10 lessons from Tim Ferriss that took him a decade to learn

Noelle Bloom, Contributor

I’ve been a huge Tim Ferriss fan since his first book The 4-Hour Workweek.

It inspired me to start a business that gives me the time, mobility, and income that I want — instead of being trapped in a 9 to 5.

It's the book I most highly recommend because of how it’s changed my life and the lives of just about everyone who reads it.

I had the opportunity to attend an exclusive Fireside Chat with him in San Francisco, where he shared inspiring insights on all things entrepreneurship, technology, and self-improvement, while also discussing his latest book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.

As I expected, Tim dropped knowledge bombs left and right!

Here are the 10 biggest insights & takeaways I learned from Tim Ferriss (most of these lessons took him over 10 years to learn):

1. There are two parts to self-improvement

Oftentimes we see self-improvement merely as goal achievement. However, Tim realized that achievement is only 50% of it. He says, "The other 50% is gratitude and appreciating what you already have, not focusing solely on future accomplishments." There are so many highly successful people who are never satisfied with what they’ve accomplished and it's unfortunate.

As Tim mentioned, "They've conquered every mountain, slayed every dragon and they're still not happy". Don't be one of those people! If you want to have any sense of well-being, you have to show appreciation for what you already have.

One of the best ways to bring awareness to what you’re grateful for is to journal. Tim recommends The Five Minute Journal or The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal for a daily practice of gratitude which he credits as being critical to his mental health. My favorite is The Five Minute Journal— it fills you up with appreciation and it changes how you feel to create more happiness.

2. Improve two areas of your life at a time

For those of us who are Type A personalities, we tend to be super ambitious and self-critical as we’re always trying to improve our lives. Over the last 10 years Tim realized that "too much optimizing can be self-destructive." Like with many things in life, things in excess tend to take on the characteristics of their opposites. So in this case, the sole focus on self-improvement can be misguided and can lead to depression and anxiety.

One of Tim’s good friends recommended improving only two areas of your life at a time, which was eye-opening to him. As someone who helps people renovate their lives, I couldn’t agree more! Trying to improve more than three areas of your life at a time is a recipe for disaster. Everything doesn’t have to be improved all at once, just those few areas that are most important to you.

Accepting that you are complete just the way you are can be one of the most profound realizations in your life. This simple mindset shift was life-changing for Tim and it can be for you too. Tim said, "you can feel complete without becoming complacent and still seek new challenges in life." It’s definitely a balancing act, and easier said than done, but awareness of your wholeness can transform the way you choose to improve your life.

3. You can start your own company and put handcuffs on yourself

When most people leave their jobs to pursue what they love, their mentality is “I’d rather fail doing what I want than succeed in chains doing what someone else wants.” However, Tim said, "You can start your own business and put handcuffs on yourself if you decide to be someone you aren’t." Long ago, Tim decided to be himself and it was one of the most important decisions of his life.

You must decide whether you’re going to be your authentic self or live by the persona you create. One of the best ways to stay true to yourself is to establish core values. What are you willing to do or not do along the way? What are you willing to accept or not accept? It’s important to define your values and ethical standards to keep true to who you are at your core.

4. Focus on projects for 6 months at a time

Right after Tim releases a new book or finishes a big project, people always ask him, “What’s next?” Well, it turns out he doesn’t know! He doesn't have a 5-year plan he sticks to, instead he focuses on projects 6 months at a time. Then if the opportunity proves to be fruitful after looking at the data, he pours gasoline on it.

Tim says, "The alternative to having a well thought out 5-year plan is to have constant values and ethical standards in place to help you make good decisions and avoid mistakes." In most cases, as you’re achieving your goals, it’s difficult to foresee what new opportunities will present itself from your earned success so keeping an open mind about your future is a smart move!

5. When you lack motivation, use incentives

When you’re working on big projects for long periods of time, for example writing a book, creating a program, or launching a new product, you can experience a decline in motivation. Since Tim doesn’t have much motivation or intrinsic willpower to get things done, he uses incentives to do what he says he’s going to do.

Tim mentioned that, "Some people are naturally more motivated while others respond better to pleasure or punishment." I’m one of those people who love using rewards to make deadlines.Tim also recommends creating deadlines that are hard to push back and using contracts or agreements to get things done. If you don’t have external pressures to stay on track, he suggests using a website like stickk.com to help you reach your goals.

6. Focus on developing skills and relationships

When making important decisions and capping the downside, potential risks or mistakes, Tim focuses on two things: skills and relationships. The question he asks himself is, “Even if this fails, are there skills and relationships that I can develop that will carry over into other things?" Tim's philosophy is that, "Failure isn’t failure if you can gain new skills and develop relationships for future advancement."

Just imagine how this small change in perspective on "failure" can lead to learning more skills and nurturing even more relationships than you ever thought possible. How’s that for accessing your worst-case scenarios and evaluating those proclaimed "failures" in life?!

7. It’s important to diversify your identify

When you’re passionate about your work, it’s easy to have everything vested in your business which can serve you well in most cases. However, Tim says that "100% dedication can lead to a disaster in the sense that you have all of your psychological eggs in one basket."

In life, there are so many factors out of your control. Things can happen that are not in your favor despite all of your hard work. For example, the market can take a dive and then you're screwed. Tim said, "When your business does good in a day, you feel good! Then when your business does bad in a day, you feel bad." And for that reason, it’s important that you diversify your identity so that you’re not reliant on one single thing for your fulfillment and happiness.

8. You don’t have to be relevant every week

That’s right! You don’t have to be relevant every week, month or even YEAR. This is something Tim constantly reminds himself of.

One of Tim's friends said on his podcast, The Tim Ferris Show, "If Will Smith doesn’t do a movie in three years, no one says, what ever happened to Will Smith?!” Tim said, "You can take some time and disappear to do deep thinking. You can opt-out for a week. You can escape and be a hermit for a while. Then when you’re ready to come back and reenter the world, you can continue where you left off."

Tim’s philosophy is that if you're really good at what you do, you don’t have to be everywhere all of the time. "If you’re different enough, the time pressure, resource pressure and sense of urgency or rush to accomplish your long-term goals tend to go away."

9. Give positive reinforcement to your team and YOURSELF

When you’re constantly trying to level up and improve your skills, oftentimes all you want to hear about is how you can improve or get better. In the past, Tim has been a proponent of self-criticism for improvement. He’d say to others, “Don’t tell me the good stuff, it will take care of itself. Tell me the bad and what to do to improve.”

However, he realized that this mindset isn’t sustainable, especially when working with people and managing teams. Giving positive reinforcement and feedback is just as important as self-criticism. As he realized this with managing his teams, he also realized that he deserved the same treatment.

10. Fame, power, money and alcohol just make you more of who you already are

Tim knows a lot of successful people who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One thing he’s learned is that fame, power, money, and alcohol just make you more of who you already are.

He explained, "So if you’re neurotic, add 100 million to that, you’ll be super neurotic!" If you're generous, add 100 million to that, you'll be even more generous. Essentially your characteristic just get exaggerated when you add those things in life. So it’s important that you work on who you want to be before you get those things.

I hope that you find at least one lesson here that you can apply to your business and life today to reach your goals!

As an entrepreneur, author and speaker, Noelle Bloom takes a stand for success without sacrifice. She's the founder of Live the Fabulous™, a new way of sustainable living for thought leaders, founders, CEO's, entrepreneurs and business owners while making a difference in the world. She helps high-achieving entrepreneurs take back control of their lives so that they can achieve sustainable success, genuine fulfillment and lasting happiness.