Comfort Challenge #1: Learn to Eye Gaze

If you try this comfort challenge, please share your experience in the comments below! I’d love to read them. It’s always a hilarious and valuable exploration of getting more comfortable with discomfort.

Here is the original text of the challenge from The 4-Hour Workweek:

My friend Michael Ellsberg invented a singles event called Eye Gazing. It is similar to speed dating but different in one fundamental respect—no speaking is permitted. It involves gazing into the eyes of each partner for three minutes at a time. If you go to such an event, it becomes clear how uncomfortable most people are doing this. For the next two days, practice gazing into the eyes of others—whether people you pass on the street or conversational partners—until they break contact.

Hints:

1. Focus on one eye and be sure to blink occasionally so you don’t look like a psychopath or get your ass kicked.

2. In conversation, maintain eye contact when you are speaking. It’s easy to do while listening.

3. Practice with people bigger or more confident than yourself. If a passerby asks you what the hell you’re staring at, just smile and respond, “Sorry about that. I thought you were an old friend of mine.”

If you try this comfort challenge, please share your experience in the comments below! I’d love to read them. It’s always a hilarious and valuable exploration of getting more comfortable with discomfort.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 400 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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97 Replies to “Comfort Challenge #1: Learn to Eye Gaze”

  1. This is a banal seeming but incredibly powerful exercise! Great confidence building and introvert healing effects. I found this, silently wishing people a day, and morning papers to be very rewarding.
    Thank you Tim for all you’ve done, it is a great service to mankind! Especially the psychedelic research funding!
    If you have the time sometimes, I’d love to have a chat with you. You can contact me at [removed by moderator].

    All the best!
    Sincerely,
    Stefan

      1. This. Introverts don’t need ‘healing’. I do see value in this exercise for both introverts and extroverts. But there is no ‘healing’ needed for introverts.

      2. Well, it all depends on the amount. I love being by myself. I don’t live in a cave and run away from people though. There are some that need some help to ease into humanity.

      3. I think there’s a difference between being an introvert and being shy. Being an introvert is fine, it means you recharge your batteries alone, e.g. reading a book instead of going to the party like an extrovert would do. You can be shy extrovert but you can be a shy introvert (as I am) and that can be a problem. I think what dilio21 probably meant it’s healing for shy people.

      4. It can be useful for introverts who are in situations that call for human interaction that exceeds their level of comfort, either in duration or intensity. Just another tool in your toolbox.

      5. Susan Cain did an interesting interview with Tim maybe December of 2018 that gave a clearer understanding of what it means to be an introvert or an extrovert. It’s not what most people think; it’s how you deal with other people’s energy. As she mentions a friend who is a shy extrovert, which is seemingly oxymoronic but not really.

    1. Tim, thank you for sharing a quite informative article on Fortune magazine, and Stefan, I absolutely agree with you – from 2007’s comfort challenges to funding psychedelic research, Tim is a wonderful agent for improving one’s life, whether on a big mankind scale or a little personal one.

      I wonder how a regular person can support-fund-invest in magic mushroom psychedelic research and/or accelerate the movement? Companies mentioned in the article (compass pathways, mind medicine) are private, information is scarce, yahoo finance offered only one publicly traded company (yield growth) with their flourish mushroom lab.

      Myself – and i believe many many others – would like to join you with this psychedelic research, Tim. Give it an idea. Thanks!

  2. Hey Tim,
    A quick comment on a reply when asked “what are you staring at” while doing this challenge, try “I just farted”. The looks are priceless and it’s so ff-putting that people just keep walking. Enjoy the Day!

    1. Aarrghh! Fuck you, Tim! Why do you unerringly pick the things I’m most avidly avoiding?

      Seriously though. This is so easy with family and pets but SO FUCKING HARD with everybody else!

      1. That might be the point @Kim Mobey. Learn to experience life with “other” people as if they were family and/or close friends. What do you think @Kim Mobey?

    2. Hey Tim,

      This is awesome. Thanks for bringing this back. The 4 hour work week has had more of an impact on me than any other book. It would be great to bring back some of the exciting experiments from back in the day.

  3. Hi, Tim! Shout out from Russia)

    Thanks for your challenges, they are right on time! Could you also back me up with some week planning/ time management routine?

  4. I randomly ran across something about intimacy & eye dominance and started experimenting with it a few years ago. I have a lot of deep discussions as part of the nature of my work. I find it far easier to look into most people’s left eye, which is most likely their non-dominant eye, and is good for empathy and open ended discussion. Staring into their right eye feels more like commanding or ordering, and is more of an aggression exercise. Simply a hypothesis, but has worked for me.

    1. That’s fascinating – I’d love to better understand the mechanism – although my understanding was that there was some cross-over of information between the eyes and the brain hemispheres, so it may not be as simple as right eye = dominant …

  5. Have tried this on dates, add a little squint (important), and it immediately creates a spark. If you can do that at work, and force yourself to talk less than you would normally do, guarantee you suddenly also appear much more confident. Give it a try!

    Looking forward to the other challenges Tim, I’ll probably record myself doing them and document the experiment!

    1. As a tiny woman, I mastered this in my early 20s. I found people were much less likely to think of me as a pushover. It tends to bring about an immediate level of respect especially with men in the workplace. Using just this technique I landed several jobs that I was (on paper) unqualified for.

      On the other hand, maybe they thought I was flirting? And gave me a job for that reason. LOL

      Who knows. I’m going to stick with respect because not one of those men were ever inappropriate with me later.

      1. This is fanTAStic, Mindy! I am going to start my job hunt soon, and will definitely be implementing this, as well. I am curious what the differences will be on video interviews versus in person. Looking forward to the connections!

  6. Oh goodness! How I love this. I currently read “The Untethered Soul” which essentially pushes us to do the same thing: becoming comfortable with discomfort, relaxing and letting go. It’s such a powerful practice. Love it Timmy!

  7. First day of the challenge. I was very excited to do it, I “planned” on doing it while I was reading 4HWW but of course, I never did. When I saw your video today I knew I had to take the challenge. I went to the mall and just started walking and staring into people. 90% of the time people would look away first, success! My biggest problem was containing my laughter, I found the whole scenario ridiculous. But Tim, let me tell you, kids are on a whole other level, they just don’t give an f and they will stare you down forever, I couldn’t succeed with any of the couple kids I tried the challenge with. It was all fun, can’t wait for the next ones!

    1. Yes, kids! I realize I have been doing this with kids for quite awhile, and babies, especially. There’s SO much less of mental stuff in the way! Same with dogs, too.

  8. This is gonna be a laugh i manage a pub in australia and have a feeling im gonna get some priceless reactions and comments thrown my way 🤣.

    Will keep you posted.

  9. I’ve been doing this ever since reading the 4HWW 13 years ago!

    I want to counter with an “advanced” challenge. There’s this universal “black guy head nod” that happens when you’re in an area with not a lot of black people (like traveling). Being half-black it’s sometimes harder for me to pull off, but I always go for it! (4HWW eye gaze style).

    If you’re a white dude and already proficient in the eye gaze technique, I challenge you to go for the “black guy head nod”. 😂 If a white dude caught me with “the gaze” and gave me the black dude head nod I’d probably want to fist bump him. 🤜🏾🤛 😂

    Google it. It’s a thing if you didn’t know. 🙂

  10. Tim this is very similar to Werner Earhardt’s “Be With” exercise. I use it sometimes in my workshops too because it is fascinating. For some people, the idea of standing face to face in front of a stranger who is 12 inches away is terrifying. It is not uncommon for people who appear to be very powerful to vomit or break down in tears when having to sustain eye contact. To be seen.

    It makes me wonder what it is that we are so afraid of. Thanks for bringing this up!

  11. As a long time listener/follower, first time to comment (I think?). Just found some irony in your email today–the two lead items are (1) Podcast with a blind magician & (2) Eye gazing. Just struck me a humorous…
    Enjoyed the Brene Brown podcast–great chemistry!
    Keep experimenting…

  12. Hey Tim–some of us were doing the eye-gazing exercise for up to an hour at a time back in the 70’s in est (erhard seminar training, and Latin for “it is”) and I believe he may have gotten it from Scientology. It is also a much older practice within Sufism, where they call it “trespasso.” The irony of it for me was, after doing it enough times, I reached a point where I was MORE comfortable being silent and making prolonged eye contact than I was in having an ordinary conversational exchange, so I’m back to actually speaking to people as my challenge! xox Eliezer

    1. PS: Google “Braco the Gazer”–he has made a lucrative career of silently gazing at hundreds of people in the audience at a time for about $8 a head, for five minutes. People claim to have extraordinary healings. I got nothing, except envy that he thought of it first.

      1. Thanks for sharing about Braco. I think the power of simply being still and making eye contact ie. not filling the moment with activity, allows us to loosen the grip on our concept of “self”. Until we experience that our personality is malleable and not an artifact but an evolving presence, we will keep recreating the same results over and over.

        I am not sure that Tim’s exercise brings us closer to that sense of dropping the idea of the self, but that possibility is at the root of the experiment.

  13. This was one of the most emotional experiences of my life!!

    Tim, I participated in a Human Connection workshop that involved eye gazing for 10 plus minutes. It was part of an acting class to foster genuine connection between actors while performing a scene.

    I experienced a nearly unbearable wave of anxiety as I prepared to do the exercise. I feared I would be exposed and open to someone seeing through the mask I present to the world and finding the unloveable, shameful thing that I am.

    I pushed through and found that my fear was realized: they saw right through me! But instead of shame they saw and reflected many kind and loving things back to me – aspects of myself I hadn’t connected with in years. I in turn experienced the vulnerability of my partner to be the same and felt deeply connected to this complete stranger in a manner I have not felt in any other circumstance.

    This was a deeply moving, freeing, and connecting experience for me and I encourage anyone interested in trying this to push through the fear and see what it like to connect with another person on this level!

  14. I’ve got a hack for this!!
    If you have trouble gazing in to someone’s eyes….just look at the bridge of their noses. So the spot right between the eyes. They can’t see that you’re not looking in their eyes. And because you’re not looking in to the eyes, you can keep it up way longer. But this is a hack of course….you won’t get the same results as if you were actually gazing in someone’s eyes.

    1. This is cheating in my opinion. Be doing this, you are avoiding the discomfort. However, it could be a useful stepping stone

  15. Here’s my issue…I’ve learned that making eye contact, much less *extensive* eye contact, is seen as a “move” from men (I’m a heterosexual woman). The first thing I learned when I moved to Denver and started taking the light rail to work downtown was to stop making eye contact with strangers. I can remember at least a dozen weird experiences of men coming over and talking to me, sitting too closely, telling me I “smell so good”, etc., all because I had made eye contact at one point. Brief eye contact. So, I’m gonna give it a shot, but I’m feeling wary about doing it with the public. I’m married now (doesn’t make a huge difference, but it dissuades some people), and I don’t work downtown, so the population change might feel safer. There are also far fewer creeps at my current office, so that feels safe.

    1. That sounds like an annoying problem to have, Allison. I had a related worry as a heterosexual male who was afraid of seeming like a creep by staring, but I realize now that the chances of someone coming up to me and making unwelcome advances is far less likely in my situation. In his book “Vagabonding,” Ralf Potts warns solo female travelers of different cultures’ interpretations of how women express interest sexually, with some misinterpreting even an innocent smile or “thank you” as such an expression.

  16. Two experiences with eye gazing:
    1. Five months ago on a third date. Incredible connection happens when gazing into worthy eyes. Five months and the gazing continues

    2. Tried the challenge this weekend on a tall, confident, good looking acquaintance as we had dinner with our significant others… I lost contact first every time he was speaking to me and half the time when I was speaking to him. He was good. Maybe he was also taking on the challenge?

  17. Hi! I have done it in the past, and it was amazing at how uncomfortable people become. Once I did it and the drill was to think about the other possitive things at the same time, it was really emotional. We finished crying.

  18. I did this as part of our shinrin-yoku practice one morning when I took a group to the Azores islands. We did the gazing into each other’s eyes for about 5 minutes and switched partners until everyone did it with everyone.

  19. I’ve always been comfortable with eye contact and can be annoyed with people who refuse to look at me when we are talking. But, the comments below have me wanting to experiment with all the details mentioned. Thanks.

  20. We did this in the early 1970’s as part of a group experiment (at a teen drop-in center). Most of us there didn’t know anyone there (other than the friend we came with). We were paired with someone we didn’t know, and sat directly in front of them, gazing into their eyes (no talking). By the time the experiment was over, we all thought we knew our partner and, indeed, had a connection with them that we didn’t have before. This was true whether we were paired boy-boy/girl-girl or boy-girl. I have used it a few times since then to strengthen connections with people.

  21. LOL I love this! My mom brought us up to believe that if you did not look people directly in the eye while you were in a conversation, they would think you were retarded (this was a politically correct term back in the 1960s and 70s, I am not trying to be offensive). I brought my kids up the same way. They are considered excellent communicators, probably because they look at people in the eye!

  22. The moment I knew I wanted to date my now-boyfriend (who I’ve been friends with for 10+ years but reconnected at another friends wedding) was after eye gazing with each other the entire night at the bridal shower! Talk about intense on all levels!

    Also, I work in retail and one of my customers recently asked if we get special training at our store for holding eye contact because he wasn’t used to anyone maintaining as much eye contact as me. The answer was actually all of my training in theatre!

  23. This was a game changer for me when I first read the FHWW 6 years ago. Going to give it a go for the next week again! Results to follow…

  24. I started doing this a little after reading Musashi when he had eye contests with characters in the book. You look like an old friend is a great get out if jail free card. I must say, i haven’t done it for a while. Looking forward to it.

  25. Eye gazing is one of my favorite things to do for myself and with clients (so much so that I went to a White Tantra event where you basically do it for 8 hours!). It is powerful to see how free we can be from reacting, hoping, fearing, etc. and to see what keeps us from that freedom. It can be profound to actually relax into a moment, a connection, with someone. We are moving so fast these days that I fear we are losing the simplicity of contact 🙁

  26. I have tried out this particular challenge from a long time back and continued applying it in everyday life, however this challenge reminder has prompted me to do this across more unusal locations. The most interesting moment of the challenge so far was doing this on public transport, nowhere to run!

  27. What’s been cool is to just have the awareness in conversation when your eyes have drifted from direct gazing. I find it incredible that I can still be talking yet have another thread running in my head that’s telling me to redirect my gaze back to the person.

    I also have a friend who has a strong gaze game and looking into his eyes while he is talking is challenging. Having this intention to hold the gaze helps and dissolves the tension, or at least, increases the determination to continue to hold gaze while in conversation.

    I enjoyed the video and look forward to the other challenges as I only read the 4HWW for the first time late last year, and I’m in the thick of failing fast and learning!

  28. Hello,

    The current comfort challenge is what I did when I realized that my extreme introvert self would not be able to cope with the real world if I don’t get some of the extrovert qualities – one of which I observed was being able to gaze at someone. For context, while walking on the street I would be usually hunched over, just like the stereotypical sad kid and was avoiding eye contact constantly.

    I told myself that I should start looking at people on the street in the eye and keep contact until they looked away or until I passed them. While doing this, I observed that that in 8 out of 10 cases people would break eye contact before passing me, which gave me a huge confidence boost. Only once in around a year while doing this actively – after that, it became an normal for me – I had some problems with a bully, with which I don’t really remember how I got out of, but was OK in the end.

    This was back in 10th grade, in 2010 and it helped me immensely in:
    – being able to hold a conversation with someone without feeling awkward
    – calling someone by phone (I was scared of that too back then)
    – public speaking
    – holding my opinion and basic communication skills

    Probably helped me much more, but these are the highlights for me.

    For everyone that’s read this far my story: this is a great exercise and I vouch for it. Will start doing it again, as an experiment to see how I’ve evolved in almost 10 years.

    Rident,
    Marius

  29. This is powerful and I have found success doing this in a professional setting. However, it seems like merely making eye contact with a male on the sidewalk or grocery store is taken as an invitation to hit on you. I think women should still be empowered to do this, but just be ready to retrain the world. Sad but true.

  30. I tried jumping right into the challenge and it didn’t work. When people call my name I’d go straight into talking with them without reminding myself to maintain eye contact, so I’m testing out a prequel: box breathing before each interaction as a checkin to remind myself of the eye-gaze challenge. Will post updates 🙂

    p.s. can we change the cookie notification button that’s staring at me wherever I scroll? What if I wanna choose a nonexisting option that says “I decline?”

  31. How many people per day are we striving for? Should I walk down the street and continuously maintain eye contact. What does success look like?

  32. It’s been an interesting exercise for me so far. I’ve found it hard looking at people in the street in the eye because in Sydney, most people are walking around looking at their devices. They’re not looking up at all. But it’s been noticeable how automatic it is not to look at people. It’s a challenge just to force oneself in to the habit of looking at people. Been a good exercise so far

  33. Fun communication challenge. I found it challenging during lunch when you have to concentrate on eating and conversing. Any suggestions on webcam best practices for those in office settings?

  34. As a very shy introvert I used to avidly avoid all eye gazing after making initial contact, until I began a management job in retail and was forced to connect with people all day, employees and customers alike, if only briefly. After recognising that the higher levels of management appeared to maintain eye contact with everyone they encountered, I challenged myself to maintain eye contact as long as possible in all situations. Everything changed from then on! My employees respected me, my superiors treated me as equal and the customers faces would light up as they would begin divulging personal information all while ordering some food! I received multiple numbers from guys and girls and became the best at conflict resolution as any customer with a problem that I spoke to felt truly heard and left happy, asking to deal with me personally upon returning…

    I cant and don’t attribute all of that just to making eye contact but it was from that starting point that I learned to understand how to connect with others.

  35. I started doing something similar to this after your interview with Laird and Gabby. I would make eye contact with someone I passed or interacted with, smile, and then greet them in some way, even if it was just a quick interaction. Then, if they responded and we continued to talk, I would do my best to maintain eye contact. It was uncomfortable at first, but I have had some really positive interactions with people since trying this.

  36. This was great. These challenges are a perfect time in life as I just moved to a new city and have no idea how to connect with new people in my 30’s outside of a business setting! First experiences were awkward but it’s getting more comfortable. Thank you sir!

  37. Its important to also remember to talk to the person not just stare at 1 eye I have found haha. Interesting exercise that actually makes you want to meet more people so you can practice it and thus far (1 day in) seems to increase connection through conversation.

  38. I just finished reading Anh Tim’s nice 4HB book, page 320, his arm, His shoulder hurt, just like me right now.
    I need to be cured, using ART, what should I do now?
    I live in Vietnam.
    Thank you>>>
    [Moderator: contact info removed.]

  39. I’ve been doing this by accident. The desire to do so was sparked after a podcast by Jay Shetty where he spoke with a guest. They discussed eye contact and one point they brought up is that the reason many of us struggle to make or maintain eye contact is because we’re afraid to be seen, by avoiding eye contact we are essentially hiding. That stuck with me and any time I find myself avoiding eye contact I remind myself to stop trying to hide, be bold, be brave and be seen.

    One tip I would like to share to make this way easier though is spend 1-2 minutes each morning in the mirror holding eye contact with yourself. This is crazy but honestly it’s shocking how many people can’t even hold eye contact with themselves.

    I refer to the exercise above as “seeing myself” I find that when I practise this and I’m comfortable seeing myself I have no issues with maintining eye contact and being seen by others.

    1. Interesting point Owen – I think that’s very true that we struggle with eye contact for fear of being truly seen. There’s that saying ‘eyes are windows to the soul’ and I think that if you maintain eye contact with someone, you can see certain things that may make you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable – judgement, anger, attraction, ridicule etc. Or whatever your perception may be.

      On the positive side, I love it when something funny happens and you lock eyes with a stranger and you both start laughing. It creates that connection, however brief.

      Thanks for the tip – I’ll give it a go 🙂

  40. Eckhart Tolle: “Relationships”
    —————————
    “To know another human being in their essence, you don’t really need to know anything about them–their past, their history, their story. We confuse knowing about with a deeper knowing that is non-conceptual. Knowing about and knowing are totally different modalities. One is concerned with form, the other with the formless. One operates through thought, the other through stillness.”

  41. Starting this challenge today, will update everyone. Anyone keen to create an accountability group on Facebook( or any other platform) so we can go through the challenges altogether?

  42. Realized that people so scare or uncomfortable to gaze even more than me, an,d it made me be at ease while walking with head up and don’t know why boosted my confidence

  43. This was entertaining. I’ve done something similar but with a variation during a shamanic class years ago. Since I’ve done this before, I added something different this time around, something I’ve done to cats when I play this eye gazing game with them. I would hold the gaze, slowly blink and nod. I waited to see if folks would mirror me, all held the gaze, a few blinked & nodded but most did not.

  44. Hey Tim. This is a true exercise for human connection. In silence and looking at each other we may see that we have more in common than the stories that we build when we start asking questions. Is simple but not so easy to do… Would you, and everyone, like to share one minute of eye gazing with me and others? –> Google Human Online – Hope you read this 🙂

  45. I read this in the book many years ago and I still remind myself to to do it everyday. I also make a point of noting the colour of the person’s eyes, which was something I picked up from Tara Brach (interviewed by Tim in ep #94 and mentioned by many of his guests, find her at tarabrachdotcom). This reminds me that every person I interact with is worthy of my acknowledgment and respect, no matter what they are doing or saying at the time, and reminds me that I am equally worthy. As a result I have found it easier to assert my opinion and I have been able to get through many difficult conversations that I may have otherwise avoided.

    No one has yet threatened to kick my ass for staring at them, but I’m sure that day is coming 🙂

  46. I never realized how hard it is for people to keep eye contact. I struggled to keep it up myself, but I felt more connected. This was a lot harder than I expected. I was on a trip in Iceland when I saw this video, so I was doing this with the people I had just met on my tour!

  47. This was one of my favorite takeaways from the book! My personal observation, when I lock eyes with someone attractive (male or female), I immediately want to look away. Probably says a lot about me as a person, but I get shy I think. Thank you for reminding me of this again, much appreciated!

  48. Hi Tim, this challenge made my days more fun. I had thought I can talk looking at other’s eyes easily but It was wrong. At the beginning of this challenge, I felt completely uncomfortable and couldn’t continue. However, thanks to hint #1 I am gradually getting used to. It was a very powerful tip for me. Now I enjoy my challenge itself and observing how people respond it.
    Thanks a lot!

  49. Test it on friends. There is no need to encourage your readers to be rude to strangers. Tips on how to best be a good member of civil society would be better.

  50. This is such a great thread! I’m definitely going to look up “Braco the Gazer” and the Sufis, as well.

    I’ve been wanting to do this for extended periods of time with others (I also did the “Be With” exercise years ago while in Landmark Education [which came from EST] and I feel I had a lot of healing from it).

    My husband has zero interest in eye gazing with me. He’s very introverted and on the logical side, and I have been becoming less of an extrovert (especially more so lately because of practicing social distancing) and I’m more on the empathic side. The eye gazing dating parties sound fun, so I’m hoping I can find something similar without the dating aspect. It will be interesting to see how deep into intimacy I can go!

    As far as doing this with random people in public, my edge is to feel more and more comfortable with others I perceive that are quite uncomfortable. Babies and dogs are a cakewalk! 🙂

  51. Hi all,
    Any ideia how to perform this @ home.
    I was thinking on o Zoom fast date call.
    Anything like that out there?