Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Aubrey Marcus, Founder and CEO of Onnit. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show where it is my job to interview incredible people who have done incredible things and tease out the habits, routines, life lessons, and so on that you can apply to your own life. My guest this episode is Aubrey Marcus. You can find him on Instagram, on Twitter as @aubreymarcus. He’s the founder and CEO of Onnit, a lifestyle brand based on a holistic health philosophy that Aubrey calls total human optimization.
I’ve spend a good amount of time with Aubrey, and he walks the talk in every way that I have observed over the last few years. Onnit is now an Inc. 500 company. It’s one of the fastest growing private companies in the country and an industry leader with products touching millions of lives including many top professional athletes around the world.
Aubrey currently hosts The Aubrey Marcus Podcast, a motivational destination for conversations with the brightest minds in athletics, business, science, relationships, and more. It has more than 10 million downloads on iTunes. Aubrey regularly provides commentary to outlets like Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Doctors, and the Joe Rogan Experience, on which he’s appeared several times. He’s been featured on the cover of Men’s Health. His newest and first book, which is on my coffee table right now, is Own the Day, Own Your Life from HarperCollins. Without further ado, please enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Aubrey Marcus.
Aubrey Marcus, welcome to the show.
Aubrey Marcus: What’s up, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: Hey, man. I’m going to shake your hand because I don’t usually do video. Here you at in the Shanghai of Texas, otherwise known as Austin. I’ve never seen so many cranes in one place in the United States.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, it’s thriving. It is really thriving, and I think we’re on the cusp of all sorts of fun in the next couple years. I like it. People whine about it like, “Oh, Austin used to be this kind of reminiscing fantasy thing.” I think it’s just getting better.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I think it’s like talking to someone who went to a concert in the early days of any band.
Aubrey Marcus: Or Burning Man.
Tim Ferriss: They’re like, “Burning Man used to be so cool, man, in 2007 before you got here in 2008.” Grateful Dead, I was at their first show. Now, it’s so uncool. There’s a lot of discussion along those lines about Austin. You are one of the people I know best here in Austin, and I’m thrilled to have you in front of the mic.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, man. I’m glad you came out. It has been dope. We got to hang out, have some wine, have some dinner.
Tim Ferriss: I know I’m not impressing anyone with my 45-pound deadlifts in the auto gym.
Aubrey Marcus: It’s your persistence though, Tim. It’s the fact that you do it so many times and only do that. It’s actually, “Oh, wow. Remarkable.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s true. Last time you saw me in that gym, I was working on a program from Jerzy Gregorek, the 63-year-old former world record holder in Olympic weightlifting doing only overhead squats, if I remember correctly, for an hour and a half.
Aubrey Marcus: For like all day. I see you doing now more overhead squats.
Tim Ferriss: Part of the reason I wanted to have you here to have this conversation is that I feel like you are one of the people who really walks the walk in checking the boxes of these overlapping spheres of life, whether that is body, business, balance. I’m actually borrowing this bit from a weekend event one of my friends went to not too long ago. You’ve done a really good job of integrating those various pieces, so this format of this particular podcast is going to be a bit experimental and jarring in its lack of transitions.
I want to start with a question I was recently asked at a small dinner. The question was posed by a guy named Michael Hebb, who is a fascinating guy and a very good chef. He organizes dinners around specific topics very often. He did one called Death over Dinner. It was in cooperation with NPR, and it was a facilitated conversation around mortality. He’s done many of these. I had a small dinner with him in L.A. with six to eight people, and no one really knew any other attendees. To break the ice, he started with this question which just opened up the floodgates so that everyone got very open and very vulnerable really quickly. This is it. Thank you, Michael. When is the last time that you cried tears of joy that you remember?
Aubrey Marcus: Oh, man. That wasn’t too long ago. That’s a frequent occurrence for me actually.
As I’ve done a lot of work on my life, it hasn’t been the external stuff that makes me cry tears of joy. It’s not a bit Onnit success. It’s something external that happens. It’s really just sitting in a moment. It could be with a lover that I’m sharing a night with. I’ll just start crying. It’s just the experience of enjoying that simple moment. It could be laughing with friends. It’s actually a rather frequent occurrence, and that’s one of the best indicators, for me, that the path that I’m on is yielding the kind of fruit that I’m looking for and looking to forage. I catch myself doing that all the time.
Today, I had an informal mentorship with one of my employees. I saw that breakthrough moment. I saw that moment where I was talking about her working not on her business, not on her career at Onnit, but on her heart. She says, “Yeah, that’s a big project,” and I go, “Yeah, it is a big project.” I saw that light come up, and the tears will come in that moment for me too. It’s just like, “Fuck, yeah!” I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Just the gratitude for being able to do what I’m supposed to be doing, it’ll come.
Tim Ferriss: Is that something that has always been the case? Or is that something that has become more frequent with any kind of trigger or catalyst?
Aubrey Marcus: It was very rare. I think it was very rare because I think most of my life I was trying to achieve something. I was trying to validate myself externally, trying to say, “If I get to this point, then I’ll be successful. Then, I’ll be living up to my potential.” If it was in high school for basketball, “If I make all-state honors, then I’ll be there. If we make it far in the playoffs, then I’ll be there.” It was always this next thing, but it’s never the next thing. You can keep searching for that next thing. You’re not going to find it until you turn that gaze truly inward. I’ve almost exhausted the external thing, so it has forced me to go internal. When Onnit was successful and the external was great, and I still wasn’t that happy deeply, I was like, “Alright, it’s definitely not external. This is internal.”
That’s driven me deeper and deeper inside my heart.
Tim Ferriss: If I look back at my own experience with relationships with people who have unfortunately taken their lives, it’s not the outwardly depressing cases that you would expect. It’s actually very often the people who have a lot of money. Not always, certainly. For instance, one of my best friends, Andrea, in high school and two friends later in college seemed to have everything going for them. Of course – I shouldn’t say of course, but nobody saw these coming. They all had a good amount of money.
My theory related to that based on what I see also in people who are, from the outside looking in, very successful and very wealthy but miserable is that for a long time, for most of life, if you’re fighting for every scrap to get this external validation, you can envision a day, “When I have X, it’ll all be great.”
“This anxiety that I feel, this fill in the blank that I feel will go away,” and it doesn’t go away. Then, at that point, if you’ve checked the boxes, it seems like you can lose hope. Also, if you grow up rich, and you realize it does not, as a panacea, solve your problems.
My question then, walk us through how you shifted your gaze to be more internal. I’ve seen that in you, and we haven’t known each other that long. We’re known each other a while. I’d love to just hear how you made the decision or were forced to look inward because a lot of people get to a point where the outside world third parties would think of them as successful, but they never shift the gaze. How did it happen?
Aubrey Marcus: It’s in combination with external pressure, external pain and internal pain, like pain as a motivator to let you know that something is wrong. That’s kind of like your engine light blinking. Then, it’s the practices that I’ve employed that help me have that introspection to actually go searching and figure out what it is. It’s always been a combination of that, pain plus the tools to go seek out where that pain is coming from. I was fortunate. I was given an opportunity to do a vision quest when I was just out of high school, and I was a staunch atheist with zero spirituality.
Tim Ferriss: How did that come to be?
Aubrey Marcus: That was through my father. I had a lot of issues with my dad, but he was in a lot of pain himself. That had taken him down to try everything from primal therapy to all kinds of different conventional methods to, eventually, psychedelics where he worked with Stan Grof doing holotropic breathing and doing LSD psychotherapy. He found a shaman who worked with psilocybin in the mountains.
Tim Ferriss: Where was this?
Aubrey Marcus: This was in the mountains in New Mexico. After high school, in that traditional vision quest idea, he said, “You should go experience this.” At that point, he would talk about anything on the fringe of spirituality. I’d grown up here in Texas getting washed with capital “R” Religion. I was like, “Fuck that, dad. I’m not interested in that. I saw the dungeons of the inquisition. This is bull shit. This is bad.” He’s like, “No, just check it out and see what happens. It’s a vision quest.” I respected Native American and traditional culture enough that I was like, “Alright, I’ll give it a go.” I was fucking terrified.
Tim Ferriss: Can you explain to people or describe what that vision quest entails?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, it’s a traditional rite of passage where, typically, a young man, or any man, goes to find an aspect of themself that had been hidden, some calling or some piece of them that they don’t know about or aren’t aware of, and that’s certainly what happened.
I was given a tea in the mountains in a very isolated place with a very loving and warm mushroom shaman. She gave me a tea, and then after a little while, I felt my entire body evaporate into geometry. I was like, “Oh, shit! I got a lot of things wrong.” There is something else to this experience. I stayed up all night riding, and there were thunderstorms and coyotes howling. They sounded like wolves, but they were probably coyotes since it was New Mexico. It was this crazy night of just realizing that my whole paradigm at that point had shifted.
I’d realized that I’m not just body and mind. There’s else that I access, something that could observe both of those things. That’s been the fallback teacher for me in finding the ways to not just use medicines but finding ways to get there by other means because that’s like a feast. You can’t feast every night. I had to find other ways to access that identification point.
Tim Ferriss: You do not have kids, as far as I know, at this point that you’re aware of.
Aubrey Marcus: If I do have any kids out there, and you want to claim it, we’ll about it. We’ll figure it out. I’m in a pretty good spot now.
Tim Ferriss: Support it on a dotcom. If and when you have kids – I’m not sure if that’s in the cards, but let’s just say you have a son. It doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s a son or daughter, would you walk them through or introduce them to a rite of passage like that?
Aubrey Marcus: Fuck, yeah! Undoubtedly.
Tim Ferriss: How would you structure it? What do you think it would look like?
Aubrey Marcus: Well, I think as a parent, as a dad, you have to get out of the way because part of the vision quest is getting kid out of your purview allowing them to become their own man. I would find someone who is separate enough from me that I wasn’t influencing the experience, someone I trusted. I know a lot of people right now, and I’m sure I’ll know a lot of people even then.
Talking to MAPS, talking to Hefter, and talking to those organizations that are working on the legalization of these as medicines. I think there are going to be a lot of cool options for people to do that completely above board and legally by the time I have a kid. They’re targeting 20 or 21 for MDMA therapy and psilocybin sometime after that. I think there are going to be a lot of options, and it’s going to become more common.
I’d just send him with someone I really trusted and allow the process to unfold. That’s the thing, you really don’t want to guide it too much. You want to have the guide and allow the medicine, nature, and everything around them to be the teachers.
Tim Ferriss: I’m sure there are people watching or listening who have had adolescent, high school, or college experiences with psychedelics but viewed them, in retrospect, as uncontrolled recreational drugs.
Do you think the reason that vision quest stuck with you – How much of it was the psychedelics versus the ceremony versus the guidance? If you had to try to weight those factors, how would you weigh them?
Aubrey Marcus: They’re inextricable. The experience itself blends together and becomes inseparable. You couldn’t take one part and have it all be there. It was the trust that I had in the guide because I think one of the big problems with taking psychedelics without passes would be like, “Am I going to die? Am I going to get busted by the cops? Is this the right environment? Is that person looking at me funny?” All of these crazy things come in, and it can steer it into really squirrelly pathways.
Having that steady, loving presence available, just being out on the land, and knowing that I was part of a lineage that had done this thousands of times for many generations gave me the support system to be able to really let go. I think you really stay tense and fight these experiences. You get stories and reports of people taking incredibly high doses, and they’re still so bound up that they can’t even release into it.
Having a guide you really trust is absolutely essential because they’re really guiding you through this massive bursting of a cocoon, and it’s pretty terrifying on its own. Having somebody there to help is absolutely essential. I only recommend doing it in that context until you’re somewhat of a master yourself.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, agreed, and definitely get external verification that you’re a master and not, “I’ve been on YouTube, and I think I understand this well enough. I’m a blackbelt now.”
Aubrey Marcus: I watched Triple Rainbow three times. I know what bliss is.
Tim Ferriss: Exactly. What do you think you wanted to be when you grew up when you were 16, 17, or 18?
Aubrey Marcus: I was always into history. I would look at all the great conquering heroes, the great kings, and the people who had led these great movements. I looked around, and obviously, Genghis Khan was kind of an asshole.
I didn’t really want to kill people, and that’s not the way it happens anymore. Really, the people leading the movements, you had politicians, but they didn’t seem like they were doing anything that I was interested in. Then, you had business leaders, thought leaders, and authors. I think I always knew I was going to end up in one of those categories, either leading an organization, writing books, or speaking. Interestingly, I doubted myself the whole way because I failed at absolutely everything I tried.
Tim Ferriss: Like what? What did you try that didn’t work out?
Aubrey Marcus: Literally, everything. I tried gold mining. I tried a variety of different online retail, from sex toys to skincare. I tried oil and gas.
Tim Ferriss: Oil and gas trading and investing?
Aubrey Marcus: No, it was like investor relations, like trying to convince people to go bet on some wildcat oil well in the middle of nowhere that never works. I’d get some stock options. This one’s going to hit! It never hit. Nothing.
Now, looking back, I’m grateful because I failed at everything that wasn’t directly going to serve my purpose. All of those failures and all of the lessons gave me the strength to be able to hold an organization of this magnitude that I’m holding now. The person that I was then couldn’t run Onnit. I couldn’t write the book that I wrote. I couldn’t do the things that I’m doing. I couldn’t have this conversation now because my ego would get in the way and all kinds of things. I wasn’t ready yet, so the universe was like, “No, not ready. Fail.” I was like, “I’m 30, and I’ve failed at everything.”
I scratched out a little money here and there. I was doing alright and doing better than some of my peers. I would go buy bottles at the club and party. I could buy a more expensive bottle than they could. So, everybody’s like, “Yeah, but you’re killing it,” but I’m not fucking killing it. I’m blowing it, and that was tough. Finally, it just lined up with the right timing, the right idea, and the right person leading it, me, and it was able to come to fruition.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s start with a snapshot of where we are now, and then I’m going to go back to you and your dad at 16 for a second. What is Onnit? How many employees do you have? What are you proudest of that Onnit has done or is doing?
Aubrey Marcus: We call it total human optimization. You mentioned this in the intro, what I realized early on is that you couldn’t balance. You really can’t specialize in only one thing and really reach the potential of that thing. You have to support everything else. You can go super hard in one direction, but your health is going to fall apart. Your relationship is going to fall apart. Ultimately, that’s going to start being weight. It’s going to be anchors. It’s going to drag against your progress, and it’s going to be a head wind for you in anything that you’re doing.
It’s the same with the body. You can take great supplements, but if your nutrition is shitty, your workouts are shitty, your sleep is shitty, and your mentality is shitty, so what? It’s not going to matter.
Total human optimization is the idea to raise everything at the same time and really try to incrementally improve. It’s not as flashy and sexy as this 30-day transformation expert in this one area, but it really works. Also, it’s through to the bone. I think that’s what I’m probably most proud of, Onnit is what it appears to be.
You go there. The people who are there from me to Kyle to everybody who is in the organization, they feel that movement. The people who follow Onnit, they feel that movement. I think it’s just the vibe and the authenticity of what we stand for, the ability to be a little bit better tomorrow than you are today. I think that’s probably what I’m most proud of.
Tim Ferriss: How many employees do you have?
Aubrey Marcus: 180 employees if you count our yoga studios, the gym, and the other entities that we own.
Tim Ferriss: How many employees did you have ten years ago? When was Onnit founded?
Aubrey Marcus: Onnit started in 2011, originally 2010. We had zero employees in 2010. I was making hangover supplements mostly because I was partying too much.
Really, a lot of this was, “Where’s the need for me?” At that point, I was just drinking my head off because I was unhappy. I first started making hangover supplements and then realized that’s not where I’m going. Where I’m going is to really improve my life in all areas. That’s when we pivoted to Alpha Brain and different things. Yeah, we started, and there was one employee who was kind of like my righthand guy. He was part assistant, part everything. He was the everything guy.
Tim Ferriss: Odd Job.
Aubrey Marcus: Odd Job, 100 percent. Then we started getting geared up with Alpha Brain. When it hit, and we actually started having sales, then it was just grabbing every friend that had something of a shaky job I could trust and say, “Quit. Come, and let’s fucking figure it out.” I was in the attic of a little boutique that my fiancée at the time, Catelynn, was running. We were in the attic of this boutique, and we were just bringing out trash bags of orders that we were hand labeling from the top of it. That’s how it started.
I had blown through the only funding I got. I got $100,000.00 from my friend Bode Miller who was an Olympic skier at the time. That was a really significant friendship for me. Then an old investment banking contact that somehow didn’t go broke when all the wells dried up – I don’t know how he ever made money because everything I ever saw him do didn’t work. He gave me $50,000.00, so I had $110,000.00. I blew through a lot of that trying to market these hangover supplements. It was the last $20,000 invested in an order of Alpha Brain net 30, and it hit. We sold out in 24 hours.
Tim Ferriss: Net 30 meaning you had 30 days to pay for your manufacturing and cover the costs?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, exactly. It was all in, man. It was just like, “Here we go. Let’s see.”
Tim Ferriss: I promise I’ll get back to this. I don’t want to keep people hanging, and then we’re going to come back to the attic.
Sixteen. You mentioned you had a complicated relationship with your dad. You had a conflicted relationship.
Vision quest, was that an overnight experience? Or was it multiple days?
Aubrey Marcus: Overnight.
Tim Ferriss: Overnight, right. You have this vision quest. Two things, if you’re comfortable talking about it.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: How was your relationship with your dad complicated? I think that’s true for a lot of people. For those people who want a good quote, I think it was Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert – You can look up his history. He said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family,” so we all have our stuff. We all have our stuff. How was the relationship complicated? Or how would you describe it? Did the vision quest affect it in any way?
Aubrey Marcus: It did, but that took a long time to unpack. In fact, that’s still unpacking, honestly. There has actually been an understanding, a realization, that has actually led to a lot greater level of happiness for me, and I’ll talk about that when I get to it. If I go from the start, my dad was a tortured soul from his father whom I had never met. His father used to hold trials for him and his brother. He was a lawyer, and he would hold trials like Franz Kafka style.
They’re like 6 and 8 years old. He’d put them on trial, and they’d have to petition their defense. He would hammer them, cross examine them, then read out their sentence, and some crazy shit like that. It wasn’t ever physical or sexual but massive emotional mind fuckery.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, serious head games.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, serious. So, my dad had a lot of his own demons, and he started on the path to heal himself, as I said, to try and pass as little of that as he could off on his sons. However, he didn’t quite get there by the time he had me. I remember one time he was playing ping-pong. I was about 4 years old. He was playing ping-pong. He mis-hits a ball. The ball goes flying off the thing. I run by, and I go, “Home run!” I’m a little kid, and the fucking ball went out of the thing. Two days later, he throws me down in a corner and starts yelling, “How could you insult me like that in front of my competition? How dare you?”
I was like, “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.” I couldn’t even fathom that. It had gone out of my mind. It built this fear that everything I say could be misinterpreted.
Tim Ferriss: Right, especially with that delay.
Aubrey Marcus: Exactly, the delay was the killer. If it was right away, you’re like hot stove, ouch. Okay, I get it. But that forced me to internalize it because I’d be going over everything I said the previous day, so there’s this massive lack of trust around my dad that I didn’t realize. We had a good relationship in a lot of other ways. He was a brilliant man and taught me a lot, and I’m grateful for our relationship.
However, I realized that I never really trusted in men, particularly men that had that paternal role, so anybody who I had in that father category or even the peer category. Even when I’d give him a hug, it’d be like, “Yeah, I’ll hug you, but I don’t fucking trust you.” I don’t know if one thing I said a while ago is going to cause you to go off.
I didn’t really realize that I was doing that to people other than my father. It was extending universally to all men until recently. Someone who I had held in that kind of father/mentor kind of role, our relationship really went askew and went haywire. I realized, “Oh, shit. I’m really damaged by this. This is really traumatic to me. Where’s this coming from? Oh, this is coming from my dad. This is that same pattern repeating.”
Tim Ferriss: Did that just occur to you while you were in the shower? Or were you journaling? What prompted that realization?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, I think it came slowly, and it was unpacking. I’m constantly doing different work and introspection, and it was somehow that pain, that external pain – again, going back to external pain being one of those indicators. Why am I fucking devastated by this? Why am I completely floored? This is applying universally to everything. I was really crushed, and I couldn’t bounce back. So, it just forced me to keep looking. What is this? Why do I care so much?
Tim Ferriss: When you say crushed, was that something your mentor or the person in that role had said to you that threw you off?
Aubrey Marcus: It was an instance that repeated the pattern. I don’t want to get into the details specifically, but I had said and done some things that were interpreted in a way that I didn’t intend. It caused a break in our friendship and a lot of anger. It was that pattern of I’m never safe. No matter what I say or do, it can be interpreted in a different way, and I’ll never be safe. It really allowed me to look at that, analyze that, and say, “I’ve got to get to the bottom of this, and I’ve got to understand where this is coming from.” Simultaneously, I met Kyle Kingsbury, who has become one of my best friends. If I was to get married now, he’d probably be my best man. He’s also probably the most stable dude I know. It was the combination of having one example of the most, “Oh, I really think I can trust this guy” –
You can push him to the extreme, and he doesn’t shift: under pain, under duress, under fatigue, under psychedelics, under alcohol, under anything.
Tim Ferriss: He has an incredible amount of self-awareness from what I’ve observed of him under duress. I’ve seen him under duress, and he can go from that initial experience of overwhelmed to completely centered in a few minutes.
Aubrey Marcus: It’s remarkable. We’re talking about Kyle Kingsbury who is our director of human optimization, a former UFC fighter. Yeah, it was a combination of one spinning off and one being solid. I can’t pinpoint the moment, but I realized somewhere in there, “Oh, this is all stuff from my father. I’ve never trusted men since that point.” That was like a second weird coming of age at 36. I’m about to turn 37. I finally felt like I didn’t need to prove anything to my dad. I didn’t need to get validated. I didn’t need to show him or any other men that I was worthy of love anymore.
I could actually trust that I do have male friends, and I really do have people who I can trust. If they go off, that’s okay. It’s not me. It’s not my fault. It’s just a pattern that happened from when I was growing up. That’s been huge for me. That’s been huge because I’ve always retreated to females as my solace and my comfort. Having male friends I can really rely on, trust, and be vulnerable with in a really authentic way – I would go do ceremonies and stuff, but I would always kind of keep my shell up. Now to be able to relax into that, I feel like a much happier individual and much more solid having brothers of the way.
Tim Ferriss: That’s cool. If half the people you encounter are potential threats, that’s a lot of your day-to-day existence.
Aubrey Marcus: Exactly. I sympathize so much with people who have had both those roles be off center or off kilter.
Let’s say your father was abusive, your mother permitted it, and there was some weird dynamic there. Then you don’t trust both side. Then you don’t trust the fucking world. I was super lucky. I had one half dialed in, so I had a place to retreat. I had a place to rest. If you have neither, that’s a hell of a challenging road. The good news is if you make it through that, you’ll be even stronger because of it.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to get back to the attic in a second. I’m 40 now, and I’ve just recently realized no matter your circumstances or the hand you’ve been dealt if you do the work to uncover the wounds, heal the wounds, or at least accept that they exist and begin to process that, you’re not only doing the work for yourself, but you can then in turn help other people who have experienced this same thing or similar things.
It’s really valuable work. It’s hard to understate.
Aubrey Marcus: When you take your lessons and knowledge, and then you can help other people, that’s almost the turning point. At that point, you’ve got the inspiration. You’ve got the momentum. That’s the final healing catalyst. It’s not healing yourself. It’s the knowing that everything that you’ve suffered, all of that pain you’ve endured, can now help someone else. It optimizes it instantly into something that’s valuable, something you can be grateful for. When you’re grateful for something, it’s no longer trauma. You’ve healed it. That’s the full circle. It’s gratitude for that for what it’s given you.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. This sounds really odd to say, but at least for me, regard for myself or healing myself wasn’t enough to motivate me to do the work I knew would be really difficult. But as soon as I realized even if I have no regard, or very little regard, for myself, if I can then develop a toolkit and learn about A, B, C, and impart that to other people, that’s enough to motivate me.
Since, I’ve developed more regard for myself, but it’s like you’ve got to take what works. For me, it was that realization that I can hand this baton off to other people, so let’s work with what motivates us.
Aubrey Marcus: Look at every great epic novel, what gets the hero inspired? It’s not his own safety. He’s fine chopping wood and being in the forest, but when the oppressing force starts fucking with his family or starts fucking with his kids, then you unleash William Wallace. If they didn’t slit Murron’s throat, there may not be Scotland. There’s just the UK. Do you know what I mean?
We’re wired to care for those we love almost more than ourselves. It’s just part of the social dynamic. You can tap in or hack in to that current and use that to your advantage, and that’s the cleanest burning fuel you’ve got. That’s like a fusion reactor from the sun, and that’s really what’s going to motivate you, not the other ego-based stuff. That’s like burning coal.
You’re going to run out of that shit at some point, and it’s not going to work for you.
Tim Ferriss: And you have to breathe in the fumes too.
Aubrey Marcus: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: You’re just turning, or you have turned, 37?
Aubrey Marcus: Tomorrow.
Tim Ferriss: Tomorrow! Happy early birthday!
Aubrey Marcus: Thanks, man.
Tim Ferriss: Alright, 37. If we rewind the clock to 2011 when you’re 29 or 30 and fulfilling orders out of the attic – I remember those days, by the way. When I started my first real business, also in sports nutrition, I remember when I decided to get a fulfillment company was when I had to race off to the post office to ship off packages, and my car wouldn’t start. I got on my used motorcycle with a dark garbage bag full of boxes, and I’m wrapping it around the throttle to try to make it to the post office. I almost died, obviously. I get back, and I’m like, “That was dumb.”
Aubrey Marcus: You didn’t want to go Santa Claus style and hold it over your back?
Tim Ferriss: I’d have to really switch grips if I went Santa Claus, so I decided just to risk life and limb with it on the throttle. I came back, and I was like, “Now it’s time to start to outsource things.” This question I wanted to ask you is you get up to betting the farm.
Aubrey Marcus: Which is a very small farm. I’m not that courageous.
Tim Ferriss: You’re betting the backyard on this manufacturing of Alpha Brain with net 30 terms. If we bounce out, say, two years to 32. From 12 to 32, do you remember any point in time when you were like, “Wow, this is the richest I’ve ever felt”? I remember one very specific day in my experience, but what was that moment when you were like, “Wow. I feel successful,” or, “Wow, this is more than I could have anticipated”?
Aubrey Marcus: That happened pretty quickly after that because with those net 30 terms and the sales, I was really able to scale pretty aggressively without taking on extra capital or anything, and we had no overhead. That was just the cost of the product itself and a couple friends who we were pay $25,000.00 – $30,000.00 or whatever we could push together. Then it started to grow a little bit from there, but it was a lot of sales, just product costs, a lot of shipments, and no additional advertising because at that point Rogan was the business partner. He was the advertising engine. He’d bought into the company, so I’d given equity in exchange for the marketing.
There was serious money coming in, and I started looking at houses. I was looking at this house, and I was thinking maybe $600,000.00 or $700,000.00 range and really get a house that I could sink my teeth into. I saw this house that was $1 million, and I was like, “$1 million house, damn.” I was like, “I think I can swing it. I think I can fucking swing it.” It was just because it was my dream house.
It had a nice backyard. I envisioned what’s there now, which is axe throwing, slack line, pool, deck, and fire pit. I was like, “I can do this here in this house,” and it had my style. Again, a little bit early, but at that point I still went for it. I think this thing looks solid enough I can go in. When I went into that house, that was a big moment for me because that was a real house. That was a big boy house. I was like, “I’ve got a fucking big boy house,” and that was really the moment for me where I was like, “Damn, this is awesome.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and you’ve turned it into the Aubrey Marcus house of ninja warrior training and assorted delights.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, it’s been heaven.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned a name that for people that don’t have contacts, I want to explore for a second. You mentioned Rogan, Joe Rogan. Some of you listening, of course, know who Joe is. Most certainly, I would say he is arguably the most powerful single interview format podcaster, period.
One of the inspirations for me starting my own podcast was being across the table from Joe and having such a wonderful experience, able to go long form, and be myself. He fed me. I don’t know if I ever told you this. I’m going to digress for a second because that’s what I do. The very first time I was on his show – I’ve been on twice. He said, “Do you want some Bulletproof Coffee?” “Sure.” He gave me a huge – It must have been 24 ounces of Bulletproof Coffee.
Then he goes, “Do you want some Alpha Brain?” I was like, “Sure,” so I had a handful of Alpha Brain. Then he goes, “Do you want some pot?” I don’t even smoke pot, but I’m intimidated. Joe’s a really intense guy. Maybe it’s spending time in Japan, but I was like I can’t say no. So, I go into this interview on 24 ounces of butter coffee, a handful of Alpha Brain, and pot, which I very rarely consume.
Nothing against it, but it’s just not really my plant. Man, oh, man, that was a hell of an experience. But how did you first meet Joe? I think this maybe is going to tie into a theme that I want to explore.
Aubrey Marcus: I listened to Joe do comedy, and I was a huge UFC fan all the way from UFC 1. Because my dad was a fan of the sport, we’d watch that together. Those were some of the good times.
Tim Ferriss: The real first UFC. I still remember the first match.
Aubrey Marcus: That savant foot fighter who kicked the tooth out of a sumo guy.
Tim Ferriss: Into the commentators. Oh, boy. This is different.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, that was pretty epic. So, I’d seen him there, so I think that probably drew me to listen to his comedy show. Then I listened to his comedy show, and I was like, “Oh, shit. He’s thinking about the same things that I’m thinking about.” He’s done psychedelics. He’s into worrying about aliens, super volcanoes, and this stuff. I was like, “Man, I’ve got to meet this guy.” I kept running into him at different events because I’d go to some of the UFCs, and I’d see him out.
At that point, he was still going to clubs and occasionally going to strip clubs.
Tim Ferriss: Did he have the podcast at this point?
Aubrey Marcus: No, I don’t think he did at that point. I’m just a fan at that point, so I was like, “Hey, Joe. Blah-blah-blah.” You’re in fan zone at that point. I saw more of his comedy show, and then he launched the podcast. That was super early in the podcast. He had no commercials, and it was just him and Redban. They were just bullshitting. It was just like a fun thing that they were doing.
Tim Ferriss: Everybody who knows Joe Rogan, like all in caps marquee Joe Rogan, should go back and see some of the early shows. I think it’s inspiring to see where it began.
Aubrey Marcus: No doubt. I had an idea at that point. I was like, “Oh, he doesn’t have advertising on his show. Maybe I’ll hit him up to do some advertising, use that as a chance to meet him, and elevate out of the fan zone, so we can have a conversation.” I remember I set up a 30-minute lunch meeting to just meet somewhere and talk to him about advertising on his show.
Tim Ferriss: This was in L.A.?
Aubrey Marcus: This was in L.A., yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Did you fly out just for this? Or were you already there?
Aubrey Marcus: I did. Actually, it was interesting. It was like the universe gave me a test. Bode Miller, the Olympic skier who I mentioned before, he was still in his playboy mode at the time. He invited me for my first Kentucky Derby experience. It was like, “Oh, man. I’ve got a cancellation. I’ve got full VIP access, the craziest parties you’ve ever seen, and a suite at the Kentucky Derby,” and I had that one meeting with Rogan that was right in the middle of that. I was like, “Man, I can’t go. I’ve got to take this meeting with Joe.”
It was like a cool test. A 30-minute meeting to talk about advertising quickly turned into all those things: psychedelics, super volcanoes, genetic bottleneck theory, aliens, and all the philosophical things that we talked about. After that, he’s like, “Hey, man. I’d love to have you come on the show, and we can talk more about this.” I went on the show, and we started having a relationship with him just as friends.
It was a couple years after that I asked him a question, “Hey, man. What supplement would you like the best, yourself?” He’s like, “Oh, yeah. I’m into Nootropics.” I was like, “Man, I’m going to make the best one that’s ever been made, and I’ll let you know about it.”
Tim Ferriss: Alright, so this was like made to order.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, this is it.
Tim Ferriss: Bespoke Joe Rogan product.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, bespoke.
Tim Ferriss: I didn’t know that. Now, you mentioned in passing something earlier, and I don’t know if this is the product that you were meaning to advertise.
Aubrey Marcus: Oh, I bet it was.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned the S-E-X T-O-Y-S. What are we talking about?
Aubrey Marcus: This was the No. 1 selling male sex toy in the world, the one and only fleshlight.
Tim Ferriss: Fleshlight!
Aubrey Marcus: A convenient pocket pussy concealed in an obnoxiously large flashlight container.
Tim Ferriss: Which, by the way, I should say this podcast had on Alice Little who is No. 1 earning legal sex worker in the U.S. One of her top pronouncements was, “I wish I could get a fleshlight for every male in the country for a number of different reasons.”
Aubrey Marcus: Alright, solid endorsement there.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve left a legacy. People can look that up if they would like, but that was the product context for that meeting.
Aubrey Marcus: That was. That was the client that I was working with. I was like, “Oh, man. Maybe Joe will do something with this,” and Joe brought that to his people. His people were like, “No way, you can’t do it.”
Tim Ferriss: Now, when you say clients – You’ve done a lot of different things. At this point, Onnit does not exist.
Aubrey Marcus: Onnit does not exist. I have a marketing company, and that boutique marketing company has a few people that are working with me. I have a bunch of clients, most of which failed, but I couldn’t fail at selling sex toys because people just want things to fuck. It was a very easy thing to learn and not suck at, so I was able to help make that thing work. Yeah, so I had that one going, and he liked just the ridiculousness of it. He liked the idea of not taking the show too seriously to do something like that, so he just went for it.
If you go back to the old, there will be old fleshlight ads on there.
Tim Ferriss: I remember. Let’s see. Did the fleshlight and Onnit overlap at all, or no?
Aubrey Marcus: No.
Tim Ferriss: No, they did not.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, I started Onnit after I actually got myself in a position where I was able to transition out of that company with some severance. I never got any other incentives, but I got a pretty generous severance. I took that and just rode it into starting Onnit, and I had that $110,000.00. I tried to dip into that as little as possible with my own utilization.
Tim Ferriss: That was the severance?
Aubrey Marcus: No, that was the investment from Bode and the other person plus the severance, and I just kind of rode that to the very brink of nothing. Again, it just came through right in the nick of time.
Tim Ferriss: I know you read a lot. I’ve seen your library.
One of the first things I do if I get to someone’s house and I see a bookshelf, I go start browsing. You can learn a lot by browsing it including which books I haven’t read. Not in your case, but if you see War and Peace or Moby Dick, you’re like, “Ask about those.” I have War and Peace. I’m not going to lie. I haven’t read it. It’s too intimidating. I will get to it eventually.
Aubrey Marcus: Maybe.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe, yeah… Maybe. Which books or resources do you view as having been very helpful in the early days of Onnit or later? Are there any particular books that helped you or helped you think about and develop the business?
Aubrey Marcus: There is a direct correlation between my inner work and the outer success of Onnit. That correlation is as clean of an association as anything I have. I haven’t been one that’s read a lot of business books. A lot of the books that I’ve read have been internally focused.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah. That’s totally fair game.
Aubrey Marcus: There have been some really significant books that I’ve read which have shaped who I am. I think the first was following that line of the Toltec philosophy from crazy Carlos Castaneda through Don Miguel Ruiz. Although it’s a little bit hard to get into, I think his most powerful book is The Toltec Art of Life and Death. A lot of people know Don Miguel Ruiz from The Four Agreements, and then he wrote Mastery of Love, which is an incredible exploration of love and relationships.
His true masterwork is The Toltec Art of Life and Death. The thing I liked about it is it was the first complete system, complete spiritual/physical/emotional system, that was self-contained. It was like its own religion to a certain extent, except it was something that I could believe and buy into. It was practical, and I could utilize those principles of the warrior ethos and the principles of the nagual, the artist, who paints his masterpiece as opposed to the person who allows the matute, the dream of the world, to shape their experience.
That transition from just allowing everything, expectations from this person and that person, to shape who I was to become the nagual, the artist, –
Tim Ferriss: The more proactive instead of reactive.
Aubrey Marcus: – who uses your intention to actually create the world around him and paint that masterpiece and the laughter as the guide, know that you’ve made it. I always say that you can tell a spiritual master by the sound of their laughter. If they aren’t laughing, I’m not going to drink their cup of ayahuasca. If you don’t have a good belly laugh, you’re missing the point. That’s been a really solid guidebook. If anybody’s searching, I would definitely check out Toltec philosophy.
Tim Ferriss: Toltec?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: The Toltec Art of Life and Death. Any other books come to mind?
Aubrey Marcus: Part of building a company is a society.
Tim Ferriss: If Kyle of ten years ago came to you and said, “I need three books,” what do you recommend?
Aubrey Marcus: Aldous Huxley’s Island, I think, was another crucial book for me because that was Utopian fiction. The beauty of that was seeing how a system could work en masse, and it was my first exposure to rewriting the rules of how everything could be and understanding that we can just change everything. Everything could be malleable, and what are the downstream effects? It’s that classic clash of Utopia versus Dystopia and how it all merges. That’s been something I’ve consistently fallen back on with a lot of help and principles, so I think that one was huge.
This has nothing to do with Onnit, but personally, the book Sex at Dawn by Chris Ryan was probably the third most influential single book. At that point, I was frustrated in a conventional monogamous relationship, and I thought that humans were like lions. I thought we were supposed to fight to the death to protect all our mates and that women should be happy if they found the right lion.
Sex at Dawn’s like, “No, humans like having sex, both sides.” We’re always going to like having sex, and that’s just the nature of things. I go, “Oh, man. I had this wrong. It’s not just me that’s supposed to want other lovers, it’s everybody that from an instinctive, primitive concept really is open to having a more expanded view of sexuality.”
That was the initial domino that led me down the path of exploring open relationships, which has been a huge advancement in my own personal happiness and fulfillment. It’s challenging as hell, but if it wasn’t for that book, I don’t think I ever would have given it a try because I was operating under a false premise.
Tim Ferriss: For people who are listening and are like, “You know what? I’d like to give that more expanded view of sexuality a shot,” any guide posts or any particular guidelines?
Aubrey Marcus: You have to be super committed. Know that it is going to be hell.
I had it all sorted mentally. I understood it philosophically. I understood it spiritually. I understood it biologically. I understood it in evolutionary terms. But the moment that Whitney had another lover, I spent 24 hours crawling around on the ground vomiting every time I thought of her having sex with somebody else. I was literally dry heaving like a massive purge that I couldn’t even shake myself out of, and that was step one. It gets a little bit better from there if you continue to do the work, but it takes a while to make it through.
You’ve got to go through the dark night of the soul of your own insecurities. All of your fears, insecurities, and validation points, everything is going to be stress tested and challenged. If you make it through, you’ll be really free. These things like jealousy, these things like insecurities, they will get pushed to the point where you either fix them, or you just suffer in unbearable pain. Again, external pain is that force.
It will put you in pain, and then it’s up to you whether you can fix it or not.
Tim Ferriss: We could spend an entire podcast just discussing this, and you and I have spent the equivalent of many podcasts talking about this, so maybe another time. This could be professional or personal, and of course, they’re two sides of the same coin no matter how you slice it. Do you have any particular “failure” that you can discuss with us – and I put failure in quotation marks because the goal is to describe a failure that later ended up setting the stage or planting a seed for a success later down the line. Are there any failures that come to mind? Or a failure that you just learned a lot from and, therefore, helped you later?
Aubrey Marcus: I failed at so many things, and every single failure was helpful. Every single fucking failure was helpful. There’s not one that stands out, but there are some that I remember.
I remember early in the days of Onnit, I was allowing myself to get really stressed, and I was trying to record a video. Someone was knocking on my door, and I didn’t respond. I was trying to stay in line with the video. They kept knocking, and they kept knocking. This was when we only had about 12 or 14 employees. I blew up. I lost it. It was a little bit of my dad coming out. “What? What the fuck do you want? If I don’t answer the door when you knock, then I’m fucking busy!”
You know, I blew up. Then I was like, “Ah, man.” I got out, and I opened the door. It was the sweetest employee we had, and I think her name was Samantha. She’s crying, and I go, “Oh my god, what did I just do?” She didn’t know. That was a hard lesson. I am not going to lose my temper no matter what is going on in my life. I will not allow my anger to come out on my employees ever. That was deeply painful for me.
There are times I’ve done that in relationships too. I’ve projected my own shit, put that one somebody else, watched them suffer from the pain that I’ve caused, and had to deal with that.
Every business I did failed and had me questioning my own self-worth. I’m grateful for all of that, and I’m sorry for the people who had to suffer along the way; the people who bet on me and invested in me, and I failed in their shit; the people who I hurt with my anger; and the people who I hurt with my projections. However, I’m grateful for the experience because without all of that and without the grace of that happening, I wouldn’t be a fraction of who I am.
Tim Ferriss: Excuse me. I’m allergic to air. It’s something I grapple with myself. The anger piece, I’d love to touch on this because this is also part of my familiar cast of characters. I think I’ve greatly improved over time with managing that as an impulse. It’s something that really was embedded in me early.
After that experience, what was your pattern interrupt? What did you say to yourself when you felt like the physiological response of about to hit takeoff in terms of losing your temper or getting angry? What was the technique? What was the approach?
Aubrey Marcus: It coincided with me talking because I started talking about that experience. I was talking to my friend Duncan Trussel who is pretty steeped in Buddhist philosophy. He had a name for it, and I think it was shumpa. It’s that feeling you get. It’s that welling of energy, and it actually feels good. I think it was acknowledging there’s some part of you that when that anger is coming, it’s a sense of power that’s rising. It’s identifying that, and the Toltec philosophy helps also this. Don Miguel helped me with that. You feel it rising, and it’s like the swell of a wave. There’s a choice right there where you either paddle, or you don’t paddle.
But to really identify the swell and identity that power, putting on that mantle, breathing fire, it’s going to feel good in certain ways, but the ramifications never feel good, the burning bodies and the houses on fire. When you’re breathing that dragon fire, that never feels good. I call it mental override. It’s really a hard choice to interrupt that pattern when I feel that shumpa or whatever Duncan called it, that moment of takeoff where I start to bristle and the dragon fucking tentacles come out, and it starts to come. I can identify it.
Oddly enough, I haven’t felt this in a long time, but I felt it yesterday. I was leaving my office, and I haven’t been this angry in a long time. Someone on my team screwed something up really badly. It was the second time on the same thing. I was like, “Oh my god.” I found out about it at 7:00 p.m. I looked at a table, and I wanted to smash it.
I wanted to take the table, throw it on the ground, and smash it. Then I was like, “Oh, yeah. There’s that thing. I remember how I used to deal with this thing. Alright, I’m going to go for a walk outside.” Then I would go for a walk outside, and then I read this Japanese study. I talked about this in my book, taking six deep breaths actually lowers blood pressure. They say take a breath. It’s not a breath. It’s six. Six is the amount that it requires to get that physiological response.
So, I took my six breaths, I walked outside, and it wasn’t gone. I carried it for a while. I talked to people. But at least I eliminated it enough that the big wave of the swell passed. I paddled into a few other little ones. I body surfed on some whitewater of that rage for a little while.
Tim Ferriss: Did a little long boarding?
Aubrey Marcus: Oh, yeah! I fucking hammered a few emails and paddled into it a little bit, but just my ability to recognize that and then trust the process made me grateful that I didn’t paddle into that wave even if it would have felt good in the moment.
It has just been a gradual, slow experience.
Tim Ferriss: There are a couple of things I want to underscore. 1.) It’s not a binary pass/fail. It’s not I completely quelled all of my anger, therefore I succeeded. If I didn’t do that, it’s a failure. No, if you dial it back 10 percent, that’s a big deal. It’s the difference between, “Hey, fuck face,” and “Dear John.” That 10 percent is really meaningful. That’s one thing. It can be incremental, but the downstream effect of it can be much larger than that small increment of change you feel.
2.) When you’re talking about failures, what a lot of folks might perceive as a failure, like a path which isn’t taken to completion over 10, 20, or 30 years, can still have a lot of value.
That’s why I brought up the fleshlight. If it were not for that, you wouldn’t have had the context to have the meeting which then led to Onnit.
Aubrey Marcus: I owe all my success to pocket pussies.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to hit a couple of rapid fire questions. I’ll try not to make them long-winded and, therefore, not rapid at all. If you could put one short message, word, quote, anything on a billboard, metaphorically speaking, just to get a message out to millions or billions of people, what would you put on it?
Aubrey Marcus: I heard you ask this question to Wim Hof, and said, “Breathe, motherfucker!” That was the best answer to that. I think other podcasters have coopted that question and asked it. I was thinking about that question, and I was thinking that I wasn’t happy with my answer. Then I realized what I feel now, what best expresses the state I’m in is what I would put on that billboard that was shown everywhere. It would say, “Welcome to heaven, population everyone.”
That’s really what I feel. We have this choice right now to engage with all of life and all the opportunities to smell, eat, travel, converse, meet people, have sex, enjoy, create, and build. This could be heaven, but we’ve got to get out of our own mental hell first.
So, reminding people that, yeah, there are extenuating circumstances in Sarajevo and certain places. Yeah, it’s fucking tough. I get it. Externally, it might be hell. But for most of us, especially those listening to this podcast, we’re in heaven. We’re in heaven, and it’s just our choice whether we want to engage in it that way or whether we want to get stuck in our own patterns that keep us in hell.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll volunteer one. I’m beta testing this, so it’s not really fair. I’m beta testing the waking up app that Sam Harris is putting together, and it has actually been tremendously helpful and very unlike other programs I’ve tested for producing the non-ordinary states of awareness that one might correlate to the psychedelic experience.
Sam’s no stranger in that arena, but he has certainly passed on the chemical and plant infusions to focus on the meditative component, and I’ve found that very helpful for becoming less reactive and more response-able in terms of being able to choose the lens through which I look at the day and my interactions. What else have you found helpful, personally, for living that billboard?
Aubrey Marcus: One of the best ones that I’ve found came to me in an unusual way, and it’s the practice of ecstatic dance. Psychedelics, they kind of project your consciousness out of body. From my very first experience, it’s like my body’s gone.
I didn’t have that body sematic awareness, so it was creating and patterning the separation between consciousness, mind, and body. Then when I first did the ecstatic dance practice, I had no idea. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is really uncomfortable,” because the idea is you listen to music, and then you just move. You have a blindfold a lot of times or a really dark room, and you just move in expressive ways that push the boundaries of what your body is comfortable with not just physically but comfortable in moving and just collapsing the mind to get to a state of super fluidity, a kind of flow state where it’s just music and body.
I was shocked at how I responded. Tons of emotions came up. Tons of clarity came up. I had visions that were coming through in that experience, and it was this massive transformation for me because I felt it all the way through to my cells. Instead of getting the body out of the way, it was using the body as a tool to enhance my consciousness, so it unified everything else. Instead of siloing it and pulling it apart, it was pushing it all together in a really powerful way.
I’ve started leading those practices and doing those frequently. If I’m feeling funky, I will just put on music, put on a hoodie, and I can be anywhere. I was just in Venice doing it in my little rental house in the middle of the day. I feel a little funky from recording the book or whatever, and I just start moving. I intentionally find those patterns that send off the alarm signals like, “Don’t move your hip like that because you’ll be gay. Like if you move your arms too far out, if they extend beyond one foot, you’ll be totally gay.”
You can’t do that. You just force yourself to move into these other patterns that you’re uncomfortable with and let your body loose. Let your body free. We bind that up just like we bind up our psyche. When you unbind the body and allow it to express freely in this safe container – I’m not saying go to the club and do it. That’s a lot of external pressure. In this case, do it by yourself in a dark room. Put on some music.
Put on something with a tribal beat and force yourself to move in those uncomfortable patterns and see what boundaries and restrictions you have for yourself, and then ask where that is coming from. I can’t allow myself to move in space by myself in the dark? What the hell? So, that’s been a really cool tool for me that I don’t think a lot of people are engaging in, but it’s something ancestral.
Everybody was dancing as part of like sun dance rituals, trance dance rituals, all of these dance rituals. That was a major part of ceremony for people, and I think it’s great at making you feel more human again. It takes that performance aspect off of dancing. When you dance in public, it’s like a mating dance. It’s like a performance show. It’s all about how you look.
In this case, it doesn’t matter how you look. It doesn’t matter if it even approximates dancing. It’s about getting your body to move, and so many times the tears will flow. Emotions will come up. Sometimes rage and anger will come out in that, too, if I’ve been bottling that up.
It just allows the instrument to release and expel anything that it’s been holding. Typically, by the end you allow those snowflakes of joy to come in and touch your skin. It’s dope.
Tim Ferriss: How long is a session, typically? How frequently do you try to do it? Any music recommendations?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, you can do it in shorter increments, but minimum, you probably need 20 or 30 minutes because the first 10 or 15 minutes, you’re still going to be getting into it. The real magic happens in the middle, and then fatigue starts to set in, depending on your fitness level, around 30 to 40 minutes. Actually, when I do it, I follow Stan Grof’s basic prenatal matrices model.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know what that is.
Aubrey Marcus: Okay, that starts like you’re in the womb. It’s something very comfortable with some kind of music that’s smooth. It’s like everything’s taken care of. The universe is good. It’s very happy.
Tim Ferriss: Any playlists you can recommend? What would people search for?
Aubrey Marcus: For that music, you want anything with a slow, positive kind of beat. I have obscure spiritual music that I use.
Tim Ferriss: This would be like massage, tribal music?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, just something with a beat.
Tim Ferriss: Spa tribal music?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, it feels good. It’s happy. Then the next thing that happens is the water breaks. It’s chaos, right? Chaos surrounds you. You’re imagining the birth process. The water breaks. You don’t know what’s happening. The world is collapsing.
Tim Ferriss: The prenatal is like five minutes or ten minutes?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, like six or seven minutes. I usually stretch a lot of times. I just kind of stretch. Sometimes I lie on the ground. It’s a little bit joint mobility. It’s a stretching and getting into it. Then, if I’m doing the practice, I’ll go into that more chaotic mode which is still hard to dance to. It forces me to do weird patterns, and I like violin. Lindsey Sterling is a great one. It’s like some weird staccato violin. Some Beats Antique music is good in there.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, Beats Antique is great.
Aubrey Marcus: Beats Antique is awesome.
Tim Ferriss: Lindsey Sterling violin, also. We brought up Alice Little earlier, one of her favorite types of music to have sex to.
Aubrey Marcus: No shit. I see that.
Tim Ferriss: Side note.
Aubrey Marcus: I see that. From there is the first. That’s where you actually see the birth canal, and you know you have a goal and tunnel vision. You’ve got to get out. You’ve got to breathe. You’re going to fight with everything you have to breathe, and that’s that warrior archetype. For that, it’s almost always Tribe Called Red. That’s my go-to, and that’s EDM mixed with tribal Native American cries. There’s some great tracks for that. Electric Pow-wow, there are some excellent tracks for that.
From there, that’s where you really start to express that kind of warrior archetype and allow any of those emotions to come. Then finally at the end is the more ecstatic, blissful but still a beat, like some upbeat EDM or some really positive uplifting music. I usually will take a break with something that’s kind of quiet and serene like a Welcome to Africa or Everything is Beautiful kind of vibe.
Then I’ll go into some more positive message EDM and dance it out, enjoy, and express the happiness of taking that breath, rebirthing, becoming anew, and embracing my new self. That’s the BPM 4 which is the ecstasy of breath. That’s the pathway for the full shamanic road. Sometimes I’ll just go straight to the Tribe Called Red. I think you met him, too, Perongi, who came out with this Ayahuasca Remixed album, he’s got a couple great tribal drum tracks which are good. There’s a remix from Drum Spider and Mose in there. I think it’s track 3 and track 8 on that. You can get it on Spotify. I can share a Spotify playlist as well of ecstatic dance.
Tim Ferriss: For everybody listening, I will put the Spotify playlist in the show notes. I know nothing about ecstatic dance, but what strikes me listening to this is that the narrative is really important.
It’s not the hero’s journey, but the narrative arc of the playlist is really important.
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, and this is just something that I came up with. My father worked with Stan Grof. He’s used that metaphor, and it just kind of stuck with me. Oh yeah, these are all things we feel. Everything’s cool. Oh, shit. Everything’s not cool. Everything’s fucked up. Then like, alright, everything’s fucked up, I’m going to fight, and I don’t care. There’s a way out, and I’m going to fucking make it. I just kind of pound your chest like I’ve got this. Then it’s like through the other side. I’ve got this because I’ve got all this help, and I’m fucking grateful. Here I am. The tears really flow at the end when you’re like, “Man, life is good.”
Tim Ferriss: Do you use this therapeutically when you need it? Or is it something that you do preemptively or on a scheduled basis to prevent –
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, I should I should do it more prophylactically or preventatively. I tend to do it when I feel funky. When I feel funky, I’m either changing my temperature drastically going in the sauna or going in the cold doing something like this, but this is probably the best tool because it really just unifies everything for me.
Tim Ferriss: You also don’t need very much, right?
Aubrey Marcus: You don’t need anything. You just need a little bit of privacy or someone you feel comfortable with. Now, at this point, I’m actually comfortable doing it with other people watching because I’ve talked about it enough. It’s a little external pressure, but then you just breathe into that pressure. The goal here is to go where you’re uncomfortable.
When you’re comfortable alone, then invite somebody who might be a little judgmental and see if you can still dance. Can you still dance? I guarantee you by the time you’re done, and you’ve just expressed yourself, their judgment is going to be gone, and they’ll probably be dancing with you. It’s that stoic training. Breathe into those areas where you feel restricted, where you feel judgmental, where you feel like the eyes are on you, and try to unify that all together.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it reminds me of a quote. I’m not going to get the attribution right. Wait a second. Donald Niawalsh, maybe. It might be Jim Run. Someone can correct me, but, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And how do you put that into practice? It’s with activities like this, training regimens like this.
Aubrey Marcus: Especially for men who are tough. Men are tough. A tough man can get in a cold bath, and a tough man can get in a sauna for a long time. It’s in our sweet spot. We’re like, “Yeah, I’ve got that.”
Tim Ferriss: It’s comfortable discomfort.
Aubrey Marcus: It’s comfortable discomfort. This uncomfortable discomfort getting your arms way up there, moving those around, and shaking your hip. Woo, that’s uncomfortable! That’s really uncomfortable, but when you break those patterns, then there’s just a whole new freedom that’s available.
Tim Ferriss: We’ll go for just a couple more minutes. You mentioned the book.
I have a copy of this at home, and a number of people have picked it up and almost immediately gone to the sex chapters, understandably. Can you describe the book? Give us a preview. Why the book? What is it called? How did you choose the contents? Let’s start there.
Aubrey Marcus: Well, this book is the embodiment of that idea of total human optimization, which is not just one thing. I really admire the people, including yourself, who will track something down to the very n’th degree and really bring home the bones of that truth from your journey.
I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people who’ve done that, but what I felt like was missing was someone to bring it all together, like bring all the practices. Someone who has tried all of the different things. How does that look? How does it look to go through a day? What are the morning things you do? Hydration? Light? Movement? How do you bring in Wim Hof breathing? Cold exposure? Heat exposure?
What are the nutrition principles you want? How do you optimize your commute to work? What are some workplace practices you can learn? Then when you go home, how do you relax and connect with yourself, with your family, and your friends? How do you drink a glass of wine? What’s too much wine? What happens when you drink too much? That’s all part of life, addressing all of those things. How to have great sex? How to transition from that into the time before bed where you’re taking care of yourself and journaling? From there, the sleep practices?
Sleep was a huge one for me because everybody’s telling you – and there’s a bunch of bullshit out there. Everybody’s saying you need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. That’s a fucking fantasy. I might as well be riding a fucking unicorn with a rainbow headband. That’s not going to happen for me. I read Nick Littlehill’s book Sleep, and he talks about getting 30 – 35 sleep cycles a week and then changing the dynamic of that utilizing naps more. I napped right before this podcast. Naps are reliably shown to be more effective than getting more overnight sleep or more coffee.
I’m just bringing in all of these interesting things from books I’ve read, people I’ve met with, people who’ve researched in different areas, and tried to bring this into a comprehensive day along with all of my own mindset practices like talking about mental override, telling stories about Bode Miller, the great fighters I know, and the great champions I know. I just put this together. Also, I want to remind people, “Hey, I haven’t got it all right.” I tell the stories of when I used to relentlessly eat cinnamon Pop-Tarts and how unfathomably nutritionally bad that was. It’s like sugar frosting on sugar dough on sugar filling. Like what?
Tim Ferriss: The triple crown.
Aubrey Marcus: What? What was that? But I was there. I did that stuff, the double western bacon cheeseburgers and what the new double western bacon cheeseburger looks like with grass-fed beef, raw cheese, and sprouted or sourdough bread.
I wanted to talk about how you can just live this robust life not engaging with capital F Fear which I think is the virus that unpins a lot of our malaise as we try to have a real healthy, joyful expression and recognize this life. As I said on that billboard, “Welcome to heaven.”
Tim Ferriss: What is the title of the book?
Aubrey Marcus: The book’s called Own the Day, Own Your Life, and the idea is fuck all these long-winded transformational programs where you focus on one thing for 30, 40, or 90 days. Let’s just focus on doing one day awesomely. From top to bottom, schedule it out and get all the practices in line. I have very clear prescriptions. Let’s just focus on one day and see how you feel living one day like that. That’s all you’ve got to do, commit to one day.
It doesn’t have to even be one day. Just commit to one hour at a time. What are the three things that I’ve got to do when I wake up? Alright, 12 ounces of water with some sea salt and lemon, I’ve got that. Alright, 10 minutes of sunlight, I’ve got that. A little bit of movement, I’ve got that, on to the next thing. That’s all you’ve got to do. Step by step, relaxing in the process, do it for one day. See what changes in your life.
Tim Ferriss: And when in doubt, six breaths.
Aubrey Marcus: Six breaths!
Tim Ferriss: You have to quell the dragon fire, so you don’t burn down villages. Do you have a site for the book?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, ownthedaybook.com.
Tim Ferriss: ownthedaybook.com. I’m trying to think of the right age. If you could choose the age of your younger self – It could be at that 29 or 30. In this case, start with Onnit. It could be far before. It could be you of a year ago. It doesn’t matter. You can pick the age. But what advice would you give, if you had to give advice to your younger self or someone just like you? A lot of people are like me and are like, “I don’t want to step on the butterfly,” because I’m pretty happy with where I am, so I wouldn’t give any advice. But if you had to give some advice to either a younger version of yourself or just someone who is similarly built, what would you say?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, advice to my younger self is going to be, “Relax, man. It’s going to be alright. It’s going to fucking be alright.” It’s this crazy thing where in hindsight we can always look backwards and say, “Man, I’m grateful for all that shit. I’m grateful for all my failures.” But with foresight, we look at everything that’s coming ahead with terror. This next thing’s going to be the one that knocks me out. That next illness is going to be the one that kills me. That next failure, that’s going to be devastating. In hindsight, we’re always grateful.
What if we switched our hindsight into foresight, and it was like whatever happens, I’ll be grateful for it later anyways? Then, all of a sudden, we’re really enjoying ourselves. I was terrible at that. The first few years after I started Onnit, I was petrified that it was going to fail because I was so attached to its success. I’m finally doing it! I’m finally doing it! It’s going to fail! I’m going to ruin it! I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t really enjoy those initial formative years like I could have. In almost every age, in almost every era, it would be, “Relax, man. Trust. Whatever happens, you’ll figure out a way. You’ll be better, stronger, faster, wiser for it, so be grateful for it in advance.”
Tim Ferriss: Dig it. Where can people say hi on the internet and learn more about what you’re up to? Where would you like people to check you and your projects out?
Aubrey Marcus: Yeah, I think Instagram’s my most active account. I post to all the social platforms, but it’s just @aubreymarcus on Instagram. I curate all those posts myself, and it’s a good variety of me doing weird stuff in the gym and me posting spiritual quotes and different ideas. I actually look forward to those times where I get sideswiped by the universe because I always have some pearl. I generally put that out on Instagram or a podcast. Of course, my podcast is The Aubrey Marcus Podcast. That’s a great place to listen to me have some cool conversations with people.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect, and I will link to all of that in the show notes for folks as usual. [Inaudible] for all of the links, resources, books, and so on that we’ve discussed.
Aubrey, good to hang, man. I’ll go under, over, and there we go. We’re still figuring out the set up here with the wires. That is my fault. I’ll take all of the blame.
Aubrey Marcus: I should have gone under.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, next time. Next time a little how’s your father.
Aubrey Marcus: I had a friend who grew up in a cannibal tribe. That was the tradition. He’s a famous author, by the way. That was the traditional greeting. They would grab each other’s genitals, and they would tell them – Do you know what they would tell them?
Tim Ferriss: No.
Aubrey Marcus: I would eat your feces.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Aubrey Marcus: That was the greeting, grab someone’s genitals and say, “I would eat your feces.”
Tim Ferriss: I hear that’s the new thing to do in Brooklyn.
Aubrey Marcus: That’s the hipster way to do it, guys, so feel free to take that.
Tim Ferriss: By the way, 0.01 percent of people who listen to this podcast take everything literally. Please don’t do that. You might get shot in the face.
Aubrey Marcus: No, that’s not allowed.
Tim Ferriss: Aubrey, it’s always fun to hang, man. Thanks for taking the time.
Aubrey Marcus: Thanks, bro.
Tim Ferriss: To everybody listening, as always, until next time! Thank you for listening. Be safe out there. Don’t forget, six breaths. Talk to you soon.
Posted on: March 22, 2018.
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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.