What I’ve Learned from Tim Ferriss

Where to start with Tim? I can say that I wouldn’t have this website, nor would I currently be in New Zealand if it weren’t for him (and, by extension, Rolf Potts and others). Tim can go by many titles: writer, author, angel investor, startup advisor, philanthropist, tv show host, blogger, kickboxing champion, stoic, world record tango holder, podcast host, entrepreneur, a human guinea pig, student of accelerated learning, travel guru, lifestyle hacker, motivational speaker, lifelong learner – you get the idea.
This Type A freak of nature is just constantly doing, and usually doing it well. Tries startup investing – pre-seed money advisor to Uber, Facebook, Twitter, and Evernote. Writes his first book – New York Times bestselling author. Starts a podcast because he’s burned out from writing – number one rated business podcast on iTunes. It’s not that he’s naturally talented in any certain area, but he has an innate skill to dissect and study any field or activity, find commonalities in successful examples, and see it from a new perspective. He can whittle anything down to actionable insights and take only what is necessary to learn something. Some of my favorite sound bites from Tim are:
– “What would this look like if it were easy?”
– “Is this the condition that I so feared?”
– “Every day, you should be the weakest person in the room at something.”
– Talking about politics, “I have too many skeletons outside my closet, in my closet, use way too many drugs, and I’m not good at lying.”
Long Island – July 20, 1977: Tim was born premature; this caused a collapsed lung, required blood transfusions, and created a sensitivity to heat that he still has today. He grew up a small kid. In school, he embraced wrestling as his primary sport and got to a national level by the end of highschool. He studied the science of weight cutting. He sweat easily, and became skilled at losing water weight and gaining it back. Practicing the technique allowed him to manipulate weight classes. This is where he discovered his interest in analyzing various approaches to performance and realizing the benefits (and risks) of self-experimentation. In 1999, Tim won gold at the national Chinese Kickboxing Championship using the same principles. He applied similar weight cutting techniques, gaining it back the next day for the match and weighing far more than his opponents. He combined this with exploiting a technicality of pushing opponents off of the platform, and walked away with the gold after a month of training. And had several pissed off opponents I’m sure.
Tim’s high school and college life was far from painless. He traveled to Tokyo, Japan for his junior year of high school

Tim during his time at Princeton

and was the only American student in the school of 5,000. Due to a misunderstanding, he enrolled in standard high school classes instead of Japanese learning classes. Using an electronic dictionary, he translated comic books and helped teach himself Japanese. He experienced culture shock living with a Japanese family – learning that hierarchical rank applied not only to discussion and conflict, but even when using the same family bath water. He went to Princeton for neuroscience, then transferred and graduated in East Asian Studies. His senior year, however, came with several drawbacks. A combination of events caused depression, then serious contemplation and eventual planning of his own suicide - to the point where he was doing research and debating scenarios. A well-timed phone call helped him realize how selfish it was and helped him move forward. Tim recounts his entire experience in his post, “Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide”.
He tried a variety of entrepreneurial jobs and gigs around his college years. When finished at Princeton, he founded a company called Brainquicken. They sold online nutritional supplements that were designed to increase short term memory and reaction speed. It was doing well from a business standpoint, but he quickly became stressed and overworked. He took a leave of absence and traveled to Europe. He fully expected the company to do poorly while he was gone, but it didn’t. It did even better without him there – managing remotely. He was forced to consider if the notion of working 40-80 hour weeks might be overrated. This is the beginning of The 4-Hour Workweek.
His first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” (2007), was designed to optimize your life and give you control of your time. It aimed to provide you with tools and principles to maximizing your hourly output. I first discovered Tim from this book. He has since written “The 4-Hour Body” (2010), “The 4-Hour Chef” (2012), and “Tools of Titans” is being released this December (2016). It’s going to be an actionable compilation and analysis of what he’s learned from his podcast guests since he began The Tim Ferriss Show.
As of this post, Tim has 188 podcast episodes on his show, which began in 2014. I’ve listened to all them, many multiple times over and sometimes taking notes if they’re especially relatable. Even having read his 3 books, the podcasts are img_7091what have changed so many aspects of my life. While Tim is definitely at the root of it, it’s the variety of guests that he has on the show. It’s getting a real look inside the minds of people at the top of their field. It’s taking investors, scientists, millionaires and humanizing them, seeing what drives them, and getting a look into how they operate. Due to the length of the podcasts (anywhere from 20mins to 3hrs), you really get to know the person, and they open up much more after some time. Like Tim’s interests, the guests range tremendously. Actors like Kevin Costner, Jamie Foxx, Edward Norton, and Jon Favreau. Comedians like Whitney Cummings, Mike Birbiglia, and Bryan Callen. Travelers and writers like Rolf Potts and Cal Fussman. Musicians like Justin Boreta (The Glitch Mob), Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park), and Kaskade. Notable atheists like Sam Harris and Sebastian Junger. Conservative political commentator and Mormon (raised Roman Catholic) Glenn Beck. Elite YouTubers like Shay Carl and Casey Neistat. Athletes like obstacle racer Amelia Boone, WWE wrestler Triple H, the Iceman Wim Hof, and Navy Seal Jocko Willink. And Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But while the above (i.e. all) podcasts offer insightful and interesting discussions, generally the most impactful episodes for me have been the philanthropists, self-starters, and founders of companies. These to me are the real life superheroes of the world. Peter Diamandis created the Global Learning X Prize to bring literacy and education in a cost effective way to countries in need. With the help of others, he pooled fellow entrepreneurs to build a universal piece of software on a tablet that can be distributed in third world countries where there are no structured forms of education to teach literacy and foundational learning in the forms of reading, writing, and numeracy. Nicholas Negroponte, who created the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child, aims to deliver education to developing nations. Tony Robbins is working on open source software to bring shared knowledge to everyone that would like access to it. Meaning the same resources taught at MIT can be shared with someone in Africa. He’s focusing on growing people, educating them, and making them truly happy through personal progress to reduce crime, hate, and apathy in the world by bringing fundamental resources to everyone. These guys are truly looking at long term solutions in the world that many people believe are too big to solve, or that aren’t their problem. It’s easy to ignore these issues or simply declare that they’re out of your reach, but guys like this are determined to make a real difference in the world they live in.
This is the weight these podcasts carry. I didn’t know any of that a year ago. Now I actively follow these guys and what they’re doing. Tim brought all of that into the public by transitioning to podcasting as a break between books. He also has had many conversations that he's suddenly thought "Why isn't anyone recording this?". What I enjoy about the variety of guests is that it gets listeners out of their 12352685664_fa18d9a246preferred comfort zone. Tim says that if someone can appreciate every 5th podcast he does, then he’s reaching his audience. But the array of information that comes from listening to guests that you wouldn’t think you’d like is profound. Dom D’Agostino had a 2 hour discussion about the ketogenic diet. I have no interest in that, but he’s a brilliant assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology, so I gave it a try. I learned about fasting, BCAAs, how cancer is being fought with ketones, and started eating sardines. It’s the expert knowledge and actionable advice these people have that make the podcasts so appealing. Tim is able to ask the right questions and make guests feel comfortable, allowing for excellent listening material that you can always be gaining something from.
Earlier this year Tim was called out by Seth Godin while on his podcast about his ultimate goal – what Seth called “the secret plan of Tim Ferriss”. He suggested that Tim has constructed a sort of structured plan for his audience, that they would follow and grow from organically. Tim became famous with the 4-Hour Workweek. The book got people in the door with usable tips and strategies geared towards lifestyle design, and if applied would give you more time in the day. He built on this, with his following two books disguised as a workout book and a cook book on the surface; but they’re teaching you meta-learning, a way of accelerated learning and adaptability that’s transferable to anything in life. Then the podcasts came along, and with the plethora of different guests you become more fit in every area – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Seth noted, “it’s not the easy path, but the path that’s important”. Tim admitted to having something like that in his mind and followed with “the question is once you have more of this resource called time and have sharpened your axe, where do you apply your effort?”
Final thoughts
Between his podcast, website, speaking events, interviews, and books, Tim’s taught me more than I can hope to list here. In the hopes of keeping this relatively short, I’ll try and wrap it up for now. I will likely do a round 2 with this sometime, when I’m not trying to push out initial content out for the site. Here are some things Tim exudes constantly that I’ve learned:
– Have an open mind about the people around you and the things they do.
– Don’t think along the lines of conventional wisdom.
– The dogma “that’s the way it’s done” should never be blindly accepted.
– You’re never too far along in life to learn new things.
– Never hesitate to take a step back and alter course.
– You have to be willing to fail to improve.
– Ask the right questions.
I strongly encourage anyone that’s read this far to give Tim’s books or podcasts a try. If you’re feeling lethargic, his upcoming book in December will distill what he’s learned from all of his guests so far – put into actionable thoughts and advice. The podcasts can be listened to while doing anything, and with such a variety of guests to choose from you’re likely to find some that match your interests.
Bonus: some random things I’ve learned/discovered through Tim:
– Stoicism
– Yerba mate (I use with H2Yerba, the only quick/easy method I've found)
– Wealthfront
– Sardines
– Headspace
– A vast amount of books worth reading
– How to view decisions and opportunities, all in or nothing
– Listening to one song on repeat to zone in on a task
– Time is your most valuable resource
– Cold showers
– Workouts for on the road
– Breathwork
Check Tim out:
Podcast (also on iTunes and Spotify)
Personal book reviews: