Tim Ferriss says that most aspiring entrepreneurs don’t understand fear and risk.
“This word ‘risk’ gets thrown around a lot, as does ‘fear,’ and neither gets defined very well. So people end up paralyzed,” Ferriss told Entrepreneur. “Certainly businesses fail. People make fatal mistakes, but more often, people don’t try new things or innovate or push themselves because they have this vague definition of risk.”
It’s this unfounded anxiety that spurred the bestselling author of 4-Hour Workweek, 4-Hour Body and Tools of Titans to host a new TV show, Fearless. In the show, which is available on the AT&T Audience Network, Ferriss interviews individuals such as magician David Blaine and Toms founder Blake Mycoskie in front of a live audience. It was inspired by his April 2017 TED talk, “Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals,” which has been viewed more than 2.2 million times.
Entrepreneur spoke with Ferriss about what he wants entrepreneurs to take away from his new show, what qualities make great entrepreneurs, how to sleep less and what has him excited right now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To start out, I figured I’d ask you about your new show, Fearless. What do you hope to accomplish with it?
The show is really a result of a conversation with Vince Vaughn, and it came about because he saw my TED talk about overcoming fear. The two takeaways from the TED talk that I hope to exhibit is number one, that most of the things we’re afraid of we don’t understand and can be made close to risk free. And then second, that you can condition yourself over time and train yourself to fear less.
That is very achievable. Very often, we look at the people on magazine covers, television or in the headlines and we assume that they are superhuman. That they have it all figured out. They never have self-doubt, depression, whatever it might be. And I just want to shatter that illusion, because I find it extremely unhelpful, and it leads other people to devalue themselves or look down upon themselves when they shouldn’t, because everyone is fighting their own demons. Everyone is fighting their own neuroses and self-doubt and that extends to, I would say, pretty much everyone I had on the show. They all have moments of darkness.
It sounds like it can be very relevant to our audience, which are aspiring entrepreneurs. What do you hope people who are on the cusp of starting a business — or maybe they just started their business — get from the show?
I think it’s one part inspiration, by realizing that the anxiety or the fear they feel is normal. And then one part tactical, where they are given tools to help them to relate to fear and risk or perceived risk in a productive way. The main quote from the TED Talk is, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality,” which is a Seneca quote. So there’s a healthy dose of stoic philosophy and stoicism in the TV show.
Almost by definition, an entrepreneur is creating something from nothing. There are lots of unknowns, and I think that the TV show will also help entrepreneurs to take intelligent risks or to identify things that other people view as risky that they can make close to risk free. If you think of risk, for instance, as the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome, then all of a sudden, the scope of what you consider risky is much narrower. There are very few things that fall into that category.
Certainly the toolkit that people get from [the show], as well the TED talk, transfer directly over to entrepreneurship, because that’s my main arena and I work with startup founders. It’s usually something I think about all day long.
The toolkit for good living, the toolkit for becoming an elite athlete, the toolkit for creating a billion-dollar startup, I think is largely the same.
You kind of touched upon this already, but what do you think is the greatest lesson from Seneca that’s most pertinent to entrepreneurs?
That we suffer more in imagination than in reality. There’s a lot more to it, of course, but really, using an exercise like fear setting helps entrepreneurs to separate imaginary dangers from real dangers and catastrophic risks and problems from extremely minor, easy-to-fix things in the same categories. That’s really the critical skill as far as I can tell. If you’re constantly blown off balance by these mental monsters and imaginary problems — which happens to nine of 10 entrepreneurs I meet certainly, they’re afraid of the wrong thing — you’re just not going to make much headway.