This blog post will share the first chapter in my new book, Tools of Titans. It’s been nearly five years since my last book.
But before we get to that, a short story…
Three weeks before my book deadline, I was burning the midnight oil on rural Long Island. I’d set up a treadmill desk and purchased endless supplies of yerba mate tea, powdered MCT oil, and other assorted goodies to keep me sharp at 3am.
Joining me in the insanity was Kamal Ravikant, a close friend. He’d just finished his first novel and volunteered to help proofread chapters with fresh eyes. During our first day together, we rotated between reading, editing, and sauna breaks.
Kamal was uncharacteristically quiet, which made me nervous.
Had I screwed up the structure? Were the profiles hard to read? He kept his eyes on the screen, and I kept my insecurities to myself. We continued into dusk and, soon, it was dark outside. Eventually, we popped a bottle of wine in the living room to relax for 30 minutes before diving back in. It was at this point that I couldn’t help myself — I asked Kamal how his proofing was going. He paused, smiled, and looked at me:
“You know, Tim, I’ve given The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body to specific friends. One might want to start a business, another might want to lose a few pounds. But my God… This book applies to everyone.”
I smiled and he took a swig of wine:
“I mean, look,” he pointed at his phone, “I’ve been taking notes on new things to do and try, starting tomorrow. I’ve ordered 11 things on Amazon Prime so I can start using them as soon as I get home. There is so much gold here. The truth is that I feel like I’ve already improved. I’d buy it for anyone, even my mom.”
Flash forward to today — I couldn’t be happier with how Tools of Titans has turned out.
Just three notes before the sample chapter:
– Even if you’ve heard every podcast episode, there is a ton of new content in this book. New recommendations and details from past guests, new “guests” you haven’t heard, new content from me, and much more.
– I rarely make direct “asks,” but I will here. If you’ve benefited from any of my work in the past, including the blog (700+ free posts) or podcast (~200 free episodes), please grab Tools of Titans for yourself and consider it for your family, friends, or employees. It’s one hell of a holiday gift. I can promise you that. It delivers.
– I am NOT planning on doing an audiobook version anytime soon. More to come on this, as I have some crazy ideas, but suffice to say: don’t wait for audio. Please grab the print and/or ebook version, and don’t miss the illustrations.
Now, please enjoy this little sample to whet your appetite…
READ THIS FIRST—HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things—the people on the edge see them first.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”
— W.H. Auden
I’m a compulsive note-taker.
To wit, I have recorded nearly every workout since age 18 or so. Roughly 8 feet of shelf space in my home is occupied by spine upon spine of notebook upon notebook. That, mind you, is one subject. It extends to dozens. Some people would call this OCD, and many would consider it a manic wild goose chase. I view it simply: It is the collection of my life’s recipes.
My goal is to learn things once and use them forever.
For instance, let’s say I stumble upon a picture of myself from June 5, 2007, and I think, “I really wish I looked like that again.” No problem. I’ll crack open a dusty volume from 2007, review the 8 weeks of training and food logs preceding June 5, repeat them, and—voilà—end up looking nearly the same as my younger self (minus the hair). It’s not always that easy, but it often is.
This book, like my others, is a compendium of recipes for high performance that I gathered for my own use. There’s one big difference, though—I never planned on publishing this one.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Paris overlooking the Luxembourg Garden, just off of Rue Saint-Jacques. Rue Saint-Jacques is likely the oldest road in Paris, and it has a rich literary history. Victor Hugo lived a few blocks from where I’m sitting. Gertrude Stein drank coffee and F. Scott Fitzgerald socialized within a stone’s throw. Hemingway wandered up and down the sidewalks, his books percolating in his mind, wine no doubt percolating in his blood.
I came to France to take a break from everything. No social media, no email, no social commitments, no set plans . . . except for one project. The month had been set aside to review all of the lessons I’d learned from nearly 200 world-class performers I’d interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show, which has more than 90,000,000 downloads. The guests included chess prodigies, movie stars, four-star generals, pro athletes, and hedge fund managers. It was a motley crew.
More than a handful of them had since become collaborators in business and creative projects, spanning from investments to indie film. As a result, I’d absorbed a lot of their wisdom outside of our recordings, whether over workouts, wine-infused jam sessions, text message exchanges, dinners, or late-night phone calls. In every case, I’d gotten to know them well beyond the superficial headlines in the media.
My life had already improved in every area as a result of the lessons I could remember. But that was the tip of the iceberg. The majority of the gems were still lodged in thousands of pages of transcripts and hand-scribbled notes. More than anything, I longed for the chance to distill everything into a playbook.
So, I’d set aside an entire month for review (and, if I’m being honest, pain au chocolat), to put together the ultimate CliffsNotes for myself. It would be the notebook to end all notebooks. Something that could help me in minutes but be read for a lifetime.
That was the lofty goal, at least, and I wasn’t sure what the result would be.
Within weeks of starting, the experience exceeded all expectations. No matter the situation I found myself in, something in this book was able to help. Now, when I’m feeling stuck, trapped, desperate, angry, conflicted, or simply unclear, the first thing I do is flip through these pages with a strong cup of coffee in hand. So far, the needed medicine has popped out within 20 minutes of revisiting these friends, who will now become your friends. Need a reassuring pat on the back? There’s someone for that. An unapologetic slap in the face? Plenty of people for that, too. Someone to explain why your fears are unfounded… or why your excuses are bullshit? Done.
There are a lot of powerful quotes, but this book is much more than a compilation of quotes. It is a toolkit for changing your life.
There are many books full of interviews. This is different because I don’t view myself as an interviewer. I view myself as an experimenter. If I can’t test something or replicate results in the messy reality of everyday life, I’m not interested. Everything in these pages has been vetted, explored, and applied to my own life in some fashion. I’ve used dozens of these tactics and philosophies in high-stakes negotiations, high-risk environments, or large business dealings. The lessons have made me millions of dollars and saved me years of wasted effort and frustration. They work when you need them most.
Some applications are obvious at first glance, while others are subtle and will provoke a “Holy shit, now I get it!” realization weeks later, while you’re daydreaming in the shower or about to fall asleep.
Many of the one-liners teach volumes. Some summarize excellence in an entire field in one sentence. As Josh Waitzkin (page 577), chess prodigy and the inspiration behind Searching for Bobby Fischer, might put it, these bite-sized learnings are a way to “learn the macro from the micro.” The process of piecing them together was revelatory. If I thought I saw “the Matrix” before, I was mistaken, or I was only seeing 10% of it. Still, even that 10%—“islands” of notes on individual mentors—had already changed my life and helped me 10x my results. But after revisiting more than a hundred minds as part of the same fabric, things got very interesting very quickly. For the movie nerds among you, it was like the end of The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects: “The red door knob! The fucking Kobayashi coffee cup! How did I not notice that?! It was right in front of me the whole time!”
To help you see the same, I’ve done my best to weave patterns together throughout the book, noting where guests have complementary habits, beliefs, and recommendations.
The completed jigsaw puzzle is much greater than the sum of its parts.
WHAT MAKES THESE PEOPLE DIFFERENT?
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”
— Pierre-Marc-Gaston de Lévis
These world-class performers don’t have superpowers.
The rules they’ve crafted for themselves allow the bending of reality to such an extent that it may seem that way, but they’ve learned how to do this, and so can you. These “rules” are often uncommon habits and bigger questions.
In a surprising number of cases, the power is in the absurd. The more absurd, the more “impossible” the question, the more profound the answers. Take, for instance, a question that serial billionaire Peter Thiel likes to ask himself and others:
“If you have a 10-year plan of how to get [somewhere], you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months?”
For purposes of illustration here, I might reword that to:
“What might you do to accomplish your 10-year goals in the next 6 months, if you had a gun against your head?”
Now, let’s pause. Do I expect you to take 10 seconds to ponder this and then magically accomplish 10 years’ worth of dreams in the next few months? No, I don’t. But I do expect that the question will productively break your mind, like a butterfly shattering a chrysalis to emerge with new capabilities. The “normal” systems you have in place, the social rules you’ve forced upon yourself, the standard frameworks—they don’t work when answering a question like this. You are forced to shed artificial constraints, like shedding a skin, to realize that you had the ability to renegotiate your reality all along. It just takes practice.
My suggestion is that you spend real time with the questions you find most ridiculous in this book. Thirty minutes of stream-of-consciousness journaling (page 224) could change your life.
On top of that, while the world is a gold mine, you need to go digging in other people’s heads to unearth riches. Questions are your pickaxes and competitive advantage. This book will give you an arsenal to choose from.
When organizing all of the material for myself, I didn’t want an onerous 37-step program.
I wanted low-hanging fruit with immediate returns. Think of the bite-sized rules within these pages as PEDs—performance-enhancing details. They can be added to any training regimen (read here: different careers, personal preferences, unique responsibilities, etc.) to pour gasoline on the fire of progress.
Fortunately, 10x results don’t always require 10x effort. Big changes can come in small packages. To dramatically change your life, you don’t need to run a 100-mile race, get a PhD, or completely reinvent yourself. It’s the small things, done consistently, that are the big things (e.g., “red teaming” once per quarter, Tara Brach’s guided meditations, strategic fasting or exogenous ketones, etc.).
“Tool” is defined broadly in this book. It includes routines, books, common self-talk, supplements, favorite questions, and much more.
WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON?
In this book, you’ll naturally look for common habits and recommendations, and you should. Here are a few patterns, some odder than others:
- More than 80% of the interviewees have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice
- A surprising number of males (not females) over 45 never eat breakfast, or eat only the scantiest of fare (e.g., Laird Hamilton, page 92; General Stanley McChrystal, page 435)
- Many use the ChiliPad device for cooling at bedtime
- Rave reviews of the books Sapiens, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Influence, and Man’s Search for Meaning, among others
- The habit of listening to single songs on repeat for focus (page 507)
- Nearly everyone has done some form of “spec” work (completing projects on their own time and dime, then submitting them to prospective buyers)
- The belief that “failure is not durable” (see Robert Rodriguez, page 628) or variants thereof
- Almost every guest has been able to take obvious “weaknesses” and turn them into huge competitive advantages (see Arnold Schwarzenegger, page 176)
Of course, I will help you connect these dots, but that’s less than half of the value of this book. Some of the most encouraging workarounds are found in the outliers. I want you to look for the black sheep who fit your unique idiosyncrasies. Keep an eye out for the non-traditional paths, like Shay Carl’s journey from manual laborer to YouTube star to co-founder of a startup sold for nearly $1 billion (page 441). The variation is the consistency. As a software engineer might say, “That’s not a bug. It’s a feature!”
Borrow liberally, combine uniquely, and create your own bespoke blueprint.
THIS BOOK IS A BUFFET—HERE’S HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF IT
RULE #1: SKIP LIBERALLY.
I want you to skip anything that doesn’t grab you. This book should be fun to read, and it’s a buffet to choose from. Don’t suffer through anything. If you hate shrimp, don’t eat the goddamn shrimp. Treat it as a choose-your-own-adventure guide, as that’s how I’ve written it. My goal is for each reader to like 50%, love 25%, and never forget 10%. Here’s why: For the millions who’ve heard the podcast, and the dozens who proofread this book, the 50/25/10 highlights are completely different for every person. It’s blown my mind.
I’ve even had multiple guests in this book—people who are the best at what they do—proofread the same profile, answering my question of “Which 10% would you absolutely keep, and which 10% would you absolutely cut?” Oftentimes, the 10% “must keep” of one person was the exact “must cut” of someone else! This is not one-size-fits-all. I expect you to discard plenty. Read what you enjoy.
RULE #2: SKIP, BUT DO SO INTELLIGENTLY.
All that said, take a brief mental note of anything you skip. Perhaps put a little dot in the corner of the page or highlight the headline.
Could it be that skipping and glossing over precisely these topics or questions has created blind spots, bottlenecks, and unresolved issues in your life? That was certainly true for me.
If you decide to flip past something, note it, return to it later at some point, and ask yourself, “Why did I skip this?” Did it offend you? Seem beneath you? Seem too difficult? And did you arrive at that by thinking it through, or is it a reflection of biases inherited from your parents, family, friends, and others? Very often, “our” beliefs are not our own.
This type of practice is how you create yourself, instead of seeking to discover yourself. There is value in the latter, but it’s mostly past-tense: It’s a rearview mirror. Looking out the windshield is how you get where you want to go.
JUST REMEMBER TWO PRINCIPLES
I was recently standing in Place Louis Aragon, a shaded outdoor nook on the River Seine, having a picnic with writing students from the Paris American Academy. One woman pulled me aside and asked what I hoped to convey in this book, at the core. Seconds later, we were pulled back into the fray, as the attendees were taking turns talking about the circuitous paths that brought them there that day. Nearly everyone had a story of wanting to come to Paris for years—in some cases, 30 to 40 years—but assuming it was impossible.
Listening to their stories, I pulled out a scrap of paper and jotted down my answer to her question. In this book, at its core, I want to convey the following:
- Success, however you define it, is achievable if you collect the right field-tested beliefs and habits. Someone else has done your version of “success” before, and often, many have done something similar. “But,” you might ask, “what about a first, like colonizing Mars?” There are still recipes. Look at empire building of other types, look at the biggest decisions in the life of Robert Moses (read The Power Broker), or simply find someone who stepped up to do great things that were deemed impossible at the time (e.g., Walt Disney). There is shared DNA you can borrow.
- The superheroes you have in your mind (idols, icons, titans, billionaires, etc.) are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths. Humans are imperfect creatures. You don’t “succeed” because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them. To make this crystal-clear, I’ve deliberately included two sections in this book (pages 197 and 616) that will make you think: “Wow, Tim Ferriss is a mess. How the hell does he ever get anything done?” Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. The heroes in this book are no different. Everyone struggles. Take solace in that.
A FEW IMPORTANT NOTES ON FORMAT
This book is comprised of three sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Of course, there is tremendous overlap across the sections, as the pieces are interdependent. In fact, you could think of the three as a tripod upon which life is balanced. One needs all three to have any sustainable success or happiness. “Wealthy,” in the context of this book, also means much more than money. It extends to abundance in time, relationships, and more.
My original intention with The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW), The 4-Hour Body (4HB), and The 4-Hour Chef (4HC) was to create a trilogy themed after Ben Franklin’s famous quote: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
People constantly ask me, “What would you put in The 4-Hour Workweek if you were to write it again? How would you update it?” Ditto for 4HB and 4HC. Tools of Titans contains most of the answers for all three.
Where guests have related recommendations or philosophies, I’ve noted them in parentheses. For instance, if Jane Doe tells a story about the value of testing higher prices, I might add “(see Chase Jarvis, page 170),” since he explains in depth how and why he chose to “go premium” with his pricing as a photographer from day one.
I’ve included ample doses of the ridiculous. First of all, if we’re serious all the time, we’ll wear out before we get the truly serious stuff done. Second, if this book were all stern looks and no winks, all productivity and no grab-assing, you’d remember very little. I agree with Tony Robbins (page 210) that information without emotion isn’t retained.
NON-PROFILE CONTENT AND TIM FERRISS CHAPTERS
In all sections, there are multiple non-profile pieces by guests and yours truly. These are typically intended to expand upon key principles and tools mentioned by multiple people.
YOUR SEND-OFF — THE 3 TOOLS THAT ALLOW ALL THE REST
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is recommended by many guests in this book. There is one takeaway that Naval Ravikant (page 546) has reinforced with me several times on our long walks. The protagonist, Siddhartha, a monk who looks like a beggar, has come to the city and falls in love with a famous courtesan named Kamala. He attempts to court her, and she asks, “What do you have?” A well-known merchant similarly asks, “What can you give that you have learned?” His answer is the same in both cases, so I’ve included the latter story here. Siddhartha ultimately acquires all that he wants. Bolding is mine:
Merchant: “. . . If you are without possessions, how can you give?”
Siddhartha: “Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.”
Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?”
Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”
Merchant: “Is that all?”
Siddhartha: “I think that is all.”
Merchant: “And of what use are they? For example, fasting, what good is that?”
Siddhartha: “It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But, as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it. ”
I think of Siddhartha’s answers often and in the following terms:
“I can think” → Having good rules for decision-making, and having good questions you can ask yourself and others.
“I can wait” → Being able to plan long-term, play the long game, and not misallocate your resources.
“I can fast” → Being able to withstand difficulties and disaster. Training yourself to be uncommonly resilient and have a high pain tolerance.
This book will help you to develop all three.
I created Tools of Titans because it’s the book that I’ve wanted my entire life. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Posted on: October 25, 2016.
Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.
Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.