Lisa Ling — Exploring Subcultures, Learning to Feel, and Changing Perception (#388)

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“It requires time and energy to get invested in other people’s stories, but I do in my heart of hearts believe that you emerge a better and smarter human as a result of taking that time.”
— Lisa Ling

Lisa Ling (@lisaling) is the host and executive producer of the CNN Original Series This Is Life with Lisa Ling. It returns for its sixth season on Sunday, September 29, at 10 p.m. ET. In each episode, Lisa immerses herself in communities across America, giving viewers an inside look at some of the most unconventional segments of society. In 2017, the series won a Gracie Award.

Lisa is also host of the CNN Digital series This Is Sex with Lisa Ling, which explores the taboos around sex in America and This Is Birth with Lisa Ling, which explores how healthcare legislation, income inequality and cultural shifts shape how people have children in America.

Before coming to CNN, Lisa was a field correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show and contributor to ABC News’ Nightline and National Geographic’s Explorer. She has reported from dozens of countries, covering stories about gang rape in the Congo, bride burning in India, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, among other issues that are too often ignored.

Lisa got her start in journalism as a correspondent for Channel One News where she covered the civil war in Afghanistan at 21 years of age. She later went on to become a co-host of ABC Daytime’s hit show The View, which won its first daytime Emmy during her time at the show.

Lisa has also served as a special correspondent for CNN’s Planet in Peril series and is a contributing editor for USA Today’s USA Weekend magazine. In 2011, her acclaimed documentary journalism series Our America with Lisa Ling began airing on OWN.

Lisa is the co-author of Mother, Daughter, Sister, Bride: Rituals of Womanhood and Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home, which she penned with her sister Laura. In 2014, President Obama named Lisa to the Commission on White House Fellows.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#388: Lisa Ling — Exploring Subcultures, Learning to Feel, and Changing Perception
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This podcast is also brought to you by the Wondery network’s Business Wars. Hosted by David D. Brown, former anchor of the Peabody award-winning public radio business program Marketplace, Business Wars shares the untold and very real stories of what goes on behind the scenes with the leaders, investors, and executives that take businesses either to new heights or utter ruin.

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Want to hear an episode with another journalist who got an early start? — Listen to my conversation with Ezra Klein in which we discuss influencing the rules of the game by which this country is run, how Ezra lost 60 pounds, and his ascension into the ranks of the most respected media companies in the world (stream below or right-click here to download):

#208: Ezra Klein — From College Blogger to Political Powerhouse
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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28 Ways to Find the Stillness You Need to Thrive

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NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: The following is a guest post from Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday). Ryan is one of the world’s foremost thinkers and writers on ancient philosophy and its place in everyday life. He is a sought-after speaker and strategist and the author of many bestselling books, including The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy, and The Daily Stoic. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold more than two million copies worldwide. He lives outside Austin, Texas, with his family. You can follow him @ryanholiday or subscribe to his writing at RyanHoliday.net and DailyStoic.com. Ryan was also the fourth guest on the podcast, and he has written multiple popular guest posts for this blog. His new book, Stillness Is the Key, is coming out October 1st.

Enter Ryan…

The Buddhist word for it was upekkha. The Muslims spoke of aslama. The Hebrews, hishtavut. The second book of the Bhagavad Gita, the epic poem of the warrior Arjuna, speaks of samatvam, an “evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same.” The Greeks, euthymia and hesychia. The Epicureans, ataraxia. The Christians, aequanimitas.

In English: stillness. To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude—exterior and interior—on command.

Stillness is that quiet moment when inspiration hits you. It’s that ability to step back and reflect. It’s what makes room for gratitude and happiness. It’s one of the most powerful forces on earth. We all need stillness, but those of us charging ahead with big plans and big dreams need it most of all.

Still, the word “stillness” can feel vague or ephemeral. It doesn’t need to be. There are, in fact, concrete and actionable ways to bring it into your life. It doesn’t just happen. You have to put in the work. You have to follow the guidance of the masters.

For many years, I have been a student of, and writer about, Stoicism, an ancient philosophy popular in the Roman Empire. Tim published my first two books about Stoicism as part of his Tim Ferriss Book Club (The Obstacle Is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy). For my latest book, Stillness Is the Key, I looked at not just Stoicism, but Buddhism, Confucianism, Epicureanism, Christianity, Hinduism, and countless other philosophical schools and religions, and I found that the one thing all these schools share is a pursuit of this inner peace—this stillness—and a belief that it’s the key to a happy and meaningful life. As a result, here are 28 proven exercises from across all the wisdom of the ancient world that will help you keep steady, disciplined, focused, at peace, and able to access your full capabilities at any time, in any place, despite any distraction and every difficulty. 

These steps will work… if you work them. 

***

Journal. Michel Foucault called the journal a “weapon for spiritual combat.” According to her father, Otto, Anne Frank didn’t write in her journal every day, but she always wrote when she was upset or dealing with a problem. One of her best and most insightful lines must have come on a particularly difficult day. “Paper,” she said, “has more patience than people.” I journal each morning as a way of starting the day off fresh—I put my baggage down on the page so that I don’t have to carry it to meetings or to breakfast with my family. I start the day with stillness by pouring out what is not still into my journal. But there’s no right way or wrong way to journal. The point is just to do it.

See The World Like An Artist. Marcus Aurelius, who is supposedly this dark, depressive Stoic, seems to have seen beauty everywhere. Why else would he write so vividly of the ordinary way that “baking bread splits in places and those cracks, while not intended in the baker’s art, catch our eye and serve to stir our appetite,” or of the “stalks of ripe grain bending low, the frowning brow of the lion, the foam dripping from the boar’s mouth”? While other people are oblivious to (or overwhelmed by) what surrounds them, we want to practice really seeing. Try to notice the little things. Look at that tree like you’re a painter and trying to understand its essence. Observe that interaction with your parents like you were a stand-up comedian looking for material. An artist must be present. An artist must notice. An artist is still. 

Manage Your Inputs. As a general, Napoleon instructed his secretary to wait three weeks before opening any mail or correspondence. He wanted to see what would handle itself. One way I do this is with email filters. If I see an email is not urgent or not from a trusted source, I put it in a folder and sit on it (I like to reply on airplanes, without Wi-Fi, weeks or months later). Another way to do this is through gatekeepers. Having an assistant or an agent or a chief of staff means that trivial things have a harder time getting to you. You’re the boss—and the boss’s time must be protected! So that with stillness, you can give what matters your full attention. 

Take Walks. Nietzsche said that the ideas in Thus Spoke Zarathustra came to him on a long walk. Nikola Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field, one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time, on a walk through a city park in Budapest in 1882. When he lived in Paris, Ernest Hemingway would take long walks along the quais whenever he was stuck in his writing and needed to clarify his thinking. The cantankerous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard walked the streets of Copenhagen nearly every afternoon, as he wrote to his sister-in-law: “Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being.” I take a two-to-three mile walk each morning with my son—ideas for this very post came to me there.

Detach From Outcomes. Archery master Awa Kenzo spent little time teaching his students how to deliberately aim and shoot. What Kenzo wanted students to do was to put the thought of hitting the target out of their minds. He wanted them to detach even from the idea of an outcome. “The hits on the target,” he would say, “are only the outward proof and confirmation of your purposelessness at its highest, of your egolessness, your self-abandonment, or whatever you like to call this state.” This is something writers know well: You can’t think about the bestseller lists or awards or even the act of publishing. You must focus only on the page in front of you. You must learn how to let go and let the process take over. 

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Tristan Harris — Fighting Skynet and Firewalling Attention (#387)

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“Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed. He’s making sure your imagination withers. Until it’s as useful as your appendix.” Chuck Palahniuk

Tristan Harris (@tristanharris) was named by Rolling Stone as one of the “25 People Shaping the World.” He was featured in Fortune’s 2018 “40 under 40” list for his work on reforming technology, and the Atlantic has called him the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.

Formerly Design Ethicist at Google, he is a world-renowned expert on how technology steers our decisions. Tristan has spent nearly his entire life studying subtle psychological forces, from early beginnings as a childhood magician, to working with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, and to his role as CEO of Apture, which was acquired by Google.

Tristan has briefed heads of state, technology company CEOs, and members of the US Congress about the attention economy, and he’s been featured in media worldwide, including 60 Minutes, PBS News Hour, and many more. He is the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, which can be found at Humanetech.com, and cohost (with Aza Raskin) of Your Undivided Attention podcast, which exposes the hidden designs that have the power to hijack our attention, manipulate our choices, and destabilize our real-world communities.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#387: Tristan Harris — Fighting Skynet and Firewalling Attention
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Want to hear an episode with someone who understands the importance of peace and quiet? — Listen to my conversation with Susan Cain about her love for minor key music and how she became a public speaking introvert. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#357: Susan Cain — How to Overcome Fear and Embrace Creativity
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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Ken Burns — A Master Filmmaker on Creative Process, the Long Game, and the Noumenal (#386)

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“There’s always the certainty that the opposite of what I might believe in might also be true.”
— Ken Burns

Ken Burns (@KenBurns) has been making documentary films for more than 40 years.

Since the Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including The Civil War; Baseball; Jazz; The Statue of Liberty; Huey Long; Lewis & Clark; Frank Lloyd Wright; Mark Twain; Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; The War; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; The Roosevelts; Jackie Robinson; Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War; The Vietnam War; and The Mayo Clinic: Faith — Hope — Science.

Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including sixteen Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Oscar nominations; and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

His newest work is Country Music. It explores the history of a uniquely American art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues, and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, learn how country music evolved over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music. Country Music features never-before-seen footage and photographs, plus interviews with more than 80 country music artists. The eight-part, 16-hour series is directed and produced by Ken Burns, written and produced by Dayton Duncan, and produced by Julie Dunfey.

It debuts on PBS on Sunday, September 15th, 2019, at 8 EST/7 CST.

The first four episodes will stream on station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and PBS apps, timed to coincide with the Sunday, September 15th premiere. The second four episodes will be timed alongside the broadcast of Episode 5 on Sunday, September 22nd; each episode will stream for a period of three weeks. PBS Passport members will be able to stream the entire series for a period of six months beginning Sunday, September 15th.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#386: Ken Burns — A Master Filmmaker on Creative Process, the Long Game, and the Noumenal
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This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time, “If you could only use one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is, inevitably, Athletic Greens. It is my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body and did not get paid to do so.

As a listener of The Tim Ferriss Show, you’ll get a free 20-count travel pack (valued at $79) with your first order at athleticgreens.com/tim.


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Want to hear another podcast with an artist who tells stories in a unique way? — Listen to my conversation with Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind Humans of New York. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

Brandon Stanton - The Story of Humans of New York and 25M+ Fans
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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The World’s Largest Psychedelic Research Center (#385)

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This is something I’ve been working on for ~1.5 years and something diligent scientists have been working toward for 20+ years.

This episode features a recording of the press conference announcing the launch of the world’s largest psychedelic research center and the U.S.’s first psychedelic research center, The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Among other things, researchers there will be investigating the effectiveness of psychedelics as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (formerly known as chronic Lyme disease), anorexia nervosa, and alcohol use in people with major depression. The researchers hope to create precision medicine treatments tailored to individual patient needs.

I couldn’t be happier, and it wouldn’t have happened without generous support from Steven and Alexandra Cohen (@cohengive), Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt), Blake Mycoskie (@blakemycoskie), and Craig Nerenberg. Many thanks also to Benedict Carey of the New York Times (@bencareynyt) for investigating and reporting on this from multiple perspectives, as he’s done for many years.

As some of you know, I shifted most of my focus from startup investing to this field in 2015, and it’s incredibly important to me that this watershed announcement help to catalyze more studies, more ambitious centers, more scientists entering the field, and more philanthropists and sources of funding taking a close look at psychedelic science. To that end, it’s critical that more people realize there is much more reputational upside than reputational risk in supporting this work in 2019 and beyond. To broadcast this as widely as possible, I have one offer and one sincere ask:

  • THE OFFER — If you’re involved with media and would like to learn more about the center or speak with the key scientists involved, please visit this contact page.
  • THE ASK — Please share the the New York Times articles (here is one tweet) or the announcement. Whatever you can do to spread the word is most appreciated! The short link tim.blog/nyt will also forward to one of the NYT articles.

For this press conference, I am joined by Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., who initiated the psilocybin research program at Johns Hopkins almost 20 years ago, leading the first studies investigating the effects of its use by healthy volunteers. His pioneering work led to the consideration of psilocybin as a therapy for serious health conditions. Griffiths recruited and trained the center faculty in psychedelic research as well.

Also participating is Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, who has expertise in drug addictions and behavioral economic decision-making and has conducted psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins since 2004 (with well over 100 publications). He has led studies that show psilocybin can treat nicotine addiction. Johnson will lead two new clinical trials and will be associate director of the new center. 

The conference was moderated by Audrey Huang, Ph.D., a media relations director at Johns Hopkins.

Additional resources: 

Johns Hopkins Opens New Center for Psychedelic Research (New York Times
Tim Ferriss, the Man Who Put His Money Behind Psychedelic Medicine (New York Times
Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research (Official website) 
Johns Hopkins Launches Center For Psychedelic Research (Johns Hopkins Newsroom) 
Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research Contact Form

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#385: The World's Largest Psychedelic Research Center
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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11 Questions with the Most Curious Man in Hollywood

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Photo by Sam Jones

The following is a guest post from Brian Grazer (@briangrazer), an Oscar-winning movie and television producer and New York Times bestselling author. His work has been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 195 Emmys, including A Beautiful Mind, 24, Apollo 13, Splash, Arrested Development, Empire, 8 Mile, Friday Night Lights, American Gangster, Frost/Nixon, Genius, and many others.

He is the author of Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection (coming out September 17th) and the New York Times bestseller A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. Grazer was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and is the co-founder of Imagine Entertainment, along with his partner, Ron Howard. They are known as having one of the longest-running partnerships ever in Hollywood. According to the New York Times, “…one thing becomes clear when you speak to Mr. Grazer: His desire to win — to remain Hollywood royalty — is undiminished.”

In his guest post, Brian answers many of the questions I asked 130+ of the world’s top performers for my most recent book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. And to get the full Brian Grazer experience, which I highly recommend, click here to listen to our first conversation.

Please enjoy!

Enter Brian…

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

The book that I gift most to people, because it has had a lasting impact on my psyche, is The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee. I admire Bruce Lee for his physicality, of course, but more so for his deep philosophy, known as “Jeet Kune Do” or “the way of the intercepting fist.”  The key element of Jeet Kune Do is its “formless form.” Bruce Lee rejected the rigid rules and structures of Kung Fu and other traditional fighting styles. Instead, he borrowed from several styles to create his own fluid, rapidly efficient technique that was all his. In The Warrior Within, John Little explains how Bruce Lee’s philosophy helped him overcome tremendous challenges and pain to become a man whose originality, intense belief, and commitment I’ve long admired. One of his principles that has become infinitely useful to me is: no action is action. When I’m in disagreement with someone or deciding what action to take during a dilemma, sometimes I will consciously use Bruce’s technique of letting energy go through you, versus refuting a point or getting mad or trying to make my case. Sometimes by not making your case, that’s the strongest case. And sometimes no action is action. Here’s one story that comes to mind.

Many years ago, Seagram’s, led by CEO Edgar Bronfman, Jr., bought Universal Studios. Edgar reached out to a few very big producers who had deals with Universal, like Steven Spielberg and Ivan Reitman. I had a deal with Universal as well, but he didn’t reach out to me. In one minute, I impulsively thought of at least 10 actions I could take. I was about to call his office to try to arrange a meeting. But then I paused for a second and thought, “I’m going to do absolutely nothing and let the gravitational forces of the cosmos take over.” Guess what? Just two months later, I was invited to the White House to screen the movie I had just produced, Apollo 13, for President Clinton, the First Lady, and esteemed cabinet members. I arrived at the White House with Tom Hanks and my partner Ron Howard, who was the director. We greeted everyone, and I saw that Edgar Bronfman was there as well. When the movie ended, I was flooded with compliments. Edgar witnessed it all. That became our meeting and birthed one of my strongest relationships ever with a studio. No action became the best action I could’ve taken.

I love this quote from Bruce Lee:

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

One of my favorite tools that I use daily and that has been life changing for me is the Pocket app. It costs five bucks per month, but I’d easily pay 100x that given how valuable it is to me. Throughout my day, when I come across articles or videos, I store them in Pocket so I’m not distracted by feeling I have to read something that moment or I’ll lose it or forget about it. It takes a millisecond to store in the app, and there’s also an extension for the browser on your computer. When I’m ready to digest them, Pocket converts the articles to audio. It’s incredibly easy to use, and the audio quality is excellent. You don’t even need an internet connection, so it’s awesome for flights.

For me, the value of Pocket goes way beyond the benefit of convenience or organization. Ever since I could pick up a book as a young kid, I’ve had a very hard time with reading. I now realize I had acute dyslexia, before it was even labeled as such, so teachers assumed I was just dumb. I would get Ds and Fs because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids. It was pretty debilitating, and I carried a lot of shame because of it. But what I was proud of was my curiosity. I asked tons of questions. And my grandma Sonia told me to never stop asking questions, saying, “You’re going all the way, Brian!” — despite not having any empirical evidence. She inspired me to work harder to learn. Instead of goofing around in class, I started to pay close attention to my teachers as they lectured. I would also go see them before and after class to talk about the lesson and ask about anything I didn’t understand. My grades went up, and I ended up getting a scholarship to USC. More and more in my life, I would look to people in order to learn.

What started as a survival mechanism in grade school became a habit that would help me thrive. In fact, talking to people is essentially what led me to finding a career that I love and a life that I never thought would be possible for a kid who could barely read. Here’s how it happened…

After college, I created a discipline of meeting people who were experts in, or passionate about, anything. First, I focused on meeting people in Hollywood and then once I learned the industry, I only wanted to meet people who were experts in anything other than what I do (Hollywood). For the past 35 years, I’ve met with people across all disciplines including Jonas Salk, Margaret Thatcher, Andy Warhol, Eminem, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson, Princess Di, Bill Gates, many Nobel laureates, scientists, spies, neighborhood skateboarders, assistant DAs, Uber drivers, and more coffee baristas than I can count.

How does this come back to the Pocket app? It helps me discover people I would love to meet! When I read about, or listen to, someone interesting, I immediately reach out to them to see if they’d like to have a curiosity conversation with me.

It also helps me prepare. In order to have conversations with people outside my field, I need to do my homework. Being prepared helps me better connect with whomever I’m with. I ask better questions and listen with more understanding. Pocket can’t create the empathy or that trust that only happens when we’re face-to-face with someone, but it does help with the preparation and information-seeking side of that equation. It allows me to digest any topic, including long-form pieces that I would have glossed over in the past because of my difficulty with reading.

Just recently I listened to an article in the New Yorker about a hip-hop manager in Atlanta named Kevin “Coach K” Lee. Coach K has mentored some of today’s most influential rappers, such as Gucci Mane and Migos. I met with Coach K, which led me to meet with Cardi B at my house a few weeks ago. She’s the biggest female rapper in the world and the first ever female to win a Grammy for best rap album. I didn’t go into it cold; I was ready after learning more about her music and her story.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?  Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

At the start of my career, in my early twenties, I had early success as a television producer — two shows in particular: a miniseries based on the Ten Commandments and a made-for-TV movie called Zuma Beach, both of which were very successful — but I wanted to be a movie producer.  I wrote a script called Splash, which was based on my own personal, fruitless search for true love in LA. I realized all of my romantic relationships had been superficial — I was a young producer and could go out with beautiful girls, but there was never any truth or substance to it. I just couldn’t find true love! Meanwhile, I was just starting to write up stories, though I had no formal training. I decided to write a movie called Splash, which is the story of a young man who was on the path to succeeding at many things, except for love. He falls in love with a woman named Madison, who is everything he ever wished for; however, we the audience learn she’s a mermaid, which he later learns as well. As I developed the characters, I kept defining and redefining what would be the perfect girl for me. I decided to make the story even more romantic and mythical by making her a mermaid, which naturally made her more unattainable.

I started to pitch the movie, studio by studio. And everyone, and I mean everyone, said no. Not only did they reject my script, but they felt they had to further humiliate me, saying things like, “This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” I must have been rejected hundreds of times on Splash. I felt ashamed, yet something in me wouldn’t give up.

Seven years into it, I realized I needed to shift gears on my approach. When I was first pitching Splash, I was painting it as a “mermaid movie.” Well, of course, the studios — all of which are risk-averse in nature — were going to say no to that. It’s a pretty crazy idea. But one day a friend asked me what the story was really about. I said I wrote Splash because I was looking for true love. That was really the theme of the movie. So then it hit me — this isn’t a movie about a mermaid; this is a story about the value and meaning of true love! So I went back to the studios and started pitching it as a love story. The executives started to listen. Because who doesn’t root for love? When I finally sold Splash to Disney in 1983, I realized the importance of universal, human themes in connecting with any person or audience. Whether you’re in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, on Wall Street — it is crucial to find the heartbeat of why what you’re selling matters and why it should exist. To this day, I still start every pitch by first describing the underlying, universal theme. Friday Night Lights, 8 Mile, and American Gangster are all about self-actualization. At first glance, you might think American Gangster is a “gangster movie,” but it’s not. It’s about talent, resourcefulness, and gaining respect — that’s why we root for Frank Lucas even though he’s a cut-throat killer.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

This is what my billboard would say:

COULD CURIOSITY + HUMAN CONNECTION BE THE ANTIDOTE TO OUR TIMES?

OPEN THE CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE TODAY, FACE-TO-FACE!

People are more connected digitally yet feel more alone than ever before. We are living in a more polarized world. We are getting further and further away from understanding a fundamental human thing: feelings. We can’t get empathy from our screens. This would be my message because when we are face-to-face with someone, able to look each other in the eye, we are relating to them, we are understanding them, creating a pathway to empathy — to peace, not war.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

The tent in the backyard I built to marry my wife Veronica in, in front of my family and closest friends. At the end of the day, the investments that matter the most to me always come back to the most important people in my life.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I love food. I post food videos on Instagram because it allows me to be self-effacing, fun, and free. And it makes my kids laugh! 

One day, I was walking down Abbot Kinney in Venice and stumbled upon this matcha shop called Shuhari Matcha Café. I was so curious about it and asked a bunch questions when I walked inside: “What exactly is matcha?” “Why do you choose to work at a matcha shop?” “Why is it so good for me?” “What’s the proper ritual?” I talked to the girl behind the counter and then took a video of myself trying matcha for the first time in their backyard Zen Garden. I posted it and saw that people really like to learn. Food is universal; it’s a unifier.

My latest obsession to capture on IG is a sandwich inspired by David Chang’s BLT. But I add one hormone-free fried egg and my favorite condiment of all time, Chile Crunch — a crunchy, smoky, crazy-delicious blend of garlic, onion, chiles, and spices, made in Denver, Colorado (you can order it on Amazon or at Williams-Sonoma). I put it on everything!

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Over the last few years, I’ve turned my curiosity onto my spirituality. I grew up with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, so I have been straddling two faiths since childhood. I’ve always believed in God but never felt at home within a specific place of worship. A few years ago, I met a local pastor named Monsignor Torgerson, who presides over St. Monica Catholic Church, a few minutes from where we live. When I met him, he looked at me without judgment, which I had never felt from a religious figure before. This started a friendship that has led to a very personal spiritual journey that continues in my life today.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

When I was 23 years old, I worked as a summer law clerk at Warner Bros. that I turned into something that would change the whole course of my life. My job was to deliver legal documents to celebrities and executives around town. I was on the path to becoming a lawyer, and I knew I didn’t want to do it. I quickly became more curious to learn about this industry I knew nothing about. So I spontaneously stretched the truth a little on the job. When I would deliver documents, I would tell the front office or assistants that the papers were “absolutely invalid” unless I personally handed them to the signers themselves. My system worked, and I was able to meet with the biggest stars at the time, like Warren Beatty, as well as the biggest directors and agents. This was long before the internet, when it wasn’t unusual that they would invite me in and have a conversation. One day, I got the opportunity to meet Lew Wasserman, the most powerful person in Hollywood at the time. But as soon as I got off the elevator, before I could even say a word, he picked up a yellow legal pad and a #2 pencil and said, “Put the pen to the pad — they have greater value together than as separate parts. Now get out of here, kid!”

What Lew was saying to me was that I had to create my own IP (intellectual property) and that the next time I walked in the door, I’d better have something to offer. I had no money — I couldn’t buy a script — so what he was saying was that I had to create something of my own. His advice is what inspired me to write Splash, and then after that, I wrote Night Shift, which starred Michael Keaton.

So my advice is, no matter who you are meeting with or what job you are in or interviewing for, always bring something of value. Research the person or the industry you’re in or the product you’re working on, and develop an original point of view and/or a fresh idea. No matter how afraid you might be, you will stand out if you have something to say. Whether they like your idea or comment or not, you’ll stand out. The bigger risk is to not make any impression at all. Preparing ideas will give you something to say, which also will help you feel more confident in whatever environment you’re in. Start there and you will be way ahead of most of your peers. People will remember you for it.

The advice I would ignore is when people try to talk you out of an idea you believe in. After being repeatedly rejected on Splash, I learned that no one really knows what will work and what won’t. The fact of the matter is, Splash was a huge success, and everyone said no to it for seven years. That taught me that “no” is really only a temporary point of view. You should never compromise or give up on the things you believe in most.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

I’ve been in Hollywood for 40 years, which means a lot of parties, events and award ceremonies. I’m not jaded, but I am now much more thoughtful about where I want to spend my energy. Just this past year, where I would have attended eight or nine functions over Oscars weekend, I went to one lunch and then got dressed for the Oscars. At the last minute, we decided to order takeout and watch it from home. Other than the year I won an Oscar, it was my best Oscars yet.

Here’s a very simple thing I do before committing to an event or responding to an invite:  I ask myself, does it fill me up or does it drain me? The answer leads me to the right decision every time.

I also ask myself: Why am I doing this? What’s my intention? Am I going because I think it will be fun? Am I just curious what it will be like? Is it because showing up for this person is really important? (If I won’t like the event but it’s important to someone I care about, then it makes the cut.) If my intention for going stems from love (love of the event or the person), then I say yes. If it’s an intention based on fear (of missing out or of not being part of the group or of not seeing someone for business), then I say no. That’s not the right intention for me. And I get so filled up by simply staying with my family that there has to be a compelling reason for me to give that up.

I’ll tell you how I transformed something that I felt was a distraction into something I look forward to. For over a year, I dreaded using a sleep apnea machine and would only last a few days at a time before calling it quits. I felt like it was a burden. My doctor kept telling me I needed to use it, but nothing worked until two things happened. First, my wife Veronica started calling it the “tube of life” instead of a sleep machine, which reminded me of the bigger picture. If I use this thing, I may live longer and not have a stroke. OK, pretty important. Second, I discovered an app that connects to the machine and scores my sleep every night. Now I can’t wait to check it first thing in the morning to see how I’ve done. Sometimes reframing or gamifying something mundane can make all the difference.

Lastly, starting my day early and alone helps me say no to distractions later because I am able to ground myself in what I want to achieve for the day. I wake up at 5 a.m. and create an environment which includes a dozen or so small candles, bottles of still and sparkling water, sliced apples, and Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee (thank you, Tim, for the recommendation). I listen to articles and videos and write a lot of notes and ideas — I’m old school, I like to write them out on several note cards, or “buck slips,” as they’re called in Hollywood. Then, throughout the day, I convert them into a more systemized form in Notes on my iPhone so I can follow up on each and every one.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

When that happens, I immediately have to do something to change up my energy and my environment. A quick bike ride to the rim overlooking the ocean always clears my head. Or sometimes I’ll go in my studio and start painting. I’m not particularly good at painting, but it doesn’t matter. Just the act of getting out of my own head ends up clearing my head. When the tide is right, one of my favorite ways to get clarity is to surf. I’m so focused on every facet of my body and technique that I’m actually not even thinking. I’m in another dimension.

If I’m overwhelmed and facing a decision, I ask, “Am I at my very best to make this decision? Do I need to do a palate-cleansing exercise like meditation, a bike ride, or listening to music outside? I ask myself: does this really need to be decided now? Otherwise, I do the Taoist approach: do nothing until it feels right. Which is also Bruce Lee.

What are you most excited about these days?

My new book! Face To Face: The Art of Human Connection comes out September 17th. I wrote this book because I realized that everything I’ve succeeded at in life and that has mattered to me happened because of two things: curiosity and human connection.

In the book, I share personal stories and take you “behind the scenes” on some of my movies and television shows, like A Beautiful Mind, Empire, Arrested Development, American Gangster and 8 Mile, to show just how much in-person encounters have revolutionized my life and how they have the power to change yours too.

I talk about what I’ve learned through interactions with people like Bill Gates, Taraji P. Henson, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Eminem, Prince, Spike Lee, and the Afghani rapper-activist Sonita — namely, the secret to a bigger life lies in personal connection. I’ve found that only when we are face-to-face, able to look each other in the eye, can we form the kinds of connections that expand our worldviews, deepen our self-awareness, and ultimately lead to our greatest achievements and most meaningful moments.

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David Allen — The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD) (#384)

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“Your head’s for having ideas, not for holding them.”
— David Allen

David Allen (@gtdguy) is one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity, and his 35 years of experience as a management consultant and executive coach have earned him the titles of “personal productivity guru” by Fast Company, one of America’s top five executive coaches by Forbes, and among The American Management Association’s top 10 business leaders.

David’s bestselling book, the groundbreaking Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, has been published in thirty languages, and the “GTD” methodology it describes has become a global phenomenon, being taught by training companies in 60 countries. David, his company, and his partners are dedicated to teaching people how to stay relaxed and productive in our fast-paced world.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

David Allen — The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD) (#384)
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This podcast is brought to you by 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. Its creative process has become the go-to solution for businesses, agencies, and individuals, and I have used it for years to help with display advertising and illustrations and to rapid prototype the cover for The Tao of Seneca. Whether your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99designs.

You can work with multiple designers at once to get a bunch of different ideas, or hire the perfect designer for your project based based on their style and industry specialization. It’s simple to review concepts and leave feedback so you’ll end up with a design that you’re happy with. Click this link and get $20 off plus a $99 upgrade.


This episode is also brought to you by FreshBooks. I’ve been talking about FreshBooks — an all-in-one invoicing+payments+accounting solution — for years now. Many entrepreneurs, as well as the contractors and freelancers that I work with, use it all the time.

FreshBooks makes it super easy to track things like expenses, project time, and client info, and then merge it all into great-looking invoices. FreshBooks can save users up to 200 hours a year on accounting and bookkeeping tasks. Right now FreshBooks is offering my listeners a free 30-day trial, and no credit card is required. Go to FreshBooks.com/tim and enter “Tim Ferriss” in the “How did you hear about us?” section!


Want to hear another episode with someone who’s an expert in making the most of the hours in the day? — Listen to my latest conversation with Josh Waitzkin, in which we discuss cramming two months of learning into each day, harnessing unconscious learning, resonant frequency, HRV training, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#375: Josh Waitzkin — How to Cram 2 Months of Learning into 1 Day
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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