23 Life Changing Lessons I Learned From the Tim Ferriss Podcast

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.


Who: Tim Kreider, author of Lazy: A Manifesto

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

“Good…just busy”?

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.

Where: Derek Sivers on Developing Confidence, Finding Happiness, and Saying “No” to Millions


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.

Where: Luis von Ahn on Learning Languages, Building Companies, and Changing the World


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.

Where: How Philosophy Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton


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. 

Where: Naval Ravikant on Happiness Hacks and the 5 Chimps Theory


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.

Where: Eric Weinstein on Challenging Reality, Working with Peter Thiel & Destroying Education to Save It


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.

Where: Jamie Foxx on Workout Routines, Success Habits, and Untold Hollywood Stories


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.

Where: The Athlete (And Artist) Who Cheats Death, Jimmy Chin


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.

Where: Tara Brach on Meditation and Overcoming FOMO


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The “Dirty Little Secret” to Social Skills

Wondering what the “dirty” little secret to improving your social skills is?

It’s kind of strange, but I think I’ve figured it out. It’s improving what’s in your mind. See, what you think in your mind shows in your verbal and non-verbal cues when you’re communicating.

Think about it. Have you ever had a really crappy day at work? You finally get home and your roommate innocently asks you a simple question. Instead of answering them like a normal human being…you SNAP! You answer their question in a raised voice, making them feel silly for even asking how your day was.

How rude! (as they used to say on my fav TV show Full House). Oops, I just dated myself…

Anyways, why did you act this way? Your stressful day at work primed your brain into a frenzy. Since you didn’t mentally reset before you came home you brought that baggage with you.

You probably didn’t have the time to internalize any presence or positivity during your busy day so you ended up snapping even though your roommate did nothing wrong.

This is why I focus on tackling your inner-psychology before getting into the tactics of communication. What good does it do if you know how to start a conversation but people perceive you to be angry or standoffish? They won’t even want to talk to you in the first place!

This is where the power of the mind comes in. Today I want to share 3 Zen Principles that you can immediately use to gain some mental clarity every single day.


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