Tools of Titans (Tim Ferriss)

Book Notes Last Updated Apr 22, 2021

Tools of Titans is Tim Ferriss’ collection of the best advice and tips from the guests that’s been on his podcast. My recommendation for reading this book is to skip around, although I found most of information applicable, even it did not directly relate to me, certain sections (for me it was advice for investing) might not be as interesting depending on what you are looking to get out of the book.


Tools of Titans covers so many areas of life that it is hard to give a complete summary without leaving parts out. The book includes the highlights of all of Tim Ferriss's podcast interviews with billionaires, celebrities, icons, word class performers and athletes. The book is split into distinct parts; with categories such as personal health/fitness, business, and mindfulness.

Key Takeaways

  • You should constantly reflect on your fears, goals, and actions.
  • The key to success is uniqueness, a fresh outlook, and grit

Favorite Highlights

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” —J. Krishnamurti

“[Evander Holyfield] said that his coach at one point told him, something like his very first day, ‘You could be the next Muhammad Ali. Do you wanna do that?’ Evander said he had to ask his mom. He went home, he came back and said, ‘I wanna do that.’ The coach said, ‘Okay. Is that a dream or a goal? Because there’s a difference.’

With “Just Note Gone” we train the mind to notice that something previously experienced is no more. For example, at the end of a breath, notice that the breath is over. Gone. As a sound fades away, notice when it is over. Gone. At the end of a thought, notice that the thought is over. Gone. At the end of an experience of emotion—joy, anger, sadness, or anything else—notice it is over. Gone.

Once an hour, every hour, randomly identify two people walking past your office and secretly wish for each of them to be happy. You don’t have to do or say anything—just think, “I wish for this person to be happy.”

“To do original work: It’s not necessary to know something nobody else knows. It is necessary to believe something few other people believe.”

“I Wasn’t There to Compete. I Was There to Win.” I brought up of a photo of Arnold at age 19, just before he won his first big competition, Junior Mr. Europe. I asked, “Your face was so confident compa to every other competitor. Where did that confidence come from?” He replied: “My confidence came from my vision. . . . I am a big believer that if you have a very clear vision of where you want to go, then the rest of it is much easier. Because you always know why you are training 5 hours a day, you always know why you are pushing and going through the pain barrier, and why you have to eat more, and why you have to struggle more, and why you have to be more disciplined. . . . I felt that I could win it, and that was what I was there for. I wasn’t there to compete. I was there to win.”

“Cincinnatus. He was an emperor in the Roman Empire. Cincinnati, the city, by the way, is named after him because he was a big idol of George Washington’s. He is a great example of success because he was asked to reluctantly step into power and become the emperor and to help, because Rome was about to get annihilated by all the wars and battles. He was a farmer. Powerful guy. He went and took on the challenge, took over Rome, took over the army, and won the war. After they won the war, he felt he’d done his mission and was asked to go and be the emperor, and he gave the ring back and went back to farming. He didn’t only do this once. He did it twice. When they tried to overthrow the empire from within, they asked him back and he came back. He cleaned up the mess through great, great leadership. He had tremendous leadership quality in bringing people together. And again, he gave the ring back and went back to farming.”

“If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” TF: It’s not what you know, it’s what you do consistently. (See Tony Robbins,  210.)

to. I believe I’m below average. It’s a deliberate, cultivated belief to compensate for our tendency to think we’re above average.

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” —Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts commencement speech

Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.

Matt is one of the people I most try to emulate. He is exceptionally calm and logical under pressure. I’ve seen him face multiple data-center collapses with near-indifference, calmly sipping beer before another billiards shot. What should I tell a hugely influential journalist asking about it? “Tell him we’re on it.” Then he sunk another ball. He’s the epitome of “getting upset won’t help things.” I frequently ask myself “What would Matt do?” or “What would Matt say to me?”

“What is the ultimate quantification of success? For me, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love. It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.

“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”—Thomas Edison

“The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry  or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

When you’re the first in a new category, promote the category. In essence, you have no competition. DEC told its prospects why they ought to buy a minicomputer, not a DEC minicomputer.

His dad, a very successful entrepreneur, gave Chris advice when he was a freshman or sophomore in high school: “I distinctly remember him saying not to worry about what I was going to do because the job I was going to do hadn’t even been invented yet. . . . The interesting jobs are the ones that you make up. That’s something I certainly hope to instill in my son: Don’t worry about what your job is going to be. . . . Do things that you’re interested in, and if you do them really well, you’re going to find a way to temper them with some good business opportunity.”

Neil and I, and many other writers, use “TK” as a placeholder for things we need to research later (e.g., “He was TK years old at the time.”). This is common practice, as almost no English words have TK in them (except that pesky Atkins), making it easy to use Control-F when it’s time to batch-research or fact-check.

To “what would you put on a billboard?” Jocko responded: “My mantra is a very simple one, and that’s ‘Discipline equals freedom.’” TF: I interpret this to mean, among other things, that you can use positive constraints to increase perceived free will and results. Freeform days might seem idyllic, but they are paralyzing due to continual paradox of choice (e.g., “What should I do now?”) and decision fatigue (e.g., “What should I have for breakfast?”). In contrast, something as simple as pre-scheduled workouts acts as scaffolding around which you can more effectively plan and execute your day. This gives you a greater sense of agency and feeling of freedom. Jocko adds, “It also means that if you want freedom in life—be that financial freedom, more free time, or even freedom from sickness and poor health—you can only achieve these things through discipline.”

“If you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don’t meditate on it.” These words of Jocko’s helped one listener—a drug addict—get sober after many failed attempts. The simple logic struck a chord: “Being tougher” was, more than anything, a decision to be tougher. It’s possible to immediately “be tougher,” starting with your next decision. Have trouble saying “no” to dessert? Be tougher. Make that your starting decision. Feeling winded? Take the stairs anyway. Ditto. It doesn’t matter how small or big you start. If you want to be tougher, be tougher.

“It sounds horrible, but it’s almost like, sometimes, I’m not a participant in my own life. I’m an observer of that guy who’s doing it. So, if I’m having a conversation with you and we’re trying to discuss a point, I’m watching and saying [to myself], ‘Wait, am I being too emotional right now? Wait a second, look at him. What is his reaction?’ Because I’m not reading you correctly if I’m seeing you through my own emotion or ego. I can’t really see what you’re thinking if I’m emotional. But if I step out of that, now I can see the real you and assess if you are getting angry, or if your ego is getting hurt, or if you’re about to cave because you’re just fed up with me. Whereas, if I’m raging in my own head, I might miss all of that. So being able to detach as a leader is critical.”

you should have a running list of three people that you’re always watching: someone senior to you that you want to emulate, a peer who you think is better at the job than you are and who you respect, and someone subordinate who’s doing the job you did—one, two, or three years ago—better than you did it. If you just have those three individuals that you’re constantly measuring yourself off of, and you’re constantly learning from them, you’re going to be exponentially better than you are.”

“This really underscores something important. Courage takes practice. It’s a skill you have to develop. I feel like a coward sometimes. We’re sitting here in my house and doing this interview, and on my coffee table is a quote on a piece of driftwood [from Anaïs Nin]. It says, ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.’ I literally have this on my coffee table so I see it every single day.”

Embarrassed into Starting His First Company “I was working at this tech company called @Home Network, and I told everybody around me—my boss, my coworkers, my friends—‘In Silicon Valley, all of these other people are starting companies. It looks like they can do it. I’m going to go start a company. I’m just here temporarily. I’m an entrepreneur.’ I told everybody, and I wasn’t meaning to actually trick myself into it. It wasn’t a deliberate, calculated thing. “I was just venting, talking out loud, being overly honest. But I actually didn’t [start a company]. This was 1996. It was a much scarier, more difficult proposition to start a company then. Sure enough, everyone started coming up to me and saying, ‘What are you still doing here? I thought you were leaving to start a company?’ ‘Wow, you’re still here. That was a while ago that you said that.’ I was literally embarrassed into starting my own company.”   Now, Use That Technique on Purpose “Tell your friends that you’re a happy person. Then you’ll be forced to conform to it. You’ll have a consistency bias. You have to live up to it. Your friends will expect you to be a happy person.”

“Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” I don’t think most of us realize that’s what it is. I think we go about desiring things all day long, and then wondering why we’re unhappy. So, I like to stay aware of that because then I can choose my desires very carefully. I try not to have more than one big desire in my life at any given time, and I also recognize that as the axis of my suffering. I realize that that’s where I’ve chosen to be unhappy. I think that is an important one.”

Be present above all else. Desire is suffering (Buddha). Anger is a hot coal that you hold in your hand while waiting to throw it at someone else (Buddhist saying). If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day. Reading (learning) is the ultimate meta-skill and can be traded for anything else. All the real benefits in life come from compound interest. Earn with your mind, not your time. 99% of all effort is wasted. Total honesty at all times. It’s almost always possible to be honest and positive. Praise specifically, criticize generally (Warren Buffett). Truth is that which has pictive power. Watch every thought. (Always ask, “Why am I having this thought?”) All greatness comes from suffering. Love is given, not received. Enlightenment is the space between your thoughts (Eckhart Tolle). Mathematics is the language of nature. Every moment has to be complete in and of itself.   A Few of Naval’s Tweets that are Too Good to Leave Out “What you choose to work on, and who you choose to work with, are far more important than how hard you work.” “Free education is abundant, all over the Internet. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce.” “If you eat, invest, and think according to what the ‘news’ advocates, you’ll end up nutritionally, financially, and morally bankrupt.” “We waste our time with short-term thinking and busywork. Warren Buffett spends a year deciding and a day acting. That act lasts decades.” “The guns aren’t new. The violence isn’t new. The connected cameras are new, and that changes everything.” “You get paid for being right first, and to be first, you can’t wait for consensus.” “My one repeated learning in life: ‘There are no adults.’ Everyone’s making it up as they go along. Figure it out yourself, and do it.” “A busy mind accelerates the passage of subjective time.”

Remember the Last Three Turns “I remember when I went skiing with Billy Kidd, who is one of the great Olympic downhill racers from back in the 1960s. He’s an awesome dude. Now he skis out in Colorado wearing a cowboy hat . . . and he [asked] me years ago when I first skied with him, ‘Josh, what do you think are the three most important turns of the ski run?’ I’ve asked that question to a lot of people since. “Most people will say ‘the middle because it’s the hardest’ or ‘the beginning because of momentum,’ but he describes the three most important turns of a ski run as the last three before you get on the lift. It’s a very subtle point. For those of you who are skiers, that’s when the slope is leveled off, there’s less challenge. Most people are very sloppy then . . . they have bad form. The problem is that on the lift ride up, unconsciously, you’re internalizing bad body mechanics. “As Billy points out, if your last three turns are precise, then what you’re internalizing on the lift ride up is precision. So I carry this on to the guys who I train in the finance world, for example: ending the work day with very high quality, which for one thing means you’re internalizing quality overnight.”

People’s IQs seem to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.

Now that he’s in the private sector, Newt uses a brilliant illustration to explain the need to focus on the big things and let the little stuff slide: the analogy of the field mice and the antelope. A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope. The distinction is important. Are you spending all your time and exhausting all your energy catching field mice? In the short term it might give you a nice, rewarding feeling. But in the long run you’re going to die. So ask yourself at the end of the day, “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?”

“The letters I-M are all that lies between ‘Possible’ and ‘Impossible’ Which means ‘I’m’ the only thing between ‘Possible’ and ‘Impossible’ So every day I choose to do the I’mpossible.”

My Rapid-Fire Questions If you ended up sitting next to a Nobel Prize winner or billionaire, what would you ask them? If you only had 2 to 5 minutes and they were willing to talk, how could you make the most of it? Below are questions I’ve collected or concocted for just this hypothetical situation. Many of them are the “rapid-fire questions” that I ask nearly every guest on The Tim Ferriss Show. A handful are adapted from questions I picked up from guests themselves (such as Peter Thiel,  232, and Marc Andreessen,

  • When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
  • What is something you believe that other people think is insane?
  • What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift?
  • What is your favorite documentary or movie?
  • What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last 6 months? What are your morning rituals?
  • What do the first 60 minutes of your day look like?
  • What obsessions do you explore on the evenings or weekends?
  • What topic would you speak about if you were asked to give a TED talk on something outside of your main area of expertise?
  • What is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve made? Could be an investment of money, time, energy, or other resource. How did you decide to make the investment?
  • Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?
  • What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in your world?
  • If you could have one gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?
  • What advice would you give to your 20-, 25-, or 30-year-old self? And please place where you were at the time, and what you were doing.
  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or, do you have a favorite failure of yours?
  • What is something really weird or unsettling that happens to you on a regular basis?
  • What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? Why?
  • What do you believe is true, even though you can’t prove it?
  • Any ask or request for my audience? Last parting words?

Ravikant, Naval: “‘Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want’ (paraphrased from an old blog called Delusion Damage).”

Strauss, Neil: “‘The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.’—Norman Vincent Peale”

Tan, Chade-Meng: “‘Meditation is like sweating at the gym. Minus the sweating. And the gym.’”

Zimmern, Andrew: “‘There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.’ This quote is mistakenly attributed to Herbert Spencer, most famously in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but is actually now cited to William Paley, an 18th-century theologian

GABBY: “I always say that I’ll go first. . . . That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say hello first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: Be first, because—not all times, but most times—it comes in your favor. The response is pretty amazing. . . . I was at the park the other day with the kids. Oh, my God. Hurricane Harbor [water park]. It’s like hell. There were these two women a little bit older than me. We couldn’t be more different, right? And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first, because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out]—nobody’s going first anymore.”

GABBY: “But can I say one thing? I know all those dynamics differ—the woman’s the breadwinner, the man’s the breadwinner, she’s dominant, he’s dominant, whatever—but ultimately, more times than not, if the woman can refrain from trying to change or mother her partner, she has a greater opportunity of putting herself in a position where the guy will respect her. A man needs support. I mean, I love you guys and you’re all strong, but you’re very fragile, and you need to be supported and [for us to] help you fully realize your voice, whatever that is.

Everyone can benefit from something that looks like the cow stretch (also sometimes called “cat-camel” in yoga classes).

Spend as much time in a lunge as you can.

‘Smash’ your gut (i.e., roll on it) for downregulation before bed with a medicine ball. [TF: This really works as a sleep aid.

Soft is the solution for bedding. “Today’s modern human needs to sleep on a soft mattress. Ideally, you would be sleeping in a hammock. You should be waking up in the morning feeling amazing without having to loosen up your lower back. Most athletes and people are extension-sensitive because of excessive sitting and extension-biased training (e.g., running, jumping, squatting). Sleeping on a hard bed actually puts you into extension, which is the exact opposite of what you want if you’re extension-sensitive. Yes, you’d ideally be able to sleep on the floor and wake up feeling great, but we are not those people anymore due to excess sitting and inactivity.

The softest mattress you can get your hands on is ideal, but avoid those made solely of memory foam, as it locks you into extension.

Ag Walks with Rear Support -  These are hugely productive and a major wakeup call for most people. 99% of you will realize you have no shoulder flexibility or strength in this critical position. Get some furniture sliders ($5 to $15). These look like drink coasters and are used to move furniture around without scratching the floor. Sit down in pike position and put your heels on the furniture sliders (which I now always pack for travel workouts). Put your hands on the floor by your hips and—arms straight—lift your hips off the ground. Try to make your body perfectly straight from shoulder to heel, just as in the hinge rows. Easy? Now walk forward with your hands, pushing your feet along the floor. This can be done forward and backward. Aim for 5 minutes of constant movement, but feel free to start with 60 seconds (you’ll see).

“If you don’t have cancer and you do a therapeutic fast 1 to 3 times per year, you could purge any precancerous cells that may be living in your body.”

“If you’re over 40 and don’t smoke, there’s about a 70 to 80% chance you’ll die from one of four diseases: heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, cancer, or neurodegenerative disease.”

He is a proponent of magnesium supplementation. Our ability to buffer magnesium with healthy kidneys is very high. He takes 600 to 800 mg per day, alternating between mag sulfate and mag oxide. He also takes calcium carbonate 2 times per week. Two of his favo brands are Jarrow Formulas and NOW Foods.


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