How to Overcome Anxiety and Stress – with Adviser to Olympians, Michael Gervais (#256)

“Rugged and hostile environments teach us. And they teach us by leveraging real fear.”

– Michael Gervais

Michael Gervais (@michaelgervais) is the performance psychologist elite athletes and coaches turn to when they want to level up or when they’re returning from hard times and want to not just get back to where they were, but exceed their previous highest levels of excellence. His clients include Olympic gold medalists, Super Bowl champion NFL coaches, you name it.

In this episode, we discuss how to win the war against anxiety, some of the more effective (and less effective) ways to self-talk, behind-the-scenes stories of Michael’s clients, understanding mastery, and much more.

This episode comes from my new television show Fear{less}, where I interview world-class performers on stage about how they’ve overcome doubt, conquered fear, and made their toughest decisions. You can watch the entire first episode with illusionist David Blaine for free at (To watch all episodes, please visit DIRECTV NOW.)

We recorded three hours of material and only one hour was used for the TV show. This podcast episode is almost entirely new content that didn’t appear on TV.


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


#256: How to Overcome Anxiety and Stress - with Adviser to Olympians, Michael Gervais

Want to hear another podcast with a guest from Fearless? — Listen to this episode with David Blaine where we discuss illusion, taking risks, and the art of positive mindset (stream below or right-click here to download):

#245: The Magic, Misdirection, and Mindset of David Blaine

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This podcast is also brought to you by AudibleI have used Audible for years, and I love audiobooks. I have two to recommend:

  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  2. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

All you need to do to get your free 30-day Audible trial is visit Choose one of the above books, or choose any of the endless options they offer. That could be a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a class. It’s that easy. Go to and get started today. Enjoy.

QUESTION 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 Michael Gervais:

Website | Finding Mastery | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Show Notes

  • Michael shares his upbringing as a farm boy with laissez-faire parents. [06:55]
  • What experiences would Michael mandate for late high school/early college students? [12:24]
  • The first professional failure that Michael can remember. [14:50]
  • A football story about an unexpected outcome and its consequences. [19:07]
  • Learning to meditate successfully. [22:56]
  • On resolving conflicts physically. [27:34]
  • Practices Michael has implemented with fighters. [31:23]
  • Dealing with smartphones and other distracting modern stimuli that keep us from being present. [34:40]
  • Michael’s own experiences as a recipient of therapy. [36:42]
  • Why neither of us really likes the term “hacks.” [39:25]
  • Are there any types of clients Michael won’t work with? [40:37]
  • Clever ways to navigate honest personal references without putting anyone on the spot. [42:14]
  • What are Michael’s guidelines for tipping when dining out? [44:41]
  • Could you sum up your own personal philosophy in twenty words or less? [45:51]
  • In a society of easy distraction, mindfulness is a superpower. [47:08]
  • Building up a tolerance to discomfort works for the body and the mind. [48:22]
  • Best practices for imagery, why Michael prefers this term to visualization, and how the aims of imagery and mindfulness differ. [50:29]
  • The effectiveness of mnemonic devices. [52:47]
  • What Rickson Gracie told Michael about his use of imagery. [54:13]
  • What does Michael consider success, and who embodies this concept for him? [55:32]
  • Books Michael has gifted the most. [56:45]
  • Favorite movies and documentaries. [57:50]
  • A recent purchase of$100 or less that has had a positive impact on Michael’s life. [58:37]
  • If Michael had to give a TED Talk about something for which he’s not well known, what would the topic be? [59:40]
  • What is the hardest challenge currently facing Michael now? [1:01:25]
  • What is the worst advice Michael hears being given often in his field? [1:03:03]
  • Does Michael have any favorite failures? [1:04:40]
  • Most worthwhile investment of Michael’s money, time, or energy. [1:05:54]

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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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.)

28 Replies to “How to Overcome Anxiety and Stress – with Adviser to Olympians, Michael Gervais (#256)”

  1. Hey Tim,

    My first reaction to getting the email about this was “What, are you serious? He’s providing THAT MUCH extra content?” And I just have to comment about the generosity with the abundance of free content that you provide. You’ve made a tremendous difference in my life, and I’m constantly pointing people to your books and website for transforming themselves in new ways.

    Cheers mate!

  2. Hey Tim, love your work. I’m in the sound business so maybe I’m more sensetive but I’ve noticed lately that the sound on your Apple podcasts is very sibilant (high frequency hissing mostly on your voice). Have you change the equipment (mic’s, mixer or recorder) you’re using in the last few months? I look forward to your programs but have found a few hard to listen too because of the audio quality. Thanks Burke (Mississauga Canada)

  3. Consider looking at a friend of mine, Brian Willis, Internationally recognized law enforcement trainer,and mental and physical scholar I am sure you could learn a lot from his experiences and training methods as well. [Moderator: link removed.]

  4. Why does Michael Gervais say that “imagery” evoke all the senses, whereas “visualization” doesn’t? Both evoke only sight. “Imagination” would probably be a better word.

  5. Tim, regarding your protein sponsor, what is your opinion on this method of whey protein filtration vs. buying grass fed/organic whey (which of course could be filtered using this method but isn’t typically). What criteria do you use to evaluate your whey protein source that you yourself consume? Also, the ‘Native’ whey isolate I have found on other non-advertising tier 2 suppliers like truenutrition — is this the same process or a knockoff?

  6. I am hearing impaired and I wear hearing aids, but I don’t always hear everything. Is there any way to get a transcript of show?

  7. Michael does a phenomenal job in this interview, especially talking about his work with the Seahawks. As a Seattle-ite, I remember vividly the moment he was talking about when Richard Sherman was mad and his defensive teammates gathered around him jumping – that gives me shivers thinking about it – I’ve never seen anything like that and it psychologically pulled him back into the game, so fascinating!

    Tim – I really like these style of interviews where you interact with your guests. Don’t get me wrong, I still love your more recent ones where you ask one question to many people, but it doesn’t give you the opportunity to go down the rabbit hole – no Tim commentary is like getting strawberry jam on your sandwich but no peanut butter! I can imagine the new style is really time-saving for you, just wanted to share my two cents (and I still love your podcasts!)

  8. Always great to listen/read a Tim Ferriss post. Invariably I end up research/reading/studying something only marginally related o the topic….I follow a link posted then a follow a link there and then a 3rd or 4th and THEN I get to work..Thanks for that.

  9. Hey Tim, I love your content, but I have a question. How do you toe the line between appreciating what you have, and the desire to get more. Or framed another way, can you be motivated and appreciative at the same time? I’d love to hear yours / your listeners thoughts.

    Mucho love. Luke – England

    1. Hey Luke – fellow reader here. This is a good question and something many people get hung up on when thinking about gratitude. For me, it helps to not only appreciate results (grateful for a promotion) but also to feel grateful for the process (working hard to be promoted). I notice that when I appreciate the process above all else, then I am more motivated to continue pursuing growth in all areas of my life without feeling ungrateful/greedy.

  10. Loved this episode! Listened in my car on drive home and wanted to join in when the question was asked could you sum up your personal philosophy in 20 words or less. So I thought I’d post it and thank you both for a funny, genuine and thought provoking trip home!

    Always be kind and curious. When faced with fear or overwhelm I ask “am I going to die from this?”

    Thanks Tim and Michael!

  11. It was interesting to me just how many of Michael’s

    ways of operating my transpersonal neurobiology training

    dictates against. For example, leaving no tip to a waitstaff

    who provides lousy service. I would tip them monstrously

    and leave a note explaining THESE are the kinds of tips

    you will make when you grow your capacity to provide

    excellent service! Leaving no tip just confirms their many

    trauma-trained negative biases.

  12. Great episode, and I really liked learning about the concept and nuances of imagery. BTW, did Tim just admit to having watched Thundercats? 😉

  13. Really nice episode! Wonderful guest, I really love this meeting between you as a very “quantitative” person (what gets measured gets done) and Michael who is very “qualitative” person (makes judgments on his feeling or intuition). I was wondering if Michael could elaborate more on “imagery”, how athletes or others use it, and for what purposes it is useful. It seems very different from law of attraction stuff. Is it maybe more on this in you TV-show?

  14. I really like the quote at the top re: “Rugged and hostile environments..”

    As a leader in a corporate setting however I’m not allowed to foster a hostile environment, which leaves rugged. This all starts with me, my standards, my work ethic, my coaching. Finding and communicating these qualities is my pursuit.

  15. Great show! I loved it loved it loved it.

    One of my favorite bits was what he shared about how he weeds out clients: if they seem to have little regard for others/high influence- possibly to harm other people/to be more powerful. This really lit me up as it is been something I’ve been exploring the edges of wrt certain practices but hadn’t heard someone talk about so directly. It’s also making me pause wrt how I chose my clients.

    You shared that you enjoy facilitated mediations, so I’d thought i’d shoot one your way if you’re interested- let me know. It’s from a course I led awhile ago using gravity as a reference point for exploring direct experience. 15 minutes.


  16. You take in so much valuable information from such amazing people, as far as routines, strategies, etc. I try out different techniques that I hear on your podcast/books all the time. I’m slowly finding what works for me. How do you process it all? How do you make it useful and or apply it to your life? If you could name one thing that you learned/acquired from one of your guests that enhanced your life the most, what would it be?

  17. I particularly appreciated the nuances shared around elite athletes use of visualization, or rather imagery. The format difference between live TV and radio is interesting: you can feel Tim more “in the headlights” in working with his interviewee. Though too, you can hear the questioning experience from the podcast – in particular where a guest doesn’t first hear the spirit of the question and needs a little guidance and re-framing. Thank you Tim, thank you Michael!

  18. Hi,

    I am a heavy listener of our podcast and I love it. However hearing several episodes through a week made me ponder (read get irritated) about the Audible recommendation. It is a great app and the recommendations of the two books are great. However when hearing it several times over and over. The recommendations gets less relevant 🙂

    This made me think of a proposal to refresh it. You read many books and highlight books in your 5 bullet friday newsletter. Wouldnt it be possible to refresh the audible commercial in the Podcast with an update on the most recent books which you could recommend. Perhaps keep the recommendation of the Graveyard book but highlight a new book now and then. I know it is time consuming and a question of time available. It is only my simple idea for improving an already fantastic podcast.

    Best wishes from Denmark, Anders

  19. Great talk, but what was the book he got for his kid that was about Pokemon? My kid loves Pokemon and is just starting to read so I am looking to encourage that. Thanks!

  20. Famous poem from Oriah Mountain Dreamer:

    The Invitation

    Oriah Mountain Dreamer

    It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

    It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

    It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

    I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

    I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

    It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

    I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

    I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

    It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

    It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

    It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

    I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

  21. Hi Tim, Just re reading your book for the second time and have become a little evangelical about it, pimping it out to all my friends. I finally feel normal. You seem to be the male equivalent of myself. I watched your video on hugging strangers, cracked me up. I’m British and I wonder if I did that what response I would get? Anyways. I’ve got my VA and outsourced most of the chores that take up my time. I’m planning to spend my first mini retirement in Spain to learn the language and learn how to make creme caramel. I have a question about the ‘muse’ .