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5 Powerful Lessons from the World's Top Achievers

Stephen Altrogge
Stephen Altrogge / June 27, 2017

Ask yourself: if you could sit down with the most successful people in the world and learn their secrets, what kind of impact would that have on your life and career?

That's exactly what entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "human guinea pig" Tim Ferriss did—and he's recorded the answers for the rest of us. For several years, Tim has interviewed some of the top performers across a variety of industries. He’s talked to Richard Branson, Ed Catmull, Brene Brown, Jack Dorsey, Alex Blumberg, and countless others. These interviews all show up in the form of a podcast.

The problem, however, is that listening to all these episodes takes hundreds of hours, even if you listen on double speed. The are countless nuggets of wisdom in these episodes but mining them would take ages.

That’s why I was so excited when I saw that Tim was releasing Tools of Titans, which essentially functions as the Cliff Notes for his podcast. In the book, he extracts the best bits of advice from his podcast and presents them in an easily digestible form.

I wasn’t disappointed when I read the book. I underlined so many things and learned many valuable lessons that will help me become more successful in my own work. The whole book is a goldmine of advice, but if you want to accomplish more and personally better yourself, here are the top 5 lessons for you.

Lesson #1 - Don’t Be Afraid to Invest in Tools

Invest in Tools

Almost every one of the titans interviewed by Tim invests significant funds into tools that make them more productive. Some of these tools are just that—tools and equipment that help them optimize their days.

Others aren’t tools so much as services that improve their productivity.

These individuals don’t see these tools as a luxury. Rather, they view them as absolutely essential to their performance.

For example, elite athlete Amelia Boone regularly uses dry needling (a form of acupuncture) to loosen her muscles. Tony Robbins has a pool filled with 57-degree water that he plunges into every morning. Noah Kagan (founder of Sumo) uses Schedule Once and Followup.cc to minimize time spent in the inbox. Legendary music producer Rick Rubin built a sauna for himself to improve health. Many of the entrepreneurs use the ChiliPad to help them sleep.

It’s tempting to scrimp on tools out of a desire to minimize expenses, or simply because you think they’re unnecessary. But the titans of business and personal success interviewed by Tim Ferriss consistently agree that getting the right tools can dramatically improve performance, which in turn can actually lead to more revenue.

If you want to improve your note taking, try Evernote. If you struggle with focus, try the Freedom app. If you want to spend less time in your inbox use something like Followup.cc. If you need to manage tasks as a team, use Trello, Asana, or Basecamp. If you need to connect and automate all these services, use Zapier. Buy a standing desk to improve posture, purchase a great router to improve internet speeds, the list goes on.

And don't limit yourself to books and software. Consider what gets in the way of your productivity, and look into a service that could help you delegate time-wasting tasks. Hire a virtual assistant to deal with scheduling, email, and other tasks not directly related to your job. Use Instacart to avoid grocery shopping. If you struggle with making the time to prepare healthy meals, use a service like Blue Apron.

The point is this: without the right tools, it’s much harder to get the job done. So if you feel like you're spinning your wheels in a certain area, look for a tool that can help you out of your rut. Remember it's an investment—wasting time doing things the hard way will only cost you money in the end.

Lesson #2 - Develop Practices Of Mindfulness and Meditation

Develop Mindfulness

Interestingly, about 80% of the people Tim interviewed practice some form of mindfulness, meditation, mantras, or deep breathing.

Executive Peter Diamandis begins every morning with a set of breathing exercises designed to expand the lungs with quick, large inhales. He also repeats the mantra, "I am joy. I am love. I am gratitude. I see, hear, feel, and know that the purpose of my life is to inspire and guide the transformation of humanity on and off the Earth."

If that routine sounds a bit too mystical for you, consider using the "priming" routine of Tony Robbins. Tony uses this routine to prime both his body and his mind for the day. He starts with the cold-water plunge mentioned earlier, then does a simple set of rapid breathing exercises. He finishes with a ten-minute gratitude meditation.

He says, "To me, if you want to live a primetime life, you’ve got to prime daily."

There are numerous scientifically validated benefits to meditation, including:

  • Increased immune function
  • Decreased inflammation
  • More positive emotions
  • Less depression, anxiety, and stress
  • More compassion
  • Less loneliness
  • Increased cortical thickness
  • Increased focus and concentration

… And many more.

Additionally, meditation, mindfulness, and mantras put you in the proper mindset for increased productivity.

One of the great challenges in being productive or an entrepreneur is that you often find yourself confronted with a massive list of tasks. When this happens, it’s easy to get into a frantic, fractured state. Meditation allows you to clear your mind and then singlemindedly focus on your most important task.

There are dozens of meditation apps available to help guide you through meditation. Some popular ones include:

Alternatively, there are a number of meditation podcasts available as well. Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings) listens to the same meditation from Tara Brach’s podcast every day.

Lesson #3 - Set Aggressive Goals For Yourself

Set Aggressive Goals

Many of the people Tim interviewed were in the habit of setting really big, aggressive goals for themselves. Setting oversized goals forces them to think outside the normal limits, to figure out new, more effective ways to accomplish tasks. Placing tight constraints upon themselves pushes them to come up with solutions they might not have otherwise—solutions that can lead to big achievements.

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, had a professor at Berklee School of Music tell him, "I think you can graduate Berklee School of Music in two years instead of four. The standard pace is for chumps." Sivers took that advice to heart, put himself on an aggressive schedule, and graduated in two years.

Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, says, "I like to make promises that I’m not sure I can keep and then figure out how to keep them. I think you can will things into happening by just committing to them sometimes." By making promises she’s not sure she can keep, Amoruso intentionally backs herself into a corner where the only way out is to stretch herself.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, uses a series of affirmations to achieve his big goals. He told Tim, "All you do is pick a goal and you write it down 15 times a day in some specific sentence form, like, 'I, Scott Adams, will become an astronaut,' for example. And you do that every day. Then it will seem as if the universe just starts spitting up opportunities."

Adams did this to reach best-seller status. Even though he had never written a book and never taken a writing class, he told himself he would be a best-selling author. This led to him writing The Dilbert Principle, which became a number-one best seller.

Tim himself has an interesting way of pushing himself toward big things. He says:

Schedule (and, if possible, pay for) things in advance to prevent yourself from backing out… Make commitments in a high-energy state so that you can’t back out of them when you’re in a low energy state.

The power of aggressive goals is that they force you to think really, really big. You’re forced to adopt what Grant Cardone calls, "10x" thinking. In other words, instead of thinking in incremental increases, you think in massive, 10x increases. When you think in these terms, you don’t limit what you might achieve.

In his book The 10x Rule, Cardone says:

…in order to get to the next level of whatever you're doing, you must think and act in a wildly different way than you previously have been.

This is one reason high achievers set massive goals for themselves. It keeps them out of comfort-zone ruts and pushes them to think in wildly different ways, which then often generates success.

Lesson #4 - Don’t Let Others Chart Your Path

Chart Your Own Path

It turns out that the stereotype of the contrarian-thinking independent entrepreneur is true in many cases. Almost all the titans Tim talked to created a mission for themselves and then stuck to that mission, often to the dismay of others. This single-minded drive is one of the things that has allowed them to achieve greatness.

Marketing extraordinaire Seth Godin said:

The phone rings, and lots of people want a thing. If it doesn’t align with the thing that is your mission, and you say ‘yes’, now [your mission] is their mission. There’s nothing wrong with being a wandering generality instead of a meaningful specific, but don’t expect to make the change you [hope] to make if that’s what you do.

It’s not that being a contrarian guarantees you success, it’s that there tends to be a lot of competition when everyone is on the same road. If you want to achieve something big, you have to figure out how to do things differently. So many great ideas start with taking the standard practice and turning it on it’s head (see Uber, Warby Parker, etc.).

Derek Sivers, for example, has a very specific way of narrowing down his choices in life. If he doesn’t feel all in about an activity, he doesn’t do it. This allows him to keep his life free to pursue his own path rather than path others want him to take.

It’s tempting to think that the way to climb to the top is to constantly make yourself available to every opportunity. To make people happy and hope that they promote you somewhere along the way. This may be the way to make it to the top in 30 years, but the quicker way is simply to put up your own ladder.

Eric Weinstein, manager of Thiel Capital, says of success, "Very often, it’s a question of being the first person to connect things that have never been connected before, and something that is a commonplace solution in one area is not thought of in another."

In other words, greatness of comes from rejecting the standard solutions and being able to think sideways.

Lesson #5 - Take Copious Notes

Take Copious Notes

Great ideas are often like gusts of wind: they come quickly and vanish just as fast, leaving you struggling to remember them. This is why some of the greatest achievers take notes on everything.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia says, "Write everything down because it’s all very fleeting." Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings has an incredibly detailed process for taking notes in books, including actually creating indices at the back so she can come back and review them later. James Altucher recommends forcing yourself to write down ten ideas every morning.

David Sedaris uses obsessive journaling to help his writing. He once told an audience:

I’ve been keeping a diary for thirty-three years and write in it every morning. Most of it’s just whining, but every so often there’ll be something I can use later: a joke, a description, a quote.

Taking notes is especially important for creativity. Creative inspiration comes and goes so fast that it’s easy to forget your best ideas. If you don’t jot them down quickly, they’ll disappear and you’ll be left staring at a blank page.

In terms of taking notes, there are some great apps available in addition to the standard pen and paper. These apps include:

Even if 90% of these notes are tossed, you’ll still end up with some gems that you’ll be able to use later. Don’t rely on your fickle memory to preserve these ideas. When in doubt, write it down.


Achieving big results doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of deliberate actions. The one thing that unites all the people interviewed by Tim Ferriss is that they all have a specific set of techniques, tactics, and hacks that give them a unique competitive advantage. They didn’t intuitively know these specific techniques, but developed them through consistent hard work and experimentation, sticking with what worked and discarding the rest.

They find the tools and tactics they need to push them to the top. They prime their bodies and minds for maximum effort. And they chart their own missions rather than blindly following others.

Obviously, some of the lessons from Tools of Titans will apply more to you than others, but the book is a goldmine of wisdom nonetheless. It's worth taking the time to see the world through the eyes of these high achievers. Then, through those lenses, evaluate your own habits, goals, and routines. Learn from their actions, then go out there and become your own titan.

Photos courtesy of Pexels.

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