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Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss.
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In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss shares the habits and beliefs of 101 high-performing people, including tech investors, entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers. The premise of the book is that if you emulate the habits and beliefs of people who succeed the way you want to succeed, you too can be successful.

For this summary, we’ve restructured the book completely, focusing on the major themes of habits across all 101 people. This lets you see the patterns of what the titans do—how they motivate themselves, how they succeed in work and business, how they stay happy, and how they stay healthy.

Inspiration and Goals

Many titans visualize their long-term goals, so it becomes easier to know what they’re fighting for. Arnold Schwarzenegger believes that having a clear vision of the final goal makes the work in between easier. It helps you stomach all the hard work and pain it takes to reach your goal, since you know why you’re pushing so hard.

Be Courageous. Be Brazen

Do you have a big goal you would love to tackle, but you don’t feel ready? You’ve likely put artificial constraints on yourself. Many titans spoke about pushing past artificial boundaries placed on them by society or by themselves.

Realize that every titan you admire started out where you are today—with formidable obstacles towering in front of you. The difference with the titans is they had the courage to push past these obstacles.

  • Steve Jobs: “Everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”
  • Dan Carlin: “Don’t be afraid to do something you’re not qualified to do.”
  • Author Brene Brown dares herself to choose courage over comfort.

Tim Ferriss’s Fear Exercise

If you ever feel afraid of doing something, try Tim Ferriss’s fear exercise. First, think about the change you want to make.

  • If you made the change you’re afraid of, what is the absolute worst that could happen? Picture the situation in vividly clear detail.
  • How bad would this outcome be? How permanent would this damage be?
  • If this happened, how could you work your way back and recover?
  • How likely is this absolute worst case outcome, from 0% to 100%?
  • Now that you’ve pictured the worst case outcome, what’s the best case outcome? What’s a realistic good outcome? How would your life be better here?

After this exercise, you likely realize that the worst case is nowhere near permanently crippling. Even if you fail, you’ll be able to recover your old life just fine.

Work Habits and Career

Once you’ve identified your goals, you need to put in the work to reach them. Here are strategies to be more productive and make more progress in the limited time you have.

You Need to Focus

Does life feel busy to you? It doesn’t have to. If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and moving really fast, but not making any progress in life, you probably have to focus your goals.

The titans in this book have hundreds-fold more opportunities than the typical person, but they don’t have any more time. This means they need to apply a laser-sharp focus to the opportunities that will fulfill their goals.

  • From music producer Kaskade: Imagine you have a glass jar, and next to it big rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you put the sand and pebbles in first, they take up all the space, and you can’t fit the big rocks in. But if you add the big rocks, then the pebbles, then the sand, everything fits. Likewise, if you focus on the minor to-do items, you won’t be able to fit the big priorities in.
  • Author Derek Sivers has a rule for evaluating opportunities: “If it’s not a ‘hell, yes!’ it’s a ‘no.” If an opportunity doesn’t immediately excite him, it’s probably not that helpful to his goals, and so it’s not worth his time.
  • Avoid a “culture of cortisol.” There’s so much emphasis on being busy and fear of missing out that you can go day to day perpetually anxious. There really shouldn’t be many emergencies in your life. Focus on your big goals, and cut out the 20% of things that cause 80% of your unhappiness.

Deciding What to Work On

In a world of endless options, it can be hard to decide what to focus on and build your career around. Here’s some advice.

Become a double/triple threat. Many people try to become the very best in the world at one specific thing, the equivalent of playing basketball well enough to make the NBA. But this is very competitive and has a low probability of success. Instead, you can easily become above average at two or more things, then combine them to great effect.

  • Entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen agrees, citing these 5 skills as useful to augment any career: communication, management, sales, finance, and internationalization.

Work in an area where you’re not easily replaceable. This is where you can make a unique impact.

  • While Tim Ferriss was building his following around self-improvement, he contemplated becoming a full-time venture capitalist (VC). Investor Kamal Ravikant nudged him away, saying that he’d be just like any other VC, and if a company didn’t get his investment, they’d just find another investor. In contrast, Tim’s listeners wrote to him with dramatic stories of personal transformation, and he’d never have that impact as a VC.

Personal Habits

The people profiled in the book tend to be exceptionally disciplined and goal-oriented. Here are themes of advice on personal habits.

Action, Not Information

Are you obsessed with learning new tactics, but have a problem following through?

Realize that success doesn’t come from knowledge, it comes from action.

  • Author Derek Sivers: “If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
  • Author and speaker Tony Robbins: An infographic doesn’t make you a master. What...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Introduction

In the 707-page Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss shares the habits and beliefs of 101 high-performing people, including tech investors, entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers. The premise of the book is that if you emulate the habits and beliefs of people who succeed the way you want to succeed, you too can be successful.

The book is very broad, covering a wide range of aspects on how to become healthy, wealthy, and wise. The point of the book is not to absorb everything covered, but rather to identify the points that most resonate with you. The author notes that different readers highlight very different points from the book as their most...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Inspiration and Goals

We’ll start with the foundation of success—how to set goals and adopt a courageous mindset.

Visualize Your Goals

If you don’t know where you’re going, why are you pedaling so hard?

Many titans visualize their long-term goals, so it becomes easier to know what they’re fighting for. It also becomes easier to focus, since you know what won’t drive you closer to your goals and thus can say no to.

Specific tips from titans:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger believes that having a clear vision of the final goal makes the work in between easier. It helps you stomach all the hard work and pain it takes to reach your goal, since you know why you’re pushing so hard.
  • Tony Robbins spends the last part of his morning meditation imagining the three things he’ll make happen that day. He visualizes the successful outcome and viscerally feels the emotions to motivate him.
  • Dilbert creator Scott Adams picks his goal and writes it down 15 times, every day. He finds that this increases serendipity—it’s as if the universe provides opportunities to make you successful. More pragmatically, he believes this focus helps your brain filter in the opportunities that fit your goal and filter...

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Shortform Exercise: Confront Your Fear

If you feel afraid of doing something, try this fear exercise.


What change do you really want to make in your life, but are afraid to?

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Work Habits and Career

Once you’ve identified your goals, you need to put in the work to reach them. Here are strategies to be more productive and make more progress in the limited time you have.

You Need to Focus

Does life feel busy to you? It doesn’t have to. If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and moving really fast, but not making any progress in life, you probably have to focus your goals.

The titans in this book have hundreds-fold more opportunities than the typical person, but they don’t have any more time. This means they need to apply a laser-sharp focus to the opportunities that will fulfill their goals.

First, let’s examine why people tend to stay “busy,” at the expense of focus:

  • Tim Ferriss: People who are busy are, counter-intuitively, often lazy. If you try to do everything, you’re a lazy thinker, since you’re not doing the hard work of defining the few critical actions that matter. Staying busy is also often a way to avoid probing uncomfortable actions.
  • Author and cartoonist Tim Kreider: People are busy because, in its absence, they have to confront existential questions they don’t have answers for. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, what we...

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Shortform Exercise: Sharpen Your Focus

If you feel like you have too many things going on, narrow down on the few things that matter.


What busy work do you do each day that doesn’t move you closer to your goals?

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Personal Habits

The people profiled in the book tend to be exceptionally disciplined and goal-oriented. Here are themes of advice on personal habits.

Action, Not Information

Are you obsessed with learning new tactics, but have a problem following through? Realize that success doesn’t come from knowledge, it comes from action.

(Shortform note: This especially applies when reading nonfiction material like this book summary. Don’t just absorb the platitudes—think hard about what actionables you want to apply to your life.)

Here are quotes and stories around taking action:

  • Author Derek Sivers: “If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
  • Author and speaker Tony Robbins: An infographic doesn’t make you a master. What matters isn’t what you know—it’s what you do, consistently.
  • Artist Chuck Close: Don’t feel you need to have that perfect idea before you start doing. Most likely you’re just holding yourself back. Only amateurs rely on inspiration—experts just get to work. While working, you’ll find new opportunities that wouldn’t be obvious if you just sat there thinking.
  • Youtuber Casey Neistat: You can never count on...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Creativity and Ideas

No matter what field of work you’re in, you’d likely benefit from being more creative and generating more good ideas. Here’s a spread of advice on how to generate more good ideas, how to identify the best ones, and how to put them to action.

Generate a Lot of Bad Ideas to Get Good Ideas

Do you struggle to find that one perfect idea, and hold yourself back from entertaining less-than-perfect ideas?

Your bar is set too high. Spend your energy coming up with LOTS of ideas, even if they’re silly. What matters isn’t your hit rate, but rather the number of good ideas you have at the end. The more ideas you generate, the more you exercise your “idea muscle.”

Multiple people reinforce this idea:

  • Author James Altucher challenges himself to come up with 10 ideas a day. These aren’t necessarily business ideas, but also around themes like “10 ways I can save time,” “10 ridiculous inventions,” or “10 ways to solve a problem I have.”
  • Author Malcolm Gladwell comes up with as many ideas as possible, scrutinizes them, and kills them off. The unkillable ideas are worth going forward with.
  • Many writers don’t believe that writer’s block exists. Author Paulo Coelho (_The...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide How to Build a Business

Many of the titans interviewed are entrepreneurs of some kind—often by building businesses, or by being self-employed as authors, entertainers, or media creators. These are the titans’ tips for how to start a successful business and grow it.

1,000 True Fans

To be successful, you don’t need to be a global superstar or have millions of followers.

Instead, you need just 1,000 true fans (a concept popularized by Wired founding executive editor Kevin Kelly). A true fan is defined as “a fan who will buy anything you produce.” True fans become your direct source of income and the major marketing force for ordinary fans.

If you can get true fans, then you’re sure that you’re solving problems for a real group of people. Produce work to excite your 1,000 true fans, not to get a lukewarm reception from 100,000 people.

  • Author Kurt Vonnegut suggested that you should “write to please just one person”—yourself.
  • Music producer Rick Rubin: The best art is polarizing. If half the people love it and half hate it, it’s pushing the boundary and not catering to the mainstream.
  • Investor Eric Weinstein: Mainstream celebrity fame is overrated—it brings more liabilities...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Happiness and Mindset

Being productive and reaching your goals obviously aren’t the only important things in life. Being happy and in control of your emotions is another form of success important to titans.

Founder and investor Naval Ravikant asserts that happiness is 1) an active choice you make, and 2) a skill you develop, like exercising a muscle.

 

Be Grateful for Things

One of the most common themes from titans through the entire book was being grateful for life and what it’s given so far. Far from being the cutthroat, take-no-prisoners stereotype of success, the titans tended to reflect on their lives and be thankful for where they are.

Here’s a summary of how people feel gratitude:

  • Tony Robbins believes gratitude prevents you from feeling anger or fear. He starts off his morning by meditating on what he’s grateful for.
  • Tim Ferriss recommends naming 3 new things you’re grateful for in an end-of-day 5-minute journal. Instead of repeating the same things like your health, consider small things, like an old relationship that really helped you, something great that you saw happen, or something simple that you can see.
  • Tim Ferriss also keeps a “Jar of Awesome.” He adds an...

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Shortform Exercise: Practice Gratitude

Be thankful for small things in life and put things into perspective.


Think of 3 things you’re grateful for. Instead of repeating the same things like your health, consider small things, like an old relationship that really helped you, something great that you saw happen, or something simple that you can see.

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Interesting Short Ideas

Here is a wide variety of less commonly-repeated ideas from Tools of Titans. There are many more ideas in the original book than we have space to cover here, so as always, read the original book to get all the useful tips.

How to Raise Your Kids

Titans mentioned various childhood influences that made them who they are today, or practices they use with their kids:

  • LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman played a lot of complex board games, which helped him grasp complexities in different circumstances. This came into use in Paypal when they had to figure out how to make a complex business profitable.
  • Author Seth Godin: Teach your kids how to lead and how to solve interesting problems, by giving them interesting problems. Our nation needs to compete on the international stage through creativity, not through better obedience or physical labor.
  • Girls should be taught to confront their fear, and should be urged no more caution and protection than boys are.
  • Chessplayer Josh Waitzkin: Don’t typify weather as good or bad to your kids—this trains them to tie their mood to an external factor like weather. It’s better to say “it’s a beautiful rainy day” and go outside and...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Getting Healthy

The titans give a broad set of advice for health, but unlike the major themes above, the health advice tends to be more varied. We’ve catalogued the breadth of ideas here.

Good General Health Principles

Change the phrase “diet and exercise” to “eat and train.” The former is aesthetic and doesn’t have a clear goal; the other is functional and has a clear goal.

Work on the deficiencies you’re most embarrassed by. This is true in athletics and beyond. All the flexible yoga practitioners should lift some weights, and all the huge weightlifters should do yoga.

Flexibility is a passive trait. Mobility is an active trait, requiring strength through the entire range of motion.

How to find a good doctor:

  • Ask your doctor “what does cholesterol do?” This identifies doctors who simply follow heuristics vs. those who truly understand something.
  • Look at how long they spend on your first visit. The longer, the more they probably care about you.

Be around people who can push you.

  • 80-year-old Don Wildman goes helicopter snowboarding and surrounds himself with younger guys to raise his energy.

Exercises recommended

Here are exercises mentioned throughout the...

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Tim Ferriss's 17 Questions

Tim Ferriss has a set of 17 questions he uses to challenge his thinking.

1. What if I do the opposite of what I normally do, for 48 hours?

If you’re stuck and not getting the performance you want, maybe you need to invert what you’re doing. If you try the opposite for just 48 hours, the damage is limited—at worst, you fail and go back to your normal routine. At best, you find a totally new successful way to do things.

As a salesman for a tech product early in his career, Tim wasn’t meeting his sales numbers. At a loss for what to do, he looked at what the other salespeople were doing, and decided to do the opposite. Other people worked 9 to 5; Tim decided to call outside of 9 to 5. He found that he was able to reach executives, who were still working outside normal business hours, and bypass their assistants, who were not.

2. For business ideas: what do I personally spend a lot of money on?

This is a perfect question if you want to start a business but you don’t know what problem to solve. Chances are, you’ve been solving that problem for yourself.

When the dotcom crash happened, Tim Ferriss wanted to start his own company. Instead of doing deep market...

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Shortform Exercise: Ask Yourself Hard Questions

Try some of Tim Ferriss’s favorite questions.


Think of a problem you’re not making progress on. What if you do the opposite of what you normally do, for 48 hours? What would that look like?

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Tools of Titans Summary Tools of Titans Guide Checklists of Questions

Here’s a compilation of items for hiring, asking good questions, and solving your life problems.

Good Hiring Questions

Here are questions that titans love asking in their hiring interviews:

  • “What do you think about that really gets you excited?”—neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley
  • “What interesting thing are you working on? Why is that interesting to you? What’s surprising about that? Is anybody else thinking about this?”—chef and scientist Chris Young
  • “What are you doing that the world doesn’t realize is a really big deal?”—Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian
  • Instead of interviewing, Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg auditions his employees.
  • “Tell me something that’s true that very few people agree with you on.”—investor Peter Thiel
  • “What problem do you face every day that nobody has solved yet?” “What is a great company no one has started?”—Peter Thiel
  • “If I gave you $100 million, what would you build? How is it defensible?”—Valve founder Gabe Newell.
  • “What will people who don’t like you say about you?”—Navy SEAL and leadership consultant Chris...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Inspiration and Goals
  • Exercise: Confront Your Fear
  • Work Habits and Career
  • Exercise: Sharpen Your Focus
  • Personal Habits
  • Creativity and Ideas
  • How to Build a Business
  • Happiness and Mindset
  • Exercise: Practice Gratitude
  • Interesting Short Ideas
  • Getting Healthy
  • Tim Ferriss's 17 Questions
  • Exercise: Ask Yourself Hard Questions
  • Checklists of Questions