5 Vital Tips I Learned From Tim Ferriss — The Millennial Generation’s Self Help Guru

Olu Eletu
Olu Eletu

I went to see Tim Ferriss interviewed by Naval Ravikant at the sold out, standing room only Castro Theatre in San Francisco last night, sponsored by INFORUM, an innovation lab at The Commonwealth Clubs.

Tim has been described as the Millennial Generation’s “self-help guru” and “a fearless high speed learning machine” according to Naval. He is the best selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, 4-Hour Body and his most recent Tools of Titans. Tim has many accolades and experiences to his name and addressed many topics. Here are 5 tools that I learned from him:

Tool #1: to be the best at something (top 5% of general population), whatever that is, seek out experts at that thing you want to learn and learn their secrets in as little time as possible by asking incredibly pointed and direct questions. He asks these experts questions such as, “if you had 12 weeks to prep me for a competition, how would you prepare me? I know it’s impossible but what would you do to teach me within that time constraint?”

Tim is a master at outsourcing knowledge from even his closest friends and confidants by literally emailing them and asking, “how would YOU optimize for this skill that I’m trying to learn? How would YOU approach this situation and optimize for time, money, etc.?” He also looks for arcane things to learn that fewer people are trying to learn so that by default he becomes the tallest of the seven dwarfs.

In choosing experts, he is looking for the outliers by asking himself the question, “who is good at this that shouldn’t be? He is more interested in studying from those who have used learning and techniques to get better at the skills he is looking to learn as opposed to studying people who are naturally gifted at those things. For instance, he wouldn’t want to learn how to swim from Michael Phelps who has absurd natural ability but rather someone who is an Olympian who is undersized and had to learn the hacks and techniques to compete with those who have natural talent. This isn’t the only way to learn but as a self-described “puny” person who has had health problems he has had to try harder and take 2 steps where others may only need 1.

Tool #2: Meta work. Tim spends a lot of his time doing what he calls meta work. I.e. planning, thinking and strategizing as opposed to doing anything actionable. This reminds me of the Abraham Lincoln philosophy, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Granted Tim Ferriss has the financial stability to spend more time philosophizing his next moves but this space before taking focused action has been very helpful for him. He even goes as far as scheduling forced vacations so that he forces himself to create structures to get what he needs to get done in quicker time knowing that he will be off the grid once the scheduled vacation time arrives.

Tool #3: Suffering. Tim is an outspoken follower of Stoic philosophy. He regularly engages in physical hardship to push the boundaries of what he and others consider impossible. To that end he has experimented with cold exposure, fasting and other regiments that take him out of his comfort zone. This came with the disclaimer that he avoids injuries wherever possible (of which he has experienced many) but the point is that you can train your body and mind to get used to new and straining environments. This can be applied to a 24 hour or 3-day fast, climbing high peaks with little food and water, sleeping on hard surfaces, walking bear foot (which he believes can solve the world’s problems) or as simple as making the shower a little colder in the morning.

Tool #4: Find beauty in mundane, seemingly meaningless situations. Tim quoted a friend of his who works with people in hospice and he asked this friend what three things he encourages to those in a hospice situation to make their lives more meaningful. The answer, “comedy/laughing, having plenty of space and time to think, reflect, journal and a book of Mark Rothko paintings.”

Tool #5: Tim’s 60 second idea to change the world:

Naval’s final question to Tim before he took questions from the audience was “what is your 60-second idea for how to change the world that you would recommend to your audience of self-improvement aficionados?” His answer:

1. Buy one cup of coffee for the person behind you at the coffee shop

2. Whenever you are about to engage in a fight with someone either online or in person, ask them questions to identify common ground between you and that person.

3. Identify someone with whom you would never talk to and go up and say hi. “It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.”

To recap: Tim is an expert at one thing, learning. At finding concise ways to learn things using aggregation, curation and curiosity to attempt what others believe is impossible. All the while understanding that appreciating the small things every step of the way and being a good person matter more the achieving and material measures of success.

Tim is always learning, mitigating risks and looking at things differently, challenging the status quo. Being bold.

Resources Tim highly recommends:

  • The novel Musashi
  • Read: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule
  • Listen: Tim’s Derek Sivers podcast about confidence, finding happiness and saying “no”
  • Listen/read: Tim’s Seneca podcast. Tim listens to this every morning. Especially the 13th letter, which he believes is valuable to learning the art of persuasion where Seneca used the language of the very person he was trying to persuade. Building the other person’s argument and stating it before his own to disarm the person he’s looking to persuade.
  • Health supplements are very important as is responsible use of psychedelics. He suggests a whole food lifestyle and NAC which is good if you’re tired. He mentioned PubMed as a great resource for learning.
  • The Tail End essay. Read it.
  • The saying used in the military, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast. TC mark

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