General Stan McChrystal on Anti-War Americans, Pushing Your Limits, and The Three Military Tests You Should Take (#88)

QnA with Stanley McChrystal on the Tim Ferriss Show
MAZAR-E-SHARIFF, Afghanistan (March 15, 2010)–U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, works on board a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft between Battlefield Circulation missions. (NATO photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O’Donald/Released)

“Push yourself harder than you think you’re capable of. You’ll find new depth inside yourself.”

– Stanley McChrystal

Stanley McChrystal (@stanmcchrystal) retired from the U.S. Army as a four-star general after more than 34 years of service. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates described McChrystal as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I ever met.”

From 2003 to 2008, McChrystal served as Commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), where he was credited with the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The follow-up questions are really fun. In this particular episode, he answers questions such as:

  • If he could put a billboard anywhere and write anything on it, where would it be and what would it say?
  • What are three tests/practices from the military that civilians could use to help develop mental toughness?
  • What are his favorite documentaries or movies? Why?
  • What $100 or less purchase has most positively impacted his life in the last twelve months and why?

These are a bunch of questions from you guys! Thank you for submitting your questions and requesting for this follow-up segment. Still want more? Please feel free to learn more about the McChrystal Group at their website.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#88: Stanley McChrystal on Anti-War Americans, Pushing Your Limits, and The Three Military Tests You Should Take

Want to hear my interview with Stanley McChrystal and his former aid du camp, Chris Fussell? — You can listen to our two-hour-long conversation  and see the show notes here. In this episode, we discuss eating one meal per day, special ops, and mental toughness (stream below or right-click here to download):

#86: General Stan McChrystal on Eating One Meal Per Day, Special Ops, and Mental Toughness

This episode is brought to you by Audible which I have used for years. I love audiobooks. I have two to recommend right off the bat:

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  2. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts – This book had a huge impact on my life and formed the basis for a lot of what has become The 4-Hour Workweek

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It’s that easy. Enjoy!

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What is your perception of U.S. military team efficiency? How about U.S. military team effectiveness? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • What are 3 tests or practices from the military that civilians can use to help develop mental toughness? [3:04]
  • What is the greatest attribute of an excellent soldier that you wish all politicians had? [3:50]
  • What was your biggest frustration with being in the military? What is your biggest frustration being out of the military? [4:22]
  • What is the Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, and Analyze (F3EA) methodology? How did your approach change over time? [5:10]
  • What can low to mid-level management do to encourage a more decentralized, agile, and flexible work environment? [8:45]
  • What is one thing you want average Americans, particularly anti-war Americans, to understand regarding wars and conflicts you’ve been involved in or about the military in general? [8:35]
  • What is something that you see in military movies, or movies involving the military that drives you crazy? [10:20]
  • What filters can the public use to sift through the noise of news to a feel for the real truth being the stories? [10:45]
  • What $100 or less purchase has most positively impacted your life in the last 6 months? [11:45]
  • What is one of your favorite documentaries or movies and why? [12:25]
  • If you could put a billboard anywhere and write anything on it, one billboard, where would it be and what would it say? [13:40]

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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45 Replies to “General Stan McChrystal on Anti-War Americans, Pushing Your Limits, and The Three Military Tests You Should Take (#88)”

  1. ‘The purpose of life is a life with purpose.’ A wise quote. Easy to remember. Thanks General McChrystal!

  2. I think it was great to learn how they adapted a huge military organization to deal with a decentralized informal enemy. Also appreciated the intelligence of these leaders.

  3. Love the TFS! and I have a quick suggestion about the download option: consistent filenames so the files can be easily sorted by title. E.g. Tim_Ferriss_Show_-_Ep65_-_Peter_Attia

  4. I love your podcasts! However, sometimes, I feel like they are a little “bro-y” (gasps!) :O I apologize, I don’t mean to be a critic provided the free content. I am just saying, I think you are a very talented interviewer, and more interviews with women thrown into the mix would be amazing!

    1. Hi Catherine, first I had the same feeling, but soon I realized that it is not something Tim Ferriss does. Audience creates the atmosphere most of the time. Most of his followers are males, because women are just not interested in business, start-ups and science as much as men. Maybe it will change in the next 50 years (though given the millennial’s selfie culture, I doubt it) but now it is what it is. On the other hand, when he talked about relationships in one podcast, a lot of women commented on it. I have keen attention to detail. So I notice these things. Personally, I wouldn’t care to listen to someone just because she is female if I am not getting any substantial information and inspiration. As long as there is real substance, it doesn’t matter who the guest is- male, female, gay…whatever.

  5. Tim! This is first rate work. I am in your debt for all of the wisdom and advice in this podcast. I wonder if these episodes with the general could have been stimulated by a question or two regarding the way he deals with political influence on his post and organization. Would have loved to hear a man of his calibre discuss this ever-pertinent issue.

  6. Loved this 10 minute Q&A. All of the Q&A monologues have been great.

    I was really surprised by his answer to the question about what he would say to anti-war Americans. He talked about how the perceptions of our enemies and allies doesn’t really match up with reality, but he didn’t really defend the military’s actions in anyway.

    For example, he said that we like to think of the enemies as the bad guys, but they often have rational reasons for opposing us. I think most anti-war Americans would agree with this 100%.

    Idk, that one answer just stuck out to me because he is so straight forward with everything else and he seemed to go off on a tangent with that question.

    1. Seconded.

      I hope that by titling this “responds to Anti War Americans”, Tim is working to stir a discussion about Stan’s response.

      I disagree with much of the US foreign policy that is enforced by the military, but I’m still fascinated by the whole institution… Get more interviews like this!!

    2. Dave, I’d second that as well. I proposed the same question to his first podcast post and felt he was far removed from those actually in combat. I’ve done a film on the experience of combat vets in war zones. His answer was very off script of what I expected. That’s not to disregard his time as a leader in war. I’d be curious what his combat experience vs his time outside the fire would be.

      Well said, man.

  7. Tim this podcast is AWESOME great info here. Only half way through and had to come on and comment. Keep up the amazing work!

  8. Tim, I always find your podcasts fascinating and satisfying. It’s great to hear McChrystal’s comments. The thing that I do find disturbing is that he never mentions the moral consequences of his actions. He talks of eliminating targets like he’s squashing bugs at a picnic. The U.S. has the most powerful military in the history of the world and spends more on it than all other countries combined. It seems like someone in charge of such a fearsome organization would have a little more to say about not just the job of blindly following orders, but the responsibility to make the world a better place for all of us.

    1. Please understand that the enemy in this case is fanatically devoted to killing those they deem enemies to their beliefs. They don’t necessarily kill for any tactical advantage, unlike all other wars and battles in history. This is not an enemy that will sign a peace treaty. I was there, with the powerful technology and best men around. That still doesn’t stop a car bomb from running into a humvee delivering supplies to a hospital. At his top level he has to look at the battlefield as a chessboard yet then go speak to locals on a person to person basis (who very well maybe using him for their own advantage). A battlefield is a place where to save lives (your side) you have to kill fathers, brothers, and sons (yes, males but in Iraq the women don’t do the fighting, they are for carrying heavy loads and making sons, generally speaking). This battlefield is not about taking the fight out of the enemy but getting those that hate you less to keep the ones who hate you the most in check.

  9. ‘What filters can the public use to find the truth in a news story?’ Ahahahahahah! Clutching my sides roaring with laughter at that one! The only filter you’re going to find is the off button! This whole idea you can ‘read between the lines’ is delusional at best. Do I even need to say this, do we not already know. Every news story is an angle, a vested interest, an appropriation. It’s not whats really happening. It’s an abstraction. CNN has shown footage of anti-gov protests in the middle east later proven to be a bunch of extras posing with placards for the camera.

    A respected international journalist recently explained that theres generally 70 news items per day in london and theres 70million people living there, which supposes that theres only one item of current affairs of relevance per one million people. He said it was only a rough and partial example but is helpful when considering the context of what we’re spoonfed in sound bytes each day

  10. “The Battle of Algiers” is amazing, but it’s not a documentary. It’s a fictional film, with actors giving realistic performances.

  11. Great interview Tim!

    This is a podcast everyone needs to hear to discipline themselves to achieving great things in life.

    Keep them coming!


  12. I have been very interested in Gen. McCrystal for many years. I spent a couple years in the Army infantry and have often looked to books and articles on military leadership. I recall reading years ago about this hard charging general eating once per day and running 15 miles per day. This podcast is very comprehensive. It’s the first one I have listed to from Tim Ferris and certainly not the last……thanks Tim

  13. Two unsuspected men from a world most of US know very little about as yet more midwives ushering in the era of integration and wholeness. Talk about a renaissance in how we’re taking a look–at how we’re taking a look at things.

    I loved the way you, Tim, created a “disarmed”, easy-to-follow metaphorical journey for how we can find out what’s right about what’s wrong and lean into learning from realms formerly thought of as disparate and unto their own.

    Each and every American system and institution can learn from this conversation and body of work.

    As a health care provider, I have learned much from the conversation and continue to learn as I listen to the McChrystal Group’s, “Team of Teams” as we move from a purely reductionistic, compartmentalized approach to being informed by the shifting and morphing whole from which it ALL emerges.

    And surely, I will never misspell General McChrystal’s name.

    Thanks, Tim, Stan and Chris. Terrific, timely and actionable information.

    Herbert McChrystal Bell

  14. Another fantastic and insightful conversation. A suggestion for your next podcast guest: a world class non-profit director. It’d be interesting to see the similarities and contrasts between military mission style of leadership from afar and a team with a charitable mission. Adam Braun from Pencils of Promise fits the bill well, as would several others!

  15. Tim, great post as always – thanks. I served with General Stan as a member of UKSF (SAS) in both Iz and Afg & the man was & continues to be an inspiration.

    Re your question on military effectiveness – US military effectiveness judged internally to the roles and responsibilities of the organization is second to none. However the military serves a strategic purpose – to meet the policy objectives of the nation. We must never forget that force is a means to an end – a better more advantageous peace as judged against the national interest. The lack of strategic cohesion between all levers of power, diplomatic, economic and military has arguably led to strategic failure. In other words at the strategic level you don’t see a team of teams you see a lack of clarity cohesion and effort.

  16. Great podcast Tim!

    I loved the “Red Team” concept of finding holes in a plan. I am bringing that idea to my school district next year!!

  17. A general comment about the discussion: In this era of pontificating blowhards and politicians that cater to the lowest common denominator I was blown away by the extremely intelligent discussion. It was so refreshing to hear McCrystal and Fussel take your questions, ponder them and then give such thoughtful and intelligent responses. It makes you wonder what other talented soldiers are wasting their skills fighting wars that can never be won.

  18. I worked with the US military in Bosnia shortly after the civil war there. It was my first close-up look at the military. I was in my late 20s and hadn’t really considered the military much other than adopting a kind of liberal college student anti-war opposition to it. Two things struck me immediately. I could not believe how incredibly fucking bureaucratic it was. It seemed like you needed three signatures and a couple of weeks to go to the bathroom. Second, my unexamined bias about the military being an employer of last resort was shattered. The officers I met were sharp, savvy and quick witted. As intelligent and ‘on it’ as anybody I’d ever met. It opened my eyes and made me realize that, while it is an ‘alternate reality’ with it’s own recipe for advancement and metrics of merit, it wasn’t lesser-than. Just different. Anyway, is the military efficient? Hell no. There are way to many checks and balances for it to be considered efficient by non-military standards. Then again, those standards don’t deal with people who have the tools to blow your fucking head off, so maybe that’s not exactly a reasonable question to ask…

  19. Tim do you think you’ll be providing transcripts to your podcasts at any point? I sometimes just want to listen to parts of your podcast and finding those points are hard, with transcripts it’d be much easier.

    1. PS – I mean find points in the podcast besides the timestamps you’ve given of course. Thanks a lot for those, very helpful =)

  20. I served in the US Navy for 4 years. Just got out a few months ago.

    I think the military as a whole is extremely effective and coordinated- but at the micro level, it can get TEDIOUS. There is also a not-so-effective use of human resources a lot of the time (ie. lot’s of sitting around, waiting, or doing menial tasks).

    That being said, all of it adds up, and the unit as a whole during missions is incredible. The amount of training and menial tasks start to add up and mean something- each person practiced there job to execute one thing extremely well. Over time, when you have hundreds or thousands of people doing this, all of a sudden you have a well-oiled machine.

    That being said, I think it’s more fun to watch as a commander vs. an enlisted person who only sees the micro of what is happening. One thing I always stressed to my commanding officer was letting people know what the impact was of each of our small actions. What came about from all of it? What impact are we really having?

  21. Hey yo Tim Tim, loving the new layout of 10 (or so Q’s) that the guest can answer without you being there. Super simple and straight to the point snippets that one can blast through on the drive to work… inbetweenispode.2.0! Also, the TFX was super fucking awesome! I hope that you can bring out another season with some new experiments on how we can all become more like Jason Bourne and less like the cookie cutter paper pushers.

    Keep doing it big buddy!

    Much Love,


  22. Hi Tim Ferriss, I was wondering if you ever thought about interviewing or doing a QA with some conservationists- could be photographer conservationists like Paul Nicklen and Brian Skerry (there are quite a few good ones) and/or conservation organization founders etc., such as Jane Goodall and Paul Watson. There are many good organizations working on saving the wildlife- gorillas, elephants, tigers, wolves. Conservationists would probably touch climate change as well. Since you have variety of podcast subjects, I thought you might consider conservation field too.

    Thank you for sharing all the informative stuff.

    All the best xx

  23. Really enjoyed your insightful comment Steve thankyou. The comment about how war ensures advantageous peace for national interests-sorry! Thats a lie. It’s what they want everyone to think. War is about ensuring profit at any cost. And if that war creates more war-well hey, more profit. And if theres no enemy- we’ll just invent a one that doesn’t exist.Name a US intervention that has created more peace? It cannot be done. Respect to Tim for putting such inevitable controversies aside and honing in on brilliant minds. It takes discipline, discernment and humour Tim to ignore the layers of manifestation in order to access the quality. Theres a few guests you’ve revelled in that others may have difficult feelings about. Anyway, fans of yours Tim may be at odds with the ‘think inside the box’ structure of the military. I recall the first time i became aware of this. 2 friends and I all met in a foreign city to go out on the town. One was a hardened military man. We lost our money and got split up and spent the night in the cold fending for ourselves. Me and one friend seperately took care of things, met strangers, found somewhere to crash- I slept in a park then improvised a coffee at dawn. We worked it out. The military man? He reverse charge called his girlfriend in another country, woke her up, got her to wire money and organise his needs. I know it’s not universal, but it was first of many instances I saw the compartmentalised mindset of military: ‘ i fix the planes-but you cook my food-and you over there, you bandage my leg-and you over there, you wash my overalls-you over there, post my letters-you over there, provide my waking & sleeping schedule’. thankyou for being generous Tim. Love your sharing

  24. Tim – Wanted to say thank you for doing all of this. I first heard of you when I read 4 hour work week, and have been a fan since. The podcasts have been exceptional and life changing. You have had amazing guests and each of them has positively impact my life, my daily routine, my thought process.

    Please keep up the great work.

  25. The best Q&A you’ve released. Gen. McChrystal dropping some tested knowledge. Thanks for posting this Tim.

  26. it seems a good question would be something along the lines of how can even the best leaders get taken down the whims of their penises vs their actual accomplishments. . .or something similar. Sad kinda.

  27. The title of this was “how to push your limits” but literally all Stan says about it is, “learn to push your limits.” Not helpful… careful with false advertising, peeps hit unsubscribe with the speed of an iaido master.

  28. Tim, Great interview. As a former Aide de Camp to an Air Force Four Star I loved that Chris was able to give his analysis of his job. I have had this question asked many times and felt he gave a perfect explanation. As a side note, in the show notes your team has the title listed as “Aide du Camp” and it should be “Aide de Camp.” Every man and woman in the uniform that I met who knew anything about General McChrystal loved and respected him. He is a true warrior and leads by example. Thanks for having him on your program! Bob

  29. Enjoyed your books and used to enjoy your podcast. But can’t help but feel you’ve left your audience behind. From the Stanley McChrystal episode through now you just send listener questions to the guests and have them record their responses. No host. No give and take conversation. No effort.

    If you don’t want to do the podcast, don’t. But don’t be dishonest with your audience, who chose listen because of you. You are the brand. Everyone who listens listens for you and your unique take with the guests on your show. Having solo guests read responses to user submitted questions is worse than not doing a podcast at all. It’s just misleading. It isn’t the “Tim Ferris Show” it’s the “guest response to user questions show”. It’s disrespectful to the guests also. They likely agree to be on your show because of you. Instead, they get some email with a list of questions and instructions on how to record their responses. Seriously?

    It won’t be long until you have no listeners and no guests. If that’s what you want, then just shut it down. This is just disrespectful to all.

    1. Dear Will,

      I believe your point is well-stated, valid to a point, over-stated, and overly-judgmental. (In a way, it’s a real compliment to Tim Ferriss, also.)

      I’ll bet few persons, none, really, feel “disrespected” by receiving questions printed out to which they can respond with considered answers at their own timing. I think it is great, from a participation POV and from a “new information” POV, that Tim will pass on others’ questions/concerns.

      While I am interested in what Tim thinks, too, sometimes his expressions would be perceived as disrespectful or clashing or interfering with “the flow” of a high-powered person whose thoughts and opinions are worth hearing and considering. I do not agree that even a frequent use of “Having solo guests read responses to user submitted questions is worse than not doing a podcast at all.” I have an opportunity to learn much from answers to good, intelligent, or thoughtful questions from any source, including from “users.” I do not consider such to be “misleading.”

      Seriously, don’t you think, “It won’t be long until you have no listeners and no guests,” to be a tad over-stated. Have you been reading the “Comments?”

      I took notes for about 2 1/2 hours on Tim’s interactive interview with Jocko Willink, the Seal Commander and trainer, the only TF podcast I’ve listened to. While I agree with thoughtful critics who knock our culture/country’s “glorification of war” and profit/power motives pushing us into un-thought-through no-win wars, poorly planned and with short-sided, base, and contradictory goals, I have great respect for the outstanding war-fighter and very intelligent author of EXTREME OWNERSHIP. He has much to teach anybody, including business CEO’s, about the freedom of discipline and well-applied intelligence, the beauty of his own example of excellence in so many areas, and the principles and strategies he used in combat as applicable, appropriate, and useful for organizations and their achievement of goals and success.

      As long as Tim selects persons who are or have been outstanding and thoughtful leaders and provokes them into answering questions, I think he will have listeners and followers.

      Again, Will, I believe your point is well-stated and valid to a point.

  30. Tim, Thank you for your continuing drive to provide us with these types of podcasts. If and when you have the time to consider, a gentleman named BOB ROSS (Ret. USAF PJ Pararescue/ Ret AZ firefighter) has recently been recognized by USAF command staff at the Pentagon for the training and prepping of special operations candidates for all branches of military, law enforcement (myself), and firefighters. He has worked with PAVEL as well as Dr. Cobb from Z health and has created a training environment that encompasses all areas of life and takes many principles from your site/blog/books, etc. to ensure success. He also works with civilians on fitness and rehabilitation. Not to mention, he also works with veterans with PTSD that VA hospitals are unable to find a solution to help them. An amazing man to consider that an interview with him would benefit many people. His business proceeds go directly to “That others may live foundation” for fallen USAF paratroopers families. Thank you for your time and consideration sir.

  31. Hi Tim & Team,

    Fantastic episode, right there with those of Arnold, T Robbins, Jon F and others in terms of new idea.

    Love your approach to go into the minutiae of daily routine.

    Ideas for next people on podcast. Elle Luna. Larry Page or Sergiy Brin. A R Rahman. Michael Jordan. Obama, in 2 years.. :), Paulo Coelho, Steve Pavlina. …

    Take Care


  32. If these guys are so good, how come they got their asses kicked by a ragtag bunch of desert dwellers with AK’s ? Why did they leave with their tails between their legs, frightened to go back ?

  33. Love and great respect for Gen McChrystal. Wish he could be part of this new administration. Bring much needed wisdom, resolve, and know-how in this challenging time.