Tools of Titans – Making of world-class performers and how you can be one – Branding That Matters

Tools of Titans – Making of world-class performers and how you can be one

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You can’t rely on doing the minimum work and expect to get titanic results.

tools of titans the book

If you have been following The Tim Ferriss Show for sometimes, this book is a repurposed compilation from his in-depth podcast interviews of more than 200 world-class performers, ranging from super celebs like Jamie Foxx and Arnold Schwarzenegger to professional athletes and icons of powerlifting, gymnastics, surfing and beyond, to legendary Special Operations commanders and black-market biochemists.

It is a result of his epic work for the last two years.

Being in the field of small business branding, marketing and coaching over past four years, I’ve came across many people who are hungry for the “how” but aren’t prepared and hence not willing to do what it takes to get there.

They expect the breakthrough to come through some secret techniques or formulas that can deliver the miracles.

Let’s take writing a book as an example.

There are many online teachers out there who will show you the various formulas and tactics to get your book out and be seen in the Amazon "forest." They will show you how to create a successful book marketing campaign that positioned you as a thought leader and hence as a premium brand.

We are so sold by all these tactics, deluding ourselves into creating easy or quick wins with all these methods that we do not dedicate ourselves to the live, breathe, eat and sleep with a topic, a problem to solve or an idea that can impact many people.

With about 750,000 to 800,000 eBooks on the Amazon Kindle and approximately 1.8 million print books titles, just writing another book doesn’t make any difference. If you just think of writing a book to gain quick success, that's being lazy.

For Tim Ferriss, as mentioned in his latest book and from what I interpreted, Tools of Titan is not just another book to be put out there for a show, but a body of work and a legacy which he wanted to bring into the world. He is clear and committed to creating something that people could draw resources from within minutes and serve as a lifelong blueprint for optimal performances.

To perform at such world-class level, a common theme I noticed among all these giants in their own rights is this practice of delayed gratification.

A true mark of delayed gratification is someone who derives meaning and joy through positive impact more than self-interest.

Even though many of us seem to know about delayed gratification, adopting it and sustaining it in reality takes serious habits re-conditioning and paradigm shifts at some level.

A great metaphor that demonstrated delayed gratification was highlighted by Tim Ferriss in this book through a story of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

I shall leave you to uncover the full story yourself from his book. Essentially, when Siddhartha was challenged by this question: “If you are without possessions, how can you give?"

His answers for what he can contribute and add value?

“I can think, I can wait, I can fast."

Applying this wisdom in a practical approach, it means (quoting from the book):

“I can think” - Having good rules for decision-making, and having good questions you can ask yourself and others.

“I can wait" - Being able to plan long-term, play the long game, and not misallocate your resources.

“I can fast" - Being able to withstand difficulties and disaster. Training yourself to be uncommonly resilient and have a high pain tolerance.

I find this a very powerful way to value-add as a coach, trainer, speaker, author or mentor.

Another common pattern among these titans is they are doing EPIC work. Start doing the work that matters, inspire people, change lives and blow people away with your superb value.

Coming to this point, there is one misconception I would like to address here.

Tim Ferriss’s work and strategies is neither on being haphazardly lazy nor it is about dabbling in the minimum methods and expecting a breakthrough to happen.

That said, 10x results don’t always require 10x efforts.

The compilation from the Tools of Titan is about doing the small things consistently on a daily basis in a wise manner to get big results.

And yes, it does requires one to put in efforts on a consistent basis in areas that matter most - through our daily rituals and routines. Only by re-evaluating our current beliefs and shattering our subpar definition of reality, will we then be able to implement some of the routines and practices that challenges our mediocrity. That’s where you will grow and sustain in the long game.

It all begins with levelling up one’s personal power and self-mastery. This comes from constant “work-in-progress” rather than purchasing some ultimate secret formula to install. It is how we live on a daily basis that enable us to define depth of character and having a robust mastery of nuances that create outstanding performances.

The contrast I usually joked about between a mediocre person versus a top performer is this:

A mediocre guy can’t help but to continue posting random stuff and rants on his Facebook account to get attention in order to favour his ego.

A top performer will save his energy from those knee-jerk reactive social media posts (delayed gratification in practice) and curate his attention into a theme or a subject matter that will bring about maximum impact to a greater audience, such as a talk, a program, an article, a podcast series or an event.

5 principles to build a solid foundation as a world-class performer for life

This book is a huge buffet of tools, resources, insights and tactics employed by world-class performers.

Everything included in this book has been vetted, explored and applied in Tim Ferriss’s life, from high-stakes negotiation to large business dealings. He is only interested in things that can be replicated and tested in the real world.

With such a wide variety of options available and a couple of controversial ones as well, it can be quite overwhelming and intimidating to some.

Like Tim Ferriss mentioned in the section on “how to get the best out of it,” curate what’s useful for you and customize your own blueprint from the options.

And because we are all unique individuals with some shared commonalities, a large part of knowing what works for you comes from experimenting those routines, principles and resources. Yes, results may vary.

One point worth noting here.

As you go about curating your own menu from the spread depending on the lens and theme you used, you will naturally filter and select what resonates with you. Which means, you will be influenced by selection bias.

Then comes the question: Are you selecting based on what’s comfortable and soothing to your liking or are you selecting those lessons because you know they will stretch your capacity and help you grow or expand?

In Tim Ferriss’s words, “If you understand principles, you can create tactics. If you are dependent on perishable tactics, you are always at a disadvantage.”

Hence, through this book, I found the following 5 principles instrumental in building a solid foundation as a world-class performer for life, for which the rest of the strategies as given in this book can be built upon. They are explained through the acronym of M.A.G.I.C (Metacognition. Association. Grounding. Innovation. Compassion.)


Metacognition - Cultivating a present state awareness that is non-reactive and yet ready to respond

meditation mindfulness

From all the world-class performers Tim Ferriss interviewed, he found that more than 80% of them have something in common. They have some form of meditation or mindfulness practice in their routines.

An advantage I experienced from cultivating this present state awareness is this benefit of responding rather than reacting.

By noticing the space or silence between our inner experiences, we then have the choice awareness to respond than to react by our impulse.

It is this difference that separates a leader of choice from a victim of reactions.

This practice enables me to develop a robust frame of consciousness to make high level decisions (metacognition) especially when all the odds are stacked against me.

As much as we wanted to be very focus and dedicated in whatever we want to pursue, we can’t put ourselves forever in this ‘stress and overdrive’ state. We need to create space in between to reset, rejuvenate our senses and find our centre which we orientate and navigate from. And meditation fulfils exactly that.

While there are many methods of meditation out there, essentially it comes down to the act of “just observing."

There are two aspects of this practice I often adopt.


Make a note of observing whatever that comes and goes. When you notice a sensation, where does it resides in your body? Is it moving or still? What is the weight like? Is it hot or cold? Then make a note: “I feel you.”

When you see an image in your mind, what colours, shape and size do you notice? Is it a still image or like a movie? Is it near or far? Then make a note in your mind: “I see you."

When you hear a sound, a music or a noise, what is the volume like? What is the pitch and tone you hear? Is there an echo to it? Is it clear or muffled? Then make a mental note: “I hear you."

When you find yourself getting suck into your story inside your head, observe what feelings and emotions are driving the story? Notice what is the underlying intention and need that the story is trying to fulfill.

As you start examining your inner experiences using the above lens, the object of your inner experience (whether it is an image, a sound or a feeling) will start to shift and fade away.

That’s where the second part comes in...


This is a practice taught by Chade-Meng Tan, a Google pioneer, award-winning engineer and best-selling author in the book Tools of Titans - just note gone.

I found this helpful in understanding the impermanence of everything and the transitions of life.

Everything passes, be it positive or negative experiences.

This practice essentially trains our mind to notice when an experience is fading and eventually gone.

For example, at the end of a breath, notice that the breath is over. Gone.

As the sound fades away, notice when it is over. Gone.

When a thought arises, watch when the thought ends. Gone.

At the end of any emotions or feelings, notice it is over. Gone.

When you start getting into the story and usual narratives, notice when it comes to an end. Gone.

As your practice grew, you will begin to notice some patterns about yourself. You might notice there are certain sensory experiences you keep referring yourself to that keep those narratives playing back in your life - either as a downward spiral or a nurturing loop for growth.

Your capacity of metacognition can be expanded further. When you meditate, become the witness and then enquire whether the witness is being witnessed, take the position of that and then see if that is being witnessed, this will further expand your awareness. Making the biggest space for awareness to shine and create.

Our mind is just like the sky.

There will be clouds forming, coming and changing constantly. They are like our thoughts, our feelings, our sensations and the story.

And the practice of meditation is simply observing both the sky and the formation of the clouds without clinging tightly to any and yet understanding that everything is inclusive. You will then realized how myopic and shallow we have been all these while!

To develop your repertoire in this area, Tim Ferriss also listed a range of meditation options and apps in this book like Headspace or Calm to assist his readers.


Association - Prime yourself well because it affects everything else

peak performance association

Have you had the experience where you tried so hard writing an important email for almost half a day and nothing great came out? Then, after you gone for a walk, relax yourself and take a sip of your favourite coffee, ideas just flow.

Whenever you are stuck and not progressing as much as you would like to, it has little to do with your talent, skills or intelligence but more to do with the state you are in.

When you are in an unproductive or unhealthy state of emotion and body, even though you are well-prepared prior to a performance, you will find it tough to pull off at your best when required.

When you are in a high level of peak performing state, not only things flow well, you might even surprised yourself by exceeding the expectations!

Priming your state, as what Tony Robbins, world’s most well-known performance coach, taught in his program and practiced by Tim Ferriss (which he shared in the book as well), allows you to break the wall of resistance inside of you and to access your best resources within you.

When you are in the flow state, what seems to be a challenge will be perceived as an advantage or an opportunity instead of as a gloomy fate. As what Tony Robbins said, it is not the lack of resources, but our lack of resourcefulness that stops us. And the state we are in determines our resourcefulness.

This is what I implemented for myself on an ongoing basis, incorporating some of the new resources and insights from these titans.

  • I begin this routine with cold shower to reset and rejuvenate my senses.
  • A 10 mins morning walk in nature. After the walk, I did 3 sets of 30 reps of breathing exercise using Wim “The Iceman” Hof’s method *** (refer to the Tools of Titans for a layout of his practice). Other workouts and exercises can be continued after this or be integrated with the breathing exercise. You can use this exercise to change your physiology and alter your state of experience during the day whenever you need it. It is easier to shift your frame of physiology to induce a shift of your psychological state than to purely rely on mental willpower and thinking to change it.
  • Leveraging on the intense experience and peak physiological state, I will proceed to create an association by expand my awareness to the beauty, grace and abundance of the environment, the people involved and extending gratitude and loving kindness to the ecosystem of life. This helps to prime and set the baseline for the rest of my day. Depending on the micro qualities I choose to associate the state with, I might use other modes of trigger or anchor. It can be a visual symbol, an image, a song, a phrase or a kinesthetic tap or gesture.

*** (As with any exercises, safety needs to be taken into consideration as there is a possibility of fainting during the breathing exercise. Do not practice this in near water environment. Shallow-water blackouts can be fatal. Whenever in doubt, consult a medical doctor.)

Association happens all the time. However, most people are setting themselves up for failure by reinforcing the common triggers of bad experiences.

For example, when you’re faced with a bad day and you start taking to Facebook to rant about it. While it seems normal as other people are doing it, what it does is you are reinforcing the unpleasant experience with Facebook as the trigger. Over time, whenever you sign in to Facebook, it fires up that unsupportive state behind the bad experience and your user interaction starts to get tinted with that state, often unconsciously. Now multiple that with the amount of time and frequency you spent on Facebook and notice how your interactions affect everyone else!

Therefore, be selective in what you communicate daily, whether it is offline or online. Be mindful on what kinds of media you exposed yourself to. Whatever you like, post, comment, share and read sends out a message and strengthen certain associations over repeated periods of time.

The difference between someone who suffers from association versus those who gain from it lies in having an intentional design.

By intentionally priming yourself, you are enhancing the quality of your experience. It helps you set a baseline of how you want to experience in almost every aspects of your being and doing.

The other benefit I gained through such practices is that it enables me to stretch beyond my comfort zones. The problem why people keep falling back into that lousy or incoherent level of performance is because their state become stale after a while. And they get so comfortable with it till it ruins their performance without realising it.

These are some of the work I do to help my clients to deepen and widen their access to their flow state. It is like preparing a rich soil such that whatever seeds you planted will grow and flourish.

You may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your attitude and your response. You can choose how deep, intense and wide you want to experience your life, independent of the external conditions or what happens to you.

And priming yourself is something you can definitely control and do it well.

Essentially, all our life's experiences comes from the meaning we give to events, people, information and things because the same things are experienced differently by each individuals.

Very often, those definition we associate ourselves with are adopted out of fear, confusion and pressure rather than choice, clarity and wisdom.

Start examining those rules and association you live by all these years, including the ones from authorities and religion.

Who says a funeral need to be performed sorrowfully? Who says retrenchment at 50 is a dead end?

You can always give new meaning and definition instead of following what has been given by the rest of the people.

Once you decided upon the set of attributes to live by, own them fully yet navigate them flexibly.

And watch yourself lead from a space of growth than from a position of immobility or stuckness.


Grounding - The power of reality check

reality checks

Even with all these tools, resources and strategies, nothing will progress without reality check.

Reality check is a form of feedback for ourselves on whether we are on-track or we have digress from the plan.

This requires us to be honest with whatever that happens.

Only then, we are able to put things into perspective with our struggles, our pains, our success, our contribution, our passion, our darkest moments and our happiness.

What is common among all the icons, titans and world-class performers is that they are no different from us as humans. Everyone has their own struggles, walking flaws and inner battles that we know nothing about. By checking themselves with the reality, not only can they realistically measure their progress, they begin to call upon their distinct value and strength to develop strategies and habits around their flaws.

By grounding yourself with reality checks, you stop overestimating the world and underestimating yourself and start navigating yourself based on “what is.”

Here are some of the “checkpoints” I used to navigate and honestly assess myself from time to time:

  • Have I done my best, tapping into who I am and calling upon my greatest gifts into play? If I haven’t, what is holding me back and what can I do to exercise my untapped zone?
  • Am I putting myself in front of the right people? If not, where is my tribe I can best serve?
  • What are the metrics I am using to measure or track my growth? How are those metrics working against or serving me? What can I do, that is within my control, to change it or to improve myself?

It is through evaluating myself honestly using some of the above lens, I realized that the typical “carrot and stick method” doesn’t work very well. This incentivization and punishment way of looking at what I set to accomplish makes me vulnerable to all sorts of other distractions.

For example, even if I’ll get to eat my favourite ice cream after completing this task, my mind will start playing tricks on me and invite other sorts of better and more exciting options (such as traveling out of the country to feast on more mouth-watering food).

Likewise, even by knowing the consequences of not finishing up a particular work, your ego has a way to give excuses to open up a backdoor for escape: “it may not be as bad as it seems…”

The paradox I find is; if you have to constantly rely on such carrot and stick approach in most of the things you do, are those things you are busy with really matter? If it is not a “HELL, Yes!” (a mantra from Derek Sivers, the founding man behind CD Baby), why waste your time continuing them?

A middle ground I used is to align myself with a greater purpose for embarking or doing something. What difference would this piece of work make for myself and others?

Then I will rally whatever resources that are necessary to make it happen.

No immediate reward for completing it and even if the original plan has been changed, it is not the point anymore.

The emphasis is in the process of full engagement, knowing that I’m exercising my highest value, and for living who I am every single moment.

Even if it is just doing the small things, I am enriched and nourished because I know they matter.

This puts me in a state of fulfilment that is a sustainable form of motivation.


Innovation - Be weird and embrace the uncommon

innovate weird self

I find many of these “educational” offerings trying to educate on innovation an irony.

You don’t educate someone in “innovation”, you educate them with a set of tools, expectations, perceptions and beliefs. The combination of these factors enables innovation to occur.

There is a lot of confusion about innovation by trying to be different without much relevant value.

Because it doesn’t change the game of the existing system, culture and expectations of mediocrity.

The irony here is, we are attempting to use innovative tools but playing it safe not to disrupt the paralysing norm by adopting the same level of thinking.

Chris Sacca (one of the titans interviewed), an early-stage investor in dozens of companies including Twitter, Uber, Instagram and Kickstarter sums up well:

“Be your unapologetically weird self.”

“Weirdness is why we adore friends...weirdness is what bonds us as colleagues. Weirdness is what sets us apart, gets us hired…”

That’s where innovation is born!

A question I found powerfully useful for me from Derek Sivers is: What’s something you believe that other people think is crazy?

We are usually held back by our fears for expressing ourselves fully. We dare not step fully into ourselves. We are afraid to show ourselves fully, worried that we may be feeling naked or concern of being perceived as a fraud (imposter syndrome).

For me, embracing the uncommon gets me to look at existing structures and system to uncover the paradox, the gaps or the elephant in the room and to develop counterintuitive resources around them.

To innovate is to be creative in making yourself obsolete and grow into a new one. This requires us to be willing to be wrong about what is currently right because what brought us here won't get us there. This can be explored by asking ourselves “what else and what if…?

By doing so, it stretches my vocabulary of nuances to develop robust perspectives - the foundation of mastery and hence growth.

There are a set of framework and strategies in this episode of Tim Ferriss show   "How to 10X Your Results, One Tiny Tweak at a Time" that would help out-frame your existing level of performance to realise 10x results.

If you are not denting the universe in some ways, you’ll find yourself not rising to the occasion and everything else will start to outgrow you.

There are other frameworks I had compiled on innovation which you might like to check out as well. Click here to access.


Compassion - Love beyond self


Tony Robbins said it so well in Tim Ferriss’s book that the reason why we suffer is because we are focusing too much on ourselves.

Me, Me, Me = suffering

This survival instinct passed down through million of years is so hardwired in us that most people don’t even notice how it is sabotaging themselves.

Think of the last time you were upset about something or with someone…

Recall that scenario and when you start tracing down to the reason why you are upset, it has got to do with the “ME” or “I.”

How is this obsession of our ego showing up in business and in our career?


From defending ourselves when we are challenged by others, doing things our own way, constantly thinking about ourselves, doubting ourselves and others to being held back by our fears to move forward and take on a bigger role, client or project.

When we find ourselves stuck for having indulged too much on ourselves, Chade Meng Tan also taught a counterintuitive practice to shift the game from “what’s in it for me?” to “what’s in it for us?

I encourage you to read the section on “Loving Kindness and the happiest day in 7 years” under Chade Meng Tan for the informal and formal version of this practice.

Having this as one of my daily practice, essentially, I first put myself into the positive state and emotions I would like to be in. Then I start extending it out to include others(including myself), starting from people I know.

As the practice grew, you can extend it to strangers. Sometimes, when I came across people on the street having a quarrel or seemed like he or she is having a bad day, I will silently do this practice and send loving kindness or positive intentions to them.

Now, I even extend it to include people I dislike or don’t work well with!

A good measurement of progress for me is that I discover myself slowing down my reactiveness to people and situation, allowing me time and space to respond with care. It also enable me to connect deeply with others. I find more people coming to me to confide in matters that were very personal and vulnerable to them.

In business setting, my communication becomes more influential because I’m more in tune with what makes someone tick. It motivates me to go out there and talk to people instead of just having all the fantasy up in my head about what the other person might possibly experience. From there, I am able to understand what their values, worldviews, passion, struggles, motivations and fears are and when I interact with them the next time, it seems like I’m reading their psyche!

Some of you might get the impression that this practice is a self-sacrificial act of nobility.

But it isn’t.

In fact, caring for self is just as important to maintain a healthy balance between self and serving others because you can’t pour from an empty cup.

That is compassion in action, understanding that everything is interconnected and embracing the truth that we all are fundamentally different and yet there is a common space among us to share and connect.

If you are looking to raise the bar for your performance in 2017, I highly recommend you getting this book and use it in conjunction with Tim Ferriss’s podcast show and blog as your developmental toolkit.

World-class performance does not come from miraculous feats that happened occasionally, but from those small acts done consistently every day.  

So start showing up and do the work that matters.

What are the lessons from the Tools of Titans which are most essential for you?

Please share your developments in the comments below.

Alfred Chung

A holistic communicator and purpose coach who cares about the bigger picture that connects the dots towards sustainable growth, healing and transformation. His purpose and intention behind whatever he does is to translate life’s wisdom into practical applications which can be adopted by others.

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