Any good project requires a great objective.
I want to share my objective in writing this blog. Intrinsic to that objective is how Tools of Titans became my textbook. In the next post I will cover why Tools of Titans specifically is so good for this purpose.
Two years ago a friend introduced me to Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. This was my first experience with the self-improvement genre. Initially I cast it off. I wasn’t in the business of “growing rich”. A good deal of it was too metaphysical for me. I didn’t see any utility.
That was until I read the backstory of the book. Hill interviewed Carnegie and was challenged by him to set out to interview a number of successful people in the same way. Carnegie’s hypothesis was that there was a pattern that successful people utilize to achieve success predictably. Hill then set out to test it. He spent the next 20 years interviewing the most successful people in turn-of-the-century America. The Laws of Success and later Think and Grow Rich are summaries of those findings. The latter caught success as it was published during the Great Depression. Now I was hooked.
This wasn’t a book about getting rich. Riches were the hottest button one could press in 1937. Money was the marketing campaign. Instead it was a book about how the most effective humans tend to go about being effective. I saw this book as an opportunity for some high-quality, indirect learning. As a therapist, I am always looking for better ways to help people get from where they are to where they want to be.
This also plays into my background in anthropology. In college I studied anthropology with an emphasis on human evolution. I did research on how the discovery of stone tools may have served as a launching point for our divergence from the common ancestor. Anthropology turned me on to the idea that one’s present state is the result of a behavior that brought advantage and was carried on over time.
If you like scaling exercises (aka how do I 10x my results), try this one. How could the knowledge to reliably make a sharp edge change a species when put in motion for millions of years? What discovery could we make today that would set in motion a series of events that, when incubated for millions of years, would yield an entirely new species of humans (and render Homo sapiens inferior and extinct 🙂 )? I like to imagine a group of early hominids tweeting:
“My boy just banged a big rock on a piece of obsidian and a sharp flake came off! Then he did it again! On purpose! We have a bunch of knives now. Mind blown. #innovation #lookoutantelope #letseat #thosethumbstho”.
Clearly prehistoric Twitter hadn’t evolved to a character limit yet. Imagine the IPO for the new startup, Australos Afar, that is disrupting the food service, fitness, fashion, and travel industries. All from a single innovation. Their world would never be the same.
These were the kind of conversations we had regularly in anthropology. Infinitely exciting. I found something similar in psychiatry. Where cardiologists sat around talking about physics, we sat around and tried to interpret the mind and the subconscious. You guys go research things you can see and measure. We are going to focus on something that is only found in a code buried within human communication. You then can appreciate my excitement when I found Think and Grow Rich (TGR) and discovered an entire genre focused on studying the hidden patterns that drive the most intentionally effective people in our society.
TGR set me off on an exploration of other resources. I discovered that a number of people were influenced by Hill and Hill was influenced by a number of people. My data set expanded. George Combe, James Allen, Sun Tzu, Thoreau, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, James C Collins and many more. Eventually I found Tim Ferriss.
My first exposure to Tim is an interesting but long story I won’t go into here. The short version was that I was introduced to a YouTube video featuring him. I hadn’t read his books but “A Day in the Life of Tim Ferriss” proved a big motivator when I was deciding to move to SF. It made everything here look so cool. It may be a Bay Area stereotype, but I had this imagination that everyone here had an exploratory lifestyle with an emphasis on self-care. Tim was one of the first examples I had of what I thought my future neighbors would be like. I wanted that lifestyle.
However my first exposure to his podcast was when listening to his interview with Tony Robbins. I think I’d seen somewhere that Tony listed Hill’s book as inspiration or at least used some similar phrases. I regarded Tony as an evangelist at that point. Similar to my initial thoughts on TGR, his stuff was not for me (we see a pattern developing). Still he clearly has something figured out. Even if it’s only the best way to market change, I figured I should try.
Tim’s was the longest interview with Tony I could find. Despite being someone who doesn’t like podcasts, I was hooked in one episode. My assumptions about Tony were cast off – he’s a man who is honestly devoted to bringing a message. Not an evangelist. I regard evangelists as unreliable deliverers of messages that are dishonest due to high financial bias, which I don’t think encapsulates him. Tim’s interview had peeled the layers back. It somehow allowed me to feel that the two men talking were not pushing an agenda. I could trust it.
Equally important was the return of the gobsmacked response I’d had with TGR. Here is a modern version of Hill’s study. Except this time it wasn’t a book intent on changing my mind. It was the actual study in raw form, left for me to interpret meaning. Perfection.
The next thing I knew I was burning through one or two podcasts a day on any of my various 1+ hour commutes. My car became this little thought incubator. Interview after interview I started to see patterns. There were themes developing, both explicit and implicit, about what these people were saying. An equation for predictable efficacy was developing. An equation for a more ego-syntonic quality of life was also forming.
Eventually I took the dive. I started trying these things out myself. Making my bed, flossing my teeth one tooth at a time, cold showers, doing the minimum steps possible in a series of necessary steps toward a goal, meditating, ice baths, saunas, tea, journaling . Whatever. TGR had opened my eyes to the idea that there are people out there who have figured it out. Tim’s podcast was giving me a how-to guide without it knowing it was a how-to guide.
The next step was logical – I brought the ideas in the podcast to the therapy I provided my patients. My background in therapy is very psychodynamically focused. Lots of “why”. Not a lot of “what” and even less “how to fix it”. That’s more Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I knew how to do CBT, I just wasn’t good at it. Bringing more meat to my therapy was huge.
However now I was immersed in the highest quality CBT textbook I could find. Except it wasn’t a textbook, it was a podcast. Telling depressed and anxious people to go listen to a two-hour interview with a surfer doesn’t have the highest yield. Still something amazing happened. I started seeing results. Quickly. Big results. The biggest and most consistent I’d ever seen in treatment. I also felt that people were liking their treatment more. Go figure.
Much of psychodynamic therapy emphasizes the therapist not being a problem solver. “I don’t know how to live a life any better than anyone else. The lessons you teach yourself is far better than any I can give you.”. It’s very passive and organic. Like Sun Tzu’s recommendation in The Art of War, it flanks the problem. I agree with that but flanking tactics don’t help someone when they can’t sleep because their mind is racing.
Imagine trying to teach someone how to play golf without ever settings foot on a golf course. The psychodynamic version would teach by talking about how you learned to play other sports. CBT would have the person bring in video of them swinging. I feel the best therapy involves doing both very well. With Tim’s podcast I now could do the CBT part very well.
The ideas in the Tim Ferriss Show represented the most effective tools for treatment planning I’d ever experienced.
When I heard he was consolidating it into a book I knew something special needed to happen. I now had a reference to use and share. And so I decided to dive into Tools of Titans and share the psychological takeaways I gather from it. Expose the patterns.
My hope is that this blog will serve to help people trying to find ways to bring a change to their lives. I’m intentionally avoiding language like “improving” “fixing” or “better”. This isn’t about that. This is about change without bias or expectation of value, quality, or direction. Change with intent. It is about how to identify something to change, or not, and make sure that happens. That is what I define as being effective which I feel is the key to personal satisfaction. My hope also is that this blog will serve to help mental health providers trying to find ways to help their patients.
A larger scale objective is to help our society move closer to a culture of change. A habit or expectation that change is possible and accessed at an efficient rate. 100 years ago school education was a luxury. Now it is an implicit in our culture. I hope the same thing can happen for change (which I am intentionally not defining yet).
Thank you for your attention.