Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Rich Roll (@richroll). At age 40, Rich Roll made the decision to overhaul the sedentary throes of overweight middle age. Walking away from a career in law, he reinvented himself as a globally recognized ultra-distance endurance athlete, bestselling author, and host of the wildly popular Rich Roll Podcast, one of the world’s most listened to podcasts, with more than 200 million downloads.
Named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World” by Men’s Fitness and the “Guru of Reinvention” by Outside magazine, Rich shares his inspirational story of addiction, redemption, and athletic prowess in his bestselling memoir, Finding Ultra, and in the cookbooks/lifestyle guides The Plantpower Way and The Plantpower Way: Italia, which he co-authored with his wife Julie Piatt.
Rich is a graduate of Stanford University (where he was a member of their dynastic, multiple-NCAA-championship men’s swimming program) and Cornell Law School. He has been featured on CNN and on the cover of Outside and has been profiled in The New York Times, Forbes, ESPN, and many other prominent media outlets.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. I’m so excited to have my guest today. His name is Rich Roll, and I’m going to start in an unorthodox way, and that is by reading a tweet. I don’t really do this. I don’t know if I’ve ever done this, but this is a tweet from October 2018, and I think Rich is probably going to see where this is going. Just before his 52nd birthday. Here’s the tweet. “I didn’t reach my athletic peak until I was 43. I didn’t write my first book until I was 44. I didn’t start my podcast until I was 45. At 30, I thought my life was over. At 52 I know it’s just beginning. Keep running. Never give up. And watch your kite soar.” And then there’s actually another tweet within context. So I’ve retweeted this for people who want to see it. They can also find it, of course, at Rich Roll, R-O-L-L.
I want to mention one more thing before we get to more of the bio and that is related to your first half Ironman. So this is in Outside Magazine, and here’s the quote. “In my first half-Ironman, I barfed during the swim. By the time I got off my bike, my legs were so cramped up that I ran 100 meters and just stopped. It was a DNF.” That means he did not finish. “My beginnings in triathlon were very humble — but I loved it.”
All right, so I’m going to give this in drips and drabs, but let’s start with paragraph one. So now, zooming out to present day for a little bit of retrospective. At age 40, Rich Roll, as I mentioned @richroll on Twitter, made the decision to overhaul the sedentary throws of overweight middle age. And I might, I may or may not be in that place just right now. Walking away from a career in law, he reinvented himself as a globally recognized ultra distance endurance athlete, bestselling author, and host of the wildly popular Rich Roll Podcast, which I highly recommend, one of the world’s most listened-to podcasts with more than 200 million downloads.
And I’m going to modify the next paragraph a little bit. Rich has been named one of the 25 fittest men in the world by Men’s Fitness and the guru of reinvention by Outside Magazine. He’s written a best selling memoir, Finding Ultra, and has co-authored the cookbooks/lifestyle guides The Plant Power Way and The Plant Power Way Italia with his wife Julie — is it Piatt?
Rich Roll: Piatt.
Tim Ferriss: Dammit. I knew I had a 50/50 chance there.
Rich Roll: It’s a common, common thing. Not alone.
Tim Ferriss: This is showing where and how the sausage is made because a professional would’ve asked, and in fact, I highlighted her last name to ask you before we started recording.
Rich Roll: Don’t worry.
Tim Ferriss: And just to get a few things mentioned, and we’ll mention them again at the very end, richroll.com, you can find all things Rich related, Rich Roll on all social, including Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, except for Facebook, which is Rich Roll Fans. Rich, welcome to the show.
Rich Roll: Thanks so much for having me, Tim. It’s really an honor to be able to join you for this, and I’m really looking forward to the conversation to come. So thanks for having me.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. Me too. And for those of you who can’t see video, at some point maybe you should check it out because we have the perfect yin-yang color template here. You have a rather disheveled Tim Ferriss in tan with white background and Rich looking like a handsome devil with black clothing, black background. It’s actually very striking. I should request that guests do this in the future. It will help viewers to keep them separate. So let’s really dive in here, and I want to establish just a bit of background for folks, and we’re going to go all over the place. So at age 40, right? So you make the decision to overhaul dot, dot, dot. But let’s get granular, and maybe we could focus on one piece of this life puzzle which is alcohol. And could you speak to the role that alcohol has played in your life? When it entered your life? When you really realized that you had a problem? Let’s begin there, if you’re open to it.
Rich Roll: It entered my life near the end of high school and the beginning of college. Prior to that, I was a very studious, highly motivated person who was very goal driven. And that grew out of, I think in retrospect looking back on my life, on a deep insecurity that I had, because as a young person, I was very much an introvert, I had a lot of difficulty connecting with other people and making friends, I certainly hadn’t demonstrated any kind of athletic talent or ability. I was the prototypical kid who gets picked last for kickball and was very awkward and self conscious. And at some point along the way, I discovered the sport of swimming, and we could talk about that if you like, but that was the one thing where I kind of felt comfortable and showed some level of acumen at an early stage. And when you’re a young person, and you experience just a little bit of encouragement or success, you’re going to kind of double down on that. And that’s what I did.
And I think there was something about being underwater, in almost a metaphysical sense or a psychological sense, where I felt protected. It was almost this womb where I was insulated from all of the confusing emotions that I had as a young person. And so swimming really became my focus, and I realized early that I wasn’t the most talented kid, but I had this capacity to suffer and to work hard and a willingness to go the extra mile. And with that sensibility, I was able to bridge the talent deficit gap to some extent to the point where, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was one of the better swimmers in the Washington, DC area where I grew up, and the discipline that I learned in the swimming pool trickled into my academic pursuit.
So I was able to go from a kid who really had trouble learning and was sort of a sit in the back of the class kind of guy to being a good student and ultimately getting into a bunch of fancy colleges. So at 18, I really was in a situation, a very privileged situation, where the world was very much my oyster and anything was possible. But I ended up going to Stanford University. I went to the opposite coast, and I’m sure there’s some psychological reasons why I flew 3,000 miles away to go to college.
And the reason to go there was two-fold. I mean, first of all, Stanford is Stanford, and it’s this amazing academic institution. But at the time in the mid- and late 1980s, it also had the number one NC2A division one men’s swimming program. They were like the most incredible, the most insane assemblage of Olympic champions and world and American record holders and the like. And the opportunity to be a member of that team was like a dream that I couldn’t even imagine for myself. So here I am in this incredibly privileged situation where anything truly is by possible, but enter alcohol. And alcohol was something that I first was introduced to when I was doing recruiting trips and traveling to colleges which is what you do when you’re an athlete and trying to consider where to go to school, and I had some experiences there that kind of really anchored in me from a moment one that this was going to be a thing for me.
I had that sensation that you hear about with recovering alcoholics where from the very first drink, it was like this warm blanket that I could wrap myself in and all my troubles and insecurities and fears and insecurities just sort of vanished, and for the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin. And I just remember thinking this is the way that I want to feel all the time. I could go to a party, and I could strike up a conversation or crack a joke or talk to a girl which were all things that were terrifying to me at the time. And so I just felt like I had found this solution that I had been looking for my whole life. This young person who felt like everybody else had a perfect roadmap for how to live and suddenly those answers that eluded me were being provided in the form of this substance.
And so when I got to Stanford, very quickly, well, quickly and gradually, but I would say that I got more and more, progressively more interested in like, where’s my next good time, then how am I going to create a foundation for a happy, successful life? And a lot of those aspirations that I had about athletics and academic excellence soon became secondary to where’s the party tonight? And it was just a situation where over an extended period of time, my life began to degrade. So it wasn’t a situation in which I created cataclysm out of the gate that derailed me because I could function, and it’s easier to do that when you’re younger, but I could function. I could comport myself in a way where I could still get good grades, show up for class, still go out partying until two or three in the morning, and show up for 6:00 a.m. swim practice. But over time, this is not a good recipe for living. And I lived that way for a very long time until ultimately, things got really dark and scary, and I hit that bottom that you hear about with people in recovery.
Tim Ferriss: What did any of the bottoms or dark moments look like? If we could paint a picture of any example that comes to mind.
Rich Roll: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I would say that there was nothing like cool or rock and roll about any of it. It’s just lonely, sad and kind of pathetic and deeply embarrassing. I would drive drunk and wouldn’t remember where I parked my car and would have to wake up the next morning and try to figure out where my car was when I was living in San Francisco, when I was fresh out of law school. One time I woke up one day, didn’t want to go to my law firm job and flew to Las Vegas and lost my wallet and woke up not remembering anything that had happened and trying to figure out how I’m going to get home. Stuff like that. I was the guy who was the last to leave the party. And when you’re in college, maybe it’s cute, but when you’re 25, 26, 28, nobody’s living that way anymore. And you have to find other people to do that with. So you’re surrounding yourself with what they call lower companions in the parlance of recovery, until ultimately there’s no one left, and you’re just alone.
And I was a guy who would drink alone in my apartment or wake up in the morning before work and have a vodka tonic in the shower. It was all very Leaving Las Vegas, and I was only 31 at the time, but my disease had progressed to such a state where there was really only a couple things that were going to happen. Either I was going to kill myself, kill another person, or end up in jail or some kind of institution. And that’s really kind of what ultimately led me to getting sober.
Tim Ferriss: And when you say kill yourself, do you mean via alcohol poisoning or a car accident or via some deliberate suicide? What do you mean by that?
Rich Roll: I was never suicidal. I didn’t have suicidal ideation, but my life was getting smaller and smaller and more lonely. So if I was able to kind of maintain that lifestyle over an extended period of time, I’m certain that I would’ve reached a level of desperation where that would’ve seemed like a good idea.
Tim Ferriss: Why did you choose law? Why did you choose to pursue law?
Rich Roll: It’s a very good question. Right out of college, I moved to New York City and got a job as a paralegal in a big law firm in New York called Skadden, Arps.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a huge one, yeah.
Rich Roll: And that was a situation that should have told me immediately that maybe this wasn’t the right path for me, but I think that I chose it not out of some kind of deliberate idea that it would be something I would be interested in or show some proficiency in, but more as a reaction to social and familial pressure. This idea of not really knowing what I wanted to do, but, “Hey, I can always go to law school, and society will smile upon that. And I can put a nice suit on and have nice lunches and have interesting conversations with people and make a good living.”
I mean, my self-inquiry really didn’t go any further than that. And there was nothing about my interests that would’ve indicated that law was a good path for me, but I was so disconnected from myself that even asking myself that question at the time was anathema to who I was. But I’m a good student, and I actually enjoyed law school. I enjoyed the intellectual pursuits and all of that, but the practice of law is very different, at least in the corporate law firm context, very different than the law school experience.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Very. Knowing many people who went to law school, I can through secondhand stories say that that seems to universally be the perspective that people end up with.
Rich Roll: If you love it, if that’s your thing, then more power to you. But I just remember walking the halls of the various law firms that I worked at being confused that there seemed to be certain people that enjoyed it, because I was just gritting my way through it thinking, “I’ll just apply these tools that I learned in the swimming pool about suffering and pain tolerance.” And I just thought everybody was having that internal experience. I’m sure many were, but there seems to be some people that that seemed to enjoy it, but I just know that the more that I kind of looked around, certainly with respect to the partners, that it was clear to me that I didn’t really want that life, and yet I felt very stuck in that career path and unsure about how I could ever get out of it and do anything else.
Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to spend, just for people listening and also for you, Rich, so you don’t think that we’re going to spend too much time in these waters. We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about turn-arounds, techniques, pattern matching, all sorts of things. But I do want to spend a little bit more time on this chapter or maybe the chapter shortly after this point in time. What was the straw, or what were the straws that broke the camel’s back with respect to alcohol and seeking help?
Rich Roll: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, there were a couple important inflection points. One of which was getting two DUIs, essentially in a row, with ridiculously high blood alcohol contents, looking at jail time, my boss finding out at the law firm and being on the precipice of getting fired. That’s a whole rabbit hole, sort of chaotic disaster that I weathered. Another was a marriage, or I should say a wedding that went awry. Yeah, I got married, and that relationship ended on the honeymoon which is a whole crazy story that is inextricably linked to, I mean I was sober at the time, but it’s very much linked to my alcoholism. So there’s big events that, but I think those situations created such a deep level of shame inside of me that I wasn’t able to shake alcohol in the wake of those experiences because I didn’t have the emotional tools to process them.
So I continued to drink for a while. I mean, the wedding was really the nadir of the whole thing, and a reasonable person would’ve woken up and gotten sober at that time, but I needed to medicate myself through that emotional shit storm until one day, I basically woke up, and I was hung over, but it wasn’t like I reaped any kind of chaos the night before, but it’s just that moment of realizing like I’ve had enough, I can’t live this way anymore. It’s just so lonely and desperate, and it only leads in one direction. And I think that’s what it takes. For anybody who has experience with addiction, particularly substance addiction, you have this sense, like you asked me earlier on Tim, when did I know I had a problem?
I knew I had a problem very early on in my drinking career, but that’s very different from the willingness to do anything about it. I harbored this notion that this was a problem for me, but you’re also protecting it because you want to be able to keep doing it. And that’s what leads to this sort of double life where you’re hiding your behavior from other people and diluting yourself into thinking that they don’t know what’s going on. But ultimately, you realize everybody knows what’s going on, and on some level, it’s a process of like stripping away those layers of denial until you can really face the objective truth of what you’re doing. And that’s a very terrifying thing. And so that’s kind of what was going on inside of me until this day in 1998, where I was like, “Okay, I’ve had it. I’m ready to really take this seriously and do something about it.”
Tim Ferriss: How old were you roughly then? My math is going to fail me at this moment. But 1998?
Rich Roll: Yeah. I was 31.
Tim Ferriss: 31.
All right. And because it struck me as a curveball, if you don’t want to get into it, that’s totally fine. But in my mind, I envisioned this honeymoon just going down as a fireball due to some catastrophe that was alcohol-induced, but you said you were sober.
Rich Roll: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Are you willing to expand on that at all? And if not, that’s fine.
Rich Roll: Yeah, no. It’s so hard to describe this and have it make sense. But essentially what happened was I had been drinking quite a bit, I got engaged to this woman. I was living in San Francisco at the time, she was living in Palo Alto and is from Palo Alto. But in the kind of lead up to this wedding, because we had gotten engaged, I had taken a job in Los Angeles, so we were living in separate cities. And I think during that interim period, when she got distance between me, she realized maybe this isn’t the guy I want to marry, and I had come clean with her about the DUIs, and I think that was very scary to her. So even though I had been sober for a number of months and told her that I was committed to this path of sobriety, I think, in her heart of hearts, she really wanted to get out of this relationship, but she was unable to muster the strength to break it off herself, and I think that she wanted me to break it off.
And so there was so much energy behind this impending wedding that was happening, that it just kind of transpired without anybody hitting the brakes, and I was trying to be conciliatory and say, because I knew she was off and not present and something was wrong. And I would say, “Are you okay? What’s going on? How can I make you feel comfortable with all of this?” And it’s a much longer story, I go into detail about it in my book. But essentially, she permitted the wedding to go through, but then didn’t want to sign the marriage certificate. That’s a red flag, right?
Tim Ferriss: Cause for pause.
Rich Roll: Yeah. And the night of the wedding, when we went back to the honeymoon suite, that did not go well. I’m surprised that we even went on the honeymoon, but I think in my mind, I was thinking, “I’m going to try to make this right. And it’s all going to work out.” That was its own level of delusion. And while we were on this honeymoon on a Caribbean island, it was clear that this relationship had no future. And ultimately we were able to have a conversation about it, and she ended up leaving early. And at that moment, I was left with myself with no tools and having been sober for six months, but unable to really process the emotional devastation of just basically had everybody that I cared about in the world with like 12 groomsmen in this wedding in Palo Alto bear witness to a marriage that clearly wasn’t going to work out. And it was really devastating to me. So I ended up getting drunk on that island and really struggled to get sober again for quite some time after that.
Tim Ferriss: And then, so thank you for sharing that. 1998. 31. “I’ve had enough.” How do you seek help? Or what are your next actions after that?
Rich Roll: Yeah. So prior to that, I had been court-ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous. So I had been to meetings, but I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to get sober. I was doing it because I was compelled to do it, and I think that’s an important distinction especially for people who are struggling or have people in their lives that are struggling with a substance issue. You want to help them, you want to intervene, and you can create interventions and things like that to get people into treatment, but ultimately if that person is resistant to it or isn’t interested in getting sober, that’s going to be a very tough hill to climb. So willingness is crucial. So when I was attending those AA meetings, I lacked that level of willingness. It was more like, “I just need to get people off my back so I can go back to living the way that I want to live. And why is everybody bugging me?”
But in the wake of that wedding experience, when my drinking got more and more dire, my parents had reached the level of their tolerance threshold with me, and basically my dad said, “Listen, we love you, but we just can’t continue to watch you destroy yourself like this, and we can’t have anything to do with you. But if you’re ready to get sober, we’re of course here for you. But until then, we’re not available to you.” However, because they were so terrified of all of this, they had found an addiction medicine psychiatrist in Los Angeles, and they said, “We have this guy. It might be great if you go and see him.” So I started seeing this addiction medicine specialist, and he just rang my bell immediately and was like, “Here’s the deal, dude, you’re an alcoholic, and you need to go to treatment. Until you do that, nothing’s going to change, and your life’s going to continue to be terrible.”
And I would try to negotiate with him and say, “Well, I think I can do it in AA.” So I was kind of in and out of AA doing my own self experimentation with trying to get sober, but every time I would crawl back into his office, and I was honest with him and I said, “Yeah, I relapsed again.” or “This happened.” But at some point I made a deal with him because he was like, “Are you ready to go to treatment?” I was like, “Let me try one more time.” And he said, “Okay.” And to his credit, I think that’s a really interesting approach. You have to back off a little bit and allow people to have their process. It’s like Inception. They have to come into this awareness on own. You cannot compel somebody to see themselves as they really are.
And of course I relapsed, crawled back into his office, and because I considered myself such a man of my word, I said, “Well, I made a deal with you. So, okay. Now I’ll go to treatment.” And I called him after this one bender, and I said, “I’m ready.” And he got a bed for me, and I immediately go online and I’m researching treatment centers, and I’m looking for the spa resort one, that has really nice accommodations. He’s like, “No, no, no. Here’s where you’re going. This place in Oregon. I got a bed for you. Get on the plane today.” And that’s basically how it began.
Tim Ferriss: What do you think people tend to miss about this story? Whether they hear you telling this story or they read about it, are there things that are important that people gloss over or that elements of this story, whether we’ve heard them today or not, that stand out to you as particularly important sort of on the road to recovery, initiating recovery? I think about this type of question a lot, what do people tend to glom onto as the really important parts? What do they tend to maybe neglect to their detriment if they’re aiming for recovery themselves? Does anything come to mind when I say all that?
Rich Roll: And you’re talking more broadly about addiction in general, not my personal story?
Tim Ferriss: I think I’m talking about, I’m weaving into it through your personal story, so it could be your personal story, but it could also be addiction in a broader sense because part of what is so interesting to me about you and your story is you’ve not only had the experiences that you’ve had, but you have no doubt witnessed many people try to emulate the turn-arounds of various types. And you’ve seen some people succeed spectacularly, you’ve seen some people fail spectacularly, and then there’s a whole spectrum in between, right? So that I think is extremely interesting and potentially instructive. Right? So you could answer this in any way you like. It could be from your personal story, it could be from what you’ve seen or learned more broadly speaking about addiction and recovery.
Rich Roll: Yeah. I think there’s a lot that I can say about this. I mean, first with respect to my personal story, if you Google my name, there’s a lot of misguided narratives out there that me adopting a vegan diet is what got me sober or that ultra endurance training is what got me sober or keeps me sober, and those are all wildly inaccurate. I mean, I was sober for almost 10 years before I made these lifestyle shifts. I had a whole chapter in between where I created a foundation of sobriety, so sobriety and addiction stand outside of those things, and those other things have a role in my life, but addiction and recovery are a very separate thing. And that’s the way that I kind of think about it. And I think in terms of addiction and recovery more broadly, I think it’s important for people to understand that for somebody who is addicted and who’s behaving poorly or all of the stuff that addicts do, it’s not a referendum on moral character, it’s they’re suffering from an illness that wants to kill them.
And when they get sober, we think of drugs and alcohol or gambling or whatever, behavioral addiction that someone might have, as the problem that has been eradicated. But in truth, the behavior or the substance is the solution to the problem. There’s a level of psychic pain within a human being, and they search out a substance or a behavior that gives them some level of solace. The substance or the behavior is the solution to the problem because it allows them to feel okay so that they can function in the world, and it works for a while. If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t do it, but what they miss is that it is solving a problem for them. Of course, it progresses and then things go sideways, and it’s no longer the solution, but that’s how it begins.
And when you’ve removed those behaviors and substances from those people, they don’t know what to do with themselves. They’re like a live, emotional wire without any kind of tools for addressing the underlying problem that has fueled the addictive behavior for so long. And the process of recovery is really about providing tools, some tactical, some strategic, some practical, and some very ephemeral, spiritual that can be guideposts in helping people create new neural pathways and emotional relationships with how they engage with the world. And that’s a very slow, non-linear process, and that’s why so many addicts and alcoholics have a lot of relapses in their story. And relapses are always treated as failures, but ultimately they’re learning experiences because you’re trying to reorganize your entire life in accordance with new ways of living that are very foreign to somebody who has been engaging in a behavior or addicted to a substance for so long.
So there’s a saying in recovery, your emotional development gets stunted from the moment that you begin to use, and when you’ve removed the substance, you’re left with that young person at that stage of life, and you have to treat that person with that in mind because they lack the tools that other people, normal people take for granted. And I think the more that we kind of understand this, it allows us to have a little bit more compassion for the people that suffer and a way to kind of hold them in our hearts and a little bit more lightly when they slip up and do the thing. Because for people that don’t have direct experience with this, it defies logic. How could you do that? After everything that’s happened, you went and did that thing again. It’s so difficult to understand. So I think to the extent that we can peel back the layers of the onion and really understand what’s fueling that behavior to begin with, allows us to kind of be more compassionate to those people.
Tim Ferriss: That’s really well put. And it brings to mind for me something that a doctor named Gabor Maté said in a conversation I had with him, which was I’m paraphrasing here, but he said, “Don’t ask why the addiction, ask why the pain.” Right? And very much in line with what you just said: what is the addiction being used for? And makes me imagine, and I’m going to take a leap here, but I’ll go in this direction. I imagine that a lot of the questions you get about addiction are how did you stop? Right?
How did you stop? How did you stop? How did you quit? How did you negate subtract something? But if that subtraction leaves a void of sorts or it leaves an unaddressed need or unhealed wound. Few questions related to that, if that resonates with you, what was it that you ended up needing to address and what were some of the tool rules or resources or realizations that you found particularly helpful for that sort of additive piece?
Rich Roll: First on the subject of Gabor, I had him on my podcast and he flips the table on you and suddenly it becomes a therapy session, which is amazing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah.
Rich Roll: That’s exactly what you want, right? And he was very helpful to me in addressing that underlying trauma piece and my resistance to really go there because I love my parents and I don’t want to blame them. And he was helpful in helping me understand and this idea that it’s not their fault. They’re good people. They parented you with the tools that they had, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t — just because you weren’t homeless and impoverished or abused in any particular way, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t suffer some kind of trauma that ultimately is related to the behavior that you pursued later in life.
And I think to your other point of tools, certainly. Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t able to stay sober when I was a tourist in Alcoholics Anonymous because I was sitting in the back just waiting to get my court card checked. That’s very different from engaging with the true process of recovery. And I’m a 12-step guy and the whole Alcoholics Anonymous thing is shrouded in anonymity for a reason. So I don’t want to get too specific about that other than to say that the steps are the steps for a reason.
And it really is this incredible roadmap for unpacking a lot of that underlying pain and providing you with tools to redress it in a meaningful, practical way that alleviate that burden and that shame, and allow you to mature into somebody who can look somebody in the eye and show up when you say you’re going to show up, et cetera. And a big piece in that is — well, there’s lots of pieces. But one of the crucial pieces is doing an inventory, which is the fourth step where you literally go through your life and you itemize out all of your resentments towards people, institutions, et cetera, so that you do your resentment inventory.
You do a fear inventory where you itemize everything that you’re scared of. And you do a sexual inventory where you hold yourself accountable for how your sexual energy has created havoc in your relationships. And I think the more comprehensive that inventory, the more clear the picture is of how you have conducted your life. And from that, themes emerge where you see these recurrences of, oh, when I’m in this situation, I always behave this way or this type of person always makes me feel resentful.
And you can kind of go behind that and you get a better understanding of your fundamental blueprint, which is revelatory, frankly. But that inventory is only helpful to the extent that it then allows you to itemize all of the people to whom you owe amends, because you’re carrying around with that shame, this psychic burden of knowing that you have wronged people or screwed up situations or created chaos in other people’s lives.
And reckoning with that, and then addressing it by going to these people and figuring out how to make those wrongs right, is a huge relief that is like a pressure valve release on a lot of that shame. And the more that you engage in this process, you kind of emerge from it where you can make peace with your past, and it no longer holds all of that power over you. And you can talk about it freely without it creating all of those challenging emotions that are so inextricably related to the errant behavior itself. So that’s a huge piece, and that’s something that I continue to practice all the time.
It’s something that you return to constantly, including the 10th step, which is basically do it like a daily 10-step where you do a daily inventory of how you’ve conducted yourself, where you might have gone wrong, if you have to make any kind of minor amends or in your life. And then on top of that, meditation is a step in the 12 steps. So daily meditation is super important as well. And there’s a lot more in there, but I would say those are kind of the fundamental tools.
Tim Ferriss: I am so endlessly fascinated by 12-step programs and I guess, multi-step programs. AA, specifically the story of Bill Wilson. I find all of it just incredible. Also, the sort of decentralized nature of AA itself. Are you aware, and I’ll be honest that I did just a very cursory search. I didn’t do a really dedicated search, but are you aware of any good books or documentaries that dig into the history, the tools of AA? Are you aware of anything that comes to mind or is that something you?
Rich Roll: I’m sure. I’m sure. Yeah. I’m sure there are those things that exist. I don’t know any offhand. I know there was that movie that James Woods did a while back where he played Bill Wilson. But I don’t know that I would recommend that one. I’m sure there are. And there’s plenty of kind of ancillary books around recovery.
There’s a book called A New Pair of Glasses that it’s sort of practical applications of the 12-steps for people that are suffering. I don’t know that there’s the definitive history of Alcoholics Anonymous or the definitive documentary. But I think your point on decentralization is so fascinating. It was blockchain before blockchain, you know?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Rich Roll: The way that it’s structured is truly remarkable that these guys like Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob knew that they had to decentralize it in order to immunize it from any kind of external corruption or power dynamic that could capsize the whole thing. And the fact that it has not only sustained itself, but grown over the many, many years that it’s been around is truly miraculous. And I think a case study —
Tim Ferriss: It’s bonkers. Yeah.
Rich Roll: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s amazing. It’s really incredible. And you were saying, sorry to interrupt.
Rich Roll: No, it’s all right.
Tim Ferriss: It’s just —
Rich Roll: Yeah. I mean, I just think it’s a case study for how to structure an organization that’s trying to do something good and not fall prey to the lowest common denominator of human power dynamics that tend to fell even the best-intentioned people who are trying to create something good. And it’s interesting that it hasn’t been replicated to my knowledge in any other scenarios, because I think there’s so much to be learned about how it was formed and how it’s continued to not only survive but thrive.
Tim Ferriss: That’s the primary reason I ask is that it just seems like this very obvious jewel in plain sight, if that makes sense.
Rich Roll: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: And maybe it’s the decentralized nature that makes it invisible to a lot of potentially direct study. I don’t know the reasons for it, but it’s just knowing a lot of people who are part or have been part of AA and just being introduced through casual conversation to some of the facets of how it works. I am a really, really fascinated by it. And also for people listening, who are thinking to themselves, God, we’re spending a lot of time talking about addiction and recovery. What does this have to do with me?
I would just take a moment and say, when people ask me, “What do you do?” I always kind of flub and don’t really know how to answer it. But I view myself, I guess, first and foremost, as a student, not necessarily expert, but student of behavioral change. And if you look at alcoholism, if you look at other types of substance use/abuse, if you look at workaholism, if you look at eating disorders. I mean, certainly now being over the last several years involved in a lot of scientific study related to different conditions, nicotine addiction.
I don’t want to say this too glibly but they’re very overlapping, right? And so studying behavioral change in the context of something like addiction to alcohol, I think transcends that and applies to many things in the same way that the training and discipline and pain tolerance that you cultivated through swimming then was applicable to your studying, right?
Rich Roll: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about the physical turnaround, because as you mentioned, people tend to —
Rich Roll: If I could just interrupt you. Can I just interrupt you?
Tim Ferriss: Please.
Rich Roll: Sorry to do that. But I think there’s one kind of final important point that I wanted to make about addiction. I think you’re correct. A lot of people might be listening and saying, “Well, I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict. And I don’t know anyone in my life that is either, how is this relevant?” But as somebody who’s been kind of steeped in this world for many, many years. And like yourself, I’ve had many guests on my podcast to discuss this subject matter. I’ve become increasingly more and more convinced that we are both very cavalier in how we define addiction. “I’m a chocaholic,” or “I’m a shopaholic.”
So we kind of, it’s a throwaway phrase. But at the same time, we’re also very rigid in how we define it in that addiction is like heroin addiction or opioid addiction and alcoholism, right? But I think I’m becoming convinced that addiction lives on this incredibly broad spectrum. And it’s a spectrum so broad that almost anybody can find themselves somewhere along the line. So on the one hand you have the guy who can’t pull the needle out of his arm.
But on the very far other side of the spectrum, you have people who find themselves repeating the same tired self-defeating narrative about their life and can’t get outside of themselves to see an objective truth about themselves. Or the person who is repeatedly in the same bad relationship, time and time again. Or the person who is addicted to whatever it is, video games or social media scrolling. I mean, the social dilemma has really foisted this conversation onto mainstream audiences in a way that I think is allowing us to really think about addiction more broadly because of the devices that we all have in our pockets.
And so with that, I think it’s helpful to people to understand that there are tools available to help you decouple from whatever that thing is that is holding you hostage or creating that obsessive compulsive behavior that you can’t seem to transcend despite your best efforts. And the 12 steps, yes. They are crucial and instrumental in helping people get off drugs and alcohol, but they’re very helpful to anybody.
Just to be able to do an inventory of your life and to see yourself more objectively and to understand that you can redress these shameful incidents in your life, because we all have them on some level I think is really profound. And to the extent that we are talking about addiction in this broader context right now, I think is super helpful because this is an era in which more people have been become addicted than ever before with substances and behaviors. And so to have a conversation about this I think is super important.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I’m really happy we’re doing this. And also the broad applicability of concepts from the 12-step programs or AA in this case. For instance, I’d never heard this term, but I wrote it down: lower companions.
Rich Roll: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, it’s just such a perfect —
Rich Roll: Phrase.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Perfect phrasing for what we all kind of intuit on some level. But having a simple label for it makes it much easier to wield kind of conceptually, right?
Rich Roll: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: In thinking about your life. We’re going to get to the physical piece because I have just selfishly many questions about that and I’m sure a lot of listeners will be interested in that and it’s related. Let me throw out another mnemonic of sorts, but it’s a very short phrase that I’d love to hear you speak to in any way that makes sense: mood follows action.
Rich Roll: Yeah. I love that one. That was something that my first sponsor said to me very early on in sobriety. I think I was complaining to him about some commitment I had made to sweep the floors or make coffee or something along those lines or something that had happened to me that day that I was annoyed with and I couldn’t see my way through. And he just said, “Mood follows action.”
And what he meant by that is you can’t think your way into the mood that you seek or the state of mind that you aspire to inhabit. Action is the only thing that can trigger that change state. And I literally think about this every single day. And it was validated recently in a podcast that I did with Andrew Huberman, who I know has been on your show, where he studied the neurochemistry of this and realized that behavior has to come first and thoughts, perceptions, emotions follow from that.
And when you think about that in the context of our daily lives, let’s just use running, for example. If you wake up in the morning and you’re supposed to do a run, because you’re training for some race and you don’t feel like doing it, we all resort to that state where we think, well, I don’t want to do it right now. I’ll just wait until I feel like doing it and then I’ll do it then.
And when we engage that way, we end up never doing it, right? If you’re waiting until you feel like doing something, chances are, you’re probably never going to get to it. But to take the action despite how you feel about it is the thing that catalyzes the state change. And in my case or anybody who’s a runner, they’ll tell you when they finish the run, they’re always glad that they did it. They don’t generally regret it and then they feel better. And I think that that example is applicable to all areas of life.
Tim Ferriss: So when did you turn, I mean, of course, in the bio it says at age 40, why did you decide to turn the ship around physically?
Rich Roll: So after getting sober at 31 and emerging from that treatment center where I lived for a hundred days, which is a pretty long time to be in a treatment center. And being told by the counselors that, “You have a very serious case of alcoholism. The kind of case that we typically only see in lifelong drinkers, like guys in their sixties.” It was impressed upon me that I really needed to get this right or I could, I was going to die. It was just that point was made to me very clearly. And I was able to hear it and take it seriously.
And so I was super dedicated to creating this foundation of sobriety because my life truly did hang in the balance. And so that became my main priority for many years after that experience. So I returned to Los Angeles, I was going to multiple meetings a day. I was doing all this stuff and building a new community of friends because I needed new people. I just, I couldn’t hang out or go to the places that I had been going to before.
And with that was also unpacking this shame that I had about being this person who had all of this potential and all of these opportunities that I had squandered. And I felt compelled to repair all of that and get back to becoming that person that I was before I started drinking. And I did that with blinders on. In my mind, the best way to do that was to go back to the law firm and work my ass off and become a partner and get all the stuff so that the world would smile upon me and my parents would think that I was safe.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual program and I was developing spiritually, but I had not yet reached the level of maturity where I could really look inward and ask myself those fundamental questions about what it is that I actually wanted to do rather than thinking what is society expecting me to do. But what is unique to me, what gets me excited in the morning, what do you think that you’re here to express that is uniquely you? That just was not part of my mental process in any way.
And so a lot of those addictive personality traits, although I was not using substances anymore or channeled into workaholism and in turn some pretty unhealthy lifestyle habits. So basically, 80 hour weeks working as a lawyer and hitting the fast food drive throughs on the way home and Chinese takeout for late nights at work and the like. And really despite the fact that I’d been this swimmer in college, not exercising, just not really attending to, or taking care of myself physically.
And so over a 10-year period, that accumulates such that by the time I was 39, I was about 50 pounds overweight. Never like an obese person or anything like that, but just kind of like a heavy guy who looks like he works too much in a law firm and subsisting on junk food. And just feeling progressively worse and worse, lazier, not energized, not enthusiastic about my life. And I think in the back of my awareness was this percolating existential crisis because I knew that this career path that I had chosen was really not for me.
And I could will myself into doing it, but ultimately it was not only not making me happy, it was making me more and more miserable, this square peg in a round hole kind of thing. But I was too afraid to really look at that or think about how I could change that trajectory. And there was, so I guess what I’m saying is there was a confluence of poor health on the one side and this spiritual existential crisis that I was harboring on the other hand.
And they essentially collided with each other shortly before I turned 40, when I had this specific moment of walking up the flight of stairs to my bedroom after a late night at the office. And I had to stop halfway up a flight of stairs. I was too winded to just walk all the way to the top. And I had tightness in my chest and kind of like I had that sweaty pallor on my face from a flight of stairs and thinking I’m this person who had swam at Stanford and would look in the mirror and see that person reflected back to me.
I realized I was harboring a whole other level of denial that I needed to look at. And it was a scary moment because heart disease runs in my family. My mother’s father had been a champion swimmer and captain of the university of Michigan swim team in the late 1920s and early ’30s. And a guy who had an American record and somebody who — he’s a guy that I’m named after. And in many ways, like my doppelganger, but he had died of heart disease at a young age.
And I had this flash where I realized if I didn’t course correct how I was living, that I was likely headed in his direction and would meet my demise probably sooner than he had, because there was no McDonald’s and Jack in the Box when he was kicking around. And it was sort of like a second bottom that was very reminiscent of the day I decided to get sober. This very crystallized moment in time where it’s almost like a window of opportunity presents itself, like a crack in the door or a line in the sand.
And you have this opportunity to harness it, take advantage of it and take contrary action or not, right? And because I was so aware of how that simple decision of going to that treatment center had changed my life so dramatically that I was being once again, visited by just such a moment, I realized that I needed to take action swiftly. Because if I didn’t kind of grab onto it immediately, I knew it would just pass and become ephemera. And so that was really the moment that catalyzed kind of everything that followed. And even the fact that I’m talking to you today, it all tracks back to that very specific incident.
Tim Ferriss: What year are we talking more or less, do you recall?
Rich Roll: So yeah, this would’ve been, let’s see, 2000. I was just about to turn 40, so 2006.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Did this coincide with something I’ve read you describe as complete financial dismantlement, which sounds brutal? It doesn’t sound pleasant. Was that around the same time before or coinciding?
Rich Roll: That started a little bit later. It was sort of precipitated by the crash in 2008. And it continued through years after publishing Finding Ultra. It was a very extended period of time of being challenged to even put food on the table.
Tim Ferriss: So I have all these cheat sheets in front of me, of course. And one of the questions I like to ask as you well know, what is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve ever made? Could be time, money, energy, et cetera. And I give various examples of this, but it could be Warren Buffett talking about his best investment being, investing in Dale Carnegie speaking classes or anything at all.
And you have a couple here. Three, decision to train for 2008, Ultraman stepping back from the law to write Finding Ultra, and then starting your podcast. And so we could focus on the first one and I want to, if it’s okay with you and feel free to redirect, look at the second one, stepping back from the law to write Finding Ultra. When was that, that you stepped back to do that?
Rich Roll: I started writing it in, I think late 2010 or early 2011.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So the reason I ask, there seem to be these inflection points.
Rich Roll: Right.
Tim Ferriss: And inflection could go multiple directions, not only up. But there seemed to be certain decisions in retrospect just really make a lot of difference in direction. How did you decide to step back from the law to write this book, given the complete financial dismantlement and all of these various things going on at the time? And was it an easy or hard decision?
Rich Roll: I think it was a little bit of both. At that time, I had already been scaling back on my law practice. I was balancing training for these crazy races, which we can talk about and becoming less and less interested in being a lawyer. And at that time, I was self-employed as a lawyer. I had made the step of getting out of the big corporate law firm hustle and had a couple different incarnations of my practice being solo, being with a couple partners, et cetera.
So I had flexibility over how I was allocating my time. And The 4-Hour Workweek was actually really helpful at that time in helping me wrap my head around how I could straddle these both worlds and still get things done. So the truth is, I had already begun to take my foot off the gas a little bit on the law practice. But the opportunity to write this book was such a remarkable occurrence that I could have never predicted happening in my life. And I just felt so grateful to even have the opportunity that I knew.
Tim Ferriss: And that was an inbound email or outreach of some type?
Rich Roll: It was, it’s actually a really interesting story. So what happened was I had been doing these races and getting some notoriety for it and some press. And an article came out in the Stanford Alumni magazine, and it had mentioned what I was doing. And it had also mentioned that I had had this struggle with alcoholism and have been sober for a while. And somebody who I only knew very tangentially sent me an email and said, “Hey, I read that article. I’m recently out of a treatment center.”
He was an alumni. “I’m recently out of the treatment center and I’m the CEO of this company. My board doesn’t know. I need somebody to talk to. Can we just talk?” And so I struck up a phone relationship with this person and was just trying to help him and guide him to make good decisions about how to conduct himself in early sobriety. And at some point he said, “Hey, I know this book agent. You have such an amazing story. Let me introduce you to this person.” And at that time, I hadn’t thought of writing a book.
It wasn’t on my list of things that I was thinking of doing. And that conversation with that book agent basically made me feel comfortable giving it a stab. And it was kind of a charmed thing where I wrote a proposal. I worked really hard on it because I recognized the unique and amazing opportunity it presented, and that led to getting a book deal really quickly.
And so suddenly my life priorities changed because I was able to recognize that this could be a lever that would propel me into an entirely new universe of opportunities and trajectories with my career. So prioritizing the writing of that book was the most important professional commitment that I made at that time. And really created the foundation for me being able to do kind of all the things that I do now.
Tim Ferriss: You do quite a few things.
Rich Roll: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: And quite well, I will add.
Rich Roll: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: You’re welcome. So you mentioned that —
Rich Roll: I should say, can I just say really quickly. Sorry to interrupt you. But you have no idea how much that means to me, Tim. It really is meaningful that you said that because I look to you and the example that you’ve set and all the things that you have done in the world in such a remarkable fashion. And I aspire to your level of impact and influence. And I just also, so I wanted to thank you for that. And thank you also for being a support to me. When the book came out, you let me do a guest blog post for your site. I think I pestered you and until you finally relented, but that was extremely helpful to me at the time. And you have no idea how much I appreciate that.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, thank you, Rich. Well, it was my pleasure. And I will say that a compelling story is a compelling story. So I really appreciate the kind words. And you’re doing a hell of a job, man. I mean, I really admire the work that you’re doing in the world. And it’s fun for me to be sitting here asking you thinly veiled, asking you for very thinly veiled advice. Yeah. I’ve been very indirect so far. But thank you for that. And —
Rich Roll: Very welcome.
Tim Ferriss: I figure just as a way of, and we can go anywhere we want to go, of course, but we’re recording this around the turn of the new year. I am, in the next year, going to turn 45. And I’ve realized, just in the last few years really that — so I used to, not at your level within this kind of dynastic famed team at Stanford for swimming, which we might come back to at some point. But had competed as an athlete. And when I competed, I found it very easy to motivate for a lot of reasons, right, I mean. But there’s a lot of positive and negative reinforcement involved when you compete. And then in the last, let’s just call it four or five years, have continued to train but in a pretty lackadaisical ad hoc way. Right?
Lots of travel, going to gym, kind of figuring out what I’m going to do when I get to the gym. No real programming to speak of. And what I’ve realized in the last few years is what I was able to pull off for, let’s just say, 10 years of decent kind of mediocre to high mediocre training is just not going to cut it moving forward metabolically or otherwise. And I’ve trained before and having competed before, and I have found a lot of shame around, and judgment around having let it slip, if that makes any sense.
And nonetheless, right, have really decided, “All right. 2022, this is the year that I want to make some significant changes.” Given the book, given your podcast, you have no doubt observed many people try to emulate what you’ve done to differing degrees of success. What advice would you give to someone in my shoes? It could be advice to me, but someone who is considering this sort of doing a reboot. Given sort of the sample set that you’ve observed over time or just from your direct experience.
Rich Roll: Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess the first thing I would ask you, Tim, is like, “Why?” What is going on?” What’s beneath the kind of surface level aspect of this that you just shared? What is it that you feel is lacking that would be fulfilled by you pursuing some kind of fitness goal? Is it just like, “Oh, I’m starting to feel lazy or I’ve slipped off,” or “I don’t feel the way that I’d like to feel right now?”
I always like to ask that first because people are very casual and cavalier about saying, “I want to do this goal. I want to do this race or whatever.” And I’m always like, “Why? Why is that important?”
Tim Ferriss: Why do you want to do it?
Rich Roll: Why is that important to you, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Rich Roll: So that would be the first thing I would ask you.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I have answers. So the first, I think, overarching answer is mood follows action. Right. So I know that when I am training consistently with a purpose of some type, not just going to yoga a few times a week, I can do that. I can lift weights two or three times a week, but training with a purpose I find just leads me to a better mental, psycho-emotional state more often than not. It is the most reliable intervention, so to speak. So that would be part one.
Part two, and we’ll see where this goes. But I really, really miss the camaraderie of being on a team or striving towards a similar goal. Probably it doesn’t have to, I’ve never had that experience in a co-ed capacity. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be all men, but that experience which I’ve found challenging to replicate outside of sports would be another reason. And I stopped doing judo and jiu jitsu and so on quite a while ago just because of the number of injuries. I’m okay with intermittent injuries, they just take a lot longer to heal from now than they did when I was 16 to 22 or whatever.
So those would be top of the list. And I think that related to the first answer, this like mood follows action, I think that self, and we could probably pick this apart, I’m sure. But self-image also follows action. Like I just have — I feel better about myself when I am training with some degree of focus and a goal of some type. Especially if it’s time-bound, I just do very well with that. And I haven’t, over COVID and everything else, not to make excuses, but I have been very bad at doing that.
And still, I’m training a couple times a week, but I’ve realized I’m barely skating by. Kind of like, look fit with clothing on fit, which is not enough for me at this point. I enjoy, I should also say, I really, I do enjoy pushing myself physically. Maybe not to the point, like when I was much younger, I would go for training runs or sprint workouts for wrestling or whatever. And I would run until the blood vessels would burst in the corners of my eyes, I don’t need to do that anymore. I think that’s kind of silly for me at this point, but that’s a long-winded answer to your question.
Rich Roll: Yeah. Well, I think, no, it was a great answer. And just knowing enough about you to know how important structure is to you, setting really measurable, tangible goals and benchmarks, like that’s kind of how you operate. And that’s the easy part for you. But I think the harder part is figuring out what vein, what is the character of the actual pursuit, right? And I would start with curiosity.
What is it that is something you’re interested in learning or exploring that might be something new that sits a little bit outside of your comfort zone but is intriguing enough for you to want to explore it? It’s easy to say, “Well, you should do this race or you should try this or you should join a team.” But I think curiosity is really the most important piece. Because if you’re not interested in it, if it’s not something that’s going to get you excited and have some ability to retain your attention and enthusiasm, chances are you’re going to get bored or you’re going to drop off.
So starting with that I think is important. Because I could tell you, you should do this, but only you know what that might look like. But I would suggest that spending time with that curiosity and then figuring out how you can pursue that learning curve in a challenging fitness context that also involves community or team building on some level, because that’s the other piece that you feel like you’re missing. And I get that, I miss that too.
And I do most of my training alone, and when I do group runs I’m like, “I should do this more. This is so fun.” And yet I don’t do it, so I relate to that deeply. But I think those would be good starting places. Things that come to mind for me as some kind of adventure race or something where it involves other people and lots of different types of skill sets that come into play that is kind of scary, but also experiential and potentially very fun.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Or orienteering, something like that. And I should also say that the team or the team piece is also, it could be a partner piece. And I think fundamentally, for me, what that is is an accountability piece. Right. Because, and I’m sure you experienced this quite a bit too. It’s like, it’s not the pursuit of bad ideas. I mean, it could be. But it’s not the pursuit of bad ideas or worthless tasks that will drown you. It’s like saying yes to too many cool-ish things, not a handful or one truly great thing. Does that make sense? Right. So if —
Rich Roll: This is like my major malfunction these days. I am dying death by a thousand cuts these days because of cool stuff that I want to do and say yes to too frequently.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So you can just drown in that stuff. And if I don’t have, this is going to sound really bad. I know a lot —
Rich Roll: An anchor, you need an anchor.
Tim Ferriss: An anchor, I need an anchor. There needs to be a consequence to me being like, “Eh, I’m doing this bullshit on my laptop at 4:00 p.m. and I’m going to push off this workout that’s scheduled for 4:30.” I want there to be a consequence to that. And there are a lot of ways to set up stakes and consequences, but a very easy way to do it is just train with somebody. Which is part of the reason why one of the most consistent forms of exercise I’ve been able to get in the last say six months is rock climbing, because I’m going with a ballet partner.
And if they show up and I’m not there it’s just, it’s a real dick move. So adventure racing, I was thinking orienteering possibly, although that’s — I mean, I say that really knowing very little about it. Are there any other characteristics that you’ve been able to spot amongst just patterns of people making attempts at this over and over again?
Rich Roll: Yeah. I mean the other thing —
Tim Ferriss: Common ingredients.
Rich Roll: The other thing I would point out is the tendency to indulge in a little bit of analysis paralysis.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Rich Roll: You could spend the next year trying to figure out what mountain it is that you want to climb or how you’re going to get there. And I have a sense that maybe this might be a thing for you. And I think there’s a lot of value in not overthinking things and just saying, “This is something that’s interesting to me, I’m just going to decide right now I’m going to do this thing. And it’s like six months from now and it’s in the calendar and I have no idea how I’m going to get there, but it’s there.”
And I think that that compulsion to want to know all the answers and how it’s going to play out and all the steps you’re going to need to take to get there can prevent us from moving forward in our lives. And I think these situations in my experience are rigged such that you’re not supposed to know all of those answers because you’re rewarded for actually getting into action. It’s tangential to mood follows action. Action will lead you — like the bricks get laid only two steps in front of you.
And you’re not allowed to see the whole thing, right? Use Ironman, for example, or triathlon. Like, “What bike should I get?” Well, you can go around that merry-go-round forever, but ultimately the best bike is the one that’s sitting gathering dust in your garage. Just go do a race with that, and you’ll figure out all that stuff as you go. And it becomes the more you do it, the more emotionally engaged you get with it. And then these things tend to develop a life of their own.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I have a very specific question for you, it came up before we started recording. And this is something I know very little about. So you can safely assume that I can be a very effective stand-in for anyone in the audience who doesn’t know what this is, Zone 2 training. Could you share your thoughts, recommendations, cautionary tales, anything related to Zone 2 training? Perhaps beginning with a definition. Because this is something that as you know, Dr. Peter Attia has spoken quite widely about. What is Zone 2 training?
Rich Roll: Yeah. Well, first of all, like your conversation with Peter on this subject matter and then, Peter, I know has done AMAs where he’s dove very deeply into this topic, are fantastic listens and everybody should check that out if they’re interested in this subject matter, because my version of explaining this will be a very layperson’s experiential version of it compared to Peter’s very scientific and eloquent.
Tim Ferriss: Encyclopedic.
Rich Roll: Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I’m a huge, huge proponent of Zone 2 training. And I believe that my fidelity and adoration of the Zone 2 philosophy is a cornerstone in how I was able to be successful in ultra-endurance triathlon in my mid-40s. So Zone 2, basically is a gauge of energy output in aerobic exercise that essentially is the state in which you are exerting yourself at essentially a conversational level. You are in your aerobic zone where your body can make use of one of two sources of energy, glucose or fat.
And it is the level of exertion that lives and breathes just beneath where you cross a certain threshold and go into a more anaerobic state, which is dependent more or exclusively on glycogen stores for energy. In endurance training, Zone 2 I think is absolutely crucial for success because it is the best way or the methodology that you leverage to create efficiency, which is something that Peter has talked about. So most people, when they go out for a run, let’s say they go on a run, a 45-minute run like three or four times a week or something like that.
Most people will go out and they will exert themselves so that they feel like they had a vigorous run. They run as fast as they can for that period of time, so that when they’re finished they feel like, “Oh, I got something out of that.” Zone 2 is a level of output that is quite a bit beneath that level of exertion, because when you’re doing that kind of mindlessly like, “I’m just going out for a vigorous run.” Most typically you are in what is called the gray zone.
You’re going too hard and too fast to really develop that aerobic capacity and engine and efficiency, but you’re not going hard enough to develop speed and the anaerobic kind of capacity that you’re looking for those really fast shorter bursts. And in that gray zone, which is where most average people live and breathe, you can get to a certain point, but you will very quickly plateau and really never go beyond that. Zone 2 is a certain and kind of discipline because it’s asking you to hold back. Zone 2 is the level of output where basically you can get up and do it every day.
And quite often you complete the workout and you feel like you didn’t do anything. And you have this impulse to want to go faster, so you have to hold back from doing that. But essentially what it does is it, as Peter talks about, helps you develop a greater mitochondrial density in your muscles. And in ultra-endurance, this is absolutely crucial because there’s nothing about ultra-endurance that is fast. It has nothing to do with threshold power or speed or any of that. It’s truly the ability to efficiently persist.
So the prize doesn’t go to the fastest guy, it goes to the person who slows down the least. And when you kind of live in this Zone 2 place where you’re training for long periods of time developing this capacity, what you’re doing is you’re building this foundation of endurance from the ground up. And the way that you kind of calculate your zone, I mean, Peter talks about this. I go in for proper lactate testing, I’m on a bike and I get my finger pricked as the watts go up. And you get this heart rate zone and this watt-zone, wherein you understand this is the level of exertion required to be right in the sweet spot of all of this.
When I began training for these races, my Zone 2 pace when I was running was 10 minutes a mile or 10, 30 or something like that. But by rigorously adhering to this without doing any interval training or any tempo work over a two-year period, I got to the point where I could run seven minute miles at the same heart rate. So the same amount of energy output, but that level of increase in speed, not by doing any speed work, but by literally creating efficiencies and developing that mitochondrial density. And ultimately, what you’re also doing is training the body to metabolize fat for fuel, which is your all day source of energy.
You literally will never run out of it. So in my experience, training the body to metabolize fat for fuel has really been, it’s an N of one and experiential experience that I’ve had. But it’s really much more about how you’re training than what it is that you’re eating or when you’re eating it. Like I’ve just found this training to be the best way to get into that place of the body learning how to metabolize fuel in that way so that you can literally continue to go for as long as you want.
Tim Ferriss: And there are, and certainly I’ll link in the show notes to the conversations with Peter Attia that go probably deeper than —
Rich Roll: I love it though. I think it’s great —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. It’s great. It does get technical, but Peter knows his stuff. I’ll provide some links to that for people who want to dig in. I would love —
Rich Roll: You chopped it out and then put it at the end, and I went immediately to the end to listen to all of that.
Tim Ferriss: Right. So for people who haven’t heard this episode, basically the first, maybe it was the first question, and we launched into the cellular metabolism involved with Zone 2 training and mitochondrial density and I thought, maybe the 20 minute appendix should be put at the end as an appendix. Just so that we can get people in the door, right? So we’re not having people doing calculus on their way into the club, maybe on the way out. But it is a great section. So we’ll link that in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast. Question for you, and this may be a dead end but I’m just curious.
Have you explored using ketone meters as you have adapted and increased your mitochondrial density through Zone 2 training? And the reason I’m asking is I’m wondering if you’ve noticed, for instance, because this is something I track but without the Zone 2 training. In the case of say a two or three day fast, how quickly my body will go to, ooh, will shift over to say 0.7 millimolars or something like that. Get to the point where I feel like I am in ketosis just subjectively through cognitive sharpness, mental acuity generally. Have you played around with that at all or seen a faster switch over?
Rich Roll: Yeah, no. No. I haven’t. I haven’t. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t have any experience with that.
Tim Ferriss: It would make sense though. It would make a lot of sense. How frequently is it necessary to do Zone 2 training? I’m sure it’s highly individual, but just painting with a broad brush to begin to accrue some of the benefits that we’re talking about.
Rich Roll: Yeah. I think Peter answered this question, and I believe he gave a window of something like three months or something like three to six months. I would say that this is not the way to hack yourself to success because it requires a significant investment in time. You have to play the long game to really reap the huge benefits of this type of training. It’s not an overnight kind of thing. I started to realize gains maybe around six months into it.
But I didn’t really garner the full buffet of what it was availing me for, like it took two years, basically is what I’m saying. The longer you do it, the more efficient you become. And then the longer you can go, the further you can sustain a certain level of effort. And these adaptations are not overnight. But I think it’s like, when you’re looking at, it’s not like, what are you going to do this year? But three years, if you’re on a three-year plan, I think really doubling down on this philosophy. There’s so much benefit to it. But it depends on what your goal is, too.
Tim Ferriss: What is my goal? I’m in the process of figuring that out. I have to dig into that curiosity we were talking about earlier. And certainly, part of that’ll be know thyself. Still working on that.
Rich Roll: Aren’t we all?
Tim Ferriss: I think I’ve been in the gray zone side note for like two years, which probably has some explanatory power. So there are three things, at least three things, but three things I would love to hear you speak to. And I’ll let you, you mentioned buffet, so well, I’ll throw out three and then you can pick whichever one you want to tackle first. So one is sleeping in a tent. Two is taking a full month off the grid every year. And then number three is your daily architecture. So not committing to certain things or focusing on certain things up to 12 noon, which one of those would you like to dig into?
Rich Roll: I mean, we could go any direction you want. I mean, we could start with the tent.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s start with the tent.
Rich Roll: Yeah. So I’ve been sleeping outside in a tent for a couple years at this point, I think a little over two years. And I absolutely love it. It’s really been beneficial to my sleep. And it’s something that started from a frustration over my increasing inability to get restful slumber. And the impetus, like kind of original impetus was, my wife likes the bedroom warm. I like the bedroom cold. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this relationship dynamic.
And no matter how much we would try to compromise to make it good for both of us, Julie would always be bundled up under a ton of covers and I’m sleeping on top of the covers sweating. And then neither of us sleeps and we get up and we’re not happy. We have a flat, you’ve been in my house, I have a flat roof on my house. And one summer evening we did a sleepover on the roof with the kids.
And we have a flat wall where we would project movies and we’re eating popcorn. And we all just kind of slept on the roof that night in sleeping bags. And I woke up the next day just feeling amazing from the outdoor air and the cool desert air of Los Angeles. And I was like, “I can’t remember the last time I slept so well.” So I told Julie, I was like, “I’m just going to sleep on the roof again tonight.”
And it really began from there, and I just fell in love with being — there’s something about being outdoors that just agrees with me in the kind of cool evening air. But I would wake up covered in condensation, completely wet. So I was like, “All right, I’ve got to get a tent.” So then I got a tent, the tent was on the roof. Then it got windy, I moved the tent to the ground. But I’ve really just enjoyed it. And as I get older, I’m so protective of my sleep.
And it’s so important to me that I get those eight hours because I know what it feels like not to get them. And it still all eludes me quite often. I really struggle with this, but it’s been a huge benefit in the quality of my sleep. And I enjoy it. People always ask — well, they think I’m having some kind of fight with my wife or something like that. Like we have our quality time, I promise you. Everything is fine in my marriage. We’ve been together for a very long time, so it’s all good.
And I also think it’s been a cool kind of stoic practice because I live in a really nice house and I have nice things, but I actually prefer to sleep in the tent. And there’s something about that where it gives me comfort like if everything went terribly wrong and I lost everything, I know that I’m happy sleeping in a tent. And I don’t really need that much ultimately. And that’s been really kind of nice in cultivating a little bit of a minimalist sensibility about how I live.
Tim Ferriss: So you say being blown off the roof while you’re sleeping is probably not a good idea. I second that, do you have mountain lions around those parts?
Rich Roll: We do. And I go running in all the trails all around where I live in the Santa Monica Mountains. I know they’re there. I’ve never seen one, but they’re definitely there. Our property is fenced, so I feel okay being in the tent. But, yeah. I mean, they’re there. They’re real. But I don’t know, we’ll see.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I remember this experience in Northern California, up by Napa. I went on this hiking trip. And everybody at the same time got the feeling that they were being watched. And I was like, “Yeah, we should probably pay attention to that. There are mountain lions everywhere.” What — forgive me. But A, I want to know, B my listeners will be annoyed if I don’t ask. So you did a lot of trial and error with the tent and the set up and everything else, what does your gear look like currently after two years of trying it out?
Rich Roll: Yeah. Well, I’m actually at a turning point with all of this. I’ve been sleeping in a North Face tent that I’ve had for a while. But these tents tend to only last maybe four or five months at most because the sun just beats them up and then they turn into tissue paper. So I’m constantly getting new tents. And finally I was like, “This is ridiculous.” So I just bought a proper canvas glamping tent, and we haven’t constructed it yet. I’m having a deck built, and I’m going to make it kind of like a cool outdoor structure.
So that’s the next chapter in all of this. But for the last two years it’s been a series of basically small tents in the backyard. I have a mattress in there, so I’m not sleeping on the ground. And tons of blankets, which is part of the appeal. Like there was frost when I woke up this morning, it was great. I slept fantastic last night. But a key thing that I have been using for a couple years is a gravity blanket, which I absolutely love. I don’t know if you’ve had any experience with that.
Tim Ferriss: I have. Yeah. I have one upstairs. So what is the gravity blanket and why do you find it helpful?
Rich Roll: Gravity blanket is a weighted blanket. There’s different types of them, but essentially they’re quilted with like, I don’t know, sand in them or different types of heavy materials. And they come in different weights. So I think mine is like a 25-pound blanket. So imagine that experience of being at the dentist and you’re getting an x-ray and they put that lead mat on your chest and think, is that a pleasant experience for you or an unpleasant experience for you? And when I think about that, I kind of like it. There’s something about it.
Tim Ferriss: Swaddling clothes, you mean.
Rich Roll: Yeah. It’s like I’m being protected. It’s like telling my sympathetic nervous system that I’m safe. And I believe I could be wrong, but I believe that that was the original use case for the gravity blanket to treat people with autism who have trouble calming down and it had this impact of soothing them. And that’s certainly been my experience using it and I love it.
Tim Ferriss: You use it at night?
Rich Roll: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: You put that on top of your blankets?
Rich Roll: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: All right. So tent, check. Any other modifications that you’ve made to your tenting experience that come to mind?
Rich Roll: No, I mean, I wear an eye mask. But just to —
Tim Ferriss: What type of I mask?
Rich Roll: Of course, The Tim Ferriss — I forgot what podcast I’m on.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve got to ask.
Rich Roll: The Mindfold. I like the Mindfold.
Tim Ferriss: Mindfolds are great.
Rich Roll: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. All right. Check. All right. Now, thank you for indulging that. Inquiring minds want to know, of course. And for people who want another example of this type of stoic practice. Different type of timeframe, but Kevin Kelly, who’s been on the podcast at least two times, arguably the world’s most interesting man. He will sleep in his living room in a sleeping bag kind of surviving on, as I recall, instant oatmeal and instant coffee for maybe like a week a year, two weeks a year, just as a little reminder that all is well, everything’s fine.
But I like the idea of sleeping outside a lot more personally. So daily architecture or weekly architecture, just schedule wise, seems like you rarely schedule certain types of things before noon your time. Could you speak to that and perhaps just tell the genesis story, like how and when did you begin doing that? Because that is contraindicated if you’re doing 80-hour weeks, right? So it seems like there was a transition.
Rich Roll: Yeah, of course. Yeah. That didn’t really become a possibility until I was self-employed. And I think I started practicing it originally when I was writing Finding Ultra, because I needed quiet hours before work began to just be focused on that important thing. And I’ve just built upon from there. So essentially, I’m early to bed, early to rise. I go to bed around 9:00, and generally get up around sort of 5:00, between 5:00 and 6:00. And the early hours are really protected as my own time. So morning meditation, journaling, writing, creative projects, no meetings, no phone calls. Certainly, we’re doing this podcast this morning, so I’ll make exceptions. We’re doing this in the morning.
But as a general rule, I try not to commit to anything outside those practices for that initial phase of the day. And so after I finish those practices, then I do my training in the morning, and I try to get that done before I go into the work day.
Tim Ferriss: How frequently would you say you succeed? And not to ever expect it to be a hundred percent. I’m just curious what you would say it looks like.
And when you get something — because we were talking about the death by a thousand cuts earlier — when you get really tempting stuff, what do you do?
Like sometimes you make exceptions, but if you made all the exceptions, then the schedule wouldn’t work. Because I’m sure you have people pitch stuff early in the day. So what would you say your hit rate is, and how do you contend with the temptations?
Rich Roll: I would say outside of situations where I’m traveling, my hit rate’s about 85 percent. So I’m pretty good. And also, the people that I generally work with all know this now, so it’s less often than I’m asked to do things during those hours, because they know.
And I’ve gotten much better at just not agreeing to do stuff, conference calls, Zoom calls and stuff like that, during that period of time. But if somebody’s in the UK or in a radically different time zone, there’s situations where it’s like, “Okay, am I going to be the huge pain in the ass or am I going to just make an exception?”
Tim Ferriss: Make them do the Zoom call at 11:00 p.m.?
Rich Roll: Yeah. I’m too much of a people pleaser for that. And that’s the war that I’m always waging, the healthy boundary versus the desire to be liked is the battle ground in my head.
And so I’m pretty good about that. The death by a thousand cuts shows up in other areas of my life, particularly regarding stuff that isn’t due or isn’t going to happen for a long period of time. If it’s far enough out on the calendar, I’ll pretty much agree to anything.
And then that day arrives and you’re like, “What am I doing? I’m never doing this again.” And then the following week you’re reaping the same thing. So that’s like my Mount Everest right now.
And listen, these are problems of abundance. They’re the result of working very hard to create something that is interesting to people. And so you get offered cool stuff.
And I want to take advantage of all the cool stuff. I know what it’s like to not have people interested in having me involved in cool stuff. But at what cost?
And it’s really hard to do that. It’s like, “Do you want to go do this amazing thing?” You’re like, “100 percent I do. But what are you really trying to accomplish? Where is your focus vested?” And calibrating those opportunities against the things that are most important in your life.
And I have four kids. I have other responsibilities outside of my professional responsibilities that are important to me. So I’m not always great at making those decisions, but I’d like to think I’m getting a little bit better.
Tim Ferriss: Well, 85 percent hit rate’s really good. That’s —
Rich Roll: That’s just for the pre-noon thing. That’s not for fielding all incoming stuff.
Tim Ferriss: Still, that’s a good protected zone. I’m — no surprise to anyone — just fascinated by how people think about scheduling and time.
I know that you’ve been doing some workouts at Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece’s place in the pool, ex-PT and all that, which is — side note on sleep. I have probably never slept better than after a really long workout with weights in the pool. My God.
Rich Roll: It’s incredible.
Tim Ferriss: It’s just amazing. And they have such unique lives in the way that they live their lives fiercely independently. And they came to mind also because I was thinking about Rick Rubin, the legendary music producer who’s been on this podcast, who also — I’m not sure where he is now, but often spends time with them, and has his little corner in the pool where he does his workout.
But Rick, as far as I can tell, basically like 99 percent of life is unscheduled. It’s kind of like, “Yeah, ping me, and if it works, it’ll work.” And I really admire his ability to do that. I haven’t been able to ace that at this point. So hence the questions about all of this.
A month off the grid every year. Let’s go to the genesis story for this, and how and why this is a priority.
Rich Roll: Yeah. So you mentioned earlier on, this extended period of financial dismantlement that we endured as a family. And it was a very painful extended period of time, where I really struggled to figure out how to provide for my family in a meaningful way.
And it’s now all solved and everything’s great, but I think there was a significant amount of PTSD that I experienced from that, because it was very emasculating and scary for me.
And once things started functioning properly and working, a lot of my workaholism tendencies kind of came to the forefront, and I became so focused on building this thing, and protecting it, and making sure that it was providing for my family, that I started to overlook the principles that put me in the position to create in the first place, like the adage of “All this wellness is making me sick.”
I was just working my ass off. And as you know, doing this show and doing other things in your life, it’s a lot more work than people think. It’s a grind and you can lose yourself in it.
And a couple years ago, I started tiptoeing up to burnout. And instead of being excited to have conversations with my guests — I wouldn’t say I was dreading it, but I was moving in that direction. And that’s not a relationship that I wanted to have with this thing that you and I both do, that we obviously really care about. It should be a joyful experience.
And I hadn’t taken a single vacation in like five years, no break. It was insane. So I was due for it. And so I ended up taking a month off and I went to Australia. And it was incredibly nourishing, and I was able to come back from that experience with a renewed and refreshed perspective and relationship with what I do. And just decided that this was going to be an annual thing.
So I’m getting ready to do it. I’m taking January off this year, and I’m really looking forward to it. I need it, and I think it’s important to understand in a performance context that you have to periodize your life, just like you would periodize your training. You need those fallow periods to recharge the battery.
And you have to live your life if you’re going to have anything worthy to say about the human experience. If you’re just constantly engaging in your profession and focused on what it is that you do, and you’re missing out on the other experiences and the richness of life, then you’re not really going to be carrying a meaningful resonance or vibration that’s going to be helpful to other people.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s go to pre-Australia for a moment, because no vacation in five years, and then, “I took a month off and it was great.” I feel like we’re skipping a few steps. What did the preparation/self talk, logistics, anything, look like leading up to Australia? And if you want to mention this first, we can mention this part first, which is what did “off” really mean?
Rich Roll: So “off” didn’t mean completely leave the phone at home. I wish I could tell you that that’s what I did. I didn’t do that. That is an ambition for this experience though, which is terrifying, but I’m excited about. So what are you asking specifically?
Tim Ferriss: What type of preparation was required? Now, if this current example, meaning January coming up, is a better case study to take a look at, I’m just wondering what the preparation looks like.
So you have all of these various plates that you’re spinning of different types. And I literally just got back a few days ago from about three weeks off the grid.
Rich Roll: Oh, wow. Cool.
Tim Ferriss: So I’m fresh, having just returned, where I was in Antarctica, so I literally had zero row cell or Wi-Fi signal, which was great because the possibility of backsliding is basically removed entirely unless you want to sit in a tent by yourself with a satellite phone and try to make that work, which some people did, but I did not. So I’m wondering what prep is going into taking a month off.
Rich Roll: I’m much more interested in your experience in Antarctica.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah? Well, we can talk about it.
Rich Roll: I mean, that’s amazing. Why did you decide to go there and what was that about?
Tim Ferriss: I have a friend, Matt Mullenweg, very close friend. He’s been on the podcast once or twice. He runs a company — this makes it all the more impressive — so he runs a company called Automattic, M-A-T-T-I-C, which has something like 2,000 employees at the moment.
He had gone to Antarctica, I want to say — I might be getting the numbers off, but five or six years ago — and had heard that a trip was being planned, which would put a small group in Antarctica for the totality, the solar eclipse, at the empire penguin colony, which had never been observed before in this year, so end of 2021. And that was the purpose of this trip.
He grabbed a number of seats, made a reservation for a handful of seats, five or six seats, and then invited me some time ago, and asked me if I wanted to go. And I said, “Yeah, I absolutely want to go. I mean, when am I next going to have such an invite?”
And ended up landing in Chile, spending a decent amount of time in Chile. They’re very, very, very strict with COVID. So you’re getting daily COVID tests. You install an app, and you’re legally required to identify your location and answer surveys every day. You carry a mobility pass, which has a QR code to go into any establishment, that then interfaces with a database to indicate whether you are green or red.
So very, very involved, which it has to be because if you have an outbreak in Antarctica, the whole operation is done.
And then off we went. But it had been a couple of years — well, certainly since COVID hit — that I had spent multiple weeks completely off the grid, which I try to spend at least two to three weeks per year 100 percent off the grid, meaning if there’s an emergency, someone can contact someone, who contacts someone, who can find a way to reach me, but there’s really no contact with the outside world otherwise.
And so in my case, I love these experiments, and hence my interest in what you’re up to also, because you’re forced to look at all of your systems. Like if you’re gone for a week, you can come back and firefight, you can kind of allow things to go towards entropy and balls to get dropped, and then fix it when you get back.
But with the amount that is going on, I imagine in your life, certainly in my life, if you try to do that with three or four weeks, it’s just going to be a catastrophe. So you have to set up systems and policies, and update things, and take a really close look at, “Okay, well, how are wires being approved? How are these following things being handled? Oh, they’re being handled in this really labor intensive, ad hoc, one-off way. Let’s make a policy for that. What should the policy be?”
And many of those things outlive the vacation. So that’s an additional argument, in addition to the periodizing of life, the fact that you are a biological system that does not have infinite amounts of neurotransmitters and cortisol, and so it’s a good idea to phase in and phase out.
And the other argument for me — and there are many others, of course. I mean, enjoying your goddamn vacation would be a great one too — but in the case of someone who’s self-employed, or maybe even if you are employed, you develop and refine systems that then have durability, and persist once you get back.
So I’m just getting back in the saddle after multiple weeks. Literally have only been in the US for a handful of days.
Rich Roll: Wow.
Tim Ferriss: So that’s —
Rich Roll: What an amazing experience.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I’m on the other side.
Rich Roll: Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, I think now I get where you’re coming from. I mean, it’s certainly been a situation of putting systems in place and stress testing them. I mean, I have this amazing team right now. When I went to Australia, the team looked a little bit different. It wasn’t as mature as it is at this point.
But now I’ve really invested a lot of time and energy in creating structure, which was not easy for me, as a control freak who wants to do everything and be the bottleneck in every decision and every problem.
That a big part of what was leading me towards this burnout, was my refusal to loosen the reins and empower people around me. And that’s been an education that I’m happy to say I’m now very much more on the other side of, which feels really liberating.
And having systems in place so that I can go away, and I’ve got these people here who have their eyes on the prize and can take care of a lot of that stuff. But it took many years to get to this place, and I had to learn a lot of rocky lessons along the way.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. And you definitely will make mistakes. I think part of the calculus for me has been also expecting that you’re going to allow small bad things to happen. Like if you try to —
Rich Roll: And being okay with that.
Tim Ferriss: Being okay with it, right. Because you’re never going to get to 100 percent risk mitigation. Shit’s going to happen. So being okay with that, the art of letting small bad things happen to get the big good things done.
Well, let me ask just a few more questions, because we’re coming up on two hours shortly. And certainly we can go anywhere we’d like, and I’m not in any rush.
I wanted to mention one thing also. When you mentioned committing to things that are five, six, nine months out, and then having the day of reckoning, when you look at your next month, and you’re like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, what did I do to myself?”
I want to say it’s Esther Dyson, who’s a well known investor. She, I want to say, did cosmonaut training also, later in her life in Russia. But she uses this heuristic — I think I’m getting the attribution right — where she’ll ask herself, “If this were next Tuesday, would I want to do this thing?” And if the answer’s no, don’t commit to it six months from now either.
Rich Roll: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Tim Ferriss: I think Kevin Kelly actually borrowed that from her as well. So question. This is one that you’ve heard before, and know I ask a lot. If you could have one billboard anywhere, with anything on it, what might it say? What might you put on it?
Could be image, quote, question, line, just metaphorically getting something out to many, many, many millions or billions of people.
Rich Roll: I’ve been thinking about this, because I know that you ask this question, and my original thought was, “Who are you?” But I’ve modified that. I think a better question is, “Who are you becoming?”
And that’s a question that I resisted asking myself for too long, and as a result, led me down some dark pathways or distracted me from actualizing in a healthy way.
And I think our culture is set up to distract us from that kind of self-inquiry. And the reason that I add the word “becoming” is I think that it speaks to the fact that none of us are static.
In every moment we are shifting and we are changing. And every decision that we make, every interaction that we have, every word that comes out of our mouth is either moving us towards a better, more authentic version of ourselves, or away from it, in the same way that that process is, as an alcoholic, either moving me towards a drink or away from a drink.
So I think in the context of becoming, it’s like we’re always becoming, we’re always on our way to becoming something. Are you becoming a better version of yourself or are you becoming somebody who is moving away from what I would characterize as your true essence?
And I think the more that we can inhabit that sensibility, if we’re in the habit of thinking about these things, I think it anchors us more in the present moment and allows for more conscious decisions about how we’re investing our energy, and how we’re conducting ourselves, or relating to the world, or responding or reacting to the world around us.
Tim Ferriss: I love that. Could you repeat it one more time? It was not, “Who am I becoming,” or is it, “What type of person am I becoming?”
Rich Roll: “Who are you becoming?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, “Who are you becoming?” That’s a really good modification. I mean, it sort of leads you to telescope out, looking at whatever the current decisions and behaviors are.
It’s like, what does this look like in a year? What does this look like in three years? What does this look like in 10 years? Good time for me. I’ll put that on my mirror as my wake up reminder. That’d be a good one to add.
What are you most excited about for the next year? Or what are you excited about? Doesn’t have to be the most, but is there anything that comes to mind?
Rich Roll: What am I most excited about? That’s a hard one.
Tim Ferriss: Or looking forward to in the next year.
Rich Roll: I mean, I’m looking forward to my break, for sure. We have another edition of Voicing Change coming out in the new year. So there’s practical things that I’m excited about. But I think what I’m most excited about is this evolving, shifting relationship that I have with the work that I do.
And this is something you’ve talked about a lot, Tim, which is overcoming or transcending this disposition to make everything hard. You asked this question: “What if it was easy?”
And that’s a very bitter pill for me to swallow, because my whole life has been premised on this idea that if I haven’t suffered to create this thing, that I haven’t worked hard enough, or that it doesn’t hold value. And I’m in this journey of trying to let go.
And I’ve done that through systems and people here at the podcast, but in other areas of my life, to hold the things that I care about more loosely, and to approach them from that perspective of, what if it was easy?
I don’t have to suffer to create. That is an illusion or a construct that I have created in my mind and affirmed over many years, but deconstructing it, I realized the fallacy of it.
And so trying to recalibrate my relationship to the world in which I am able to navigate it more from a perspective of grace and joy, and allowing, rather than gripping on really tightly, is so counterintuitive yet also so liberating, while also being terrifying.
So I haven’t emerged from the woods on this yet. This is definitely a hill I might die on, but this is what I’m committed to. And this is part of the intention that I’m bringing into this month that I’m taking off, and I hope to emerge from that a little bit more consolidated around that idea, and in a place where I’m ready to practice it in a way that’s more meaningful than what I have been able to do historically.
Tim Ferriss: That is a good intention. There is a book that I’ve been revisiting my Kindle highlights of, which is Effortless by Greg McKeown, which is the second book following Essentialism, also by Greg McKeown.
But it’s a very nice reminder along the lines of what you’re describing. Because certainly my — I shouldn’t say default, because it’s probably conditioned, but my out of the box programming is very similar to yours. It’s like, if I’m not suffering, if I’m not redlining, then clearly I’m not applying myself enough to whatever X happens to be, which is just so self-defeating in so many ways.
Rich Roll: I know.
Tim Ferriss: So it’s a constant challenge. However, I have found that to be a very helpful book. So I have a tab open, actually, on this browser right now, top left, to my Kindle highlights of that book.
So speaking of books, your books include your best selling memoir, Finding Ultra, the cookbooks and lifestyle guides, The Plant Power Way and The Plant Power Way: Italia, which you co-authored with your wife, Julie —
Rich Roll: Piatt.
Tim Ferriss: Piatt. God, 0 for two! Piatt.
Rich Roll: It’s okay.
Tim Ferriss: Good Lord. I’m sorry, Julie. Forgive me. People can find all things Rich Roll at richroll.com, on Twitter @richroll. Are you most active on Twitter? Instagram? Do you have a preferred social media?
Rich Roll: Probably more active on Instagram than Twitter, but I’m on both.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. @richroll on Instagram as well. We’ll link to all of those YouTube, Facebook, et cetera, in the show notes, tim.blog/podcast. Is there anything else that you would like to say? Any closing comments, asks or requests of this audience before we wrap up?
Rich Roll: Yeah. I mean, first of all, thank you for having me. It really is a privilege. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around how divided the world feels right now, and how broken it can feel. There’s just so much contention out there.
But when I think about what we do, having these long form conversations, it just feels to me like there’s never been a better opportunity to contribute in a positive way.
And I just want to encourage people to find a way to transcend the predominant media narrative that seems hell bent on pitting us against each other, and to be more conscious about not just your media choices, but how you carry that sensibility into the world, and the manner in which you interact with other people.
Because in my experience — and I’m sure this is shared by most people — when you go out into the world, it doesn’t feel like what we’re seeing on social media and on the national news. People are fundamentally good, and we share so much more than what appears to divide us right now.
And I don’t know. I despair of the way that I hear these narratives being spun online. And so to me, it’s almost a reminder to myself to remember that what you see there isn’t necessarily a reflection of the world’s objective reality.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Hear, hear. So true. And at least for me over the last few weeks, that has been one of the best medications, is the abstaining from these inputs that are very much designed to polarize, very much designed to upset. So that’s an incredibly good reminder.
And I really appreciate you taking the time, man. I’ve been looking forward to this. This conversation is landing at the perfect time for me, having just come back from this time off the grid with pages and pages of notes on what I hope to be big picture changes, or additions, or subtractions, that of course are great in theory. Fantastic. Well done, chap. You put it all down on paper, but you’ve got to translate it somehow.
So this, I think, will be a nice push for me. You have a very inspiring story. You also have a very human story, and you have not just the highlights, but you have the low lights and the difficult times, as we all do. And you’ve been very vulnerable and forthcoming in sharing that full picture with the world.
And I think it’s such a service. It’s such a gift that you do that. So thank you very much for doing what you do, Rich. I really appreciate it.
Rich Roll: Thanks, man. I appreciate that. And I think vulnerability is something that we can all use a little bit more of in this world. And when I hear other people being vulnerable, it gives me permission to be vulnerable, and I think there’s real strength in that. So I appreciate that.
And I am happy to be somebody to hold you accountable for this next chapter. I’m excited to see how this is going to manifest. But I would encourage you to just figure out something to latch onto, so that you can get into action and not just ruminate and make more notes. And if you need somebody to hold your hand to the flame on that, I’m happy to be that guy.
Tim Ferriss: Right. So I don’t spend the next year deciding which bike to ride. I will do my best. So getting something on the calendar. For me, if it’s not in the calendar and if somebody else doesn’t know about, it’s probably made up. So I will get something on the calendar.
And I’m looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to it. Because I know it can be done. It’s not the first time out of the gate, actually putting something together. I’m just out of practice.
And hot damn, stakes and consequences — if people prefer the term incentives, great — they really do work wonders. So I’m looking forward to it. And I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, so thank you very much, Rich.
And to everybody listening, we will have links to everything that we’ve discussed in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast. You can just search Rich Roll and it’ll pop right up. You can find him again at richroll.com.
And until next time, be safe out there, experiment often, be kinder than you think necessary, and thanks for tuning in.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 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.