Overcoming Doubt, Battling the Busy Trap, and Enhancing Life — M. Sanjayan


“The messenger matters as much as the message.”
– M. Sanjayan

M. Sanjayan (@msanjayan) is a global conservation scientist specializing in how nature preserves and enhances human life. He serves as CEO for Conservation International, having joined CI in 2014 as executive vice president and senior scientist. He has led several key divisions including Oceans, Science, Development, Brand and Communications and Strategic Priorities.

Sanjayan holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his peer-reviewed scientific work has been published in journals including Science, Nature, and Conservation Biology. He is a visiting researcher at UCLA and distinguished professor of practice at Arizona State University.

Sanjayan has hosted a range of documentaries for PBS, BBC, Discovery, and Showtime. Most recently, he was featured in the University of California and Vox Media’s Climate Lab series.

Sanjayan is a Disneynature Ambassador, a Catto Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and a member of National Geographic Society’s Explorers Council. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!


Overcoming Doubt, Battling the Busy Trap, and Enhancing Life -- M. Sanjayan

Want to hear another conversation inspired by Tribe of Mentors? Listen to this episode where discuss my answers to the 11 questions I asked all of the mentors, including my favorite failures, best purchases of $100 or less, my morning routines, and much more. Listen to it here (stream below or right-click to download):

This podcast is brought to you by Peloton, which has become a staple of my daily routine. I picked up this bike after seeing the success of my friend Kevin Rose, and I’ve been enjoying it more than I ever imagined. Peloton is an indoor cycling bike that brings live studio classes right to your home. No worrying about fitting classes into your busy schedule or making it to a studio with a crazy commute.

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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 M. Sanjayan:

Conservation International | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Show Notes

  • Introductions. [06:15]
  • What is Sanjayan’s birth name? [08:05]
  • Not everyone has a monkey birthday cake story. [11:14]
  • How did Sanjayan’s family wind up moving from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone? [15:38]
  • How does Bruce Springsteen tie in to Sanjayan’s move to the United States and a career in science and conservation? [17:41]
  • Important advice Sanjayan received — and why it might not hold true today. [21:39]
  • What recent purchase of $100 or less has had the most positive impact on Sanjayan’s life? [23:38]
  • As a frequent traveler, what does Sanjayan rely on for saving his sanity and health on long flights or boat trips? [25:32]
  • What freshman college class would Sanjayan like to teach? [28:38]
  • What key principles would Sanjayan try to hammer home in a seminar on getting things done? [30:46]
  • Sanjayan considers these subjects crucial to a balanced education. [33:25]
  • Why Sanjayan feels his summers at The World Bank were “unbelievably useful” — even though he was studying wildlife biology at the time. [33:39]
  • The power of skill stacking and crossing disciplines. [35:25]
  • “Storytelling is one way to rule the world.” [36:39]
  • How does a good storyteller know when to stop? [43:33]
  • Same story, two tellers: “Respect” from the perspective of Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. [44:52]
  • Influential books Sanjayan gives most as gifts. [46:41]
  • The big change that occurred after 3 hours of freediving instruction. [48:51]
  • Why you need to use the buddy system when experimenting with breathing. [50:11]
  • What would Sanjayan’s billboard say? [51:23]
  • Common misconceptions about conservation, and how to approach it without getting overwhelmed. [52:34]
  • Suggested resources for someone who wants to get informed about conservation issues. [57:15]
  • Why the people today are in a unique time and place to save the planet. [58:46]
  • How can we train ourselves to think more long-term. [1:00:55]
  • The messenger matters as much as the message. [1:04:05]
  • A final book recommendation. [1:06:11]
  • How does Sanjayan start his mornings — and avoid getting derailed early? [1:06:54]
  • The value of regularly meeting with mentors (and how to select them). [1:08:22]
  • How M’s mentor group coached him to aim for the CEO position at Conservation International when he was having doubts about interviewing. [1:13:22]
  • As a busy person meeting with busy people, how does Sanjayan schedule time with his mentors? [1:16:44]

People Mentioned

Posted on: December 7, 2017.

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.

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15 comments on “Overcoming Doubt, Battling the Busy Trap, and Enhancing Life — M. Sanjayan

  1. I need a mailing address for Tim , my son reads everything that he writes but does not have access to any on line media but he want to write to Tim. [Moderator: additional text and email address removed.]


  2. Hi Tim,

    You’ve been a huge inspiration for me to start my own business! The 4 Hour Work Week was exactly what I needed at the right time. I highly respect your opinion and advice, so I had a quick question I was hoping you could help me with.

    I’m about to launch a blog / t-shirt design company for outdoor adventurists, more specifically rock climbers. Recently I’ve received feedback from a few friends I’ve talked to that have advised I don’t limit my target audience to only rock climbers, but rather target a broader audience in the outdoor adventure space similar to how Patagonia or The North Face has done. (including surfers, mountain bikers, adventure travelers, ect..) Just starting out, would you recommend I begin with only targeting the rock climbing community, then possibly expand out at a later time? Or should I start broader by targeting the adventure lifestyle itself?

    Thank you so much for your time! I hope to hear from you soon.

    Coty Williams

    PS. If you know anyone in the outdoor adventure space who I may be able to work with or ask advice from in the future. Please feel free to share my contact information with them. Thanks!


  3. Hey Tim, you have been a huge inspiration for me. I am a physician trying to help fight one of the worst epidemics this country has ever seen, by informing the public about how a plant known as kratom can save thousands of live. The fda is trying to ban this plant which will threaten all future research. [Moderator: Additional text and link removed.]


  4. Hi Tim,

    Please can I ask where the Kindle version of the 4 Hour Chef has gone on Amazon UK? Or am I imagining that a Kindle version was available?!

    I went online to buy it today, but it will only bring up the German version. Ironically, I want to learn German, but I think that would be jumping in at the deep end!



  5. Any recommendations on which of Tim’s books to get for a 17-year-old? I’d love to introduce one of my younger brothers to Tim’s work, but I’m not sure where best to start.

    And Tim, if you read this, thanks a million for all the great podcasts and posts. Your work has been incredibly informative and inspiring!


  6. Tim: you MUST add the Dreissegacker brothers to your interview menue…they are the inventors of by the original, and still world class composite oars, AND, the amazing Concept 2 ergometer, the now unifying training benchmark for all rowers worldwide, and also now many other sports. Fascinating guys who have devoted their lives to re-shaping the sport of rowing. You will love them.


  7. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for introducing us to Sanjayan. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about his work name until now, but after searching on YouTube and finding a few videos, it gave me a glimpse of the change he’s looking to accomplish.

    I enjoyed the videos where all the information is visual and I can imagine this is how people’s perception can be changed, by having big and colourful pictures of what is actually happening. Until the emotional pain point is triggered, I doubt there is much change that can be done, although I did find a rather entertaining YT channel where the main topic was trash (no pun intended). However, it is inactive for a few months even though it got to over 100k subscribers.

    A good conversation and I hope the tiredness didn’t affect the answers that much, especially since there were many in this podcast.

    Appreciate it,

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Tim, can you provide a transcript of your conversations in a link under the listen links? I prefer reading and I can’t always listen. Thank you


  9. Hi Tim

    You have added so much value to my life I wanted to try and give a tiny little bit back. Hope this helps answer a question you have been asking about how to choose a tennis coach. Being a coach myself for 12 years and a life-long student and lover of the game, I thought I could give you an extra perspective. I’ve tried to keep it short for convenience:

    1. Make sure you really like the person. Obvious, but no less important for that. You need to feel connected in some way and that they get why you want to learn, and can outline a plan to help you reach your goals.
    2. They see themselves as a student of the game and not a master. If they are continuing to try and improve their game, they will be closer to the perspective of a learner and will be able to therefore have more patience, but more importantly, excitement about your progress.
    3. They understand the mental side. I don’t just mean the tactics, strategy or even mental toughness. I mean, the stuff that goes on in your head, both on and off the court. They get what might be a block. There is too much to talk about here, but trust me on this, if they don’t see tennis as a spiritual practice,
    or at least a way to learn about yourself, then you will be missing out on one of the most compelling depths of the sport.
    4. They teach you how to breathe properly in time to the shots. So many coaches do not focus on this with beginners and this makes it much harder to integrate later on. And it affects so much: mentally it keeps you calm, and it stops you being tense as you hit the stroke which translates into more power and a smoother stroke.
    5. They can provide you with off-court homework. This is key to fast progression as so much ‘muscle memory’ can be learned outside of the court and in front of a mirror.

    Hope this helps in some small way. Since reading the 4-hour body I have always wondered how you would do applying the principles to tennis.

    Good luck and enjoy!


  10. Great conversation and many insights! I’ll definitely think about the personal board of advisers. That’s a brilliant idea. Do I understand correctly that the mentors of Sanjayan come not necessarily from the same domain? I’m wondering how he exactly structures the meetings? He first describes his issues and listens to recommendations? or may be he comes with specific questions and trusts experience and wisdom of his mentors?


  11. I wish your show notes would have actual content in them instead of yet more clickbait. This was a powerful episode and I want to refer to the actual content.


  12. Hey Tim, I’m getting ready to teach an English course for Middle Eastern oil executives. I would like to use excerpts of your books for professional development and reading comprehension. I can send you my lesson plans when I’m done. We’ll be promoting your books during the courses. Thanks, Steve Sacco


  13. I really enjoyed this conversation! Thanks for the exposure to someone I might not have heard about otherwise, and for focusing on the important issue of conservation.