Rainn Wilson on Meditation, The Sexy Nostril Exercise, and Acting as Therapy (#123)

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“Cynicism is a disease that robs people of the gift of life.” – Rainn Wilson

Rainn Wilson (@rainnwilson) is best known for playing “Dwight” on NBC’s Emmy-winning, “The Office.” He has also acted in “Super,” “Cooties,” “Juno,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “The Rocker” among other movies. He co-founded SoulPancake, a media company that seeks to tackle “Life’s Big Questions.” He’s a board member of Mona Foundation and co-founded Lidè Haiti, an educational initiative in rural Haiti that empowers young, at-risk women through the arts. He is the author of the brand-new book, The Bassoon King, which is his laugh-out-loud memoir.

We cover a lot in this episode, including:

  • The value of “as if” exercises from drama school
  • Meditation practices, and what constitutes a “win” in a session
  • The origins of SoulPancake and the Kid President video mega-hit
  • Favorite books, documentaries, and movies
  • Acting as therapy (even for non-actors)
  • The basics of Bahá’í Faith and what Rainn would put on a billboard
  • The Sexy Nostril exercise

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

#123: Rainn Wilson on Meditation, The Sexy Nostril Exercise, and Acting as Therapy

Want to hear another podcast with a cast member from The Office? — Listen to my conversations with BJ Novak. In this episode, we discuss creative process, handling rejection, and good comedy (stream below or right-click here to download):

#121: BJ Novak of The Office on Creative Process, Handling Rejection, and Good Comedy


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: When it comes to setting and achieving goals, what systems have worked best for you? What have you tried that has or hasn’t worked?  Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Kid President | Subscribe on YouTube | What Makes Someone Truly Wealthy 

  • Watch more of Rainn Wilson:

The OfficeHesherBackstrom

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Show Notes

  • SoulPancake and long-term goals for the company [8:15]
  • What have been Rainn’s most challenging projects, and how has he prepared for them? [15:20]
  • Does getting deep into the mindset of a depressed character help you fight depression in real life? [19:20]
  • Rainn Wilson’s meditation practice [23:10]
  • Exercises that could benefit non-actors to get outside of their own head [29:00]
  • Rainn Wilson’s exercise habits [34:15]
  • When you think of the word successful, who is the first person that comes to mind and why? [36:20]
  • Most gifted books [42:30]
  • In recent memory, what purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life? [46:35]
  • What is something that you believe that other people think is insane? [48:43]
  • Common misconceptions about Rainn Wilson [52:05]
  • What Rainn Wilson has in common with Dwight Schrute (his character in The Office) and which characteristics are completely different? [53:00]
  • Why Rainn Wilson decided to write The Bassoon King [53:55]
  • The core tenants of Bahá’í Faith [58:20]
  • If you could have one billboard anywhere, what would it say and why? [1:06:05]
  • Advice to a 30-year-old Rainn Wilson and what his life looked like at that point [1:06:55]
  • Favorite movies and documentaries [1:08:45]
  • An ask or request of the audience [1:10:55]

People Mentioned

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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47 Replies to “Rainn Wilson on Meditation, The Sexy Nostril Exercise, and Acting as Therapy (#123)”

  1. I really like the bulletpoint summary for the episode!

    I follow a lot of podcasts, and find myself having to prioritize what episodes i listen to, and the most efficient method for me seems to be skipping certain episodes based on the subjects or guests advertised.

    If not for the bulletpoints i would have skipped this one, so thank you! 🙂

    I follow you on multiple platforms and you are a true inspiration!

    A tip: You seem to be getting more and more into the meditation and spirituality game lately. Maybe you could get in touch with Pete Holmes and do an episode of his podcast “You made it weird”?

    He is a great interviewer and is really in to meditation and spirituality.

    Hope you keep up the good work!

    Thank you for all of the inspiration.

    // Patrik

  2. Please tell me Steve Carrell is up next.

    QOTD- setting a ginormous goal has worked for me. One that people told me I had no chance of achieving. Example, I wanted to become an F-16 pilot in high school. With 20/200 vision everyone from my eye doctor to best friends said it was impossible. The day I took off solo and looked out at the missile on my wingtip, I nearly broke down in tears. Keep your goals big and seemingly impossible, so you have a chance to prove everyone wrong. Also, when it feels like life has gone down the shitter, you can look up and see that mountain of a goal in the midst of the horizon.

    1. Put me in second behind Tim for the roundhouse kick to the face!

      Rainn, you rock brother! Your statement that world peace is possible is admirable and something to strive towards despite the cynicism that is ubiquitous.

      Please contact me via my gravatar to hear my theory/proposal on how I see the global war on terrorism actually coming to an end. It is an answer that would be taboo for 99.9% of Americans but I think worth a shot in the end game, and follows your mindset that optimism can and will prevail. I just see it as something that will not be acknowledged until I am long dead and gone unfortunately, but definitely possible to start right now.

      As of the now the GWOT is a “self-licking ice cream cone” and everyone in the world (including me) is too scared to step up and actually do the right thing.

  3. Big fan, but the emails are getting to be too many. I subscribe to the podcast, so don’t need the email alert for new podcasts. I wish I could unsubscribe from the podcast alerts, but not other emails (5-bullet Friday, etc).

  4. Thanks for another great episode.

    You should get Jacque Fresco in the show while there is still a chance. Time is running out and I am sure you’d have mind expanding episode if you get a chance to talk with him.

    1. That would be truly amazing. I have learned more from listening to Jacque Fresco for 3 hours than i did for my 20 years of schooling education. He will be 101 this coming March! Please Tim!

  5. Just when you thought Tim would hit a plateau, boom, he goes to Hollywood. You’re killing this buddy, another great guest, loads of notes, great takeaways.

  6. Thanks for another fantastic podcast! Rainn mentioned the man behind Kid President, Brad Montague. Thought I would list his personal websites that are separate from KP:

    bradmontague.com and montagueworkshop.com

  7. Hey Tim, I just picked up your book 4hr work week and I’m really enjoying it! I just have one question. I am in the U.S. Navy and I finally opened my eyes about a year ago on how my time is drifting away form me and listening/working for people I can run circles around. So how can I manage time in this life invested job and I can’t get out until my contract is up until 2020?

  8. I found this interview mildly interesting, and I was about to try and track down this cool indie movie that Mr. Wilson speaks so highly of, but then he told me to “F____ off!” I’m one of those people who find offensive language, well . . .offensive. I have a lot of choices of things to listen to, to inspire me and educate me, I have no need for such useless vulgarity. Why couldn’t Mr. Wilson have said instead, “to all those who haven’t seen it, go check it out, its on _______.” fill in the blank with where it can be found. That would have been great. Instead Mr. Wilson comes off as an egotistical prick who treats me like a jerk because I haven’t seen his oh so special movie. Mr. Rainn Wilson, if you’re reading this, try on some humility, and know going forward, I’m going to avoid anything with you in it.

    1. Ha! he says he’s joking immediately after saying “fuck off”. Listen to the podcast one more time to hear it. I thought it was friggin hilarious.

  9. Hey Tim. That was a great issue of the podcast! I would like to recommend you to invite Marti Olsen Laney to your show. She wrote the book ‘The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World’.

    The book describes introverted people in depth, talks about the differences between introverts and extroverts, teaches you about the advantages of being an introvert, and how to live life in a more extroverted way when needed. After reading it I found it obvious that Rainn is an introvert, and that he could possibly benefit from the book. [Moderator: link removed]

    Thanks again and keep it up!

  10. Man, Rainn is one hell of a guy. He has a very admirable and altruistic worldview. Tim, you may as well keep going through The Office cast. :).

  11. Hi Tim

    In the end of your podcast on Rainn Wilson you advertise ‘wealth front’, which is a super-exciting product. Problem is its only available to someone who is a legal U.S. resident or a U.S. citizen (with a permanent U.S. address)!!

    Could you please remember you have international listeners and mention when you recommend great life-enhacing automation services if we will be excluded from using them, this would save us time and disappointment upon researching your recommendations.

    Thanks from Ireland and keep up the good work


    Stephen McPhilemy

  12. Hey Tim! NYC based Dialect Coach, would love to be a guest on the podcast. Wanted to also share a personal revelation about creatinine, but not here. Keep up the great work, and feel free to reach out.


  13. Dear Tim,

    I will produce your podcast for free and ill even make you dinner. Just pay for travel and ill cook anything you want. Dont take this as an insult but, i can teach you how to make a professional sounding podcast in less than 4 hours! I only say this because i respect you and i want to continue listening yo your podcast. Like you i was introduced to Tony Robbins at a young age. My brother gave me 4 hour work week about 6 years ago. You have helped me. Now let me help you. To an audio nerd your podcast sounds just awful. but for less than $1000 i can make it sound as good as it gets. I dont need money. I just want you to have the production quality your show deserves. Give me a reason to check my inbox. We’ll talk.


    Joe Mormann

  14. Hey Tim,

    I really enjoy listening to your podcast. You engage your guests in a very intellectual fashion. I listened to this Rainn Wilson interview and have one comment: At the end, Rainn mentions that he got a mouthpiece from his dentist that helped with his snoring and you then respond by saying “you can get something at a sporting goods store.” You seem like a guy who likes to provide accurate information for his listeners. As a dentist I wanted to let you know that a mouthgaurd and an oral appliance that helps with sleep apnea (snoring) are two different things. The latter device provides some form of mandibular (lower jaw) posturing that creates the open airway that Rainn mentions in the interview. This jaw posturing is necessary if the intent is to address obstructive sleep apnea, whereas a traditional mouth gaurd from a sporting good store simply provides protection for teeth (athletics, some clenching/grinding cases). Many people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and taking the proper approach to address their problem can literally change their life. Hope you find this helpful and can guide your listeners in an appropriate fashion.

    Thanks for a great podcast!

  15. Just wanted to say thanks for all your free stuff and great content you gave out when I signed up for your email list. You list of 11 killer/awesome apps were almost all downloaded immediately. I’m learning a language with DuoLingo, mediating with headspace, adjusted my computer with F.lux, signed up for coach.me, and use Noisli almost daily. I couldn’t believe that I had so many areas of my life in which I could maximize my effort with a few new apps. Thanks Tim

  16. Hi Tim,

    I just wanted to join the chorus of enthusiastic appreciation of your podcasts and to encourage you to continue them. It sounds like you are having a great time and we are all the richer for these interviews. If you are open to suggestions for guests in future I’d like to nominate Dr Steve Peters- check out his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’- a really smart and caring guy in the UK (to limit the scope of his quality just a little (: ). I think you may find him a good fit for several reasons, including: his expert use of neuro-science; his deep commitment to raising everyone’s quality of life through emotional skills; and, possibly to bring a difference to your mainly US-based listeners, his being a Brit. If this suggestion is of interest you can probably contact him through his not-for-profit company, ‘Chimp Management’. I have no personal contact with him or the company; I’m just an admirer of his work and have used it well.

    Again, thanks for being you and bringing such positive energy and ideas to us.

    All the best,

    David (a Brit currently in Greece (: )

  17. Hey Tim! I love the show and all the work you do. I just read about your challenge to students to try and contact unreachable people and get them to answer 3 questions. Well, I thought who better to contact than you?

    -What advice would you give to an ambitious highschool student who is deathly afraid of becoming bored and comfortable?

    -What are your must see destinations in New York?

    -In your opinion, what is the most important thing to understand before starting a business? (Or a summer company in my case..?)

  18. Your podcast email links still don’t work. The links…

    “Stream by clicking here.” and

    “Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing ‘save as’.”

    …point to html files, not mp3 files.

  19. Great interview, thanks.

    Some interesting, positive ideas discussed here. Like the idea of using tenets from faiths or philosophies other than your own and applying that to your own life. For instance, I grew up religious, but currently am not. However, a lot of the generic principles from the religion I was raised in still apply to me today. This is probably in line with the idea of the Family Virtues Guide discussed in the interview (must get myself a copy); that religions and philosophies don’t have the market cornered on virtuous living.

    Don’t forget the head kick video 😉

  20. Combining the advice of Peter Diamandis and Jeff Bazos to be bold, go big, and work on the most important things in the world, I would like to encourage Tim to do a show on alternative financing of non-profits (NGOs). NGOs exist because of market failure and governance failure to adequately address basic human needs. Their fundraising paradigm is antiquated and needs the deconstruction and analysis that Tim and his guests use for business ideas and personal growth.

    Tim’s concerns about the sustainability of our food system should also be addressed in a podcast, and I would recommend interviewing A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, author of Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question.

  21. Hello great post! I use a task management (gqueues) to write down my agenda and goals, what has worked is when I put timing to the task, for example during the day for the list of things I decided to do I write the hour and expected period of time to perform the task. What has not worked is that I do not have the discipline to open my task management in a daily basis.

  22. I’m totally doing the sexy nostril exercise with my 6th graders; albeit, changing the name to protect their innocence!

  23. HI Tim,

    To say I am a fan of your podcast would be an understatement. The topics are varying and almost always relevant to me and what I believe in.

    Recently, I listened to your interview with Actor and activist Rainn Wilson. It was such a breathe of fresh air to hear the topics you two spoke about and they really hit home, especially on the subject of education. Specifically when you both contrived a mindfulness curriculum using Mr. Wilson’s work in Haiti as a reference. It gave me chills to hear you both speak because what you both were describing is exactly what myself and a team of people are implementing in the Bronx and hopefully soon all of the New York City Public Schools.

    The program is called Power Brain Education (www.powerbraineducation.com) and we have been working tirelessly to bring not only mindfulness but emotional wellness and health education into school and we are succeeding! The reason I am reaching out to you is because back in 2009 our program was attacked by journalists who superficially skimmed the program and labeled it something it is far from. Despite all the negative press we have kept our persistence and managed to land on our feet.

    All I ask of you is your mild curiosity and possibly a positive endorsement in order to flood out the negative press we received 6 years ago that still linger in our digital presence. I believe we are truly making a difference Tim. Check it out, do your homework as you always do and feel free to make your own decision.

    You can join our Power Brain iAction plan by:

    1.Google Search Power Brain Education

    2. Click on the Power Brain Facebook and/or Twitter and respond to today’s pic and prompt in the comments “what makes your power brain light up”

    3. Like and Share

    Thank you so much for reading and thanks for your amazing contributions and being an example for us all!


    Peter Hornung Aristizabal

  24. Hey Tim,

    To say I am a fan of your work is an understatement. The majority of your shows are spot on and relevant to my life and what I believe in. Thank you for that.

    Recently, your interview with Rainn Wilson struck close to home when you both spoke about the future of education. I work for an organization that is empowering children though mind body education. We focus on the brain and empowering children by educating them through mind body activities that focus on strengthening their physical bodies, stabilizing their emotional bodies and stretching their cognitive abilities. We believe in strengthening a child’s foundation in order for them to take on the challenges of not only learning, but of everyday life.

    I see you are an advocate for our kind of work and I was wondering if you would be open to learning more about our organization. We believe we are the future and we have already won several grants through prestigious institutions one of them being Microsoft. Currently we have our sites set on the XQ Super School project, but we need all the help we can get educating and spreading awareness to people about our objective.

    I was wondering if you would be open to discuss any opportunity to help our cause.

    Thanks so much for reading and thank you so much for the work you do!


  25. LOVED THIS EPISODE>…I was one of those 12 people who watched that show…Was quite disappointed when it was cancelled

  26. Tim, love that you hit on the value of a regular stillness practice. It is like you say about “coming back” again and again. Tim. I learned a “Rolls Royce” of meditation techniques for “householders” with busy lives + busy minds, like you and I, from a 40 year master teacher in West Hollywood back in 2006. It’s a style of meditation that’s been scientifically validated by hundreds of studies. Most notably by a major health insurance co. and a major medical university. Been getting daily benefits from doing it every since. Now I’m training to become a teacher of this technique and am the manger to a protegee of my meditation teacher, Peter Vroom. If you’re interested in having a masterful meditation teacher as a guest on the podcast, we’d love to entertain a conversation on this subject so central to happiness and the spread of peace and progressive evolution. [Moderator: email address removed]

  27. QOTD: I actually teach a lesson on goal setting at the US Air Force Officer Training School, and I focus on a few different areas: (1) a big vomit-it-all-out brain purge session paired with regular revisits of lifetime goals, (2) distinguishing between Everest and SMART goals, and (3) putting your goals in reasonable categories.

    It’s helpful to have a big session once and feedback sessions regularly.

    Big session: I sat down and listed everything I ever wanted to do (go skydiving) or be (always fast and strong), which comes out to 100 or so items. Then I hone that down to the top 10, top 5, top 3 and number 1. I keep an index card in my pocket every day to remind me of the top 5, so the urgent doesn’t crowd out the important in my daily agenda.

    Little sessions: Maybe once a month, but at least once a year, I revisit my list. I’ll add new items or tick off the ones I’ve done or become, re-check my priorities, and then I develop a plan of action.

    Some of my goals are “Everest” goals, like something I dream of, but might not be realistic. Others (the ones that I focus on most) are the SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-oriented). For example, I have a long-term goal to always be strong and fast, so my current SMART goal is to run sub-6:00 miles by May, along with some other lifting numbers appropriate for my current post-hernia surgery situation.

    In addition to big/little sessions and Everest/SMART distinctions, I categorize my goals in a few areas: faith/spirituality, education, fitness, wealth, and travel. Those are just logical categories based on my long list of lifetime goals. I used to follow the big three of health, wealth, and wisdom, but I find these categories increase the resolution just enough without confusing things too much.

    I have a lot of detail I provide to my cadets to inspire action in each of those categories, but this is the overall framework I present — and it’s the system I’ve used for years to great success. I hope it’s helpful.

  28. “As if” works really well and there is some permanency so be careful who you pick to be “as if.” Picking someone who is depressed is a very bad idea! When you do it, go through various scenarios (imagined, past, future expected using all of your senses) to get the best effect.

  29. Hi Tim,

    What a great episode. I wanted to specifically mention how important I thought the discussion was about teaching kids life skills like determination. I am the co-founder of a youth leadership development company and we are focusing on teaching students communication, resiliency, commitment, determination, and leadership.

    Thank you for continuing to host amazing guests. Your work has inspired and continues to help develop 220 Youth Leadership. Thank you, Tim and Rainn!

  30. Tim, big fan of your work and what you put into world.

    However, around min 25, big mistake. He wasn’t talking about a mouthguard but a device to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Without getting enough O2 to the brain cortisol levels spike along with release of epinephrine and other negative consequences. Definitely not an otc device as it needs to be titrated to effect. The science behind OSA is not known by the general public but a huge life changer when identified and treated.

    I hope this does some good.