The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Insights from Dr. Matthew Walker, Adam Grant/Atul Gawande, Diana Chapman, and Rich Roll/David Goggins (#630)

Please enjoy this transcript of a special episode of The Tim Ferriss Show that scratches an itch I’ve had for years. I am not always able to listen to every great podcast episode out there, even when they are by some of my closest friends. The answer to my predicament was to ask them to send me a top segment from their podcast that I could listen to and—more importantly—also share with you, my dear listeners. 

At the beginning of each segment is an intro from the host and where to find their work and podcast. I also share a clip 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!

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastPodcast AddictPocket CastsCastboxGoogle PodcastsStitcherAmazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform.

#630: Insights from Dr. Matthew Walker, Adam Grant/Atul Gawande, Diana Chapman, and Rich Roll/David Goggins


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 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 or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.


Matt Walker: Hi there. My name is Matt Walker and I am a professor of neuroscience at the University of California Berkeley. I’m also the author of the book Why We Sleep and I’ve given a couple of TED Talks here and there as well. I’m also the host of The Matt Walker Podcast, a sample of which I wanted to offer here.

Now, I think it’s safe to say that when most podcasters think about their audience perhaps, uh, falling asleep or nodding off while listening, it can be profoundly disheartening, however, based on the topic of this podcast, I’m going to actively encourage that kind of behavior from you. Um, in fact, knowing what I know, particularly about the relationship between sleep and memory, it’s the greatest form of flattery for me to think that people like you cannot resist the urge to strengthen and consolidate what I’m telling you by falling asleep. So, um (laughs), please just feel free to ebb and flow in and out of consciousness throughout the entire episode. I’ll take absolutely no offense.

And today, in terms of the episode, we’re going to speak about two things. First, I’m going to tell you about the impact of alcohol on your sleep, which right from the off is going to make me, um, deeply unpopular. Um (laughs), and if that wasn’t bad enough, I’m going to follow it up by speaking about the impact of caffeine on your sleep.

So, let’s first speak about nightcaps. And here by the way, I’m not speaking about the physical kind. What I’m talking about here is the liquid kind. We’re talking about alcohol and sleep. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about what alcohol is as a chemical, then we’ll speak about how alcohol impacts your sleep, and then we’ll explain why it is that alcohol has these harmful impacts on your sleep.

Alcohol is perhaps one of the most misunderstood sleep aids that there is out there. As we’re going to learn, it is anything but a sleep aid. And even though people may feel as though a wee drink in the evening or several drinks in the evening may be helping their sleep, in fact, it’s harming your sleep. Alcohol will impact your sleep in three specific ways.

First, alcohol is in a class of drugs that we call the sedatives. And sedation is not sleep. But when we’ve had a drink in the evening, we mistake the former for the latter. We mistake sedation for sleep. And I should probably explain in a little more detail what the difference is between those two because sedatives, um, such as alcohol will effectively switch off brain cell firing, particularly in your cortex. Sleep on the other hand is very different. As we learned about in the first episode of this podcast, it’s during sleep, and especially during deep sleep when hundreds and thousands of brain cells all of a sudden decide to sing together in this amazing feat of coordination and they all fire together and then they all go silent together, and then they fire together and then they all go silent together. And that’s very different to sedation.

And if I were to show you the electrical signature of your sleep when you have alcohol onboard versus a natural night of sleep, you would recognize that those two electrical signature patterns are very different. So, that’s the first issue regarding alcohol. We shouldn’t mistake sedation for sleep. But when we’ve had a few drinks in the evening, we tend to think that we fall asleep more quickly. In reality, all we’re actually doing is losing consciousness more quickly. We’re not going into naturalistic sleep.

The second issue with alcohol is that it fragments your sleep. In other words, alcohol will litter your sleep with many more awakenings throughout that night. One of the problems, by the way, with these short awakenings, is that you typically don’t remember them, but it still leaves your sleep peppered or littered with all of these brief awakenings. In other words, your sleep is less continuous. And a good example of this is a recent experimental study conducted in a sleep laboratory. If you take a group of healthy adults and you give them a body standardized dose of alcohol, one that would probably just put you right at the legal blood alcohol content limit for driving and then you let the sleep recordings offer the, the sort of the jury verdict as it were, relative to a placebo night of sobriety, sleep, especially in the second half of the night was far more fragmented when alcohol had been taken onboard. Indeed, come the last four hours of the night, those participants spent 94 percent more time awake having had alcohol in the evening, relative to when they were sober. Because of that fragmentation of your sleep caused by alcohol despite the fact that you don’t remember it, you wake up the next morning and you don’t feel restored by your sleep. You don’t feel refreshed by your sleep.

The third concern with alcohol is that it will block your rapid eye movement sleep, or what we often think of as dream sleep. In fact, alcohol is one of the most potent suppressors of REM sleep. That’s perhaps concerning considering that REM sleep is associated with a constellation of different benefits, both for your brain and also for your body. And we’ll speak about those in subsequent episodes, but this includes things such as learning and memory, creativity, rebalancing your moods and your emotions, and downstairs, in the body, REM sleep is associated with the recalibration of numerous different hormone systems including, for example, testosterone and more recently, we’ve discovered that REM sleep is significantly associated with your longevity. And the less REM sleep that you have predicts a shorter lifespan. So, in other words, REM sleep seems to be critical for numerous aspects of health and wellness even for the fundamentals of life.

Which brings me on to one of the strange side effects of alcohol. Some people, um (laughs), uh, and I’m not suggesting it’s you, uh, listening to this, but let’s just say some hypothetical people may have gone out on a Friday night or a Saturday night and they’ve had a good number of drinks and the next morning, they may end up experiencing very vivid, very strong, and very intense dreams. Why is this? Well, it turns out that your brain keeps a clock counter of how much REM sleep you should normally have and how much REM sleep that you have lost as a consequence of alcohol being in your system. The brain throughout the night then starts to build this incredible hunger for REM sleep, this drive for REM sleep, because it’s been starved during the early part and the middle part of the night, as the alcohol has been washing around in your system.

And then, if you sleep late into that subsequent morning, into a Saturday or a Sunday morning after a few too many drinks, your brain will try to get back some of the REM sleep that it has lost, so then as you’re sleeping late into that subsequent morning after a night of a few too many drinks, your brain is clever. Having kept a clock counter of how much REM sleep you should’ve had, but how much REM sleep you have not been able to achieve, it will try to get back some of the REM sleep that has been absent. This is what we call a REM sleep rebound effect. In other words, the brain in those last few hours of the night, when your liver and your kidneys have finally cleared out the alcohol will not only try to get the normal amount of REM sleep that you would have, but it will also try to get back some of the REM sleep that you have lost.

As a consequence, that’s why you have these really intense, really vivid dream experiences. And again, just to make mention, the brain never gets back all of the REM sleep that it’s lost. It will only get back some of that REM sleep during the REM sleep rebound effect.

So that’s a little bit about what alcohol is and the three different ways in which alcohol can disrupt your sleep. And also some of the ways that it can give you some rather strange, rather vivid dreams on the morning after. So that’s sleep and alcohol.

But now let me transition to something different. Sleep and caffeine. This is perhaps going to sound strange coming from someone like me, but I’m going to suggest that you drink coffee, because the health benefits associated with coffee are numerous and many of them are significant. And in a separate episode of my podcast that we won’t feature here, I will tell you why coffee is associated with those health benefits. But for the rest of this episode, we’re going to focus on exactly what caffeine is as a substance and then we’ll dive deep into how caffeine can impact your sleep at night in several different ways. Also we’ll speak about how and why different people can be more or less vulnerable to the effects of caffeine.

So let’s start with exactly how caffeine works. In our previous episode on sleep pressure, we learned all about how caffeine can keep you awake during the day. Here we’re going to focus on how caffeine can impact your sleep at night. Caffeine is in a class of drugs that we call the psychoactive stimulants. And I’m sure that you knew that caffeine was some form of a stimulant. However, there are several hidden consequences of caffeine that you may be less aware of.

One of these is the duration of action. Caffeine has what we call a half-life of about five to six hours in the average adult. In other words, after five to six hours, 50 percent of that caffeine is still going to be in your system. What that means is that caffeine will then have a quarter life of about 10 to 12 hours. So, in other words, let’s say that you have a cup of coffee at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, almost a quarter of that caffeine could still be circulating in your brain at midnight, or perhaps even more than a quarter of that caffeine. And the, probably rather crass analogy here would be that if you have a cup of coffee at 2:00 p.m., it would be the equivalent of getting into bed at midnight and just before you turn the lights out, you swig a quarter of a cup of coffee and you hope for a good night of sleep and it tends not to happen. In part, this comes back to the stimulant properties of caffeine.

First, caffeine is going to make it more difficult for you to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow. Added to this is the fact that caffeine will increase levels of anxiety. So as you’re lying there not being able to fall asleep, you suffer that sort of terrible experience of a racing mind that won’t shut off. I almost liken this to a sort of a Rolodex of anxiety that can flood your brain due to the effects of caffeine.

The second and related issue is that not only will caffeine make it harder for you to fall asleep, it will then also make it more difficult for you to stay asleep soundly across the night. This is because caffeine will make your sleep more unstable. In other words, it will cause you to wake up more frequently at night. And the consequence is something that we call sleep fragmentation, meaning that your overall sleep efficiency, or the quality of your sleep, becomes significantly worse when you have caffeine on board.

As a quick aside, some people will tell me, “Look, I am one of those individuals and I can have an espresso with dinner and I fall asleep and I stay asleep, so no harm no foul.” Well, yes and no. Even if you fall asleep easily and then you stay asleep across the night, caffeine will still decrease the amount of deep sleep that your brain can generate. I’ll go into that in far greater detail in the second episode. But I make that point because most people are not consciously aware of the lack of that deep sleep even though they don’t remember having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep.

And in fact, why don’t I just pause for a second. Let’s linger on this common statement that I receive from people about their sensitivity. What we know is that the effects of caffeine are highly variable from one individual to the next. I said earlier that the quarter life of caffeine is somewhere between 10 to 12 hours, but that’s for the average adult. It’s really quite different from one person to the next that you will pass on the street. Using a variety of different assessment techniques and methods, what we’ve recently discovered is that your sensitivity to caffeine is due in part to your genetics. Different people will have a more or less efficient version of an enzyme that breaks down caffeine. And if you’re (laughs), if you’re nerd curious like me, the class of liver compounds that we’re talking about here are called cytochrome P450 enzymes (laughs).

I’ve always thought, by the way, that “Cytochrome P450s” would be a great title for an album. Don’t you think that would be brilliant? Um, no. Probably just me. Uh, anyway, um, getting back to the story. Some people will have a version of that enzyme that allows them to metabolize the caffeine very quickly, whereas other people will have a version of the enzyme, or set of enzymes it turns out, which is much slower in its speed of breakdown of that caffeine. And as a result, that caffeine will linger in their system far longer than it would do in someone who can metabolize it quite quickly.

For those people who can’t metabolize it and cleanse the system of the caffeine as quickly, those are the people who are highly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. By the way, unfortunately, having run my own genetic screening test, I am one of those slow caffeine metabolizers. Ugh. It makes me so sad because I adore the smell of freshly ground coffee. I love that ritual. I would say, however, that decaffeinated coffee, if you find the right one, can be almost as extraordinary. But again, I’m telling my story. This is not about me. This is about you and this podcast. If you would like to know, by the way, which caffeine sensitive type you are, there are several genetic testing kits out there and I won’t name names that you can easily buy online, and they will often assess those specific set of relative genes. Um, and once again, if you’re curious, the two most relevant genes for you to look out for regarding this caffeine sensitivity are called CYP182, and AHR, um, total alphabet spaghetti, wasn’t it?

And with that spaghetti thrown against the informational wall of today’s episode, I will simply say, thank you for listening. And if you want to connect with me further, you can find me on Twitter using the handle @sleepdiplomat. You can find me on the web at But mostly (laughs), and if you’ve not lost the will to live listening to my dulcet British tones at this point, you can listen to many more episodes from this which is my podcast, it’s called The Matt Walker Podcast, on all of your standard podcast platforms.

So take care, and goodbye from me.


Adam Grant: Hey, everyone. It’s Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I’m an organizational psychologist, and I am taking you inside the minds of fascinating people, to explore how they think and what we should all rethink.

Today’s guest is Atul Gawande, surgeon, Harvard professor, New Yorker writer, and best-selling author of books like Complications and Being Mortal. I’ve long admired Atul’s work on error, checklists, and coaching. And in a conference last year, I got to see his competence and compassion firsthand when he helped rescue me from a severe allergic reaction.

Thanks, Atul.

In January 2022, he started a new job in The White House as Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Global Health. So it’s a perfect time to talk with him about leadership, learning from mistakes, and how he works with his coach.

Adam Grant: You chose surgery; that’s an enormously consuming career. Somehow you managed to find time to write for The New Yorker. How did your identity expand from “I’m just going to be a surgeon and that could, that could take up all my time” to, “I’m actually going to have a side gig as a, a prominent writer?”

Atul Gawande: The best advice I got, which came late in life, but seemed to register was a colleague who said, “Just say yes until you’re 40, and after 40, just say no.” When you’re young, you don’t know what actually energizes you and what you will prove to be good at. You don’t have a sample size to know. And I started with a base assumption that I grew up around medicine, so I could be comfortable in it. But even in medicine, you don’t know what you’re going to be when you grow up, what kind of field do you want to go into? Do you want to lead people? Do you want to go deep in a technical area? Do you want to be in a research lab? Do you want to do startups? Do you want to do public health? There’s so many different directions to go. And I just said, yes. I hit college and found my mind was blown. I was from a rural town in Ohio, and there was incredible possibilities. I ended up going to a place like Stanford, where everything was open to me. It was too much choice. And so I just started saying yes to stuff. And then I paid attention to the things that actually energized me.

Just finding time flew when I did certain things. I was very into Steven Jay Gould, the writer on evolution. I was very into health policy. And I was very into understanding clinical trials and how you create impact in science. That blossomed into saying yes to spending time on presidential campaigns around healthcare. And I worked for Gary Hart and Al Gore when he ran. Long story short, by the time I got out of college, I was ready to do several things that took 10 years to fit together. I did a degree in politics and philosophy. I worked on the Hill in Washington. I started my training in surgery. I would end up getting a degree in public health during my surgery training.

And when I put it all together, the thing that was totally unexpected was I had stuff to write about, and I began writing for Slate magazine, and that became The New Yorker magazine. I loved surgery and I found I could have technical skills in how to build public health interventions and make it work. And only later did I reach that point, my late 30s hitting 40, where I said no to everything, except how I could put together writing as a way of exploring what I was experiencing in day-to-day medicine and the failures of the system and how we cope with the fact that we now are in a world where we can live into our 80s on average. If we can access the capabilities of a science that has given us drugs, medical and surgical procedures, public health interventions, but only part of our population gets to have that advantage in the United States or around the world. And our job has become to deploy that capability, town by town, to everybody alive. And I get to explore it through writing. I get to live it through my practical work as a surgeon, I did. And then I built a public health institution around starting to solve problems in making that work. And I found my life’s purpose doing that.

Adam Grant: It’s amazing. I’m so fascinated by this advice you got to say yes until you’re 40, which on the one hand, I, I think you make a very compelling argument that it’s a great way to discover what your passions are or develop those passions and also hone your skills. It also sounds like a recipe for indentured servitude and possibly burnout.

Atul Gawande: You also have to pay attention to what is exhausting you and you’ve got to pare that out, because that’s the cause of burnout, right? You are finding your own balance. I found, for me, my personality, I was doing surgery and that energized me. Even though I was in the middle of surgery residency, even though at that time it was 110 hours a week, I still was fired up about it. I hated staying up all night. I couldn’t stand that. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel that, that might end. But then I’d weirdly, I’d get home, and a friend said, “Would you write for Slate on healthcare stuff?” And I found I was making time at nine o’clock at night to work for a couple of hours. And I was doing it. Like that was a signal to me. I was not energized spending time in lab. So I stopped the stuff that I didn’t have the energy to do. There was a lot of things that I quit, a lot of things that I quit so that I wasn’t burning out. And even today, the work can be overwhelming at times, but I’m marshaling my energy around spending as much of it doing the things that I can value and enjoy. There’s always crap. There’s always a grind in everything. And that part is there. It’s just, there has to be some saving grace that keeps you going.

Adam Grant: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?

Atul Gawande: Well, it’s the constant advice I got early on, which is “You have to pick one thing, Atul.” And I just resisted it because some people will be brilliant and best diving deep into one thing, but there’s lots of creativity at the edges of combining fields, combining approaches. And so I combined surgery and public health and then I combined in writing and that work, and that is where I’m successful. It may not be the same way other people are.

Adam Grant: Atul, one of my other favorite pieces of writing of yours was the article you wrote on having a coach. And I remember seeing this headline and thinking, of course it makes perfect sense. Athletes have coaches, musicians have coaches, everyone else should, too, if they want to be at the top of their game. You have a coach. So you’re eating your own dog food or drinking your own champagne depending on how that’s going. What’s that been like, what are you learning? I think it’s one thing to be coached in a profession like surgery, right, which is very task-oriented. To be coached as a leader is much broader, much more ambiguous in many ways. I’d love to hear what that’s been like and what you’ve learned about coaching through this experience.

Atul Gawande: You know, that piece was prompted by recognizing that I was paying like 125 bucks to have a tennis coach, and that Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Djokovic, the top players in the world, all have coaches. But that is not our paradigm in whole swaths of other professions. We have an educational paradigm: you will put in your 10,000 hours of education, and then you will be a self-learner. Part of the education is how to train and advance yourself. And so which one was correct? Music was really interesting to me because in parts of music like voice, I got to speak to Renée Fleming, the opera singer. All singers have coaches. They follow the sports paradigm, but in things like violin, they don’t have coaches. And I got to call up Itzhak Perlman, the greatest violinist of his generation, and ask him, “Did you think you need a coach?” And he said, “We don’t have coaches in playing violin, but I always did.” His wife, that he met when he was at Julliard after a period of time as a professional musician herself, she stopped playing to become his coach. Sit in the audience, observe his performances, give him feedback, and do it in effective enough ways that he could improve, set new goals, and move onward. And that’s what I learned is the pattern of coaching.

Effective coaching is different from teaching in that it involves an external view of your own reality. And then ideally it orients around the goals that you set for where you want to advance. It can give you a framework for where you want to advance. And so I tried it out and I’m so glad you asked me about this because I decided to bring a coach into my operating room. And it was a fellow surgeon who was one of my professors, and one of the surgeons I most wanted to be like, named Bob Ostein. And he died just a couple weeks ago, a cancer surgeon I just tremendously admire, and was my coach in the operating room, and would observe, and we would set goals. I’m going to work on how my team works in these next few months. I’m going to work on my technical skills. I’m going to work on, you know, the things we worked on most in the — until I stopped doing surgery in December, which was painful. Teaching, and how I could be a more effective teacher.

Translating that into this atmosphere as I started building public health institutions, I had an executive coach that I engaged, guy named Alan Foster. He’s terrific, and we’ve been together now for a decade and working on, as I’ve started up multiple organizations, as I’ve advanced them along the way, and now in this role. And I actually think a lot of people have executive coaches and it has become a familiar thing. But the key to it has been not just my giving him my independent view of the world, but having him do a 360. And we actually just came through our 360 here with our team where he reviewed and talked to all of my leaders. And we got inputs from more than 30 people, including people reporting up to me, people above me, people that we have to work with as peers across the government and, you know, identified things that were going well, and the strengths I was building on, and the opposite things. In that variably it was the flip side of my strengths. So for example, I’m, I’m very energetic, as you might hear. And, and I’m also good at making decisions and making them quickly, but I’m moving so fast that I’m not communicating them and I’m not recognizing how to move them down into the organization and across to other people. I’m already moving on to my next thing. It’s the rubber band theory of leadership. You want the rubber band to pull ahead enough that people are coming with you, not, not fall so far behind people are just swinging around behind you. I will tend to go so far that I can break the rubber band.

Adam Grant: Do you have strategies for making sure that you take that feedback seriously, as opposed to brushing it off and saying, “Well, that’s just how I work. You better get with the program.”

Atul Gawande: The main strategy is identify actions to take, which include informing people, “Here is what I’ve heard,” and trying to set that model that you make feedback part of the culture of the place that you are advancing. One line of feedback, one of many lines of feedback, was that I tended to interrupt people as they were talking, and that was really bad. And so we came up with that I would owe $10 to the candy jar that we kept out for people walking through. And every time I interrupted people and so people could call me out, have permission, it’s $10 in the candy jar. And my whole goal was to get rid of the candy jar. Like I wanted an empty candy jar. I definitely never had an empty candy jar, and so I wasn’t quite accepting it. It was recognizing that, you know, it was trying to diffuse it, trying to reduce it. I reduced it, but not eliminated it. And there’s a certain degree of you want to share the strengths so you’re not sacrificing the strengths along the way. They’re typically related, the strengths and the weaknesses.

Adam Grant: I think of Deborah Tannen’s work on what she calls high consideration versus high involvement conversation styles. And for you to say, “Listen, when I interrupt, that doesn’t mean I’m intending to be rude or impolite. It means I’m really engaged, and it’s a sign that I’m excited to jump in and build. But as a leader, I know that carries a lot of weight and it might silence people in the room.” It seems like even being able to have that conversation right, is a helpful step, whether or not you make it to the candy jar.

Atul Gawande: Yes. You know, it’s acceptable once in a while, but it can’t be an acceptable pattern. The culture of an organization is the worst behavior you tolerate. We’d be in a wonderful place if the worst thing that happened is that the boss sometimes interrupts you. We have bigger problems to work on in every organization I’ve been part of, because it’s not just about me. It’s also getting the organizational feedback.

This I got out in surgery, right? You cannot have a functional surgical world where you are not recognizing there are behaviors that can cost people’s lives, and then address them. And we have an institution every Wednesday morning reviewing our deaths and major complications for the patterns that underlay them. And when you’re doing that on a regular basis, it’s recognizing failure occurs regularly. And then you are activating that we are going to look out for them and then address what are the worst things that happen, and then our plan for not tolerating them. And I think that’s absolutely crucial in public health work because of exactly the reasons you mentioned: the scale at which we do this work, we will have failures, we have risks we absolutely have to take, and we have to drum out the worst behaviors that set us behind and identify where we can attack them.

Adam Grant: Music to my ears. Well, thank you, Atul, this has been just packed with insight, and I’m so grateful for the work that you’re doing for not only the US, but for public health at scale around the world.

Atul Gawande: Well, I’m always delighted to talk to you Adam. Over the many years we’ve known each other, fantastic to get to do it in the medium of your podcast, which I’m an avid listener to.

Adam Grant: Wow. Thank you. I’m glad we didn’t end up in the ER this time. Cheers.

Atul Gawande: Cheers. We’ll leave that story to be told later.

Adam Grant: Seriously. Thank you, Atul.


Tim Ferriss:
My guest today, I’m very excited about Diana Chapman, C-H-A-P-M-A-N. Diana is a co-founder of the Conscious Leadership Group and a coauthor of the book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which I am rereading right now, it just so happens.

Her passion is to help organizational leaders and their teams eliminate drama in the workplace and beyond. 

Diana Chapman: I learned about this thing called the Drama Triangle, which many people out there may have heard about, but I realized my whole life is running around on this Drama Triangle, and the Drama Triangle was created by Stephen Karpman back in the ’70s, and he defined ways in which human beings get caught in victimhood that create reactivity, and I realized I’m on the triangle most of the time, and there is a big cost to me and my people when I’m on a Drama Triangle. So that was the wake-up call for me, and then I’ve spent every day since looking for all the tools I can for how to keep myself out of that triangle as much as possible.

Tim Ferriss: Since you mentioned it, let’s just jump right into the Drama Triangle. Could you give us an overview of what it is and how you might use it?

Diana Chapman: Okay. So Karpman says many of us got trained to live in a state of victimhood, and there are three unique flavors of victimhood in the Drama Triangle. We call them bases. So the first base is the pure victim, and the pure victim, it’s so hard here. I’m trying. I don’t know. It’s just any kind of a — help. It’s got this very disempowered feeling, and it’s somehow like they’ve got the power, somebody else has it, not me, and I’m very at the effect of things. So I could be at the effect of my bank account, at the effect of this email that just came in, at the effect of the traffic, at the effect of the new policy on going back to work, at the effect of COVID. All those things are forms of being a victim.

Then the next role in the Drama Triangle is the villain, and the villain’s job is to blame. So I can blame me. God, I should’ve known that, or I should’ve been more prepared, or any should’ve over here on me, or I’m not smart enough, or I can’t count of myself. That’s all villaining toward myself, or we can villain toward another. You, you’re the reason why I’m not having as much fun as I could be having, or we could be a villain to a group of people, which is very popular in our culture. So we all know who’s screwing it up for the rest of us. It’s that group over there, and everybody’s pointing to particularly groups who are the bad guys. So villain’s very popular because it gets our adrenaline really kicking in.

Tim Ferriss: I think it’s actually in the terms of service on Twitter that you have to play that role when you use that service. Anyways, it’s a side note. Please — 

Diana Chapman: Right, right. Who’s screwing it up? Who’s wrong? Yeah, you don’t know. You’re wrong. I’m right. Then the last role in the Drama Triangle is the hero. It’s also called the reliever or the rescuer, and the hero’s job is to seek temporary relief. Oh, my god. I had such a hard day today at work. Let me call home. I’m going to drink my alcohol or go do my gaming or get lost in Netflix, or whatever I’m going to do to give myself some temporary relief, and it works. But I’ve got to do it again tomorrow because tomorrow I’m going to come home, potentially burn out again, then I’m going to have to do the same pattern. So heroing is temporary relief over and over again.

So I can hero myself. I could hero another, “Oh, you look like you’re struggling at work. Let me take over some of your work that you’re doing,” and I could do that from a place of real presence, but when I’m in hero doing it, I’m actually creating some co-dependence where I keep needing you to not be able to handle your work so I can keep helping, and then I’ll resent you over time. Then we can hero them. There’s lots of philanthropies, especially in the past. They’re getting better at this now, where we just throw a bunch of money at a population, and then next year they have all the same issues, and they need more money, and nothing ever really changes. So the key thing is temporary relief.

So we all know the story about how you can give the man a fish every night, or you could teach him to fish for himself. So the hero gives the man the fish night after night after night. If you’re off the Drama Triangle, you shift to a place where you see people as empowered and the hero asks good questions to help people get more effective around them.

Tim Ferriss: So my next question, I want to share an observation from my rereading of the book, and then the next question, just to plant the seed, is I’m going to ask you why it’s called the Drama Triangle, what drama actually means here. But in my reread, which I’m in the middle of right now, of The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which was recommended to me by Dustin, and I think it was also recommended in my last book, Tribe of Mentors, by Dustin. There’s a section that I needed to reread, which was related to the Drama Triangle, and it pointed out that the villain could take the form of someone in a meeting who to try to resolve conflict, or maybe not resolve, to try to minimize conflict, always take the blame. Eventually, at the end of the meeting they just say, “You know what? It’s my fault. I should’ve done this, this, this, this and this,” and it’s easy, at least for me, to conflate radical responsibility with overly blaming myself for everything. I don’t actually have a great way to approach navigating discerning those two for me, if that makes any sense.

Diana Chapman: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So we could try to unpack that, or we could jump to why it’s called the Drama Triangle, but I’ll let you choose the direction.

Diana Chapman: Well, let me do both. So the reason why it’s called the Drama Triangle is because the whole triangle is set up for a “Nah, nah, nah.” It’s “I’m right, you’re wrong, you’re to blame or I’m to blame.” It’s not asking everybody to really take 100 percent responsibility for how their co-creating experience is. So if I’m in the Drama Triangle, the villain, if I’m taking on I’m more responsible, what happens is I’ll say, “Oh, I’m here at the meeting, you guys, and look, it’s my fault, and I’ll take some of your responsibility and take it all on me.” So there is a place to say, “Hey, I have a part in how I’ve co-created this. Let me tell you my part.” That would be me taking my 100 percent, and then I would also know that everybody else has a part to play, too. So I’m not taking on their responsibility as well. That’s the difference between a villain and somebody’s who just simply acknowledging, I have a role to play here.

Tim Ferriss: Got it. Thank you. So we were chatting before we started recording, and you and I have spoken quite a few times before. We’ve met before, spent time together, and you asked me why I invited you onto the podcast. There were a number of answers I gave. One of them was related to kinesthetic awareness or what our mutual friend and your business partner, Jim Dethmer, have called, at least in his notes to me for this conversation, this may be your term for all I know, BQ, like IQ, EQ, but body intelligence.

I feel like you’re very well calibrated for this, and when we spoke maybe a year-and-a-half ago, two years ago, I was working on this “No” book, you might recall, and then as I kept working on it and kept working on it, I kept coming up with great reasons to say no to the entire book, which was very meta, and I ended up stopping. But we spoke a lot about the whole-body yes, and I would love to maybe use that as a wedge to start the conversation because I found this so incredibly helpful, when I am certainly prone to over-intellectualizing everything into some extremely complicated matrix or spreadsheet, or God knows what. So could you lead us into that in whatever way makes sense?

Diana Chapman: Sure. The idea is that we have these different centers of intelligence. So we have our head, our heart, our gut, and IQ, EQ, BQ are some of the ways we might be describing those things these days. So body intelligence is a recognition that I have an instinctual awareness that is known by my sensations, known by how the body feels, and that there’s a lot actually there, that if we start to drop into the body and pay attention, it’s got a lot of guidance for us, as does our emotions, as does our intellect. So I do have a ton of access to my body intelligence. I think it’s what I lead with in my own getting clarity about which directions to go in my life, and I’ve put a lot of attention on it, so it’s very palpable to me. My body screams often, “No! Don’t do that!” even though my intellect might have an understanding of why.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s, if you wouldn’t mind, walk people through how they might understand and use the whole-body yes, because for me, when something is screaming, I’m decent at paying attention. But it’s not always a scream, right?

Diana Chapman: No.

Tim Ferriss: Oftentimes, it is a little more nuanced. So could you walk people through the whole-body yes and what the flight checklist looks like?

Diana Chapman: Yeah. Well, I could have people if we wanted to go through an experience of starting to feel what their whole-body yes and nos feels like.

Tim Ferriss: Great. Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s do that.

Diana Chapman: Should we do that? It’s very experiential, so it’ll take about 10 minutes, and I’ll have people, if they’re listening, I recommend they close their eyes.

Tim Ferriss: Wonderful.

Diana Chapman: Does that work?

Tim Ferriss: We have all the time in the world. This isn’t morning television.

Diana Chapman: Okay. So the idea is that your body knows when there’s a no, when there’s a yes, and when there’s what I’m going to call a subtle no, and we say anything other than a whole-body yes is a no, and to your point, it’s easy to hear those screaming nos, but not so easy to hear the subtle no. For example, someone contacted our organization the other day, and he wanted to talk, and it wasn’t clear to me whether he was trying to sell us something or whether he genuinely had clients that he wanted to connect us with, and even in my — I had suspicions that it wasn’t as clean as he was suggesting, and I asked for clarification, and his clarification, still, I couldn’t really tell, but my body did know. I felt this flat feeling in my body when I thought about having the call, and unfortunately, my head said, “Well, maybe you’re not sure, so let’s have the call.”

Indeed, it was a sales call, and it was not a good use of my time, and I quickly hung up. But that was a time in which I skipped over my no, because it was very subtle, and my intellect started to get worried, like, what if I’m missing something, and what if you don’t know? So I use this all the time, and I’m still learning, as I did just last week, to pay attention to the intelligences that are outside of just my intellect. So for you all, if you want to learn more about this, what I’d like you to do is close your eyes, and I’d like you to bring to mind an experience from the past that was deeply valuable to you. It was something that was nurturing. It was something you would gratefully repeat that scene again. It could be a time when you were celebrated. It could be a time when you were in a highly creative state that made something valuable. It could be a time when you were in nature feeling deeply centered.

So I’d like you to go back into that scene as best you can and see the images of that scene, and hear the sounds, and as you’re in that scene, I want you to start to pay attention to the body and see if you can notice just simply how the body is vibrating right now. When you imagine yourself in that scene, seeing those images, hearing the sounds, how does your body vibrate? Is there a particular direction in which energy is flowing through the body? Now, some of you might go, “Diana, I’m not feeling anything here.” That’s fine. Just imagine if you were feeling something. Let it be okay that it might feel like pretend, just for now. Is there a certain temperature that you notice in the body?

For some people, they might feel very specific sensations that might feel like shapes inside the body, and some people might be auditory and hear tones, or see visuals in their mind’s eye. What you’re doing here is getting a map of what does a whole-body yes feel like. You’re just strolling around inside of the body, feeling what you’re feeling, no right or wrong answers here, and everybody’s so unique. We all have our own different ways we feel it. For me, my body gets warm. There’s an uprising of energy. It flows up for me. There’s a push in the flow for me, but yours will be what it is.

So then I’d like you to take one last memory, take a memory shot of this so you can remember what this feels like. Then I’d like you to shake it off and let it go, and then I want you to think of a scene in the past that you don’t want to repeat, and I don’t recommend finding something traumatizing. Find something that you really didn’t feel like was a good use of your time, didn’t serve you, you don’t want to repeat it ever again, or you prefer not to. So if you can bring that image to mind, and again, see the visuals of that memory and hear the sounds. I want you to notice what happens now in the body. Is there a different way the body’s vibrating? How is the direction of energy flowing or not flowing in this version? Is there a difference in temperature? Any other significant sensations or shapes you feel in or on the body, and again, tones in the ears or visuals in your mind’s eye may also be included.

You’re getting a map for what no — this is a big no. I don’t want this. I don’t think this is going to serve me, just mapping the territory in the body for what does this feel like. Take one last picture of that and shake that one off, and then we’ve got one more to do, and this is the subtle no. This is similar to what I was just describing earlier of taking a meeting. It didn’t kill me to take the meeting. It didn’t hurt. It lasted 10 minutes, and I got off the phone, but it wasn’t a yes. It wasn’t an alive experience for me. So this is called a subtle no. So I want you to think back. Everybody’s got in the last two to four weeks something that’s happened in which it was an eh. It wasn’t bad, wasn’t good, eh. See if you can come back and see that scene in your mind’s eye, and hear those sounds.

You’re going to check and see what’s a subtle no feel like for you. How do you experience that scene? What do you notice in the body? How does it vibrate here? How does energy flow, or not flow? Is there a difference in temperature? What parts of the body light up, sensations and tones, or visuals as well? You’re trying on here, and again, if you don’t notice much, that’s okay. Just imagine if you did notice. What would you notice? This is your map for what a subtle no feels like. You want to remember this feeling so that the next time somebody says, “Hey, you want to go out to lunch,” or, “Could you meet me to talk about A, B, C,” that if you feel this, likely, it’s an invitation for you to try no. So you can shake that one off, and then we’ll bring our attention back to the ongoing conversation.


Rich Roll: Hey, everybody. My name is Rich Roll. I’m a writer, an ultra endurance athlete, and host of The Rich Roll Podcast, which delivers long form conversations with the intent of extracting timeless wisdom from a variety of exceptional humans specializing across a wide spectrum of disciplines with the specific goal that you, as the audience member, glean actionable wisdom, powerful insights, and practical guidance you can then apply to improve your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual lives.

The Rich Roll Podcast is available on every major podcast player and as a high production quality video on YouTube. You can follow me @RichRoll on Twitter and Instagram and on YouTube at And you can find links to all of these platforms, resources, and more at

So many thanks to Tim, himself an absolutely stellar example of someone doing the kind of vitally important work that I respect and admire for this opportunity to share with all of you a small example of my podcast. The excerpt that follows centers on mindset and is excerpted from my first interview with former Navy SEAL turned endurance athlete and author David Goggins, which was recorded back in 2017 and is, I believe, David’s very first podcast interview ever.

For those not familiar, David just might be the toughest athlete on planet earth. He has completed many of the world’s most grueling endurance challenges, including running 203.5 miles in 48 hours, as well as securing top finishes at dozens of the world’s most grueling foot races of 100 miles or more, demonstrating time and again, an absolutely super human capacity for resolve and a preternatural ability to inspire others along the way. But perhaps David’s greatest accomplishment is that throughout his life he has faced and overcome a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles to become the man he is today. Obstacles like asthma, sickle cell anemia, psychological and physical abuse, obesity, academic struggles, and even a congenital heart defect that often left him competing and winning on a mere fraction of his actual physical capabilities. As a result, David’s insights on mindset and mental toughness are all the more profound and actionable. As a quick note, in this clip, you’ll hear us discuss a race called Badwater, which is often described as the world’s toughest foot race. It’s a 135-mile, non-stop jaunt across Death Valley and culminating up Mount Whitney, during which David ascended 14,000 feet of total elevation gain and endured temperatures often exceeding 120 degrees fahrenheit.

So, without further ado, this is me and David Goggins.

David Goggins: So many people tell me, “I would love to run Badwater one day.” Why the fuck haven’t you done it? You told me that five years ago. I wonder, I had an idea to run Badwater, I did it in four months. I qualified in four days and ran the damn race. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL, had to lose 105 pounds in 60 days to get in and do it, I lost the weight and became a damn SEAL. I wanted to be a ranger at 41 years old, people go, “What are you want to do next?” I don’t know, I’ve already done it, because the second I thought about it, I researched it, I didn’t ask questions, I achieved it. We waste tons of time not starting our journey for asking so many fucking questions on how to start the journey. Get an idea, start walking, and figure this shit out as you go, vision quest.

Rich Roll: But David, you don’t understand my life.

David Goggins: Exactly.

Rich Roll: I have to get up at 5:00, and I work until 9:00, and I got three kids, and I’m barely making ends meet. It’s cool that you can do that, but it’s just not possible for me.

David Goggins: What I love about that is people can come at me with all that crap all day long, what I say that right there, to you, I was a full time Navy SEAL, there’s 24 hours in the day, I was doing ultra races, and how I did it was I had to be at work at 7:00 in the morning, I woke up at 3:00 in the morning, I ran, and then I rode my bike to work, and I did the same thing, and I came home. If you want it, you will find time in your life to do it.

If you don’t want it, you will continue to do exactly what you’re doing now, is give me excuses. You’re going to make up every excuse on why you can’t do it, and that’s why I can’t connect with you. That’s why you hear the passion come out of me, and you want to say it’s anger. No, because I know it can be done. And you’re telling me all this shit on why it can’t be done, and then what you do is, “He’s crazy.” No, you don’t want it bad enough. If you wanted it bad enough, you would figure out how to make this shit happen.

Rich Roll: Are you willing to entertain the possibility that you do have some talent doing this? Or is it all, you’re chalking it all up to preparation and mindset?

David Goggins: Well, like I said, if anybody’s familiar with sickle cell, it’s a blood disease that pretty much, it’s called sudden death syndrome, a lot of African Americans, you have it, they just pass out and die. So my Vo2 is horrible, my hematocrit, and all that stuff, is horrible, and also having a hole in your heart the size I had, it took away a lot of my athletic ability.

Rich Roll: That’s the other thing, you’re operating with only 25 percent of your capability, right, because of these issues?

David Goggins: And that’s what I’m trying to tell people, right, and I was trying to tell people, everybody thinks that, they want to believe, and I wish I was, after every race I was either in on a wheelchair, or whatever, because running with sickle cell, it’s just not the smartest thing to do, those distances. At mile 50 of every 100-mile race, man, I was destroyed, and I just had to find, but the feeling of the next 50 miles I had to go, I learned a lot about David Goggins and the will. It was always me against me. So no, I don’t have any ability.

Rich Roll: See, this is the heart of the whole thing though, I think it’s really important, because if you are a genetic freak of nature, then it’s very easy for somebody to shrug you off, like oh yeah, well he does it, but he’s David Goggins, normal people can’t do that. And for you to always anchor it and bring it back to, “Look, man, these are the challenges that I’m facing, I have to overcome more of these challenges than the average guy, I’m actually starting at a deficit with this.”

David Goggins: Right, and I’m not going to ever let anybody make themselves feel better by telling me that I was some genetic freak, I’m not going to make yourself feel better about that. I suffered, and I always say suffered because that’s what I did, it was miserable. Every single race in Hell Week, in BUD/S, and in ranger school I suffered tremendously. I should never have been able to do it, which is why I’m so proud of myself. I don’t care what place I came in, I don’t care I walked 105 miles of Badwater, I did it. That was the journey, that was the mission, that’s what it’s about, it’s not about, “Oh, well, this guy’s just a freak.” If that makes you feel better, it’s fine. No, you can do it off just a breath of air in the right mindset, that’s the message. So you water down my message by putting me in a category of I’m crazy, I’m a freak, whatever.

Rich Roll: All of those arguments are comfortable arguments to allow people to stay stuck in whatever situation they’re in.

David Goggins: Exactly.

Rich Roll: You know what I mean?

David Goggins: Right.

Rich Roll: So it’s more uncomfortable if they have to actually reckon and wrestle with the fact that you are like them.

David Goggins: Right, just like them.

Rich Roll: And people don’t want to do that.

David Goggins: Just like them.

Rich Roll: They don’t want to look in the mirror, right?

David Goggins: Right.

Rich Roll: So tell me about, the mirror thing is a big thing with you, right?

David Goggins: It’s a huge thing for me, it’s called the accountability mirror. So I talked about my childhood, and if anybody thinks I’m some great person, listen to my childhood again. I had to change my thinking process, and basically the accountability mirror is what did it. I started shaving my head and my face when I was 16 years old, and I realized when I started shaving my face and my head, you have a lot of time to look at your reflection, and it sparked to me, I’m like, “Man, I’m a piece of crap.” I duck school, I duck school, I barely am graduating, I’m this, I’m this, I’m this, I’m all these things, man, and I had to really tell myself the truth.

And so many people, when you say you’re dumb, the first thing people say, “Oh no, you’re not.” If you’re dumb, you’re dumb. If you’re fat, you’re fat. But if you’re not willing to tell yourself that, and everybody around you in your circle continues to give you this positive feedback, if you suck, you suck. If you tell yourself you suck, that is when you become great.

Rich Roll: Well then you’re getting into the solution.

David Goggins: That is what I’m talking about. So that accountability mirror was I got to become, I got to get to the surface of who I’m not. And I held myself accountable, I lied to this person today, I’m a liar, I’m a cheater, I’m this, I’m that. And I’d tell myself, and I fixed these issues, and fixed these issues, and that part was hard. It was hard to not be jealous of this person who had this and this, I had nothing, nothing. It was hard to tell this person, “Yeah, I’m jealous of you, and I’m insecure,” I’m a very insecure guy, and I have nothing. It was hard to look at all that, I’m not real smart, but I had to fix these issues, and the accountability mirror was, now I look at myself in the mirror and say, wow, you fixed these issues.

Rich Roll: Right. So that’s a thing that you consciously practice every day, when you’re shaving in the mirror.

David Goggins: Every day of my life in the mirror, every day of my life. Even now, so if I were to say some little white lie, and I go to the mirror in the morning time and I shave my head it’s like, “Man, why the hell did you say that to that guy?” And he would get a call from me that say, “Look dude, I lied.”

Rich Roll: That’s like 12-step, man, it’s doing your daily inventory and making amends for your bullshit.

David Goggins: That’s it.

Rich Roll: You know what I mean?

David Goggins: Because you’re only lying to yourself.

Rich Roll: So when you see this, we’re in this cultural malaise right now where every kid gets a participation trophy, and we have to tell everyone that they’re great, you know what I mean? It’s all about feelings, and everybody’s a special snowflake, and all of that. That must make you insane.

David Goggins: It makes me more than insane, it’s the destruction of this country. And I love this country, I’ve fought hard for it, I will continue to fight for it and hopefully through mental toughness, it takes mental toughness to change how you look at things, and giving a person a trophy, saying you’re great when you’re really not, if I had that growing up, there would be no David Goggins, zero. There’d be no tough people, none, which is why the world is where it is today. A bunch of some weak people.

Rich Roll: Right.

David Goggins: There’s a lot of weak people now.

Rich Roll: So let’s wrap it up with this, I mean, if there’s one, if you can distill everything that you’re about into one core message that you want people to take away, what is it, beyond what we’ve already talked about, what is it that’s holding people back, that’s limiting them, that’s keeping them stuck and in their blind spot, and how can you speak to that to perhaps shake it loose a little bit and get people to think a little bit differently about how to proactively approach their lives?

David Goggins: The truth, their truth, their real truth about who they are as a person, I think it all really starts there, with the truth, and knowing that you may not be a courageous person, or you may not have this and that, but are you willing to find it within yourself to go through the very hard journey? A lot of people in this world have died, 80, 90, 100 years old, and they lived a great life. They had a lot of things. But a lot of people who have died never really started the true journey that whatever you believe in, God, or whatever you believe in, if you believe in nothing, I believe we’re all here to start a journey, and that journey is fucking hard, if you choose your real journey.

Most of us, we decide to take a different journey in life, it’s a journey of least resistance. And so what I challenge people to do is to realize that in themselves, that yeah, I have taken a lot of left turns when I should have stayed straight because why? I wasn’t good at something, and it embarrassed me to not be good at something, or I wasn’t the smartest person, or this or that, whatever all these excuses are that we built up, find the truth of who you are, go back to the start of your journey, and go down that path. I guarantee you, if you finish that journey, and you don’t fear and waver and go places that are very easy, the other end of that journey, let me tell you, it is a peaceful end.

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.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)