The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne

This is a guest post by Ryan Holiday.

At age 21, Ryan became Director of Marketing at American Apparel, the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States. He gets more done than five average people combined, and practical philosophies help to make it possible. His previous post, entitled Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs, has nearly 300 comments.

In this post, Ryan introduces another of his guiding mentors, the fascinating (and practical) Michel de Montaigne…

Enter Ryan Holiday

In late 1569, Michel de Montaigne was given up as dead after being flung from a galloping horse.

As his friends carried his limp and bloodied body home, he watched life slip away from his physical self, not traumatically but almost flimsily, like some dancing spirit on the “tip of his lips,” and then return. This sublime experience marked the moment Montaigne began a uniquely playful relationship with his existence and was a sense clarity and euphoria about life that he carried with him from that point forwards. Shortly thereafter he took a bold step, retiring from a promising public career—retired to himself, so to speak—and made self-study his official occupation.

Maybe you don’t know anything about this man, Montaigne; perhaps you know him as the bane of your high school existence for inventing the word “essay.” What I’d like to do in this piece is tell you a bit more about him and hopefully remove him from the realm of people-from-history-you-don’t-care-about and place him in his proper context: as our greatest philosopher of life. And Montaigne was a philosopher in the truest sense; he studied life and how we can wring all that we can from the short bit of time each of us is given. Philosophy can seem boring—truthfully, most of it is—but Montaigne is not only incredibly accessible; just a brush with his brand of thinking can change our lives.

Montaigne’s famous collection of essays ruminates on diverse topics, covering everything from South American cannibalism and animal cognition to Seneca and death. The topics he chose to write about were just jumping-off points, exercises to practice thinking and to discover thoughts he didn’t know that he had. His brand of ceaseless curiosity and self-reflection is something we can learn much from, starting by internalizing his biggest breakthrough.

The Big Idea: Ourselves As A Job

It is easy to become detached from what we do, especially if what we do is predatory, meaningless or boring.

Tim has written extensively about extracting yourself from the mindset of obsessing over your jobs, but the reality is that he and Montaigne transcended this identity crisis by becoming the subject and the end of their own labors. They wake up each day and work on themselves. Seems unrealistic for most of us, doesn’t it? How would we make a living?

Clay Shirky’s theory of cognitive surpluses looks at the fact that the average American spends 20 hours a week watching TV, or about as much as a part-time job. This time, he says, could be better allocated for great collaborative projects, like Wikipedia. But what if we break out of the paradigm of “giving away” our time? In the early 1570s, Montaigne converted a tower on his property into a personal library where he showed up and worked (thinking) part of each and every day—just like a farmer or a banker or scientist would.

What we could accomplish personally if, like Montaigne, we spent those 20 hours (whether usually spent on news sites, games, or Lost episodes) examining ourselves and learning what makes us tick?

The convergence of self-improvement and his occupation is best shown in an anecdote between Montaigne and King Henry III of France. After Montaigne had published his essays to great acclaim, the King remarked to him that he liked them very much. Montaigne replied, “Then your majesty must like me.” Later, he wrote, “I have achieved what I wanted: everyone recognizes me in my book and my book in me.” We would be proud if we could say the same.

3 Things We Can Learn From Montaigne

1) Self-Experimentation and Observation

The most striking feature of Montaigne’s essays is his observations. They range from incisive to funny to world-altering. One of his most famous essays is a bit of all three. As he played with his cat one day, he asked himself, who was there to amuse who? In other words, which one of them was really the pet?

This is his penchant for finding perspective in the strangest of places and it was something he had much practice at. Montaigne wrote that “having myself since boyhood to see my life reflected in other people’s…I study [them] for what I should avoid or what I should imitate.” It didn’t stop at observation; he was constantly experimenting on himself trying to figure out what he liked or didn’t like. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in French his word “essay” also means “trial.” And these weren’t idle diversions. He practiced this art to learn how to live.

Montaigne once used the analogy of a man with a bow and arrow to illustrate the importance of meditation and analysis. You have to know what you’re aiming for before it is even worth bothering with the process of preparing the bow, nocking the arrow and letting go. Our projects, he said, “go astray because they are not addressed to a target.” The idea is that an intimate knowledge of ourselves makes it possible (and easier!) to know what we need to do on a daily basis. He advised us to meditate on our lives in general, in order to properly arrange our day to day actions.

2) Keep a Commonplace Book

Montaigne kept what was known as a “commonplace book” or a hand-written compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important. His earliest essays were little more than compilations of these thoughts.

The idea was that over a lifetime of reading, one can cumulatively amass a fantastic resource of wisdom—wisdom that can be accessed in times of crisis, depression or joy. This doesn’t mean we treat reading like a high school history class where rote memorization is important. Montaigne once teased the writer Erasmus, who was known for his dedication to reading scholarly works, by asking with heavy sarcasm “Do you think he is searching in his books for a way to become better, happier, or wiser?” In Montaigne’s mind, if he wasn’t, it was all a waste. A commonplace book is a way to keep our learning priorities in order. It motivates us to look for and keep only the things we can use.

3) Que sais je? (Don’t take yourself too seriously)

You’d think that Montaigne, as he grew older and more practiced, would have become more certain, more sure of himself. In fact, the more he studied, the more frequently he found himself asking his most famous question: “Que sais je?” or “What do I know?” The answer to the rhetorical question is, “Nothing.” Montaigne practiced the Skeptic’s notion of questioning what he “knew” and deliberately threw his assumptions into doubt.

By building up tolerance to uncertainty, he not only better suited himself for life in chaotic civil war-era France but primed his mind for tackling the big questions that don’t have easy answers. For a second, consider of all our major public thinkers today. They do the opposite, constantly telling how sure they are of their beliefs and criticizing their “opponents” for changing their minds. Changing your mind is a good thing, Montaigne would say. It means you’ve resisted the impulse to think you’re infallible. He wrote that as part of his profession of getting to know himself he found such “boundless depths and variety that [his] apprenticeship bears no other fruit than to make me know much there remains to learn.” If only we could internalize that attitude—instead of feeling cocky when we learn something, acknowledge that it really just taught us how much more we need to learn.


Don’t fool yourself with excuses about being too busy to do any of this. During the course of writing his essays, Montaigne served two terms as mayor, traveled internationally as a dignitary and was a confidante of the King. He never let any of that stop him from his real job:

“The world always looks straights ahead; as for me, I turn my gaze inward, I fix it there and keep it busy. Everyone looks in front of him: as for me, I look inside me: I have no business but with myself; I continually observe myself, I take stock of myself, I taste myself. Others…they always go forward; as for me, I roll about in myself.”

Montaigne is a special philosophical figure because he didn’t subscribe to one school of thought. Instead, he subscribed to all of them. He was willing to take bits and pieces from anywhere, as long as they had practical application to his life. This was why he tirelessly observed and experimented, jotted down useful notes in his commonplace and repeatedly asked “am I sure about this?”

He worked on and for himself—a true free agent—and the three tools above were how he did it.


Further Reading & Tips:

My Favorite Three Essays by Montaigne:

On Experience

Of Cannibals

To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die

This GoodReads collection of quotes is also a good entry point into his thinking.

Books and Related:

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell (AMAZING)

Montaigne, philosopher of life (Bakewell’s 7-part series on Montaigne in The Guardian)

The Essays: A Selection by Montaigne (I prefer Penguin’s translation. Favorite essay: On Experience)

Montaigne by Peter Burke (a short but good biography)

Philosophy As A Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault by Pierre Hadot (The best resource on practical philosophy, period.)

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238 Replies to “The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne”

  1. The “commonplace book” is a fantastic idea! Although, over a lifetime I would think that you would eventually have so much information in it that it would become difficult to easily look through it. Or maybe that’s the point. Raw, powerful, thoughts with no formal order to them. True sources of motivation.

      1. Hey Tim – have your designer adjust the nested portion’s margins/padding – some of the characters are being cut off (I noticed in a nested reply I left a little bit down the page)…

      2. Indexes for commonplace books (something I kept long before I knew they had ever been called that) were like a bolt from the blue when I read that article. Such a simple change that lent itself to an impressively large improvement.

      3. I know Tim is on the board, but I use Evernote as this commonplace book. Have for the last year or so.

        Collecting these sorts of lifelong notes was my main entry-point into Evernote.

      4. That nested comment has a bit of overlap in Google Chrome (the last “s” is cut off), not sure if it’s the same on other browsers.

      5. Nested comments are nice. Is it also possible to get email notifications of only one thread? Just trying now…

    1. I started a ‘commonplace’ book, although I didn’t call it that, about 4 months ago. Great way to skim through ideas at any time!

  2. Great post, Ryan. I love the “Commonplace Book” concept. I have basically done the same thing for language learning (my passion of all passions) with quotes from Tim and other effective language learners who themselves seem to often ask, ” Que sais je?”, and seem to be all the more successful and happy for it…

  3. I recently read a book, talent is overrated, which mentions how important self observation is. Improving ourselves will inevitably lead to talent. Thanks for the great post.

  4. Great post, really interesting!

    If you want to live your life via the Bucket-theory, you have to ask yourself “Que sais je?” all the time, same as the question “Qui suis-je?”

    I like people who do this, who give a meaning to their existence.

    All the best,


  5. I love the concept of taking time to explore ourselves. Loving ourselves and who we are and who we want to become should be our biggest priority and our full time job.

    Great reminders.

  6. No doubt a standup guy, but you also need to find balance in life.

    I haven’t watch TV for months now as I have businesses to run, though you do have to be careful with saying that if people simply stopped their 20 hours of TV a week and focussed it more productively they could get so much more done.

    This in itself is true but then entertainment is also part of living. I sometimes feel like I would be happier if I just had a normal job and was able to come home and watch TV in the evenings.

    1. @Johnny

      Interesting point about entertainment as living. I have thought this as well especially in defence of computer games. I find an accurate way to look at the such things is to consider the mental state it encourages. Principally for relaxation/entertainment I try and get my mind into a state of ‘flow’. Which on a simple level is what I think the lifestyle design movement encourages you to do with your whole life. The way you mentioned it seems as if its not really watching TV that matters to you. Its the structure of the day you would like. If you couldn’t watch TV to relax what would you do instead?

      1. Great point George. I have been developing a social networking website for 3 months now and at times I feel like Johnny. I would love to just slow down and take a deep breath. However, I continue to push through this initial creation period, telling myself I will relax at the New Years (as I have planned a trip abroad). I use such things as Entourage and other shows (once or twice a week) to relax myself and provide my mind with some humor, to escape my flow of constant thinking about how I can better my site.

    2. I think Montaigne would be happy to watch 20 hours of entertaining TV, but how much of those 20 hours are truly entertaining? How many ads to distract you from your entertainment? How many tv shows do you watch just to fill in the time? The problem with tv as a source of entertainment is it can control where your attention goes? Some people will get hypnotised by what they watch.

      1. I recently read a book called “Focus”.

        The title is pretty self-explanatory.

        The point of it is to help not being distracted and narrowing down to priorities. A great tool to manage time.

        It dealt also with information overload. How long can you read a book without being distracted by some loud noise? How many times did a phone call from a telemarketer broke the momentum of your family dinner?

        Simple questions. Necessary questions.

        I was born in France, I learnt about Montaigne in a way that makes one want to know more. Not in a way you or your teacher are uninterested in Montaigne’s work.

        Excellent post. Thanks for it!

  7. He once wrote Of Anger and I found this extract particularly useful advice.

    I admonish all those who have authority to be angry in my family, in the first place to manage their anger and not to lavish it upon every occasion, for that both lessens the value and hinders the effect: rash and incessant scolding runs into custom, and renders itself despised; and what you lay out upon a servant for a theft is not felt, because it is the same he has seen you a hundred times employ against him for having ill washed a glass, or set a stool out of place. Secondly, that they be not angry to no purpose, but make sure that their reprehension reach him with whom they are offended; for, ordinarily, they rail and bawl before he comes into their presence, and continue scolding an age after he is gone

  8. Good post. I can see where a “commonplace book” could get dangerously addictive though. I imagine I would want to start it off with a bang and go out seeking all the inspirational stuff I’ve encountered in the past.

    Tim, haven’t created an Evernote account yet, but I imagine a commonplace book could work well with Evernote. It wouldn’t be hand-written…but it would be searchable. Thoughts?

    1. Nothing to say it can’t be handwritten and use evernote. Besides using tabletsetc, the livescribe pen will now sync with evernote. So you get the benefit of it being handwritten on paper and added to evernote. Not got one myself but am very tempted and would be interested in anyone’s experience of evernote’s handwriting recognition capabilities.

    2. I’ve been using a notebook inside my Evernote account for exactly this purpose for some time… it works brilliantly (easy to search, easy to add to, always available, etc.). I’d say go for it.

  9. Wonderful post. I’m going to make a song about Que Sais Je thanks to this blog post.

    What language is that?

  10. Evernote was the first thing I thought of when reading about the commonplace book.

    I use Evernote for a number of things, but one of the best usages I have found is to record new ideas that come to me throughout the day. I find that I don’t just sit down and pump out creativity on command so with a smart phone I can quickly collect ideas in context as I go.

    I’m going to start doing this with the commonplace book and record little tidbits of inspiration and wisdom that I come across.

    It’s like the ‘collection habit’ described in Getting Things Done. Get information out of your short term memory and into a useful format as fast as possible.

  11. Ryan,

    What a serendipitous time to post this!

    Having just recommenced Jiu-Jitsu, (and cockily determined to “hack” it, if you will), I find myself asking “Que sais je?” after getting pulverized for 2+ hours. ^_^

    I also LOVE the idea of being a “thought generalist”.

    On the same token, Brad Blanton’s “Radical Honesty” (available for free on scribd) is badass. He delves into the nature of belief super incisively.

    Good Vibes~


    1. I second the “Radical Honesty” suggestion. Not only does it challenge a person’s comfort zone, but it contains many actionable practices for life-affirming changes.

  12. Very nice guest post Tim and Ryan,

    I hadn’t heard of de Montaigne before and I’m really grateful for this reference. I couldn’t agree more with the central idea that you are the most important work in your life.

    And @George and @jonny, great points about us actually needing to have some kind of flow experience in our daily lives and how it just might be more generative if it were not TV or video games.

    De Montaigne’s experience is interesting; does this mean that in order to make ourselves the main subject of our work that we need to have a near-death experience like his?

    What was Tim’s initial motivational factor in making himself the subject of his studies?

  13. Does anybody know of any philosophers who are comparable to Montaigne? Nassim Taleb shares a similar skeptical view of the knowledge he possesses but truth be told, I don’t like the layout of his books. I really like the concept of self-improvement and almost treating yourself like a ‘project’ that needs to be developed and refined and I suppose that’s what draws most of us into Tim’s blog. Thanks for the post Ryan, I will check your website out.


    1. I think it was Socrates who said “The only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing at all”. But hey, what do I know? 🙂

  14. “Montaigne is a special philosophical figure because he didn’t subscribe to one school of thought. Instead, he subscribed to all of them. He was willing to take bits and pieces from anywhere, as long as they had practical application to his life. This was why he tirelessly observed and experimented, jotted down useful notes in his commonplace and repeatedly asked “am I sure about this?””

    I think this is smart to keep in mind in the world of fitness!

  15. Love this post and surprised with myself that I hadn’t come across Michel de Montaigne. With such a great introduction, he immediately goes on my reading list.

    @Anon – My first commonplace books were large. But as I’ve tested over the years, it’s been cut down so drastically that a single mini-comp book has been more than sufficient. I keep one for tested sayings and thoughts (even though I return to them often), then another for new ones to test and take notes on.

  16. Very interesting. I just read both Stoicism 101 and this and I must say, I’m intrigued. It got me thinking, which I assume was the point – so well done, nice post.

  17. I’ve been wondering what it will be like 30 years from now when people have been reading and learning random things on the internet for 50 years. We have access to the most brilliant people in the world almost instantly, usually in condensed form. How much random stuff will your average nerd know after a life time of surfing?

    1. And does this cause a significant paradigm shift in the traditional educational model and how we measure educational prgoress?

    2. I think Allen just posted the question of the day, I’ve been thinking about the same thing myself.. A huge amount of top 5-lists, that’s for sure.

      I wonder what my Evernote notebook will look like in 10 years from now. All I know for sure, is that I’d need a truckload of Moleskine journals if I suddenly decided to go analog.

      Great post again!

  18. @Freddie

    I think Taleb fancies himself a modern day Montaigne and honestly it is not far off comparison. Montaigne, on the other hand, fancied himself a modern day (in his time) Plutarch or Seneca, so both of those guys are good places to start.

    Montaigne wrote in one of his essays that he “wasn’t teaching, he was relating.” Meaning he connected with his audience by speaking about himself–about the things all people have in common. In my opinion, ALL really good authors since him do this.

    1. I sent Nassim a short message/question earlier this month and despite his “indefinite” media blackout, he was kind enough to reply in brief:

      As Lucius Seneca is to Epicurus, you are to?

      (I’m Curious for the same reason Seneca read Epicurus).

      Thank you, Bryce age 22

      His reply:

      Nobody I think!



      I know this post is about Montaigne, but thought it was funny in reply to your post nonetheless.

  19. Great article! I really liked the tip about seeing inspiration and perspective from the seemingly simplest of places.

    Also, Ryan Holiday was Director of Marketing for American Apparel at age 21? I’ve been 21 for half a year now. What the heck am I waiting around for? Time to get moving!

  20. Thanks Ryan for the post. There is now way I would have looked up this info on my own. It inspires me to do a little more digging into Montaigne and take an archery lesson. I remember bows and arrows from camp, but a refresher course is called for in this context.

    “Que sais je?” is a great place to approach life from, but tough to stick to when you are considered and “expert” in your field. I wonder what Montaigne would have said about that?

  21. Interesting ideas, Ryan. I like the thought about keeping a commonplace book. I have done this on and off for the past few years (in the form of a moleskine), but it’s always hard to remember to write stuff down in it. Having systems for things like that is incredibly important IMO.

  22. @Allen

    Great Question. Although technology and having Internet access increases our opportunities and ability to learn, are we? in 30-50 years, will Nerds be learning about the people of their past? or just another “Double Rainbow”?

  23. Tim and Ryan,

    Thanks for yet another fabulous and serendipitous post bringing together travel, French philosophy, and on a life-style creation blog to boot.

    Serendipitous for me because I’m sitting here in Rolle’ Switzerland managing a VA in the Philippines, contemplating the best way to improve my French, manage clients in the US, packing for Dublin and a long list of other places we will visit in the next year (Including India, Malaysia, Thailand).

    If you care to check out: [my blog, click my name] please stop by.

    Although our lifestyle design of work and travel isn’t ground breaking, it means the world to us. We are able to see my sister-in-law (in E. Europe) for an extended visit. She is sick. Although, our paths never crossed when we lived in San Fran (1998) or NYC (2005-2007). We feel like we know you like a good friend and well enough to say thanks.


    It’s all your fault. : )


    For opening my eyes to a bigger possibilities in life.

    Cheers and safe travels, we’ll be reading.

      1. We may be here for a while following our year trip. You are welcomed to stay with us and we would be glad to show you around. Put us on your travel list of people to visit.


    1. You should start collecting all the warm heartfelt messages that people post on your blog and read them whenever you’re feeling down. It must feel great to know you’ve dramatically improved the lives of hundreds of people.

  24. This is actually a very similar approach to a Hawaiian ‘healing’ method called ho’oponopono, a very new age book on this is Zero Limits, might be of some use, has been to me.

  25. Great article. Montaigne has some really interesting ideas, but is having such an inwardly focused mindset really good? He says he turns his gaze inward and fixes it there. Hmmmm. Interesting stuff.

  26. An interesting & excellent post. I just want to throw in that at the end of the article your author cites “Philosophy as a Way of Life” by Pierre Hadot. This really is an extraordinary book, as it reveals ancient philosophy–and more recent examples, such as Montaigne–as a way of life, and not simply a set of abstract principles. Metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and other such traditional philosophic concerns are subordinated the fundamental question of “How do I live my life?”. It gives you a real appreciation of the ancient sources that Montaigne draws upon so greatly.

  27. Excellent post.

    Self-experimentation and “Que sais je?” seem to work hand-in-hand. One cannot truly self-experiment and observe without a spirit of “Que sais je?” and “Que sais je?” will lead to exportation and observation if it is sincere.

    Both are a part of the basis for a philosophical and full life.

  28. the post of brendan McLoughlin and the post of tim are being intertwined in my Firefox browser, anything to do with the new reply feature?

  29. Hey Ryan and Tim,

    I think this post missed the mark, almost sophomoric. It is impossible to encapsulate a 1300+ page body of work into a blog post. You say you want to peel back the shroud of historical inaccuracy, but then go ahead and give the bare minimum of information about the man.

    Where is the link to his work? Where is the hyping of his work to get people interested?

    I bought and still re-read Seneca’s Letters of a Stoic (which I picked up via Tim’s suggestion).

    I guess what I am getting at is:

    Is it worth buying and reading Montaigne’s work to go deeper into the man and really understand him?

    1. The links to his works are at the bottom…along with multiple biographies and commentaries. You tell me where I missed the mark, and I’m almost positive it will have something to do with our disagreement over the definition of the word “introduction.”

  30. Great post. This type of thinking would literally save the world because people would actually think about what they are doing and question themselves rather than simply following their baser instincts. If only world leaders subscribed to this type of philosophy, rather than only ‘success’ oriented philosophies like ‘the art of war’. For an ‘advanced’ species, we certainly are preparing the planet to be rid of us.

    1. To follow up…I’m already disillusioned by Ryan. A quick visit to his website finds that he chose to represent himself with a cigarette in his hand. Not only is he apparantly unable to control an addiction, he believes that he should display (and market) it to the world.

      Not exactly sure what it reveals about him other than a lack of self-examination and self-control (unless of course in his quest for self-improvement, he decided that a cancer-causing nicotine-laced addictive product carried some hidden benefit). Maybe that’s why he is so fascinated by this philosopher…because Ryan himself is unable to actuate the things that his apparent hero Montaigne was able to do on a constant and perpetual basis.

      1. Maybe we could ask ourselves “what do I know?” here. 🙂 Hint: that photo isn’t of me and I don’t smoke. But if it was, I’m not sure it would have anything to do with Montaigne. In fact, he has a nice essay called On Vices

      2. To say that a man holding a cigarette is a slave to addiction is like saying anyone who takes a shot is an alcoholic. Maybe he has one a day because he enjoys it.

        Self-control is not abstinence from everything or anything, but knowing how much is appropriate at what time.

        He can’t base his site on your expectation of him or your idea of how he should embody his principles.

  31. Montaigne has been on my “to read” list for some time … this post has now officially moved him to the top!

    Thanks for the great background that inspired me to focused action.


    Christine Hueber

  32. Wow. at the age of 21 becoming the marketing manager of american Apparel. That is an amazing achievement.

    Like the information, have to try and incorporate it into my lifestyle

  33. Hello, I like reading your blog. My hobby is learning (Autodidacticism). In reading a book called “The Shallows,” I was first introduced to the idea of a “commonplace.” In the past, due to the scarcity of books it was advantageous to write down interesting or useful information. One’s memory is far too unreliable to retain all of the interesting ideas that one reads.

    In using a Spaced Repetition program called “Supermemo,” I am convinced that I have found the most modern version of a commonplace notebook. Here’s why: With Supermemo (Along with other SRS programs such as Anki), algorithms predict when you will forget information, and before (it calculates when) you forget that it, the program reviews that information with you. So if the program says you will forget something on the 5th day, you review it on the 4th day.

    When you review the information, you use a simple grading system to tell the computer if you got the correct answer or not (Therefore “Were you able to retain the information successfully?”). At the same time, this same grade tells the program how accurately it was able to predict your memory. It uses bad grades as indicators that the intervals should be shortened (Although sometimes incorrect answers are entirely attributable to poorly worded information).

    The point is this: Using Supermemo (And other programs), you can retain selected information forever. Ideas that you select will ALWAYS BE AT YOUR MENTAL DISPOSAL. Certain ideas can be discarded (Which you will realize over time as you review the information in the light of new information), and many ideas and information will change over time (Again, as you review it in the light of other newfound knowledge).

    I am thoroughly convinced that Supermemo is the ultra-modern version of the commonplace notebook. I use Supermemo to retain information about every subject I am interested in. I’m also using Supermemo (Quite successfully) to retain my progress in Mandarin Chinese.

  34. I agree with everything Ryan has written here. I’d just like to add something that has been vastly useful to me in self-exploration. That is, gaining a knowledge of who we are as a species. In other words, what are we working with before we ever start the process of introspection? What tendencies, in terms of how we interpret reality and respond to it, are built in to our human minds?

    It turns out that our emotions were tuned – by natural selection – to get us to succeed socially. Not to succeed now, but tens of thousands of years ago, when the human mind was still evolving. Back when we were cavemen. It’s no wonder then that our ancient brain, when left on its own, has all sorts of problems in dealing with this modern world. What brought about social success back then – paying attention to status, mainly – can absolutely crush our ability to be happy if we let it.

    So a big part of our journey to improve ourselves has to be coming to grips with what our caveman mind is driving us toward, and then deciding – consciously – to accept that which makes sense and furthers our worthwhile desires, and to reject that which does not.

    I wrote the book on this concept. You can check it out at my site or you can grab it from amazon. Sorry for the plug, but this is so directly relevant to the topic here, I thought it might be excusable.

    [click on my name for link]

    Great content, as always, Tim! Thanks.

  35. Thanks, Ryan, for a truly inspirational article. I’m dusting off (literally) an old copy of Montaigne from the garage. The commonplace book is an excellent idea if you are selective about what goes in. An effective axiom / maxim should encapsulate a lifetime of wisdom (not just cleverness) on a given subject in a few words. One might reasonably worry about not having enough to put in, rather than too much. For example, see how powerful many of the epigraphs that Tim uses in 4HWW are (my faves: the Twain, the Cocteau, and the oft-quoted Shaw)

  36. Tim Ferriss, you seem half Anthony Robbins, half a “corporation” in your “life”. I suppose you live your life because of people in developing countries doing your “menial tasks”. Doesn’t it only work if a portion of the world continues to be in poverty? Not everybody-and I mean everybody- can live the “4hourWorkLife” because then there will be nobody left to do the “outsourcing”- except child labour, and I suppose you can tap into that then. This is pretty much how the great lifestyles of aristocracy and therefore “king”doms and slavery worked: by delegating task at minimum/no pay.

      1. Seriously though Tim, you gotta share the secret on this one. How do I get a week’s worth of groceries for $10. Even if I had to ship it from another country that seems like it’d be worth it!

      2. Marc, isn´t this very much dependent on how much inflation each country has? USA may not offer much groceries for $10 (highly unlikely at least), but a country with less inflation than the US (I just assume you live in the USA by the way. Correct me if I am wrong:)) may be able to afford more for the same $10.

        I would just assume that a Swede like me would be able to afford more for the same $10 than you do in the USA. The inflation rate in Sweden is something like 0,9% – 1%. The inflation in the USA is much likely higher, no=)? And as far as I have come to understand inflation, inflation (increasing inflation) brings on higher prices on most things and especially when it comes to groceries in particular.

        I think the lack of understanding of this concept of inflation makes people talk about “westerners doing slave trade with India and China” etc. Such statements are just not factually true. It’s like comparing oranges with apples.

        A quick understanding of inflation and why it is necessary: countries around the world increases inflation to devalue it’s currency so that it will become easier for the countries to export it’s goods (those countries with the most devalued currency wins most exporting deals). But it also leads to higher prices for the domestic market (because purchasing power decreases as a result). Some countries are less prone to inflate it’s currency to increase exports. That’s it, in a nut shell:).

        Tim, am I correct in my financial analysis or not:)?

      3. I’m not surprised my previous comment was not posted.

        The PPP is about 33 percent. So by those calculations, you are suggesting that an American could buy a week’s worth of groceries (for a family?) for $33. Have you been to Ralphs lately? Sure, one can ‘survive’ on $33 groceries per week, but that’s pretty much poverty, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps it’s easy when you never have to see the faces of those you delegate your life to, I don’t know.

        Even if you think that’s ok, the problem with the 4 Hour Work Week ethos is that it has totally eroded price structures worldwide. “Well, if you won’t do it for peanuts, I’ll just get someone in a developing country who will” kind of thing..

        Barack Obama has said he will cut the tax breaks to American companies who outsource, and I for one love the man more by the minute. But then I suppose he has some understanding of the larger picture and a little thing called the gross national product.

        @Cooleo, I couldn’t agree with this statement more: “This is pretty much how the great lifestyles of aristocracy and therefore “king”doms and slavery worked: by delegating task at minimum/no pay.”

      4. Hey Tim,

        I see there’s no reply option on your “Take it easy” comment at the moment so I’ll just reply to your original comment about PPP…

        I was referring to my anonymous comment asking if you are really the author of this blog (and the one spending so much time moderating and commenting), etc. That comment was not posted, and as I said, I’m not surprised. Perhaps the comment will appear now…

        You see, as a freelance writer, I’m well aware that many people use, shall we call them “co-authors.” And that’s fine. My point being, as a freelance writer, I used to command $1 per word. Now everyone thinks that $0.002 a word is a “fair price” because they read a book about outsourcing their life to the lowest bidder, and we should all jump through their pie-eyed get-rich-quick dream hoops … because if we don’t, they’ll just find someone in a developing country such as India who will.

        That’s all. Enjoy your day.

      5. The “KJ” comment has got to be a plant. I mean… could there be a better example of the antithesis of Montaigne’s philosophy? It’s perfect!

        “KJ” sees both his problem (Tim, as the unfortunate embodiment of free trade, in this case) and the solution to his problem (Obama, symbolic of protectionism) outside of himself. This causes frustration and unhappiness. But, if “KJ” would only “…turn his gaze inward” he would most likely recognize a difference in the perceived value of his service between himself and his clients. A situation he could rectify.


    1. I take issue with the idea that we shouldn’t buy goods and services from people who offer them cheaply because they aren’t American union workers exacting $75 an hour. Should we refuse a man a meal’s wage because his meal is cheaper than our own? Or, is it immoral to pay them only what they ask?

      It is true that everyone in the world can’t work a 4 hour weeks with today’s technology in today’s culture. But, why not ask scientific exploration seek to offer such an opportunity for our great grandchildren? I don’t work the kind of hours my grandfather did, nor suffer his physical toil. I haven’t ever plowed a field with a mule because new technology allows me a better quality of life.

      By trading with the second and third world we lift their economies and people. India’s growth is almost exclusively outsource driven. Similarly, I don’t see good global socialist minded folks refusing iPods or iPads, built in a much cheaper economy and passing the savings onto the iPod and iPad user.

      In fact, most people use this argument to cover their jingoistic fear that people in the developing world may suffer a fate much worse than earning a lower wage than their wealthier first world employers. They’re really worried these cheap laborers will develop knowledge and skills that may catapult them to first world standards and one day employ us or our children.

      Global corporate will do this, whether people like Tim capitalize on it or not. Tim’s ilk just pay them better and treat them with humane respect.

      1. “Similarly, I don’t see good global socialist minded folks refusing iPods or iPads, built in a much cheaper economy and passing the savings onto the iPod and iPad user.”

        The savings are passed onto the corporation; not the consumer.

    2. I believe that you are correct. The rich and powerful can only exist because of the poor and weak. People like Tim and others do not have to work hard or suffer because they have other people to do their bidding.

      This is exactly why I want to become rich and powerful. I see no point in getting angry at Tim and others exploiting and using other people for their own gratification. Every successful society was built on the sweat, labor, tears, and blood of other people.

      You have to make the decision of whether you want to be successful or be a loser. There is no in-between anymore. Strive for the best or settle for what remains. If you do not want to be successful, it is not bad. You can continue to work hard and sacrifice while other people advance from your weaknesses.

      It is not such a bad life. As long as you have love, you should not worry about the riches of the next man.

  37. Great article Tim, thanks. It reminds me of my two favorite sayings:

    “To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else. You can only change yourself.”

    – Dalai Lama

    “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”

    – Shawshank Redemption

  38. read some goethe folks, for those of you unfamiliar with him: in his famous FAUST I, the protagonist is searching for meaning as well in everything, and thus summons faust with which he does an faustian act.

  39. I love the idea of a “common book”. I keep quotes from books and famous figures written down here and there. But storing them all in one place would be much more useful. I usually write down my own ideas after the quote to make it more personable to me, and also so I don’t lose those ideas. In order to make it easy reference, perhaps we should add keywords and titles to these posts in our “common book”. Any thoughts?

  40. Michel de Montaigne, was the son a a wealthy landowner. I suppose when one comes with/from wealth, that it often allows for a self discovery at an earlier age. When one works for their wealth, they often fear losing it and spend years building it up. By the time, they can enjoy their wealth and focus on thinking, they often are too old and have other things to think about, like grandkids.

    I always find it amazing, that so many people that come from wealth direct their curiosity and boredom towards deviant behaviors and substance abuse.


  41. Fantastic examination of such an interesting historical figure. I agree with the notion of the “experimental life” as a tool to find inner wisdom and relevant knowledge. The comment on note-taking/keeping a book of saying seems more useful than ever before, which has now pushed me into becoming a better “note-taker” on my life! Great post Ryan!

    PS: how many books do you read a week?!?!

  42. My commonplace book is on my computer. When I read a book, I mark the passages I want to keep with a pencil lightly, place a marker on that page, and then copy the quotes on my computer when I finish the book. By entering the notes into my computer, I can then search on a word and find the quotes I need.

    1. @gsmoke It’s not a scalable system, but always keep 10-15 book quotes on those OS X sticky note widgets that you see when you move your mouse into a corner.

      1. err- I mean to say ‘**I** always keep…’

        That typo made my comment somewhat presumptuously imperative :/

  43. With all due respect, I am getting a bit sick of self-proclaimed philosophers like yourself, Ryan, Tucker, Steve, Zen and the like, who are repeating old well-known clichés and philosophies while navel-gazing and writing about your enlightened life. As readers, don’t you see the contradiction between a self-fulfilled person and someone who is reading these things faithfully and downloading ebooks with life advice? Writers, don’t you see the contradiction of someone who lives an allegedly ideal life but then needs to brag about it?

    I appreciate what you do, but I don’t need to hear about it.

    So after following these blogs for a while out of curiosity, this is my first and last post, have a nice life, and I will too, by making my own rules, thank you, and having a wonderful life without the need to rub it to everyone’s face.

    1. Pete, where exactly am I bragging here or calling myself a philosopher? I don’t see either, but to each his or her own. I wish you well.


      1. Im constantly surprised by people who post angry negative comments on blogs, not just this one. If you don’t like it just don’t read, each to their own.

        I thoroughly enjoy your blog and your book

        keep it up I’ll be reading.

      2. @Tim

        you helped me more that any other author has. Now I used to bus tables 6 days a week before the 4hww. Now I work from home on my own business and I am able to pursue me dreams of becoming a professional recording artist.

        So I just thought I would say something to balance out that guy that wrote “I am getting a bit sick of self-proclaimed philosophers like yourself”. I truly look forward to all of your blog post

      3. Congratulations, Brandon! I’d love to hear your music some time. I remember when I used to bus tables 🙂

    2. As someone who has experienced less than an “ideal life” in the last few months, including losing my job, having to move back home with my father and complete knee blowout that I really can’t afford to repair I see these blog posts as anything but condescending or boastful.

      Tim and his guests present strategies for tackling life that are easy to attack because they present new ideas and it’s easy to gang up on outsiders.

      I personally couldn’t be happier with the information you present here Tim. As for ideas on lifestyle design or you and your guests personal philosophies, keep’em comin. When I’m down (which isn’t to often) it’s great to have a place where I can pop online and say “Oh yeah, people are still trying at life and attempting new things I don’t have to settle for the status quo.” Most of whats popular is pretty bleak and defeating…

      Sincere thanks for community and ideas you provide here Tim,


    3. I just read the “Talent Code” and Tim’s real talent is his abilty to ignite people to take action.

      He does this with ideas. Some of the ideas taken in isolation can easily be attacked. Yes, sometimes it feels like Tony Robbins meets the internets, but the overall effect is conducive to ignition.

      I think the haters hate because they see people getting ignited by Tim and they get jealous. (Never underestimate the power of jealousy.)

      Then they attack the parts while missing out on the whole message.

    4. Geesh, Civility is going down the toilet. What a wanker! I’m sure this is not going to help. 🙂

      I loved this post.

      Thanks again and more again.

      Curious why you never post the winners of the contests? Or I’m missing them. Keeps me coming back thought.

      Peace and love,


      1. Hey RJ,

        Uh oh. Did I forget to announce someone??? The ads, if that’s what you’re referring to, will take some time. We got hundreds of submissions! Yowza…



      2. Oh gosh Tim, I hope you didn’t think I was calling YOU a wanker! lol.

        This new “reply” thing is a bit confusing. No, I’m still wondering who won the travel contest.



    5. I used to try to pull people down to my level when I felt others were above me but now I try to get to there level or even surpass them. It makes life a lot more fun and I’m not always so bitter.

  44. Tim,

    I love this topic. Lifestyle redesign is no joke. If you are doing it right it will challenge everything you believe in. I read your book and was on the fence of changing my life and then my dad said to me (pretty much out of the blue).

    “In climbing the ladder of success, nothing is more tragic than getting to the top only to find out that your ladder was leaning against the wrong wall”.

    That was it. I was done. To this day I don’t think he realizes the gift he gave me. I sold my business and am rewriting my story. Keep doing what you do Tim. I love reading your stuff.

    1. Gerald,

      Kudos to you for having the courage to challenge your belief system. Often, it’s the last thing we want to give up, but the very thing that makes the most difference once we do!

      Tim’s book had the exact OPPOSITE effect on me:

      When I bought 4HWW, I was already working from home, already jamming my work in Tues-Thurs so I could take Mon & Fri off. I was already working to dump 80% of my whiny-ass clients to focus on the top 20%. I already placed personal growth at the top of my priority list: re-learning Portuguese, which I hadn’t spoken since my grandparents died, and taking Samba lessons.

      Sounds great, right? There was just one problem…

      I felt horrible. I was guilty and ashamed of my “lack of work ethic” and “inability to focus”. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t get up at 6, commute 5 days a week, and be a diligent little worker bee like everyone else? I refuse to multitask because A) I believe that being present in any given task is the key to sanity, and B) I’d just f– it up anyway. A career counselor told me I had Adult ADD. It was depressing. I felt like an unrealistic dreamer and an outsider.

      When Tim wrote that “less is not laziness”, that multitasking is crap, and that our work culture is ass-backwards, rewarding the first-one-in-last-one-out employee over the one who produces the same amount in half the time, I LITERALLY cried. I wasn’t crazy, lazy, or a number of other adjectives I was using to beat myself up with daily. Feeling validated helped me dump the guilt and feel proud that I enjoyed my life rather than watching it pass me by. And now I’m putting more of Tim’s advice into practice and further redesigning my life.

      Thanks, Tim. Your book helped me more than if I’d had years of therapy.

      1. Thank you so very much for this comment, Buffy. I felt the same way (as described in the book) for years. It’s a great feeling when you realize you’re not alone and — in fact — most people feel the same.

        Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,


  45. Come on Tim…I am all for improving yourself but this place is turning into a virtual hippy commune without the cute hippy chicks and orgies.

      1. Ah, there are always going to be those haters, personally I like the turn your blog has taken. I also like that you are now an angel investor and working on education.

        I went to the life extension conference at SFO two weekends ago. Saw your name tag, but sorry you couldn’t make it. I can tell you that most of the people there would have pre-ordered your new book.

        Michael Rose also gave a really awesome talk.

        Anyway, I would love to see more on your blog in terms of angel investing and inspiring innovation in the education world (the life extension world too), also hope to meet you someday soon in SF! 🙂

      2. please don’t listen to these people… you’re writing a lifestyle design blog, i don’t see why anybody would be up in arms about a philosophical post or two. it’s not like anybody is forced to read every post, it’s easy enough to recognize this type of post and skip it.

        it was your synthesis of these types of philosophies that made the 4hww such a life changing work for so many

        it is in looking back on these philosophers that we gain some of the greatest insights on life. they didn’t have the distractions we do and so had much more time to sit with their ideas.

        i do love when you gear up for a launch… keeps my feed full of quality.

        /end asskiss

      3. … and in the end this blog is for tim ferriss, not us readers really. if you write about anything besides what you care about most we suffer because we’re not getting the best you have.

      4. Tim – this post is right on !


        Also, it’s great when some people disagree, not like, or are offended by some of your posts.

        That only sparks a deeper conversations from which we all learn something.

        Unless the conversation becomes deep – nobody is completely honest or open- let’s face it …

      5. Tim, There’s always haters who get off on telling you how you’re participating in some injustice or marketing scam. They’re just haters who “think” that they’re skeptics.

        Keep up the good work integrating ideas from productivity, business, mindfulness, optimum health, and true skepticism.

        I run into this issue a lot in my projects. It takes a rare “integrated” thinker to seriously study Motaigne, Jim Collins, the Heath brothers, and Leo Babauta all at the same time.

        I read your blog because it’s kind of like an experiment in philosophical and practical alchemy.

  46. Interesting how this post struck a chord amongst a lot of people. I liked it very much, Ryan. Tim, keep the goodness coming. And like you’ve reminded us of before, when people react negatively (without a clear, logical basis) they prove to us that we’re doing just great.

  47. Tim, Ryan,

    It is very interesting how ideas continue to repeat themselves in the areas of personal development. I have not read Montaigne’s work but the idea of knowing what you are aiming for before you shoot the arrow repeats itself in even modern day classics like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Dr. Covey called it ‘Begin with the End in mind’. The commonplace book sounds simply like the old idea of a personal diary now frequently called a journal.

    All these are great ideas – the key is, as we all know, is to use them. If you don’t use what is a book you might as well use it to hold the door open. It has no value without use.

    My thoughts,



    1. Heck, I believe even Tim says–verbatim–‘begin with the end in mind’ in 4HWW.

      (contrasting Ed Byrd’s streamlined creatine operation with a cobbled together Tshirt sales business)

  48. Coming from a country with a very deep gap between the wealthy ‘high class’ and the poor ‘working class’ I can somewhat relate to the anger regarding the ‘outsourcing issue’. But, I also agree that people in poor countries are better off having a paid job than no job. They don’t live and don’t spend in America.

    Anyway, the main point is being missed: Mr Ferriss’ book doesn’t teach one how to make money, or how to make money on the back of the poor. It teaches people how to use the brain, make money and help the less fortunate. He sets a good example and many across the world use their energy in a positive manner working with his concepts.

    Knowing it’s possible and simple, youngsters will strive and focus on becoming rich by thinking not killing. It even makes sense, it’s dead easy (sorry for that, I seem to have borrowed the British sense of humour).

    The happier and wealthier one becomes the more balanced and inclined to help will be.

    Parents will have more patience and time for their children. The safety and the quality of the up bringing will increase.

    Plus, I think it’s just about time the wealth is more evenly spread.

    I’ve read the book and this is MY perception of it, which, of course can be different to others’. As Antonio Porchia said, “I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received”.

    The woman in me, would have fun criticising. Pure human nature: if we can’t do something to equal or overtake one’s achievement, we tend to pat ourselves on the back, looking for the cracks in the wall to make us feel better. “Any fool can criticise, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.” (Dale Carnegie)

    From the point of view of a mother I weep and feel grateful. I feel there is hope for my child, for the children. The World stands a chance.

    From a spiritual person’s point of view, all I have to say is: ‘great post for it brings great insight!’

    …But then who am I to know?

    But then again, according to Socrates ‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing’!


    Have laughter in your life, love in your heart and light on your path,


  49. Tim, Ryan,

    It’s funny to see how people respond to different posts on a site. Personally I have found these posts to be some of the best, providing simple yet life-changing advice.

    This blog introduced me to philosophy, which has seen me learn from Seneca, Montaigne, Epicurus, Socrates, Epictetus, Machiavelli and more. This has challenged my personal beliefs in many ways and help me to see things from another perspective. The business books I was introduced to have totally revolutionized my thinking, and now sit on my ‘life’ section of my bookshelf (thanks to Ryan’s idea of this for book organisation).

    One of the things I love both about this blog is that it does not pigeon hole itself to merely talking about ‘muses’. It shows people all the interesting facets that can aid in making a life truly ‘custom designed’. I also highly respect Ryan’s as he picks apart his own experiences and puts up his reflections in public (when most people keep their own self-examination to themselves).

    The best book recommendation I received in my Bachelor of Business Entrepreneurship was the 4 Hour Workweek. That one book saw me become the General Manager of a lecturer’s startup with a 10% equity share at the age of 21. It provided the opportunity for me to walk into a job in consulting while most people graduating from my degree struggle to get jobs (let alone in their chosen field).

    Tim, thank you for all your suggestions and thought-provoking posts. Keep up the fantastic effort. Ryan, thank you for continuing to share your reflections with the world.


  50. Wow, I’m really confused how such a positive, interesting post as this one can receive some bitter responses. Regardless, keep up the great work Tim and thanks for the article, Ryan.

  51. Hi Tim,

    Huge fan, loved 4hww and hopefully I ordered 4h body in time to get an autograph ^_^, anyways hopefully after 4h body you can write a book on your experiences as an angel investor?

  52. My only quibble is leading off with this phrase:

    “He gets more done than five average people combined”

    So what am I?? AVERAGE? I think I’m pretty damn good at my job!

    Why do you have to belittle average?? Most of the human race IS average. It’s been that way from the start and will be that way to the end. Most people are followers, NOT leaders. And the way a leader becomes a respected leader is by RESPECTING his/her followers!

    And what exactly IS average? What is your benchmark? You belittle people by doing this. Yeah, maybe no one likes to think of themselves as “average” but in a competitive world, someone is going to end up in 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Are all of those positions pathetic? Is there no room for 2nd and 3rd place? Why always the emphasis on #1??

    I don’t know. I’m going off here because I need to blow off some steam, not necessarily at you, Tim. I just feel that with all the “superman” lingo getting tossed around lately, and the fact that you’re always selling the proposition that you too can become a “superman” it sometimes rubs me the wrong way.

    I’m sure you respect your fans and your followers and you DON’T think of them as being just “average.” Maybe you could keep that in mind in future blog posts.

    1. Hi Byron,

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t think of my readers as “average”, and I’m sorry if this rubbed the wrong way. I meant to emphasize this effectiveness, and it’s hard to measure that or offer a good comparison without involving other people.

      Hope that helps — will keep in mind,

      Tim “Still Human” Ferriss

  53. Well, it seems some commenters missed the point of this article. If you truly want to experience life fully and deeply, you would indulge yourself in philosophy. Now this can be almost anything: Stoicism, Zen, a martial art, self-experimentation, surfing, or simply tea. Or a combo of things. The point is that philosophy will make you look into yourself and find the life you want. This is different for everyone. I know one friend that couldn’t get through three pages of “Letters from a Stoic” when I lent it to her, but lives by Emerson’s “Self Reliance”.

    Unfortunately, philosophy gets a bum rap from the theoretical concepts such as Hegel’s Spirit or Cartesian Dualism. But, and I think they’ll agree, Tim and Ryan’s philosophy is one of practical application.

    To all the non-philosophers out there (and maybe some of the philosophers) just remember to keep an open mind. I think that’s part of what Socrates was trying to convey, anyway.

    1. “Also saying “We all know nothing” is an oxymoron. If you know nothing how can you possibly know that you know nothing. You would have to be completely mindless in which case you couldn’t claim you knew nothing because your mind would be a blank.”

  54. This is precisely what every person who is stuck in the prison of his own mind should be comforted by; that at least some people who have financial and time freedom also have a well-developed conscience, and sense of urgency in exploring the best of themselves for the benefit of others.

    This is totally in line with my lifestyle design goals. Thanks.

  55. Essay does *not* mean trial.

    The french word for that is procès.

    Essayé means try. Essayer -to try.

    As in, j’ai essayé, I tried.

    I’m surprised no other french speakers commented on that error. I rather like vocab, and that mistake irked my grammar sensibilities.

    1. Hi Amy,

      In English “a try” or “a trial” would be considered quite close, but I don’t speak French. What would you suggest as a French translation of the word “Essay” (as used for prose)? Better still, do you have an alternative source for that word in English?

      Thanks for commenting!


  56. great post. love the philosophies on thinking and only utilising knowledge that is helpful. I also like the increase in post frequency, marketing for the new book I assume 😉

  57. Howard Behar, one of the seminal executives at Starbucks, has a practice that sounds much like the “Commonplace” book, but narrowly focused on quotes that have caused him great reflection, inspiration, or learning.

    Being reminded of the practice here, I’m going to start… and I LOVE the idea of using Evernote. I like ubiquity.

    Thank you for the article.

  58. Tim, Ryan and blog readers:

    If this introduction to Montaigne has sparked your interest, then I recommend you also check out Alain de Botton’s short video series on Montaigne.

    The large DVD series of which Montaigne is only one part is available for purchase at de Botton’s website. The Montaigne clips are separately available on YouTube:

    I have no affiliation with de Botton, I just think his video about Montaigne is an excellent supplemental introduction.

    Just thought I would offer the suggestion.

    (Also, I am not sure about Tim’s policy in regards to posting YouTube links here, so I hope the referral is acceptable.)

    Great post, btw.

  59. @Pete

    As a reader and a writer I’d thought I’d spend a little of my time on your questions. Firstly, I’ve read 4HWW, and while I don’t agree with everything in the book there is a lot of good in it. Secondly, I read the blog, because there’s a lot that’s good here too.

    Tim often writes in 4HWW, “Wouldn’t you rather escape to a beach in Thailand,” – well I did that 21 years ago. I

    – I travel frequently, for fun, next week off to Borneo to show my son Orangutans in the wild

    – I’ve written a novel due for launch 5th December 2010

    – I’ve got a couple of muses and am CEO of a tech company (400 staff of whom 1 is managed by me [ takes 15 minutes a day]), and, well basically life is great.

    – I’m helping other Indie authors get their books reviewed and noticed

    – I’m learning Spanish as a fourth language (I speak English, French and Thai, with a smattering of Cantonese that I am trying to reboot.)

    Does that mean that my life can’t be made better?

    It seems your life is pretty good too, but then you asked those questions, so I wonder if maybe there isn’t a sense of disillusionment happening in your life. And because I’ve got spare time today I thought I’d share some of it with you, rack myself Karma points, and give you some love :-).

    you wrote – As readers, don’t you see the contradiction between a self-fulfilled person and someone who is reading these things faithfully and downloading ebooks with life advice?

    No. As a reader, and a self-fulfilled person I make a distinction between being self-fulfilled, and being full. Reading a book about how my life may be made better is hardly a contradiction. It’s more an indicator of where my interests lie – ME and mine.

    Writers, don’t you see the contradiction of someone who lives an allegedly ideal life but then needs to brag about it?

    No. There’s a difference between bragging and sharing (and making money so that you can continue living the ideal life).

    So anyway that’s enough work on my Karmic stats for today, have a listen to this and chill dude

  60. Hey Tim,

    I like how how you respond to people’s comments. Shows that you actually look at them :).

    I think this article was interersting although I remember Seneca saying in Letters to a Stoic something totally AGAINST a “commonplace book”. I’m paraphrasing big time here but he said something a long the lines of: If you are no longer a child it’s pointless and limiting of your own mind to recite maxims. I’ll probably look that up sometime soon but I know he says something against it.

    Anyways, this was a cool article, really enjoyed it and will keep on taking notes like he suggested.

    Thanks Ryan and Tim.

  61. Thanks for this. With all my self-experimentations and daily “thinking-periods” I thought I was the only one who did such things. Reminded me that I wasn’t and that maybe, just maybe, I’m heading down the good path.

  62. Little Issue in the post: The Goodreads link at the bottom of the blog has a tag inside the href which causes the link to break.

  63. hello tim and ryan i’ve been using Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs. it working ok it sometimes hard for me to adept to new mindsets i enjoy this post as well.

    Why because it funny i do the same thing i don’t take myself to serious or for that matter others. That don’t mean i take people likely either, writing logically has never been a strong suit of mine.

    in other words tim and ryan i really could not grasp x y z and put it down on paper. then tim came along and now i have vastly improved how i think and the actions to get it done.

    thx tim

  64. Doesn’t number 3 contradict 1 & 2?

    Don’t take yourself too seriously – you don’t need to obsessively write things down, just trust you’ll remember to apply it when you need it once you’ve read it

    Don’t take yourself too seriously – you don’t need to obsessively observe yourself and you sure as hell don’t need to ‘learn how to live’.

    Just relax and enjoy yourself, you instinctively know when you are spending time wisely and you instinctively know when you aren’t. The only trick is to change your habits in accordance with this.

  65. Tim,

    Thanks to you I quit my job and bought a brand new Ducati even though I’ve never ridden a bike before; lived on three continents in two weeks; wrestled a rhinoceros on a dare—and won; wrote a novel blindfolded; and came in first place in my town’s annual baking competition. Just kidding. I got hit with unemployment and am still searching for the perfect job.

    Keep posting great content. Very inspiring and thought-provoking.

    1. Hey Dave,

      Not sure if Tim is going to reply or not, but wanted you to know that your post made me laugh pretty good.

      Thanks for the comic relief!

  66. Tim the “GoodReads collection of quotes” link has extra code in it so doesn’t open correctly:

    Great read, I enjoy these kinds of posts and definitely think there should be more like this. I believe that the more you understand how you work, the more successful you can become (and the less cluttered your mind will be).

  67. Hey Tim,

    Let me preface this by saying that the 4HWW has unlocked the thinking I had always suppressed out of conformity and I’m better for it and much of what you put out.

    But this post by Ryan has to be the absolute best piece you’ve ever shared.

    Just last week I realized that I’ve run headlong into the trap of being hired and paid for ‘knowing exactly what to do’ and having to deliver certainty to my business owning clients, when the reality is that there are so many variables to everything we do that nothing is guaranteed. In the end, I really don’t know what I’m doing.

    It caused me to realize that everyone (the masses) is looking to so called guru’s for all the guaranteed answers to their maladies and are just wasting their time, money and hopes when they really just need to look at themselves and take an inventory of what’s really going on between their ears.

    I think the biggest change for many of us in the Western world is to stop taking ourselves so seriously as that’s the linchpin to unlocking the self-evaluation lifestyle and many other improvements that come with it.

    Finally, thanks for modeling a healthy response to the various grumblers and nay-sayers in this post. The consistency is refreshing.

    My best,


  68. @Freddie Smith

    If you like Montaigne then here’s a few other author suggestions you might like to look at:-

    Selected Essays, by Samuel Johnson.

    Johnson uses his own experiences with procrastimation, deadlines, sloth, money etc, to make far wider and timeless points about the human condition. He is also a brilliant 18th centuary prose stylist, which can make for hard reading until you get used to 100 word paragraphs full of commas, clauses, and colons.

    The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker.

    A genuinely outstanding book tying together existentialism and psychoanalysis amongst other things. Gives a very deep insight into the psyche. Once read, never forgotten. (NB I have used things I have learned from this book to close sales, which I appreciate is not what the author intended, but if you pay attention to him, you really can see what makes people tick.)

    Most of the essays of the great early psychologist, William James.

    Probably the most human, human being, that I’ve ever read.

  69. Amazing post Tim !

    Thanks for introducing me to this philosopher.

    I’ve done a self-study very intensely for the last 3 years and it is mind- boggling how many things you learn for others by observing your thoughts, reactions and behaviors.

    I also noticed that when you’re present and you pay very close attention to the simplest tasks you do – you get an amazing insights for life – actually that is how I’m getting the most powerful and unique insights.

  70. “Commonplace book” is a clever idea. I no longer have to scan books to see my favorite quotes. Great idea from Montaigne.

  71. I know that for me, cutting out TV has been one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time. I did it a few years ago just due to the cost. Since then, I’ve been able to focus on what is important to me. Minimalism, travel, photography, and paying off my debt.

    I was spending way to much time zoning out in front of the ol boob tube.

  72. I loved to read about it, but it seems rather self-centred to me. Did Michel not have childeren, and would it not be more rewarding, interesting and useful to spend more time with them, raising them, teaching them and learning from them for instance. Or do something useful in society in those 20 hours. Now I would say he actually did give a huge contribution to society in his day-job and his real-job as he made his notes into teachings for others, which is a great way to share and contribute. But somehow most of what seems to be picked up on his you should just obsess with yourself.

    Let me know what you think.

  73. Tim!

    I’m really glad I found my way to your blog, its awesome! Congrats for developing this!

    The idea of having a playful relation to your existence is so valuable if it is an unconscious rule which you ACT upon. To me its very closely related to overcoming fear of death, which brings a lot of joy and helps you focus on whats important


    – The Commonplace book: at iGoogle there are gadgets which give a different quote every time you open the page. I have two of these and thats how I started my “book” a few months ago, by saving the great ones and eventually starting to look for more.

    – “Que sais je?”: Richard Feynman talks about “scientific integrity” in his autobiography “Classic Feynman” (in the section “Cargo Cult Science”). this really interesting and related to what you explained in the “Que sais je?”-section

    Greets from Belgium

    Take care!

  74. I found it funny how the only time I had nothing to say against a blog except for ‘admiration for the author’, I found the highest percentage of debates and the lowest number of pure admiration. Makes me wonder if there is seriously something wrong with my ‘context’.

    Great mindset Ryan!

    I have recited a story on my podcast which I wrote following (almost) a smiliar mindset/concept… if you wish, have a listen: [link at name]

    But I warn you, I have a Persian accent so you may not understand everything I read 🙂

    Thanks Tim for sharing this post

  75. Tim and Ryan,

    This is a great post. It is very motivating to read about your successes and lifestyle changes. Please keep them coming as you have no idea how much it helps to break out of the crowd of people who all think the same, like a dumb herd of sheep.

  76. There are some great nuggets in his On The Art of Conversation essay. And if one is a fan, be sure to visit his home outside of Bordeaux, if ever in that vicinity.

  77. Being a fitness & nutrition enthusiast, I find that without ‘balance’ and ‘experimenting’ in my life…my health isn’t complete.

    People are often misguided into thinking things such as TV are ways of downtime—when, in reality, you can be productive in ‘downtime’ through experimenting or continuous learning (i.e. commonplace book).

    Great post Tim—puts a lot in perspective.


    Mike A

  78. Tim,

    This was a great article. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself and the world around you by changing your focus. My husband and I left the US to travel in Oct, 2009. We’ve sailed (on sailboats!) from California, to Mexico, French Polynesia and all the way to the Kingdom of Tonga. We’ve met so many people along the way, and what always amazes me is how similar and yet how very different we are. Locals, fellow cruisers and travelers, they all live at a slower pace then we do in the US. We’ve been able to experience a completely different lifestyle, and I definitely feel better for it.

    Slowing down, becoming introspective at times, we all need that space to learn and develop to our fullest, and we just can’t do that by subscribing to the norms of society. Whatever it is that you have to do to take that personal time, to unplug and just think and to be, do it. It’s worth it.


    [URL through name]

    (oh, I almost forgot – while we’ve been traveling in Mexico and the South Pacific, we’ve seen the most amazing places and still have spent significantly less per month than we ever have in the US. It’s been an awesome journey so far!)

  79. Tim and others,

    With your interest in these introspective topics as well as martial arts and physically changing your body, you may be interested in Peter Ralston who just released his latest book; The Book of Not Knowing. Seems to have some parallels with this post, except Peter goes deeper; not just thinking about yourself, but changing the nature of thought itself, to be a more effective ‘navel gazer’ as it were =)

    I cannot recommend him higher to those who wish to go deeper down the rabbit hole…

  80. My favorite part…

    Montaigne is a special philosophical figure because he didn’t subscribe to one school of thought. Instead, he subscribed to all of them. He was willing to take bits and pieces from anywhere, as long as they had practical application to his life. This was why he tirelessly observed and experimented, jotted down useful notes in his commonplace and repeatedly asked “am I sure about this?”

  81. I found this post to be extremely enlightening. I tend to find myself doing what Montaigne did – write to explore an idea more than express it to an audience. I am glad I was introduced to this fellow’s writings, and I’m a bit surprised I haven’t come across him before. I will definitely read some of his work now.

  82. I never knew about Montaigne, from who he is and what he do…thanks Tim for bringing this article up and sharing, I highly recommend this artice to my friends not because I like it but because I want to share the lessons I learn upon reading this in maximizing your time, having a concrete mind set and getting focused…



  83. Great post on a grand fellow – Montaigne. My only hesitation is that you make him sound more upbeat than he really was. Melancholy was a significant motive for his writing. Funny, I just posted on Montaigne, a blogger before blogging, a couple weeks back as the inspiration for our 317am blog on its one-year anniversary.

  84. I appreciate the friendly reminder that meditation and contentment is something that should be honored each day.

    Section #3 on this post nailed it! Montaigne discovered for himself that genuine happiness derives from within. He’s no fool. As a fact, there’s an internal peace that comes with building up tolerance to uncertainty. Also, doubting our self-doubts is a common technique used by therapists to help their clients alleviate depression and anxiety.

    Thanks for sharing. I found your information valuable.

  85. I will keep “Fonzie” in mind and try to keep this “cool” but, doesn’t all this constant self-experiementation make you feel like some of the most self absorbed people are earth?

    Also how is collecting quotes and philosophies to live by that only server your needs at the present time not make you feel much like the way a virus behaves? (Now I am asking myself if a virus is all that bad in and of itself.)

    I am always questioning and reflecting inward, and I have been called an ivory tower before so I am not bashing anyone here when I ask the question.

    However what does it all mean? What is the end goal in all of this? Why make your job be “yourself” in the first place? I never caught that in this post. (Which was a great post by the way.) I mean besides having to be flung from a galloping horse is there anything else that makes it worth something besides self indulgence.

    If I am the best I can be then I can better serve and help those around me and that will in turn be better for everybody, but maybe I just can’t escape who I am and I say that to make myself feel better.

    If [ “Montaigne practiced the Skeptic’s notion of questioning what he “knew” and deliberately threw his assumptions into doubt.”]

    How could he ever find a meaningful starting point that won’t be in constant motion with ever changing objectives?

    Ryan congratulations of your success, and thank you for putting together a great post. One that is making my brain eat itself to death.

    Tim this is your boat and you can write about whatever you want and I will find enjoyment and usefulness out of it – I am a fan, but perhaps think twice about introducing hippie chicks into the mix because some of them don’t shower very often.

  86. I use an online notebook where I copy and paste quotes while surfing the web or heard on radio or tv. I make sure I really think the quotes are valid and relate strongly to me before I put them in there so that when I review them its powerful and not just an experience of reading a book of quotes.

    One problem I have though with stoic philosophy is about not reacting to things or choosing how to react to them. At first it seems powerful, you’re in control of your emotions etc. but I think it misses that things are actually good or bad. In trying to use a similar practice on myself I felt like I lost true emotions, they were only what I created and I felt unfulfilled with that. I’ve found what’s more helpful for me is to allow myself to have the gut reaction emotion but then choose how I react to it. It’s a slight but important difference. I sometimes want to just experience things and live instead of always trying to think of ways to frame things positively.

    I think if we frame things positively too often we don’t recognize that some things are bad. If you say to yourself those weeds in my garden are just decoration and don’t label them as bad and remove them it leads to decay of your garden. Granted you shouldn’t over react to the weeds and think all is lost and paralyze yourself that way either. You do have to recognize that they are bad though in order to improve or correct them.

    Tim, Ryan, am I interpreting the philosophy correctly or do you have a different way of looking at it?

    1. Hi Malcolm,

      You’ve got it slightly incorrect. The Stoics have a firm sense of good and bad. Bad is what damages my character, what makes me feel puffed up and self-important, what prevents me from doing what I was meant to do. Good is what keeps us humble, flexible, hard-working, and honest. It just so happens that most of what society defines as good is actually bad by Stoic standards and most of what is bad is actually an opportunity to learn how to be good.

      Again, Stoicism is not about not feeling things. It’s about understanding which gut reactions are worth trusting and which ones aren’t. It sounds like you’ve got this down pat, so congratulations.


    2. Hello Malcolm,

      I salute you for finding yourself in the midst of this Stoic philosophy ambiguity. Because you have find what’s good for you and that is letting out your true emotions. This is very much true indeed because in letting out true emotions we tend to be calm afterwards. In fact psychologists apply this type of approach with their clients. It is very much healthy that we are true to ourselves in this way after that certain release of true emotions we tend to look at things in a different way because thoughts are not clouded anymore. However, reactions must have certain level that it would lead to a good result. In this way, the good will always benefit not only you but also others to be harmonious. This is where the stoic philisophy fits in.

  87. “Self-Experimentation and Observation”, this line capture my attention in a way that we should aware of what is the real one, experiment first every single thing that can amaze yourself and observe it what is gonna be happened, self-experimentation lead to the discovery of several surprising cause-effect relationships, expressing feelings and thoughts and provide knowledge of every individual.

  88. “Self-Experimentation and Observation”, this line capture my attention in a way that we should aware of what is the real one, experiment first every single thing that can amaze yourself and observe it what happened next, self-experimentation lead to the discovery of several surprising cause-effect relationships, expressing feelings and thoughts and provide knowledge of every individual.

  89. I love the idea of a “commonplace book” because I myself, I live by quotes that explain exactly what I am going through and I personally love collecting quotes and sayings as well.

  90. Great article!

    I realized that being consciously aware of ourselves and what we want can avoid bigger personal issues in the future. It seems risky to step out of our comfort zones but it’s worth trying. Deciding to better ourselves and not be confined in what society dictates as acceptable is a good start.