Please enjoy this transcript of a special episode of The Tim Ferriss Show—a compilation of 15-to-30–minute segments from some of the best podcasters—and also best interviewees—in the world and certainly some of my favorites.
At the beginning of each segment, you’ll get an intro from the host and where to find their work and podcast. At the end, I’ll share a couple of favorite segments from The Tim Ferriss Show.
You can view this episode as a buffet, and I strongly suggest that you check out the shows included. If you like my podcast, you will very likely enjoy the featured shows in this episode.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
Dr. Andrew Huberman — Part I
I’m Andrew Huberman and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. I run a research laboratory and I teach at Stanford, but I’m also the host of The Huberman Lab Podcast, which is a weekly podcast focused on science and science based tools for everyday life.
The clip you’re about to hear is from our episode of The Huberman Lab Podcast entitled “Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus, and Satisfaction.” This episode on dopamine turned out to be one of our more popular episodes, and the clip you’re about to hear focuses on this incredible molecule, dopamine, which exists in all of us and, in fact is the universal chemical substrate by which motivation, focus and drive come to be.
And it’s an incredible molecule because it doesn’t care whether or not you’re pursuing work or a romantic partner or some other sort of behavior or goal, it is simply a molecule that activates specific neural circuits, brain areas in your body and head, that drive you to pursue more. In fact, others have referred to dopamine as the molecule of more. Those are not my words, those are the words of others, I should point out.
So contrary to popular belief, dopamine doesn’t control happiness, it controls motivation and desire and craving, that is it controls the desire for more. And it has this incredible ability to put us into action, it shapes the way that we think, it shapes the way that we feel about what we are doing, and it’s very powerful. And it has various aspects to that power, including our dopamine baseline, which you’ll soon learn about, and peaks in dopamine that ride on top of that baseline and make us feel either more motivated or less motivated over various periods of time. So here in the clip that follows, you can learn all about the biology of dopamine and in particular, how to leverage the biology of dopamine, for motivation, focus, and drive, not just in the moment, but continually, over and over, across time.
If you’d like to learn more about science and science related tools for mental health, physical health, and performance, you can find all episodes of The Huberman Lab Podcast at hubermanlab.com. It’s there with links to all formats, so YouTube, Apple, Spotify, and other formats of the podcast. All those episodes are also time stamped. We were very inspired, and remain inspired, by The Tim Ferriss podcast and the incredibly detailed timestamps that are there that allow people to navigate to the specific topics of interest easily. So we have time stamped all our podcasts in homage to Tim, and of course, we have great respect for Tim, one of the great pioneers of modern podcasting and sharing important information. You can also find Huberman Lab on Instagram and Twitter and there we cover science and science related tools, some of which overlap with information covered on The Huberman Lab Podcast and some of which is distinct from information on The Huberman Lab Podcast.
And last, but certainly not least, thank you for your interest in science.
Dr. Andrew Huberman — Part II
Now I’ve been alluding to this dopamine peaks versus dopamine baseline thing since the beginning of the episode, talked about tonic and phasic release and so forth. But now let’s really drill into what this means and how to leverage it for our own purposes.
In order to do that, let’s take a step back and ask, why would we have a dopamine system like this? Why would we have a dopamine system at all? Well, we have to remember what our species’ primary interest is. Our species, like all species, has a main interest and that’s to make more of itself. And it’s not just about sex and reproduction. It’s about foraging for resources. Resources can be food, it can be water, it can be salt, can be shelter, it can be social connection. Dopamine is the universal currency of foraging and seeking. We sometimes talk about motivation and craving, but what we mean in the evolutionary adaptive context, what we mean is foraging and seeking, seeking water, seeking food, seeking mates, seeking things that make us feel good and avoiding things that don’t make us feel good. But in particular seeking things that will provide sustenance and pleasure in the short term and will extend the species in the long term.
Once we understand that dopamine is a driver for us to seek things, it makes perfect sense as to why it would have a baseline level and it would have peaks. And that the baseline in peaks would be related in some sort of direct way. Here’s what I mean by that. Let’s say that you were not alive now, but you were alive 10,000 years ago. And you woke up, and you looked and you realized you had minimal water and you had minimal food left. Maybe you have a child, maybe you have a partner, maybe you’re in an entire village, but you realize that you need things. You need to be able to generate the energy to go seek those things. And chances are, there were dangers in seeking those things. Yes, it could be saber-tooth tigers and things of that sort, but there are other dangers too. There’s the danger of a cut to your skin that could lead to infection. There’s the danger of storms. There’s the danger of cold. There’s the danger of leaving your loved ones behind.
So you go out and forage. You could be hunting, you could be gathering, or you could be doing both. The going out and foraging process was, we are certain, driven by dopamine. I mean, there’s no fossil record of the brain, but these circuits have existed we know for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. And they are present in every animal, not just mammals, but even in little worms, like caecilians, the same process, it’s mediated by dopamine. So dopamine drives you to go out and look for things. And then let’s say you find a couple berries. These ones are rotten. These ones are good. Maybe you hunt an animal and kill it. Or you find an animal that was recently killed and you decide to take the meat. You are going to achieve, or I should say, experience some sort of dopamine release. You found the reward. That’s great. But then it needs to return to some lower level. Why?
Well, because if you just stayed there, you would never continue to forage for more. It doesn’t just increase your baseline and then stay there. It goes back down. And what’s very important to understand is that it doesn’t just go back down to the level it was before. It goes down to a level below what it was before you went out seeking that thing. Now this is counterintuitive. We often think, oh, okay, I’m going to pursue the win. Let’s move this to modern day. I’m going to run this marathon. I’m going to train for this marathon. Then you run the marathon and you finish, you cross the finish line. You feel great. And you would think, okay, now I’m set for the entire year. I’m going to feel so much better. I’m going to feel this accomplishment in my body. It’s going to be so great, but that’s not what happens. You might feel some of those things, but your level of dopamine has actually dropped below baseline.
Now, eventually it will ratchet back up. But two things are really important. First of all, the extent to which it drops below baseline is proportional to how high the peak was. So if you cross the finish line pretty happy, it won’t drop that much below baseline afterward. If you cross the finish line ecstatic, well, a day or two later, you’re going to feel quite a bit lower than you would otherwise. You might not be depressed because it depends on where that baseline was to begin with. But the so-called postpartum depression that people experience after giving birth or after some big win, a graduation, or any kind of celebration. That postpartum drop in mood, and affect, and motivation is the drop in baseline dopamine.
This is very important to understand, because this happens on very rapid time scales and it can last quite a long time. It also explains the behavior that most of us are familiar with, of engaging in something that we really enjoy, going to a restaurant that we absolutely love, or engaging in some way with some person that we really, really enjoy. But if we continue to engage in that behavior over and over again, it kind of loses its edge. It starts to kind of feel less exciting to us. Some of us experience that drop in excitement more quickly and more severely than others, but everyone experiences that to some extent.
And this has direct roots in these evolutionarily conserved circuits. Some of you may be hearing this and think, no, no, no. That’s not how it works for me. I’m just riding higher and higher all the time. I love my kids. I love my job. I love school. I love wins. I don’t want losses. I agree. We all feel good when we are achieving things, but oftentimes we are feeling good because we are layering in different aspects of life, consuming things and doing things that increase our dopamine. We’re getting those peaks. But afterward the drop in baseline occurs and it always takes a little while to get back to our stable baseline. We really all have a sort of dopamine set point. And if we continue to indulge in the same behaviors or even different behaviors that increase our dopamine in these big peaks over and over and over again, we won’t experience the same level of joy from those behaviors or from anything at all.
Now that has a name. It’s called addiction. But even for people who aren’t addicted, even for people who don’t have an attachment to any specific substance or behavior, this drop below baseline after any peak in dopamine is substantial. And it governs whether or not we are going to feel motivated to continue to pursue other things. Fortunately, there’s a way to work with this such that we can constantly stay motivated, but also keep that baseline of dopamine at an appropriate healthy level.
Now I’d like to talk about the positive aspects of rewards for our behavior and the negative aspects of rewards for our behavior. And from that, I will suggest a protocol by which you can achieve a better relationship to your activities and to your dopamine system. In fact, it will help tune up your dopamine system for discipline, hard work, and motivation. Hard work is hard. Generally, most people don’t like working hard. Some people do, but most people work hard in order to achieve some end goal. End goals are terrific and rewards are terrific, whether or not they are monetary, social or any kind.
However, because of the way that dopamine relates to our perception of time, working hard at something for sake of a reward that comes afterward can make the hard work much more challenging and make us much less likely to lean into hard work in the future. Let me give you a couple of examples by way of data and experiments. There’s a classic experiment done actually at Stanford many years ago in which children in nursery school and kindergarten drew pictures. And they drew pictures because they like to draw. The researchers took kids that liked to draw and they started giving them a reward for drawing. The reward generally was a gold star or something that a young child would find rewarding. Then they stopped giving them the gold star. And what they found is the children had a much lower tendency to draw on their own. No reward. Now remember, this was an activity that prior to receiving a reward, the children intrinsically enjoyed and selected to do. No one was telling them to draw.
What this relates to is so called intrinsic versus extrinsic reinforcement. When we receive rewards, even if we give ourselves rewards for something, we tend to associate less pleasure with the actual activity itself that evoked the reward. Now that might seem counterintuitive, but that’s just the way that these dopaminergic circuits work. And now understanding these peaks and baselines in dopamine, which I won’t review again, this should make sense. If you get a peak in dopamine from a reward, it’s going to lower your baseline, and the cognitive interpretation is that you didn’t really do the activity because you enjoyed the activity. You did it for the reward. Now this doesn’t mean all rewards of all kinds are bad, but it’s also important to understand that dopamine controls our perception of time. When and how much dopamine we experience is the way that we carve up what we call our experience of time.
When we engage in an activity, let’s say school or hard work of any kind or exercise because of the reward, we are going to give ourselves a receive at the end, the trophy, a sundae, the meal, whatever it happens to be, we actually are extending the time bin over which we are analyzing or perceiving that experience. And because the reward comes at the end, we start to dissociate the neural circuits for dopamine and reward that would’ve normally been active during the activity. And because it all arrives at the end over time, we have the experience of less and less pleasure from that particular activity while we’re doing it.
Now, this is the antithesis of growth mindset. My colleague at Stanford, Carol Dweck, as many of you know, has come up with this incredible theory and principle. And it actually goes beyond theory and principle called growth mindset, which is this striving to be better, to be in this mindset of I’m not there yet, but striving itself is the end goal. And that, of course, delivers you to tremendous performance. It has been observed over and over and over again that people that have growth mindset — kids that have growth mindset — end up performing very well because they’re focused on the effort itself. And all of us can cultivate growth mindset.
The neural mechanism of cultivating growth mindset involves learning to access the rewards from effort and doing. And that’s hard to do because you have to engage this prefrontal component of the mesolimbic circuit. You have to tell yourself, okay, this effort is great, this effort is pleasureful even though you might actually be in a state of physical pain from the exercise, or I can recall this from college, just feeling like I wanted to get up from my desk, but forcing myself to study, forcing myself and forcing myself. What you find over time is that you can start to associate a dopamine release, you can evoke dopamine release from the friction and the challenge that you happen to be in. You completely eliminate the ability to generate those circuits and the rewarding process of being able to reward friction while in effort, if you are focused only on the goal that comes at the end because of the way that dopamine marks time.
So if you say, “Oh, I’m going to do this very hard thing and I’m going to push and push and push and push for that end goal that comes later,” not only do you enjoy the process of what you’re doing less, you actually make it more painful while you’re engaging in it. You make yourself less efficient at it because if you were able to access dopamine while in effort, dopamine has all these incredible properties of increasing the amount of energy in our body, and in our mind, our ability to focus by way of dopamine’s conversion into epinephrine. But also you are undermining your ability to lean back into that activity the next time, the next time you need twice as much coffee, and three times as much loud music, and four times as much energy drink, and the social connection just to get out the door in order to do the run or to study.
So what’s more beneficial in fact can serve as a tremendous amplifier on all endeavors that you engage in, especially hard endeavors is to A, not start layering in other sources of dopamine in order to get to the starting line. Not layering in other sources of dopamine in order to be able to continue, but rather to subjectively start to attach the feeling of friction and effort to an internally generated reward system. And this is not meant to be vague. This is a system that exists in your mind, that exists in the minds of humans for hundreds of thousands of years, by which you’re not just pursuing the things that are innately pleasureful: food, sex, warmth, water when you’re thirsty.
But the beauty of this mesolimbic reward pathway that I talked about earlier is that it includes the forebrain. So you can tell yourself the effort part is the good part. I know it’s painful. I know this doesn’t feel good, but I’m focused on this. I’m going to start to access the reward. You will find the rewards, meaning the dopamine release inside of effort if you repeat this over and over again. And what’s beautiful about it is that it starts to become reflexive for all types of effort. When we focus only on the trophy, only on the grade, only on the win as the reward, you undermine that entire process. So how do you do this?
You do this in those moments of the most intense friction, you tell yourself this is very painful and because it’s painful, it will evoke an increase in dopamine release later, meaning it will increase my baseline in dopamine. But you also have to tell yourself that in that moment you are doing it by choice and you’re doing it because you love it. And I know that sounds like lying to yourself. And in some ways, it is lying to yourself, but it’s lying to yourself in the context of a truth, which is that you want it to feel better. You want it to feel even pleasureful. Now this is very far and away different from thinking about the reward that comes at the end, the hot fudge sundae for after you cross the finish line, and you can replace hot fudge sundae with whatever reward happens to be appealing to you.
We revere people who are capable of doing what I’m describing. David Goggins comes to mind as a really good example. Many of you are probably familiar with David Goggins, former Navy SEAL, who essentially has made a post-military career out of explaining and sharing his process of turning the effort into the reward. There are many other examples of this too, of course. Throughout evolutionary history, there’s no question that we revered people who were willing to go out and forage, and hunt, and gather, and care-take in ways that other members of our species probably found exhausting, and probably would’ve preferred to just put their feet up, or soak them in a cool stream rather than continue to forage.
The ability to access this pleasure from effort aspect of our dopaminergic circuitry is without question the most powerful aspect of dopamine in our biology of dopamine. And the beautiful thing is it’s accessible to all of us. But just to highlight the things that can interfere with and prevent you from getting dopamine release from effort itself, don’t spike dopamine prior to engaging in effort. And don’t spike dopamine after engaging in effort. Learn to spike your dopamine from effort itself.
Welcome. I’m your host, Greg McKeown. And for those who are new here, I’m the author of two New York Times bestsellers, Effortless and Essentialism, and the host of this newly minted Greg McKeown Podcast, where I am on a journey with you to learn how to negotiate what really matters, when it really matters, with the people who really matter. And this really dovetails with the core idea within Essentialism itself.
Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever been busy but not productive? Do you feel like your time is constantly hijacked by other people’s agenda for you? If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the way of the essentialist.
So by the end of this episode you will be better able to eliminate the non-essentials from your life. Today, I’m going to share with you five specific things you can do right now. Actionable advice for how you can be more of an essentialist. By the end of this episode, you will be better able to eliminate the non-essentials from your life. So let’s get to it.
If you want to accelerate your understanding of what I share with you today, here’s how to do it. Teach the ideas in this podcast to someone else within the next 24 to 48 hours of listening. It will deepen your understanding. It will help you to implement the ideas faster yourself, and it will also help educate the people around you so that you are not the lone essentialist in the room.
On a bright winter day, I visited my wife, Anna, in the hospital. Even in the hospital, Anna was radiant, but I also knew she was exhausted. It was the day after our precious daughter was born healthy and happy at seven pounds, three ounces. Yet what should have been one of the happiest, most serene days of my life was actually filled with tension. Even as my beautiful new baby lay in my wife’s tired arms, I was on the phone, and on email, and I was feeling pressured to go to a client meeting.
My colleague had written days before, “Friday between one and two would be a bad time to have a baby because I need you to be at this client meeting.” It was now Friday. And though I was pretty certain that the email had been written in jest, I felt pressure to attend. Instinctively I knew what to do. It was clearly a time to be there for my wife and newborn child. So when asked whether I planned to attend the meeting, I said, with all the conviction I could muster, “Yes.”
So to my shame, while my wife lay in the hospital with our hours-old baby, I went to the meeting. What was I doing there? I had said yes to please, and in doing so I’d hurt my family, my integrity, and even the client relationship. As it turned out, exactly nothing came from that meeting. But even if it had, surely I had made a fool’s bargain. In trying to keep everyone happy, I had sacrificed what matters most.
On reflection, I discovered this important lesson. If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. Priority: the very first or priorest thing. And according to Peter Drucker, it stayed singular for the next 500 years. So it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution where people started using the term priorities, pluralizing the term.
And yet, what does that even mean? How can you have very, very many, very first, before all other things, things? And yet haven’t you been to a meeting yourself where somebody said, with no sense of irony at all, “Here are my 34 priorities.” So one way back, one thing you can do now is to identify what the priority is in this moment.
This first practice, I will simply call WIN because it’s a nice acronym. What’s Important Now. That’s how to begin this journey to becoming an essentialist. Don’t overthink it, but ask the question, “What’s important now?”
So number one was WIN, and number two is Less. Many intelligent, ambitious people struggle to figure out what is the priority for them in this moment. And for a perfectly good reason, a reason I call the paradox of success. It can be summed up in four predictable phases.
Phase one: When we really have clarity of purpose, it enables us to succeed at our endeavor.
Phase two: when we have success, we gain a reputation as a go-to person. We become good old so-and-so who is always there when you need him. And we are presented with increased options and opportunities.
Phase three: When we have increased options and opportunities, which is actually code for demands upon our time and energies, it leads to diffused efforts. We get spread thinner and thinner, which leads to…
Phase four: We become distracted from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution.
The effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that led to success in the first place. Overstating the point in order to make it: The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure, especially if it leads to what Jim Collins has called the undisciplined pursuit of more. And the antidote to that is the disciplined pursuit of less.
What I would encourage you to do right now is to start a “said no to” list; that is, in addition to your to-do list, write down the things that you’ve actually said no to. This will have a couple of benefits to you. First, it will be empowering to discover you can say no. Many of us are novices at the idea. We just don’t even say the word. We don’t use it. We could, but we don’t.
The second is, as your list accumulates, you’ll be able to evaluate whether you are pleased with that decision. Because I’m not advocating you start saying no to everyone and everything without really thinking about it. That would be a different sort of book, a book called No-ism or something. But the idea of Essentialism is to say yes to the essentials, but also no to the non-essentials so that you can reinvest that time, resource your attention, your energy to the things that really are most important.
Number three is trade off. Imagine you could go back to 1972 and invest a dollar in each company in the S&P 500. Which company would provide you the largest return on your investment by 30 years later, like 2002? Would it be GE? IBM? Intel? McDonald’s? Berkshire Hathaway? The correct answer, and almost nobody ever gets the answer right, is Southwest Airlines.
It’s a pretty startling answer because the airline industry is notoriously bad at generating profits. Yet Southwest, led by Herb Kelleher, has consistently, year after year, produced amazing financial results. Did they do it by trying to be all things to all people? Or did they do it through a disciplined pursuit of less? Rather than flying to every destination, they deliberately chose to offer only point-to-point flights. Instead of jacking up prices to cover the cost of meals, they decided they would serve none. Instead of assigning seats in advance, they would let people choose them as they got on the plane. Instead of upselling their passengers on glitzy first class service, they offered only coach.
These trade-offs weren’t made by default but by design, and each and every one of them was made as part of a deliberate strategy to keep costs down. Did they run the risk of alienating customers who wanted the broader range of destinations? Yes. But Kelleher and his executive team were totally clear about what the company was, a low-cost airline, and what they were not. And their trade-offs reflected as much.
Kelleher explained it this way. He said, “You have to look at every opportunity and say, well, no, I’m sorry. We’re not going to do a thousand different things that really won’t contribute much to the end results we are trying to achieve.” At first, Southwest was lambasted by critics, naysayers, everybody. Yet after years, it became clear that Southwest was onto something and competitors in the industry took notice of Southwest’s soaring profits and started trying to imitate their approach.
But instead of adopting Kelleher’s essentialist approach carte blanche, they instead chose a straddled strategy. In the simplest terms, straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor. And one of the most visible attempts of that at the time was Continental Airlines. They started a program called Continental Lite, and in the end it confused everybody involved so much that they set records in the airline industry for complaints per day. They lost 150 million dollars, and they fired the CEO.
The moral of the story is ignoring the reality of trade-offs is a terrible strategy for teams, and of course, for individuals as well. Trade-offs are real and they should be embraced and even celebrated because they’re the essence of what great strategy are all about.
One thing you can do immediately is to ask the question, “What trade-off am I going to make?” When you’re faced with two options of what to do in this moment, don’t say, “I’m just going to do both.” Say, “Which trade-off am I going to make? What do I need to say no to in order to say yes to this?”
Number four is intent, or more particularly, to create an essential intent. Most teams that I have worked with, most companies, and most individuals, have a challenge when it comes to creating clarity about what they want in the future. Most vision statements, and mission statements, and value statements are so ambiguous. Even though they’re meant to inspire, they often leave people none the wiser about what to actually pursue, and what not to pursue. They are therefore not fit for purpose.
But when I coach individuals and ask them, “Okay, what is essential to you to achieve over the next two to three years? If there’s only one thing that you could do, what is it?” I am almost always faced with a blank stare or a list of many, many different things. What would the power be if you could identify a single, essential intent that could help you to navigate everything else along your journey?
There is a structure that can be really useful in helping you identify an essential intent. It’s the following: verb, population, outcome, date. It’s a bit like a Mad Libs exercise.
Verb: What is it that you can uniquely contribute? What is it that you do better perhaps than anyone else?
Population: Who are the most important people in your life? Who are the most important customers in your business?
Outcome: What is the benefit to them? What is the priority benefit to them? There may be many benefits, but what’s the priority benefit.
And then Date: To be able to turn your intent into a specific metric, add a date by which you want to achieve it.
As you start to whittle away at your essential intent, be careful to stop wordsmithing and start deciding. When developing statements of purpose, whether it’s for your company, your team, or for yourself, there’s a tendency I’ve noticed where people start obsessing about trivial stylistic details. Should we use this word or that word? But this makes it all too easy to slip into meaningless cliches and buzz words that lead to vague, meaningless statements, and essential intent doesn’t have to be elegantly crafted. It’s the substance, not the style that counts.
So instead, ask the more essential question that will inform every future decision you will ever make. If we could be truly excellent at one thing, what would it be? An essential intent done right is one decision that makes a thousand.
Number five is Flow, or the genius of routine. For years before Michael Phelps won all those golds at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he followed the same routine every race. He arrived two hours early. He stretched and loosened up according to a precise pattern, 800 mixer, 50 freestyle, 600 kicking with the kickboard, 400 pulling a buoy and more. After the warmup, he would dry off, put on his earphones and sit, never lie down, on the massage table. From that moment he and his coach, the rather remarkable Bob Bowman, wouldn’t speak a word to each other until the race was over.
At 45 minutes before the race, he would put on his race suit. At 30 minutes, he would get into the warmup pool and do 600 to 800 meters there. With 10 minutes to go, he’d walk to the ready room. He would find a seat alone, never next to anyone. He liked to keep the seats on both side of him clear for his things. Goggles on one side, towel on the other.
When his race was called, he would walk to the blocks. There he would do what he always did. Two stretches. First, a straight leg stretch, and then with a bent knee. Left leg first every time. Then the right earbud would come out. When his name was called, he would take out the left earbud. He would step onto the block, always from the left. He would dry the block every time. Then he would stand, flap his arms in a Phelpsian way. Phelps explains, “It’s just a routine. My routine. It’s the routine I’ve gone through my whole life and I’m not going to change it now. And that is that.”
But his coach, Bob Bowman, who designed this physical routine with Phelps said, “That’s not all.” He also gave Phelps a routine for what to think about as he went to sleep, and first thing when he woke up. He called it watching the video tape. There’s no actual tape, of course. The tape was just a visualization of the perfect race in exquisite detail and slow motion. So Phelps could visualize every moment from his starting position on top of the blocks, through each stroke, until he emerged from the pool victorious with water dripping from his face.
He didn’t do the mental routine occasionally. He did it every day before he went to bed, and every day when he woke up for years. When Bob wanted to challenge him in practices, he would shout, “Put in the videotape,” and Phelps would push beyond his limits. Eventually the mental routine was so ingrained that Bob barely had to whisper the phrase, “Get the videotape ready,” before a race. Phelps was always ready to hit play.
When asked about the routine, Bob said, “If you were to ask Michael what’s going on in his head before the competition, he would say he’s not really thinking about anything. He’s just following the program. But that’s not really right. It’s more like his habits have taken over. When the race arrives, he’s more than halfway through his plan, and he’s been victorious in every step. All the stretches went like he had planned. The warmup laps were just as he visualized. His headphones are playing exactly what he expected. The actual race is just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and has been nothing but victories. Winning is a natural extension.”
All of us know that Phelps won the record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, but I was always fascinated by how he’d done it in a way that made it look so effortless. And of course, practice is part of it. But routine is embedded in all of that practice, in making it appear to be as effortless as it appeared. I talked to Bob Bowman just recently, and he talked me through his experience in the final race of those eight gold medals after it was done. And he himself said it had surprised him at how effortless it had actually been.
When visiting Beijing years after Phelps breathtaking accomplishment, I couldn’t help but think how Phelps and the other Olympians had all made their feats look so effortless. It’s certainly a testament to the genius of the right routine. The way of the non-essentialist is to think that essentials only get done when they are forced. That execution is a matter of a raw effort alone. You labor to make it happen. You push through. You even force it through. But the way of the essentialist is subtly different.
The essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving what you have identified as essential the default position. My suggestion to you is to tackle your routines one by one. It would be unfortunate, a little ironic even, if you become so taken with the genius routine that you’re tempted to try to overhaul lots of routines and all at the same time. What I’ve learned is that if you start slow and small with routines, you can layer them on one after another in order to utterly change the results and the performance of your life. Once we master routines, things become automatic and that’s an enormous victory. Once you put the routines in place, they are gifts that keep on giving.
Let’s go back to the questions I asked at the beginning. Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever been busy but not productive? Do you feel like your time is constantly hijacked by other people’s agenda? The way out is the way of the essentialist. I’ve covered five specific things you can do right now to become more essentialist, and therefore to be able to operate at a higher point of contribution.
If you have found this episode useful, please subscribe to The Greg McKeown Podcast. Also my newsletter, gregmckeown.com/1mw. Read Essentialism. Read Effortless. Because I didn’t just write them, I wrote them for you.
One of my direct subordinates, one of my guys that worked for me, he would call me up or pull me aside with some major problem, some issue that was going on. And he’d say, “Boss, we got this and that and the other thing.” And I’d look at him and I’d say, “Good.” And finally, one day he was telling me about some issue that he was having, some problem. And he said, “I already know what you’re going to say.” And I said, “Well, what am I going to say?” He said, “You’re going to say good.” He said, “That’s what you always say. When something is wrong and going bad, you always just look at me and say, ‘Good.'” And I said, “Well, yeah. When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that’s going to come from it.”
Didn’t get the new, high-speed gear we wanted? Good.
Didn’t get promoted? Good, more time to get better.
Oh, mission got canceled? Good, we can focus on the other one.
Didn’t get funded? Didn’t get the job you wanted? Got injured, sprained my ankle, got tapped out? Good.
Got beat? Good, you learned.
Unexpected problems? Good, we have the opportunity to figure out a solution.
That’s it. When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out. Don’t get startled. Don’t get frustrated. If you can say the word good, guess what? It means you’re still alive. It means you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, well now, you’ve still got some fight left in you. Get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, reengage, and go out on the attack.
Brené Brown on The Tim Ferriss Show
Brené Brown: How do you answer that question? If I said, “Tim, where’s the line between being our best selves or striving for excellence and embracing who we are?”
Tim Ferriss: Funny you should ask, because we’re recording this in January, 2020 and I thought a lot about this on New Year’s Eve and in the few days after the passing of the New Year when I was going through notes and photographs and everything from the past year. And I’m actually still doing that review. I mean, we’re well through the midpoint of January and I’m still doing my last year review.
And one of the conversations with my girlfriend, with some of my best friends, was this topic exactly. And I can tell you where I landed because I wanted to try to get the right phrasing for me of the question. So I talked about the line, right? And there were a number of different versions of the question. One was: “How can you be self-accepting without becoming complacent?” Right?
Brené Brown: Oh, God that’s right. That’s it.
Tim Ferriss: Like that was one, right?
Brené Brown: That’s great.
Tim Ferriss: That was one. And then—
Brené Brown: That’s good.
Tim Ferriss:—how can you conversely, how can you be high-achieving without being self-flagellating or self-abusing? And I thought about the—
Brené Brown: Another good one.
Tim Ferriss:—I thought about the line as you phrased it. I thought about the line and I realized that I had trouble answering that question. Like where the line is. So the question that I started to ask myself, which was informed by a book I’ve been reading for the last month or so-called Already Free, which is written by a Boulder-based psychotherapist who also is a Buddhist contemplative.
And he’d be the first to say these two do not mesh. They actually contradict each other in some ways, but you can make room for and use both. So informed by this book, which I was reading during the passing of the New Year, I thought to myself, “Maybe the question is ‘How can I make room for both striving and self-acceptance?’”
And so this might seem really clinical and boring, but I just schedule blocks of time for both and practices for both. So for instance, there’s a journal called The Five-Minute Journal and part of that is what I’m grateful for, three bullets. What made today great, three bullets. And those are generally small things. Sometimes they’re big things, but I try to include at least one small thing so that I don’t become myopically fixated on the extraordinary.
Brené Brown: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Right. And because I think one of the risks of being heavily achievement-focused is that you only give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve done something that is the equivalent of a home run talk, or a massive project launch, or setting a world record of some type in your mind. And you can become really miserable that way.
So in my personal life, driving and achievement and being in gear six is, and has been forever, the default. Right? And I think that’s a coping mechanism for a lot of things that happened when I was younger. But nonetheless that is the default. So the self-acceptance is putting things in the calendar as practices that will ensure I take time for that because my experience is that if I don’t put them in the calendar, they just get squeezed out by everything else. How do you think about it?
Brené Brown: Well, I’m changing in real-time because I love to make room for both. But I think the only place that I have come to around using my question about the line, where’s the line between—I love that—complacency and what did you say? Complacency and?
Tim Ferriss: Self-acceptance and complacency.
Brené Brown: Self-acceptance and complacency. And for me, I always think where is the line between—so I’ll just take it to our organization and my role as a leader in that organization. We believe in excellence and beauty in all things. And we are not jacking around.
Like if a font’s wrong, I will notice it. So where is the line between excellence and beauty in all things and perfectionism that is paralyzing, no work gets out? So there’s always, where’s the line between my perfectionism and my being my best self?
The only thing I’ve come to so far that has been the shift for me between, it’s a midlife shift. I think it’s a midlife shift for everyone and it’s taken me a good five years in midlife. I will determine the line. You will not determine the line for me. So I know, I know that for me it doesn’t matter what I’m achieving or accomplishing, if I’m not eating in a way that makes sense for me, working out and sleeping, that it doesn’t matter.
So, whether you’re saying, “Boy, you need to lose 30 pounds,” or you’re on the side where you’re like healthy at every, you know, whatever. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what you think on either side. What I think is, I know I need to work out five days a week. I know that I need to eat this way. I know I need to write down what I’m eating because otherwise, I’m like, I can be a stress carb person.
So for me the day I reclaimed that line as internally set, not externally set, was a huge changer for me. But I do think I need to make room for both. I’m going to look into that. It is very Buddhist.
Tim Ferriss: It is and—
Brené Brown: It’s not the competition conflict thing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And what this author, I’m blanking on his name, but we’ll put it in the show notes. What he uses as labels are on the Western psychotherapy side, he talks about the developmental view. So you look back at the outdated strategies that have become patterns in your life that are no longer applicable or are being overused. And then you take steps to improve or change your behaviors.
And that would include your thought patterns. And then on the Buddhist side, I would just say if Buddhist as a word bothers you, you could, just on the awareness side, he would call it the fruitional view, which is being effectively becoming and cultivating the ability to be okay with whatever is.
And so another aspect of this that I’ve been thinking about a lot is there are different types of self-acceptance, and I think this is really important and it’s only something I’ve thought very closely about in the last handful of years because I spent most of my life hating myself, at best tolerating myself for moments. But there was a lot of self-loathing driving performance.
And I, for a long time, viewed any type of self-acceptance as complacency. Just self-acceptance equals complacency. Period. And you need to be your own devil, whipping yourself in the back to try harder. What I’ve realized, and this is informed by a lot of reading of course, is that there is complacent self-acceptance where you say, “Everything I’m doing is just fine. I don’t need to change anything and I shouldn’t change anything.”
Brené Brown: Yeah, I want to, you can just stop there for a second. You can edit it, but I’m a pauser. I need a—I have to think. There is such a thing as what?
Tim Ferriss: And I can modify. I can modify.
Brené Brown: But I want you to say what you just said.
Tim Ferriss: What I said is I do think there are multiple types of self-acceptance, and that term, self-acceptance, could be used to excuse complacency in the sense that you could say, “I am practicing self-acceptance, which means everything is great, everything is as it should be la, la, la. I don’t need to change anything.”
But then, I’ll just add one more piece. There is a self-acceptance which says, for instance, as an example, I’m making this up like—
Brené Brown: I have to write this down.
Tim Ferriss: But like, “Right now I am nervous and I’m frustrated and I’m angry because A, B, and C is happening in my life, and we’re doing this podcast, and I’m bald now, unlike in 2007, and oh, my God, is my head just a shiny cue ball on camera right now? Blah, blah blah.” And I could accept all of those things as true because they are—those are my experience. And then for some of them I could resolve to take steps to improve upon those things, right? “So there’s a situation I need to fix? Great, let me go fix it, because that’s making me—or agitating me—in some way.”
So I think that there’s a self-acceptance, which is a macro, “I don’t need to change anything.” And then there’s a self-acceptance, which is really just truthfully accepting whatever you’re experiencing at the moment as what is happening, as opposed to saying, “I don’t want to feel angry. I don’t want to feel angry.” And like fighting and fighting and fighting and tugging yourself in multiple directions.
So that might sound esoteric, but for me it’s been very profound in that you can be forgiving of whatever you are experiencing in your body, in your psyche, in the moment, while still putting in place steps to improve whatever it is you’re hoping to improve. Right? I think it’s possible to do both.
Brené Brown: I think it’s possible to do both too, for sure. I do because I think I live both and I do, I go back to the Union belief that the Paradox is the only real thing that is, has enough tension to capture human experience. So I think you can have self-love and self-acceptance and want to be better in ways, I think.
And in fact, I don’t think you can change without—okay. So here are the things I want to unwind. I don’t think you can truly change for the better in a lasting, meaningful way unless it is driven by self-acceptance.
Tim Ferriss: I agree with that.
Brené Brown: So I think beating the shit out of yourself for performance, which you know, I work with a lot of sports people now, it works. And if all you have to do is pay someone for one season or all you do is one game or one whatever, you’re okay. But lasting, meaningful change has to be driven by self-acceptance.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Brené Brown: The other thing that is just so shocking to me about complacency and self-acceptance is as I think back, and I would really have to go into the data, but just sitting here, I don’t think I have ever come across a single person who I—not a single person that I can think of—who was complacent, driven by self-acceptance.
I don’t think, I don’t know that that is not an oxymoron. I’ve got to tell you that. Self-aware complacency doesn’t work for me as a construct.
Tim Ferriss: Self-aware, no. I don’t—
Brené Brown: Or self-accepted complacency. I don’t know that I believe that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I mean, I’ll push a little bit. I would say—
Brené Brown: I knew you were going to by the look on your face!
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I would say—
Brené Brown: I hope you caught that in the camera.
Tim Ferriss:—and I think that I’m struggling for the right terminology, but I think we all know people who are alcoholics, have various issues, and they are in denial of having problems.
Brené Brown: Yes, let me stop you there and say that is neither self-awareness nor self-acceptance.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely not self-awareness.
Brené Brown: But not self-acceptance either.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I would, and maybe there’s a better word, but I would just say that there are people who are delusional to the extent that they either believe they don’t have a problem that they have, or they have a problem and refuse to accept it as a problem. I think that—
Brené Brown: For sure.
Tim Ferriss: Right. So and we can go a lot of directions with this, but I would say that I think we can agree there are complacent people, right? There are complacent people. And among those complacent people, I think there are those who hate themselves. There are those who love themselves and are narcissistic. And I know a number of these. And then there’s a lot in between.
And I think that there are complacent, in some respects, complacent narcissists who—almost by definition of being a narcissist—love themselves. So is that self-acceptance? Maybe yes, maybe no. I would say that it is, but it’s a disabling self-acceptance. Whereas to your point about lasting behavioral change, I think that at least psychologically, if you are divorcing parts of yourself, if you hate parts of yourself, aspects of yourself that have been informed by your history that—and I’m borrowing this phrase from somewhere else—but like, what you resist persists, right?
Brené Brown: Oh, for sure.
Tim Ferriss: And that you are going to carry that unproductive and, in some ways, self-defeating tension within you even if someone is forcing you to change your behavior or incentivizing you to change your external behavior, right? And so even if technically you’re changing a behavior, if you carry self-loathing, even partial self-loathing with you, hating an aspect of yourself or certain emotion within yourself, I view that as a loss.
Brené Brown: Agree.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So this is getting out there a bit, but this is the type of stuff that—sometimes I worry that I’ve lost my audience. Could I make a confession?
Brené Brown: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Because for a long time, I was thinking about writing a blog post about this, but for a very long time, if you look at all the books that I’ve written, it’s like book on entrepreneurship, book on physical performance, book on cognitive performance and learning, and 4-Hour Chef, et cetera, et cetera. It’s mostly developmental. It’s about improving performance in one or more areas. And now what I’ve spent more and more time on, like we’re spending time on it right now, is the inner game.
Brené Brown: For sure.
Tim Ferriss: And the importance of developing a keen level of self-awareness so that you can examine the contents of your—this is going to get super woo for a second—the contents of your consciousness, right? Like wherever you go, you’re carrying your mind with you. And so to develop a familiarity with that, I think, is the crux skill that underlies everything else. And you and I both know plenty of achievers who are miserable, who are—
Brené Brown: For sure.
Tim Ferriss:—high performing, well-known people who are utterly miserable. And to me, the question of “Why is that? How can that be the case?” is the question that I’m extremely interested in these days. But I worry that having built an audience who is largely, not entirely, kind of “Go, go, go rah, rah, rah, win, win, win,” there’s nothing wrong with that. But people who are trying to develop skills and competitive advantages and so on that I may lose a large portion of those people in shifting into talking about more of these things.
We’ll see where it goes. But that’s something that has occurred to me, and I think I’m willing to make that trade. I think I’m willing to take that if that’s the cost of doing business. I don’t know.
Brené Brown: So a couple things. One, the “Go, go, go” audience that you’ve built, this may scare them, but I mean, as someone who works with elite athletes and professional folks and CEOs and those things, what I can tell you is this is the hardest challenge you’ve issued. And it’s not about the conceptual complexity of what we’re talking about, it’s about—unlocking performance is one thing. Unlocking people, way harder, way scarier. And unlocking ourselves and creating self-awareness? To me, you would be remiss not to go here.
Because I don’t know, I think like something you said when you were talking about we all know a lot of narcissists and they love themselves, but that’s actually not true. Do you know that narcissism is the most shame-based of all the personality disorders? Narcissism is not about self-love at all. It’s about grandiosity driven by high-performance and self-hatred.
I define it as the shame-based fear of being ordinary. And so you have to me, you have this audience that, and I’m one of them, I mean like, and I’m probably an outlier, I guess. It’s like me being a Rush fan—of course there’s always outliers.
Tim Ferriss: No, the audience is like 40 to 50 percent female.
Brené Brown: Is it?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it is.
Brené Brown: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s shifted a lot in the last handful of years.
Brené Brown: Yeah. But I think when I get invited in by a Fortune 50 CEO and he or she says, “Look, we need help. We need help with the team.” They’re not asking me to help with time productivity. They’re not having me to set up a scrum or agile process for software development. They’re saying, “We’re at each other’s throats; we hate each other.” It’s a shame-based finger-pointing. It’s all about self-awareness and changing those behaviors.
And to me, the hard thing about this area and your work is a lot of what I’ve learned from you that has changed my life has been not only effectiveness-based, but efficiency-based. And so where you can lose people with this conversation is “This is not an efficient process.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, right.
Brené Brown: Do you know what I mean?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brené Brown: I don’t think there’s a 4-Hour Self-Awareness. It’s like—
Tim Ferriss: No plans to write that one.
Brené Brown: Yeah. But I mean, but people would love it if you could, if you could unlock that fast. But to me this is the capstone conversation for you. Yeah. Do you know what I mean?
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Brené Brown: Because what’s it F-ing for?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah right.
Brené Brown: You know, like, “I’m fit, I’m winning, I’m smart, I’m successful, and I’m on my third marriage, and I don’t speak to any of my children.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Which you see a lot.
Brené Brown: I see all the time.
Tim Ferriss: All the time, yeah.
Brené Brown: Right. Because I’m going to tell you—not to dismiss the importance of that work—that’s easier.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. It is easier.
Brené Brown: It is easier. You know, because the thing about these conversations that you and I end up having every time we sit down, this is the second time, but both times we’ve sat down is what differentiates us as a social species is the need to be seen and known and loved and the need to see and know and love others. And no one rides for free. We all come into this adulthood with hard stuff. And what I would say is true about complacency, and 95 percent of what I see that people call pathology, is it’s armor.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Brené Brown: It’s not—it’s armor. It’s how—it’s behaviors and ways of thinking that I’ve developed to protect myself from being hurt.
Naval Ravikant on The Tim Ferriss Show
Tim Ferriss: Your pinned tweet is a tweetstorm. So it’s a series of tweets, the headline of which is, “How to get rich,” and then in parentheses, “without getting lucky.” It has, as we record this, 44,800 retweets, 110+1,000 favorites. We’re not going to go through this whole thing; it’s quite long. But I’m curious to know what parts of it you think people are paying too much attention to or over-emphasize and what parts of it do you wish people would pay more attention to? Because there are many different pieces of advice in this thread.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, that tweetstorm is a series of principles that I kind of wrote for myself in my head when I was 13 and I was trying to figure out how to make money. And it kind of came up with a framework of how to be rich, but not by accident, to do it in a way that I could repeat it over and over. And I would leave very little up to chance because I think there’s kind of this—it’s not completely mythology, but there’s this belief that to make money, you have to be born rich, or you have to be privileged, or you have to be in the right circles, you have to get lucky. And I think that there are still ways to accomplish the original American dream, which is make money, but do it in a deliberate, systematic way.
And when I say money, I mean wealth, I don’t mean a law firm where you make a couple of hundred bucks an hour, but you’re still tied to the clock. I mean, when you wake up when you want, you go to sleep when you want, you live where you want, and you have freedom. So to me, the purpose of money is freedom. And for that, you need to create wealth and can you do it ethically? Can you do it sustainably? Can you do it reliably? Can you do it with people that you like, can you do it doing things that you enjoy? And I think it’s absolutely possible. And I like to think that I’m at least one of many living proof points for that. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are examples of others. Not that I’m in their status or their league, but other people have done it.
So that was the whole point of that framework. And the tweetstorm, I just wrote it down one day. And it’s funny because obviously, I have some experience at Twitter, so I know how to craft things. But I think that was written back in the day when the tweet limit was 140 characters too. So it was harder, but I just woke up one night when I’d been thinking about it and I wrote out the whole tweetstorm, almost exactly like you see it. And there are lots and lots of missing pieces. Obviously, that is just a very high level, very Zen koan-like, or, or haiku-like, or even in Hallmark card-like framework. it’s missing a ton of details, which I then tried to extrapolate in my podcast series on the same topic.
Tim Ferriss: What do people overemphasize, and what are people missing?
Naval Ravikant: I think—
Tim Ferriss: And actually, Naval, let me pause and just read a few of them. This is from May 31, 2018. So a few examples, and you don’t have to comment on these specific examples, but just for people who haven’t seen this, I want to give them an idea. So the second of these various tweets in this sequence is, “Understand that ethical wealth creation is possible. If you secretly despise wealth, it will elude you.” End of that particular tweet. And then there’s another one, “You’re not going to get rich renting out your time. You must own equity, a piece of a business, to gain your financial freedom.”
Naval Ravikant: That one right there is the most important one. Which is, in modern life, what happens is the person who is the best at doing something in the world will get to do it for the entire world through a combination of leverage and distribution, accountability, and specific knowledge. All of which I talk about in the tweetstorm. If you’re the best in the world at doing something, if you’re the best teacher in the world at math, you should be teaching the entire world math. If you’re the best podcast interviewer, you should be doing all the top interviews and their returns will accrue to you, especially in this highly digital world where we live in, where the cost of distributing something is very close to zero. And so what you kind of want to do is, you want to productize yourself into a business, and then you want to own that business.
That is the way to make wealth. A clear example is the Tim Ferriss podcast and the Tim Ferriss brand, right? It’s an eponymous brand. Your name is on it. You’re leveraged through this podcast and through the books you write and through the army of followers that you have on the various media platforms. And you’re taking on big accountability and there’s specific knowledge. Only you know how to be Tim Ferriss, the learning machine who can then connect to other learners and extract value out of them and share that with the audience. So that’s an example of you having productized yourself. But ultimately, you own the Tim Ferriss business. Now you can go lower levels down from that. You don’t have to own the entire business. You could be an investor in public equities or private stocks. You could be a partner in a private business. You could be an employee of a startup where you have stock options, but if you don’t own a piece of a business, it’s going to be extremely hard to get wealthy.
It would be nearly impossible, almost not worth that route. So I think that is the most important foundational tweet. I think, where people kind of miss the plot the most though, is we have pain avoidance in life. We don’t want to face things where it’s clear we have made bad decisions because one good definition of suffering is that, that’s the moment when you see things that they clearly are, and you kind of don’t like what you see. Like, for example, if you and your spouse have been fighting for a long time, you’ve kind of been sweeping it under the rug and you’ve sort of been suffering along, but you’re sweeping it under the rug, and then you get divorced. At that moment you can no longer unsee all the damage that was in the relationship and what all the consequences are.
They’re real. The same way if you haven’t been taking care of your health, but then suddenly you find out that you’ve just fallen off a cliff and something irreversibly bad has happened. The moment of suffering arrives and you’re in pain because you can no longer unsee this thing. You can no longer avoid it. So I think the same way—the unfortunate part is that a lot of these principles are written for young people because you can set yourself on a certain trajectory in life earlier.
And so, for example, if you went and you got a PhD in a social science, and now I’m basically saying, “Hey, learn to code,” you’re going to avoid that. You’re not going to want to see that because you have all this sunk cost in the degree. So I think a lot of people don’t want to pick up the new skills that are necessary, or they don’t want to, for example, physically move, or they don’t want to disappoint the people and the relationships that they already have to make room for new relationships.
So everybody wants to start where they are. Nobody wants to go back down the mountain to find the path going at the top. Everybody wants to stay on the path they’re on, maybe make a few tweaks and get to the top or like Charlie Munger jokes. You know, people always ask me like, “How do I get to be rich like you, except quicker? I don’t want to be an old rich guy. I want to be the young rich guy.”
So I think these are the hard parts. The hard parts are not the learning, it is the unlearning. It’s not the climbing up the mountain. It’s the going back down to the bottom of the mountain and starting over. It’s the beginner’s mind that every great artist, or every great business person has, which is: you have to be willing to start from scratch. You have to be willing to hit reset and go back to zero.
Because you have to realize that what you already know, and what you’re already doing, is actually an impediment to your full potential. And most people just don’t want to acknowledge that. And I’m guilty of that too. That’s just human nature. I’m not faulting anybody for it, but it’s just human nature.
Tim Ferriss: And if we look at your specific case, as it relates to equity, you mentioned owning part of a business. You also mentioned in this conversation, productizing yourself. So would you view your success in following that principle predominantly in, for instance, the equity that you own in a company like AngelList, or is it the identity and the brand meaning associations that you’ve built as Naval the human, or is it slash investor, therefore being sought after as an investor? Or is it something else?
How would you think of that principle as applying it most in your own life? Because you’ve created wealth, not just through say your equity and AngelList, but also through many successful investments. And then I’m sure there are other ways that we could identify wealth as coming from your path that you have.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, what I like about my path is that I’ve made money doing a lot of different little things. So I’ve made money consistently in sort of small to medium-sized chunks. I haven’t had like one gigantic payday that set me up forever. Although it depends on your standards. I’m talking about by Silicon Valley standards, obviously, for most parts of the world, I’ve had many of those gigantic paydays, but they’ve been consistent and they’ve been varied.
Varied in the sense that there are completely different kinds of investments and endeavors, but consistent in that, I get one every couple of years.
Tim Ferriss: I just want to interject for a second, which would seem to suggest that there are principles guiding your approaches or some—
Naval Ravikant: Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: Systematic approach. Therefore, you’re not relying on winning the Powerball lottery or that equivalent.
Naval Ravikant: No, not at all. No, there’s no lottery here to win. The lottery is for losers. Lotteries are just attacks on people who can’t do math. Your get-rich-quick schemes are just other people getting rich off of you. There are no shortcuts. So what I’m doing is I am taking my specific knowledge, which is my ability to understand deeply technical concepts and communicate them to the rest of the world, to be an interface between great programmers and developers and designers and the capital markets and consumers.
And using that to put myself in a position where then I can identify great trends as they’re emerging, invest in those companies or help start those companies, own equity in those things, help bring them to market, help do the strategy and how to navigate the worlds of fundraising and exiting and recruiting and company building and cultures and technology development and all that, and have a brand around it.
And I used that to kind of make money. And that is just one of several ways. I’ve also done it by investing early on in public markets and cryptocurrencies and starting funds and all kinds of things. It’s funny I don’t really follow my own principles anymore. Like the, for example, the whole podcast thing and the whole Twitter thing, even though I’ve got reasonably good brands and followers, and those I’m not monetizing them at all.
I’m not charging anybody for anything because I’m not trying to make money anymore. To me, that making money is like, you become the kind of person that makes money and you put yourself in long-term situations where you’re always going to make money. So I have the brand and I have deep relationships with a dozen people who I know, and I trust that I can do business with, for the rest of my life.
And they’re very high integrity people. They’re very capable people and just makes it easy to do things. So I’ve set up that infrastructure. Now, the money just kind of makes itself as I go about my life. I don’t want to have to work hard. I don’t want to have to roll out of bed at a certain time. I don’t want to have to answer to somebody. So I optimize for independence and freedom.
I could have made a lot more money by raising a huge fund or joining a big VC firm early on, or being an executive. One of the massive companies in Silicon Valley early on, but I always optimize for independence. I’m lazy. I wake up at seven, eight, nine, 10:00 a.m. I go to sleep at two, 3:00 a.m. You know, I don’t work a lot of days. Some days I work morning to night, but it’s just based on whatever I’m curious about.
I never want to have to answer to a boss. No one’s ever going to tell me what to do. I don’t want to order people around. I don’t want to have someone reporting to me and kind of asking me all the time what to do. I want peer relationships. I want to flow. I want to be able to do business or walking in a forest, talking on a cell phone, or sitting in a meeting or in front of a computer, or I want to be on a beach if I don’t feel like it.
The ideal would be to make money with your mind, not with your time. So if I can just make one good decision a year, and that makes me all the money that I need for that year, then that’s perfect. And that’s the way it should be, because we’re living in an age of infinite leverage and your judgment just gets multiplied through this massive force multiplier through code, capital, community, labor, what have you.
So if you’re smart and you kind of know what you’re doing, you don’t need to work hard. Working hard is the last least important thing. You have to pay your dues. You have to put in all the iterations, 10,000 iterations, not 10,000 hours, to figure out what to do and how to do it well. But once, you know, you don’t have to put in the time anymore. It’s your judgment.
And the judgment comes from clear thinking. The clear thinking comes from having time to reflect and to pursue your genuine intellectual curiosity. And you’ll see that a lot of the great investors, for example, just sit around reading most of the time, or Warren Buffett famously plays a lot of bridge. Obviously not everyone can be just an investor, although that is becoming more and more democratized.
And I’ve picked something that suits my temperament and particular capabilities, but there’s lots and lots of ways to make money if you apply your mind to it. So I don’t work to make money. I mean, if I make so much money that I’m donating hospital wings and universities and all that stuff, I overshot. I’m not trying to have some influence on the world through money. Ironically, I have more influence over the world through podcasts like this.
And so making more money doesn’t change my life. It doesn’t change the world as much as I could by doing other things. So there’s not much incentive for me to make money anymore. Other than just this practicing my craft.
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.