After working through a significant chunk of the book at first setting I reflected on the questions used. As with everything Tim Ferriss these have been carefully crafted and curated to ensure they produce the most useful responses. This took me to wondering whether they could be used as reflective journaling questions for ourselves. Would considering these questions produce a different level of insight? Would they force us into considering things from a new angle? Would they reveal things that we already know that we should utilise more? To find out I have poured a large coffee and settled down to try it. I am sharing it here to encourage you to do the same, not because I consider myself either successful or inspirational!
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?
Victor Frankl - Mans search for meaning - A book that should be required reading for everyone, everywhere. To really learn about the human condition you have to look for extremes. The holocaust is about as extreme as it gets. This book serves 2 purposes for me; the first as a perspective exercise to make me realise just how insignificant whatever I am contending with is in comparison to what Frankl endured. Second as a road map for the most powerful mental model you could hope to find. The book is endlessly quotable and will stay with you. I gift it whenever I can and have never had a poor review.
Ryan Holiday - The obstacle is the way - If a friend or colleague is enduring difficulty of any kind this will be the book I will send them. I found it at a crucial time of life for me and found it hugely transformative. It gives the best primer to practical application of Stoic Philosophy that you could wish to find. I then often follow this up with another of Ryan Holiday's books - The Daily Stoic, which enables you to develop this way of thinking into a ritual and a practice.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.
I have a portable standing desk converter from backpainhelp.com that has saved me hours of stretching, chiropractics and massage for my back. It is a simple metal contraption that folds out so you can set it on top of an existing desk and have your laptop at the optimum height for standing. I start each day working from this. Mine is the hot pink colour as the plain black one was £5 more expensive...
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
When I first started in my professional rugby career I was somewhat charmed. I did enough in the pre season to get the starting spot for the first game of the league, ended up scoring with my first touch and then in the following 3 games too. We then travelled to Bristol and I endured what can only be described as a 'mare'. Everything I touched went wrong and the half time team talk seemed to solely focus on how crap I'd been. I was given 5 minutes to fix it, with the first play of the second half we were underneath our own sticks again through my mistake and I was quickly given the sheperd's crook. Sitting on the bench I knew that I was unlikely to see much action again for a while. Fortune would have it that the book that I had brought to read on the coach was 'Antifragile' by Nassim Taleb. This beautifully described how disruption and difficulty can be used to strengthen and improve ourselves. That week in video review I was torn apart and I ended up out of the squad for 9 long weeks. This was the most painful period of any career I've had. The selection meetings each week made me feel sick and I hated every second yet this repeated failure strengthened me, I threw myself into the study of antifragility and stoicism, whilst also training my balls off. When my chance came again I was a different player and, crucially, a different person. Those short months, which felt like an eternity at the time, prepared me for everything that has come since. Any success I have subsequently had can be attributed to reading that book whilst engulfed in the pain of that failure.
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? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)
Whilst I have a huge collection of quotes from Frankl, Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius that I refer to regularly I think the most powerful in this instance would be simple 'Do less, better'. I don't know the attribution but I think it directly speaks to the biggest problem of modern life. We all run around stressed trying to fix multiple problems at once and not getting very far. When you look back through history and think of the big breakthroughs and the celebrated names they are all in situations where someone has dedicated themselves completely to something. In many cases it is someone's life's work. Yet in our culture of immediate gratification and diluted attention we have this bizarre idea that we can solve world hunger whilst also curing cancer and all by the end of the week. I meditate on this quote regularly. What am I doing right now that is preventing me from spending time doing the things I really want to do and achieve?
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
Taking a paycut of over 50% to play professional rugby. Few people know it but I initially turned down the contract that I'd worked so hard to get because I didn't think I could make it work financially. There isn't much money in Championship Rugby, especially when compared to working full time and playing semi-professionally on the side. On reflection I changed my mind and swallowed my pride. It meant I couldn't afford a holiday for years and lived at home for far longer than I'd initially planned but it afforded me experiences that I could never have bought further down the line. Those experiences allowed me to develop the resilience that I have used so much since. In fact it is safe to say that I would not be doing what I do now without those humble years at Rotherham. So much of what I talk and write about now can be traced back to those hard yards in professional sport. Had I not taken the plunge there would also be the little child inside me that had always dreamed of those experiences that I would have denied it. No doubt that would have caused significant angst further down the line.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
My brother bought me a 'bed of nails' mat which is a bizarre thing. It is a body length foam mat covered in plastic spikes that you lie on. I cannot explain how or why it works but, despite being incredibly uncomfortable, it is paradoxically incredibly relaxing. I lie on it each night in bed whilst reading and it produces an immensely powerful parasympathetic nervous system response that immediately sedates me and is hugely conducive to a good nights sleep. It also seems to unwind tired muscles and dramatically reduces DOMs the following day.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Ketogenic dieting has been transformative for me. I have always been keenly focused on nutrition and have undoubtedly made many mistakes along the way. However I am now at a place where my eating needs virtually zero cognitive capacity dedicated to it. I have been a low carb advocate for some time but in recent years have pushed this further towards a cyclical ketogenic approach. I eat little through the day and what I do have is high fat, medium protein and very low carb. Any carbs I do eat are following physical training to ensure they go to where they're needed. By following this approach I find I can maintain levels of energy and concentration throughout the day regardless of external circumstances. I travel a lot and am in and out of meetings that can over run. If I had to rely on regular eating it would be a cause of stress and would prove impractical meaning my mental performance would be affected. My physical performance seems to have been improved also, especially in terms of strength and aerobic performance. Maintaining a relatively lean 96kg has also been far easier than I ever imagined.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
The first thing they should do is either read or listen to this chapter from Ryan Holiday's 'Ego is the enemy'. In which he beautifully articulates how to set out in your career, not by selfishly chasing your own desires but by sublimating your ego and setting out to help others. As described; 'he who clears the path, controls the path'. The reason I find this so helpful is that it speaks to the ego that we all emerge from higher education with. That will quickly get torn apart in the real world so we need a strategy for managing it before it becomes a problem. The practical element of this would be to start at the bottom of the ladder in whatever career you are considering. If you want to be a Dr first start by being a cleaner in a hospital, even only for a few short weeks. Whilst this may seem a ridiculous notion it will do two very important things. First it will put aside your ego, second it will develop a compassion for others that will make you a better leader when you do accelerate up the ladder.
The other challenge for those emerging from higher education is deciding what they want to do in the first place. The time of lifetime careers is over apart from in a few specific professions. Embrace this and use it as an advantage, it gives you far greater margin for error in picking your next move. There is always plenty of talk about finding a passion and chasing that. If you have one great, if not don't panic, simply ask yourself how you can utilise your skill set to help the most people. In my experience that is a good place to begin.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
There are 2 that immediately jump to mind. The first is to talk about being 'tough' to life's difficulties and seeing this as being resilient. This is a short term strategy that will eventually run out. Our capacity for toughness is limited and unfortunately life can chuck things at us in combinations that rapidly overwhelm. I all too regularly see people going through work change whilst also battling things such as divorce or health challenges and this starts to break them. We need a new approach and this is why I am such a huge advocate of stoicism and antifragility. It provides a way of thinking that can be personalised to cope with whatever life is chucking at us and help us convert that as a power for good, rather than something to be endured.
The second is around prescriptive road maps based on one successful person's experience. We are all highly individual and what works for me may not work for you. The role of anyone in a coaching position is to encourage experimentation to facilitate individuals developing their own approach. Not, as I too often see, sharing of one successful recipe with the expectation that this should work for everyone and, if it doesn't, then that is on the individual not the method.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
In all honesty I have probably got worse at this. Especially in a work setting, I regularly take on others tasks or projects out of a sense of duty and trying to help people, even when this then dilutes how I am able to help others in my projects. This is a constant battle and one in which I have to regularly challenge and remind myself.
One area where I have improved is in being a little bit more selfish in my personal life. I reflect on the old adage that you are the average of the 5 people that you surround yourself with most. I am much better now at having difficult conversations with people to ensure I am giving myself the best chance of being the person I want to be. As opposed to keeping people close because of their needs and prioritising those over my own. I am now better at recognising when something isn't working for me as I might wish and taking action on it.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
When feeling overwhelmed it is usually because I am too stuck in my own experience. I therefore try to find a way to zoom out. This could be by switching my focus to helping someone else, removing myself from a situation and creating time or by getting into nature to give me some 'bigness' which forces a new perspective. From this better vantage point I can then usually challenge that sense of overwhelm. Is it as important as I think it is? Am I working on my priorities or someone else's? Have I over committed and need to reinstate boundaries? Am I doing this out of purpose or ego? I also find it helpful to examine the language I am using at the time. Am I using words such as 'disaster' or 'nightmare'. If so swap these for less inflammatory versions and the overwhelm quickly reduces.
When feeling unfocused I first find it important to consider what I have let into my lifestyle. I can almost guarantee that I have been using social media too much, mindlessly flicking at surface level stuff that satisfies a temporary idleness yet ends up reinforcing it. I therefore reduce my inputs and remove distractions wherever possible. I greyscale my phone and remove all notifications or put it on airplane mode. From here there is the space to reconnect with the 'why' behind whatever I am doing. If this isn't immediately obvious then I will just find the way in which I can help others in that task as that is usually a powerful motivator.
I hope you have found my rambling explanations useful to provoke thought or ideas for you, however, this was not the intention. I want you to try this exercise for yourself. Maybe pick the 3-5 questions that jump to you and journal on them. Answer them in the comments below so others can benefit from your wisdom. At the very least you will find it, like I have done, useful to take a step back and consider what you perhaps already know that you need to pay more attention to. Happy thinking.