🙂
How to do it: Before asking someone to take out their wallet or do you a favor, provide value upfront. What can you do for the other person? The most valuable relationships are built when you’re the one who takes the initiative to provide value from the getgo.
Lesson #15: Focus on one thing at a time.
Who: Derek Sivers
Why it matters: In this episode, Derek talks about the power of “being in the zone” and completely immersed in only one thing. He mentions that people who are happiest in their life are the people who felt like they spent a good chunk of their life “in the zone.”
I use a this technique when I’m working. When I have a project to work on, I dedicate a set number of hours to only doing that one thing. It helps increase my productivity and focus and I feel great once I complete it!
How to do it: For starters, you can try The Pomodoro Technique. Essentially it’s choosing one task and working on only that task for periods of 25 minutes. Here’s a good primer.
The point is to avoid distractions and just focus. Once you try this, you’ll realize how many distractions are in your way from IM’s to text messages to people stopping by your desk. Be strict and stick to the 25 minute rule, you’ll be surprised.
Lesson #16: Shut up and listen.
Who: Morgan Spurlock
Why it matters: Morgan talks about the importance of building trust with people you speak with and how important it is to want to understand their point of view. As a communication coach, I always teach that listening is better than talking.
Remember, people love talking about themselves especially when they know and feel that they’re being listened to. An interesting Harvard study showed that when people engage in self-disclosure (aka “talking about themselves”) the reward centers of their brain are activated. Furthermore, when offered money to talk about topics other than themselves, subjects were willing to forego that money in order to continue talking about themselves!
How to do it: Morgan does a great job of explaining how exactly to do this. Start off by talking about things that matter to the other person, realize that you’re building a relationship over the course of talking to someone. Try to find common ground to establish trust.
But most importantly, show the other person that you’re actively listening and engaging with what they have to say. You can do this by making eye contact, nodding your head every few moments and summarizing what they’ve told you in your own words to show understanding.
Lesson #17: Don’t cling to outcomes.
Who: Josh Waitzkin
Why it matters: Josh talks about how there are certain cognitive biases which could be lethal to success. One of them is being attached to outcomes or evaluations. He gave the example of playing a game of chess where you become emotionally attached to “winning” although the game isn’t over.
The danger is that once you’re in this frame of mind, it’s hard to let go of “winning” if you end up in a position that’s not favorable. This can cloud your judgement and your emotional decisions can make you a loser.
Personally, as I get older, I find myself evaluating my past career and life decisions. I think of where I’d be now if I did X or Y differently or went to law school instead of business school. I’m sure you’ve done the same thing.
Clinging to these emotional evaluations can cloud your judgment when it’s time to make decisions. You may be tempted to base a decision on past events rather than on what you want to move towards. We become so emotionally attached to outcomes, that we forget we’re on a longer journey.
How to do it: When you find yourself looking back in regret or questioning the past, remind yourself to play the long-term game. Identify your cognitive biases by becoming present (something else they talk about in this epsiode) and build that into your intuitive decision making.
If you know that you’re prone to emotional attachments, plan around them. Develop a “go to” Plan B, whether it’s consulting with a trusted friend or looking at a situation in a totally different way.
Lesson #18: Prime yourself for success, everyday.
Who: Tony Robbins
Why it matters: Priming is a method in which you expose your brain to certain stimuli that influence your response to a later stimulus. Basically, it’s a way to “prepare” your brain and it can be used positively or negatively.
Studies have shown that priming your mind can reduce anxiety and improve your performance. The key is to prime your mind with the right messages and words.
In an interesting study cited in Presence by Amy Cuddy, subjects were primed with low-power words which made them feel powerless and resulted on underperforming on cognitive tests. They also suffered from “goal neglect” meaning they couldn’t finish completing a necessary task. When subjects were primed with high-power words, they performed above average and were more likely to complete tasks with reduced anxiety.
How to do it: Spend just 10 minutes every morning getting primed for the day. Tony’s ritual breaks it down into three simple things:
- What you’re grateful
- Focus on the things that matter to you (for Tony it’s celebration and service, joy, passion) whatever the emotions you’re feeling let them overtake you
- Three to thrive- think of 3 things big or small, that you want to achieve that day
Don’t have 10 minutes? Then Tony says you don’t have a life.
Who doesn’t have 10 minutes!? I’ve taken this framework and slightly translated it to my own needs. You may want to consider the following:
- What I’m grateful for
- Who I’m grateful for (thinking of them and blessing them)
- Three things I want to do that day
Lesson #19: Reflect on your day, everyday.
Who: Robert Rodriguez
Why it matters: Robert reveals how he loves to journal, in fact every night at midnight his alarm goes off and that’s his cue to journal his day. He was inspired to do this after coming across his Mom’s journal entry of the time he was a kid and she pushed him into the pool. When he read that entry it brought him right back to that day, so he wanted to do the same for his kids.
Taking a few minutes to reflect on your day is important. You can use it as a “priming” method as well to recall things you accomplished during the day to make you feel powerful. Also, having a journal to look back on is really fun. When I look back on past journal entries I feel like I’m time time traveling.
How to do it: This year I started using the Five Minute Journal. It’s super easy and starting your day with brainstorming 3 things that you’re grateful for is a great way to prime your brain for gratitude and feeling grounded for the rest of the day.
Again, I recommend the Five Minute Journal here, it’s fast, easy to do and is fun to reflect on past entries.
Lesson #20: Break the rules (and the coffee challenge).
Who: Noah Kagan
Why it matters: In the episode, Noah talks about how we’re conditioned to follow rules and that we need to fight this every once in a while. He recommends going to a coffeeshop and asking the cashier for 10% off.
Why do such a weird thing?
It helps you realize a lot of the preconceived notions you have are totally false. You may think this is something you could never ask for….until you do.
I actually tried this exercise and was SO uncomfortable doing it, but once I got it over with I felt good about myself. I showed myself that I had the guts to ask and that the worst case scenario was a simple “no, sorry but if you buy a gift card then you get a free coffee.” It was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but it’s a worthwhile exercise.
How to do it: Beat your fears. Break the rules. Go to a coffee shop or a liquor store, buy something and when you do ask the cashier if you can get 10% off. You’ll surprise yourself.
Lesson #21: The law of 3’s and 10’s.
Who: Phil Libin
Why it matters: This is more business related, but is a fascinating lesson. Phil is the founder and former CEO of Evernote (one of my favorite apps). In this episode he talks about a lesson he learned from business tycoon Hiroshi Mikitani: the law of 3 and 10.
What the heck is that? It’s the idea that every single thing in your company breaks every time you triple in size. This is a classic startup issue, things work when you’re 10 people, but when that number becomes 30…and then 100… your culture and processes have to evolve with the growth and most companies are unprepared for that. (PS it’s “100” to make the 3x math easier).
On the other hand, when companies get huge at 10,000 people it takes much longer to get to 30,000 people, that’s when big companies get complacent and lose their innovation mojo.
I’ve worked in the startup space for almost 10 years and the most challenging aspect of startups is scaling. Startups move and grow quickly, how do you scale culture? How do you scale a business? How do you keep the same level of intimacy with customers and coworkers? It’s freakin hard!
Many startups don’t plan in advance for these types of stages. They’re often caught off guard when conference rooms can no longer fit the number of people who need to be in a room. They neglect to keep the entire company up-to-date and on the same page when it comes to the business and where it’s at.
How to do it: Whether you’re part of a startup, or have one yourself, plan ahead of these “triplings.” Because startups grow so fast you want to be ahead of the curve and plan on how your processes and culture is going to scale. Think about the type of company you want to be when you 3x in size, what processes must you put in place to ensure success at that point?
Lesson #22: Have a comfortable bed and good shoes.
Who: Tim Ferriss
Why it matters: When Tim was on a vacation in Panama he stayed with a “power couple” and the wife recommended that Tim invest in good shoes and a good bed because when you’re not in one, you’re in the other.
I’m a big believer in getting a good night’s rest and a solid bed will help you do just that. In this same episode with Noah Kagan, Noah also recommends sleeping in complete dark (i.e. no electronics or sources of light in your room) to get a good night’s sleep.
How to do it: It’s simple, if your bed or shoes suck…replace them! Don’t be afraid to invest a few hundred bucks into a good mattress or good sheets. It will go a long way and the ROI is invaluable. Get a good night’s rest, according to experts the optimal amount of sleep is 7 hours.
Lesson #23: Stop being unnecessarily scared.
Why it matters: If you’re a Tim Ferriss fan, you know I can’t make this list without having a Seneca lesson. Although there are so many Seneca nuggets, I found this one very impactful.
“There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality….What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you…Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining or anticipating, sorrow.”
Do you ever envision doomsday scenarios before they even occur? Is your default mental model to ask, “what could go wrong?” rather than “what could go right?”
So many of us are guilty of thinking this way, but as Seneca teaches sometimes it’s all in our head. We exaggerate and build up all this fear for something that doesn’t deserve that amount of anxiety.
Rather than anticipating sorrow…..release judgement. And even if something bad is coming your way, there’s no point in obsessing over it until it actually happens.
How to do it: Don’t unnecessarily stress yourself. Sure, there are things that are outside of our control but until something “bad” arrives there’s not much you can do about it. Rather than letting a situation consume you, take control over it. Realize that any challenge can be transformed into an opportunity depending on the way you view it.
Make just one decision or action towards taking control of the situation, no matter how small it is. By doing so, you’ll feel like you have an “internal locus of control” which will increase your motivation towards solving it.
1. Campbell, Robin. Seneca: Letters from a Stoic. Middlesex: Penguin, 1969. Print.
2. Cuddy, Amy Joy Casselberry. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Print
3. Duhigg, Charles. Smarter Faster Better: The secrets of productivity in life and business. Random House, 2016.
4. Robbins, Anthony. Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical & Financial Destiny. New York, NY: Summit, 1991. Print.