I recently finished reading Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. Ferriss is known for a lot (books, podcasts, investing, etc) but what I appreciate most about him is that he’s mastered the art of learning things in record time. He even spoke at the SXSW Education conference this year. I’ll admit that I’ve drank Tim Ferriss kool-aid; listen to just about all his podcasts, have read a few of his books, and dig his weekly newsletters. He also popularized the slow-carb diet which I started back in 2015 and it has no longer become a ‘diet’ but just the way I eat now.
Tools of Titans are Ferriss’ cliff’s notes for all the things he’s learned from the people he’s interviewed on his podcast. Guests are high-performers from every field (business, military, entertainment, investing, athletics, science, technology, etc). So this blog is sort of my own cliffs notes of his cliffs notes…and his cliffs notes are 673 pages long, so I guess it’s appropriate that this blog is pushing 3000+ words. I don’t expect most people to read through all of this, but I wanted to write something that would actually serve myself as well and get all these ideas in one place.
I’ll be sharing the things that I’ve done, things I plan on doing or trying, quotes I felt were just worth repeating, different mindsets that I’d love to embrace, and a few of the movies/albums/books I’d like to check out. Let’s get to it 🙂
THING I’VE TRIED
COLD EXPOSURE – In the Wim Hof chapter (guy known for having superhuman control over much of his autonomic nervous system – ran marathons in the Arctic Circle in shorts as well as in the Namib Desert without water) he discussed cold exposure. While I don’t take ice baths, I do take cold showers; it can improve immune function, increase fat loss, and elevate mood – see this awesome animation that breaks down the science behind it. One podcast guest trained his son to say ‘it so good!’ when the cold water gets to be unbearable. Sounds like abuse, but I get it. Resilience. Doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Conquering the cold.
SLOW-CARB DIET – There’s a short synopsis of the Slow-Carb Diet in the book which is actually just the blog post he’s had up for years. I found the post at the end of the summer of 2015 when I found myself weighing in at 192; about 12 lbs over my regular weight and the heaviest I had ever been. I couldn’t believe I was only 8 lbs away from 200 lbs. I didn’t want to let that happen. While I had been exercising regularly for about 2 years by that point, my diet was still garbage. Since following the slow-carb diet, I’ve maintained around 165 lbs for over a year now.
- Breakfast everyday – 2 egg whites (from a carton) and 1 whole egg scrambled, lentils, 2 strips of thick cut bacon, a cup of spinach w/ Italian dressing, and 2 cups of coffee (sometimes I throw half an avocado in the mix)
- Lunch everyday – 1/2 cup chicken thigh fajitas, lentils, and broccoli (chicken made on Sunday, meal microwaved at work)
- Dinner – mostly low cab options from eMeals. I’ll also make bake hot wings about once a week.
- 1 cheat day a week (Faturday) where I eat anything and everything. Keeps this whole thing sustainable.
JUST ASKING FOR WHAT YOU WANT – On putting yourself out there and being OK with asking for things, Noah Kagan (entrepreneur) says ask for 10% off your next coffee. There was a period of a couple of weeks where I asked ‘is there any sort of discount I could get on this’ just to see what would happen with various purchases. While I didn’t get any significant discounts, it did make me a bit more comfortable with negotiating in other areas of my life (rising internet bills, my side business, haggling prices in other countries where it’s more accepted).
GREAT SCRAMBLED EGGS – Sam Kass (chef) on making great scrambled eggs – crack the eggs straight into the pan, let them cook for a second, then mix the up. Then right before you think they’re done, take them out as they’ll harden a little bit on the plate. I make my eggs like this every morning but often wonder if I’m taking them out too soon; if my ‘I think they’re almost done’ intuition is off.
MEETING WITH YOURSELF – Mike Birbiglia (comedian) on putting things off says he will put on his calendar that he has a meeting with himself. It creates a mental shift for him and he will be on time to the coffee shop to work. I’ve done this with a couple things I tend to put off (my own ongoing math education) but haven’t had as much on-going success.
ASKING UNEXPECTED QUESTIONS – Birbiglia also looks to ask people questions they’re not expecting (like asking Obama for parenting advice). It leads to such richer conversations. I used to have a sheet in college of bizarre/fun questions to ask people when I met them (what’s your favorite part of the face? what are 2 jobs you wouldn’t want? etc.)
DELOADING PERIODS – Ferriss and others talk about the need for a deloading phase; a time to just mess around doing nothing to actually boost creativity, productivity, and quality of life.
I’d love to actually schedule this more often in my life but I’ve been doing it in small doses. When I come home from school, I generally will spend 20-30 minutes watching YouTube on the couch and will often drift into a 20-minute nap. I’ll then be in a way better state to tackle my work than if I were to just get started right away when I got home. I’d love to schedule full days to be screen-free and let my mind wander and ponder while I read or walk or do whatever.
THINGS I WANT TO TRY
CHILIPAD – A bunch of folks talked about the Chilipad for sleeping. It’s a warming/cooling mattress pad to set your desired temperature. People were saying it’s changed their life. At a $600 price tag, I’d eventually like to give this a try.
REDUCING VERBAL TICKS – In reflecting on transcribing some of the podcast audio, Ferriss realized how much he would just say “and I was like” instead of “and I said.” I’d like to be more aware of this in my everyday speech. I notice it a lot when I teach, prefacing much of what I say with ‘Ok, so…’
HEART-TO-HEART HUGS – Wim Hof gives heart-to-heart hugs ; left arm over the shoulder and your head to the right of theirs. Heart-to-heart.
J-CURLS – J-curls for more mobility. This is a staple for gymnasts. I’d like to try to do this 2-3 times a week at the gym.
MORE PULL-UPS – Increase my pull-up number by doing half-sets of what I usually do (6-8 normally so half set of 3-4) with 15 minutes of rest in between. I have a pull up bar in my office. This should be my 15 minute break. I’ve plateaued in my pull-up game and this seems like a fairly simple fix to that.
GUIDED MEDITATION – While I’ve used mindfulness apps like Headspace, I’d like to try one of the guided meditations focused around smiling.
WISHING HAPPINESS – Another mindfulness practice I’d like to lead in my class is wishing for random people to be happy. Identify two people during the day that walk by you and secretly wish for them to be happy. Don’t do anything or say anything, just think. In my personal thought life, I’d like to see this transfer to saying a prayer of joy for people I pass.
COSSACK SQUATS – Cossack Squats for better ankle mobility which will lead to better squat form. I’ve tried this a bit but always feel I’m doing it wrong. Throwing in some light-weight overhead squats with a narrow stance will help with this too.
GETTING INTO THE IMPORTANT MEETINGS – In regards to working at a startup (which I don’t, but loved the idea of this), Chris Sacca said to go to as many higher-level meetings as you can and figure out how to be helpful. When people ask if you’re there, just say you’re there to take notes. Sacca did this when working at Google and soon became a regular at all the higher-level meetings.
WHO’S THE THIRD PERSON TO COME TO MIND? – When asking folks who comes to mind when they think of the word successful, Derek Sivers suggests asking who the THIRD person is that comes to mind. The first two will just be the reactionary answers (Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, etc), but the third one give a bit more insight into the person. Following up with ‘how are they more successful than the first two’ is good too. **As stated earlier, I am generally on the hunt for good questions when in situations with new people to avoid the typical small chat conversations that bore both participants. This one is going in the back pocket.**
DVORAK KEYBOARD – Apparently there are multiple keyboard layouts for computers. The one we all use is QWERTY but turns out Dvorak is easier on the tendons and its’ users beat out QWERTY in most speed-typing challenges.
IDEA LISTS – James Altucher (entrepreneur) makes lists to generate ideas. Here are some of my favorites that I think may make great blog posts:
- 10 old ideas I can make new
- 10 ridiculous things I could invent
- 10 books I can write
- 10 podcast ideas or videos I can shoot
- 10 people I want to be friends with
- 10 ways to take old posts of mine and make a book out of them
- 10 things I learned yesterday
- 10 things I learned from X
- 10 things I’m interested in getting better at
- 10 things I was interested in as a kid that might be fun to explore now
STORY PROMPTS – Alex Blumberg (radio-journalist) had an excellent list of prompts to elicit stories. I want to keep these in mind whenever doing interviews for videos:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Tell me about the day when…
- Tell me the story of (how you came to major in X, how you met so-and-so, etc)
- Tell me about the day you realized ____…
- What were the steps that go you to ____…
- Describe the conversation when…
- If you had to describe the debate in your head about [X decision or event], how would you describe it?
GOOD QUESTIONS – A couple Cal Fussman (writer) questions that could just make for good conversation:
- What’s the best lesson your father ever taught you?
- What are some choices you’ve made that made you who you are?
A couple of Ferriss questions that I like:
- What’s something really weird or unsettling that happens to you on the regular basis?
- What is the worse advice you see or hear being dispensed in your world?
- If you had to give a TED talk on something outside your main area of expertise, what would you speak on?
- What’s the first 60 minutes of your day look like?
FINDING YOUR PURPOSE – Peter Diamandis (entrepreneur) recommends reflecting on the following to help you find your driving purpose or mission- “If you were asked to spend $1 billion improving the world or solving a problem, what would you pursue?”
THE GMAIL + TRICK – See how and where you email is getting shared: when signing up for an online service, take your gmail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and then put a + after your name . For example, signing up for Instacart (email@example.com). All your emails will still reach your inbox but it’s a way of keeping track of who may be sharing your information.
DEATH COUNTDOWN – While a bit morbid, Kevin Kelly has a death countdown clock on his computer. Nothing concentrates your time like knowing how many days you have left. I did this when writing this blog. It was interesting to see an actual number of days, even if it was just generated by an algorithm.
BETTER EMAIL ENDINGS – End my emails with “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far.” versus something like “I look forward to hearing back from you soon!.”
JUST WORTH REPEATING
“No one owes you anything”
– Amelia Boone’s (superstar athlete) response when asked what she’d put on a billboard
“I always say that I’ll go first…I’ll say hello first, I’ll smile first. Be first, because – not all times, but most times- it comes in your favor” – Gabby Reese (superstar athlete)
“Those who are offended easily should be offended more often.” – Mae West
“Free education is abundant, all over the Internet. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce.” – Naval Ravikant (entrepreneur)
“Everyone is interesting. If you’re ever bored in a conversation, the problem’s with you, not the other person.”
– Matt Mullenweg (creator of WordPress)
(good to keep in mind especially regarding my comment about small chat about)
“I think we need to teach kids two things: 1) how to lead, and 2) how to solve interesting problems. There are plenty of countries where there are people who are willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. We cannot out-obedience the competition; we have to out-lead or out-solve the other people.” – Seth Godin (writer)
“When you complain, nobody wants to help you.” – Tracy DiNunzio (entrepreneur)
“Inspiration is for amatuers – the rest of us just show up and get to work” (I wrote about this in THIS blog reflection on a book of the daily rituals of creatives of the past few centuries) – Chuck Close
“Discipline equals freedom.”
– Jocko Willink (former Navy SEAL commander)
I’ve found there’s freedom in escaping the paradox of choice (what should I do now, what should I have for breakfast, what workout should I do when I go to the gym, how should I spend my morning, etc.)
“Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic, or toughness, or some other virtue – but really , it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.” – Maria Popova (writer)
“You discover your ‘dream’ (or sense of purpose) in the very act of walking the path, which is guided by equal parts choice and chance.” & “I think passion comes from a combination of being open and curious, and of really going all-in when you find something you’re interested in.” – Sam Kass (chef) speaking on how ‘find your passion’ is terrible advice
MINDSETS TO EMBRACE
ON BUILDING RESILIENCE – Amelia Boone runs in the rain and cold as she knows the competition is opting out. Rehearsing the ‘worse-case scenario’ to become more resilient. One of the reasons I often take a cold shower in the morning.
ON GETTING BACK TO THE ESSENTIALS – Along those same lines, Joe De Sena (co-founder of the Spartan Race) was living in the high-stress environment of Wall Street and did this crazy hike in Alaska because he ‘had to get back to this place where you just want water, food, and shelter…all the craziness of life would go away, would melt away.’
ON WORRY – Triple H – “Why would I be wound up? I’m either ready or I’m not. Worrying about it right now ain’t gonna change a damn thing. Right? I’ve done everything I can to be ready for this, or I haven’t.”
ON MENTALLY PREPARING FOR HUMANITY – Marcus Aurelius – “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They’re like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I’ve seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.
ON LIVING AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE – Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) on an extraordinary life – You have two paths: 1)Become the best at one specific thing. 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. The first is nearly impossible. The second is fairly easy. The magic is in the combination of the two.
Teaching and filmmaking are two things I feel I’ve gotten to become better than average at. I’M LIVING THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE!
ON MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE – Shaun White’s (superstar athlete) self talk before an Olympic run: “at the end of the day, who cares? What’s the big deal? I’m here, I’m going to try my best, and I’m going to go home and my family’s there…even though my whole world’s wrapped up in this, who cares?”
In the few times I’ve done public speaking, I’ve had similar self-talk and it’s quite calming.
ON WINNING THE MORNING – Start with making your bed. As Naval Admiral William McRaven put it, your day has started with completing one task; you’re putting things as they should be. It also serves as a reminder that the little things in life matter. I love coming upstairs at night to a made bed, ready to sleep in.
ON KEEPING THE IMPORTANT THINGS FIRST – Imagine a bucket and rocks that you’re putting in it; large rocks, small rocks, and sand. If you fill the bucket with the sand and little rocks, there’s no room for the big rocks. Fill your bucket with big rocks first (the important things in life) and fill in the gaps with the smaller rocks and sand.
ON STAYING ‘RELEVANT’ – BJ Novak (TV writer) – “If Will Smith isn’t in a movie for 3 years, you’re not walking around saying, ‘Where’s Will Smith?’ Nobody’s paying attention to anyone else at all. You think everyone is, but they’re not. So take as long as you want if you’re talented. You’ll get their attention again if you have a reason to.”
I think about this when it comes to putting content out on YouTube. The common wisdom is to just keep cranking it out or you’ll be left behind, but really, nobody is paying attention, just put out good content.
ON MAINTAINING AN INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL – I like how Josh Waitzkin (chess prodigy & education reformer) speaks to his son about the rain. He doesn’t say things like ‘it’s bad weather, we can’t go out’ or even ‘it’s good weather, we can go out.’ It shows a reliance on external conditions to be able to go out and have a good time. He wants to build an internal locus of control. He goes out and plays in the rain with his son. His son says ‘look at the beautiful rainy day.’
THINGS TO WATCH / LISTEN TO / READ
Schwarzenegger’s favorite documentary is Brooklyn Castle, a film about chess in inner-city schools.
Casey Neistat’s favorite documentary is Little Dieter Needs to Fly. About a WWII fighter pilot getting shot down in his first mission and being trapped as a POW for several years.
Justin Boreta’s (electronic musician) favorite album is Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works. He also recommended Max Richter’s From Sleep for helping him sleep. I’ve been listening to it while reading and napping lately and it’s beautiful.
Read Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (recommended by 3 guests)
If you made it this far, high-five! Have you read the book? What stuck with you?
Thanks for reading 🙂