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The 8 best lessons we learned from Tim Ferriss’ Reddit AMA

The man, The myth. The legend.

Tim Ferriss has done all of the things your mother told you to never do.

Kickboxing. Steroids. Extreme dehydration. Neutropics.

Tim has been labeled as this generation’s “self-help guru” and his influence is one that is across the web and on TV.

There’s a reason he’s been a New York Times Best Seller several times. He has tried a whole of things first hand. This is something our generation appreciates- transparency and authenticity.

We spent the last hour reading through Tim’s AMA (‘Ask Me Anything’) on Reddit and pulled out our favorite lessons. Let’s go.

As a young person who just started their career and realized they hate it, what advice would you give me? 

Read “The Magic of Thinking Big” (Schwarz) and “Losing My Virginity” (Branson). Then volunteer at business events, like those put on by the EO (Entrepreneurs Organization), which has chapters everywhere. That gives you the opportunity to interact with speakers, icons, successful people, etc. above your pay grade. That’s how I learned a lot and built my network as a nobody when I first landed in Silicon Valley. Volunteering is an amazing secret weapon. Charlie Hoehn has written great stuff about this in “The Recession-Proof Graduate.” Definitely grab that as well.

What is your mindset when you start learning a new skill? What do you tell yourself?

It’s more questions than something I tell myself. I have to reduce fear first. If I’m afraid of embarrassing myself, for example, I’ll do 1/10th what I should. So I ask myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” on paper and go through a “fear-setting” exercise like this: “A Simple 3-step Exercise to Figure Out What’s Holding You Back From Success.”

Past that, it’s just using meta-learning frameworks like DiSSS and CaFE. Those work well for me. Here’s a presentation I did on how I use them: “A How To Guide: Accelerated Learning for Accelerated Times

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What has been your biggest mistake/ failure? And how did you learn from it?

I have many. The first that comes to mind, which I don’t think I’ve spoken about: A number of friends committed suicide around college and just after, and I nearly did the same. The mistake was thinking that depression lasts forever (it rarely does) and being selfish. I wasn’t thinking about how my family would blame themselves forever. It was sheer luck — a library card for a Dr. Kevorkian-like book ended up getting mailed to a family member by accident, which sparked a conversation that saved me. I hope to write more about this soon. Suicide among 20-30-year olds has skyrocketed in the last decade, at least according to an article I recently read. It’s tragic, and I was one of the lucky ones.

You have become super successful, but are involved in so many different things. What have you failed at recently? What would you do differently?

Since The 4-Hour Chef was published by Amazon, it got boycotted by nearly everyone, including Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, Costco, etc. That turned the launch into a disaster. It was <25% of what it should have been. After 2-3 years of work, that was a huge blow and put me into an extended depression.

Next, the TV show! I’ve been negotiating and fighting for nearly 2 years on this. It was originally on HLN (why, I’m not sure), then the division responsible got shut down, and the TV show was pulled off the air. No one saw it. That was another failure, and my first big project after licking my wounds from The 4-Hour Chef.

But now it’s back and I couldn’t be happier. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but I certainly felt like it was the end of the world at the time.

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When you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Your strength of conviction and desire to get it done get’s you there. Any thoughts about cultivating strength of purpose or other ideas?

First, you wrote “When you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Your strength of conviction and desire to get it done get’s you there.”

Not true! I often have terrible conviction and willpower. I need systems and habits to prevent my lesser self from winning. It’s a daily fight.

A few things that help me dramatically:

  • Grab “The 5-Minute Journal” and spend a few minutes on this each morning, BEFORE checking your phone, laptop, etc.
  • Do the “fear-setting” exercise from The 4-Hour Workweek about big choices or projects you’re considering. This is often the inflection point for people, and I still do this every 4-6 weeks. Here are the basics:
  • Schedule and defend 20-40 minutes of exercise to “bookend” your day and get you off of computers around 6pm or 7pm. This will provide some structure to organize everything else around.

How do you do it? What is your trick of balancing between each project and how do you not let things fall to the wayside?

Despite what many think, I do not consider myself good at “focus.” Here are a few things that help me, despite my lesser impulses and ADHD nature:

  • The 5-Minute Journal. This helps me clarify things for the day, and the post-mortem at night helps me sleep.
  • Meditation in the morning. Try the Headspace or Calm apps for 10-20 min upon waking, before email or laptop or phone.
  • Get the “Momentum” extension for Chrome, if you use Chrome. Hugely helpful for avoiding getting distracted and lost in the Internet.

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I would like to know, what was the biggest fear of yours that you have conquered?

The first that comes to mind is swimming. I didn’t learn to swim until in my 30’s. That’s pretty embarrassing, considering I grew up on Long Island (yes, rat tail and all)! It was once of my biggest insecurities. Not only was I afraid of drowning, but that fear made me afraid of humiliating myself. I took classes but failed repeatedly and gave up after 1-2 sessions. Everything changed when a friend introduced me to Total Immersion Swimming. Here are the cliff notes:

What were the biggest changes you made in your teens that lead you to where you were now? Did your Neuroscience degree help at all, and if you had the chance again would you have taken the same degree?

Follow what excites you. Unless you’re 100% sure that you want to be a doctor or lawyer, undergraduate degrees are for making you a well-rounded human and offering you the chance to explore widely.

If you like Neuro, go for it! I actually graduated with a degree in East Asian Studies (focus on language acquisition) after a year in Neuroscience. Some people would jokingly ask, “What type of job will that get you?” It bothered me a bit, but I had faith that simply improving my thinking (which scientific training and languages do) would translate to any job I might pursue.

If you’re a hard science guy looking for jobs in that space, it’s a different story. Or if you know you want to be a CS guy, you are going to need to program. That said, the best programmers I know started way before college and never did it for the job prospects; they started to make games.

So study the neuroscience. If you change your mind, great! Undergrad is for exploring.

For skills to focus on, in general, I would recommend:

  • Get good at writing, which equals thinking on paper. Stephen King’s book, as well as “Bird by Bird” are great. “On Writing Well” similarly good.
  • Start learning how to negotiate now, and practice. “Getting Past No” and “Secrets of Power Negotiating” (Dawson – get audio if you can) are solid.

Good luck and have fun! If you can’t have fun in college, you won’t have fun in life, so try a lot 🙂

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