Please enjoy this transcript of a special episode called Tea Time with Tim, in which I solicited phone numbers and called a handful of you to field any questions that you might have. 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. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. This episode is not going to be a long form interview where I distill and deconstruct world class performers. In fact, it is going to be nothing of the sort. It is a Q&A episode. This is Tea Time With Tim or Timmy or Timbo, if you prefer, where I solicited phone numbers from all of you and called a handful of you to field any questions that you might have. I’ve done this before. They’re always a lot of fun for me to do.
Among other topics covered in the various phone calls that you will hear in this episode: How to find mentors. How do I think about finding mentors? How have I found mentors in the past? Discussions of meaning, Viktor Frankl, and so on. How to get rid of anxiety or train into confidence. We talk about that as it relates to handful of things. Cocktails, relationship advice, we go all over the place. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. So without further ado, here is Tea Time With Tim.
Tim Ferriss: Is this Edwin?
Edwin: Yes, it is.
Tim Ferriss: Edwin, this is Tim Ferriss calling. Good afternoon!
Edwin: Hey, Tim. How you doing? Man, I can’t believe this is real.
Tim Ferriss: It’s real, I’m afraid.
Edwin: You have definitely made my day here.
Tim Ferriss: Me too. So let’s jump right into it. How can I help? I can’t promise I can help, but I’ll try to answer whatever questions you might have.
Edwin: I appreciate that. So my question is about mentors. So what guidance do you have for finding a mentor to kind of help maybe gain a better understanding about an industry, and I think more importantly, how would you — or what guidance do you have for asking someone to be a mentor? How do you approach them? How do you kind of break that or make that initial contact?
Tim Ferriss: I can actually answer this one. So the first rule of thumb is that I would highly advise against ever asking someone directly to be a mentor and using those words. Because the people you generally will want as a mentor, unless they’re retired, are probably quite busy and will hear “mentor” as “unpaid part-time or full-time job forever.” Therefore, you want to approach it somewhat indirectly. There are a few different ways to do that.
There’s also a resource I can recommend, which is a book called The Third Door, which I think does a very good job of exploring real life case studies of communication that works, and communication that doesn’t work, when you’re reaching out to people who are where you’d like to be or could be possible mentors even remotely by what they write and so on. So I would suggest checking out that book.
Edwin: Actually, I have it in my hand. I heard your interview with Alex Banayan on your podcast and, man, I have to say I am a fan. It’s got me through some hard times and that’s where I initially came across this book and I’m right around that chapter, maybe like 60, 70 pages in. I just read the part where he kind of goes into the intro, how he kind of talked to you. So I think that’s where that question came from.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect. Great.
Edwin: So I’m just trying to break into this and I’m trying to not repeat those mistakes that he highlights in the book.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So let me take a stab at saving you from some pitfalls. The way that I first connected with people who later became mentors in a sense, when I landed in Silicon Valley in 2000 was through volunteering. So I highly recommend volunteering. The reason for that is that many organizations, including entrepreneurial or entrepreneurship-focused organizations, that could be the EO, the Entrepreneurs Organization, it could be Young Presidents Organization, YPO, it could be any number of others. There are many of them in Silicon Valley.
I volunteered at TiE, which is The Indus Entrepreneurs, even though I’m clearly not Indian. Volunteered at SVASE, which at the time was the Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. Given their location and given their focus were able to get media to attend to cover speakers, meaning to feature speakers in articles and so on for Forbes or Fortune, whatever it might be. That meant if I were to volunteer, even if I were simply taking tickets or refilling water glasses, both of which I did, I would have an opportunity.
If I over-performed, which is easy in fact in most volunteer capacities, because the people who show up very often have the attitude, “I’m not getting paid for this, so I will do the bare minimum that they ask of me.” So if you are proactive and asking for additional responsibility or, “Is there anything else I can help with? I finished X, can I help with anything else?” If you are proactive and really responsible and get things done on time, you will very often find that they will be more than happy to give you additional responsibility.
That is how I ended up ultimately sitting in on planning meetings and volunteering to act as a speaker liaison for an event, which allowed me to reach out to people I wanted to get to know. Like Jack Canfield, who is the co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, which has sold hundreds of millions of copies. The person who commercialized creatine first, creatine monohydrate, that is. The creator of the pet rock. I had a very motley crew out of folks I wanted to assemble and there had to be something in it for them. What was in it for them was speaking in front of an audience of entrepreneurs with media in attendance to cover them.
So I was not asking them for any favors. In fact, I was asking them if they’d be willing to sort of receive media coverage in effect, and also interact with other people at their level. It was during that event, I wanted to do one thing and it was not ask them if they could be a mentor. It was to demonstrate to them that I was very, very good at doing my job. So I wanted it to be the smoothest speaking experience they’ve ever had. I wanted it to be an event to remember. I wanted to ensure that they had the media contacts they wanted to have, interactions that is.
Following that event I later, much later, maybe a month or two later reached out after thanking the speakers, each speaker separately and as a group, to say — I think it was Jack Canfield at the time, and I used an approach that was similar to what I outlined in The 4-Hour Workweek when reaching out to experts who are above your pay grade. In effect said, “Jack I really enjoyed our interactions. I hope we get to meet again and if it’s okay with you, I’d love to very rarely but if the occasion calls for it, send you a question that overlaps with your deep experience if I’m totally stuck after trying to figure something out.” It was along those lines.
Jack then, I kept in touch with. Now, it’s important for me to qualify what that means. Keep in touch with does not mean pester, it does not mean sent him quarterly updates, it does not mean clog his inbox. It means that maybe once every six to 12 months, I would send him a legitimate question and I would indicate what I’d already tried to do to answer the question. This is really important. So if you reach out to a potential mentor or someone who has more life experience, and you say, “Hi Tim. I was just wondering, I’m studying this in school, what should I do?”
That’s a terrible question because it doesn’t reflect if you’ve actually tried to figure it out on your own. Or if you’re using me for your personal Google. It also does not lend itself to a specific answer. So you have to ask yourself, “Is this a question that this person could answer in four lines or less?” If you look at the question and realize it’s going to take them a half hour to answer it because you’re asking them for the meaning of life and to explain their trajectory, and how they grew their career, then it’s a bad question. Because you have more time than they do and you should be aware of that from the outset.
So it would generally be a question like: “The question I’d love to ask you is X. Here are the things I’ve already tried. My tentative plan is this. If you have any other thoughts, I would really appreciate them and if you’re too busy to respond, I totally understand.” So give them an out so that they feel comfortable not responding and completely unpressured. This is very important and perhaps counterintuitively, that’ll get you more answers. Because what many younger go-getters will do is they’ll send an email and they’ll finish it with, “Looking forward to your reply.” Or, “I have Tuesday at 2 p.m. and Thursday at 1 p.m. Central open. Which one works for you?”
It’s so presumptive and aggressive that no matter what the content of that email, the person receiving will be likely to think to themselves, “Well, shit. If I reward this person with a response to this email, I am encouraging them to send me 20 more of these emails. I don’t want to do that. So I’m not going to respond.” So that’s one approach. I would also encourage you to look for a South by Southwest talk that I gave, which funny enough coincides with South by Southwest starting right now, today and tomorrow in Austin, Texas in early March.
But the talk is titled How to Build A World Class Network in Record Time or something equally hyperbolic. In any case, it is though an accurate reflection of the talk. You may be able to find it on the podcast. So there’s a chance that I took the audio and put it on the podcast. But if you Google How to Build A World Class Network in Record Time and Tim Ferriss, something will pop up. Whether it is a video recording of the presentation at South by or it is audio on the podcast itself, which I do think I had repurposed the audio for. So those are my thoughts. If you’re reading The Third Door, I think that will also complement a lot of what we’re talking about. So I hope that helps. Does that fill in some gaps, hopefully, or give you some direction?
Edwin: Yes, definitely. I must say it’s one thing reading in a book or to hear it on your podcast, but to hear it straight from you it just adds a little more weight to it and definitely just makes it sound doable. So I really appreciate it and I thank you for your time. Your show is definitely has been a game changer for me. So thank you for that and keep doing what you’re doing. I really appreciate it. So thank you so much.
Tim Ferriss: Thanks so much. My pleasure, of course. I should point out one other thing, which is, when I mentioned Jack Canfield, for instance, I said it once every six to 12 months. That’s a long time. So that is an indicator that I’m playing the long game. The question you shouldn’t be asking, and I don’t think you are, but the question you shouldn’t be asking is: “How can I find a mentor for the next 12 months?” If you’re looking for something like that, it’s going to end up being somewhat transactional and you’re going to have to force something within a context of a group like the Entrepreneurs Organization where people are going there explicitly for that purpose to learn from one another, to teach and so on.
Otherwise, I would encourage you to reframe the question in your head. So the question isn’t “How do I get a mentor?” The question is “How can I encourage people I aspire to be like, who are 10, 20, 30 years ahead of me to respect me and want me to succeed?” That’s a better question. “How do I get people say, 5, 10, 20 years ahead of me whose paths I might want to emulate? How do I get those people to respect me and want me to succeed?” If you do that, that’s a precursor to them helping you in ways that resemble those of a mentor. But the word “mentor” is probably a word that will never come up, even though in practice, that’s what they will be doing for you. Does that make sense?
Edwin: Yes, it does. I think that it’s one of those Tim Ferriss hidden gems and I think that the exact answer I was hoping for. That’s the exact type of answer I was hoping for. Yeah, I think you answered it perfectly.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Edwin: So just the last question is, what do you think about the handwritten follow up notes? Sometimes you say emails are better, sometimes you say handwritten thank you notes or even just asking these questions via a handwritten letter or what have you. Do you have any thoughts on if one is better than the other?
Tim Ferriss: I don’t think a handwritten letter is necessary. A lot of people, myself included, do not want to give out their mailing addresses, even if it’s a P.O. Box. So I would say it’s unnecessary. Giving someone a handwritten note at an event is a different story and I do recommend that. But you can listen to the talk that I gave on that topic at South by Southwest and on the podcast, which I mentioned earlier and that will get into details on that. All right, my man.
Edwin: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: I will leave you to it. Good luck and nice chatting with you.
Edwin: Thank you. You too. Have a great day.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Bye-bye.
Steve, this is Tim Ferriss calling. Good afternoon.
Steve: Oh my gosh. How are you doing?
Tim Ferriss: I’m doing great. I am doing fantastic. It’s a beautiful day. I am excited to attempt to answer any question you might have. So I am happy to let you take it from here.
Steve: Well, this is amazing. I’m so excited to talk to you at home. I had two different questions. I didn’t know if you wanted more of a kind of meaning of life question or if you prefer like a job kind of question.
Tim Ferriss: I would say pick. If you could only get one of them answered, pick that one because that may be the case. Because I want to make sure that I am able to call more than a few people. So I would say pick the one you would most like to have answered, if you had to choose one. And then if it goes quickly, then we can consider a second one. But we’ll we’ll try one.
Steve: Okay, great. Well, so recently I’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning. It was just a great book and it really made a big impact on me. It made me think a lot about purpose and finding meaning in life. I guess my question for you is, you’ve reached such a high level of success, being able to affect so many people. So I guess my question for you is, once you’ve reached that level, how do you continue to find purpose in your life? Has it evolved? What would you say your purpose it is right now?
Tim Ferriss: This is a good question. Big question as well. I would say that I’ll try to tackle that in a somewhat meandering fashion. So the first thing I would say is, my approach to book writing, my approach to the podcast, my approach to the television shows I’ve been involved with has had a common thread that is very, very simple. People might even consider it simplistic. That is, if I have a pain or a problem, or if I have a desire or goal, I assume it is very likely that many other people have the same pains or problems or desires or goals.
So most of what I do is scratching my own itch with the expectation that if I can figure out how to navigate any of those things well, and take good notes and test a lot so that I can try the hundred things to filter down to the one or that truly have a disproportionately good outcome that, that is a straightforward way of adding value to the world. Not just consuming oxygen and eating resources. So that is my general process, which is a way of backing into your question about what is giving the meaning right now.
What is giving me meaning right now is looking at some of the traumatic experiences I had as a child, looking at the repercussions of that and the behaviors or thought patterns that are impossible to explain, that I still have in some cases, without looking in the rear view mirror and somehow metabolizing or integrating what happened to me that never had a sense of closure. That then ties into a lot of the research I’m supporting related to treatment-resistant depression, related to long-term demoralization, say AIDS survivors at UCSF. A lot of what I’m hoping to do with universities and other groups, including Johns Hopkins at the top of the list.
For me then it’s assuming that right now for me that everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about. Like literally everyone. There is some degree of suffering whether it’s minor or major, chronic or acute that everyone walking around you see. I mean, I’m looking out of a high rise right now down at the ground. So I see these hundreds of ants, which will soon be thousands and tens of thousands with South by Southwest and assuming that every one of those people has some type of suffering, past or present tense, that is affecting how they make decisions, how they interact, how they view themselves.
If I can provide any tools whatsoever to decrease that suffering and to allow them to help other people who are suffering, then I view that as time very, very well spent. So that’s how I’m thinking about it right now. But I’m not wedded to that and I think it can fluctuate. I do think the Filling the Void chapter in The 4-Hour Workweek, which is probably the most neglected yet most important chapter, in some respects in the entire book, towards the tail end ties into a lot of the observations that you would read in Viktor Frankl’s book and books for that matter. So there are certainly complimentary chapters and books that you could digest.
But when in doubt, I would say instead of trying to save the world, look at how you can save yourself or help yourself in some fashion by doing something that seems very selfish on the surface, you’re actually being very practical. Because you are scratching your own itch in such a fashion that you’re not purely speculating. You’re dealing with the real world, even if it is limited to you, which I can pretty much guarantee you if it’s any type of suffering, if it’s any type of desire. There’s a very, very high likelihood, probably 100%, but let’s just call it very high likelihood that there are thousands at a minimum and probably millions of people in the world with some close cousin of that if not the exact same thing in their daily experience. So that’s how I currently I’m thinking about it.
I should also say that there’s no one right answer here. Your meaning could be playing music and brightening people’s days for 60 minutes or 30 minutes when you get on stage to play your set, because you’ve carefully crafted this art to change the emotional state of people who are sitting within 50 feet of you. If that gave you meaning, and certainly I think that is meaningful. I think that’s very meaningful. Even though other people who might sit on the sidelines and judge, which is usually the people who judge by the way, it’s not the people in the arena who are actually scraping their knees and getting things done, but the peanut gallery on the internet on the side, criticizing you saying that you should be spending your time a different way. There is no should.
We’re not dealing with the natural laws or physical hard scientific laws that are in — I mean, we can get into a conversation that objectivity, but let’s just call them objective truths for the sake of this thought exercise. We’re dealing with your perception of what matters. Your perception of what matters, I think, though you should listen to other people, and I encourage you to talk to other people about how they think about it. Your perception of what matters is your perception of what matters. You can own that and you can consider it valid.
I would say that it’s helpful as you’re walking around in the world as a perceiving machine to perhaps read or listen to certain books like Awareness by Anthony de Mello would be one recommendation that I would have. I’ll stop talking in a second because this is a long answer. But I can’t give the meaning of life, but I can tell you where I think my most leveraged point of focus is for creating meaning as I feel it today. It’s not a purely cognitive exercise, I should say. It’s not that I think about it and sit down with a spreadsheet, although with some of the investments and donations I make in science, I do think about the downstream effects of certain landmark studies, for instance. So I do use an analytical side to it. But the analytical is more, in my case, these days for the execution.
So I really try to feel, what do I get a whole body yes to that makes me and other people feel better. Or that in some fashion solves a problem or helps me or others to get what they’re hoping to have. Or gives people hope, then enables them in some fashion. What is the feeling that I want? So instead of saying, “How do I find meaning?” Say like, “What is the feeling I hope to have when I find meaning?” Sort of an antecedent or if you can kind of diagnose what you need by looking at the symptoms, the side effects, which would be how you would feel.
Like if you were doing something really meaningful, what would that give you that you don’t currently have? Then try to map that as you’re talking about different ideas, different topics, different ways you could spend your time. Like, when does that feeling come up? Then if you use that as one criterion for deciding where you might want to focus to create meaning, then you can use the analytical to build a plan for executing on everything we just described. But that’s a long answer to a short question. Hopefully that wasn’t completely word salad. Did any of that make any sense whatsoever?
Steve: That was incredible. Thank you so much. That’s extremely helpful in my situation. I just really appreciate you taking the time to answer my question. That’s super helpful. Thank you, Tim. I just feel like I need to say, thank you for everything that you do and that you’ve done. I know you hear this all the time. But, you know. I’ve been following your work for a very, very long time. You’ve made so many impacts on my own life and I know you’ve made impacts on so many people. So I just want to say thank you for being you and I really, really appreciate you.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate you as well. Honestly. It’s like I wouldn’t be here able to do this if I didn’t have listeners and readers who’ve been so incredibly supportive of this accidental career I’ve ended up having. So it’s a real blessing to be able to do this in any way. It means a lot that you would even fill out the form to allow me to call. So it’s, of course, my pleasure. I should emphasize too, I’m still figuring this out. I’m still making it up as I go along and testing.
At the end of the day for me, whether it’s looking for meaning or trying to create meaning, which I think are two different approaches that can be very complimentary, trying to figure out early stage investing or any number of dozens of other things I might get my hands into. Rather than trying to debate in your own head or with other people what the best approach might be, what the best next step might be out of, say, three or four or even more things, I just try to test them. So I look for low-cost tests with limited downside that I can throw out into the world to see what happens. To see what sticks and what doesn’t.
So that’s all I’m doing. I’m certainly learning from lots and lots of people around me, including people like yourself. So I’ll let you get back to your day. But thanks very much for taking the time yourself.
Steve: Thank you so much, Tim. I really appreciate it.
Tim Ferriss: All right, man. Take it easy. Bye.
Heather: Hello. Heather speaking.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, Heather speaking. This is Tim Ferriss speaking. Good day.
Heather: No, it’s not.
Tim Ferriss: It is. I’m afraid so.
Heather: Well, hello.
Tim Ferriss: Well, hello. How’s the Heather? The weather? I said Heather. How’s the Heather? I guess we could speak that way as well. How’s the Heather and how is the weather surrounding Heather at the moment?
Heather: That’s how kids get to learn my name and remember it. Because it rhymes.
Tim Ferriss: Indeed.
Heather: The weather is very cold here in Toronto.
Tim Ferriss: I was gonna say, looked like you were calling, or I should say I was calling a Toronto number. Fine city it is. Some fantastic friends and fantastic startups also in that lovely city of yours that does get a little chilly. What might I be able to attempt to answer for you, Heather?
Heather: So I’m a late bloomer and I have started taking karate. I’ve been invited to take my — I’m so nervous — black belt test in the spring.
Tim Ferriss: Congratulations.
Heather: Thank you. But I’m so nervous just like I am now and I’m a bit of a joker.
Tim Ferriss: Take your time. There’s no rush. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sitting here with my tea and a computer.
Heather: Thank you. I know that you do all kinds of these and I’m just wondering what your method is for staying focused and calm.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s see. The short answer is that I’d like to simulate the test environment as much as possible beforehand. That can include many different factors. So for instance, if I’m going to be speaking on stage somewhere, whether that’s TED or a different venue, I will always make sure that I have a chance ideally the day before, maybe the day of to go spend time on the stage and to test all the technical equipment. To know exactly where I’m going to have breakfast the next day. If it’s a large conference that I don’t have to worry about there being any hiccup in the logistics.
So I would map out the entire day that you anticipate or versions of the day that you anticipate on your test day and look at all the things that could stress you out, potentially. Look at all the things the night before that could stress you out or cause issues and then do two things. Number one, is try to set up a system so that you run into the fewest number of those things as possible. Then secondly, practice the screw ups beforehand, so that if they do happen, you aren’t going to be as reactive and thrown off. If that makes sense. Right?
Tim Ferriss: So that could include going to, and using visualization is fine for a lot of this, but let’s just say that there’s a possibility — I’m making up this example. But if there’s a possibility that at a specific speaking location, I don’t do a lot of speaking anymore, but let’s just say hypothetically, I’m going to go and get a coffee and I think the coffee shop might be completely overrun with people and I don’t like crowds. Even though I can speak in front of crowds, I don’t actually like being in crowds.
So two things. Number one, I’m going to come up with contingency plans. So maybe I buy my own coffee machine at Target that I can replace or return two days later. Maybe I get some instant coffee from Starbucks. Maybe I decide to use room service and have backup plans that I don’t have to do that. Then I could also go in a number of times when it’s really, really busy and visualize that it is the day of my speaking gig, or the black belt test, and practice calming yourself down. I think part of the mistakes, or one of the mistakes, excuse me, that folks make is they practice skills like meditation and mindfulness in a vacuum. If that makes sense.
Heather: So not under stress.
Tim Ferriss: That’s exactly right. So they will meditate in the morning when it’s completely quiet before anyone’s gotten up on their special cushion in their special room, and then they go to the DMV and they completely lose their shit because they haven’t practiced the skill in the environment that most demands it, or the types of environments.
So for instance, a few years ago I went on my first, well it was not my first caribou hunt, in this case it was an elk hunt. I don’t hunt very much, consume everything that I hunt, but I do hunt occasionally. I went on an elk hunt, did not end up harvesting any elk, but in preparation for that, because it was going to be a bow hunt, I was practicing in upstate New York with archery. I hired a coach, I was doing all sorts of technical training. Which you’ve done already for your black belt test, right, you’ve done the technical practice.
I was doing the technical practice, but then I realized a few things.
When I travel, in this case to Colorado, I’m going to be going from sea level to something like between seven and 11 thousand feet of elevation, so my heart is automatically going to be beating a lot faster just to make, to oxygenate my blood properly, or oxygenate my tissues, I suppose, more effectively.
Second, I am almost certainly going to be extremely nervous. At that point I had never even seen a bow elk, and they’re gigantic. They’re like a horse with these enormous antlers and they make these really incredible shrieking sounds. Sounds like a woman like being thrown off a cliff or something. They make these incredible sounds. So I assumed if I run into an elk, which is the objective, and I have a whatever the draw is on the bow pulled back and my muscles are super tense and I’ve been wondering if I’ll screw it up all day long, I’m probably going to feel like I’ve had three double espressos.
Okay. If that’s the case, I should practice under those physiological conditions. So what I did is, I did a number of things. I would do say 20 or 30 burpees, or like 40 or 50 kettlebell swings, and then I would pick up the bow and take one shot. I did this when I was practicing in New York. I wanted to get my heart rate well over, say, like 180. So I do whatever necessary to get very physiologically what I would consider off baseline, and then to attempt the skill. Right?
You want to be safe with this of course, but I would mimic that, and I also did that when I was preparing for my TED talk. I would down a bunch of double espressos and then go in to give the presentation, because I’m giving a presentation as a rehearsal in front of a familiar crowd. Ultimately when I’m blinded by the house lights, or the stage lights rather, and unable to see people in the crowd, my body’s going the react very differently so I want to mimic that.
Tim Ferriss: How far out is your black belt test right now?
Heather: They haven’t set the date, but I think the first evaluation’s in May.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, so you have something like two months. Do you do any type of performance in front of crowds, have you done any public speaking or sports competitions, things of that nature in the past?
Heather: Many moons ago I used to perform in front of people, but it’s been a few decades. So I just find that I’m overwhelmed with the idea.
Tim Ferriss: Yup. What is the format of the black belt test? Is it going to be the class watching you; is it going to be in a familiar location, a new location? What does it look like?
Heather: From what I understand there are two main testing locations and they’re sort of more of a formality gathering, but none of them are in locations that I typically would get to practice at on the norm. Like they’re not at the dojo. I think they’re far out and big. So there are quite a number.
Tim Ferriss: What are your concerns? What are you worried could happen?
Heather: I’m afraid that I will like, there was this time where I was in another competition and when it came game day, I just got so nervous I couldn’t find my feet. It was nothing to do with martial arts, but still, and so I have that fear that it’s going to happen again. It’s ridiculous, but.
Tim Ferriss: No, it’s not ridiculous. I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all. I really don’t think it’s ridiculous. It’s a response that your body and psyche are having to a past experience to protect you. Right? So you’re sort of subconsciously, you’re trying to protect yourself to prevent what happened from happening again.
That makes perfect sense. So the way you overcome that is, in my experience, not by expecting that on game day you’re going to be able to summon self talk that is going to be a hundred times more effective than any of your self talk in the past. It’s by rehearsing what you fear.
So you have two months, which is great news. So I would think about other things that make you nervous, the would make you specifically nervous about blanking, right? Whether that’s getting up on stage in talking in front of people. If that’s an example, then find a local Toastmasters, for instance, and get up on stage, and start doing that. Because you will then begin to develop more confidence in your ability to either not blank or to blank and recover from blanking. Does that make sense?
So I would look for other circumstances that would provoke the same fear and practice those as much as possible. I would also find out ahead of time what the locations are and I would spend time at those locations. Because the fewer new variables you can have on the day of testing, the better off you’ll be.
I would never, for instance, when I was competing a thousand years ago, I would never ever set foot into a competitive arena or on a mat or anything like that for the first time when I was about to compete or do some type of testing. I would always do recon ahead of time and I would know where the bathrooms are. I would know where the main entrance is. I would know, I would have an idea of what the process is going to be. For instance, when I did my black belt test at the Kodokan in Tokyo, in Japan when I lived there from 15 to 16, so when I was in Japan I was part of the judo club which is the judo team, I mean judobu really, but doesn’t translate particularly well into English, but judo team, and that’s where we did our black belt test.
So I did recon even then to know exactly what the process would look like, what the format would look like, and to actually attend a few practices in that facility just so that I would have a familiarity with say the temperature of the mat. Which it can vary tremendously in judo from location to location. I’m sure for other things as well, but the kind of plastic rubbery tatami mats that they use in judo could be freezing cold in one place and really, really warm in another, which affects the hardness or the relative hardness or softness.
So all of these things, I would want to be exposed to before it matters, before it counts.
There’s also a very good book I can recommend that has helped me a lot. I’ve read it over and over again. It has a rather cheesy title, but the content is exceptional and very, very practical. It’s by Dale Carnegie and it’s called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. It may seem like a dramatic recommendation for this particular example that you’ve brought up, but the fear of blanking and how that can be self reinforcing, if that makes sense. Like the fear of blanking makes it more likely that you are going to blank.
So that is a psychological — it’s a question of psychology and mindset as well as skill set. This is I think the neglected component that I’ve been alluding to since I started rambling in response to this is that if someone asks me, and I do get asked this pretty frequently, like, “How do I build my confidence? What should my self talk look like? How can I develop confidence?” And my answer is you don’t develop it in a vacuum. You develop confidence by systematically exposing yourself to discomfort and things that you think are just outside of your capabilities or just outside of your comfort zone.
As you do that, you condition yourself to better tolerate stress and to take what you previously would have considered risks, even though now you recognize them as very achievable, trainable objectives. And that’s how you build confidence. You build confidence by doing these things because at the end of the day your inner critic, your inner voice is going to know the truth. Right? You can listen to all of the motivational audio that you want, but if you haven’t put in the work and you haven’t set foot in this arena, if you haven’t subjected yourself to similar situations that would provoke this fear of blanking, you’re going to know on a deep level.
On the flip side, this is the good news, if you’ve done those things, you show up and you know you’ve done everything you could have done, and the self talk is “I’ve done all of the preparation. I have prepared more methodically than anyone else who’s taken this test, and therefore, all I need to do now is simply let come out what I’ve been technically practicing for X number of months, X number of years. Right? Like I have turned over every stone I could to prepare for this,” and that is what makes it far less likely that you’re going to blank, or, I should say and, gives you the confidence that if you blank, which has happened to me dozens of times on stage in front of big audiences while I’m speaking, like literally like just poof gone, do not know what the hell comes next, and once you’ve learned kind of how to tap dance with that, you develop confidence, not just in your ability to execute on a plan, but on your ability to improvise.
Those would be some of my thoughts. But really it’s remove as many unknowns as possible. If you have what if this, what if that, go practice that what if in some capacity. Maybe that’s asking to go to a different karate school with people you don’t know to participate in a class or to do a demo. Like, “would you mind?” And you can explain to the teacher, “I’m not coming in here with a lot of swagger, I’m trying to prepare for my black belt test. I’m really nervous I’m going to blank. I’m working with my teacher, but one thing that was recommended to me was getting into unfamiliar environments because that’s what the testing environment is going to be, to actually perform so that I have less fear of blanking when it matters.”
And I’m sure that you could find, you could even ask your instructor if there’s another instructor he or she can recommend who would be open to hosting you in a way. So there are ways to practice this stuff.
Heather: That’s a great idea.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s, which was taught to me. This is all stuff the I picked up from other people who are really, really seasoned competitors in most instances.
Heather: I’m not that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so these are just bits and pieces that I’ve picked up over time for inoculating yourself against sort of nebulous fear. There’s another exercise that I would very, very strongly recommend you go through, because you may realize, like “Even if i blank and this doesn’t work, doesn’t happen, I can retest three months later, or six months later.” Right?
Tim Ferriss: And there’s a thought exercise that you can go through which involves some writing, so I guess it’s more than just a thought exercise, called fear-setting, which if you haven’t seen it or even if you have, it may be an opportune time to revisit. This is something I do very regularly, probably at least once a quarter, maybe even once a month. You can find that at tim.blog/ted, since I also discuss the process in my last TED talk.
Heather: I’ve listened to your podcast to a point where I think it’s common to other people. I’m familiar with that. I’ve heard you mention it once or twice.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so I would go and print out that blog post and just run through the exercise. Even if it seems in some way academic, I think that it will also alleviate a lot of unnecessary pressure or fear that you’re probably imposing on yourself that may not be extremely well-defined. That book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living will also chip away at that with different tools and recommendations.
Heather: That was Dale Carnegie?
Tim Ferriss: That’s right.
Heather: Okay, thank you. One small question. I hear it’s rigorous — more so than our regular training — and I don’t know if I should, leading up to it have more rest time or more like “Go at it, give ‘er” leading up to it to practice? What do you recommend? Athletics is not my background, my talent necessarily, I’m looking to get through it and try to do so as gracefully as I can. But I hear that it’s quite a long day and by design it’s exhausting.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I would rest quite a bit in the week before the actual test, particularly in the few days beforehand. But since you have two months, I would strive to make your training harder than the test day, by design. If you’ve gone through things that are harder than the actual fight, so to speak, you will come in with a very, very well earned high level of confidence that you’re physically capable because you’ve already stress tested those circumstances. So I would absolutely, within safe boundaries of course, make your training harder than your competition slash certification. For sure. 100%.
Think it is Archilochus, one of my favorite quotes is “We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
Tim Ferriss: So, since I’m high on tea right now and want to use quotes, I’ll also say there’s a longer quote by James Cameron the director, Terminator, Avatar, et cetera, Titanic, which begins with “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope is not a strategy. So condition yourself by making your training at least at a few points beforehand physically more demanding than the test day. And figure out ways to do that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be karate, but it should be something that is physically more demanding than the test day. I would simulate it as closely as humanly possible.
Heather: Okay. Thank you very much.
Tim Ferriss: You’re welcome.
Heather: I’ll have to consider getting a trainer.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you should. It’s the best, best of luck with your black belt test. Very exciting.
Heather: Thank you very much.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, congratulations.
Heather: You made my day. Have a good one.
Tim Ferriss: You too. Bye-bye.
Tim Ferriss: Justin, how is it in California, or at least on a California telephone? This is Tim Ferriss.
Justin: Tim Ferriss. You know I was expecting your call.
Tim Ferriss: Well, here I am. Not to leave you hanging.
Justin: I appreciate that. Everything’s great. I’m down here in Los Angeles. How is
Austin, Texas presumably treating you?
Tim Ferriss: It’s fantastic. It decided to brighten up and offer the sun just as people are arriving for South by Southwest, which it always does to seduce everyone. But the weather is actually generally very nice, but it’s been cold for the last week or so. How can I be of assistance? What question might I be able to answer, or attempt to answer?
Justin: Well you know, this is more of a personal question, and I read the blurb and I said, “What’s an interesting question that I could ask Tim Ferriss because he is generally in charge of the interesting questions.” And I thought, if Tim, Tim if you had to identify as a cocktail what would it be and why?
Tim Ferriss: Huh. If I had to be a cocktail. You know the first thing that came to mind was an old-fashioned, just because I feel like, for me, there should be certain constants in life. You should have, for instance, consistency with values and how you make decisions with your values as an operating system, effectively, for the go no-go decisions, do not do, spend time with this person versus avoid this person type of decisions.
On the other hand, past the basic ingredients, with say an old-fashioned, you then have as a bartender quite a bit of room to improvise and add your own flair, and it can vary tremendously from place to place. So I think that then offers the flexibility to reinvent yourself with respect to projects, with respect to career, with respect to how you manifest those values in priorities that guide you day to day on a more operational level.
So that is the first thing that comes to mind when you ask about cocktail. There’s like some consistency, and a bedrock foundation that you can rely on and expect, and then you have the room to improvise and be creative and reinvent as needed with all sorts of other types of adornments and highlights, subtle or over the top as you see fit.
Justin: That was a fantastic answer that exceeded all my expectations.
Tim Ferriss: I’m glad you liked it. That was a pretty quick one. Is there, do you have any other questions, or would you like to leave it at the cocktail?
Justin: Sure. You know since I have you and I don’t know when the next time I’ll be able to get you on the phone call is, I’m 27 years old. I’m a gentleman, I consider myself a, I’m constantly trying to learn, and I’m a huge fan of the podcast and I can’t express my gratitude enough for everything that you do for myself and everybody else. I’m somebody generally struggles with finding my purpose. And I don’t want to go square peg round hole as far as trying to force myself down a walk of life that maybe isn’t exactly fit for me. Was there a time that you felt that you were particularly stagnant, and maybe weren’t fitting in where you thought you should have? Was there something that maybe helped you get over that?
Tim Ferriss: I’ve had that feeling at many points in my life. So the first thing I would say is that it is a normal experience, and in fact at your exact age I was having that feeling. 27 I would have been in the process of traveling, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. So I would have been bouncing from place to place, living on the cheap, whether it was Ireland or Berlin or any number of other places, wondering what the hell am I going to do with my life? So I was at the exact same point in some respects that you are, it sounds like from what you’re describing.
So the first thing I would say is don’t panic. Don’t view it as a personal flaw, a defect. Don’t think that you are somehow uniquely unfocused in that the universe of 27-year-olds outside of yourself has this figured out, because that’s generally not the case. And I’ve had that feeling at multiple points, and I expect it to come up. I don’t dread it because I’ve learned to view it as an indicator that something is not working. Right? There is something that I need or something that I want or something that I want to give to others or to the world that is not being accomplished right now.
So try to view it as a simple indicator to zoom out to 30,000 feet and try to reassess where things are.
In terms of what you do after reassessing, and one way to reassess, by the way, is to get a book like The 80/20 Principle. The last name — it’s Richard Koch. It may actually be pronounced cock, I have no idea. K-O-C-H. I never know how to pronounce, and I’m going to go with Koch. The 80/20 Principle, The 80/20 Way — I think Living the 80/20 Way. There are a number of books that he has written, which focus exclusively on the 80/20 principle, which I view as very helpful from a diagnostic perspective if you’re just looking at first establishing a baseline.
Where are you spending energy, where are you allocating your time, what are the results that are coming from the various categories of activities? And what type of emotional payoff are you getting or not getting from those things? What are the things you want to get rid of? That’s another way to, from a sideways angle, get to what you want is to also identify what you would like to subtract. What are the things you’re doing, the people you’re spending time with, the things you’re committing to, et cetera that you would like to remove, that are causing negative stress as opposed to positive, adaptive stress in your life?
So I would suggest those books or one of them for diagnostic purposes. Then after that, the natural question that comes up is: “Well, then what? What do you do?” Hopefully through that assessment process you’ll have some indication of tests that you can run. And I say tests or experiments because it is a very low pressure labeling to use. You’re not at 27 making a decision for the rest of your life, right? And it’s important to frame it that way because if you view a decision as a five or 10-year commitment, and there are paths where that can be the case, say in medicine, but outside of a handful of areas, you can look at, and even in the case of medicine, there are experiments that you can run.
So for instance, would it be possible if you were considering traveling in a medical path, and thought that might be something you’d want to pursue, that you could sit in at a medical school and audit a class and ask a professor who has a great reputation among students, and that’s easy to figure out with online course rankings and so on, who’s won specific teaching awards, could you sit in and audit a class because you’re considering pursuing medical school and a career in medicine? Is that something that you could use as an experiment for two weeks? To sit in on these classes to give you more information and to pay attention to how you emotionally respond to that to see if it feels like a fit. Could it be a fit or not?
What other experiments could you run? Well, what you could do after you’ve done that, or alongside it, is try to figure out if there is a way to shadow someone, say at an emergency room? Right? And this is something I’ve actually done. There’s no harm in figuring out how to ask how you might do something like that, even if you are ultimately not granted permission. So even in the case that is particularly seemingly difficult like that, there are experiments you can run. The upshot of this is that you’re going to need to try a bunch of stuff. Right? I was not planning on ever writing a book ever. I was not planning on writing The 4-Hour Workweek. I had had very difficult experience with writing my senior thesis as an undergrad and I had sworn to myself I would never write anything longer than an email ever again.
So if you had asked me at age 25, or even 27 probably, if i wanted to write a book, if I wanted to be an author, the answer would have been, “Absolutely not. Hell no.” But, in the process, and I did this accidentally, but you can do it by design, in the process of teaching classes related to entrepreneurship and getting a very strong response from students who were undergrads and masters students from certain aspects of my talks, I began to think it could make sense to give a separate guest lecture, this was at Princeton at the time, focusing on something that I struggled to label but nonetheless ended up calling lifestyle design as opposed to how to build a fast-growing bootstrapped business, and how to engineer that to function.
It was through that seemingly unrelated practice and brainstorming that the content for The 4-Hour Workweek — before the title ever existed — came about. Then someone else suggested, in effect, just like added a snarky comment to a feedback form at Princeton, which is not rare, which was, “I don’t understand why you’re teaching a class of 40 students; why don’t you just write a book and be done with it?” Which I don’t think was a serious recommendation, it was just a dickish, a dickish response from a dickish kid who’s been trained to think that’s awesome at Princeton. But nonetheless, that stuck in my head and I took notes on possible chapter titles, headlines, content, et cetera so that I could get to sleep. It gave me insomnia. And then only had conversations with agents and so on after someone made introductions without really asking me if they could make them or not.
Then the book was turned down by 27 publishers, right. So it’s almost like that entire path was something that I turned away from multiple times and nonetheless it has turned into one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Certainly that experience paved the way for everything including the podcast.
And failures can also offer you tremendous opportunities. After The 4-Hour Chef, which really completely burned me out, it was a very difficult book to put together on a suicide deadline. If I had not been burned out by The 4-Hour Chef, if I’d still had a lot of gas in the tank, I would have never tested the podcast format as a sandbox for intellectual exploration and having the types of conversations I now have on a weekly basis and share with the world. Never would have happened if I had not run head first into a brick wall with The 4-Hour Chef.
So number one, just in review because I want to make sure that I try to summarize this and have a chance to call some other folks. Number one, if you’re having these feelings of being unfocused or not sure what to do with the rest of your life, that is normal. And in fact, the majority of the world is having that type of feeling at least a few times a year. So number one, don’t freak out, because it’s normal.
Number two is do an assessment. You really need to understand where you are and what your baseline is before you can make any type of plans or draw up a possible experiments for finding the things that you feel you lack. That would be The 80/20 Principle at least as one option that I think is particularly effective. Then the second is coming up with experiments and identifying different ways to stick your toe in the water or different waters.
Stick your toe in the water or different waters to gauge how that feels and whether that provides you with some degree of inner peace or excitement. I do think that those are two pretty good litmus tests for a lot of the decisions you might make in life. Does it excite you, and are you excited to talk to other people about it, which are separate. You don’t have to check both of those boxes. Then, how excited are you or peaceful are you when you wake up in the morning, and how easily do you go to sleep? Anything that can facilitate sort of those four metrics, I think generally falls into the good decision category in my experience.
A, you don’t have to figure it out for the rest of your life, and I think it’s highly likely that you will at 27, particularly given the rate of technological change and new industries that will be created, will in fact have multiple careers throughout your life, and you don’t have to figure out which one to stick with because I think that might in fact be a losing strategy for most people. You want to develop skills and relationships that transcend any one narrow area of specialty unless you’re some type of nanoparticle physicist who’s committed to really specializing. That’s fine too, but from the sound of what you’re describing, I would say experimentation. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Does that help at all?
Justin: Yes, Tim. That was extremely helpful, and I’ve been taking notes here as I’ve learned it’s the right way to do things. I appreciate your thorough answer. It never does disappoint.
Tim Ferriss: My pleasure, you know. I’m just trying to make something up that sounds believable, so I’m glad it — if it can aid you in any way, that is genuinely though how I’ve approached things with very rare deviation for the last, say certainly last decade and I would say even a little bit longer. I’m going to let you get back to your day, but thanks for lending an ear and thanks for filling out the form.
Justin: Hey. Thanks a lot, Tim. When our paths cross next, I’ll ask you again about the cocktail but until then, thanks for the call, and I appreciate everything. You have a good day, all right?
Tim Ferriss: All right. You too, man. Bye.
Tim Ferriss: Is this Manil? Am I getting that pronunciation right?
Manil: You are, and what an honor it is for me.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s not speak too soon. I might flub the whole thing, but we’ll see how it goes. How are you this afternoon?
Manil: I am doing superb talking to you, so just busy at work, meetings, the 9:00 to 5:00 grind, the antithesis of your first book.
Tim Ferriss: There can be a time and a place. There can be a time and a place for it. How can I try to be of assistance? I can’t promise good answers, but I will do my best.
Manil: Awesome. Well, it’s tea, not wine particularly this time so this might not be as good. My question for you today was regarding relationships. Basically, you, you’re very methodical in everything that you do. You kind of plan ahead, and you always like try and anticipate, I mean basically anticipate the downsides and plan for those, yada, yada. That’s kind of my mindset, and I’ve learned a lot of that from you. I was wondering like, how can I do that in a relationship where my partner, my girlfriend isn’t really sub-prone to that or kind of bottles up or doesn’t want to plan due to the anxiety of it?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think we have some fertile ground to explore it, so I might rely on follow-up questions from you to direct this, but I can tell you how I used to think about it and now, how I think about it, which is evolving as we speak. I realized in the last, say five to 10 years that my ultimate nightmare would be dating a long-haired version of myself. The assumption, number one, is that I am looking for a complement, someone who’s a complement. I have a fantastic girlfriend right now. We’ve been together for a pretty decent stretch of time, and she’s proven to be a fantastic complement. I can explain what that means in a second to me as it stands right now.
I’m not looking for a duplicate. At the same time, I’m looking for someone with shared values, right? How do they view truth? How do they define success, if they define success at all? The shared value could be, and I think it is on many levels, how you define certain terms that people tend to strive for or strive to avoid, and how you answer certain key life questions. Outside of that, there’s a lot of room for flexibility. What I have found is that for me at least, what is helpful when you perceive, say — I could get myself in trouble here. Let’s say when —
Manil: That’s okay. I’m hoping that my girlfriend doesn’t hear this.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Manil: We’re both [crosstalk 01:12:44].
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. We can’t blame it on the booze. This applies to the last, probably the last four or five relationships I’ve had, which have all been with incredible women and brilliantly strong women in different ways that I separate in my mind what is emotional fragility or lack of resilience from sensitivity. I think this is a really important distinction, which I didn’t, by the way, draw from myself for many decades, and I think it did a lot of damage. In other words, sensitivity to me is reflective of, to use one metaphor, a precision instrument, right? If you have a scale that gives you your weight but it’s in 10-pound increments, that is less sensitive than a scale that gives you pound by pound increments —
Manil: Of course, right.
Tim Ferriss: — and a very sensitive scale would give you down to the gram and so on. The question then is how someone wields that sensitivity and whether it is a help or a liability or asking the question when is that sensitivity a help or a liability. You find, I think that historically for me, I have viewed any type of feeling of feelings to be unhelpful, to be a primitive clouding of logical analysis. For a long time therefore, my response to emotional responses in myself was to stuff them down, cut them off, mute them, turn down the volume. As a result, I’ve made some really bad decisions. There were times when it was helpful.
Manil: Right. I know you —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Manil: No. I was just going to say I know you said you basically have started relying more on your gut instincts rather than pro-con lists.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You use both, right? I think that it’s a mistake to exclusively rely on either but there’s a lot to be said for the hundreds and thousands and millions of years of evolution that have given us rapid processing ability that doesn’t have to run through a four-quadrant grid in the analytical mind. There’s a lot to be said for it. If a deal looks great but you get the heebie-jeebies from the person you’re doing the deal with, I pay a lot of attention to that.
The reason I bring it up is that I think it is equally easy to say date a, in this case, and we’re both dating women, date a woman or a partner who is very, very sensitive and to mistake that for weakness. One thing that I try to do is to get a very clear understanding of how sensitive their instrument is. For instance, one of my ex-girlfriends, I only realized after we’d been together for several years that when she walked down the street, she was so emphatically receptive that she could basically feel the pain and emotions almost like a contagion of people as she pass them walking down the sidewalk. Walking down the sidewalk in New York City was incredibly emotionally depleting for her. I didn’t realize she was that sensitive. That’s not a value judgment. It is an assessment of her instrumentation.
That changed how I related to what I’d previously perceived as like very unreasonable and maybe immature responses to things. Does that make sense? That’s kind of point one. I find it more productive these days, and I should say right off the bat, which I didn’t, that many people have suggested like before, asked me, “When are you going to write The 4-Hour Relationship?” Aside from a terrible-sounding title, the fact of the matter is I don’t think I have right now a whole lot to contribute to that conversation. There are a million and one books about relationships. Some of them are very good. I think The Five Love Languages is actually an excellent book and has been recommended to me by some of the most impressive humans on the planet off the record.
Manil: Black Love Language? What was it?
Tim Ferriss: That might be a separate one. The Five Love Languages.
Manil: Oh, five. Sorry. Okay.
Tim Ferriss: No, no, no. I mean, maybe somebody should write that one too. The Five Love Languages. I do think for, particularly for very kind of Spock-admiring left-brainers. I know that the left and right brain functions are not as cleanly delineated as this, but just for the sake of simplicity, that book is very helpful. Where I was going to go next though is that for quite a long time, my response to perceived weakness was frustration, and it still is sometimes, but the frustration was based on my perception of whatever their reaction was. I had no visibility into their internal process. This goes, by the way, for employees. It goes for everybody, not just significant others.
What I’ve certainly come to practice a lot more is like before getting frustrated, asking what they’re experiencing, asking them to describe how they’re feeling, asking them — like recognizing that their response exists whether you want it to or not, so you might as well have a bit more resolution on what they’re actually experiencing. It can end up being very, very reasonable. Not only that, but even if it is from your perspective unreasonable, simply recognizing that their experience is valid and even saying, “I can see how A, B, and C would be very difficult. I totally hear you. I could see that and my friends have experienced similar things or I’ve experienced similar things,” often diffuses the situation without you having to offer a solution at all or to critique the response. That’s another sort of consideration.
This is the type of thing that’s probably going to get me in trouble, but here it goes. The 20 percent of you out there who just love to kind of sport outrage on the internet, you can use this one. There’s a book that I highly, highly recommend for everyone to read. Now, I’ve recommended it before for many, many different situations or to — as education and a toolkit for many, many types of challenges that can crop up. There’s a book called Don’t Shoot the Dog, which is written by, I believe it’s Karen Pryor. It’s, at its most basic, a book about positive reinforcement. It happens to teach a lot of lessons through discussion of through animal conditioning, marine animals, dolphins, and so on, also looking at every possible creature imaginable.
I think the back copy of the back cover of this book says something like, “Whether you want the cat to get off of your kitchen table or your mother-in-law to stop nagging you, this book will give you the tools you need,” something like that. The title, I think, does not do justice to the book, but it’s very useful particularly when you — how long have you been dating your girlfriend?
Manil: It will be like two and a half years, getting very close to three.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Two and a half, three years in, both of you probably have, I think this is true for most couples, by this point, certain triggers for each other. I’m sure you have habits that annoy the shit out of her. Maybe she bites your lip, maybe she doesn’t. I’m sure she has a few that drive you nuts, and there are probably also exchanges wherein you end up in a self-perpetuating cycle of some type, right? I’m not saying this is true for your relationship, but for instance. You perceive her as being clingy or needy in some way, so you push away or shut down, which makes her even more fearful that you’re withdrawing, so she doubles down on the clinginess and the neediness. Then, you double down on the pushing away, and it just …
Manil: Right, right, right.
Tim Ferriss: That type of dynamic might exist. In those types of dynamics, it’s very useful to have, as a reference point, a book like this that covers principles of positive reinforcement because the negative reinforcement can work, but there are a lot of side effects. Does that make sense? It’s like, for instance — and this book gives a lot of examples. Negative reinforcement can work, yeah. It’s like you want to use a shock collar with a dog. By the way, just for everybody out there who’s just waiting to throw pitchforks at my head, I’m not comparing women to dogs. I’m comparing humans to animals because we are animals, so just chill the fuck out.
I think a lot of our problems day to day, quite frankly, is thinking that we are uniquely special animals when for most intents and purposes, it’s just not the case at all. There’s plenty of great literature and science that we can review to get a better understanding of why we do some silly things and engage in self-defeating behavior and thought patterns, which from an evolutionary standpoint, make a lot of sense. This is part of that education for me at least. The benefit of it is — one of the benefits is that you’re not leading about evolutionary biology in a purely theoretical or abstract way. There’s some great books by Dawkins and others that can inform this conversation. What’s nice about something like Don’t Shoot the Dog is that it gives you tools you can immediately practice in real life. That’s one I would suggest that will give you an alternative palette of options, mixing a lot of metaphors, palette of colors, i.e., options that you can paint with when you’re in these situations.
Can you give me a specific example of a situation or a response, something that you wish were different whether it’s ongoing? Preferably something that repeats, something that you see repeatedly.
Manil: Right. I mean, the big one, obviously always a big thing in relationships is financials. There is like — she’s going to kill me if she hears this, but there is a little bit of a —
Tim Ferriss: That’s okay, Robert. That’s okay, Robert. Continue.
Manil: What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: I said it’s okay, Robert. Don’t worry about it. Continue.
Manil: Yes, yes, yes. Exactly! is just like we have a little bit of an income inequality, right? I do make a little bit more than her, which is I’m sure there’s always income disparity, but I’ve always been very frugal my whole life in terms of always save a ton, don’t live beyond your means or whatever. Any time I try and talk financials, I get shot down. There’s no discussion to be had. It’s just, “Well, you have yours, and I have mine. Let’s just figure it out.” For somebody I want to spend the rest of my life with, it becomes difficult especially when I’ve been raised as financially conscious as I am.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. This is a good example because it represents a really common source of friction. Really common. I mean, this is not a rare conversation, and it’s not a rare conversation where one or more party’s shot down. I can only speak to tools that have been helpful to me. I’ll speak to a tool that’s been helpful to me and also a buffer. I’ll explain what I mean by that.
The tool, which can become a bit rote and repetitive if you overuse it, is nonviolent communication. There are many books on the subject. There is a particular audiobook version that Neil Strauss, eight or nine-time New York Times bestselling author recommended to me. I believe the first name is Marshall, the author. The audiobook has, I think a peace sign on the cover and it’s several hours long. In any case, Nonviolent Communication, you can certainly read the Wikipedia entry for the basics, but in effect, it is an approach to communication that aims — I’m probably going to piss off a bunch of nonviolent communication black belts out there who are going to say that I got it all wrong, but for the purposes of our conversation right now, to minimize the likelihood of provoking a strong emotional response in the person you’re speaking with and in yourself.
I’m going to try to sort of recall this template right now. There are different ways to approach it, but the way it will generally start is along the lines of when A, B, and C happened or when you did A, B, and C. This first part is, has to be objective. It cannot be debatable, right? It could be something like “When we agreed to meet at 3:00 and you turned up at 3:20.” It’s what a video camera would have recorded. “It makes me feel X because I have a need for Y. It makes me feel sad because I have a need to feel that we’re in this together and that we’re going to always strive to keep commitments to each other.”
Then there’s a specific ask, which is like, “Would you be willing to?” The would you be willing to could be anything. It could be, “Would you be willing to set aside a time to have a conversation about this any time that’s convenient for you? It’s really important to me because, for instance in your case, I literally want to spend the rest of my life with you, and this is important to me because I was raised A, B, and C. Would you be willing for us to set aside some time whenever is convenient for you? Put it in the calendar so we can actually talk about this.”
It’s a template, and the goal being what I described previously. I would look into nonviolent communication for these types of conversations that have historically produced the same response whether in your partner or in yourself, right? Then, the buffer that I was mentioning is — this took me — it’s so obvious, and yet it took me 41, 42 — I can’t even remember how old I am right now but whatever my age is right now, I should have figured this out earlier, and that is it’s not just the message. It’s the messenger.
What I mean by that is when you get into a pattern, in my experience, where a partner says, A, the other partner shuts down a response, B, and it’s just Groundhog Day, that what may be needed — and they’re not mutually exclusive, what might be required both, is not the perfect wordsmithing that is going to be like like your Luke Skywalker in Star Wars shooting down the line in the Death Star. It’s not the perfect prose paragraph that’s going to just bestow this miraculous epiphany upon your girlfriend who’s going to be like, “Oh, my God. Now, I see it,” right? Rather than hoping to craft the perfect Gettysburg Address that’s going to revolutionize how she thinks about finances, maybe she just needs to hear exactly what you’re saying through someone who is less threatening or with whom she hasn’t established that pattern.
I’m sure that — again, I’m not a relationship counselor but in my experience, when I’m like, “I can’t believe she does X,” I usually have a very active role in provoking that somehow. It’s likely that the credit/blame is shared by both parties, but in the last year or so, I have been — and I’m like embarrassed to admit this. I don’t know what that’s about. We can unpack that another time, but found a relationship coach to meet with or speak with on a regular basis, and she will speak to me individually. She will speak to my girlfriend individually, and then we’ll have group calls, has enabled my girlfriend to say things or convey things to me through someone else who can also act as a reality check for her and for me. When I have a concern or a criticism, she’s more than willing to tell me that she thinks it’s unreasonable or that I’m overreacting. As she’s put it, she’s not for either one of us. She’s for the relationship.
Having someone who is a regular part of your fostering of the relationship as a couple even when there’s not a problem, who is consistently there to ensure the plants are watered before they start dying has been incredibly, incredibly helpful and can defuse a lot of this stuff through a myriad of different factors, one of which being you can say to this, say relationship coach or whoever you might choose to work with, therapist, that you’d really like to bring this up in a safe space where the three of you can talk about it and where she can voice her concerns to you, maybe separately, maybe together. Having someone to facilitate that is at least, in my experience over the last year, extremely, extremely helpful.
It is also helpful if you or anyone like me can get a bit overwhelmed or feel overwhelmed when a partner comes to me with emotional challenges. At some point, you’ll have to develop the ability. I’m not saying you don’t. I will have to develop the ability, and I am to kind of better just sit and witness the experience of an emotional challenge without having to like immediately jump in and offer solutions within 30 seconds and be like, “Okay, right. Problem. Got it. Let’s be solution focused,” which —
Manil: Left brain, go, or prefrontal cortex, go.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, which — surprise, surprise — does not always make things better. I’m getting better at that, and it’s a process of practicing and training and so on for me because it doesn’t come very naturally. To have someone else that your partner can vent to who is not you is really worth the money and time in and of itself and who you can vent to, by the way, so that you don’t blow up over dinner or God knows what at your partner and then say to yourself for the next two weeks, “For fuck’s sake, why did I do that? What a 12-car pileup of emotional trauma I have to now try to clean up.” That’s the buffer that I might suggest. It’s relatively new to me to have that because I like to think that I don’t need things like that, and I’ve realized that’s, at least from my experience so far, very penny wise and pound foolish, particularly if it sounds like you’re very committed to being with your girlfriend and want to be with her for a very, very, very long time. Those are a few of my thoughts. I don’t know how helpful those are, but they’ve been helpful certainly to me thus far.
Manil: Awesome. No, I really appreciate that. My takeaways from all that, obviously the three books, Three Love Languages, Nonviolent Communication, and what’s the other one?
Tim Ferriss: Five Love Languages.
Manil: Oh, Don’t Shoot the Dog is the other one.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, Nonviolent Communication and Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.
Manil: Right, so that and then the messenger, that was kind of another one I was like, “Oh, yeah. It’s not always about the message.” I see that replaying in my head. Thank you again. I just want to say thank you for everything that you do and for the call today. Hope you have a wonderful rest of the day, and hopefully this makes it to the podcast. If not, is it possible to send a recording of it to me?
Tim Ferriss: It’s planned for the podcast, so I’m sure this will end up on the podcast, so don’t worry. It’ll be just you, Robert, me, and our couple million best friends.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Good luck and…
Manil: Thank you. Thank you again, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: You’re welcome. Have a great day.
Tim Ferriss: Bye.
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