The Tim Ferriss Show
“Tim Ferriss is a self-experimenter and bestselling author, best known for The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been translated into 40+ languages. Newsweek calls him ‘the world’s best human guinea pig,’ and The New York Times calls him ‘a cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist Monk.’ In this show, he deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, chess, pro sports, etc.), digging deep to find the tools, tactics, and tricks that listeners can use.”
At the outset of this review, I just want to state that, similarly to some other podcast hosts I’ve examined on this website, for a long time I had something of an extreme amount of skepticism for Tim Ferriss and everything he espoused and was associated with. Or, rather, everything I thought he espoused. That was before I allowed Tim to speak for himself about who he is and what he does (are you seeing a pattern here?), when I subscribed to a set of assumptions founded on hearsay that allowed me to dismiss him with little more than a second thought, and perhaps some casual annoyance when I encountered his name in the zeitgeist, which is becoming more and more common these days. So a substantial part of this review is going to be me airing all that out, because I’m relatively sure that if I once thought along those lines, then a lot of you probably still do today. But I came around.
Before all that, let me just briefly talk about what the podcast is about. Once a week or so, Tim Ferriss sits down with (or skypes) either a high-achiever or someone who trains/facilitates high-achievers and attempts to understand what the fundamental components are that allow them to succeed. These high-achievers come in many colors, from actors to sports stars to CEOs and tech founders, and the fundamental components of their success come in the form of habits and training, or what could more simply be called “software.” You see, it’s not actually the hardware of extraordinary people that proves to be interesting. I mean sure, Lebron James has a body that seems built to succeed. That’s undeniable. But it’s not replicable by an ordinary person like you or me, and in actuality, outside of sports, it’s mostly the software that matters. Just to be clear, the software is not the physical brain, which may or may not have a high raw IQ or EQ, for example. Rather, it’s the processes, both physical and mental, that anyone can introduce into their life. So it’s not what these achievers are born with that interests Tim. It’s everything else.
The podcast tends to start with more or less the following question: “What does your morning look like?” and it takes off from there, with Tim investigating every lead, from daily workout regimens, to diet, meditation, and work habits (amongst other things). From there, Tim attempts (successfully, I think) to extrapolate broader patterns of human software that lead to success. This review is neither the time nor the place to enumerate all of the patterns for success that Tim uncovers, but one example that seems obvious at this point is the prevalence of some sort of meditative practice. This podcast, in a nutshell, is: To what does the given interviewee credit with his or her success? What do they do that’s different? And more importantly, how can you, the listener, replicate and implement that?
Alright, let’s talk about my original skepticism for Tim Ferriss. First, I generally speaking feel disdain toward and contempt for the genre of self-help. Not only is it usually unscientific and not evidence based, but beyond the blurbs on the back of the books, who have you ever heard of who was actually, demonstrably helped by a self-help guru? Drawing a blank? Me too. A big part of that is probably due to vague claims and suggestions that sound great when you’re reading them, but simply don’t play out in the real world after the book is closed. So the first problem was that I grouped Tim Ferriss in with the other motley crew of self-help gurus. The second problem I had (and honestly, kind of still have) is the title of his first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek”. I mean, come on. It just sounds so gimmicky. It sounds like the title of a too-good-to-be-true infomercial that plays for deadbeats at four in the morning. It sounds like clickbait. It sounds like a scam. I still dislike the title and the general vibe I get from it, but at least I understand the reasoning behind it. The title is clickbait. Explicitly so. Tim product-tested many titles for his first book, and this one proved to get the most hits. So it’s clickbait, but it’s clickbait that belies something more substantial lurking in the pages. Anyway, from these two impressions of Tim, I avoided anything and everything he did like the plague for years, and I find it fairly likely that I’m not alone in that. But then I just happened to have a podcast in my queue that began playing, and he just happened to be the guest, and from there I was hooked.
Now, if I recall correctly, the podcast that properly introduced me to Tim, hearsay-free, was Outside Podcast’s “The Outside Interview Ep03: Tim Ferriss Overshares”. Of course, as soon as I saw who they were interviewing, my heart sank, but I resolved to carry on, knowing that the Outside Podcast had done good work before. And I was promptly rewarded for that resolve. In actuality, Tim is a sincere, highly intelligent, and most important of all curious human being. He doesn’t take things at face value--he digs deeper. He genuinely wants to know, for himself as much as for others' sake. As for his intelligence, it’s not of the intimidating, obfuscating type, but rather of the type that attempts to shed light on the given topic at hand. Needless to say, I now find myself firmly in the camp of the Tim Ferriss Fanclub.
That’s not to say that this podcast is perfect, or that Tim is a perfect host--he’s definitely not. That’s partly because, I think, of his aforementioned insatiable curiosity, which seems occasionally to be a double-edged sword (similarly to my criticism of the podcast The Joe Rogan Experience). Tim’s curiosity uncovers some real gems, but in that search for gems he also uncovers some real duds, as well as a whole slew of contradictory information. Regardless of this hit-or-miss aspect of the show, one thing that must be credited is Tim’s herculean effort to turn these gems into actionable, easily digestible, often quantifiable, pieces of advice. This isn’t vague self-help guru mumbo jumbo here--there’s real risk to Tim’s reputation if what he’s telling you to try is completely wrong, because much of it is easily verifiable for yourself. That is, you pick a piece of actionable advice, you give a good faith effort to implement it, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and Tim looks bad. It’s that simple.
If you find yourself on the path of self-improvement in all aspects of your life (and honestly, I hope that all of you do), then this podcast is for you. If you’re fed up with vagaries, and advice that sounds good only on paper, then this podcast is for you. Just remember to exercise a little discernment, as the conversations Tim has can go anywhere, and he tends toward patient listening and appeasement rather than calling people out on their bullshit.
It can be a little shoddy at times, but this is a podcast all about the content and not focused much at all on the actual craft of production.
As mentioned, it’s kind of hit-or-miss. Tim is consistently good, but his guests are good only on a case-by-case basis.
Covered in larger review.
Barring tidbits of life-changing advice, it’s not really that kind of show.
Very high. We humans are only just beginning to move beyond anecdotal evidence toward quantification of life-improvement.
Probably more than almost any other, this podcast has turned me on to other important podcasts, as well as life practices. But again, use your own discernment.
Long. Anywhere from 1-3 hours.
Overall Score: 8.3/10
This podcast has a huge catalogue, so what I’ve listened to skews toward the more recent episodes and the early episodes.
- #232: The Tim Ferriss Radio Hour: Controlling Stress, Nutrition Upgrades, and Improved Health
- #222: Jerrod Carmichael - Uber Productivity and Dangerous Comedy
- #221: Mr. Money Mustache--Living Beautifully on $25-27K Per Year
- #218: The Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist in Silicon Valley - Kara Swisher
- #216: Arnold Schwarzenegger Part 2
- Episode 2: Joshua Waitzkin
- Ep. 14: Sam Harris
- Ep. 18: James Altucher on Saying No, Failing Better, Business Building, and More
- Ep. 28: Peter Thiel, Billionaire Investor and Company Creator on Investing, Business, and Life
If you like this podcast, you’ll probably like:
- The Joe Rogan Experience
- Waking Up with Sam Harris
- How I Built This
- Science Vs
- On Being
- TED Radio Hour