Do you sometimes wish you had a cabinet of counselors you could go to for advice and insight on how to make life better and easier for yourself?
Well, my guest today created his own board of mighty mentors — a metaphorical round table of some of the most successful people in the world — and asked them all the same 11 questions on how to live a more fulfilling and productive life. And he wrote a book to share all the insights he learned with others.
His name is Tim Ferriss, and he’s an author and the host of the Tim Ferriss Podcast. In his latest book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best in the World, Tim shares the answers he got to the 11 questions he posed to a diverse range of successful people like Steven Pressfield, Jocko Willink, Bear Grylls, and Greg Norman, among many others. In today’s episode, Tim shares insights from the people he interviewed on how to say no without feeling guilty or looking like a jerk, the books successful people frequently gift others, and what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed, distracted, and just generally down.
- The impetus behind this new book, and how it’s different from Tools of Titans
- The same 11 questions Tim asks everyone featured in Tribe of Mentors
- How to say no, with specific tactics (and why it’s so hard)
- Why you need to build some ignorance into your life (especially when it comes to social media)
- Making saying no a “diet” or “policy”
- Why it’s impossible to avoid some hurt feelings
- What books these mentors gift most frequently (and why that’s such a great question)
- The book(s) brought up over and over that surprised Tim
- The odd/fringe/theoretical books that came up a few times
- How biology and evolutionary principles can be applied to everyday life and thinking
- The book that Tim himself gives most frequently
- How to combat distraction and the “overwhelm”
- The power of journaling (and why it’s valuable to do it by hand)
- Why exercise is so important in beating distraction
- The superstitions that Tim embraces, and why superstitions can be good for us
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Tools of Titans
- My first podcast with Tim Ferriss
- Tim’s TED talk: Define your fears, not your goals
- How to Say No (AoM article)
- How to Say No (Tim Ferriss Show episode)
- Text Expander
- Kyle Maynard
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis
- From Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel Dennett
- Esther Dyson
- Ray Dalio
- The Tao of Seneca (available for free from Tim)
- Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
- Dance Like Zorba the Greek
- Jumpstart Your Journaling
- Start a Journal
Tribe of Mentors is a fun book packed with actionable advice. Great book to just pick up and randomly flip through for something interesting to read. Makes for a great bathroom book too. My favorite answers were to the questions on how to say no, books people frequently gift, and what to do when you feel overwhelmed.
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Do you sometimes wish you had a cabinet of counselors you could go to for advice anytime you wanted on how to make life better and easier for yourself. My guest today created his own board of mighty mentors, a metaphorical round table of some of the most successful people in the world and asked them all the same 11 questions on how to live a more fulfilling and productive life and after that he wrote a book to share all of those insights with the rest of us. His name is Tim Ferriss. He’s an author and host of the Tim Ferriss Podcast. We had him on our podcast to discuss his last book, Tools for Titans. In his latest book, Tribe of Mentors, short life advice from the best in the world, Tim shares the answers he got to the 11 questions he posed to a diverse range of successful people like Stephen Pressfield, Jocko Willink, Bear Grylls, and Greg Norman among many. In today’s episode Tim shares insights from the people he interviewed on how to say no without feeling guilty or looking like a jerk. The book successful people frequently gift others and what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed, distracted and just generally down.
Mr. Tim Ferris, welcome back to the show.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, sir. Always a pleasure.
Brett McKay: You’ve got another tome of a book out. Tribe of Mentors.
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Brett McKay: Yeah, all of your books are taking up an entire shelf on my-
Tim Ferriss: You know, every time I say, and I should probably start saying I’m going to write a really long book, and then maybe it will end up really short, because every time I say “This time it’s going to be a really short book,” it ends up 600 plus pages, but yes, it’s another book that oddly enough it’s almost exactly the same weight as Tools of Titans so you could do bicep curls and be very symmetrical.
Brett McKay: There you go, even the title says “Short life advice,” but again the book is 600 pages long, but there’s lots of short life advice in here. Let’s talk about what was the impetus behind this book and it weighs the same as Tools of Titans, but how is it different from Tools of Titans?
Tim Ferriss: There’s some critical differences. The similarities really mostly format in the sense that people really loved these short actionable profiles of Tools of Titans, so that has persisted into Tribe of Mentors, but Tribe of Mentors, the origin story is completely different. I had a very, very difficult and very intense year in 2017. It seems like a lot of people did. It was a really gnarly year, and I turned 40, which wasn’t that big a deal to me, I didn’t run out and buy a Corvette or anything, but the number was meaningful in the sense that I had felt like I had passed the midway point, at least based on averages of lifespan in the US. I was like, you know what, now, maybe I’m finishing the second half of this one lap that we call life. That was one piece, and a lot happened within a four to eight week period. So, that happened, the 10th anniversary of the Four Hour Work Week coincided with the exact day, I mean, 10 years to the day of the publication of the Four Hour Work Week found me stepping on the stage at TED for the first time to talk about how I came very close to committing suicide in college and how I’ve battled with bipolar depression my entire life, which was a really odd surreal juxtaposition that led to a lot of conversations with other people who are struggling with darkness. You think of the room at TED, everybody has everything figured out, but a really high percentage of people reached out to me to tell me about their demons and how close they had come to the brink. So, that happened.
Then, a bunch of my friends died, not to make this super heavy really quickly, but a bunch of my friends died from natural causes, but very unexpectedly or via accident. One person that I knew, past tense committed suicide, and just a lot hit me at once. I thought, you know, maybe I’m spending time on things I don’t want to be spending time on, maybe I’ve over committed, maybe I want to double down on my family and a handful of loved ones and learn to say no to everything else, and I sat down with some tea one morning and journaled on questions I wanted to answer. It was really hard. I found it overwhelming, the last git really big, and I asked myself one question, towards the end, which I’ve learned to use a lot in the last two years, and that is: What might this look like if it were easy.
I wrote down many, many, many different ideas, and there was only one that really stuck, which was Why don’t I take these questions and ask 100 plus people who are the best of what they do in many different areas of many different ages say from 20s all the way up to 70s and 80s, and borrow from them, just take their answers and try them out and see what works for me. That’s how the book came to be. It’s very different from Tools of Titans in the sense that there’s a lot of advice that I wanted to include and solicited about overcoming failure and dark periods and creating those emotional safety nets to prevent you from downward spirals.
There’s a lot about how to say no, different techniques and strategies that people have ranging from say, the co-founder of Facebook, Dustin Moskovitz, all the way to writers and so on who have had to learn to say no. I even included rejection letters that I got from people who said they had to decline being in the book, which is a whole separate story, and what to do when you feel overwhelmed, distracted, unfocused. What do these people do, tactically, very concretely. So, the subject matter is quite different, I would say, and I suppose what I’ve explained so far alludes to the fact that in Tools of Titans, it was basically a highlight reel from the podcast. I mean, you had 95% of the people in the book were from the podcast and I was pulling out my favorite pieces. In Tribe of Mentors it’s a completely new cast of characters and nearly no one in the book has been on the podcast and I asked them all the same 11 questions. So, it’s easier to spot patterns in the responses that you see. So, long story long, that’s Tribe of Mentors, and like pretty much all of my books, but particularly I would say this one, I needed this book and I couldn’t find it, so I had to write it.
Brett McKay: Right-
Tim Ferriss: Writing lets out, maybe not for you, but for me at least, it’s painful. It’s a really hard process.
Brett McKay: It is, I hate it.
Tim Ferriss: It takes a lot to get me to write a book, but 2007 was really brutal and I needed help so I went out and found the help and then put it into the book.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you ask the same 11 questions. You had a ton of them, so I mean how did you hone in on these 11? What was it about these questions, you were like, this is going to make my life easier or somewhat more easier if I know the answer to these.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, a lot of them were variations of the questions I had been asking myself or the tactical versions of the questions I had been asking myself. So, separating say the critical few from the trivial many and saying no to more things. Categorically just across the board saying no to many different types of things, policies, what’s the best way to do that, and I would ask then, people about what they’ve learned to say no to more in the last year or two and what tactics or techniques, what wordings had they found helpful. The overwhelm and distraction, I feel like this past year, there’s just so much anger and doubts and so much bold news, and that’s not a fake news comment, meaning just salacious headlines that are effectively, like five new ways to hate your neighbor. It’s really a difficult time to be on any device or laptop of any type that is connected to the internet. I wanted to learn how to really block out that noise more effectively.
On and on it goes, so, for every one of these I wanted to figure out very specific next steps that I could take and I also took many of the questions, at least half from fine tuning on the podcast where there were certain questions I found that reliably got really good useful stories or really good actionable advice like, for instance, some of them are not as profound as the quote you put on a billboard if you had to choose one word or a quote of yours or anyone else to convey to millions or billions of people. That’s a deep heavy question that does get good answers, especially if you add the -andy to the end of it. So, that’s one of the questions I ask, but conversely if you’re just looking for, I wanted just to order something on Amazon Prime, like a little magic bullet that helps some aspect of my life, OK, well then you can ask everyone what purchase of $100 or less has most improved your life in the last year or in recent memory, and then wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, you have something that’s lighter weight that you can use. That’s also one of the questions.
Brett McKay: Let’s get into some of these questions, and I’m going to ask you about the ones that I was drawn to. It’s funny, as I was reading it there would be answers that I would read every single time, like the how to say no. I suck at saying no, and I’m still working on it. There were some I kind of glanced over, they just didn’t resonate with me, and I’m sure that’s how you’re supposed to read the book. Let’s talk about how to say no. It must be something you’ve had a problem with.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, for sure. For sure, yeah. It’s a continual uphill battle for people and every time you think you’ve improved there’s a new channel of inbound fill in the blank or invitations or feelings of obligation and guilt and so on. Whenever you think you have it somewhat figured out then there’s more added to it, but this is a tool kit that is, I’m not going to spend too much time on defining the problem, because I think it’s so obvious, but in a world where there’s more information and noise, and invitations and email, and social notifications and so on than you can possibly consume or act on in a lifetime. There’s more generated every day than you can possibly consume or respond to. You have to get really good at A, ignoring things. So, cultivating selective ignorance and being able to live with that. Conditioning yourself to accept that as a binary reality. Secondly, you have to get very good at declining things. There are different categories of declining. There is for instance, there are different approaches ranging from using email auto responders, which say something like “as a policy, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, unfortunately I receive more volume of email than I can physically respond to, but below are a couple of answers to very common questions. Please take a look.” Then, you have, for instance, bullet number one. As a policy I am no longer doing X, Y, and Z, and that can be speaking engagements, it could be in person meetings, for instance. It could be conference calls. It could be coffee dates where people pick my brains, it could be anything. That is one level of refusal. Then, you have say acquaintance or stranger refusal, and that could be the approach of like I mentioned, a Dustin Moskovitz or Aaron Sorkin, very well known journalist, where you give no reason for the decline. You simply say, “Thank you so much for your thoughtful email, I’m really sorry, but I cannot commit to anything like this right now,” or, “I don’t have bandwidth for this right now, wishing you all the best of luck, Tim.”
Right, it’s very straightforward, you’re not offering a reason, because then that offers the opportunity for a rebuttal or a counter, and I’m sure you’ve seen this happen, right. That’s one level down from auto responder, you have a blanket template response, which you can on your iPhone for instance, in settings, or using a program like text expander, create short two letter combinations that automatically auto populate these template responses, right. That would be one angle.
One level below that perhaps, you have semi acquaintance or acquaintance asking you for something, and then you might add in a personal touch that could be just one additional line and this is what for instance, Danny Meyer, famous restaurateur, Shake Shack, etc., used in his rejection letter that was sent to me, which I included in the book with permission. Or, Neal Stephenson, famed science fiction author of Snow Crash and so on, same story, where they might say something along the lines of I’m struggling so much with my own to-do list that every time I knock off one of my own items it seems to spawn 10 more just in the hopes that I’ll get to the point where some day it becomes shorter rather than longer, I’m saying no to all outside invitations or commitments for x period of time, right. That takes the sting out of it a bit. It lets you know where they are and allows you to consider walking a mile in their shoes so you know exactly why they’re refusing it, even though they might want to accept and very often that comes along with phrasing along the lines of “I realize this is a great opportunity and I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself later for saying no, but just for my sanity right now I can’t commit,” very common that there’s some phrasing along those lines. Wendy McNaughton, a very famous illustrator did that in her email to me. That can also be used for friends of course. There are different ways to go about it, but I think underlying all of those very specific lines and so on that you can copy and paste. Another common pattern is making something a policy or a diet. What I mean by that is I remember receiving a refusal, a polite decline from a billionaire investor when I asked if we might be able to have lunch or breakfast and chat about A, B and C, it was very specific, and I had spent time with him before, and he said “Really sorry, I’d love to, but I’m going on a no meeting diet for the next quarter because I’ve gotten so behind in other channels, I just need to catch up.” I was like, wow, a no meeting diet, that’s interesting, and I started using it. A no meeting diet, no conference call diet, for X period of time and for whatever reason, maybe it’s because it’s depersonalized, people respond really well to it, generally, but people are going to get hurt feelings, people are going to get upset. There are people who will take it incredibly personally and you have to accept that as a tax of having been fortunate enough to be in a position where you have more inbound than you can handle. Does that make sense?
Brett McKay: That makes sense, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Some variation of the following has also popped up over and over again in Tribe of Mentors, which is “There is no one sure path to success but there is one sure path to failure and that is trying to please everyone.”
Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s where that stoicism comes in.
Tim Ferriss: Exactly, exactly, which also crops up a lot, like Arianna Huffington, her most gifted book is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
Brett McKay: Yeah, we’ll talk about that gifted book question, because that was another section I focused on a lot, but one of the most powerful bits of advice I got from the how to say no, the issue I often have is someone will ask me something that is like three months from now, and I’m like, yeah, of course, and then when it comes, you’re like dammit, I don’t have time for this. I forgot who said it, but it was like imagine if the event was this Tuesday, would you say yes to-
Tim Ferriss: Esther Dyson-
Brett McKay: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Near the end, I think Tim O’Reilly and Kevin Kelly, all three of them, but they got it from Esther Dyson. Would I say yes to this if it were next Tuesday.
Brett McKay: Right. I’ve caused more problems for myself saying yes to things that are months in advance. That, man, that was a game changer for me.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a really good one. Another one from Kyle Maynard who was born a quad amputee, so, he’s a congenital quad amputee. He has no arms, no legs, his arms are cut off, basically at mid-arm, legs just basically at the hip, but let’s just call it mid-thigh, and he’s the first quad amputee without the aid of prosthetics to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. To put that in perspective, there are able-bodied athletes who have died climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. He military crawled the entire thing. He’s a stud in many other ways, but he’s gotten to know a lot of people at the top levels of special operations and he’s also spent time with many, many well-known CEOs, and one CEO gave him great advice that had a huge impact for him and it’s had a huge impact for me. That is if you’re considering an opportunity or an invitation, project, or an employee, it doesn’t really matter, or even an entrée at a restaurant and you want to get an honest opinion on an entrée you’re considering ordering, you can rank or ask someone else to rank it from one to 10, but a seven isn’t allowed. This is really subtle, but very, very, very powerful. I’ve been using it all the time.
So, you can rank from one to 10, but you can’t use a seven, why? Because the seven is the non-committal, or semi-ambiguous Switzerland of answers. It doesn’t really give you a lot of meaningful information. On the other hand, if you’re considering an invitation and a six is barely passing, that’s a no, and an eight is you know, I’m 80% stoked on this. I’m actually really excited, nine and 10 are above and beyond. When you remove that seven it becomes a very clear yes/no answer, and what Kyle noticed for himself is that when he looked at things he would give a seven, it was almost always out of guilt or obligation or fear of missing out, which are not good reasons to commit to time consuming anything when time is a finite non-renewable resource. That’s been hugely helpful for him, and also hugely helpful for me to rank it from one to ten, you can’t use a seven. By the way, testing this in restaurants, because you always hear the “Oh, everything is good on the menu,” and you’re like, thank you very much for no information. But, if you ask someone for a specific entrée, how would you rank this one theo ten, you can’t use a seven, something is going to happen. Either they’re going to waiver and then I’m not sure, that’s a six or less. On the flip side if someone says eight and they do it quickly, you know it’s a good dish and I’ve had 100% success rate with that so far.
Brett McKay: The other thing that was encouraging about some of the answers in the book to that question was that some of these people, very successful people said, “I can’t answer that. I’m terrible at saying no, still.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and I left those in very deliberately, right, just to show that if you’re terrible at this you’re not uniquely flawed. Some of these people who many would assume are just hitting home runs with everything are terrible, terrible, terrible at it, right, so it’s a lot of very accomplished people just answer “I’m terrible at this, I can’t wait to read other people’s answers.”
Brett McKay: Let’s go back to that question, what book do you gift most frequently. I’ve gotten like, I have like 50 new books on my Amazon wish list because of this. Why ask that question instead of “What’s your favorite book?” Why ask what gift, what book do you gift most frequently?
Tim Ferriss: Because of several reasons. Number one, the people I interview tend to be very well read. They’ve read hundreds or thousands of books, and if you ask them what is your favorite book or what are your favorite books, it’s too long or it’s too broad of a search query. It would take too long typically for them to figure out, and they normally come up with one or two books that they really liked in the last year or two, which is not what you’re looking for.
Second, they’re often aware of the risk that if they say, “X, Y and Z is my favorite book,” that it will end up in Wikipedia haunting them forever and they’ll look back and say, “Good God, if I had 10 minutes to think about it I would have given you a different answer.” The most gifted conversely usually produces a very, very clear, very short list. Nearly everyone, not everyone, but nearly everyone has their go-to two to four books that they gift to many people. This is important for another reason. Favorite book means favorite book for the person you are asking. Most gifted book means it is one of their favorite books they feel applies to more people than just themselves, so it’s more broadly applicable. Those are a number of the reasons that I’ve chosen to tweak it and make it what book or books have you gifted the most to other people and why.
Brett McKay: Right, you’re kind of using the market to figure out, right. They’re putting skin in the game when they actually go out and buy a book for somebody.
Tim Ferriss: Exactly.
Brett McKay: You mentioned there was patterns you saw, and there are. What was the book you saw brought up over and over again that surprised you?
Tim Ferriss: Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, but Man Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl popped up a ton. The one that popped up more than I might expect that’s lesser known is Poor Charlie’s Almanac by Charlie Munger who is the right hand and invested partner of Warren Buffett, most famed investor in history arguably. Then, there were books that also came up even fiction, like Siddhartha for instance, by Herman Hess, came up repeatedly, which I went back and reread as a result because I had read it in high school or college and really taken nothing from it. I went back and I read it now at age 40, and I think it’s, this is true for many books, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and so on, that you may have read a long, long time ago, that they don’t fully have an impact until a little later in life, when you’ve put on a bit more mileage, had more experiences, have seen or experienced death in some capacity, and then you really have the life experience and lenses through which to view the pages and get something from them. So, Herman Hess, Siddhartha was another that cropped up. Those are a few that come to mind.
Brett McKay: The one that it was surprised by was Ayn Rand. There were few people who mentioned her and I knew something about their politics a little bit and I was like, they’re not objective, but they’re like “that book changed me.” That surprised me.
Tim Ferriss: Atlas Shrugged came up a lot, it certainly came up a ton. So, Ayn Rand or Ayn Rand depending on how you say her name came up a lot as setting the stage for these people to strive for self reliance, and it’s important to note that you don’t have to agree with everything in a book to make it one of your favorite books or one of your most gifted books at all, right. It just has to net have a huge positive impact. Atlas Shrugged certainly came up a ton. One that has come up a lot is the Five Love Languages, also.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve been hearing that more and more from people.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s a really, for intimate relationships, even just familial relationships, very fascinating book and some of the icons of the icons of the business world in private conversations, not in this book, have also mentioned the Five Love Languages. The list goes on. Then, there are the esoteric books, the really weird books.
Brett McKay: That was really interesting. That makes up the bulk of my Amazon wish list. There are these really weird things I’ve never even heard of.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so, for instance I mean the books that have informed the world’s best poker players that tend to be pretty out there, or a lot of them are pretty out there and very fringe books on rational decision making. Those are some of my favorites to dig into, you know, weird ones rally weird ones.
Brett McKay: I hate reading like airport pop business books because thy usually just tell you what you already know.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, they spend 50% of the book defining the problem that you already know or you wouldn’t have bought the book-
Brett McKay: Right. Then, they mention the marshmallow test somehow. Then, right. Like reading those really theoretical books gives you insights that you can apply to other parts of your life, whether it’s your business, your personal life. I found that to be the case in my own life.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely. Many of these folks, just to note another, perhaps unexpected pattern, is if you look at many of the best investors in the book, so, you have Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, $160 billion under management of Bridgewater Associates. If you look at the books that he has gifted the most, if you look at the books that say, Esther Dyson who came up earlier, who is one of the best investors out there, and just fascinating. She trained as a cosmonaut in former Soviet Union for a period of time as well. Many of these investors pay a lot of attention to books on evolution, different types of evolution. So, for instance, her most gifted books, Esther’s most gifted books include the Biology of Desire, why addiction is not a disease, looking at addiction and the evolutionary basis or biological basis for that. Two of her books are very closely related. This one is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The evolution of minds by Daniel Dennett, how consciousness arises, how much it depends on the sets of past, present, and future.
When you dig a little bit and you ask these folks why they pay so much time reading about evolution, it’s because they want to be able to spot the cognitive biases and the consensus realities, and the uninformed conclusions we come to based on millions of years of hard-wiring that is optimized for a reality that existed say 50,000 years ago, right. I mean, we’re really not designed to be living in cities with a constant barrage of information and sensationalistic headlines. We are not, biological evolution is very, very slow, and in the grand scheme of things, say from the agricultural revolution to industrial and now to where we are, it’s just the blinking of a firefly and we’re not prepared for it. By studying what we are hard wired to do, which is very often exactly the opposite of what is in our best interest you can spot uncrowded bets, you can spot contrarian thinking when it is most advantageous, and that is exactly what good investors do in many, many, many cases. So, that was another cool, I thought connection that was very obvious when you read through the book is that really good investors who are consistently and when I say consistently, I mean for decades, beating the market, and at the top of their game. I pay a lot of attention to evolution.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I’m going to ask you this question, what book do you give most frequently?
Tim Ferriss: The book that I give most frequently, for many, many years was a Penguin Classics book, Letters from a Stoic. It is a compilation of letters written by Seneca, a stoic figure or Roman, a famous playwright, arguably the most famous playwright of his day, also the wealthiest investment banker or its equivalent and an advisor to the emperor at the time. These are very pragmatic letters to one of his students or proteges, named Lucilius. Like, “Oh, Lucilius, I hear that so and so is smack talking you behind your back in the senate, here is how I would handle that.” “Dear Lucilius, I’m so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing and your difficulty with grief and how it is affecting your work and your family life. Here is what I would suggest.” Very concrete. I’ve given out hundreds and hundreds of copies of Letters from a Stoic directly to people who have visited my homes over the last say 15 years. It had a huge impact on me. Those can be found for free online as the moral letters to Lucilius and they had such a tremendous impact on me that I ended up spending six months, and this just goes to show, when you say to yourself “Oh, I’m going to do this, it will be really easy,” you should stop and really think about it. Putting together a free set of PDFs, e-books, called the Tao of Seneca, T-A-O, like the way of Seneca, which are all of these letters, plus interviews with modern thinkers and illustrations and stuff, that’s completely free. So, the book I’ve given away the most was originally the Penguin Classics version, Letters from a Stoic, which I would keep stacks of at home, in the closet, and if anyone came to my house who hadn’t ever read these letters, I would give them a copy before they left. That would definitely be far and away, number one. I’ve also given away a lot of copies of the fiction book, Zorba the Greek, which I think is great for people who tend to be very hyper-analytical and trapped in their own heads, because it chronicles the adventure sand misadventures of a very type A analytical driven person and Zorba, this character who is exactly the opposite, just a wild man who enjoys life and is very epicurean, throw caution to the wind type of character. So, the two of them make for a really entertaining and very informative contrast as they go through all of their various adventures.
Brett McKay: Seneca sounds like a proto-Tribe of Mentors, then.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, in a way it is, in some senses.
Brett McKay: And, Zorba the Greek, the movie is also fantastic.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I haven’t yet seen it. Now, based on that, I might actually see it. I didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want to sully how much I loved the book because for instance, you take His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and the Golden Compass and so on, that movie was terrible. It was so bad, it just made me angry that they desecrated this incredible work of fiction. So, I’m glad to hear that Zorba the Greek is good, I might watch that over the holidays.
Brett McKay: Zorba, teach me to dance. But a dance, it’s great. Let’s get to this question about being unfocused, feeling overwhelmed, because I think that’s what a lot of people are feeling these days. What were some of the most common answers you got from folks on how to combat that?
Tim Ferriss: Some of the most common answers were some variation to get out of your head, get into your body. That was one. So, some component of exercise, and people have many different approaches to this, so you can pick your favorite version of it. Another was that came up again and again and again and again was journaling in different capacities, whether that’s Richa Chadha, who is a very famous Bollywood actress who will, if she’s anxious or feeling overwhelmed will write about her problem or fear, she’ll say, “I am worried about X because,” and just write, write, write, write, write, and once she hits a pausing point, she’ll ask the question, “So, what, what then, what happens if that happens,” and then she’ll write again. So, what, and she’ll keep asking so what until the fear has been disarmed, and she finds that to dramatically lower stress and anxiety, which is something I also do effectively.
There are other people who like Reed Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, or Josh Waitzkin who is thought of as a chess prodigy who will pose a question to themselves, say after dinner, go to sleep, Thomas Edison did this exact routine as well. Then, they wake up and before any input from their devices, before breakfast, before any of that, they sit down and they journal on the question that they asked themselves the day before or the situation that they posed to their subconscious mind. That’s also very common. There are, I would say perhaps a dozen or 20 different approaches to journaling that people describe in Tribe of Mentors but the underlying point being to take what might be very nebulous or disconcerting thoughts in your head and to trap them on paper so you can look at them under a magnifying glass and either completely diffuse the boogeyman and realize that you have no real reason, no real need to fear what you’re afraid of, or to gain clarity on whatever the next steps might be.
Brett McKay: No, I think writing is powerful, because as you said, emotions are irrational, they’re nebulous, but when you start writing, your brain kicks into analytical mode, like linear mode, right.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: I think it’s interesting, the stoics, they used writing as a way to do that, right, to practice stoicism.
Tim Ferriss: They did, and I think it’s very underutilized and when I say writing, also, in today’s day and age, given what happens when you turn on a laptop, I think it is a competitive advantage or at the very least, very valuable to do this by hand. Just because I have it open to this page, Ether Perell, not Esther Perell, Esther Perell is also in the book, is amazing, but Esther Dyson, her answer when she feels overwhelmed is she asks what is the worst thing that could happen. She says, “Fear of the unknown is generally far worse than the fear of something specific,” and that, I’ll just finish it because it’s super short, “If it’s not the death of yourself or those you are responsible for, there’s probably some reasonable set of options you should consider calmly and thoughtfully.” This is straight out of Seneca, right. This is straight out of stoicism, and it’s most valuable when you put it on paper.
Brett McKay: Dwight Eisenhower did the same thing throughout his career. People don’t know this. If he had a problem, he would just write a memo to himself and then he would throw it away when he was done. What was the most unusual way to get focused or combat the overwhelmed?
Tim Ferriss: You know, I’m not going to get it totally right, but Greg Norman-
Brett McKay: The golf player?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, golf legend. Greg Norma, I think he starts with yelling at the top of his lungs, that’s stage one. There are other steps after it, but I remember just cracking up when I first got his responses.
Brett McKay: Right, and I think it was funny, because he also said, “Buddhism changed my life,” but then right after that it’s like, “I yell this obscenity as loud as I can.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly. Some people stick their head in a bucket of ice, was a rather unusual one, I suppose. I do ask people, I ask everyone, this is one of the questions, what is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love, and you get some really weird answers. The point of that question is to I suppose, accomplish two things. One is to just humanize these people so that you realize everyone is crazy, it’s not just you, and that if you think anyone is normal, you just don’t know them well enough yet, so there’s that piece, just to make everything more approachable, but you also get some ideas for cool hobbies, or weird superstitions that you might find kind of cool, so if you’re hyper-irrational, it might be kind of fun to adopt arbitrarily two or three superstitions that you find really enjoyable which is something that I do.
Brett McKay: What are those superstitions? Is it something that you can’t say?
Tim Ferriss: No, I can say, it’s not like Candyman, I can mention what they are. For instance, I don’t like using red ink to sign anything. I’m pretty sure I picked this up in China, it might have been somewhere else in Asia, where in certain instances red ink is considered bad luck or for breaking contracts, so I don’t like using red ink for signing anything. There are good superstitions and bad superstitions. So the number 555 is a good omen because I finished copy editing the very last line of my second book, the four hour body, looked up in a tea shop and it was $5.55. I already like repeating numbers, so now, if 555 pops up on my phone, I always take a screen shot. That’s another weird one.
Brett McKay: What do you do with the screen shots?
Tim Ferriss: I just keep them. I don’t do anything with them. I just like the act of taking the screenshot to pause and capture that moment. I don’t cheers with water, so if people are doing some type of toast with alcohol, I have to have some alcohol in my beverage or I will not toast with a non-alcoholic beverage, it’s not just water, it’s also any non-alcoholic beverage, I won’t toast with it, but I will do a fist bump. I will, for some reason, I allow myself to fist bump other glasses, but I won’t clink the glass together if it’s say water, and I’m pretty sure I got that from some Italians. I have a handful here or there, and I’m fully aware of how ridiculous they are but I just enjoy having a little bit of irrationality injected into my life that can otherwise be so quantified and so serious, blah, blah, blah, all work and no play makes Timmy a dull boy.
Brett McKay: Tim, there’s a lot more questions we could dig into, and we’ll have people go out and get the book. Where can they find out more information about the book? Do you hae a website for it?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, tribeofmentors.com. You can find sample chapters, I put up, if you search Tribe of Mentors, Terry Crews, I put up six life lessons from Terry Crews, but the best place to go is just tribeofmentors.com. You can find the entire list of mentors, you can find sample chapters, the whole nine yards, and certainly, I think it’s number three on Amazon right now, overall, every book, it’s doing really well, it just overtook Obama’s. So, people seem to really be enjoying it. You can find it anywhere books are sold. I would just say to folks, it’s a treasure and adventure guide, it’s a buffet. It’s not intended to be read cover to cover. You just pick and choose, just like you did and find the things that grab your attention, that’s it. So, if you even read 50 pages out of the 650, I consider that having read the book. So, it’s really just finding the bits and pieces that grab your attention, and that’s about it. Really proud of it, it’s been really helpful to me. I couldn’t find it, so I had to write it, and this is a reference book. It is a playbook that is a collection of play books, so I hope people enjoy it.
Brett McKay: Awesome, well, Tim Ferriss, thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: Thanks, so much.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Tim Ferriss he’s the author of the book, Tribe of Mentors. It’s out now. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about the book at tribeofmentors.com. Also check out Tim’s podcast, the Tim Ferriss show and his new podcast called Tribe of Mentors, find those on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever else you listen to podcasts. Also, check out our show notes at AOM.is/mentors where you can find links to resources or you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure you check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed the show or got something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you would take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, and if you’ve done that already, thank you and please share the show with others, your friends and family members, I really would appreciate that as well. This show is recorded on Clearcast.IO if you are a podcaster who does remote interviews like myself, check it out. It’s a service I developed to make our podcasts sound better. Clearcast.IO. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: December 27, 2017