The word meditation shows up 78 times in Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans. You may remember that much of the inspiration for this blog was to be able to share the lessons within the book. Both in statistical volume (an estimated 80% of Titans interviewed have some mindfulness practice) and in qualitative value, Tools of Titans is a great handbook on meditation. Here are all the references with annotation from me (“KS:”) as I explored them. I’m intentionally forgoing other derivatives of the word for brevity’s sake.
Jason Nemar– “oftentimes before meditation, I’ll just open it randomly to page. I read about something and then just have that be what I steep in.”
KS: this is further proof to me of the variable, less dogmatic nature of meditation. Here I see Jason using meditation as a playing field for mindful training. He’s kicking a ball around a field. The process of meditation is more important than the specifics. These tricks can be key for meditation new-comers. Try it! I recommend finding something you are interested in improving and reading something totally unrelated. Then try to let your mind “steep” in how an unrelated item can inform your desired area of improvement. This indirect learning can be extremely valuable and a great way to experience a form of meditation.
Peter Attia– he found the ability to achieve a regular meditative practice through Transcendental Meditation (TM).
KS: you are going to see TM pop-up over and over. It’s like the Toyota Prius of meditation. Everyone knows it and assumes it’s good. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means. As Tim speaks to in the book, if you can afford it good on ya. However if you want to use a random word generator to find a mantra and say that over and over you won’t be far off. So long as you are meditating. I’m all about low-cost, available to all options and resist things that may be popular because they are well marketed. I have no experience with TM. Many very successful people like it a lot. Heck, Arnold recommends it. That alone is worth giving it a go.
Dan Engle– promotes Flotation Tank as being “like meditation on steroids” especially 2-hour sessions
KS: I really want to try this. It sounds so incredibly boring to me that I have to assume my subconscious is trying to protect me from some tremendously valuable experience that will reshape my thought pattern. Plus Homer Simpson did it so it has to be cool (results may vary). There is a theme I’m starting to encounter where people, intentionally deprived of their usual system for extended amounts of time, experience massive gains. Fasting, sweat lodges (with a touch of delirium), silent retreats, floating, sauna, cold exposure, and even endurance sports all may tap into this same dynamic. When multiple things achieve the same end it leaves me wondering if there is some common undercurrent we are missing. Maybe it is important for humans to have routine exposure to sensory restriction? Or at least input restriction?
Tim’s Morning Rituals– he meditates every day and prefers a duration of 20 minutes as the first 10-15 minutes are him working out the monkey brain
KS: I went through Tim’s morning rituals extensively before. In meditation, I have yet to hit the 20 minute mark so I can’t speak to this point. However, the way Tim writes about his meditation, it seems that he does more than just focus on the breath. He actually allows his thoughts to run and observes them, letting them do work for him. This is a very cool idea. It can add an extra layer if you are able to learn the patterns in your thought process. This likely will give you personalized tips on how to enter a Flow state. An example of a pattern is starting with identifying problems, then predicting negative outcomes, then poking holes in those ideas, then accepting them and finally getting creative and solving them. To get to Flow quickly you would look for that jump point where you went from negativity to acceptance and try to create that consciously. It can be even higher yield if you can identify the emotions you have at the jump or the environmental factors that make it more likely. Outside v Inside. Quiet v Loud. Morning v Night. Home vs Work. Etc.
Mind Training 101
Tim recommends meditation as a way to observe thoughts rather than affected by them (KS: ah ha! There it is). He found that men tended toward TM and women to vipassana. He also recommends apps like Headspace or Calm. His preferred, non-app guided meditations are those by Sam Harris or Tara Brach. If you can afford it take a TM course. If not do the free version of TM and use mantra by repeating a two-syllable word for 10-20 minutes. He also doubles-down on Chade-Meng Tan’s ideas in the book.
KS: I also like Calm. I haven’t done a guided meditation with Headspace yet. The most consistent thing I hear people use to decide between them is host. Female vs male. American vs Australian accent. Calm has a really cool breath measure function where you can time a pulsating bubble to your breath. Then if you need a cool down in your day you can throw on the app and follow it. This could be hugely valuable for panic attacks.
Tim recommends a 7 day cycle of meditation to really see results. He notes the Dalai Lama once said that 50 hours is a magic number for “life changing effects”.
KS: this gets into minimum effective dose. There probably is a magic number of repetitions for each of us that takes a thing from being an exercise to a routine. I’ve heard people getting a similar “numbers = efficacy” from push-ups, Foundation Training’s “Do a Founder”, headstands, and diets. When multiple disciplines utilize the same function it is likely the function that is important rather than the discipline. Yeah so stick with something for 7 days and try to do it for over a month. Try to pay attention for your unique equation for when efficacy turns on. It likely is applicable to other things you want to turn on.
Again he focuses on 20 minutes as the most effective duration of meditation. However he allows that Tan’s idea that one breath constitutes a successful meditation so don’t obsess over being good at it. This is where he quotes Tara Brach “the muscle you’re working is bringing your attention back to something.” If you are getting frustrated your standard are too high or your sessions are too long.
KS: I LOVE this idea! 20 minutes is great but 1/60th minutes is good enough. I wrote about this in our article on taking small steps but still having a bigger goal on the table. Meditation is such an easy way to start testing out this idea that small is the best place to start and if you ask something of yourself and you don’t do it immediately you have asked too much. Failure to execute is most often the result of poor planning. Here we are saying that you can practice bypassing your status-quo-maintenance mechanisms and experiencing an extremely valuable lesson along the way. Just by learning how to take small steps toward learning how to control your internal attention.
He also shares results. He feels that on days he meditates he gets 30-50% more done with 50% less stress.
KS: before you get all “like anyone can know that Napoleon” on me. When time gives stats, he has done the stats. While he doesn’t reference it, I guarantee he has assessed productivity and tracked it relative to meditation to get these numbers. You can create similar assessments for yourself with some simple planning.
Three Tips from a Google Pioneer
This is Chade-Meng Tan’s chapter. Make about 7 copies of it and position them around the house so they constantly invade your mind. It’s so good.
- Have a Buddy– Tim also mentioned this in Mind Training 101. Keep your accountability up by doing it with someone else. Even if it’s not in person. He recommends a 15-minute conversation every week with this buddy talking about two topics- How am I doing with my commitment to my practice? What has arisen in my life that relates to my practice?
KS: this tip is really high yield for ANYTHING you want to make a habit. Accountability is likely a huge part of most things we do regularly- work, social relationships, school. We tend to be more comfortable disappointing ourselves than others. I’ve met few people who would say “I don’t want to be good at meditating.” It should be pretty easy to set up a buddy. Call them on your drive to work once a week. Done. Then go and set up a buddy for your goals in fitness, finance, career, etc. In theory most of our weeks offer the opportunity to engage 10 separate buddy systems. Two a day, 5 days a week. This is similar to the mastermind concept in Think and Grow Rich and other business development books. Imagine that: you could set up 10 aspects of your life to be virtually guaranteed to be on a more positive trajectory than they are today.
- Do Less Than You Can– if you can sit for 5 minutes without it feeling like a chore, don’t sit that long. Sit 3-4 minutes. Maybe use that ease to allow you to do it more times a day. Any practice that is experienced as a chore is not sustainable.
KS: there’s a reason this idea pops up in so many places- fitness, investing, psychotherapy, education. It is essential! I might even sell this as the most important part of any developmental goal. Endurance athletes are all-in on this one. It’s the base work idea I talked about last week. Focus on building a consistent easy habit. Then when you need it you can go max effort to try to improve your overall system. Do not try to learn something by max effort or even more-than-easy effort. It is a set-up to fail. Crash diets are maybe the best proof of that. Meditation is supposed to be a restorative and fulfilling experience. Do what it takes to do it. Whatever that means. Get good at it later.
- Take One Small Breath– your commitment for any day is to take one small breath. This speaks to his value of momentum and sustainability. Being able to do it every day is important, whatever it takes. He also notes that the execution of intended meditation is itself a meditation. By merely doing executing your plan to meditate you have made a big step, so try to execute your plan a lot.
KS: I won’t belabor the point too much as this section was largely the inspiration for the whole post. I will only say that this point is so important you really want to absorb it. If there are ANY “I wish I could”, “if only I”, etc this is the way to make them reality. This method is a time machine that can allow you to become skilled at predicting the future.
Just Note Gone– Tan really likes this one: “This is no doubt one of the most important meditation practices of all time.” Train your mind to notice that something previously experienced is gone. Such as the end of a breath noting that the breath is over. “Gone”. Notice a thought ending. “Gone”. Here it may not be so much that you make it end or make it go, but that you get very good at recognizing “gone” happening. “Whenever all or part of a sensory experience suddenly disappears, note that.” He recommends using a mental label, similar to a mantra you say when you notice “gone”. He notes that this practice can be very helpful in crisis or extreme scenarios of emotion as well as everyday challenges. The ability to intentionally bring relief taking note of “gone” rather than each new arrival of stress can be very valuable.
KS: this is very powerful. Much of the process of anxiety is the intentional perpetuation of an emotion or stressful situation. You may not intend it, but the anxious mind certainly does. It thinks this system of rumination is what is going to save your life. You’d be much better off if you instead expended your mental energy on being aware of when the present state you want to change is gone. Also, by focusing on “gone” you are telling your brain “this will eventually end”. It is accepting “gone” as a realistic outcome. Anxious thinking does not offer this idea. Link this up with some radical acceptance or Jocko Willink’s “Good” and you have a recipe for immediate termination of anxious crisis.
Loving-Kindness and the Happiest Day in 7 Years– when he does talks on wellness he likes to include this exercise. He asks the audience to identify 2 people and think to themselves “I wish for this person to be happy”. This underlines the value we personally gain by helping others. Even if only in metaphysical thought. He extends this to the workplace: “randomly identify two people who walk past you or who are standing or sitting around you. Secretly wish for them to be happy. Just think to yourself, “I wish for this person to be happy”. He also recommends a more formal version where you are sitting and identify someone in your mind and offer them happiness. If it brings you joy stay with the joy and recognize it until it is “gone”. Once that happens let your mind rest for the completion of the minute of this cycle. Repeat the cycle three times. Tim prefers a single 3-5 minute session at night and thinks of three people he hope to find happiness. He breaks this into two current friends and one he hasn’t seen in some time.
KS: another super high-yield idea! If you’ve ever been to a Catholic Mass (I’m sure other religions do this too) there is a moment where they stop and ask everyone to turn to the people around them and offer them blessings. You generally shake hands with strangers and hug or kiss family. It may be the best part of the service. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there is something this exercise unfortunately evokes. We don’t engage people like this very often. Tan’s exercise is an exercise because that lack of appreciation and interpersonal connectedness is our reality. Personal development and self-improvement is a very isolating process. You need that to some extent because ideally the gains are irrefutably your doing. However, it is so valuable to build some process in that allows you to connect and appreciate others. Even if only in your mind.
Arnold Schwarzenegger- he speaks to doing TM for one year when his acting career started taking off. He did 20 minutes in the morning and evening. After about 14 days he could “really disconnect my mind and stay and find a few seconds of this connection and rejuvenate the mind and learn how to focus more and calm down.” Though he doesn’t practice now, he sees this as a skill he learned that still pays dividends today. He also speaks to using his workouts as meditation.
KS: he elaborates more on the idea of using workouts as meditation. I suggest reading it as more data to support my claim that meditation can happen anywhere. Even in settings the mindfulness and meditative community might not support as true to the practice.
Matt Mullenweg– he uses Calm for his meditative practice
KS: he’s another person that I tend to buy into anything he’s selling. He has such a rich sense of analysis that you can even hear it in how he experiences language in conversation. Very similar to Rick Rubin. If he likes an app, odds are it is worth your time.
Tony Robbins– almost all of Tony’s section could be read as information on meditation. He speaks instead to a priming exercise he does every morning. Cold water plunge for 30-60 seconds. Then 3 sets of 30 reps of a breathing exercise or doing breath walking. He then does a 9-10 minute exercise that he finds helps him ready for the emotions of the day. This includes feeling grateful for 3 things, experiencing the presence of God, and finally “Three to Thrive”- the 3 things he is going to do today.
KS: I really like experiencing Tony in interviews. The written word doesn’t capture him adequately. I find I can’t listen to a whole interview in one sitting. It’s too much information and there isn’t a casual moment to digest. That’s his intent and it works. As his Netflix special suggests, I don’t buy-in that he is some unique guru. He is a fantastic showman. He has an amazing ability to create energy and connect with people quickly. That said it is undeniable how much passion he has. He operates in an extreme of energy and endurance. Therefore when he offers an idea the best approach is to look for ways you can adapt it to your life. His meditative ideas and morning routine aren’t that different from Tim’s in structure. They do in energy and kinetics. Underneath the hood, his ideas are some of the best in the business. Some people, myself included, need to brush past the pitch to find that.
Chase Jarvis– quoting Maya Angelou, “Creativity is an infinite resource. The more you spend, the more you have.” He gave this quote as a comparison to meditation.
KS: there are so many different thoughts this little quote evokes. Instead of riffing on my usual “everyone needs creativity” I will instead speak to it as a societal component. I read an article recently that talked about the rise of robotics and the effect of automation and artificial intelligence on the future of man. What distills down is that the unique human qualities that hopefully will never be automated are caring and creativity. We hopefully will never cross the uncanny valley and bond with computers like Joaquin Phoenix in Her. We also should not underestimate the value of our brains’ ability to create things that don’t exist. This doesn’t have to only be art or invention. However it likely will become increasingly important that we foster those abilities from an early age. Most of our academic system is based on memorizing. We cannot memorize better than a computer. So stop trying. Instead try to think how you could bring more creativity to your life and how you might raise your kids to be experts as creation and caring.
Ed Catmull– he practices vipassana meditation for 30-60 minutes a day.
KS: that’s a long meditation. Respect.
Justin Boreta– practices 20 minutes of TM every morning and afterward does kettlebell swings
KS: I’ve not done this but I think that the idea of incorporating the two is extremely important. Like maybe revolutionary levels of important. I will get to this more another time. For now let me point out that meditation is something the mindful people are saying is one of the most important single exercises you can do. Kettlebell swings are something the fitness people are saying may be one of the most important single exercises you can do. Hmm.
Will MacAskill– his most gifted book is Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. He likes its introduction to meditation and 8 week guided meditation course.
KS: I don’t know this book but definitely need a resource to be able to tell people how to quickly get the ball rolling on meditating. I will have to give it a look.
Sam Harris– this is another chapter to dive into for so many valuable insights on mindfulness. He speaks to meditation as a way to achieve self-transcendence. He also condenses a description of the very popular vipassana meditation as “paying exquisitely close, non-judgmental attention to whatever you’re experiencing anyway.” He also advocates meditative retreats and specially silent retreats as a way to take your mediation to a much higher level. His final recommendation is to take any opportunity you can to meditate while looking at the sky, ideally with the horizon in sight as well.
KS: Naval Ravikant also speaks to the value of looking at the horizon. Particularly given our current trajectory of our plane of focus moving closer and closer to our nose. We’ve now seen a few different people speaking to the value of being outside. We are pack animals so it makes sense that being isolated inside four walls isn’t to our natural state. His description of vipassna meditation sounds similar to Naval’s walking meditation and Tim’s experience of being an observer of his own thoughts. I like that!
Rick Rubin– his interview is far more valuable than his section in the book. Not to discount he book. That’s how good the interview is. He talks about the role of sauna and ice baths in his wellness practice. He talks about standing in the sun to help with his sleep. It’s just great.
KS: I really want to advocate for someone to take a recording of Rick’s interview, edit out Tim (no offense 🙂 ) and set it as a sleep aid. His voice is a case study in cadence and prosody. We treat seasonal affective disorder with light therapy. Sit in front of a light of a certain lumen for X time and you may feel better. Rick is doing that with the sun. Highly recommended. Just like you are thirsty when dehydrate, you may notice a craving for warmth and sun around February or March. There may be a physiological reason for that.
The Soundtrack of Excellence- Tim notes that the remaining 20% of people who don’t feel they meditate have some mediation-like activity. He noted a lot of people utilizing listening to a single song on repeat.
KS: is a mantra in TM that different from listening to Radiohead’s Paranoid Android over and over again? Probably not. There is value here for background noise during productivity sessions. Sounds like you need to find your song.
Amanda Palmer– practices vipassana meditation “basically sitting on earth as a human being and paying attention to your breath and your body and letting thoughts come and go, but really trying not to be attached to the drama that comes visiting.”
KS: another vipassana person doing a wonderful job describing their practice. I am liking this idea of it being more about awareness than a specific focus. I might have to amend my recommended meditation routine to use this as the cool down or maybe even the base work.
Eric Weinstein– he speaks to a practice he uses to engage extremely creative work. He sends his mind a shock by repeating a 7-second phrase of obscenities. His hypothesis is that this engagement of taboo opens up his mind to a new space that it doesn’t usually enter. Almost like a key saying “it’s okay to go where you don’t usually.”
KS: there are similar practices I’ve heard from actors and singers. A cathartic session to get things warmed up. Not necessarily obscenities. I really like the idea of intentionally breaking down your Ego defenses and seeing what is on the other side. Especially in today’s culture of minimizing people’s experience of offense (good thing) I’m concerned it may create inhibit our willingness to mentally explore that space (bad thing) if only for learning.
Rainn Wilson- for better or worse Rainn identifies that he is plagued by internal monologue. It helps in many ways to achieve success but is also a burden. To counter this he will meditate or exercise. His goal is just to find “normal”.
KS: another person advocating the use of exercise as a component of mindfulness! I love the concept of seeking normal. Much of what people experience when they first enter the space of mindfulness and meditation is this unrealistic idea of being perfect. Floating two inches off the ground in a lotus position and being totally incapable of any judgment or reaction. Why not first shoot for “normal”. Whatever that means to you. Maybe even leave it intentionally ambiguous like that. Where you are going is less important than it is a place you want to go.
Tara Brach- her chapter is microscopic relative to the value of her interview. Despite this micro-scale size, it has one of the most valuable ideas in the book. As part of her meditative practice she does an exercise she calls Inviting Mara to Tea. The short version is that this is an exercise of taking the part of yourself that you wish was different and having an accepting time where you meet with that person. You experience them and find a way to have that version of you exist without it plaguing you.
KS: The act of suppression or phobic avoidance creates problems. Acceptance and intentional management go hand in hand. It is often the process by which people achieve lasting real change in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Many people think change involves doing the opposite. They feel that by simply identifying a desire to change they have targeted a problem. Instead, people who tend to operate in a very stable, positive place are able to allow for the ambivalence of it all. “My present state is no better or worse than the state I hope to achieve. I am not creating change to compensate for failure. I am creating change because “over there” is where I want to go at this point. In a while, I may not want to be their either. I may come back to where I was initially. Who knows. We will see when it happens.” That to me is what Inviting Mara to Tea is about.
Josh Waitzkin- he sells the idea that if you want “to turn it on, learn to turn it off”. He finds that meditation and interval training (HIIT, Tabata, etc) are good for getting your mind strong in this ability.
KS: well look what we have here! Josh thinks interval training is important. Even mental interval training. Just like last week’s post Meditate Like It’s CrossFit . Anxiety is a state of the mind being on more than off. Most people who work in productivity or inter-personally driven jobs are likely on more than off. Jobs will spend lots of resources teaching people to get their highest level of productivity. Then send you home to figure it out. Josh is another one whose interviews are so awesomely dense it deserves it’s own book. If you are keeping score, those people now include Naval Ravikant, Matt Mullenweg, Tony Robbins, Rick Rubin, Laird Hamilton/Gabby Reece, Tara Brach, and Josh Waitzkin. Josh is so extremely cerebral it is almost intimidating. The net effect of this for me is that, similar to Tim, if he says it is a good idea it likely is the result of a LOT of thought and testing.
John Favreau- he found the idea for his movie Chef in the middle of a meditation. It would be interesting if Tim were to go back and quiz his guests about how many of their defining moments have occurred during meditation.
KS: I like closing on this note. You never know what you might find until you try something new. John found an idea that led to a very successful movie. Particularly if you have never practiced meditation, imagine what you may be missing.