Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss: a review of the Best Bits

I have a love-hate relationship with Tim Ferriss. I’ve followed his musings on self-improvement, ‘lifestyle design’, and getting shit done for years. I have always been half in awe at what he does well (book promoting, network building, living efficiently) and half cringed at what can be seen as douchebag levels of self-promotion, plus a penchant for weird overly-American quick fix diets.*

Tim’s podcast has interviewed a staggering range of successful people (including the decidedly wonderful Derek Sivers and Seth Godin who taught me masses about building an online audience) and I’ve dipped in and out of it for yonks.

His latest book, Tools of Titans, is the distilled wisdom of these 200 podcasts.

It is a brilliant book.

Or at least, it is brilliant if you are interested in fitness and strength, working more efficiently, getting filthy rich, and trying to live in a way in which you consciously strive to improve, become happier, and live with purpose. As Tim says in his intro, it’s a book to dip in and out of, and a book to skip through the bits that don’t resonate with you. I can’t say I was very interested in the advice on getting rich or drinking funny combinations of ginger and beetroot for breakfast.

As I devoured all 674 pages of the book in little more than a week (a sign that I loved it), I kept interrupting myself to scribble down notes. I take notes from all good books that I read, but I wrote a heck of lot of notes this time.

I thought that I’d share them with you here. It’s a hodge-podge of things that interested me. They won’t all resonate with you — it’s a book that will appeal to different people for different reasons, according to where you are in life at the moment. But if any of this tickles your curiosity I’d highly recommend buying the book. I will be recommending it to lots of people. You can buy it online here.

Rolling a foot on a golf ball increases hamstring flexibility.

– “There is more freedom to be gained from practicing poverty than chasing wealth. “

– Exercises I should do more: J Curl warm up, Front Squats, Cossack Squats, Halos, Turkish get-up, One arm swing, Hollow position, Walking Spiderman. (Most of these resonated with me due to personal mobility issues.)

– “Is that a dream or a goal?”

– “Improve it, eliminate it, or delegate it.”

– Get out of bed and straight away do 10 reps of an exercise — gets you in motion for the day, and nicely links to the idea of no zero days which applies to so many facets of life. (I like the theory — unlikely to actually become a habit!)

The Tail End from Wait but Why — possibly the best ‘carpe diem’ post you’ll read all day. I read it regularly.

– Words That Work — Frank Luntz: an interesting sounding book about the power of words. Free (illegal?) online version here.

– “Be a meaningful specific instead of a wandering generality.”

First, Ten by Seth Godin is a strong concept when starting a new project / idea / movement. You need first of all to find 10 enthusiasts who’ll champion your message.

– More than 80% of the ‘world-class performers’ interviewed have some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Headspace is a great app to begin this with. (I dabble occasionally, but wish I did it regularly.)

– “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

Just Note Gone. Being aware of things passing — a breath, a sound, an emotion like anger.

– Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence.

– Your inbox is a to-do list to which anyone in the world can add an action item.

– 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.

– “If you can’t get 10 good ideas, get 20 ideas.” In other words, don’t self-edit too early. Brainstorm masses of ideas. Don’t reject any of them. Just allow the ideas to flow. You can sift the good from the rubbish later. Really valuable.

– Write about what you are embarrassed about, what you are struggling with: it resonates with readers.

– Instead of doing an MBA, how can you ‘create your own’ — in other words, spend your own money in order to learn stuff. How much would I pay to learn to become a better writer? There’s ways I could spend that money to achieve the goal rather than simply signing up for a graduate programme. Spending can equal investing. I should be more willinging to spend / invest.

The day you became a better writer. Great blog post.

– Good content is the best SEO — Robert Scoble. — audio post-production mastering tool.

– “First, I edit for me. Second, I edit for my fans, Third, I edit for my haters.” — Neil Strauss

– Are you doing what you’re uniquely capable of, what you feel placed on Earth to do? Can you be replaced?

– Once you reach a decent level of professional success, lack of opportunity won’t kill you. It’s drowning in “kinda cool” commitments that will sink the ship.

– Life favours the specific ask and punishes the vague wish.

– I’m excited to go back to basics, and this requires cauterising blessings that have become burdens.

– “Make your peace with the fact that saying ‘no’ often requires trading popularity for respect.” — Greg McKeown

– Guaranteed upsides versus speculative downsides — interesting way to think about changing direction.

– Say no to the siren song of media inquiries.

– On the Shortness of Life by Seneca — worth me re-reading. PDF version here.

– “Write to please just one person” — Kurt Vonnegut

How to find your purpose and do what you love.

– What would the older version of you advise you to do with your life?

– “On one level, wisdom is nothing more than the ability to take your own advice. It’s actually very easy to give people good advice. It’s very hard to follow the advice that you know is good. If someone came to me with my list of problems, I would be able to sort that person out very easily.” — Sam Harris

– “The most important trick to be happy is to realise that happiness is a choice that you make and a skill that you develop. You choose to be happy, and then you work at it. It’s just like building muscles.” — Naval Ravikant

– Anger is a hot coal that you hold in your hand while waiting to throw it at someone else.

– Use acid more in cooking.

– Don’t waste your time on marketing. Just try to get better…

The jar of awesome.

– “I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process.” — Josh Waitzkin

– How you do anything is how you do everything.

– Inbox land is the land of the lost, and we all become lost.

– “When I had the opportunity, did I choose courage over comfort?” — Breneé Brown

– Cooking together is a great way to bond with someone you don’t know very well.

Am I hunting antelope or field mice?

– What past limitations — real or perceived — are you [still] carrying as baggage?

– You don’t find time, you make time.

– When anything bad happens, say “Good. This means I can…” — positive way of looking at the world. Courtesy of Jocko Willink.

Sit, sit. Walk, walk. Don’t wobble.

I hope this leads you down some interesting pathways and provokes some thinking.

* — By the end of the book, Tim had won me over with his self-deprecation and genuine efforts to help improve people’s lives. I hereby remove his douchebag status. 🙂

Originally published at on January 5, 2017.