Tim Ferriss released his new book Tribe of Mentors.
The premise is simple, the same 11 questions answered by 100+ high-class performers from all imaginable areas (art; business; entertainment; policy; etc.). I enjoyed reading them and wanted to answer them myself.
Here they are:
#1: 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?
Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari) – This book has left me speechless on various occasions and the ideas are part of my thinking ever since. Harari tells a short history of humanity, underpinned by (1) evidence where facts are known and (2) personal commentary/views where contrasting opinions are available. In addition, it is some of the most straight-forward writing I have come across in a book. Easy to read, hard to digest.
The Martian (Andy Weir) – Best audiobook ever. Gifting this to people who want to get into audiobooks.
4-Hour-Workweek (Tim Ferriss) – I read it at a time when I was looking to change my life. It helped me to structure an ‘alternative’ life plan.
#2: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Etymotic ear-plugs – Protect your ears, man! There’s just too many shitty sound systems in this world but you only have one set of ears. I carry them on my keychain for when the noise gets unbearable or I just want to nap/focus. Best value-for-money investment.
#3: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I am not sure if the following falls under the typical definition of ‘failure’ but it has definitely felt like it. The learnings have certainly set me up for later success (mentally).
In my life, I had two episodes where I was experiencing heavy mental pressure.
Episode #1: At age 13, it was expectations from my family that I was unable to meet. The mental pressure from outside increased to such a degree where I started showing physical symptoms (gag reflex when I was at about to fall asleep > general inability to fall asleep easily > lack of energy > lack of focus > inability to perform academically/socially > more mental pressure > vicious cycle intensifies). Doctors told me that there are no clear physiological reasons as to why I’m experiencing this. I should just ‘relax and try to sleep’. After a couple of weeks, I started doubting that I’ll become healthy again.
I don’t know how I made the change, but at some point, I decided to ‘shut out any external stressors’. I stopped listening. I stopped caring. Oddly enough, this change made me more relaxed. I started having better sleep and my grades and quality of life improved significantly. This dark episode lasted only a couple of weeks but surely felt much longer.
Ever since, I try to not put too much attention on outside stressors (expectations; opinions; etc.) beyond a reasonable degree.
Episode #2: At age 22, I almost destroyed myself psychologically and as a result physically. While in college, I worked a non-profit job that paid barely anything and still required a big time commitment of 40-80+ hours per week (the variance comes from the fact that it was an events business where working hours significantly increased around peak/event times). As one of the longer-serving employees, it was my duty to be a role model and to help where I could. Burning the midnight oil was a regular occurrence as was taking on too many tasks – even those that were originally assigned to other people.
No one told me to do it, but I wanted it. Or at least I thought I did. I pushed myself to an extreme extent. Working hours got longer, my social ties outside of work crumbled, no time for family and relationship, no time for past-time activities (sports; hobbies; etc.). I neglected the most basic things that make me happy. In hindsight, this was a poor decision.
After months, I started showing physiological symptoms. Again. This time I caught the flu and never fully recovered. I was left with chronic bronchitis. Doctors said there should be no physiological reasons as to why I was sick. Nothing wrong with my lungs, nothing wrong with my respiratory system. Everyone asked if I was stressed. I didn’t want to accept that this might be the reason. I had bronchitis for 11 months and lost almost 10kgs. As the condition remained, I started deteriorating mentally. It felt hopeless.
I felt certain that I would never fully recover from this and would have to live with it (best case) or collapse under it (worst case). Very dark times.
Luckily, a string of events made me decide to leave my job and as a result, freed me from my own mental pressure. I kid you not, after a week all the symptoms went away. This was a holy sh** moment for me, as it showed me how interconnected our bodies and minds are.
Bottomline: The ASICS acronym “anima sana in corpore sano” – “a healthy soul in a healthy body” – holds true. In these dark episodes, I learned a lot about myself and how to deal with distress (external and internal). I still benefit from it to this day.
#4: 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?
Perception = Reality
It is one framework, through which I see the world. This concept can be interpreted and used in many ways:
- [Input] Perception: Inputs need to be perceived in order to be processed. If a blind person can’t perceive the visual inputs, then a blue sky is not their reality, because they don’t see it. This is true with any type of input/information. What you can’t perceive did not subjectively happen.
- [Processing] Subjective Realities: Even if people perceive the same input they will process it subjectively. This is heavily influenced by biases and other factors. The same input does not result in the same reality.
- [Output] Influence: People who understand the first two concepts can try and influence the output/reality. Once you understand this you can apply it yourself or be more critical towards inputs that come your way.
#5: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Self-improvement routine: Taking the time to review my year on January 1st helps to get a snapshot of what went well and where I can improve. Then I take the time to set goals accordingly to strengthen the good stuff and improve on the not so good stuff.
It takes a couple of hours, but it gives me more structure and direction.
#6: What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I like crappy diner food. Eddie’s Cafe in San Francisco is just perfect.
#7: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Goal Setting Is Very Helpful – Back in 2012 I was going through a rough patch (emotionally; physically). Two mental coaches helped me and suggested I write down my ‘dreams/goals’. The twist: I had to write 39 goals.
In short, the exercise forces you to break larger goals into smaller manageable pieces (similar to the SMART framework). That way your goals seem more attainable. I’ve seen this method work for me and ever since I am a firm believer that structured planning can help you with goal achievement. It is a combination of ‘project management’, and very similar to what Scott Adams references (reticular activation; selective memory; etc.) on Tim’s show.
A couple of new behaviors/habits:
Make my bed – Starting my day with a little win.
2 glasses of water – Hydrate first thing in the morning to get all systems running.
Balancing on one leg – When brushing my teeth I balance on one leg for 30 seconds each. A couple of years ago I had chronic back pain and it tends to come back if I don’t do the exercises. This is an easy one to integrate into my daily schedule and it helps a lot.
Audio Books – I started using my commutes and chore time for ‘reading/listening’. Through audible and podcasts I’ve been able to increase my reading throughput. This year alone it’s been 20+ books (most of them via audio).
#8: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
Advice to students:
I would most likely structure it as a seminar with a couple of pillars:
- The most important thing you should take from school: Learning how to learn.
- There is a big difference between what you learn in school and how life/work looks like in the real world. Be humble when you step into the “real world” and keep learning.
- Communication is a superpower. You can put ideas into someone else’s head. Practice your craft.
- Find your personal niche. It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.
- Don’t kill yourself faster than you should. Take care of your health (mental and physical).
- Most importantly, question and think for yourself.
Advice to ignore:
- “Follow your passion.” – Ben Horowitz explains why this is dangerous advice.
- Literally, any advice where people claim it is the ‘absolute’ truth.
#9: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Drop out of college and start your business right now.” – This is not true for everyone. I believe that it helps to pursue some sort of education to build a foundation. Also, working for a couple of years gives you the opportunity to build a personal network (future co-founders/employees/etc.) and save some cash to bridge the first months without income/salary.
#10: In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
Saying no to:
- Random invitations/requests I don’t want to attend and would usually have attended/answered out of politeness
- Clear priorities (family; friends; health; my business)
- Planning a yearly schedule – leaves little time for ‘unnecessary’ time fillers
#11: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (What questions do you ask yourself?)
- Put my thoughts to paper – helps me organize different aspects of the issue at hand
- I verbalize my thoughts with a person I trust – saying things out loud helps
It is almost like the creative process (diverge > converge). First, ideate and then structure and decide.
Take a break. Change the mental or physical state I’m in. A short walk does wonders.
Let me know of your answers.
Feedback/input/opinions are much appreciated 🙂