Tools of Titans: Josh Waitzkin Distilled (#204)


“I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process.”

– Josh Waitzkin

Josh Waitzkin is an endlessly fascinating person who gets mentioned a lot on this show for good reason (and he’s been a guest not just once, but twice).

He was the basis for the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. Considered a chess prodigy, Josh has perfected learning strategies that can be applied to anything, including his other loves of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (he’s a black belt under phenom Marcelo Garcia) and Tai Chi push hands (he’s a world champion). These days, he spends his time coaching the world’s top athletes and investors, working to revolutionize education, and tackling his new passion for paddle surfing (and nearly killing me in the process).

I initially met Josh through his incredible book, The Art of Learning, which I loved so much that I helped produce the audiobook (download here on Audible).

This episode is a highlight reel of sorts — lessons I’ve learned from Josh and shared in my new book Tools of Titans. Please enjoy!

TF-ItunesButton TF-StitcherButton

#204: Tools of Titans: Josh Waitzkin Distilled

Want to hear another Tools of Titans preview? — Listen to this podcast with Derek Sivers. In this episode, I share my thoughts on Derek’s life philosophy, his marketing strategy, decision-making, and much, much more (stream below or right-click here to download):

#202: Tools of Titans: Derek Sivers Distilled

This podcast is brought to you by Four Sigmatic. I reached out to these Finnish entrepreneurs after a very talented acrobat introduced me to one of their products, which blew my mind (in the best way possible). It is mushroom coffee featuring chaga. It tastes like coffee, but there are only 40 milligrams of caffeine, so it has less than half of what you would find in a regular cup of coffee. I do not get any jitters, acid reflux, or any type of stomach burn. It put me on fire for an entire day, and I only had half of the packet.

People are always asking me what I use for cognitive enhancement right now, this is the answer. You can try it right now by going to and using the code Tim to get 20 percent off your first order. If you are in the experimental mindset, I do not think you’ll be disappointed.

This podcast is also brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service led by technologists from places like Apple. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and now has more than $2.5B under management. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.

Check out, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you for free the exact portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Well worth a few minutes to explore:

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Josh:

Website | The Art of Learning Project

Show Notes

  • The importance of empty space: minimizing input to maximize output. [06:15]
  • Learning the macro from the micro — focusing on depth over breadth by studying in reverse. [07:07]
  • What I learned from Marcelo Garcia about sharing secrets with competitors. [09:33]
  • Why ending a training or work session on a good “rep” helps internalize quality overnight. [12:32]
  • To turn it on, learn to turn it off (and vice versa). [15:10]
  • The little things are the big things. [15:50]
  • Encountering an obstacle in unfamiliar territory? Take a principle from one thing and apply it to another to “just go around.” [16:30]
  • Learning to embrace your funk. [17:37]
  • What do you pick when your ego seems threatened? [18:18]
  • The importance of language on a rainy day. [18:39]

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.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

40 Replies to “Tools of Titans: Josh Waitzkin Distilled (#204)”

  1. Of all your guests, Mr. Waitzken struck me as the soul most akin to my own. I devoured both his book and the podcasts and had already internalized every lesson of todays highlight reel before listening, meaning that I could actively critique every second of the new format on my first play.

    Honestly… you did a good job. The gist of every lesson shone through, and in particular I felt that you did a better job of conveying ‘learning the macro from the micro’ than even Mr. Waitzken did in his book.

  2. I love this new format giving us bit size pieces – some times I just don’t have 2 hours to deep dive into a big podcast so this is great to give me a quick pick up during a lunch break.

    Keep up the great work.

  3. While listening, I had an idea that I hope you are already in the midst of pursuing; the idea struck me partially because of Tony’s narration.

    With all the interviews that you have recorded, and the people you know, you could make some new kind of super-audiobook with everybody’s actual voices.

    If you did that, if you basically took the structure of this episode, and made your whole audiobook like this, it might be the first of it’s kind.

    1. Love this idea.

      Tim could put together his own framework so it’s still his own (intro each chapter), but have the world’s best performers assimilate their ideas in their own words/voice.

      The challenge would be trying to piece together different approaches to the same principle without it getting too overwhelming.

  4. Congratulations Tim! Your podcast just got even better than it was! ☺

    I love longer ones of course but shorter format like this is amazing – tightly packed learning resources! A lot of great info!

    I listened to it twice and ready to apply!

    My favorite quotes/ lessons:

    I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process

    Learn your macro from micro. Depth over breadth.

    If you are studying my game – you are entering my game. Nobody can beat us in OUR game, even we, ourselves don’t know all the ingredients of our best game. But we can sure learn more sharing it.

    Remember the last 3 turns. Internalize quality – finish with quality.

    To turn it ON learn to turn it OFF. And vice versa. Be present. Basically don’t live in your head 🙂 Be present for YOUR game.

    The little things are big things.

    How you do anything is how you do everything. Turn it on as a way of life, not just for “big” moments.

    Just go around for life. Cultivate lateral thinking. If you can’t go straight for it – go sideways.

    Embrace your funk. Embrace what makes you different and build on it.

    The importance of language on a rainy day. – Don’t let external conditions define when you have a good day. Make it a good one with whatever you have to work with.


    Can’t wait to get the book now!

    Actually getting 4 of them 🙂 A gift for subscribers, from vip and barnes and nobles events :)))

    Great job Tim! Keep them coming! Looking forward for more!

      1. Thank you 🙂

        Typing out what I learned helps me to remember and maybe can be useful to others reading comments.

        But yes, great job! Thank you Tim! Looking forward to seeing you in NYC!

  5. I’ve listed to the other two podcasts with Josh a couple of times and read The Art of Learning (twice). I still found the new podcast and Show Notes valuable. Great work Tim!

  6. Best is to embrace your funk. We all have a talent, s I’ll me thing we do better than others, often naturally. And because it’s natural to us we don’t think it’s special or we minimize how useful our talent, aka funk, is. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Use it.

  7. I just listened to your podcast regarding 5 things for better sleep. The Sleep Master eye mask looks pretty good, but you’ve got to try the Brookstone NapForm BioSense eye mask. I am often a day sleeper, as I fly airplanes at night, and have been using that eye mask for nearly 15 years… it’s the best I’ve found.

  8. Thanks Tim, loved the episode. It was great to get to hear may of the solid points from the first episode. Listening to this jogged my thoughts back to the original without having to actually listen to the whole thing which, I am certain would have just resulted in me tuning out and missing the meat and potatoes. Thanks Tim and Josh.

  9. I like these episodes because certain podcast interviews are so deep that I want more right after an episode ends. Some interviews remind me of Ryan Holiday’s books because after finishing them I often yearn for more of the same content. It’s probably a reason I’ve listened to all of his books 2 to 3 times so far. It might be a reason that the Joe Rogan Experience can go for four hours and keep me interested and that he can publish so often without boring people. I want to hear from Joe because he’s hilarious and interesting and I trust him, even though much his content is vulgar or even incorrect. These types of interviews and Tools of Titans feel like a natural progression because it feels like just one hour with Schwarzenegger is not enough to absorb all the wisdom, subtle jokes, and advice he gave us. I appreciate hearing more of what you have to say about the best parts of the best interviews. It makes you want to dig deeper, like when you referenced your TV show in this episode. I also wish the TV show was more accessible. I enjoyed every episode I was able to watch after purchasing, but sadly had to delete them for now because my hard drive did not have enough space. There’s such amazing, impressive content in each episode, but they’re tough to access.

  10. Thanks Tim. I really like the distilled format, particularly to serve as a reminder and help me re-focus towards applying the insights contained within the original versions. For me, I can’t listen to Josh Waitzkin without being inspired, whether it’s regarding his continual commitment to excellence, not letting external factors influence his happiness, or his parenting and life priorities, he has a tremendous outlook on life. Thanks again and very much looking forward to Tools of Titans.

  11. Hi Tim – great episode! My husband is your biggest fan and we own multiple copies of your books. In fact, four hour work week is his favorite gift to people. Next week is our anniversary and his birthday and he asked for your newest book as his gift. I have already preordered it, but was wondering if there was a way to buy him a signed copy. Keep up the great work!

  12. Josh Waitzkin is like Neo defeating Mr.Smith in the Matrix. He dives inside the yang world of competition and shatters it with a very soft, yin, intuitive approach to wining. He is so interesting to listen to. I am grateful to you for making a genuine connection with him. It allows us to benefit from his wisdom. I have watched many interviews with Josh but no one interviews him the way you do: you speak the same language, the guy can truly relate to you and vice versa. Josh’s mother was true when she said that he would become a healer. We live in an overly yang world that needs to go back to more softness, more presence and more mindfulness. True healers are not trying to heal others- the simply healed themselves.

    One lesson from Josh that touched me a lot is his story of ‘switching boards’- how surfers would swap boards and as a result of riding a new board, they would see new lines in the wave. The unfamiliar board imposes a better quality of presence since the rider is not accustomed to it. Presence always creates new lines. These lines are not carved in the wave by a board- they are carved right inside our minds.

    I love to listen to the full podcasts but these short versions allows me to share with friends that don’t have 2h to spare listening to something ; 30 min into the distilled ones and they get hooked 🙂

    I have ordered Tools of Titan and can’t wait to read it.

    Thank you.

  13. I thought I couldn’t love your show more than I do, but I was wrong:-) Josh is one of my favorite people and his insights truly speak to me – you could have him on another dozen time and I’m sure you’d have something brilliant to talk about!

    You kick ass, Tim, with this new format! Congrats:)


  14. Thanks Tim!

    Now with so much emphasis on doing more, consuming more information, etc. Josh is a breath of fresh air.

    “Remember the last 3 turns” is a great reminder to focus on quality, here are some practical ways I apply this:

    -For students, don’t stop studying when you are confused. Instead end sessions with a summary of what you’ve learned.

    -In strength training, don’t train until muscular failure, leave a few reps in the bank (this is prescribed by Pavel Tsatsouline; to treat your training as a practice, not a workout A workout implies crushing yourself, a practice implies cultivating strength as a skill. A strength practice make you feel refreshed and confident but it also reduces risk of injury.

    -Having a bedtime routine. Many people (including myself at times), pass out over work, with the TV on, etc. Your mindset and energy the next day are much higher if you end the day with something like reading or meditation, rather than just passing out.

  15. LOVED all this, esp the suggestions on coffee! this blog is written like you are talking to all of us personally – so love it and thank you!

  16. Where is the best place to go to learn how to set up the best blog? Preferably for the lowest cost…

    Thanks Rick

  17. Tim, Fantastic episode as always. You frequently mention your love and use of Stoicism in the podcast. How about doing a podcast that details your journey of discovering stoicism, what kind of mindset you were in at the time, how that mindset changed through using the Maxims of Stoicism, what practices you put in place, and when you knew (what signals) that Stoicism had made a lasting effect on your life. As someone who always finds the minutiae of creativity/inspiration and how people ‘came into their own’, I’d love to hear a podcast dedicated to this topic ! Just food for thought. Keep up the amazing work, man!

  18. Tim Staley here- SF Local

    I checked out an archived podcast on the subject of meditation yesterday afternoon while sitting on the 280 headed into SF from Palo Alto. Yesterday was the first time I listened to your podcast, however, I’ve know about your MO / and books for quite some time. Simply put, I loved it.

    Strangely enough, I was on my way to meet my wife for dinner, inside 888 Brennan st…I’m fairly certain you were sitting a few tables away with a lovely woman across from you. If so, I hope you were able to try the Iberian Ham or the Uni Croquets. If not, you’ve got a strong doppelgänger who may or may not work for AirB&B.

    Struck me as random. I’m really enjoying your podcast, keep it up, thank you for all of the content.



  19. Tim – great interjection and commentary in this distillation in particular. An idea, in these early days of the format: try an authoritative female voice for the summary phrases? (and I’m a male kind of male…just wanted to share the idea, not a big fan of the current voice alongside your tone).

    Funny listening, I realized that since the full episode numerous of Josh’ points had repeatedly come to mind as critical values without remembering the exact source: create space, go around, transparency in doing business, a rainy day being “it’s beautiful”

    Thank Tim and Team – the format is really valuable…

  20. I loved the JW episodes. I’ve listened to them many time. I’ve also read and listened to The Art if Learning a number of times. Such powerful, timeless lessons.

    I love the idea of cultivating quality. Starting and ending the working day with quality is a great practice. I’d love to hear how other people apply this lesson in their working lives.

    Thanks for the episode Tim.

  21. Tim: Per your instructions I am posting my general comment on your blog, despite its lack of connection to this article; sorry if this is the wrong place. I write a small blog on happiness and I am always looking for good material to help people find more of it. I recently linked to your work in a piece on ‘anti-happy,’ which describes the things that people do to increase happiness, but that actually make them less happy. Love your work. Still trying to achieve the four-hour workweek.


  22. I’ve been a fan of Waitzkin for years. As a serious chess player I followed his chess career closely. I loved his book. In case you don’t know video of some of his tai chi matches that he describes in “The Art of Learning” are on you tube. I’m using a tablet so pasting a link is a pain but if you do a search you can find them. It’s interesting to go back and read his wonderful descriptions and then to watch the actual matches.

  23. As an audio learner, who struggles with taking in text … I really appreciated this episode even though I had heard most of the words from Josh & remember them.

    Please, get an audiobook version of Tools for Titans, you have such a following in part because you are serving the audio learners of the world at a high level … and more people area really audio learners than realize it.

  24. Hi Tim,

    I enjoyed the highlight reel format version of the podcast. Though, I hope you continue to provide the long form interviews and use the highlight reel approach to spice things up now and again. I really enjoy hearing the in depth interactions you have with your guests.

    I found your work three months ago. I was coming back from vacation and wasn’t looking forward to going back to the office grind and saw a new release version of the 4 Hour Work Week in a book store. I originally didn’t purchase the Four Hour Work Week years ago when it came out because the title seemed like a gimmick. Coming back from vacation I was in the right state of mind to say the heck with it, lets give this a chance.

    I devoured the Four Hour Work Week and then shortly after the Four Hour Body. Lost 12 pounds, am exercising almost daily, work has become much more manageable (thanks to implementing some of your suggestions), and will run/walk a half marathon in January. Have not felt this good physically in years.

    Your work has had a tremendous impact on the quality of my life. Thanks for all that you do!


  25. Hi Tim,

    This new format of short episodes is amazing! I always loved the guests you had but the interviews are so long it’s impossible to get the nuggets of information from them. This is incredible. I’m loving this format and hope you continue this. Complete game changer. Just from this one and the meditation one alone, I’ve gotten so many incredible insights. Thank you!!

  26. This podcast and the previous 2 Josh Waitzkin podcasts are absolute dynamite. Switching on and off are also critical to the success of flying fighter aircraft, we call it compartmentalising. Being able to switch from ‘bombing mode’ to ‘air to air mode’ when you are caught unaware by an opposition aircraft will save your life. Being in a constant state of transition in that air to air engagement is also critical. If you get can inside your opponents decision making ‘loop’ by being 5 moves ahead (look up OODA loop), you’re definitely winning. Which also means the faster you can orientate yourself in that ‘compartment’ the better. Thanks Tim and Josh, epic!

  27. Distilled version is ok & nice when I need a mental pick me up. I prefer the full interviews because I feel present for the conversation. Observer or “fly on the wall” vs target audience. Always enjoy the laughs & the learning. Thanks for doing what you do, I appreciate it!

  28. I just listen to your podcast Tim, with James Altucher and now that led me to this,

    Great quotes here, My favorite was, Busy= out of control, that is perfect. Lack of time is lack of priorities, Re-examine my systems. You could not have said it better. Also, the billboard, “it would’t make you happy”

  29. Can anyone please tell me: is there a source of the Josh Waitzkin’s book the Art of Learning translated into spanish with a corresponding audiobook?

  30. His chapter in the book is one of those you want to highlight every single word. The ideas of turning on/off, 3 last turns and making empty space are amazing and new to me.