The Practicality of Pessimism: Stoicism as a Productivity System

This is a recent 5-minute presentation I gave at Google I/O Ignite called “The Practicality of Pessimism: Stoicism as a Productivity System.”

In it, I discuss the two most effective productivity techniques I’ve found since 2004, both borrowed from Stoicism. I include personal usage examples, as well as several from Seneca and Cato. The audio is quite low, so you’ll need to up the volume.

Ponder this: could defining your fears be more important than defining your goals?

Suggested and related posts:

Fireside Chat at Google with Timothy Ferriss

The Secrets of Super-Productive CEOs – QA with Timothy Ferriss (Inc. Magazine)

Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

On The Shortness of Life: An Introduction to Seneca

Stoicism for Modern Stresses: 5 Lessons from Cato

For those who’d like to taste the various approaches to this format, here are all of the Ignite videos in one uncut sequence. There are some outstanding speakers:

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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130 Replies to “The Practicality of Pessimism: Stoicism as a Productivity System”

  1. Hey Tim –

    Moving video and excellent points you made – yes, as I moved forward in business, I’ve developed a greater understanding of stoicism –

    The comparison between business and war is made often – and I think stoicism grows as a result of the advancement in both –

  2. Downloading now via

    …this is going to kill the rest of my internet usage for this cycle. Argh.

  3. Good Stuff Tim! When people learn to identify their fears, not only are they not as scary, but it seems that they can do just about anything.

  4. Great points, Tim! It’s amazing what we as people can do when we throw all the “buts” and “what ifs” out the window! Thanks for the video, would love to see more of these!

  5. Reminds me of when I tell people I’m going to make another trip somewhere overseas, other than typical European hotspots. They always say, “Why would you ever want to go there?” and I respond with a simple, “..why not?” then share with them why things are worth doing, just for the experience of having done so.

  6. Defining your fears has a lot to do with getting out of your comfort zone, which I believe is required for accomplishing anything extraordinary.

    Good talk. I like the brevity.


  7. I think Tim’s exercise in defining your worst fears can be cathartic. Dale Carnegie also recommended in his book, “How to Stop Worrying and to Start Living”, that people consider listing out all their worst fears because it’s the fear of the unknown that worries us more than fear of what is known.

    Useful tips!

  8. Very interesting talk Tim. I like the approach of defining or focusing on what is holding you back instead of that “pie in the sky” goal approach.

    I still think it’s important to have goals and work towards them daily, but in defining our fears we can define what it is that is holding us back.

    Thanks for the thoughts..

  9. The presentation was brilliant as always and I saw that you started using Apture on your blog so I decided to try it out, and it’s really neat. Makes it much easier to add media and external content to my posts. 🙂

  10. Tim,

    An eloquent, impacting 5 minutes.

    Interestingly, defining your fears is also an exercise in defining your goals. Often what we fear leads us to what we need to conquer. And more often, what we want to conquer has not been conquered because of fear.

    But what I get from your short speech is that the focus on fear will actually often times motivate us more than our whimsical goals.

    Sometimes we just need to be proactive, even if we don’t know what the end result is going to be. Sometimes knowing that things aren’t going the way they should be (despite not knowing what ‘should be’ actually is) is good enough for some serious consideration.

    Wondering if you have read other ancient philosophy. Beyond the stoics, I really enjoy Epicurus and Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics).

    Recommend you to others every day. Hope to make a similar impact.


  11. Great job, we are so often pushed to set goals we don’t look anywhere else… looking at my fears have allowed me to set paths and opportunities that may have never been present.

  12. Makes me think of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita rendered paralyzed by turmoil on the ‘field of sacred duty’ when faced with the reality of going to war against his kinsmen. Krishna reveals to him that inaction is never an option, we just delude ourselves into believing it is. Rather than speaking to a fear of how the world will impact oneself as you’ve referenced above, Arjuna’s fears center around how he will impact the world. Interesting distinction, perhaps.

  13. Question, this technique of “negative visualization” would it be practical to use when you are stuck in a “friend zone” with the opposite sex? Should escalation be made if there are indicators of interest and should I “visualize” the worst case scenario which in this case would be losing a good friend?

  14. No doubt, the fear of failing can hold you back.

    But the fear of regret, of wishing you had done something, and of looking at what your life will be like if you DON’T do something, can be very motivating.

  15. Tim,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been “accused” of ignoring fears on my blog, but the opposite is exactly true. It is only through defining our fears that we are able to take away their power. It’s a little like seeing the man behind the curtain in the Emerald City.

    Once you know what’s behind it, it no longer holds power over you. I understand the connection to Stoicism, but I guess I tend to frame it in more positive language than perhaps true stoics would use. But who wants to get caught up in semantics, right?

    Thanks for the great insight. Still reading (on my third read-through) of your book. I get more and more out of it every time I do.

  16. Hi Tim,

    Just FYI, the bottom two links under “Suggested and related posts:” are broken. I think you’ll need to add http:// to the front of them.

    Cheers, Tim

  17. Interesting point of view. I consider that defining the goals is more important than defining the fears. But on the other hand it’s more important to defeat the fears because after that is much more easier to archive the goals. :Of course this is only my opinion.

  18. indeed, fear keeps us from reaching our goals and one must try to understand, cope with and fight it. however there is a fine line in defying fear with courage and blunt stupidity. may the Force be with you 🙂

  19. Tim,

    Great talk!

    In case you’re giving it again, please consider:

    In the last line, instead of “before trying to define your goals, try to define your fears”, it would make more sense to me to say:

    “if you find your not moving towards your goals, try defining your fears”

    Keep up the good work!

  20. I’ve always thought there’s 2 types of motivation, the one where you move towards what you want and the other that moves away what you don’t want. Normally they both take you to the same place and neither is ‘wrong’ but I tend to find moving to what you want is a little bit faster ^^

  21. Hey Tim-

    This is like putting your dreamline on steroids! Great take away’s from this event. Evaluate whether or not your goals are clearly defined and actionable all the while using ‘facing your fears as a guide’. Did I get it right? Thanks again.


  22. Dear Tim!

    Good job. Its a pleausure to see you persistently communicating great ideas to the world .

    Why do you call it pessimism? If i fight my fears it means (at least for me) that I just expand my comfort zone (as people call it now). I have less fears means a have more freedom and fun, and less pessimism, more selfesteem and so so on.

    I guess you call it pessimism since its related to reevaluting things like death and so on.

    Still, i think the point is to reach optimism through eliminating-managing wrongly installed fears.


  23. Excellent. I’ve felt for a while that pessimism gets a lot of bad press. Avoiding the negative creates just as many problems as dwelling on it in an unproductive manner. There are times when pessimism is actually useful. Even lifesaving.

    Martin E.P. Seligman’s has done extensive research in this area. His books “Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness” are quite good.

  24. I liked it. Proves that you don’t need a lot of time to get a strong point across. Hopefully the college prof’s are watching.

    Well thought out and researched. “Inoculate” yourself against your biggest fears.

  25. Great post! Confronting your fears rather than letting them fester and hold you back can be so powerful.

    Your message brings to mind the scene from “Milk” when Harvey Milk gets a really nasty death threat letter and decides to put it up on his refrigerator. He says “If you put it away, hide it in a drawer, it’ll just get bigger and scarier. Now it’s there. We’ll see it every day. It can’t get us.”

    Stoicism holds so much potential for practical application, from politics to, as you’ve pointed out so well in past posts, entrepreneurship.

    Thanks for the great food for thought, and keep it comin’.

  26. You’ve become a really great public speaker!

    Quick story: Recently I was miserable in many aspects of life. I one day literally got up from my job and ran (not walked) out. I went straight to the book store, saw the Four Hour Work Week and bought it out of some sort of impulse (I’d never heard of it before). I read it in one sitting and never went back to that job. Now I’m married, a type 1 diabetic 35 weeks pregnant with twins (something they told me I couldn’t do safely), starting my own business, writing a book, and I’m happier than ever taking risks I was previously too scared of taking.

    Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. Luckily for me it has made all the difference. Great post!

  27. Tim

    The update has come at the right time. Focus on my fears define them and face them. It seems your talk really deals with our emotional health around perceive risk. The emotional baggage we perceive will happen does not always materialize.



    calgary ab

  28. “someone might spit on my head while walking past an apartment building” …classic. Don’t remember you quoting Seneca in 4HWW, but that line sticks with me constantly.

    Morgan Spurlock (Supersize me)did a similar life experiment (not the philosophical, etheric, internal discussion – just the guts of it) that hit home with me on his show ’30 days’, where he lived on minimum wage (you can see it on if you like).

    Tim, you two lads should hook up…don’t know many others as committed to lifestyle design/experimentation.

  29. Thanks Tim, this was an interesting way to look at things. I always believed that it’s best to chase your goals rather than run from fears – but you’re right, the easiest way to avoid fears is to face them, leaving you free to chase your goals.

  30. Very insightful content…as usual.

    I did have trouble hearing parts of the video on my laptop but the volume was better when I plugged in headphones.

    I resolve that by the end of June, I will deliberately position myself to come face-to-face with one of my fears. It’s one thing to have a goal and say, “I’m trying to achieve it.” when in fact I am not trying as hard as I should. Facing the fear of not achieving the goal, puts things in a whole new light. I can’t procrastinate anymore.

    Thanks Tim for the kick in the butt!


  31. Insightful post….as usual.

    Just received a call that a friend had emergency surgery for a brain tumor yesterday.

    Will put your suggestions into action.


  32. Tim – I just read your book yesterday and found it inspiring & energizing. Loved the anti-materialism, find-your-bliss throughline. And especially appreciate all the resources listed. I’ve already made use of them.

    Couldn’t help but wonder, since it was published in ’07 before the shinola hit the fan on the housing bubble, if it has become more difficult for aspiring NR’s to develop outsourced companies?

    Some say that the U.S. is in for a difficult time because we’ve become a nation that doesn’t MAKE anything — a society of consumers.

    Some even say this isn’t recession or depression, but phase 1 of Empire Collapse. (Dmitri Orlov calls our current situation the “Empire Collapse Soup” and lists 5 underlyling conditions in our country that parallel the USSR before its downfall.) — In a way, reading these worst case scenarios might be akin to facing one’s worst fears, a kind of negative visualization?

    Does stoicism work in an objective reality situation, or is it only helpful on a personal level, where the fears are largely in one’s head and not resulting from bumping up against the reality of, say, global warming, or peak oil?

    The prediction by the peak oil pessimists that gas prices would rise again by this summer is coming true. First time around, worldwide peak oil production and attendant high prices took out the banking and car industries. Who knows which industries will be targeted on the next oil price spike.

    Am I mistaken in thinking that the conditions of our peak economy were necessary to create the ideal environment for NRs? Couldn’t help but wonder if office workers will find their ability to negotiate working from home reduced by a wounded economy? Seems like a lot of those jobs that they could have outsourced to Bangalor will be disappearing fast.

    There will probably be a whole new category of business that will emerge that isn’t based on B.S., paper transactions, debt swaps, but on actual goods that satisfy real needs for people who have a whole lot less money than they used to — and very little credit. Seems like that would cut out the middle-men, and bring the world back to a more local economy, which means the aspiring NR’s may have to produce real goods after all, not just job them out. It does seem as though the era of becoming rich by doing little, or something ephemeral, or non-essential may be over. The end of the economic ponzi scheme and return to a natural resource-based world, our true gold standard.

    I wonder if a positive outlook that this is all going to turn around and we’re going to get back to a growth economy is really so positive — or just fooling ourselves. It seems like the underlying message of negative visualization is that one’s fears are unreal bogeymen who are neutralized by careful examination. Does it work when there’s a real bogeyman outside the door?


    I read many books from many different perspectives, and would love to hear what your take is on the current situation and our most urgent crises/opportunities: economic, climate, energy. I’m certain if someone is able to think out of the box with a completely different perspective on where we’re headed, it’s you.



    1. @Kristina and all,

      Thanks very much for the comments. I will be addressing how 4HWW fits into the current economy in the preface to the new edition. That said, it’s good to reflect on how Microsoft, Apple, ClifBar, Facebook, and hundreds of other household name brands — the game Monopoly is another example — all started in recessions.

      Keep the faith and good luck!


  33. First, thanks in part to your inspiration (4HWW) and my determination to work less and live more, I am leaving the rat-pack and going out on my own, business-wise. To that end, I hired a business coach and this is EXACTLY what she has me working on. And do you know what I discovered? My biggest fear?


    Not the spending money part. Just everything else. The absolute fear of the unknown of success is paralyzing me more than the fear of failure & poverty. She is working with me on defining my vision of success so that I can accept that it will still be me, not some unknown entity.

  34. I sometimes think I’ve grown a little to accustomed to stoicism… 🙂

    The bit about fears in pretty interesting. Sitting here for a second, I’ve just thought of a couple decision that I could apply the columns to. Shall give it a shot.

    Off-topic: Why don’t you allow comments on YouTube videos? Too many knuckleheads? Now time to watch the Kevin Rose video.

  35. Tim’s approach to facing fear is especially helpful in these uncertain times

    + for women as research shows we tend to worry more and often about the wrong things, as Gavin deBecker wrote in The Gift of Fear.

    This approach is akin to the successful form of therapy to inoculate the returning soldiers from the unhealthy reactions to the stimuli at home that can seem like the signs of danger when they were in dangerous situations.

  36. While I was trying to figure out a way to watch this video at work (blocked) I came across your “Capoeira Fighter Knockout” on YouTube and thought it would be a great post on keeping things simple.

  37. Tim,

    What a wonderful post – thank-you for sharing. On point number two “practicing” I thought of the author of “Supersize Me” (Gordon Spurlock) and hs series 30 days. More specifically, the episode when he and his girlfriend tried living in Columbus, Ohio on minimum wage for 30 days.

    Fear holds us back…ever tried jumping from a airplane? The only thing keeping you from enjoying the rush and excitement is fear (that is…if you ever wanted to try parachuting).

    Stoicism is new to me yet I have found a greater sense of contentment since I have been trying to learn the philosophy. Thank-you for exposing me to stoicism too!

    Great blog, great post,


  38. Awesome job as always Tim!!

    I’m constantly impressed with your ability add new posts that directly correlate with what I’ve been thinking at that time. Love the concept of defining your fears in order to objectify them in an effort to eliminate them.

    Its interesting to think that fear was the biological drive keeping humans alive until the point where we have transcended many of nature’s natural dangers and this same biological fear is now whats holding back our progress and potential.

    Keep up the great work Tim!

  39. POWERFUL VIDEO. I love your systematic approach to removing fear.

    I’ve found that visualizing best, worst, and even humorous scenarios helps in the desensitization process.

    Thanks for sharing!

  40. unbelievable – i’ve never heard of the technique described (even though I’ve heard of seneca thanks to 4yrs of Latin). But this technique is EXACTLY what I used a few months ago and I have never been better positioned to achieve my long term goals.

    fascinating to hear where that technique came from. also, a great smooth presentation.

  41. Hey, cool talk Tim. It’s true that a lot of the stuff I worry about if it does happen doesn’t really matter that much.

    It’s the unexpected stuff that broadsides you in the middle of the night (so to speak) that really has an impact.

    Hey- are you following in the footsteps of Cato by wearing the red pants? 🙂

    Just kidding. Great speech.

  42. Hey Tim,

    You started a trend! In the latest City Journal, which is a great magazine and you ought to read it anyway, Alaon de Bottom has a short article on Seneca, “The Consolations of Pessimism,” and why we should always keep the possibility of catastrophe in mind.

    Also, while I’m at it, Virginia Postrel wrote some years ago in The Future and Its Enemies that Eastern Americans deal with the possibility of disaster by anticipation, because their great fears are hurricanes, tornadoes, similar disasters which you can see coming; whereas because we Californians face earthquakes, which arrive instantaneously, we deal with disaster by resilience. She’s a writer you should like, too.

  43. For those without strong speakers, I was able to finally get the video audible by the following method:

    Download video to harddrive via any youtube download service

    Convert to mp3 (I used’s beta desktop service; the web version kept failing)

    Use Winamp’s equalizer to boost audio 2-4x. (remember to hit small “on” toggle)

    I then manually synced the sound and video between FLVplayer and winamp.

    A lot of work – would’ve been much easier on my linux box! Actually maybe VLC player windows has the same 2x volume boost for windows as linux… I’ll know in 6 minutes.

  44. Ok, so I learned this today from someone at the Apple store in Plano, Tx. I always want to upload the YouTube videos to my ipod or download them so I can watch them on my laptop when I am flying. I am sure many know about this already but for those who don’t here it is:

    1. Type pwn in the url before the y in youtube and hit enter, you will be directed to another site.

    2. In the box, click download high video quality MP4 file, it will start converting this immediately.

    3.Once it is downloaded click the gray button that appears where your downloads are. When that window opens drag it to the desk top & then place it in your itunes.

    4. Done, Now you can watch it on your ipod, iphone, or laptop.


    Jose- Dallas

  45. Hey Tim,

    No, I don’t think my fears will be more important than defining my goals. Defining my fears are as imperative as defining my goals. Read my previous comment on your last post, I touched on this topic and made a recommendation.

    You bring up a good point; incorporate the notion of defining fears to be as essential as defining goals. It’s a mental thing and visualization is a key point as well. It’s vital to test our “Cant’s” and adopt a scientific attitude towards self defeating predictions towards things/circumstances/people.

    One should put their pessimistic thoughts to the test in order to discover the legitimacy of reality.

    Tim, now….who says you can’t score a date with me?! ? 🙂 It’s All good.


    p.s. you’re looking excellent- Keep it up. By the way, I am very fond of that Mark Twain quote, great call.

  46. Ahoy Tim,

    You say, [i]”could defining your fears be more important than defining your goals.”[/i]

    I am very curious to hear your thoughts on this. Me, personally, have ALWAYS felt it more important to focus on the goal and not the obstacles in one’s path (fears).

    Please share…..

    Your living on a sailboat friend, Rob

  47. Tim,

    Another thing Seneca advocated that I find tremendously useful is the notion of past fatalism, the idea to not let the past upset us because it has already played out. As with negative visualization, the Stoics advocated actually setting aside time to reflect on the stupid sh*t you did, with the idea being that doing so would make you less likely to repeat it.

    I think the thing that amazes me the most about Stoicism–forgetting the fact that its usefulness is self-evident–is the fact that most of it is SO SIMPLE and yet none of it is common sense: Actually integrating it into one’s personal philosophy takes effort. (But then again I don’t think the Stoics would argue with that.)

    Great talk. Concise and to the point.

  48. Fear Is Mans Best Friend- John Cale

    I think fear keeps most people in their comfort zone, it paralyzes and protects.

  49. Excellent post! Fear and Stress are my 2 biggest enemies – and they’re related. You inspire me – keep up the good work!

  50. It is fascinating to me how everyone interprets the posts. Some question if you should let goals override the fears which is the more common approach, which is effective – – others agree with you in defining the fears and realizing that their effects are minimal to nothing in the long run. Both methods are doing the exact same thing, it doesn’t matter! Pick a method or create something for yourself and just run with it.

    Whatever the method – let’s all go after what moves us and LIVE our lives. Thanks Tim

  51. I do recall participating in an activity like this with Tony Robbins, but it also included a visualization portion where the fearful image was weakened (color faded, made smaller and blurrier) and the positive, goal-based image of the outcome was gradually increased. I have shared that technique with a few of my students… not quite sure if it works when you’re not walking across hot coals…

  52. @Kristina-great comment! Got me pondering even more!

    Yes, the ample evidence to the ravenous consumption of Americans is a bit concerning. Is that our downfall? I don’t believe it HAS to be-because within every great problem is the seed of its solution. I know and have been witness to time and time again, as have we all, the intense spirit of American INNOVATION and creation. American’s seem innately adept at tapping into and expressing a massive amount of CREATIVITY which is the opposite of consumption. And the generosity with which we extend what we create is astounding-both globally and nationally.

    So, are we fooling ourselves into hoping and working towards the bright and more joyous future of less work and more time to LIVE? No, I do not think so-that is if we see this current state as a “test” rather than a “doom”.

    One of the not so surprising truths of the matter (especially for those of us who are monitoring the pulse of inspired business) is we are even more hungry for and more able to digest information that will SUSTAIN us-information systems and programs that inspire and instruct us to create our own business’s and organizations are EXTREMELY hot right now as people know full well how working for the collective “man” is not a guarantee. In fact placing our security in the hands of non-human entities such as corporations has proven to be extremely dangerous as benefits fall away and the loyal service we provide for years is not even factored in to achieving “the bottom line”.

    Consider also this “recession” is doing a nice job of trimming the fat-people are actually ENJOYING living with less and creating lifestyles that incorporate this sort of “limited palette” method of thinking.

    I consider the current state of affairs in the world to have brought us to a crossroads. Directly behind us are the ideas of information and the selling and marketing of “intangibles” and all the enthusiasm surrounding the birth of that. Further behind us are foundations of industry and capitalism and the energetic creation and accrual of materials and objects. We cannot move forward on the heady fumes of ideas alone-we all require some real fuel first. But fewer and fewer of us, having tasted the concept of liberating ourselves from the tired out mode of 40+hours a week understand that rooting our lives back into that tradition will no sustain us in the long run.

    A human can survive with just the tangibles of real products and services-food, water, shelter, etc. etc.

    A human can not survive on idea alone.

    Yet neither can a human THRIVE without idea and inspiring information, because it is inspired ideas that compel us to ACT and change our behaviors, grow, and create BETTER services, products, and face our challenges with strength and courage.

    Afterall the s**t frequently hits the fan and has been doing so for CENTURIES.

    I say Tim’s inspired IDEA of defining fear CAN be applied to even the greater surrounding reality, not just within the intimacy of an individual’s own lifestyle. And those that are up to the challenge of facing those world fears are well on the path to creating AMAZING services for the betterment of the entire planet. (*Tim alone has already provided ample evidence of this 🙂 in his awesomeness).

    @Tim, I think it’s AWESOME you are addressing this concern within the preface of 4HWW’s new edition. Though I do feel the book already housed the spirit of that philosophy when it came out-so my copy from a couple years ago is still wonderfully “current” 🙂

  53. Brilliantly thought out. Brilliantly delivered. Timed exquisitely without hesitation.

    Here are 2 papers (distribution unlimited) derived from speeches given by by Vice Admiral James Stockton on Epictetus and stoicism and how he survived and thrived 7.5 years of torture and captivity as the highest ranking officer held by the North Vietnamese

    Well worth the reading.

  54. Hey Time, would be great to have more videos like this, but even more informal….where you share some of the things that you are “testing out” right now to help you live a more fulfilling lifestyle.

    These could be as much about technology stuff as psychology, time mgmt approaches, dietary or exercise programs…anything.

    Also, I’m as much interested in the things that ARE working for you as the things that you’ve tried and just are NOT working!

  55. Took your advice on reading it in the morning, I find that it helps you mentally prepare for the unexpected events in your daily life.

    Have an awesome week!

    – Jose

  56. Thanks for the very enlightening post. I’ve often asked myself “what’s the worst that can happen?” when facing an unknown or unexpected circumstance and trying to decide how to proceed. If I’m taking a risk and can live with the worst possible scenario, then moving forward with no regrets is so much simpler.

    I also like the concept of exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations ever so often. It does reduce my sensitivity to losing my “comforts” at some point.

    Great job explaining how we can be more proactive in planning for the unknown.


  57. Hey Tim,

    Welcome to Salt Lake! I felt the increase of The Force when you got here. I don’t know if you meet up with your fans when you come to town, but I’d love to invite you to breakfast or lunch in SLC if you have the time and want to meet a local who thinks you’re great. Also would love to help you continue your education in all things LDS while you are in Zion. Let me know.

  58. Hi Tim,

    I’ve seen others talk about Negative Visualization before but not in the same way that you have described it.

    I’m going to give it a test on a new project I’ve decided to start.


  59. Timothy Ferris,

    I don’t know you well enough (at all….save for following you on the internet and your book) to call you Tim, but you don’t seem like a Mr. Ferris kind of guy so I went with the full name. 🙂

    I’ll try to keep my question short, and it’s something I’ve wondered about for years, so I really hope you can take a shot at it for me from your perspective and I bet it could be interesting to other people as well.

    I read the majority of your book (still in process of reading – done soon – it’s great) and as I read I keep consistently wondering one reoccurring thought in particular. Throughout my life, there have been many ups and downs, successes and failures, good decisions and bad ones, etc. However, throughout this roller coaster ride, I have (surprising but true) generally felt about the same amount happy overall. I always feel as if I live in a somewhat relative world – where when very good things happen then bad things affect me more intensely, but conversely when extremely bad things happen I can much more easily recover with things that I wouldn’t have considered to be good at all before the bad thing happened.

    Keeping this in mind, you speak in your book of creating a life style where you are significantly happier than you used to be in your old lifestyle. So I wonder, do you now feel like the things you do are not measured on a relative scale, and that you are almost always happy and/or on average significantly happier (again, on a relative scale from your current perspective measured against a relative scale from your past perspective) than you used to be?

    I’ll also mention I think it’s horrible to believe that everything is perfectly relative (and I certainly don’t), as that would stop all advancement and be very bad for us as a species. However, I can’t help but see hints of it in my every day life.

    I’ll leave it at that for now. Hope you can help me out by letting me know what you think – I would appreciate it a lot.

    Looking forward to a response from Timothy Ferris or anyone else who is interested in this topic on the blog,


    P.S. Also, please feel free to respond my E-Mail if you have any interest at all in briefly (of course in an efficient and effective manner 😉 ) discussing this matter.

    1. @Tony,

      Thanks for the comment! As much as I dislike the word “happiness” (you’ll see this at the end of the book), I would unequivocally state that I am much happier most of the time vs. prior to 2004. That said, I think we all experience some level of “hedonic adaptation”, where once we get what we want, we acquire new needs that create that kinetic forward wanting. It’s not always a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware of it.

      Hope that helps!


  60. Very cool. I got to thinkin though: Say the big ole “universe” is actually responsive to us-how does one practice visualizing these worst case scenarios WITHOUT gettin a universal slap in the face? Does the very nature of doing the positive action instead negate the funky vision? Also I wonder minds that aren’t so healthy should maybe get into this with baby steps so as to not freak out. You seem to really maximize your thoughts by way of transformative positive action-others may not be so…uh…groovy of mind 🙂 as it were.

    I personally am doing this more by the way-I find shining a light on the ridiculousness of my worst fears to be very freeing.

    Know the name of a thing and you can control it.

  61. Hmmmmm….. I have actually lived my worst fear—being incapacitated to a certain degree in a torturous state of physical and mental pain due to illness that I could not identify/remedy and therefore had to endure for an extended period of time (years!). Because of the mental component of the illness, I did not have the wherewithal to truly overcome it mentally/spiritually, as the writer of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly managed to a great degree. I just flat out had to endure varying levels of torture until I got an accurate diagnosis and healed enough to not have those symptoms. I can honestly say, suicide seemed a viable option, and I have seen deep dark places no human should ever have to confront.

    I had lost insurance and was bankrupt from chasing misdiagnoses, and if my family had not been willing/able to help, I would have been left in that state of hell because insurance/gov’t agencies do not recognize Lyme for the full reality that it and it’s treatment encompass (as an aside: go to or pick up “Cure Unknown” if anyone cares to learn more. Part of my desire in posting this is to raise awareness of this under-recognised and serious epidemic. You might someday save your own hide or that of someone else in your life if you fully understand Lyme and the political situation driving the suppression of full knowledge about it).

    So really, incapacitated in pain indefintely with absolutely no resources is my absolute greatest fear. Very thankful I was not quite in that circumstance.

    My tenacity is really all that got me through: the hardheadedness of a beagle on steriods. However, my interest in certain risk taking now is nil. Gone is the willingness to pursue the arts instead of money as I have no intention of remaining this impoverished in the event more health disaster strikes.

    Although I am a bit sad still about this state of affairs as I am an idealist, my problem-solving to avert this scenario is: the 4 hour workweek 🙂 .

    I am very much hoping that if I successfully implement your strategies, I will be able to create both financial security and time/resources to continue with my creative projects.

    So, thanks again for that book, and this post, although frankly, meditating on that worst case scenario given the experience of having lived it still provokes some nasty terror. I think I’ll skip the ruminating on it and just get to work!

  62. @Tony,

    I agree with Tim’s theory of “hedonic adaptation.” I know every time I reach a personal, professional or financial goal I immediately think about the next challenge and never truly enjoy a moment of success.

    Perhaps I should keep a “success log” so I can refer to it any time I feel bummed out. How does that sound?

  63. This is so true even in physical fitness! I broke through a fitness barrier when I realized my “fear of failure” was holding me back with weight lifting!

    Subconsciously, I would always pick up a weight I KNEW I could complete at least 12 reps with, which I did, but if I kept going, I really could have done 40 reps, which is not effective.

    My husband helped me “face my fear of failure” and choose a weight I could barely do 8 reps with, and it was OK when he had to help me with the last rep! It was actually good!

    Who knew – you could work up as good of a sweat stressing your muscles via weight lifting as you can doing cardio!

    Thanks Tim!

  64. holy crap Tim is in SLC? whoa! I had no idea! hope the weather stays nice 🙂 today was good. going to check out any of the local landscape? I’m going South in a few days-Red Rock-which is WAAAAY more chill than Moab and just as amazing and beautiful. good time too-just before it gets sweltering.

  65. Oh I see…24hrs of SLC-ness. Interesting. Anyhoooo-I wanted to express my gratitude for the “manage your subscriptions” feature as part of your email subscription. Damn handy! I LOVE being able to choose what comment posts I want to keep up to date on. Thanks so much Tim! Controlling my content is soooo wonderful these days.

  66. @ Derek…. very true. I read something very congruent to this on page 140 in Seneca ..Letters from a Stoic… ” ….any plans for the future are dependent on the past.” I thought this might have some relevance. ; ) I think we as humans keep wanting to achieve another level but perhaps we should look at the past as a sort of compass.


    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  67. Hi guys,

    Really good post Timothy Ferris!

    Although you had some of this in your book, I would like to read more about your thoughts on this subject in the futures.

    I have been doing just what you said in the video for some time now, and I would like to leave a brief passage of my thoughts on it.

    The most common thing I see is confusion between goal setting and fear naming (and by the same token, dream naming).

    Setting up a goal of “having 1 million in your bank account”, is not a very good goal, however it is a good dream. Goals should be something that you can act upon, such as “starting a company to attain financial freedom”

    I believe that fear naming and goal setting are of equal importance as one should always complement the other.

    I like the metaphor where we compare life to a journey so that’s what I’m using.

    In our metaphor we would have something like:

    naming one’s fear and dreams as knowing where one wants’ to go.

    goal setting as one’s plan to get there

    action as one’s journey

    So naming our fears and dreams would help direct our goals to what’s really important.

    We also have a tendency of overestimating our fears and overshooting our dreams. Sometimes making us do a ridiculous amount of work to avoid a little pain and trying to obtain stuff that doesn’t really make us that much “happier”.

    Onto fear naming, I think the video hit’s the spot, right on.

    Then to dream naming, it is in the lines of fear naming however one should always avoid the mistake of adopting other peoples dreams, nor be afraid of trying to experimenting different things, and finally always remembering that we don’t enjoy things, we enjoy the experience those things bring us (right from the book =P ).

    In brief, goal setting, naming our fears and dreams and the action, it all have their place and moment.

  68. Tim,

    Wonderful posts on Seneca’s philosophies over the last month. Its been fulfilling to me personally.

    I was listening to this speech by the Dalai Lama at Berkeley, and thought you would like his answer to the last question @ 1:26:20 [its less than four minutes long].

    Sounds like something you would say, your Holiness. 🙂


    Did someone already win the trip around the world? If not, I know what to do.

    Thanks for your great inspiration,


  70. Nice talk.

    Tip: Never put text or quotes on your slides that you don’t read aloud or even mention. People will read and take notes instead of listening to you.