My Notes From The Tim Ferriss Show #510: Greg McKeown

Please note that Tim Ferriss owns all rights to the podcast, podcast transcripts, and the content on his website at tim.blog. I’m providing my reflections, synthesis and applications of the concepts and tactics discussed with his guests here for my own benefit.

As this is both my first post and my first post like this, it’s going to be somewhat freeform. In time, I’ll better format and link between podcast notes posts like this one.

A model of selflessness: Ghandi. The notion of “reducing oneself to zero”. I love the sentiment behind this one, and for me it sparks the idea of asking myself: “what can I do to put the needs of (my wife, my daughter, my brother, my friend, my neighbor, my colleague) ahead of my own today?”

Woven throughout the episode was the idea of the “lighter, easier path” and the “darker, heavier path”. In general, McKeown advises that we choose the lighter path whenever the decision is there to make. He says that you can always make something easier or harder based on your approach and response to it.

Make a practice of cultivating a spirit of optimism and happiness, because “on a daily basis every temptation exists to fall into unproductive emotions and habits”.

What are some examples of unproductive states?

  • complaining
  • depression
  • white knuckle effort to solve problems
  • entitlement
  • victim mentality

These can destroy your marriage, family culture, peace of mind culture and reputation…

Choose The Lighter Path

“There was this other path, this path of trusting, of hope, of good things to come…”

Gratitude as the foundational practice to build positive emotion and positive states. Why? It works even if done in a poor-attitude way (as McKeown describes his son did on one occasion). It’s near instantaneous. It’s easy.

Here’s how to apply it: “Is there anything we can be grateful for?”

Related note: In the book 59 seconds, the author explains the power specifically of writing down three things you’re grateful for. So while the McKeown quote is in context of a group/family conversation dynamic, you could build a practice of gratitude in a journal.

If you focus on what you lack, you’ll lose what you have. If you focus on what you have, you’ll find what you need.

Greg McKeown

Here’s a habit stack that McKeown built based on a BJ Fogg style recipe: “From now on, when I complain, I will state one thing I am grateful for.”

Positive emotional state is the precursor to taking action, doing good and recognizing good, so focusing on producing a positive state as the first thing is critical!

Interesting concept from Barbara Frederickson was mentioned: the “broaden and build theory”. It instantly reminded me of other mental models like compound interest and consolidated gains framework. More on those later.

So why did Greg write the new book? Discovered that you need to do both the right, good things (essentialism) but that they also need to be done in the right, effortless way (effortless).

This mirrors something Ryan Holiday talks about (or draws from the Stoics more accurately): only the things that need to be done, only doing them how they should be done.

When you’re down to only doing the essentials, and you can’t work any harder, you need to find an easier way to get them done.

Personally, I struggle a lot trying to reconcile some of the different approaches to these kinds of prioritization problems. I believe there’s a bit of a “balanced life” fallacy that exists, because it seems very difficult or borderline impossible to achieve excellent results in all life domains simultaneously.

One the one hand, we have philosophies like Zen Habits, Atomic Habits, Tiny Habits, Essentialism… which are reductionist, rely on compound interest, and advise the critical path in the core areas (health, relationships, work, purpose, finances).

On the other hand, I’ve encountered philosophies like The One Thing, 10x, and David Goggins which are more about taking massive action (often at disruptive levels).

…back to McKeown. He shares a computer memory metaphor for the human brain and body… Sometimes all we need is a reset with food, water, sleep in order to do a system reset and get back to effortless, light states of being.

So ask yourself “What is cluttering you up right now?” and go deep.

  • What’s the persistent psychic drag in the form of grudges, made up stories, assumptions, fantasies, responses, things left unsaid and undone?
  • What “should be” statements can I let go of to make life more effortless?
  • What rules can I set to to limit options and outcomes up front?
  • Do I still need this? Is this something I can let go of? (Ideas, notes, hurts, possessions, people, goals)

Tim brings up a rock solid tool for testing your assumptions with turnarounds and questions by Byron Katie.

Effortless execution and productivity

What does done look like? What’s the minimum viable effort?

Simplification is actually starting from zero and defining the minimum number of steps required, not starting from the complex and trying to distill to the simple

Take the time up front to build a compelling vision of what done is. Once decided, don’t change course on the vision itself. You might change tactics based on feedback to get to done, but done shouldn’t change.

Who has already solved this? What can I borrow from their approach?

What can I build once that will pay dividends for years or decades?

Warren Buffett’s three I’s of hiring: integrity, intelligence, initiative. Only choose to work with people that you would work with for a lifetime.

In the end, Greg says that his billboard would say: “Choose light”

As I continue to reflect on this episode, I will do my best to choose light in the moments throughout the day.


McKeown, Greg, speaker. “The Art of Effortless Results, How to Take the Lighter Path, the Joys of Simplicity, and More (#510).” The Tim Ferriss Show, 23 April 2021, https://tim.blog/2021/04/23/greg-mckeown-effortless/.

Published by benjaminpage87

Digital Advertising Manager. Anything French, Literature, Powerlifting, Cooking, Gaming, Craft Beer.

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