What I Learned From Tim Ferriss’s ‘Tools of Titans’
I was very late and I was very upset at myself. I had flown three thousand miles. I moved into an Airbnb right next to where Tim was staying.
I had written thousands of notes on ripped pieces of paper and stuck them all throughout the book. I had notes written up and around all the margins.
I listened to dozens of his podcasts. And I’ve known him for years. All morning I had jotted down possible questions.
And I was late to meet Tim for our podcast. Because the west coast is three hours a way in time travel from the east coast. That’s how stupid I am.
I rushed over and he was waiting. Tim follows his own advice. He was relaxed. No problems. I apologized, we spoke for awhile, and then started the podcast.
Three hours later…not even close to done but we stopped.
I want to be a better person in life.
I want to be healthier. I want to be more creative. I want to find what is hidden inside of me, dig around, unleash it. I want to find the strength to do that.
It’s not an easy to thing to do. To scrape the dirt and dust that collects inside of ourselves. To explore. To wander. To create.
Tim’s book, “Tools of the Titans” is a guidebook for doing the above. And I had a lot of questions.
A few months after I started my podcast in 2014, Tim wrote me and said, “Can I call you and ask you some questions about podcasting”.
I said sure and he called and we talked for quite awhile. He called many podcasters during this period.
Then he started his own podcast. He DOMINATED. All of his guests were amazing.
He told me he was getting so much great advice from his guests it was overwhelming. The aftermath of a hailstorm where everything is just glowing and even the air you breathe seems cleansed.
But that lasts only a short time until the atmosphere is filled with the everyday pollution of life.
So he took a month off, re-listened to all his podcasts, and just for his own use he wrote down the advice he was hearing.
“But it was too much,” he told me. “I kept writing. It was clearly a book.”
It’s not like any other book he’s written. He steps out of the way in many cases, and let’s these super-achievers do the talking.
He curates their thoughts. They had found the hidden gems inside themselves, and long ago brought them up to share with the world to achieve their successes, and now they documented them with Tim.
That’s why I flew 3000 miles. I wanted the gems. I wanted answers.
I’ve had so many ups and downs I try to quantify what works on the way up. What goes wrong on the way down.
I try to quantify: what are the steps for reinvention?
I wonder: what makes someone break out of mediocrity?
About seven months ago I threw out all of my belongings. I gave away or donated to the library about 3000 books. All of my books now are on my kindle.
None of the answers were in my things.
But now I have one physical book. Tim’s. And I plan to keep it.
Here are ten things (among many) I learned from the book and from our podcast:
A) “All I have to do is show up”
I’m impressed how Tim did his work before starting a podcast.
Starting something new is not about taking risks. Jumping into the unknown, getting out of the comfort zone, doing something scary. It’s not about bravery.
It’s the exact opposite. You can only do so many “new” things in life. So do the work beforehand.
He called people up. He learned the craft as much as he could. He talked to people ranging from me to people at Apple.
He had initial guests lined up. He had a huge launch. And he told me the other day that he is persistent at getting his guests.
One recent guest, he told me, took two years to book. Which was refreshing for me to hear since it often takes me that long or longer to book many guests.
Comedian Whitney Cummings told him: “My work is not done on the night of a big standup special. My work was done three months ago. All I have do is show up.”
Even though I was late for our podcast, I’m glad I showed up.
B) Doing is everything.
Derek Sivers told him, “If all we needed was more information, then everyone would be a billionaire with perfect abs.”
It’s the DOING that’s difficult.
I asked Tim: “there’s 700 pages of advice here. How can anyone follow everything? How do you know what will work for you?”
Just pick a few things. Pick what resonates with you. Start slowly. It doesn’t matter what you do. Just start DO-ing.
Dan Ariely once told me something similar. “If you say sorry to someone, even if you don’t mean it, even if THEY KNOW you don’t mean it, then you still have a better relationship with them a year later compared with people who never say sorry.”
DOING > THINKING.
From Morgan Spurlock, the director of “Supersize Me” and many other great documentaries.
“Don’t be afraid to show your scars”.
This is not a book about suicide. But Tim shares the time he was considering it. This is not a book about anxiety or depression. But Tim shares his battles with those demons.
This book is not just a book of advice, it’s a book of Tim’s own journey as he tries to make his life better.
In the section with Tony Robbins, Tony talks about how he wakes up every morning and writes about what he is anxious about.
I find this is very helpful. Instead of complaining to the outside world, you reveal to your inside world what it is you are scared of.
When I was talking to Susan David in another podcast, she told me how if you write down your vulnerabilities just ONCE for 20 minutes, then even up to six months later the experimental group showed less signs of stress than the control group.
Be vulnerable, write down three anxieties a day. I can’t be true to others if I’m not true to myself.
D) Morning pages
Many of Tim’s guests say the same thing.
What are morning pages?
Sit down in the morning, write in longhand three pages of garbage without stopping.
This uncages the anxious “monkey mind” and puts it on the page. It unleashes any writer’s block because you have permission to write total nonsense.
It frees the mind for the creativity it needs to do that day.
E) The double threat guide to being successful
When Tim spoke to Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, Scott told him:
“I always advise young people to become good public speakers”.
Anyone can do that, he says, with practice.
“Suddenly you’re in charge or maybe you are starting your own company. Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable.” If you are good at public speaking and one other skill, you make yourself more rare and valuable.
Before Warren Buffett made one dime of money, he took a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking.
After that, he made a dime of money. Or two.
F) Don’t be afraid to do something you’re not qualified to do
Dan Carlin, host of the super-podcast “Hardcore History” told Tim this.
Dan was not a historian, didn’t have a PhD, but was fascinated by history.
His mother(!) told him, “why don’t you do a podcast about the stories you tell here at the dinner table.”
He told his mother, but I don’t have a doctorate.”
His mother said, “I didn’t realize you had to have a doctorate to tell stories”.
And now he has the most popular history-based podcast on the planet.
Kamal Ravikant, a past and future guest on my own podcast, told Tim, “If I only did things I was qualified for I’d be pushing a broom somewhere.”
Schools, corporations, government, parents, friends, want to put you in their own boxes. They have a menu for you, with only very limited choices today.
But if you don’t choose your own themes in life, then someone else will do the choosing for you and the results won’t be as good.
G) The thousand true fan theory…EXPANDED
Kevin Kelly tells Tim, “Success need not be complicated. Just start with making 1000 people extremely extremely happy,”
Three ideas from this:
Kevin’s idea is that if they are true super fans, you will be able to build a product, charge for it, and they will pay, making you a living. Build a product that makes their lives better.
Second idea: Have direct contact with your fans. This gets rid of all the middlemen and turns your relationships into a tribe.
Third idea: Not every fan is a super fan. But the super fans will help you communicate with the other people who would be receptive to your message.
The key here being: have an important and unique message. One that helps people. One that is a vision that people can believe in.
Focus on the people who really care about what you are doing. As Seth Godin even says, “Find Ten” if you have to.
Because if It’s a good idea then ten will tell ten who will tell ten.
Book recommendation from this chapter: “Small Giants” by Bo Burlingham, about companies that choose to be the best rather than the biggest.
H) Ask dumb questions
This is a common theme throughout the book. Tony Robbins tells Tim, “We are the quality of the questions we ask.”
And both Alex Blumberg (super podcaster) and Malcolm Gladwell talk about the importance of asking dumb questions.
People sometimes criticize me for interrupting guests on my podcasts. I get it.
But the reality is: if I don’t understand something during the podcast, then when else will I get the chance to understand.
Alex Blumberg gives some good ways to start dumb questions:
“Tell me about a time when…”
“Tell me about the day when…”
“What were the exact steps that got you to….”
“Describe the conversation when…”
And then with a follow up to any answer like, “How did that make you feel?”
Tracey DiNunzio told Tim a great line which I underlined twice in the book:
“When you complain, NOBODY wants to help you”:
If you only focus what is wrong, then you will bring the people around you down.
Be a source of growth for the people around you, so that they can become a source of growth for you.
It’s the “Honda” theory. If you just bought a Honda, you will suddenly see Hondas all over the road.
If all you do is complain, you will only see the scarcity everywhere. And the abundance will leave you in the dust.
I) Don’t believe in all the self-help books
This is not quite what was said, but this is my personal takeaway.
BJ Novak, a writer from “The Office” for it’s entire run and a successful comedian told Tim, “I read the book Daily Rituals and I am demoralized by how many great people start their day early.”
Instead, BJ spends several hours getting in a good mood. Walking, playing, fooling around, reading newspapers, etc. Getting in a good mood was the surest way to get creative ideas.
He takes his own path.
BJ’s podcast recommendation: “Intelligence Squared”.
Oh! VERY important lesson from Novak. I’m always stressed that I need to publish every day.
I even asked Ice T once: if you stopped doing things, how long would it take for people to forget about you?
And he scared me when he answered almost immediately, “Six months”.
But Novak’s advice to Tim was the opposite: “Take as long as you want if you’re talented. You’ll get their attention again if you have reason to.”
J) Saying “no”
This came up as a theme in many of Tim’s podcasts (including one with me about my book, “The Power of No”).
When you are young and getting started, say “Yes” to anything. Tim was talking to super-investor Chris Sacca who said, “I’d even show up at meetings where I wasn’t invited.”
But ultimately, so many “inbound” requests come in for your time you have to say “no” to almost all of it.
Tim says: “3 to 4 mornings per week I am in “maker” mode until at least 1pm” – creativity without allowing for ANY interruptions.
– “WISDOM IS ABOUT FOLLOWING YOUR OWN ADVICE”
Sam Harris (a prior guest on my podcast as well) told Tim this.
I strongly believe this. For a few years, I was writing about my “daily practice” that I had used many times when things were at their worst for me.
Then in 2015, two really difficult things happened to me. One financial and one in my relationships.
Right away I said to myself, “OK, let’s see if this still works”.
And every night I would check the boxes: Did I improve 1% today physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
Without this, I think I would have died or spun into massive depression both times. I followed my own advice.
If you can’t do this, then no advice will work. Advice is autobiography.
After the podcast was over, Tim and I spoke for awhile. He gave me advice about my podcast. He gave me advice about my next book. He told me some of the things that didn’t make it into the book.
Tim strives to increase his creativity. To experiment with new ideas, new formats, new ways to apply his creativity.
“Try things as an experiment. Always give yourself an out. Then when something works, double down.”
I left his place and it was dark. I had spent the past week doing nothing but reading his book and preparing.
The last thing Tim suggested, “Think about what advice your future self would give you right now.”
I thought about it. I went home. Had dinner. Thought more.
This is what my 60 year old self should say if he could advise me right now:
Care deeply about the work you do today. The future will take care of itself.
Oh and, “Don’t be late.”
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(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)