Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown), author of the new book Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most and a previous book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which hit The New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than a million copies. He is also a speaker and the host of the popular podcast What’s Essential.
Greg has been covered by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Fast Company, Fortune, Politico, and Inc., has been interviewed by NPR, NBC, Fox, and The Steve Harvey Show, and is among the most popular bloggers for LinkedIn. He is also a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum. Originally from London, England, he now resides in California with his wife, Anna, and their four children.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Brought to you by UCAN endurance products powered by SuperStarch®, FreshBooks cloud-based small business accounting software, and Headspace easy-to-use app with guided meditations. More on all three below.
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job to interview world-class performers from all different disciplines, all different areas, and also to have people on who curate best practices. And I consider my guest today to be someone who falls into both of those camps. His name is Greg McKeown, @GregoryMcKeown, spelled M-C-K-E-O-W-N, naturally. He is the author of the new book, Effortless: Make It Easier To Do What Matters Most, and a previous book of which I’m a huge fan, Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit of Less, which hit the New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than a million copies.
And I have saved my highlights from that book in my Kindle, in Evernote, printed them out, highlighted them, read them dozens of times. That is how highly I think of this particular work. He is also a speaker and the host of the popular podcast, What’s Essential. He has been covered by the New York Times, The New Yorker, Fast Company, Fortune Politico, Inc, and many other outlets, and is among the most popular bloggers on LinkedIn. He is also a young global leader for the World Economic Forum, originally from London, England. He now resides in California, with his wife and their four children. You can find them online at GregMcKeown.com, M-C-K-E-O-W-N, once again, on Twitter @GregoryMcKeown, Facebook, Greg McKeown Speaker, Instagram, Gregory McKeown. Greg, welcome back to the show.
Greg McKeown: Tim, it’s great to be back with you.
Tim Ferriss: And I thought we would start with some leftover bits from our first episode and for people who are interested in knowing how much content will be overlapping or redundant, my goal is to make it close to zero. So, in other words, if you want the joyful experience of listening to conversations with Greg, we had a blast in our first conversation, and my goal is to dig in areas we didn’t have a chance to explore last time. And I’m going to start with one that might seem very random and it’s more of a fragment than anything else because I don’t have much context. And that is what is Gandhi’s only poem, and how did you come across it?
Greg McKeown: Well, Gandhi became a barrister in London and might have stayed a barrister, but he had an emergency come up in South Africa with his family there. So he traveled to South Africa. And while he was on the train, he’s kicked off. He is told, “You can’t be in first class,” and he won’t leave. He’s bought the tickets. He’s allowed to be there from his point of view, but it’s in the middle of apartheid and he is not permitted to be there as an Indian, so they throw him off. And that becomes a decisive moment for him. What am I going to do? And it was essential enough that he decides to stay and fight the law that allowed them to physically throw him off the train, and he was successful, but it took him a long time. He was there for 23 years before he was successful.
Had to go to jail along the way, a whole series of things. After that, he went to India and, what he’s best known for, the great standoff with the British Empire. And he wins through a series of Essentialist experiments, really. He figures out what is essential. The thing that’s going to matter, and what he finds is salt. That infinitesimally small, but infinitely important item, salt, was one of the reasons the British could so effortlessly control so many Indians. And so they controlled the production of salt and therefore of bread and the whole food chain. And so that was where the idea came to him to be able to walk across India, in a demonstration of civil disobedience and make salt at the beach, became known as the salt march because some 600,000 Indians followed him and the British stand back and say, “Well, who is this man? And where does his power come from? He’s got no political position. He’s got no money. And yet he’s able to command this sort of loyalty, this type of leadership.”
And that continues until eventually, he brings independence to the largest democracy in the world. At that time, 300 million people. Of course now, far beyond a billion. He’s become the father of India. When he died, the US Secretary of State said, “Here is a man who has shown that simplicity is more powerful than empires.” And Einstein said of him, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” I mean, this is all high praise. And I think deservedly. When I happened to have the opportunity to speak about Essentialism in South Africa, I went to the Phoenix Settlement where he lived for that 23 years, to the house where he lived.
And I was given, what I was told, was the only poem he ever wrote. And I found in there, four words that, to me, are a great mantra for life, and also really, the very essence of Essentialism. And they were this: “Reducing oneself to zero.” And that really is what Gandhi was all about. What he was doing was stripping himself of all the things that maybe other people thought they needed to do, the other politicians at that time, or just everyone else who’s accumulating stuff, like wealth or all these things. And he just said, “I just want to pursue my essential mission. What it was I came here to do,” and it’s about that stripping away process. And so to me, those words are beautiful words, they’re powerful words, and they’ve come to be a symbol, a mantra, an ideal that I want to work towards.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for all the context. I was familiar with the use of salt as a symbol by Gandhi. And I was so impressed by how he was able to, and really, in many respects, needed to, but others would have failed, keep his use of symbols extremely simple. He was able to use simplicity with such great power. And I’m curious if there are symbols that you use for yourself, and they might take the form of mantras, reducing oneself to zero. Are there other symbols for you? I know we spoke of a piece of artwork called The Listener, last time, which I looked up and enjoyed so much that I ended up buying a print of it to put on my wall. Perhaps you could take a moment just to describe that, but are there other symbols, does anything come to mind when I ask that question, that you use for yourself? Maybe not so much for others.
Greg McKeown: Yeah, speaking first to The Listener, I mean the idea behind this is by James Christensen, and he always writes up a description of his painting. So it’s not just that they sort of speak for themselves, he speaks for them. He’s passed away now, unfortunately, but what he says about The Listener, he says, “Look in this Dolby surround sound of our daily lives, we all have to find the mute button.” And his idea is that since a painting can’t have a soundtrack, that the title character at the center of The Listener, has found that the best way to shut off the noise in the visual cacophony, that’s in the painting, is to close his eyes. And so that’s really the image. It’s someone who’s listening to his still small inner voice and remaining centered without being overcome. It’s to find peace in a busy world.
And that’s what he’s capturing. And so to me, that — I mean, on this picture, there’s images of Picasso, you can find lots of famous people on there, politicians and so on, and I think his mother-in-law’s in there. But it’s all these people trying to pull on his attention and his energy, and that listener is at the center. And so that’s why it’s a favorite painting for me because — and I have it in my office here, as a reminder with all that goes on, all the noise, all the competing voices, to listen, not even how we would say to our own voice, so to speak, not just to what I want, what I want to go after in life, but quieter even than that.
A different voice. A friend of mine describes the difference between the scared voice and the sacred voice. And I need to get past even the scared voice that might be mine, and get to that stiller, sacred voice inside. And that’s why I love it. That’s why that is a symbol to me. In terms of other symbols, for me, one that just came to mind after you asked the question is actually another painting. Oh, man, I am emotional even thinking about this. So I’ve got to tell a story to put it into context.
Tim Ferriss: Please.
Greg McKeown: Is that okay?
Tim Ferriss: More than okay. Encouraged.
Greg McKeown: So a few years ago, Anna and I and our four children, we moved into a beautiful area. It’s white picket fences. There’s no street lamps. It was like it was built in the ’50s and the whole world moved on and nobody told anyone here, and you’ve got more horse ways than roads. And it was just this beautiful environment to raise our children in. And one of my daughters, Eve, especially thrived. She just never wears shoes anywhere. She’s always climbing trees. She’s just a voracious reader. She writes masses in her journal every night. She loves to name the chickens, the animals. She’s just full of light and energy. Once, I often take one of my children with me when I travel.
And so, one of the trips I was on with her, an hour into the trip, I literally text my wife. I’m like, “She has not stopped talking for one hour.” It was just pouring out of her, as she’s just vivacious and amazing. And she just, as I say, especially seemed to thrive in this new environment with space and out in nature. And then she turned 14 and she talked less, she took longer to do her chores, less vivacious, a little more awkward. And Anna and I just said, “Well, this is pretty age-appropriate behavior. That can happen. That’s fine.” But then in a routine physical therapy visit, she failed this very basic test. And the physical therapist just said to Anna, called her and pulled her aside and said, “Look, that really is unusual. That shouldn’t have happened. You might just want to go to a neurologist about this.”
And you don’t have to be warned twice, right? You don’t ever — “Oh, well, I’ll get to that.” We immediately did this and it got our attention. And we take her to a neurologist and what we had previously put up as being just evidences of being a teenager, we suddenly saw through a new lens and realize that these behaviors might be much more important, and they were. And also as we then paid attention, we found that her capabilities inexplicably, were just in a free fall. So, instead of being vivacious and outgoing, she just stopped almost speaking at all in sentences. It would be like one-word answers to anything. The emotion went out. She went — it was taking one of these old record players and you just make it go really slowly.
I mean, she couldn’t even — it would take her two minutes to write her own name. 45 seconds, I remember timing it, to write the last three letters of McKeown. And we went to neurologist after neurologist and we were doing the things that we could do, and they couldn’t even give us the beginning of a diagnosis. Everything came back negative, sort of good news, but bad news because you’d have no idea what’s going on. And she is fully on the way to becoming comatose and then dying in a coma. I mean, that is literally where we are, and we don’t have anything to go on. And I remember in the midst of this. I mean, this is the stuff that agony is made of, right? This is already a three, four-month period. And I remember getting very quiet. And actually, I’m frank to say, I mean I was praying about just what on earth to do.
And words came to me. The words of a painting that we have in our home, the words that came to me clearly was, “She will find what is lost.” And that is the name of this painting. It is a beautiful painting. People can look it up. It’s the image of a woman. And many other people that symbolically look a bit like angels, but you could interpret it in a few different ways, but they’re all — she can’t see them in the painting, but they’re all trying to touch her. They’re trying to bless her. They’re trying to reach her. And there’s no further explanation of that painting. But for me, it means of course, a very different thing. In that moment, there is an assurance that no evidence can support. We don’t even, at this point, have a diagnosis, never mind a treatment. Never mind, “It’s going to be okay.” I mean, nothing’s going to be okay, logically. Nothing is okay. But somehow there is this sense beyond it, and it’s been a long journey. It’s been two years.
All of this has happened since you and I last spoke on here. And she’s had treatment quite miraculously. Had certain treatments in order to test — they said, “We’re going to treat her in order to learn what might be going on.” We have one neurologist who had that very clever idea about how you might use treatment instead of wait for pure diagnosis and then treat. You treat in order to learn, and learned a great deal. And then return back into much of the state of before and just over this summer. So, in the midst of the pandemic, went through an aggressive treatment, and is back. I mean, she’s back. And I wouldn’t have said that once in two years. But as of this moment, she has found what was lost.
She’s vivacious and funny. In fact, I just put on Instagram yesterday, a video of all of our children dancing, we can get to why they were dancing, but they’re all dancing in the kitchen. And I just managed to flip just an image before they realized that it was videoing them. But that’s a symbol to me, that matters and how that answer came is so connected also to The Listener and this deep principle. And yeah, that’s the answer to your question.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Greg. I can’t even imagine how terrifying and profoundly difficult that time must have been for you and your family. Are there any other approaches or tools that you’ve found, supporting words, anything, that helped, not just you, but also the family, during that period of uncertainty, especially?
Greg McKeown: Well, one of the other impressions I had was to look up a chapter in a book that I had read before, and it was about cultivating a spirit of optimism and happiness. I think that’s the name of the chapter. And I didn’t just feel like, “Oh, I should just read that again.” Well, I did feel that. The sensation was, “I should do it every single day.” And I did because you need whatever real help you can get, in this moment. And what seemed to happen in that extremity was that there were neural patterns in me, that were being rewired. So, on a daily basis, every temptation exists to fall into very unproductive emotions and habits, right? I mean, when something like this is so out of your control, it’s so vital. I mean, there’s a variety of things that you could fall into.
But one of the things you can fall into is just, I mean, of course you could be complaining. You could fall into what I would call, the heavy path. The depression, exhaustion. You could try to solve the problem just through sheer effort. We could just — everything is going to be — there’s not going to be any space for anyone, but Eve. You could destroy your marriage. You could destroy your family culture. I mean, all of these things weren’t just hypothetical. I mean, they were right there. There was that opportunity. And as I was listening, I read first of all, and then started listening every day to — and I hardly missed a day in those first four months of listening to that. There was this other path, this path of trusting, of hope, of good things to come. And the necessity to choose that path.
And I would now call that like the lighter path. I mean, it doesn’t feel super light, but it’s lighter than the first. And so, what grew out of that was, instead of the heavier path, “Well, why is this happening to us? Why us?” Instead of going down just all worst case scenarios, as everyone, they’re trying to be helpful, of course, but sending, “Well, maybe she has this. Maybe she has that.” They’re not doctors or neurologists, but they’re trying to help. But these things they’re sending to you are just like catastrophic diagnosis. And instead of that path, it was like this, it was, “Is there anything that we can be grateful for? Oh, then we’re going to say it. Say it clearly, say it loud, say it to each other.” If we can see anyone doing something right, we’re going to talk about it in our family.
If we could find humor. My oldest daughter, Grace, used to hold Eve’s hand as they’d go to a class or if they were going to — and she would just walk with her and she would just do anything to make her laugh. There was a little sense of humor still in her. It was definitely different, but she didn’t move one iota away from her. Sometimes people, in awkwardness or whatever, wants to move away and she didn’t. So, she brought humor into it. We would get around the piano and we would sing. We would read together at night. We would do the small and simple and even enjoyable things. And so, what was at times agonizing, but could have been seriously worse, even, was actually punctuated with joy. I mean, it actually made us. It made our family culture.
When this pandemic happened, it was almost like we had a cultural antidote or something. That we all knew instinctively how to be and how to just — we’re just going to invest in the culture again, that’s the first thing, we’re going to protect that asset. So, all these things we can’t control, don’t control what’s going on inside of our family and this culture. And it was a great advantage, in fact, in that sense, when all of these things happened around us. And so I’ve come to think of that as being these two paths, heavier path, a lighter path. You can always make something, however rough it is, worse by a response, or you can always make something a little easier by your response. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Greg. Do you recall, and maybe I just didn’t hear it, but the name, the title of the book. You mentioned you were reading a chapter, and if you don’t, we can put it in the show notes later, and I can get it from you after we speak. But do you recall offhand what the —
Greg McKeown: Well the author of the piece, it’s a combination of lots of different talks and speeches, in writing, is Gordon B. Hinckley. He’s a church leader, and one of the truly most dynamic leaders that I’ve ever met, ever known. you can go and see him on the old recording of Larry King and so on, when he was still alive. He was on 60 Minutes. All over. I mean, incredibly dynamic leader, but just tremendously optimistic and was able to have an impact, a positive impact all over the world. He wrote a different book, not the one I was referencing, although there’s overlap, called Standing For Something, that did extremely well. And yeah, we can get the item for the show notes.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, great. So, the author is Gordon B. Hinckley, and we’ll get the title. And for those listening, we’ll put this in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast.
Coming back to a few things that you said, as a segue. So you mentioned in the throes of this situation, with circumstances outside of your control, there is a very understandable temptation to white knuckle and throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at it. To make it, because it is, that is your daughter’s health and restoring it, become the top priority. And I think there’s a very understandable impulse to basically allow that to remove all the oxygen from the room, and that you fix it by applying more work, by working harder, by increasing the volume. And I suppose that’s as good a bridge as any, to Effortless, to your new book.
So I really have deliberately not done any homework on the subject matter, aside from a handful of notes that I have in front of me. But it’s timely for me also, because I feel like it is possible to use Essentialism and 80/20 analysis, and so on, to determine the most important things to focus on. And even to, following that, focus on them, but in so doing, I think there is probably, and I’m stretching a bit here and I’m going to hand the mic over, there is a heavier path, and there’s a lighter path. Like there’s a path of spaciousness. That’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about, with respect to my own life, ease and spaciousness. “Does this have to be difficult?” Is a question that I ask more and more frequently. So could you tell us the genesis story of this book or comments in any way that you think is appropriate?
Greg McKeown: Yeah, you just nailed it. And I couldn’t have written this book a few years ago. I mean, you know the pressure there is, it’s a positive pressure, but the pressure there is if you’ve written a book that’s been successful, to write the next one. And you’re supposed to do it every 18 months or whatever the normal cycle is. And every time I went to do it, I felt like I shouldn’t, but I didn’t know why. There was no really good reason. I wanted to. I liked it, but just felt like, “No, you just wait.” Which isn’t great for me. I am not a particularly patient person, but I did. And I just literally couldn’t have written this book without the experiences, including — well, definitely including the experience with Eve. And so, in fact that is the background, is that so, Essentialism comes out, I mean, that changes everything for me. I’m traveling all over the world, and it’s what I want to be doing. There’s no complaint in any of this.
I mean, I want to be in with rooms full of people who want to become essentialists, who want to hear about it. I mean, everything in my life is now, more want to do than before. We were doing a book signing and there’s like — on one of these trips I was on, there’s like 300 people around the building and they’d run out of books. I’d never done that before. I go back to the room at night. And it’s just like, these things are a blur. And one of the groups I work with, successful entrepreneurs I was working with, and one of them says — talks about this, the big rock theory. And we all know the big rock theory, right? You’ve got this container, and if you put in the small grains of sand first, and then the small rocks, and then the big rocks, it doesn’t fit, right?
That’s the first part. And that’s how it’s supposed to work is that if you put the big rocks in first, then the small rocks, then the sand, then it all fits. And that’s like, first of all, I mean I believed that forever. And it’s very analogous to Essentialism. Invest in the big rocks, so the essential things, your health, then your relationships, then your important projects. All of that I feel is true and right but I started to feel there were cracks in my assumptions because I was being more selective than I had ever been. I’m not writing the next book. I paused on the Stanford class I was co-teaching. And the list could go on. The significant things I’m not doing, I’m trying to be highly selective, but I’m also by this point, father of Essentialism, whatever, the father of four children now. And so, there’s all of that, and you want to be there for them, and however inconvenient that can feel to be there and to respond.
And so the question that grows up for me as I’m traveling one day, it’s just like, “Yeah, but what happens if you have too many big rocks?”
Tim Ferriss: Need a bigger jar.
Greg McKeown: Right. That’s for real, right. And it’s like, yeah, I’m being selective, but what do you do?
Tim Ferriss: You’re being waterboarded by opportunity.
Greg McKeown: Yes, sure. Yes, sure. And we can say it less by responsibility.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Greg McKeown: That these are things you want to do. They are essential. So, now you’ve got a choice of what to do. You can either fail, you can actually just, “Well, okay. I’m not doing that essential thing.” Or you’ve got to come up with something else.
And as I’m out there traveling and I’m having this thought, I get a phone call, and it’s my son Jack on my wife’s phone, which gets my attention. And I’m hearing him, he’s like pale-faced. And he’s trying to explain, “Eve was eating and this and that.” And my wife’s saying, “Turn the phone around.” And this is when she’s having her first massive tonic-clonic seizure.
So I’m already feeling too many rocks. And then you throw in a crisis and that just blows everything up. I mean, adrenaline gets me through the next few hours, right. We’re taking the red-eye back, we looked at the hospital visits and all the neurology appointments, everything I’ve just been talking about, but normal life doesn’t stop, normal responsibilities don’t suddenly just disappear.
And that was really when — I mean, I remember it took me probably longer than maybe it would for other people to just admit it. Is that you’re right, Essentialism, you don’t want to be admitting this perhaps, but it took me a while. And finally, I’m just like, “Anna, look, I’m not well.”
And what I learned through that crucible was, and this is probably the distinction between. It’s like what I learned is I was doing the right things and that’s Essentialism, but I was doing it in the wrong way. And Effortless is about doing the right things but in the right way. I was like the weightlifter who’s lifting with their back. I’m like the, I don’t know, a baker who’s kneading the dough all by hand instead of by a machine. I mean, I’m doing the right things, but maybe I’m doing them in a hard way, is do it.
So, this is the point of decision. It’s like do you put the rock down or do you find an easier path? If you can’t work any harder, you’ve got to find an easier path. And I think there’s a lot of people, yes, it might not be the daughter and the situation specifically as I’m describing, but if nothing else, the pandemic itself that has pushed people to a similar point, high achievers, high performers, who are on the edge of exhaustion. They can’t work any harder. And yet their impulse is to work harder because that’s what got them here. That’s what got them success. And so even as they approach exhaustion, burnout, or even go past it, they still think, “The only way out of this, that’s what I’ve done before, it’s been hard work. I’ll just hard work my way out of this.” And I think that’s a really high risk. And it certainly, in hindsight, would have been for us.
If we had gone down the harder part, the heavier path, we would have nothing left to deal with the second time when she relapsed. I mean, we would have — you’re all spent, and then what do you give up? Then what do you lose? You’re losing more and more rocks all the time. So that’s really is the story behind Effortless is this requirement, this need to discover, is there an easier path? And the joy for me now, and I feel real responsibility for this is to bring that to people. Because I just know, I feel quite emotional about talking about this book because of what we’ve covered, I suppose.
But also because I somehow can feel it in me, the unbelievable burdens that people are in right now. Some of them talked about, many of them done in silence, especially if you’re a high performer. I mean, this is the problem. There’s this group of people and it’s an expanding group of people who — these are the people who aren’t complaining. So they’re silent. They’re just, they’re pivoting when you need to pivot, they’re working hard, they’re doing what it takes. They’re doing home education now, suddenly. This group has spent a year in this mode. And I think a lot of them are closer to breaking than they’ve ever been. I mean, I just read 85 percent of people feel their wellbeing is worse than it was a year ago. And that’s just one symbol of this.
And so, to me, in ways I absolutely didn’t predict and couldn’t have predicted, I think Effortless is an idea potentially whose time has come because as we really, in a way, unfortunately, it hits at a time when I think it has the power of relevancy.
Tim Ferriss: So, Greg, where would you suggest we go from here? And I rarely ask that question in interviews, but we have a lot of options and you are probably more aware of the range of those options than I am. There are notes in front of me that we could explore, because I’d love to certainly share tactics and specifics with people in terms of what you’ve learned and what you’re applying, what seems to be giving you the best effortless return on investment, so to speak. What has sort of changed your experience of working on the essentials, for instance?
So I’ll just give a sampling. I’m not saying this is the direction we have to go, but why you need a done-for-the-day list, solve problems before they exist, visualizing what done looks like, how to take the first obvious action, harnessing the strength of 10. These are just a few that I circled for myself because I found them curious. First step to clearing clutter in your head, how effortless inversion can help solve a problem, how to make your essential activities enjoyable and on and on and on. We have dozens of options here.
Or we could take a different fork in the road. And I’d love to get your thoughts on what makes sense, because certainly, I want people to come away from this interview, if they are unable to read your book, with some approaches, strategies, tactics, or techniques that they can use.
Greg McKeown: Well, I didn’t come into this with an answer to that question, of course, but I think we need to, before just shifting to tactics, I think we need to at least have a perspective a bit broader about how to even think about this effortless way. And we may find some interesting ways to explore that, but —
Tim Ferriss: Great.
Greg McKeown: There’s three, in a sense, Effortless is almost three books in one. They’re connected, but the first, it’s like three concentric circles. In the middle, there’s effortless state. Then, second is effortless action. And third is effortless results and they build on each other, but they’re still quite distinct.
An effortless state is — it’s something we all know, but we also know being out of the effortless state. Being out of the effortless state is like, it definitely happens to many people, me included. End of the day, you’re exhausted. You start to see everything people say as — You get an email, it sounds like a slight to you. You can’t find your keys. Nothing’s working. And it’s because you’re fatigued. But one of the things I found in the research is that when you’re fatigued, you’re not a good judge of being fatigued. So, you think you’re seeing things as they are, but you’re really just seeing them as you are. And so you start to get everything wrong. Everything starts to feel hard.
And one of the enjoyable, to me, ideas is really that even when things seem very hard, many, many problems can be solved by having a warm meal, hot shower, and a good night’s sleep. You wake up the next morning and suddenly, you find the keys right where you left them. Suddenly, you see the email you received. It’s like, “Oh, no, I know how to respond to that gracefully. It’s no problem.” And suddenly, things are back in their proper perspective. And that’s just one way of thinking about this effortless state.
Part of the deeper work of effortless state is to do with figuring out what is cluttering you up right now. I think of each of us as having supercomputer capabilities. I mean, our mind is so advanced, it’s so impressive. It is built for figuring things out and processing and so on. And yet it’s just like, my laptop can be at times starting to run slow because of all of the cookies that have been added to it and so on. And the metaphor is, well, in a few seconds, you can clear all of that out of the machine and it’s working a lot faster.
In a similar way, I think one of the most important effortless strategies is to figure out what’s burdening us. What we’re holding onto. And so this is different than a sort of quick-fix approach. It’s like we have to maybe do a little deep searching in terms of what we’re holding onto, what grudges we’re holding onto, what we haven’t forgiven, what complaints we’re holding onto, things that are using up more and more of our hard drive, our RAM, so that it’s making everything harder.
There’s a story I came across of a man who — it was a fictional story of a man who was walking along. He’s respected in his community. He leans over, sees a little piece of string on the floor. He picks it up. He likes to fix stuff. And he just, “Oh, that could be useful.” And in the same day at the same time in the same square, somebody else loses their wallet and they see him picking this thing up and they assume and believe it’s the lost wallet. Accuse him of it. Tell everybody about it. He insists it’s not true, but they judge him harshly. So he’s like a pariah in the town and everybody is — wherever he goes, they don’t — it’s awkward now. They don’t trust him now.
This, of course, is a rough experience, but he gets so fixated on it, so obsessed by it that he just can’t stop talking about it. Everywhere he goes, “It’s a little piece of string. It was just a piece of string.” He starts, so even after people would have got over it and moved on and okay, just kind of forgotten it. “No, no worries.” He’s still raising it, he’s talking about it. He gets sick over it. He loses his health over it. He, literally on his deathbed and it kills him. He’s on his deathbed, “A little piece of string. It was a little piece of string.” You just can’t do it.
And so here he is, he could have got back to what was essential, what mattered. He could have got back to making a contribution. Put all of his energy onto what really was important, but instead is consumed with this slight that he’s experienced, this judgment, this harsh judgment and so on. And I don’t know why I’m really thinking this right now, but I just wonder, for you.
Tim Ferriss: Here we go, finally. Take the gloves off and get dirty.
Greg McKeown: I mean, for you, are there burdens, grudges, things that you haven’t forgiven, things that you’ve collected, that you are holding, that are just making life harder than they need to be in some way? And I really don’t know if you have something here. I’m just feeling this moment and I’m just putting it to you. What is your first thought when I ask you that?
Tim Ferriss: With respect to, would you like me to speak to grudges specifically, or other types of, let’s just call it, withholds or kind of persistent, psychic drag, things that fit in that category?
Greg McKeown: It’s a good description of what you just had. I mean, I’m open to both, but I’m just going to put grudges to you.
Tim Ferriss: All right. So, I will say that a lot has happened since you and I last spoke and I took our conversation very seriously. I won’t spend a lot of time revisiting it, but we went through an exercise about, with respect to finding the essential, and identifying the blocks, the obstacles, both real and more often perceived, the reasons for not doing the essential, the commitments I’ve made to the inessential, et cetera, and a lot has happened since then, that —
Greg McKeown: Just to be precise on that. What you were talking about at that time was, the thing you identified was a book that you wanted to write that you were writing. In fact, you’d spent years working on it, but there was — the drag was just feeling somehow so burdened with, “This has to be perfect. And I feel like I might get judged quite harshly if I do this and how I intend to do it.” And so there were things that were keeping you from actually proceeding with it. And it felt to me, I don’t need to overstate it, but a moment of, at least, small breakthrough. That’s how I remember it.
Tim Ferriss: It was very insightful and it stuck with me. And I had a lot of conversations with people I trust afterwards. And many months later, decided to take the easier path. What I mean by that is I had in my mind, the assumption or the belief that it should be a book, and the most important component of that entire book on healing was the disclosure of childhood abuse, childhood sexual abuse in my case, from age two to four, and the tools and approaches that had most helped me to heal from that. That was really the — that is the core of the book that I had intended to write. There’s a lot more to it. There’s a lot more surrounding it. There are many concentric circles, as you might say, but that was really the key piece. And —
Greg McKeown: And I don’t want to interrupt you, but I want to say clearly thank you to you. I’ve shared that outside of this moment, but it’s so important what you have done in sharing this and putting it out there. And that takes courage. As we all know, courage is awful, feels awful, and you’ve done it, and it really matters. Please continue.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for saying that. And to try to tie this together, I ended up releasing it as a podcast, after conversations with my girlfriend, and understanding that books take a long time, especially my books because they’re the size of phone books. And in three to five years, people would die, whether of natural causes or suicide or otherwise or they might psycho-emotionally shut down. And there would just be so many losses in terms of that extended, protracted writing process that I decided to put it out as a podcast.
The question was, “How can I make this as easy as possible for myself?” Because I knew it was going to be fucking hard. I knew the whole thing was going to be excruciating on multiple levels. And so I constantly asked myself, “How can I make this easier? How can I make this easier?” Don’t do a book, do a podcast. “How can I make the podcast easier?” Don’t make it a monologue, make it a conversation. “How can I make it easier?” Don’t commit to publishing it. Have the conversation recorded and reserve the right to never have anyone listen to it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And both in preparation for that and after that, spent a lot of time — I know I haven’t directly answered your question, but this is getting around to it.
Greg McKeown: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Both before and after that, decided that I needed and wanted to have safety nets in place. And to prepare myself for this, to prepare my team, to set rules such that I would be as likely as possible to hold my footing, because I’ve been re-traumatized by exploring this in the past. And I attempted to do writing related to this, and it caused severe problems in my life for many months.
So, I was prepared to be destabilized and I wanted to decrease the odds of it being catastrophic. So, I began to commit to certain practices and also sessions with people, one of whom is named Jim Dethmer, D-E-T-H-M-E-R. He has been on this podcast. A very important piece of the work that I’ve done with him has been related to identifying unsaids, uncompletes, or uncompleteds, and so on, that represent withholds, that would include grudges, and trying to engineer some form of closure. And the closure could just be letting it go in some very visceral sense, in some way that feels complete, because the easiest way to take things off your to-do list or to finish things on your to-do list rather, is to remove them from your to-do list.
So, you’re actually catching me at an unusual point in my life, if you look at it from the perspective, zooming out, of the rest of my life. I have had a life full of grudges and full of anger. It just so happens that you are catching me at a point, we’re having this conversation at a point, where I’ve done, since this podcast came out, if I’m remembering correctly, last September, September 2020, and for people who want that story, you can go to tim.blog/trauma. I won’t belabor it here. It’s intense and it’s not for everyone, but for several months prior to that, up to now, when we’re recording, as I look at the calendar, late February, this has been constant work.
Do I still have grudges? I think the answer is yes. So, let me try to, if it still makes sense, sort of do a quick search function.
Greg McKeown: Actually, I want to ask you before we do that, just what is the process that you have gone through? I certainly don’t mean to retell the story, because what you’re saying is so valid about that, when we have to tell and retell and retell traumatic stories, but what have you done to close loops?
Tim Ferriss: I should specify, and I’m glad you’re asking, that the work was far beyond the aspects of my life or grudges related to the trauma. And that I think, and a lot of this is speculation, almost all therapy is speculation, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that I had many, at the time, adaptive responses to the abuse. And there were other examples of abuse that I didn’t even get into in that episode. But I had certain adaptive responses to that to survive as a child who could not defend himself and had had very little agency, right. And those adaptive responses at some point became maladaptive. They outlived their usefulness and they became very unhelpful, at best, and very damaging and self-destructive in other cases. And I think that rage and anger and a mindset that really defaulted to offense is the best defense, which I still believe on a lot of levels, and that’s actually a line that I attribute to a lot of the best athletes I admire, but I —
Greg McKeown: Right. But it’s —
Tim Ferriss: — what that meant is that anger, which on some level, I think in that offense and that attack default was a by-product of the, in some ways, the trauma that I experienced, but the problems that it created and the grudges that stuck for long periods of time were not directly related to the traumatic event. If that makes sense, does that make sense?
Greg McKeown: Well, I think it does, because what you’re saying is that when you were so — you’re in this position and I’m no therapist, we need to be careful, but it sounds to me that you’re in this defenseless position, you are coming up with not just stories about it. When you’re so young, I mean, for heaven’s sake, you barely understand the stories of what the world is, and you’re still trying to make sense of this evil and this unprotectedness, and all of that, you take on these new — this way of being in the world. And part of it sounds like, this is too strong for what you’ve said, but it’s like almost a predatorial positioning. It’s not like, “I’m going to destroy you,” but it’s a sense of threat. I remember a therapist I went to describing it this way. They said, “There’s two states you can be in. You can be in a what-is-this state? And then you can be in a what-the-hell-is-this-state?” Her words, not mine. And —
Tim Ferriss: Let me, if I could, just bookmark that for a second. So I would say I certainly wasn’t — I’m not sure if this was, if I’m hearing it correctly, but I was not predatory. I was highly weaponized if I felt I needed to retaliate or defend myself. So, it was very much in the vein of Bruce Lee, right? And I’m going to mangle this, but he has a quote along the lines of, “You graze my skin, I pound your flesh. You pound my flesh, I break your bones. You break my bones, I take your life.” Right? That was the mentality.
And put another way. There’s a Major Holdridge, retired, this is US Marine Corps, has a quote. And it’s, “Sometimes, it’s entirely appropriate to kill a fly with a sledgehammer.” And I think that that was my feeling. If someone inflicted pain on me, I felt it was my obligation to return it upon them tenfold, a hundredfold. And I think there’s actually still a place for that, but as a default, it wastes a tremendous fucking amount of energy.
So, not to take you off track. I’d like you to continue.
Greg McKeown: No, no, that is not off track, it is important. There’s a big difference, I think you’re right, between predatorial and highly militarized. It’s more like a trigger, ready to trigger. You’re like, “Don’t mess with me. I’m fine. I’m good here. But if you mess with me, I am coming after you.”
And I mean, at least, it makes sense to me. This is a minor example, but I remember where I was growing up in England and I was walking down the street one time, just in the downtown, absolutely doing nothing but walking. Two people walking towards me, I didn’t even think, didn’t register. And one of them, I was probably about 12 at the time. He was 16-ish, I would say. Two of them just kind of almost arm-in-arm together, and then he just punched me in the face, just straight in the nose, just broke my nose, just hard. And I was so shocked and I had turned around and they were just laughing and they just walked off. And that was it. There was nothing in me ready to respond to that. There was nothing I was prepared for.
But I remember, years later, as an adult, I mean, I hadn’t even thought about the experience, but somebody, they didn’t hit me, but they went to kind of pretend hit me when I was an adult, when I was in a mall. Almost the same situation, two people walking towards me and I just lost it. I didn’t actually have a fight or anything, but I just was so ready to, because of that pre-programming and that experience. And of course, it’s not very helpful to have that pre-programming in there, but it’s an example of how, when we’ve had an experience in the past, and it can, as you already said, outlive its usefulness.
Anyway, that’s what I’m hearing in you is like, “Yeah, I was ready to fight. I couldn’t protect myself before, but I was going to protect myself going forward.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s the thrust of it. And do I have grudges? I am sure I have a whole laundry list of grudges, I’m just struggling to pull up one specifically right now.
Greg McKeown: But I still want to go back, I know I’m bothering you with this, but what did you do? You said that you’ve been doing things to remove them, and I just want to know, because that seems like such a valid and relevant thing. How do you close up these loops and these things that have been dragging? What have you actually done?
Tim Ferriss: Well, there were many things. So if there were say commitments that I hadn’t completed and that was exacting some cost on my system, then I would either take a look and make a list and decide which of them I would complete or cancel or renegotiate in some fashion. So I could sort of wipe that category clean, of any debts that were consuming any bandwidth. Then you would have for instance withholds meaning unsaids, things I haven’t said to people. So if someone consistently does something that is driving me fucking bonkers or more accurately, and this is also language modification that I would do, that I am using to make myself bonkers, right?
Greg McKeown: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: Assuming some locus of control for how you respond to these things. So not A, B, and C is making me anxious or pissing me off, but I am making myself anxious because A, B, C, has been a shift that’s somewhat separate but also interrelated. Having a lot of uncomfortable conversations, using frameworks, fairly simple templates similar to non-violent communication and having what Jim would call clearing conversations, to take those things that are unsaid and say them in some fashion. So, that those aren’t constituting some type of loop. These imaginary arguments that at least certainly I am a master at formulating incredibly compelling arguments; and then if they said this, I would say this, and then if they said that, I would say that and Oh, my God, I would just rip their faces off and debate and what a mighty victory that would be. I mean, these types of fantasies that consume incredible amounts of calories, incredible number of calories. I wanted to remove those from the program and that entailed having a lot of conversations.
To be truthful, ended up being fewer conversations than I expected to have a significant impact on energy reserves because I’ve had a lifelong battle with chronic fatigue, for many reasons, including two severe bouts with Lyme disease growing up on Long Island. But energy management has become more and more important to me than time management. They’re related, but energy management, that is the parent resource that determines all other resources. In the same way that, I think it was Maya Angelou who said, now I might be misattributing, so somebody will be able to find this quote, but you mentioned courage, courage is the mother virtue, every other virtue at its testing point depends on courage. And I say that simply to underscore the fact that much like anything else, there might be 10 conversations, you feel like you need to have or should have to close open loops and really it’s two or three of them that are going to deliver 99 percent of the relief. And I found that to be true.
So those are a few of the approaches and people can find the clearing conversation format, which can be a bit stilted and odd on the Conscious Leadership Group website, conscious.is. You would also be well-served just by looking at various templates for Nonviolent Communication. And separately, used quite a bit of the questions offered in The Work by Byron Katie, which I highly recommend to people for stress testing beliefs around some of the grudges or some of the unsaids. And in several cases just came to the conclusion that the core beliefs that I was using to enable myself to be so pissed off, actually were very hard to defend.
And I was like —
Greg McKeown: Like what?
Tim Ferriss: Well, for instance, there’ve been a few examples in my life where entitlement has carried a huge charge for me. There are very few things in life that bother me as much as what I perceive to be entitlement. Self-righteousness also probably equally irritating to me or that I use to annoy myself. I generally have very poor response to both of those things. And so my general belief in life is — and Amelia Boone is actually the one who uttered this quote. She’s a multiple-time world champion in World’s Toughest Mudder and also an attorney and just all around superstar in many respects. And her quote, I believe it was in Tools of Titans originally, when I asked her what she would put on a billboard is, “No one owes you anything. Just start with that assumption and you’ll be much better off in life,” and I agree with that.
So entitlement, let’s just say my belief is — and I don’t want to put words in Byron Katie’s mouth, but if we take a belief to be, a thought we take to be true. Let’s just say my belief is — and this is a real example, let’s say my belief is Greg is entitled. If my belief were you are entitled, that’s not my belief, but let’s just say it was. My belief is you’re entitled because I helped you with A, B, and C and then I asked you for help with D and you not only said you couldn’t help, but did it in a way that I took as very rude. But it never happened, but let’s just say that’s the case.
Greg McKeown: No, but in that example, what I rather suspect is you are describing many interactions you actually have.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t actually expect reciprocity when I help someone. So this actually happens the other way around more often than not, where someone has done me some favor I didn’t ask for with a book launch and then comes to me with some huge ask and gets extremely pissed off when I say no, clear boundary. It’s more frequent the other way around. But let’s make it a real example. So I’m not going to use names, but there are cases where I feel like I’ve gone above and beyond to help people when they’ve asked for help, not related to book launches or anything like that and then there’s something I consider to be very small, very, very small with respect to an ask and I’m given a no, but it’s delivered in a way that I take to be unnecessarily rude, when my ask is delivered very —
Greg McKeown: Politely.
Tim Ferriss: From my perspective, very politely, et cetera, et cetera.
Greg McKeown: You feel slighted.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. And then I’ll have a sentence like, so-and-so is entitled. So the way you might work with that in Byron Katie’s The Work is you would ask questions like — and I don’t find the first two as helpful as they might be otherwise, there are lots of different ways to do this but, “Is it true?” Number one. Number two, “Can I absolutely for sure know this to be true?” And I’m going to get these slightly off, but the gist is what’s important. Number three, “Who am I and how do I feel when I believe this to be true?” And then “Who would I be and how would I feel if I did not take this to be true?” Okay, those questions, three and four, I find very powerful. And then the next step that I tend to take is what people would call turnarounds and turnarounds involve playing with language, and then forcing yourself as a thought experiment to come up with evidence, to support new statements.
For instance, let’s just say, all right, I’m not going to use your name, we’ll say Mark, let’s just say, it’s a Mark, Mark is entitled, all right. We could turn that around by saying, Mark is not entitled and you could even use the opposite like, Mark is generous, and then you force yourself to come up with, and it’s best to do this in writing, three to five points, pieces of evidence that you would use if you were in a debate and trying to make that case. And then you could have, not Mark is entitled, but I am entitled and then you come up with three to five, and three to five is arbitrary, but it’s just a nice kind of clean range. And then you could go on to perform multiple other turnarounds. And by the time you’ve done that, if you’re really committing to doing it seriously with an open mind, it starts to diffuse a lot of reactivity. So that would be an example of doing The Work and all of that’s available for free online, if people go to Byron Katie’s website.
Greg McKeown: Yeah. What you’ve just done is, you have given us specific tools as always, but around this subject of decluttering and getting out all of — specifically we’ve been talking about grudges but pain and all these things that we hold onto and how they clutter us up. I’m not going to necessarily have you answer this question, it could be rhetorical. But what percentage of your energy has been spent in the course of your life —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, God, it’s going to be bad. Yes, go ahead.
Greg McKeown: Yeah, no, actually, now that I’m asking you, I kind of do want the answer. I said it was rhetorical, then I changed my mind. What do you think it actually is? What percentage of energy is just spent —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, what percentage.
Greg McKeown: Holding grudges, having stories about people that may or may not be true, just all of that clutter that we’re holding, we’re caring, we’re processing, everywhere we go there it is with us. Yes, it’s not in a sense making the email we’re working on next harder. But of course it is because it’s using up all of this hardware RAM in our supercomputer brain and soul, at keeping us from being able to do the thing that we really came here to do
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m going to answer the question. I would add to that it’s even more damaging in my mind because you develop habits of constructing certain types of stories and those pathways, and I’m not going to make a neuro-biological case for this, I’m sure one could. But suffice to say, if we become habitually good at creating stories about being victims, then it will become easier and easier to later construct stories about us being the victim. If we create stories around certain people having certain traits, and we reinforce those over and over again, and we have selection bias and begin to pick out all of the evidence points that condemn these people, it becomes easier and easier over time. And therefore the habit perpetuates the bad habit, if that makes sense. So to answer your question, how much of my life energy? Oh, God, I mean, if we just took Tim from 15 to 35 let’s just say, I shudder to even hazard a guess, 60 percent, I mean 70 percent, it’s high. I mean, just in terms of ongoing stories that the vast majority of the time are never acted upon, or most likely don’t reflect reality because I’m not actually engaging, I’m not clearing these conversations, I’m not fill in the blank, it’s an embarrassingly high number, I would say. It’s astonishing that I’ve been able to get anything done.
Greg McKeown: And not just anything, right? I mean, even in the period you’re describing, you still will have appeared — well, were highly productive, but that’s the kind of rebate and why effortless state is such a vital part of really what, as I now understand better about this, a different way to live and to work. It’s like, it’s not the task itself that’s hard in many instances, it’s all of this stuff, all of this rubbish, that’s slowing us down, that’s getting in the way, that’s making relationships twice as hard, sometimes 10 times as hard as they need to be because of all of this clutter. And as we learn to remove that, we start to find — I mean, what kind of productivity tip are we talking about here? I mean, this is better than any other productivity hack that you can ever come up with, a 60 percent, 70 percent return of your capability and energy suddenly back, that’s like a massive upgrade.
Tim Ferriss: So save me, Greg McKeown. What do I do? What do we do? The listeners are like, tools, I need some principles or something. God save us.
Greg McKeown: Well, I mean —
Tim Ferriss: It is a huge cost. And I feel like I’m in probably a better place than I’ve ever been at this point in time. I mean, knock on wood, so I don’t jinx myself, but there’s still incredible room for improvement. If we look at all skill development along the spectrum of let’s just say unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and then unconscious competence, where you can execute without having to analyze and crunch everything cognitively, I feel like I’m still very much in the conscious incompetence realm. I’m just like, “Oh, my God, look at this circus, this panopticon of fantasy horrors that I create for myself every fucking day, this is ludicrous.” Now I’m just aware of the clown car that’s driving through my head all day. So what —
Greg McKeown: Yeah, what could we do about it?
Tim Ferriss: Yes, what are some tools, or if tools isn’t the right term, principles, anything that we can start to experiment with?
Greg McKeown: Yeah look, well, one story that comes to mind and I may have actually shared this last time, did I talk about the moment when I was staring back at myself in the stormtrooper costume? Is this one that —
Tim Ferriss: Yes, you did mention the stormtrooper. We can revisit it and —
Greg McKeown: Well, let’s revisit very briefly. The point was that I’m suddenly looking at myself in a stormtrooper costume in the mirror, this is an expensive movie quality suit and in that moment, I’m just like, what am I doing? Like, why am I standing here? How did this moment happen? There’s not —
Tim Ferriss: Just as some context, because you’re not on Fifth Avenue spinning a sign, selling used watches or something. This was for Halloween, you had always thought this was what you wanted and now you’re, let’s just say 40 years old, something like that, I don’t know.
Greg McKeown: Yeah, exactly. And I suddenly — “Well, how am I here?” Well, as I’m pausing to think about it, I realized, well, it was when Return of the Jedi came out. Yeah, we’re talking 30 plus years before, that my older brother Spencer had said to me, “well, wouldn’t it be so cool to have a movie-quality stormtrooper costume?” And I’m like young enough, impressionable enough and of course all the hype around the movie, I loved that movie and I just held on to that for 30 years. Now that’s a lightweight example, given the weight of the things we’ve been talking about, but it still illustrates how long things can stay with you. And as I’m standing there, I’m like, there’s no part of me that actually wants this consciously. So it’s just all subconscious. And so that became a shorthand for Anna and I, that if I get caught up on something, if I get fixated on something, she will say, “Look, is this a stormtrooper?”
And even that question is very helpful for me, symbolically, because being focused on something is a super strength. I mean, that’s a super skill, it’s incredibly valuable unless you’re focused on the wrong thing, and then it’s a classic example of making your life much harder than it needs to be because you’re pursuing something now, in this case 30 years. Yes, maybe this is a pretty trivial example, although, if you add up the actual energy that was being drip by drip over 30 years, it’s still an immense amount. But to just ask that about other things we have, other goals that we have, we’ve emphasized grudges, but it’s not the only type of a clutter that can get into us, but we can just ask, is this something that we need anymore? Could I just let go of it? Would that be possible to release this?
Tim Ferriss: Question for you.
Greg McKeown: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Just to get concrete. So during your experience with the medical crisis, with your daughter, did you apply this to anything specific you can share?
Greg McKeown: Yeah, that’s a good question. The thing that comes to mind when you say that is, that perhaps the most practical skill for getting into the effortless state amidst that crisis was gratitude. And I almost don’t want to say it like that because people think, “Oh, I have done gratitude; we know.” But what I learned about gratitude was this; if you focus on what you have, you gain what you lack. And if you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, that’s good. Can you say that again please?
Greg McKeown: Yeah. If you focus on what you have, you gain what you lack. If you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s outstanding.
Greg McKeown: And so, one of the practices that I learned at that time, but have codified a little better now, and this is classic BJ Fogg, Tiny Habit recipe.
Tim Ferriss: Just for people who don’t know BJ Fogg, so BJ Fogg is a fascinating guy, writer, professor, I don’t know if he’s still teaching at Stanford —
Greg McKeown: He is.
Tim Ferriss: But has done a lot of interesting, fascinating work and practical work related to habit formation and behavioral change and things like that.
Greg McKeown: Yeah, he’s so great. I just had him on the What’s Essential podcast and we did this really interesting intervention where we talked about what was essential for him. He identified that wanted to have the three-day weekend, he’s never done that, he kind of works all weekend and he doesn’t — and then halfway through after we identified it, I said, “Okay, well, man, you’re the habit king, man, so now you have to solve that for me.” Like, “You know what you want to do now, now teach me how to do it.” Anyway, it was a really fun conversation. So coming from that, this is the specific habit recipe as he would call them. Habit recipe, you say, “After I X, I will Y,” that’s the format. And so I started saying, “Okay, well, after I complain, I will say something I’m thankful for.”
And here’s what I learned immediately was, I complain a lot more than I realized. I think of myself as a positive person and I actually think I am even now, but my goodness these just subtle complaints all the time, i just see what’s going wrong with something. And so you can have so many good things happening, but you focus on something that isn’t going right and so that was the first thing I noticed. The second thing I noticed was, how fast you can change the mood, if you either say something you’re thankful for afterwards, or you catch yourself and do it anyway. So even if I was saying something I was thankful for, not even, I’m thankful for you or something you have done, the people around me would instantly light up. It was a different mode, so it had an immediate effect. It was one of the fastest things I have found for getting back into the effortless state.
And so we’ve started all sorts of habits in the family with this, if somebody is complaining, I’ll say, “okay, that’s fine. You’ve got to do three things you’re thankful for. You’ve got to put the energy back that you just took out.” And you can imagine, I’ve got four teenagers that necessarily love this game.
Tim Ferriss: They must love that.
Greg McKeown: But Jack, my son, one time — actually often they will just do it sincerely and so on, but one time he’s just like, “Oh, okay, fine, I am so thankful that Dad wants to play this dumb game with me.” And it made everybody laugh and then suddenly we were all already back in the state and we went on and did the other things we’re thankful for. I mean, literally to me, this type of gratitude and thankfulness is so powerful. I used to think of it as a soft principle. It’s like made of titanium, it’s so powerful and you can even have a bad attitude about it and it still works.
I mean, we’ve done all sorts of things to build on that and so here we have all this stress and challenge that we have of COVID and being isolated and because of Eve, we weren’t just isolated for six months, we were on complete lockdown. Everyone else is out, but we just can’t even risk because of the treatments she was going through. And so, one of the things we did is we started, it’s this star chart game, it doesn’t sound so exciting, but we gather together, you come up with a prize you will want, something you’re going to do or something you’re going to buy or something fun, it doesn’t have to be that expensive. And then there’s a series of spaces that we will catch each other doing the right thing and if you do, you say, okay, well star for you and anyone can give them to anyone. Most of them are still Anna and I, but even the kids can give them to each other. And you go and draw and when the star chat is full, you get that thing, you get to do that experience, whatever.
It’s so positive and you can’t take a star away, there’s none of that, there’s no downside here, it’s all upside. And actually, what, again, could sound I suppose, trivial is I think anything but, and to give a little context of why it’s so powerful. Barbara Fredrickson called this the broaden-and-build theory. And what she extrapolated, which I think is genius, is that we don’t have good things happen to us and therefore have good emotions. She says you have positive emotion and that leads through a process to good things. So the place to start — and again, I suppose this is confirming of what the idea of effortless state first, is that if you can get positive emotion going, then a whole series of upward momentum happens.
So she identified it this way, she said, well, first it’s the positive emotions, so you’re feeling good, gratitude can do that and it’s one of them. And then you start to have more optionality, more options of what you can do and what possibilities exist and what good things are here. And so, because you are have options, it means that you are more likely to connect with other people and so you build relationships. And so why she calls it the broaden-and-build theory is that, as you’re in this upward momentum, this positive cycle, you’re actually increasing capability, therefore are better able to handle whatever the next challenge is. For us I suppose, it is even in the pandemic, but there’ll be something else afterwards.
And she can contrast that with, as soon as you get into negative emotion, that leads to a reduction of options, right? We know that it’s fight, flight, freeze, fall down, it’s very few options that we’re going to have. Or what effect does that have on your relationships? It strains them all. What does that do? It weakens your whole system for whatever the next challenge is and so this sort of doom loop can take place. And so I really see at the pivot point, being within this choice to see what is right here. A little bit like putting on — I’m not a fly fisher actually, but I’ve heard and done the research and I am confident this is true that, something you can do if you want to be a great fly fisher, is that you can wear polarized sunglasses. And it’s something about the way that the lines are in a polarized set of sunglasses, that they kill off the way the sun reflects on the water. And so the impact of this is that you can see the fish under the water.
So the fish were always there, but you couldn’t see them before and now you can. And that’s really what this habit recipe, this specific thing, this leaning into gratitude in a very deliberate way, a conscious way starts to do. You start to see all the assets that are there. So then you can build on them, then you can do something with them. What good is here, and to keep shifting back into that gear, whether you’re dealing with crisis or just even in normal life. And so for us now — and I’m not always great at this, I still fall into this. If I leave this conversation, it will be easy to find something that’s wrong, to complain.
But if I take this other path — and of course, if I do that, it’s all predictable, you start on the downward cycle. But if I say, “What is going right here?” And I catch someone doing the right thing, it just sparks the whole thing positive. And really, which do you think is easier? Is it easier to be on a downward loop or in this upward momentum? And so this is one of the reasons I see this as being such an important practice for effortless state.
Tim Ferriss: With the concentric circles — actually, before I get back to the concentric circles, I first want to say, you’re inspiring me to revisit the 21-Day No Complaint experiment that I did many, many years ago. I wrote a blog post about it, which was inspired by Will Bowen. I think that’s how you say his name, who was a preacher or a minister in Kansas City who gave his congregation purple bracelets. And every time they complained, they had to switch arms and start the clock again with the aim of getting to 21 days of no complaining. And he wrote a book called [A] Complaint Free World, I want to say, and I did that experiment.
And just like you mentioned, number one, you notice, “Oh, my God, I am just the poster boy for complaining. This is outrageous.” And secondly, how quickly you begin to reap the benefits of decreasing your complaining. It’s truly remarkable. Just with that said, concentric circles. Why is the outside of effortless state, which is the center you have effortless action, and then effortless results. Why are the actions separate from the results?
Greg McKeown: Well, effortless action is to do with saying, “Okay, if I want a result one time, how can I make it easier to achieve like this project, this thing?” An example for me in my own family to start there, my son chose when he was about 12. He decided, okay, I want to be an Eagle scout. And his goal was to do it by the time he turned 14, which is, it’s a bit of a stretch. And we went on this journey together and we did it, other than the dreaded final, not just even the final project, which was a fairly big thing, you had to build this 180-foot fence and bring in people from the community, 40 people go and do it on a day. And it was actually pretty fantastic.
But then what is dreaded is the final report. And there are people I know who have done everything else, and then they don’t get the final report. Then they put it off. Seriously, it happened to somebody I knew, he’d done everything but that final report. And he finally put it in barely a week —
Tim Ferriss: 37.
Greg McKeown: No, you have to do it by the time you turn 18. And he’d done it one week afterwards. And so he never got an Eagle Scout because they wouldn’t do that. A 100 percent stick was on this, which I suppose they have learned, they have to be, because if you procrastinate for three years, you could do it for 30 and so they have discussion point. We start moving into that category and we would not, it’s weeks, it’s not months or years, but weeks we just start working, Oh, yeah, we’ve got to do this.
And it just starts feeling overly burdened. And so then I literally sat down with him and was like, “Okay, how can we make this effortless? How can we make this so we can actually get the thing done?” And there were a series of questions that we followed with that. I mean, one is what does done look like? Just like actually naming it. Well, we are taking a binder to the Scout office and delivering it and they sign that it is done. That’s how we’ll know it’s done. Well, what are the minimum steps required to do it? Some people want to go the extra mile, but they’re not even going the first mile. And that’s what we were doing. And we had seen, and I’m not knocking this.
We have seen some amazing, really unbelievable final projects, reports rather, the writeup. We’d seen them in wooden boxes and gorgeous — it was incredible, like the Rolls Royce of reports. And I think that was a big part of why we couldn’t make any progress, which is like, “Ah, we just don’t have this in us with this stuff, we don’t have energy for this.” And so we said, “Okay,” we say, “What’s the minimum number of steps?” We looked at exactly what it asks us to do. We need to have the photos printed up, print it up. We’re going to have them written on; you don’t even have to write essays on them. We’re going to have the minimum number of descriptions he needs to do the work and a minimum number of steps possible.
And so we did that. Next question. What is the very first, most obvious step to doing it? The risk of these kinds of projects is if you’re worrying about the thousandth step and you haven’t actually physically taken the first one. The first physical step is we need to actually get a three-ring binder, we’ve got to get that. And we have to go and find one in the house and get it. That is the first step. And in that way, just actually started doing the tiny, one-step-at-a-time, minimum things required to get there. And that reminds me of a story. We sort of know some of this story many people have heard part of it, but I went and interviewed the person behind it. His name is this really, his name is Mike Evangelist and —
Tim Ferriss: That’s an amazing name.
Greg McKeown: Isn’t that amazing? And he’s in Silicon Valley. Yeah. Mike Evangelist. He was involved in DVD burning, like before it was a mass thing. These are like $35,000 machines. They did like professional equipment. It’s a thousand page manual to learn how to use it.
Tim Ferriss: The DVD burner?
Greg McKeown: The DVD burner system. Back in the day, exactly. And then they’re trying to work out a bit more affordable way of doing it and on the cutting edge. And so Apple reaches out to them and says, “Look, maybe we can do something here, maybe we can buy the company.” They do a deal and they bring them in. They want the software that they’ve been creating. They’d given it a couple of weeks. They know they’re going to meet with Steve Jobs and they have a couple of weeks to simplify this thing. This is going to go on, it’s going to go on the Mac, that’s the idea.
And so they have to try it. They take this thousand-page binder and they reduce it and reduce it. They take all this complex stuff and they reduce it, and reduce, and they’re proud of what they have. And they think, okay, this is so, so much simpler than we had before. And they go into the meeting and this is the part people know, but the backstory is really important. Steve comes to the meeting and they have all of their slides. They’ve got everything ready for the presentation, and they’re talking about it and they’re discussing, and as Steve starts talking, they start to get more and more embarrassed about their presentation and what they’re going to do. And finally, Steve just walks up to the whiteboard and he just goes, “Look, this is the software; it is going to be one button. You’re going to draw your file into it and it says ‘Burn.’ That’s it. That’s the application we want to build.”
And that is what they built. And that is what went in. But here’s the point. And I really liked this from Mike Evangelist, he said, sitting there, he learned he was doing simplification wrong. He was going from the complex to the simple. What he really needed to do this is his phrase, “Start with zero.” You’ve got to start with zero and say, “What are the minimum number of steps to get to completion?” I like that story, but that’s really what we were doing with Jack and his project. It’s not “What are other people doing, and let’s go smaller,” it’s “Let’s start with zero. What are the minimum number of steps to do it?”
What you want is completion. And if you don’t complete it, then if you don’t complete it, then it’s not done. I mean, not saying something so circular, but you’ve got to get it done. That is its own achievement. And if you don’t get it done perpetually because you either have too many steps involved or because you don’t take the first action or — I have to share this, it’s one of my favorite stories that came across in the research. Have you heard of the story of the Vasa?
Tim Ferriss: I don’t think so. Can you spell that for me? It might be the Queen’s English. That’s throwing me off.
Greg McKeown: W-A-S-A, Wasa. The Wasa.
Tim Ferriss: W, and it starts with a V. V-A-S —
Greg McKeown: No, no, no. Did I say that? No, W. W-A-S-A.
Tim Ferriss: I definitely don’t know that story, but please continue.
Greg McKeown: The Wasa. Okay. I’m going to read the whole thing to you because the details really matter. Is that okay with you?
Tim Ferriss: It’s —
Greg McKeown: You’re the first to hear about this.
Tim Ferriss: I’m excited.
Greg McKeown: Okay, here we go. Well, you’re not the first to hear about it. You’re the first to hear about the way I write about it. Here we go. 400 years ago, Gustav II, the King of Sweden, saw the vital need to upgrade his armada of ships. He wanted to protect the people from the growing naval powers that surrounded him. His attention was drawn to building a giant military warship, and he found a shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson, tasked him to build what became known as the Vasa. I said it wrong. It is V-A-S-A, Vasa.
Tim Ferriss: Which wasn’t because I knew the stories, it was because I can’t understand that Queen’s English. Please continue.
Greg McKeown: This project was of utmost importance to King Gustav so much that he allowed a whole forest of a thousand trees to provide the lumber for the project. He opened the royal coffers to, he assured Hybertsson that he would have an almost unlimited budget to complete the project successfully. Unfortunately, the King did not have a clear vision of what the final product would look like, or rather he kept changing his vision of what the final product would look like. At first, the ship was to be 108 feet long with 32 cannons on deck. Later, the length was changed to 120 feet, even though the lumber had already been cut to the original specifications, but no sooner had Henrik’s team made the necessary adjustments that the target shifted again, this time the King decided that the ship needed to be 135 feet long.
The cannon requirements changed, as well. Instead of 32 cannons in a single row, he asked for 36 cannons in two rows, plus another 12 small cannons, 48 mortars, and 10 more similar caliber weapons. Tremendous effort was exerted by some 400 people to make this happen. But even as they approached completion, the King changed his mind again, asked for 64 large cannons instead. The stress of the news is said to have given Henrik a fatal heart attack. Still, the endless project continued this time under Henrik’s assistant Hein Jacobsson. Budgets continued to escalate. The effort continued to expand, and the King continued changing the end goal. In an utterly non-essential addition for a gunship. He asked for some 708 sculptures, which would take a team of expert sculptors more than two years to complete, to be attached to the sides of the bulwark and the transom of the ship and so it was.
On August 10th, 1628, the Vasa left Stockholm port for its maiden voyage, still unfinished. And before it had been properly tested to ensure it could survive the conditions of the high seas. Meanwhile, the King had found the time to plan a celebration to commemorate the expedition. There were fireworks, there were foreign diplomats, there was pageantry, and as the ship sailed away, the gunports were open and the guns were pointing out so that they could fire a salute to the dignitaries on shore. Then suddenly a gust of wind caught the sails of the ship, causing the massive vessel to tilt severely over to one side. As the cannons tipped into the sea, water entered in through the gunports, despite a strenuous all-out effort on the part of the crew, water almost instantly flooded into the gun deck and into the hold further destabilizing the ship. Tragically it took just 50 minutes for the Vasa to completely sink, taking 53 crew members with it.
They died less than three quarters of a mile from the shore. And so it was the most expensive naval project in Sweden’s history, sailed less than one mile before being buried in the sea, all because the King had made the project almost impossible to safely complete by constantly redefining what done looks like. That is the story.
Tim Ferriss: That sounds like a lot of software projects.
Greg McKeown: It does. And it sounds like just so many projects. That’s really what the, part of what effortless action is about. It’s saying, look, if you have a thing you want to do, you want to do it one time, you want to actually get it done, and you don’t want to kill yourself doing it. Then there’s a series of things that you can do. I’ve covered two or three of them. You can pace yourself. You can make sure that, that’s what that section of the book is really about. Your question was how does that distinguish itself from effortless results? This is literally my favorite thing in my research for Effortless, was this final section, which is a little too bad because sometimes people don’t get to the end of the book.
Effortless results. The difference is this. Effortless action’s about the thing one time. That, by definition, is a linear result. You’re getting it one time, you put the effort in once and you get the result once. Effortless results is all about residual results. How can you construct things that produce, you put the effort in once you might even put a little more effort in than if you just want the result once, but you put the effort in, because you’re going to get the result 10 times, a hundred times, a thousand times.
I mean, actually it sounds like a total exaggeration to say a million times, but actually it’s not. There’s plenty of examples where people have constructed systems that keep producing results so very many times over again and again. And really why effortless results I think is such an exciting subject for me and my favorite thing in this is because I realized how many things I was doing were linear results. One time, you do it, you go, you do a keynote. You’ve built the system to make that as effortless as possible. The results seem to be good, but it’s done one time, you got one time impact and one travel, one thing. And that doesn’t make it a bad thing, of course, but it’s an example of like me just discovering, why am I doing anything that only produces results one time?
I’ve got to change this ratio massively. I mean, this is, again, I get for me personally. One of the things I came away with that I’ve done simultaneously to the book is launch an academy, essentialism.com. And the whole reason I did it, because I’m just like, look, build it once, do it once and it returns 10 years from now, or even more than that. A friend of mine, I would say colleague and mentor to me, Stephen Covey. And he passed away unfortunately a few years ago, but his impact has gone on significantly. And the reason for that wasn’t by chance it’s because he knew the risks. Because one of his friends and mentors had died young and he took it all with him.
And so it was because of that, that Stephen says, “Okay, well, I’m going to write The 7 Habits because then it can exist beyond me. I’m going to build a company.” He didn’t really, himself want to do that work, but he built it so that the system would continue on and on into the future that the residual results is an era of so much upside possible.
It just reminds me of Benjamin Hardy, who I just had on the What’s Essential podcast. And he was sharing this principle of “‘Who?’ not ‘How?'” And it really hit me as such a great, succinct summary of this idea that we ought to be thinking not just “How do I do a thing and not just hit a wall and feel, ‘Well, I’ve got to go on the long journey to figure out how to do this myself,'” but just, “Who has already solved this; who already knows how to do this?”
And that was one of my favorite parts of researching Effortless was coming across a rule that Warren Buffett uses when he’s hiring people. He’s deciding who he’s going to work with, who he’s going to partner with, the best people in the world he’s trying to find, and he uses three principles. He says, “It’s integrity, it’s intelligence, and it’s initiative.” And he adds that, “If you don’t have the integrity, then the other two can actually be a problem for you.”
But that really has stood with me when we think about who, not how, and then specifically using what I now called the three Is to assess who would be a great person to work with. So, anyway, just offer that as a thought about how to produce even more effortless results as you try to take this next journey with the podcast itself.
Tim Ferriss: It also makes me just reflect on how many of these principles are on some level embedded into your thinking, if you just shift the timeframe from short-term rewards or short-term outcomes to long-term outcomes. And brings to mind something that my friend, Naval Ravikant, who’s been on the podcast several times, has said, which actually, I should say more accurately typed, since his Twitter account is very popular at Naval, N-A-V-A-L. And it’s along the lines of, “If you wouldn’t work with them for a lifetime, don’t work with them for five minutes.”
Greg McKeown: Oh, man, that’s good.
Tim Ferriss: It just checks so many boxes that you could view as discrete problems to be solved. But if you just keep that overarching principle in mind, even if there are exceptions, right? I mean, perhaps if you’re at an Airbnb and you break something you need to fix, you’re not going to work with this plumber for the rest of your life necessarily, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule as opposed to the other way around.
Greg McKeown: Well, I just think that puts into my mind this idea of very long-term thinking again and the importance of it.
One of my favorite examples of this residual thinking where you aren’t just thinking about yourself but beyond yourself is Stephen L. Richards and his wife, who decided, “Well, we want to try and take time out every summer, go on a family vacation and so on.” And of course, most people have that type of thought, but theirs grew into something different where they said, “Well, what if we could choose a place one time that every single summer afterwards, we wouldn’t have to go through that journey of, ‘Well, where are we going to go?’ And, ‘What are the dates?’ and so on.” What started as — it might sound not such a profound question or decision, has gone on and on. They chose this one location and here they are.
I was talking to their grandson, who himself is now elderly. This has gone on now for 95 years. They are long since passed. Their grandchildren have started passing away. And so they still have great-great-grandchildren who will meet at various times through the summer. So it’s the same location. People have invested in different cabins and all this. And he said, “On any given day through a whole period, like the whole three-month summer, if you go to that location, you’ll find between 30 and 100 people that come from the same Stephen Richards that started it.” To me, that’s a powerful example of effortless results, the residual results, deciding for a long time into the future.
Tim Ferriss: And Stephen L. Richards, for those who don’t know, was a prominent leader in the LDS Church, in the Latter-Day Saints Church. Is that right? Is that the correct Stephen L. Richards that I’m thinking of?
Greg McKeown: Yes, no, you’re absolutely right. And his grandson is Stephen R. Covey and it was his brother, John Covey, that I was speaking to that told me that story. And so it was really amazing to see that sort of intergenerational impact.
Tim Ferriss: And for those people who have bookmarked the Gordon B. Hinckley book that you mentioned earlier, I was able to surreptitiously tap on my phone silently, which is actually a trick. I put my phone — for those people who are experimenting with podcasting, I keep my iPhone on do not disturb mode so that if there are items that pop up in the conversation, I can search them on my phone without recording any audible noise. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church by Gordon B. Hinckley was the book within which I believe, there’s the essay that you alluded to earlier in this conversation.
And thinking of books, I had to wonder when I read your first book, Essentialism, it’s like, well, how do you edit? How ruthless must you be when you’re editing a book called Essentialism? That’s setting high expectations for the copy editors and the editors, and certainly for the author, in this case, you. So, in this second book, Effortless, was there anything that — any darlings that you had to leave behind? Anything that was left on the cutting-room floor that was particularly difficult to leave out?
Greg McKeown: There’s so much that you go through in the editing process and in some ways, I feel like there’s two, three whole books that were written and discarded on the way to this final project. And most of those I feel really good about, but there is one that, still just, I always wonder whether I made the right decision or not with it. It’s a particularly powerful story of a mother who is with her very sick son at the very — what turned out to be the very end of his life. And she was sitting next to him in the bed. And then as literally life is sort of draining out of him, she climbs up into the bed just to be right next to him, knowing that the end is really close. And hears him say, and these turn out to be his very last words, sort of in that in-between phase when you’re still here, but somehow not fully. He just said, “It’s all so simple, mom. It’s all so simple.”
To me, that sort of message, that sort of moment, is of great value because I think that the spirit of that is if there’s — just look at anything you’re doing that’s making life more complicated than it needs to be, where you’re overthinking it, where you’re overstraining, where you’re overexerting, where you’re overthinking, and you may find the very thing that’s going to help you move forward. It may be as simple, it may be as easy as that.
Tim Ferriss: It’s all so simple. Just pausing on that. It’s so easy, in a sense, difficult in other senses, to default to straining, to feel like you’re not doing enough if you are not straining, if you’re not redlining, if you’re not pushing to failure in some way. It’s all so simple. That’s a great story. I mean, it would make a great mantra, for that matter.
And that, in my mind, sort of begets a question that I may have asked you in the first conversation that we had on this podcast, but I’ll ask it again, just in case there’s a different answer, or if you want to add another answer. The billboard, my listeners, my long-term listeners are probably sick of hearing this, but sometimes, every once in a blue moon, it pulls out a thought-provoking answer. If you had a billboard, here we go, metaphorically speaking, to get a message, a quote, a question, an image, anything out to billions of people, and if you prefer, a push notification to all of their phones, what might you choose for that?
Greg McKeown: Yeah, you did ask me that last time, and I love this question. And the answer I gave to that before, I remember, was “Light.” Just that one word, and what I meant by it was to choose light versus darkness in our life, to look for the light, to pursue it wherever we can.
As I think about that question now with the journey that has gone on over these last couple of years, I feel like the word would be the same, but with a second meaning. So, I think still, it would be light, but in this sense now, that whatever has happened to you in life, whatever hardship, whatever pain, they pale in comparison to the power we have to choose what to do now in this next moment. And in every next moment, we have a choice, to take the heavier path or the lighter path. And so that’s what I mean now, when I think of that word, light, there’s a lighter way to do life.
One of the things that I came across that I loved in the research was that now can be measured. That neuroscientists and psychologists have assessed in various ways the amount of time that makes now now, and it’s between two to three seconds. And I mean, that has profound implications to me.
The word now comes from Novus homo, which means a new man or a man newly ennobled. And so if you connect all these themes together, it makes for such a profound thing that in this moment, whatever’s gone before, in this moment, we have a choice. In that two to three seconds, we have a choice. Profound things can happen in two, three seconds. We’ve talked about some of them. You can say, “Thank you,” for something. You can say, “I’m sorry.” You can say, “I forgive you.” You can say, “Let’s start over.” You can say, “Let’s move on.”
Tim Ferriss: Or you can just pause for three seconds.
Greg McKeown: You can just pause.
Tim Ferriss: And breathe.
Greg McKeown: You can breathe for three seconds. And so in all of these ways, we can use this next moment to find this other alternative type of light.
Tim Ferriss: Choosing the light, not just in the sense of tone or benevolent charge, but also in the sense of weight, whether that be physical, emotional, psychological, or otherwise. That’s cool. I have never had a guest revisit that question, use the same billboard, but with an entirely different yet complementary meeting. That’s very cool. I quite enjoyed that.
Well, we should not expect any less from Greg McKeown, the author of, as many of you have already gathered, Essentialism, subtitle, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, and his new book, Effortless, subtitle, Make it Easier to Do What Matters Most. You can find him on Twitter @GregoryMcKeown, M-C-K-E-O-W-N, on GregMcKeown.com and certainly on all the other social that we’ll link to in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast.
Greg, is there anything else that you would like to say, request of the audience, any closing comments that you would like to add before we wrap up?
Greg McKeown: I just want to thank you, Tim, for what you’re doing. It really does matter in the world. And it’s just all over the place that I hear from people that are really tuned in and really get a lot of positive from the work that you do. And of course, people see the upsides, I’m sure they can see, “Oh, it’s great to have that kind of impact in the world,” and so on, but they won’t see the downsides or the sacrifices or the things that you have given up for the things that you’ve gained. And I just wanted to say genuinely thank you for what you do and for having me on today.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Greg, for saying that. And it’s entirely my pleasure. This has been a lot of fun. I have copious notes in front of me, and I really think that at the top of the pyramid, the note that then that can cascade down and echo through all the other notes is: it’s all so simple. It can often be so simple and we just have to take the time to look for it. And that’s something that you’ve done and I greatly admire your thinking. I enjoy your writing and wish you and yours all the best. And thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.
Greg McKeown: Thank you, Tim.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 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.