Why High Achievers Skip Breakfast (Among Other Things)
Illustration by Mr David Doran
A few lessons from self-help master and author Mr Tim Ferriss’ new book, which examines the habits of the world’s most successful men.
Mr Tim Ferriss makes most productivity gurus seem like idle dalliers by comparison. The prodigious author of The 4-Hour Work Week, Body and Chef – all number-one bestsellers in either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal – he’s also an early-stage tech investor in Facebook, Uber, Alibaba and more. Then there’s his 100m-downloaded podcast The Tim Ferriss Show, where he quizzes world-class performers from manifold fields for the secrets of their success – which he usually tests out himself.
Mr Ferriss’ new book, Tools Of Titans, is the distilled essence of his iTunes-topping podcast. Long conversations that were boiled down to one or two hours for broadcast have been condensed again into short chapters containing only the most shining pearls of wisdom. Aside from the sheer quantity of killer tips, what elevates this above most filler-packed self-help books is the spectrum of expertise, with the philosophies of Mr Alain de Botton alongside those of Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Below are a few of the patterns that Mr Ferriss identified while compiling Tools Of Titans. Think of them as quick fixes that will free up the time for you to read the whole book.
Mindfulness over matters
Almost all of Mr Ferriss’ diverse subjects – over 80 per cent – practise some form of meditation to improve concentration and relieve stress. Lest you still think it something for girly men, Mr Schwarzenegger did Transcendental Meditation – where you are given a mantra to repeat by a teacher – at the start of his career; after a year, he felt like he’d learnt enough to focus with a Terminator-like laser eye. Mr Ferriss himself is more regular: “If I could only choose one exercise for the mind, it would be 10 to 20 minutes of meditation at least once daily.” He too recommends transcendental meditation, although he was initially put off by the high cost ($1,000); the payoff is a coach and accountability. He also advocates the apps Headspace and Calm for mindfulness meditation, where you home in on external phenomena such as your breathing. Although he personally prefers the dulcet tones of Headspace founder and former buddhist monk Mr Andy Puddicombe.
No breakfast of champions
Many of Mr Ferriss’ titans subsist on a miniscule first meal of the day. Author Mr Malcolm Gladwell makes do with a cappuccino and a third of a croissant: “I love croissants, but I think one should eat the absolute minimum in the morning… that’s one of my rules.” Mr Pavel Tsatsouline, the Soviet strength coach credited with introducing kettlebells to the West, restricts himself to just coffee, while former US army general Mr Stanley McChrystal goes completely without until his large evening meal. It should be said that this flies in the face of conventional nutritional wisdom, but intermittent fasters claim benefits such as increased mental sharpness, stabler energy levels and – paradoxically – reduced cravings. If nothing else, it’s one less thing to worry about. Mr Ferriss himself either fasts or consumes a very minimal breakfast, which sometimes consists of a protein shake made with easier-to-digest goat’s whey (among other ingredients too groovy to detail here).
A closed loop
Those of Mr Ferriss’ interlocutors who don’t chant “om” in the AM nevertheless exhibit some kind of meditation-like activity: “One frequent pattern is listening to a single track or album on repeat, which can act as an external mantra for aiding focus and present-state awareness.” High-achieving free (read: ropeless) climber Mr Alex Honnold cues up the soundtrack to The Last Of The Mohicans for his chalky-palmed ascents. Mr Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress and CEO of parent company Automattic, codes to the tunes of “Everyday” by A$AP Rocky and “One Dance” by Drake. Investor and Shark Tank regular Mr Chris Sacca crunches through e-mails to “Harlem Shake” by Baauer. Mr Ferriss goes one further for his late-night writing sessions, accompanying a song with a film playing on mute. (During The 4-Hour Chef, this was talking-pig flick Babe: “It was the first thing that popped up for free under Amazon Prime.”) A one-track mind can have its advantages.