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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 18-Feb-18


Sunday 25-February-18

Tim Ferriss is wrong -- no, maybe he's right!

Tim Ferriss is an interesting chap. Aside from a colourful life, he has written best sellers like The Four Hour Work Week (what a fabulously attractive title!) and, more recently, Tribe of Mentors. He also has a popular and often long podcast that I listen to when I have stretches of time where I cannot read or write, such as when driving, gardening or lying awake in the wee small hours. His general thing is self-improvement, getting better at anything from dancing to business and he often interviews amazing people who have found success to which many might aspire.

My difference with Tim is in this relentless focus on success. It's a popular theme, especially in America, and he has done well to stand tall in a crowded field. He does this by seeking proof, mostly through the experiences of others or his own, sometimes alarming, experiments. It's a great approach that fits with my background in engineering, business and psychology. Dig into experience and theory, build a model, then try it out in practice. And yet this constant challenge can also lead to a lifetime of striving where there is little time to smell the roses. There is an underlying assumption in the general success industry, that it correlates with happiness. If you are successful in life, then you will be happy. Furthermore, the more successful you are, the happier you will be. The problem is that this American dream contains the seeds of its own failure. When success always means 'better', then you can never be successful. It is like the business blinker of 'growth'. When you focus first on growing, it is easy to forget survival as you reach too far, too fast, and assume your market will expand forever.

To be fair to Tim, he does pay attention to personal pleasure and, importantly, knowing what you want in life and hence what 'success' means -- which is a very important question that too few of us ask of ourselves. He does promote mindfulness and meditation, yet there is still an intensity to this that typically packages it into a disciplined. morning exercise. And yet the constant overlay of betterment seems not to know when enough is enough.

In a recent podcast he looked back at The Four Hour Work Week and focused on one particular chapter, 'Filling the Void' that he thought has often been misunderstood. In particular, this is about what you might do when you have achieved a modicum of success. It is a great question. When you have achieved success, when made your pile, what then? There is an American principle that success is more about what you are making than what you are worth, and even less about being able to stop working. This is a brilliant cultural driver for a strong economy as it celebrates working billionaires. In Britain, the dream is more about making money then cashing in and going to sit on a beach somewhere. Maybe there is also a third way where, when you no longer worry about where the next meal is coming from or you family is reasonably secure, you then turn down the money-making drive to 'maintenance' mode, ease off on stress, and put your energies into what you like rather than what you must.

I have done this. I spent many years writing the Changing Minds website while holding down a full time job, bringing up a family and studying for further qualifications. Then, when the job disappeared (a blessing in disguise) I retired early with my amazing wife to a smallholding on a beautiful Welsh mountainside. I still get up and work every day, including studying and writing for the site, but the huge difference is that I now do what I want to do. The garden and field are my gym. I do various voluntary work. I travel and photograph. I speak at conferences. I even do occasional paid work, but the difference now is that I don't chase it. I have a modest pension and moderate income from ads and books, and it is enough to support a comfortable, though not luxurious lifestyle, in which Tim's podcasts are welcome stimulation. I'm still addicted to learning and he continues to deliver the best "aha's per hour" dopamine buzz that I can find in the podcast-sphere.

The biggest bonus of all this: less stress and more happiness. An excellent point by one of Tim's guests on another podcast is that what we call happiness is often more transient pleasure. Happiness is deeper, more grounded and meaningful. It is not tied to success or achievement. It is more about being, in the moment and through time. It might even be called ontological, existential and stoic. Sure. I could chase down the guru route. I can probably claim to be a world expert in changing minds. I could run exhortation-packed weekends for learners in subjects from sales to teaching, yet why, when instead I can till the soil and see beauty all around me. I sleep when I am tired, arise when I wake, and work at whatever floats today's boat.

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