I talk with Ramit Sethi about the newly updated version of his book I Will Teach You To Be Rich, including what most personal finance advice gets wrong, and how to spend more money on the things you really love.
Listen as you drive through most neighborhoods in America these days and you might notice something missing: the shrieks and laughter of kids playing outside.
When my guest today had kids, he decided he wasn't going to let them grow up in another quiet, morgue-like neighborhood. Instead, he was going to figure out why kids weren't playing outside anymore, and how to fix the problem. His name is Mike Lanza, and in his book Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play, he shares how he did just that. At the start of our conversation, Mike explains how he became an advocate for kids playing outside by themselves with minimal adult supervision. He shares his theories on why outdoor play has decreased, and why simply limiting screen time and participation in organized extracurriculars doesn't solve the problem. Mike then explains why you need a critical mass of kids to be playing outside before outdoor play becomes a norm, and what parents can do to create this critical mass by changing the environment in their yard and the social dynamics in their neighborhood.
Get the show notes at aom.is/playborhood.
Do you ever feel like you're spinning your existential wheels in life? That outwardly, you seem to be doing ok, but inwardly, you feel kind of empty?
My guest today would say that you've got to move on from trekking up life's first mountain, to begin a journey up its second. His name is David Brooks and he’s the author of The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. In that book, David makes the case that there are two mountains that we climb in life: The first is about the self -- getting a college degree, starting a career, buying a home, and making your mark on the world. But at some point, that mountain starts to feel unfulfilling. That’s when we discover there’s a second mountain to ascend -- a path of selflessness, relationships, and greater meaning.
Today on the show, David tells us what he got wrong in his previous book, The Road to Character, and how The Second Mountain expands the vision of the good life. We then discuss why the first mountain of life gets more attention in the West and how the hyper individualism it encourages has led to an increase in loneliness, anxiety, and existential angst. David then walks us through how we shift courses from the first mountain of achievement to the second mountain of meaning by making commitments to things outside of ourselves. We then discuss the four commitments he thinks bring us real meaning and significance, and how we can seek and find them.
Get the show notes at aom.is/secondmountain.
If you’ve ever been at an event with a prominent person like a politician, celebrity, or business executive, you’ve likely noticed the dudes wearing sunglasses and sporting an earpiece, trying to look as unassuming as possible while vigilantly keeping an eye out for their client, or “principal.”
These guys are part of a personal security detail, and their job is to protect VIPs from harassment and harm.
Most of us will likely never be able to afford our own bodyguard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the same mindset and skills these professionals use to protect their high-powered clients, to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Today on the show, I talk to former executive bodyguard Nick Hughes about his book How to Be Your Own Bodyguard. We begin our conversation discussing Nick’s stint in the French Foreign Legion and how that transitioned to his work in executive protection. We then discuss how a bodyguard’s primary focus is to prevent violence or altercations from occurring in the first place and the tactics that can accomplish that goal. Nick walks us through how criminals pick out their victims, and how to avoid being targeted. We then discuss how to verbally defuse a situation before it turns to blows and the legal ramifications of self-defense. We end our conversation with tactics you can use to stay safe, whether you're vacationing abroad or driving the streets of your hometown.
Get the show notes at aom.is/bodyguard.
When it comes to investing, your brain can be your best friend or your worst enemy. My guest today explains how, and what you can do to ensure your brain is a staunch ally in your quest for financial security. His name is Daniel Crosby, he’s a psychologist, behavioral finance expert, and the author of The Behavioral Investor. We begin our conversation discussing the surprising ways sociology and physiology influence our financial decisions. We then delve into the psychological factors that cause us to make bad investing decisions, including ego, conservatism, attention, and emotion. Daniel then walks us through ways you can mitigate those factors in your financial choices. We end our discussion outlining what an investing framework looks like based on principles of behavioral science.
While the principles discussed in this show relate to making sound choices in the area of financial investing, they're really relevant to making good decisions of every kind.
Get the show notes at aom.is/behavioralinvestor.
In the modern age, shame is often seen as an unmitigated bad. According to this popular view, all shame is negative and toxic and steps should be taken to avoid and rid oneself of it. My guest today, however, makes the contrarian case that some shame is actually necessary to develop a true sense of self.
His name is Joseph Burgo, he’s a clinical psychologist and the author of the book Shame: Free Yourself, Find Joy, and Build True Self-Esteem. Today on the show Joseph and I discuss what exactly shame is, what it feels like, and the difference between toxic shame and productive shame. Joseph then walks us through the sources of shame and how childhood shame can mark us for life. We then discuss tactics we use to mask or avoid feelings of shame, how these masking behaviors can sometimes get in the way of us making progress in our lives, and more productive ways to engage with shame. Joseph then digs into the culture of online shaming and the dangers we face as a society when we shame men by pathologizing healthy masculine attributes like assertiveness, risk taking, and competitiveness.
Get the show notes at aom.is/shame.
The human body is capable of doing a wide variety of movements, in a variety of environments. But my guest today argues that most modern people only do a few movements each day, commonly find themselves stuck in sterile surroundings, and that these confinements are sapping our physical and psychological health.
His name is Erwan Le Corre and he’s the founder of the MovNat physical fitness system and the author of the book The Practice of Natural Movement: Reclaim Power, Health, and Freedom. Today on the show Erwan explains what natural movement is, and our amazing human potential for walking, running, balancing, jumping, crawling, climbing, swimming, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, and self-defense. We then discuss the cultural forces that have disconnected us and our children from our ability to perform these natural movements, and have turned us into "zoo humans." Erwan and I then dig into the benefits of engaging with natural movements, from improved mental and physical health to a greater sense of freedom. We end our conversation with Erwan's actionable advice on how you can easily incorporate more natural movement into your daily life.
Get the show notes at aom.is/naturalmovement.
Many people today are feeling stressed or overwhelmed by life. The typical approach to treating these issues is to learn how to manage one's symptoms through things like mindfulness or meditation. My guest today argues that mere management is insufficient. Instead, we need to tackle the root of what’s causing us to feel anxious, stuck, and generally lost—a decreasing sense of agency.
His name is Dr. Paul Napper and he’s a psychologist and the co-author of the book The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms. Today on the show, Paul makes the case that the reason more and more people feel like they're floundering, is that they don't have a strong sense of personal agency. Paul explains what he means by agency, and why learning how to get better at thinking, acting, and making choices for yourself can be the real key to feeling less stuck in life. Paul and I then discuss the seven overarching principles of increasing your agency, as well tactics to put them into practice.
Get the show notes at aom.is/agency.
When it comes to your personal presentation, there’s one aspect that often gets overlooked: your voice.
Your voice is a big part of what makes you, you, and what makes you likable and influential. Yet you probably don't think too much about it.
Not to mention, my guest today argues, you’re likely not even using your true voice thanks to bad habits you’ve picked up throughout your life.
His name is Roger Love, he’s a voice coach who's worked with some of the world's most famous singers and speakers, and the author of Set Your Voice Free. Today on the show, Roger explains why having a clear, confident, pleasant speaking voice is important for success in your career and your life, the the biggest ways people sabotage their voice, including voice fry, uptalk, and being nasally, and how these issues can be addressed and eliminated. Roger also shares how to speak in a more masculine way, and why you're probably not speaking loudly enough.
Get the show notes at aom.is/voice.
For thousands of years, men's lives were structured by rituals -- rituals that helped them mark significant events, make sense of the world, and move from one phase of life to the next.
In our modern age, our lives are largely devoid of rituals, and my guest today says we're worse off for it. His name is William Ayot, and he’s a poet, men’s group facilitator, ritual leader, and the author of Re-Enchanting the Forest: Meaningful Ritual in a Secular World. We begin our conversation discussing William’s introduction to the power of ritual, why rituals have declined in Western culture, and what makes a ritual, a ritual. We then discuss the history of the mythopoetic men’s movement kickstarted by Robert Bly and his book Iron John. William then unpacks why it's important for men to undergo a rite of passage, why it's never too late to participate in one, and how men can have multiple rites of passage over their lifetime. We discuss how to give your son a rite of passage as well. William also provides some ideas for daily rituals you can incorporate in your life to provide more meaning and enchantment to existence. We end our conversation with William’s advice on how to get started with a men’s group.
Get the show notes at aom.is/ritual.
The marathon race is one of sport's most physically demanding events. To not just complete a marathon to but to compete in the race at its highest levels takes an incredible amount of dedication to training, recovery, diet, and mindset.
My guest today gives us a firsthand look at what that kind of dedication and strategy look like. His name is Jared Ward, and he placed 6th in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 8th in this year's Boston Marathon. But Jared is more than just a runner -- he's also a coach, a statistics professor at BYU, a husband, and a father of four.
Today I talk to Jared about he balances all those aspects of his life, even as he trains for the 2020 Olympics, and about exactly how he eats, recovers, and programs his workouts. We also discuss how he deals with nerves before big races and stays in a positive mindset while he runs them. We end our conversation with Jared's advice for amateur runners.
Get the show notes at aom.is/olympicmarathon.
We live in a world where it’s possible to work ourselves 24/7. Even when you’re away from the office, work still follows you on your smartphone. Being constantly connected can make us feel like we’re getting a lot done, but my guest today makes the case that we’d all be better off if we practiced the ancient tradition of the Sabbath. His name Aaron Edelheit and he’s the author of the book The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle.
We begin our show discussing the burnout Aaron experienced as an entrepreneur working non-stop, how he rediscovered the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, and how it changed his life and even helped him sell his business for over 200 million dollars. Along the way, we explore America’s workaholism and how it’s making us miserable and less productive, and costing businesses money. Aaron then digs into how you can start implementing a Sabbath practice regardless of your beliefs, and the benefits that accrue to your life, your health, your creativity, and even your bottom line when you take a weekly reset.
Get the show notes at aom.is/hardbreak.
Talking to new people can lead to making new connections and learning interesting things, and simply makes both you and the person you talk with happier. Yet many of us have a very difficult time striking up a conversation with strangers. Why is this?
My guest today has done studies to find out. Her name is Gillian Sandstrom and she's a professor of social psychology at the University of Essex. Gillian's research has explored both why people have such a hard time talking to strangers, and why it's beneficial to do so. Today we dig into common barriers to talking to new people, including the "liking gap," where we believe people find us less interesting than they do. We then talk discuss the benefits of talking to strangers (which go for both introverts and extroverts), and Gillian's best tips for getting better at it.
Get the show notes at aom.is/talktostrangers.
As a boy, Allen J. Lynch was a severely bullied and aimless kid growing up in the industrial neighborhoods of Chicago's South Side. He went on to serve in the Army, receive the Medal of Honor for the valor he displayed when he rushed to save three fallen comrades during a deadly firefight in Vietnam, and dedicate his life to helping his fellow veterans.
Today I talk to Allen about his story, which he shares in his recently published memoir: Zero to Hero: From Bullied Kid to Warrior. We begin our conversation discussing his childhood, when the bullying started, and how it affected his youth. Allen then shares the aimlessness he had as a high school graduate and how he carried it with him after he signed up for the Army, and at first struggled to adapt to military life. We then discuss how Allen ended up in Vietnam, the best friend he lost there, and the harrowing scenario that earned him a Medal of Honor citation. Allen then shares how receiving the Medal of Honor put him on a path of service in helping fellow veterans heal from the wounds of war. We end our conversation with a poignant discussion of Allen’s own battle with PTSD and how his motto of “others not self” has helped him deal with it.
Get the show notes at aom.is/zerotohero.
When you invite people over for a dinner party, you likely think of some delightful conversation topics to bring up to keep your guests engaged. My guest today argues that one of those topics should be death.
His name is Michael Hebb and he’s the founder of Death Over Dinner, an organization that encourages folks to have dinner parties to talk about death -- from the philosophical aspects to practical matters like wills and funeral planning.
Today on the show we discuss why you should invite friends and family to your house to talk death over a plate of lasagna. We begin our conversation discussing the downsides of not talking about death and how ill-prepared Americans are for death both emotionally and financially. Michael then shares the best ways to invite people to a death over dinner party. We then dig into questions you can use to get people talking about death in terms of both the practical and the philosophical.
True story: after I recorded this episode, I had dinner with some friends and we discussed death and estate planning over pizza. It was a big success.
Get the show notes at aom.is/deathoverdinner.
The world of Norse mythology and legend is a thoroughly fascinating one, and my guest has captured it in all its compelling mystery in his book which retells those stories, called Tales of Valhalla. His name is Martyn Whittock and today he takes us on a gripping tour of Norse culture and myth.
We begin the show discussing who the Norse people were, and the misconceptions people commonly have about them, including associating them exclusively with Vikings. We also talk about misconceptions about the Vikings themselves, and what it really meant to be a Viking. We then get into why it's hard to completely recapture Norse myths and rituals as they were originally known. Martyn then unfolds the Norse creation story, offers interesting snapshots of the major Norse gods, including Odin, Thor, and Loki, and explains what Ragnarok was all about. We end our conversation discussing Norse sagas, and how Norse culture continues to influence our modern culture today.
Get the show notes at aom.is/norsemyths.
On El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, there was a wall that had never been climbed, and that some said would never be climbed. It’s called the Dawn Wall.
But in 2015, Tommy Caldwell along with Kevin Jorgeson became the first to free climb it. That journey was then made into an award-winning film called Dawn Wall.
Today I speak to Tommy about what led up to that historic climb, starting from how he got involved in rock climbing in his childhood. We begin our conversation discussing the different types of rock climbing and why people often misinterpret what "free climbing" means. We then dig into Tommy’s climbing career, including his early success in sport climbing and the harrowing experience of being held hostage by and escaping from rebels in Kyrgyzstan. We then discuss how Tommy responded to losing a finger and getting divorced, and why he decided to climb the Dawn Wall. We end our conversation discussing the years-long process of preparing for the climb and the virtue of what Tommy calls “elective suffering.”
There are a lot of little, potent lessons here in how to remain persistent and driven in the face of setbacks that apply beyond climbing to every aspect of life.
Get the show notes at aom.is/dawnwall.
According to recent statistics, the number of Americans dealing with anxiety disorders is over 40 million and that number is increasing. My guest today is one of those Americans who's suffered from bouts of anxiety all of his life. He’s also a successful journalist. So he decided to use his journalistic chops to explore the history of anxiety and how we treat it in the hopes he could gain more insight about the mental disorder that has plagued him since his youth.
His name is Scott Stossel. He’s an editor at The Atlantic and the author of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. We begin our conversation discussing Scott’s experience with anxiety that began as a child, what anxiety feels like, and how he’s treated it throughout his life. We then dig into the history of anxiety, looking at how it's been viewed differently through time, and at what point psychologists classified it as a mental disorder. Scott then walks us through the different theories about what causes anxiety and what the research says about the best ways to treat it. We end our conversation discussing the state of Scott’s anxiety today and whether he thinks he’ll ever be cured.
Get the show notes at aom.is/ageofanxiety.
Plato’s Republic is a seminal treatise in Western political philosophy and thought. It hits on ideas that we’re still grappling with in our own time, including the nature of justice and what the ideal political system looks like. But my guest today argues that The Republic also has a lot to say about manliness, character development, and education in our current climate of safe spaces and trigger warnings.
His name is Jacob Howland. He’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Tulsa and the author of the recent book Glaucon’s Fate: History, Myth, and Character in Plato’s Republic. We begin our conversation with an outline of Plato’s Republic and how it combines literature and philosophy. Jacob then makes the case that in The Republic, Socrates was attempting to save the soul of Plato’s politically ambitious brother, Glaucon, and why he thinks Socrates failed. Along the way we discuss what Socrates’ attempt to save Glaucon can teach us about andreia or manliness and what it means to seek the Good in life. We end our conversation discussing the way The Republic teaches us of the need to possess not only physical courage, but the courage to think for oneself and stand up for one's beliefs -- a courage that is tested in a time like our own, where it can feel difficult to ask hard questions and wrestle with thorny issues.
Get the show notes at aom.is/republic.
When you ask people about their schedules, they'll typically tell you they're very busy, and don't have enough time for sleep or for leisure activities. Yet when they're actually asked to track their time, it turns out that they work less and sleep more than they realize.
My guest today studied and dug into this disparity. Her name is Laura Vanderkam and she's the author of several books on the personal use of time, including the focus of our discussion: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
Today on the show, Laura and I discuss why there's a gap between how busy people think they are vs. how busy they actually are. We then unpack what the people who don't feel oppressed by the phantom of busyness do differently than those who do, why time goes by faster when you're older than it did when you were young, and how you can still slow down time as an adult. We talk about how what you really want are more memories, not more time, and how to find more adventure in your ordinary life. We end our conversation discussing how tracking your time can create a more memorable life, why you need to create open spaces in your schedule, and the one tactic you can begin doing this week to start making more of your time.
Get the show notes at aom.is/offtheclock.
Recently, I participated in the AoM podcast's first live audience interview. It took place at Magic City Books here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and joining me for the interview was two-time past guest Adam Makos. Makos, the author of A Higher Call and Devotion, was here in T-Town to discuss his most recent book, Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II.
Spearhead follows the story of Clarence Smoyer -- a quiet kid from Pennsylvania coal country who became one of the greatest tank gunners in World War II history -- and how his life crossed paths with an enemy tanker, Gustav Schaefer, during the Battle of Cologne. Adam shares how he became interested in WWII history as a kid and how he found Clarence's story. He then gives us an engaging rundown of tank warfare in WWII, and walks us through Clarence’s hero’s journey and the epic battles he faced with calm commitment and a love for his team of tankers. We end our conversation discussing what happened when Clarence and Gustav recently met up as old men, and the lessons Adam thinks members of the social media age can take from the veterans of the Big One.
Get the show notes at aom.is/spearhead.
There are over a hundred million books in existence. And the average person only has 8 decades in which to read them. So which books should you choose to read over others before you croak?
It's a question that's launched scores of lists and many an argument, and my guest today has fired his own missive in the debate.
His name is James Mustich, he’s been in the book business for over 30 years as a book seller, reviewer, and editor, and he's created the ultimate book list in his book 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. Today on the show, James explains his guiding philosophy on the books he decided to include in his list, and how he designed the book to have the feel of browsing through an ideal bookshop. James then makes the case for why book lists are helpful, but should never be seen as strictly prescriptive. We then dig into the surprising genres of books that James includes in his list, including science fiction, detective novels, and children’s books, and one or two of his very top recommendations in each category. At the end of our conversation, James makes a list just for the AoM audience of books every man should read before he dies.
Get the show notes, including Jim's list of books for men, at aom.is/1000books.
Matthew Schrier was on his way home from Syria after spending months photographing the war going on there, when, just 45 minutes from the safety of the Turkish border, he was taken prisoner by the Al-Nusra Front — a branch of Al-Qaeda in Syria.
For the next seven months he was starved and tortured in six different prison camps. Yet he survived, becoming the first Westerner to escape Al-Qaeda. Today he teaches the military about what he learned through his experience.
Today on the show, I talk to Matt about his book, The Dawn Prayer, which details what he learned about how to survive a Syrian prison, as well the lessons he learned in what not to do from a fellow American with whom he was held captive.
Get the snow notes at aom.is/dawnprayer.
"Passion" is a word that's been thrown around a lot in the last few decades. People have a vague notion that passion is a very good thing, and that they want to find it in their work and lives. But beyond passion as a buzzword, its realities are actually very little discussed and seldomly well understood.
My guests today have set out to correct this deficit in their new book: The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life. Their names are Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, and I had them on the show last year to discuss their book Peak Performance. Today, we talk about the parts of passion that rarely get talked about: that it has both a positive and a negative side, how the advice to “find your passion” isn’t very useful, and the 3 things you need to really grow your passion. We also discuss why going all-in on your passion too early can lead to long-term failure, how passion can lead individuals to cheat to get and stay ahead, and why embracing the 6 pillars of the "mastery mindset" can help negate the negative side of passion, and harness its positive powers. We end our conversation discussing how it's okay to have an unbalanced life, and what to do if you can no longer do the thing you’re passionate about or you simply stop being passionate about your work.
Get the show notes at aom.is/passionparadox.
There's no doubt that luck plays a role in how successful we are in life, but the more we believe in luck, the less motivated we feel to proactively go after our goals. How do we navigate this paradox around luck — acknowledging the influence of chance but not letting it demoralize us?
My guest today argues the answer lies in seeing life more like playing a game of poker than pulling the handle of a slot machine. Her name is Karla Starr and she's the author of Can You Learn to Be Lucky? Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others.
Today on the show Karla argues that no matter what hand you're dealt in life, there are still many things you have control over that you can influence to make your own "luck." We talk about how the things that come down to chance, like the timing of a job interview, how physically attractive you are, and whether you have more or less resilient genes can be influenced or counteracted by our own proactive behaviors so that more opportunities in life fall our way.
Get the show notes at aom.is/lucky.
If you’ve been trying to get a handle on your anger, you’ve likely read tips for calming down like taking a deep breath and counting to ten.
My guest today argues while those tactics might serve as band-aid in the short term, truly getting control of your anger has to begin long before you have a blow up. His name is David Lieberman. He holds a Ph.D in psychology and is the author of several books, including his latest, Never Get Angry Again. We begin our discussion talking about what happens in our minds and body when we get angry, the ill effects anger can have on our health and relationships, and why common anger management advice isn't very effective. David then digs into the deeper root causes of most anger issues and walks us through what you can do to address and solve them.
Get the show notes at aom.is/anger.
The health benefits of fasting from food have gotten a lot of attention in the last several years. What's often forgotten in these discussions, however, is that fasting has been practiced for thousands of years not only for the sake of the body, but for the spirit as well.
My guest today has written a book, The Sacred Art of Fasting, that explores the different ways fasting is practiced by all of the world's major religions and how it can be practiced by individuals today. His name is Father Tom Ryan, he's a priest and author, and today on the show, we discuss the reasons for making fasting a spiritual discipline, how this discipline is practiced within several different religions and can still be practiced by someone who isn't religious, and how to get started with this universal, age-old discipline.
Get the show notes at aom.is/spiritualfasting.
Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar. Three of the greatest generals of antiquity. But what made them great and what can we learn from them about leadership? My guest explores those questions in his book Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership. His name is Barry Strauss and he’s a classicist and military historian at Cornell University. Today on the show we discuss the traits all three of these men possessed that made them such military geniuses, including audacity, ambition, and a little luck. Barry walks us through the five stages of war that each of these legendary commanders navigated and where each thrived and floundered.
Barry then makes the case that while Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar each experienced success in the short-term, in the long run all of them failed to achieve their ultimate aims because they became victims of their own success. We end our conversation discussing what these commanders' shortcomings can teach modern leaders in any kind of field, and whether it’s possible to be both a bold visionary leader and a great manager.
Get the show notes at aom.is/mastersofcommand.
How do you make the biggest decisions you face, the ones that have significant consequences and can change your life? Choices like whether to get married, move, attend a certain college, take a particular job, and so on? If you're like a lot of people, you just kind of wing it, and maybe draw up a basic pros and cons list.
My guest today has studied the latest research in decision making theory and formulated a better approach. His name is Steven Johnson, his latest book is Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most, and today he walks us through how to move beyond listing pros and cons to using a more effective 3-step decision making process. We begin our conversation discussing how most people make decisions and how it hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. Steven then walks us through the phases of a better decision-making methodology, including developing a more creative map of the possibilities before you, accurately predicting the outcomes of those options, and questioning the narratives you have about your choices. Steven then makes the case that reading novels and watching quality television shows can be a great way to train our brains in the skill of decision making. We end our conversation discussing what the raid on Osama bin Laden can teach us about making good decisions.
Get the show notes at aom.is/farsighted.
When you go on vacation, you probably travel to places that help you feel good, relax, and have fun. My guest today likes to visit places where great human suffering and tragedy has occurred.
His name is Thomas Cook. He's a writer of crime fiction, but in his latest book, Even Darkness Sings, he takes readers with him on the real family trips he's taken to see humanity’s darkest places, including Auschwitz, Verdun, and Hiroshima. We begin our conversation discussing how Thomas and his wife got the idea to visit dark places, how all dark places are different yet connected, and how darkness has a unique power to offer insight and even hope and optimism. Tom then takes us on a tour of some of the tragic places he’s visited and the lessons he’s learned from them. We end our conversation discussing the importance of treating dark places with somber reverence and how a personal dark place was created for Tom while he was writing this book.
Get the show notes at aom.is/darkness.
If you've never been in a fight before, have you ever wondered how you’d respond to getting punched in the face?
My guest today found the experience pretty delightful. Which is all the more surprising given that he'd lived more than three decades of his life as a self-described pacifist, who abhorred violence, thought fighting was barbaric, and feared he was a coward. His name is Josh Rosenblatt, and he’s the author of Why We Fight: One Man’s Search For Meaning Inside the Ring, which describes his decision to enter an actual MMA fight at the age of 40.
Today on the show, Josh talks about why after a lifetime of being a hedonistic, non-physically oriented, intellectual type of guy who thought mixed martial art fighting was dumb, he decided to climb into the cage as a MMA fighter himself. Josh describes how he first got interested in MMA fighting in his early 30s, started studying Muay Thai, Krav Maga, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and boxing, and discovered the joys of getting in touch with his long submerged aggression. We then discuss what it was like to train for an actual MMA fight as an older guy, how fighting has influenced his writing, and what getting into the cage taught him about sacrifice, asceticism, transcendence, and the potential for human transformation.
Get the show notes at aom.is/whywefight.
In the past few years, sports recovery has become a big business. Elite athletes and weekend warriors alike are spending lots of time and money on things like cryotherapy, float tanks, foam rolling, and supplements in order to feel better, push themselves harder, and gain an edge over the competition. But does any of this stuff actually do anything?
My guest today spent a year investigating the science of exercise recovery. Her name is Christie Aschwanden and she’s the author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery. We begin our show discussing what exactly athletic “recovery” is and why the recovery business has been booming recently. Christie and I then dig into several different recovery modalities from drinking Gatorade, to taking ice baths, to foam rolling, and the science, or the lack thereof, behind their effectiveness. We end our conversation discussing what actually works best for exercise recovery (hint: you do it every night and it’s free), whether you should spend your money on things like cryospas, and whether recovery methods can still be beneficial, even if they're largely based on the placebo effect.
Get the show notes at aom.is/recovery.
In the 21st century, most of our written communication is done through typing on a computer or tapping digital buttons on a smartphone screen. But my guest today argues that we can increase our sense of humanity and our connection to the physical world and to other people by rediscovering the lost art of putting a real pen to real paper.
His name is Michael Sull. He’s a master penman, penmanship instructor, and the author of several penmanship books. Today on the podcast, I talk to Michael about what it takes to become a master penman and what exactly a master penman does for a living. Michael then takes us on a tour of the history of cursive handwriting, including insights into how culture has influenced handwriting styles throughout the ages and why penmanship has declined in the modern day. Michael then makes a case for why people should start writing in cursive again, how to get started with improving your handwriting, and why there’s nothing like getting a handwritten note in the mail.
Get the show notes at aom.is/penmanship.
Financial independence is a goal for a lot of folks. But what does it take to get there? My guest today explores that question on his website, Financial Samurai. His name is Sam Dogen, and before writing about money online, he worked in finance. We begin our conversation discussing how his career in equities shaped his personal finance philosophy and made him leery of putting too much wealth in the stock market. Sam shares why he recommends putting a lower percentage of your money in stocks than is often recommended in mainstream finance advice, how that percentage should shift as you get older, and alternative ways to invest, build your wealth, and create multiple streams of income that will give you more control over your fortunes. Sam then shares what it means to be financially independent and some of the blindspots he thinks exist in the FIRE, or Financial Independence/Retire Early, movement. We end our conversation talking about how to plan your financial life for the future, especially concerning what the changing world will be like for your kids.
Get the show notes at aom.is/financialsamurai.
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most polarizing and misunderstood of modern philosophers. Dismissed by some and misinterpreted by others, the real philosophy of Nietzsche in fact holds some incredibly life-affirming truths for everyone, regardless of belief or age.
My guest today has spent much of both his personal and professional life tracking down those insights. At the age of 19 and then again at age 37, he traveled to the Swiss town where Nietzsche wrote his famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and learned something different on each trip from the mustachioed philosopher about living a life of meaning and significance. His name is John Kaag, and he’s a professor of philosophy and the author of Hiking With Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are.
In this compelling conversation, John discusses what he learned about life hiking the same mountain Nietzsche hiked, including the role that walking itself played in Nietzsche's approach to thinking. We begin with the biggest misconceptions about the philosopher, including what he really meant when he said “God is dead." John then walks us through Nietzsche's idea of the will to power, how this impulse should be balanced with amor fati -- the love of fate -- in order to achieve Nietzsche's ideal of becoming who you are, and the different things his philosophy can mean to a young man and to one approaching middle age.
Get the show notes at aom.is/kaag.
Practicing minimalism with your possessions has been a trend for the past decade, and it can be a worthy practice, as long as you use it as a means to greater efficacy outside your personal domain, rather than just an end in itself.
But there's arguably a minimalism practice that's even more effective in achieving that greater efficacy: digital minimalism.
My guest has written the definitive guide to the philosophy and tactics behind digital minimalism. His name is Cal Newport and this is his third visit to the AoM Podcast. We’ve had him on the show previously to discuss his books So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. Today, we discuss his latest book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
We begin our conversation discussing why digital tech feels so addicting, why Steve Jobs didn’t originally intend for the iPhone to become something we check all the time, and why the common tips for reducing your smartphone use don't work and you need to implement more nuclear solutions instead. We then discuss the surprising lesson the Amish can teach you about being intentional about technology, how cleaning up your digital life is like decluttering your house, and why he recommends a 30-day tech fast to evaluate what tech you want to let back into your life. Cal then makes an argument for why you should see social media like training wheels for navigating the web, how to take those wheels off, and why you should own your own domain address. We end our conversation exploring what you should do in the free time you open up once your digital distractions are tamed, and the advanced techniques you can use to take the practice of digital minimalism to the next level.
I think you'll find this a tremendously interesting and important show.
Get the show notes at aom.is/digitalminimalism.
Having a positive mindset comes with an unbelievable number of benefits, from better physical and mental health, to improved relationships and performance at work. If you've got a more negative bent, you're really missing out on a lot.
Fortunately, my guest says it's possible to shift into a more positive gear. Her name is Dr. Catherine Sanderson and she’s a professor of psychology at Amherst College. In her latest book, The Positive Shift, she highlights scores of studies that show how a positive mindset can make us healthier and happier, and how that mindset can be achieved. Today she shares those insights with us, beginning with debunking the idea that a positive outlook means being naively Pollyanna-ish in disposition. Catherine then walks us through what the research says about the surprisingly robust benefits of having a positive perspective which affect every area of your life. We then discuss specific tactics you can use to develop a more positive outlook, even if you have an inborn inclination towards being negative.
Get the show notes at aom.is/positiveshift.
When people talk about military special forces, the Navy SEALs are often the first to come to mind. But there are several special forces in the military that have a storied history and play a fundamental role in America’s military defense. My guest today is the only person to have been allowed to audit and write about the training programs of the respective special forces units of every branch of the military.
His name is Dick Couch. He’s a retired US Navy SEAL and the author of several books on America's special operations forces. Today on the show, we particularly discuss his book Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger.
We begin our conversation discussing the history and varied purposes of the military's different special operations forces. Dick then explains how a soldier becomes an Army Ranger and why going to Ranger School isn’t the thing that makes you a Ranger. He walks us through the process of becoming a Ranger, including Ranger Assessment and Selection. We end our conversation discussing the role special operations forces will play in the future of America’s military.
Get the show notes at aom.is/armyranger.
People often complain about being tired and burnt out these days from work and family responsibilities. We think it’s because of the way technology has sped up the pace of life, and the way we’re always “on,” and figure we’re living in the most exhausting age in history. But are we really?
My guest today argues that, no, people have been complaining about being tired since at least antiquity. Her name is Anna Schaffner and she’s written a book called Exhaustion: A History, which traces the fascinating evolution of physical, psychological, and existential fatigue from the ancient Greeks to the modern day. Today she takes us on this tour, and as we move from age to age, we dig into how exhaustion has changed as to how its described, whether we blame external or internal factors as its source, and how much we believe personal agency can control it.
Get the show notes at aom.is/exhaustion.
If you’re like a lot of men listening to this podcast, you’ve likely made it a goal to lose some weight this year. But if you’re also like a lot of men listening to this podcast, you’ve made that goal before, maybe even succeeded with it, but have had to make it again because you gained all the weight back. My guest today argues that losing weight is actually pretty easy. The real trick is keeping it off.
His name is Layne Norton. He’s a professional bodybuilder, powerlifter, and doctor of nutritional science, and today on the show we discuss all things fat loss. We begin our conversation discussing why losing weight is easier than keeping it off, the mechanisms that kick into gear once we shed body fat that cause us to gain all of it, and even more back, and why yo-yo dieting is so terrible for you.
We then dig into whether there's one diet that's the most effective in helping you lose fat, the tactics you need to use to keep the weight off in the long run, and the real reason exercise plays a role in helping you do so, which isn't what you think.
Get the show notes at aom.is/biolayne.
According to the popular, evolutionary theory of human attraction, people select romantic partners based on objective assessments of what's called their "mate value" -- the extent to which an individual possesses traits like good looks and status. But is that really all that's behind the way people pair up?
My guest today has done a series of studies which add greater nuance to the mysteries of romantic attraction. His name is Paul Eastwick and he's a professor of psychology at USC Davis. We begin our conversation unpacking the fact that there's sometimes a gap between the sexual and romantic partners people say they prefer in the abstract, and the partners they actually choose in real life. We then turn to whether or not the popular idea that men value physical attractiveness more than women, and that women value status and resources more than men, is really true. We also talk about how people's consensus over who is and isn't attractive changes over time, and whether it's true that people of equal attractiveness generally end up together. We end our conversation discussing how these research-based insights can be applied to the real world of dating, and why less attractive people may have better luck meeting people offline than on.
Some interesting insights in this show that lend credence to the old adage that there's someone for everyone.
Get the show notes at aom.is/eastwick.
The Gila National Forest covers about 3.3 million acres in southwest New Mexico. During the dry summer season, wildfires pose a serious threat to the area. To spot wildfires in this vast landscape as soon as they start, the U.S. Forest Service relies on fire towers spread throughout the area that are each manned by a lone individual. My guest today wrote a memoir about the unique experience this job offers. His name is Philip Connors, he's a writer and one of the country's few remaining fire watchers. Today on the show we discuss what the life of a fire watcher is like and what it’s taught him about nature, solitude, and time. Along the way, Phillip describes the virtues of listening to baseball games by radio and the value of slowing down in an increasingly rushed world.
Get the show notes at aom.is/firewatch.
Like FDR or JFK, Ronald Reagan has become more of a symbol for many Americans than a flesh and blood person. For some he’s the embodiment of all that’s good in America, while for others he's the very opposite. But beyond the political divides, who was Reagan, the man?
My guest today spent five years researching and writing an epic, non-partisan biography that seeks to bring the abstraction of Reagan back down to earth. His name is Bob Spitz and his biography is Reagan: An American Journey.
We begin our conversation discussing how Reagan’s hardscrabble childhood in the Midwest and his family’s staunch progressive politics influenced his early political outlook. Bob then shares how a young Ronald Reagan showed signs of becoming "the Great Communicator" as a young man and how his charm and innate talent for speaking led to a successful career in radio and the movies.
We then discuss why Reagan went from being a true believing Democratic New Dealer to being a leader in the burgeoning conservative movement in the 1960s. Bob delves into Reagan’s leadership style as governor of California and President of the United States and the important role Nancy Reagan played throughout his political career.
We end our conversation discussing Reagan’s ultimate legacy.
Get the show notes at aom.is/ronaldreagan.
We live in a complex, fast-changing world. Thriving in this world requires one to make fast decisions with incomplete information. But how do you do that without making too many mistakes?
My guest today argues that one key is stockpiling your cognitive toolbox with lots of “mental models.”
His name is Shane Parrish. He’s a former Canadian intelligence officer and the owner of the website Farnam Street, which publishes articles about better thinking and decision making and is read by Wall Street investors, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and leaders across domains. We begin our conversation discussing how Shane’s background as an intelligence officer got him thinking hard about hard thinking and why the musings of investors Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger have had a big influence on his approach to decision making.
Shane then shares his overarching decision making philosophy and explains what mental models are and why they’re a powerful tool to make better decisions. We then discuss why you should focus on being consistently not stupid instead of trying to be consistently brilliant and tactics you can use to make better decisions.
Get the show notes at aom.is/farnamstreet.
It’s a new year and if you’re like millions of people around the world, you’re likely making goals to create some new habits or to break some bad ones. But if you’re also like millions of people around the world, your attempts at making and breaking habits will usually fail after just a few weeks of flailing effort, and you'll probably think your lack of willpower is to blame.
My guest today argues that it isn’t truly a lack of willpower that’s holding you back from your habit goals, it’s the tactics you use for reaching them.
His name is James Clear, he’s the author of the book Atomic Habits, and today on the show, he walks us through how to make habit formation and habit breaking much easier by crafting optimal systems for behavior change. We begin our show discussing the misconceptions people have about habits and the 4-step process of habit formation that tracks the 4 laws of behavior change. James then suggests specific ways to make good habits more attractive and easier to obtain while making bad habits less attractive and easier to shake. We end our conversation discussing why you should take into account your unique personality when you craft your habits.
Get the show notes at aom.is/atomichabits.
Eighteen months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Continental Army was on the ropes and the American Revolution was on the verge of being snuffed out. Battered, demoralized, and half-naked, 12,000 American troops marched into a small, poorly supplied encampment in British-occupied Pennsylvania to hunker down for the winter. They called the encampment Valley Forge.
Despite the terrible conditions and circumstances there, something happened at Valley Forge that would change the tide of the Revolutionary War, and the entire course of history.
My guest today is a co-author of a new book, entitled Valley Forge, about this historic crucible. His name is Bob Drury, and I last had him on the show to discuss his stellar book Lucky 666. Today he explains the dire obstacles General George Washington and the Continental Army were up against at the time of Valley Forge, from coming off a string of strategic defeats to weathering political infighting. He then offers a vivid description of the squalor soldiers lived in at Valley Forge, as well as a rundown of the common myths people have about this historical episode. We end our conversation discussing how the situation at Valley Forge got turned around, and why the men who survived this crucible ended up stronger because of it.
This show will give you some fresh insights and new appreciation for this pivotal event in American history.
Get the show notes at aom.is/valleyforge.
Earlier this year, I did a show about the benefits of meditation. That’s episode #439 for those who want to check it out. Shortly after that interview, I came across a book called The Buddha Pill, which takes a critical look at the research on meditation and exposes some of the weaknesses of the hype that currently surrounds it. As someone who loves to look at both sides of an issue, I was certainly intrigued and today talk to one of the co-authors of that book.
I begin my conversation with Miguel Farias, a psychologist and therapist trained at Oxford University, by discussing how the current mindfulness craze we’re experiencing in the 21st century isn’t entirely new, but is similar to a trend which emerged in the 1960s and 70s around the practice of Transcendental Meditation. Miguel explains how meditation research began with Transcendental Meditation, the limits of that research, and why Transcendental Meditation has now been eclipsed by mindfulness meditation. In the second half of the show, Miguel shares some problems with the Western approach to mindfulness meditation, including detaching it from a spiritual framework, making it a self-centered affair, and using it to take a more passive stance to life.
We also explore the often overlooked downsides of meditation, including the fact that it can sometimes have the very opposite of the calming, centering effect people are seeking. We end our conversation discussing whether meditation is truly effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, Miguel's conclusion on whether people should practice it, and if you should ultimately feel guilty if you don't.
Get the show notes at aom.is/buddhapill.
Does your family life feel frantic?
Does it seem like every week you and your wife are scrambling to manage all the stuff that’s going on like school and community activities, extracurriculars, social engagements, and home maintenance?
Perhaps what you need to do is apply some of the strategies that help businesses get organized to your family life. That’s the argument my guest makes in his book The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. His name is Patrick Lencioni and he’s a business consultant for Fortune 500 companies. Today on the show, we discuss how the questions he asks his corporate clients to provide clarity and direction to their businesses can also provide clarity and direction at home.
Pat unpacks his 3 questions, and explores how vital it is to create a sense of context, mission, and purpose for your your family, why every family needs a rallying cry, and how to actually implement the principles we discuss in your family's life. If you want to start leading your family in living intentionally, instead of staying in reactive mode, this is the show for you.
Get the show notes at aom.is/franticfamilies.
What’s it like for a man to lose the person at the very center of his life — his wife? Maybe you know firsthand, because you’ve lost a spouse yourself. Or maybe you know a friend or family member who’s a widower, and have wondered what he’s going through and how to help him. Or maybe you’re just curious about what this journey is like, should you, heaven forbid, become a widower one day yourself.
No matter which group you fall into, we could all benefit from understanding more about the journey widower’s take through loss, grief, and the effort to establish a new life.
Here today to walk us through this process is Herb Knoll, who lost his wife himself and has dedicated his life to helping his fellow widowers. Herb is the founder of the Widower’s Support Network which provides free advice and resources to men who’ve lost their spouses, and the author of the book The Widower’s Journey. Today on the show, we discuss Herb’s own experience of becoming a widower, how and why he found that there were few resources available specifically focused on helping men deal with the loss of their wives, and how that catalyzed him into creating such resources himself. We then get into the different issues widowers face, including loneliness, isolation, depression, a decline in their own physical health, and poor decision making, and how and why these issues can manifest themselves differently in men than women. Herb also shares tips on what family and friends can do to support a widower in the months after his spouse dies. We then discuss what dating and marriage is like for a widower, including when the time is right to start dating again and how to handle a second marriage with kids, both financially and psychologically.
Get the show notes at aom.is/widowersjourney.
To move forward in life, we typically focus on finding answers. But my guest today argues we should spend more time asking questions. His name is Warren Berger, and he’s a self-described “questionologist” and the author of The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead. We begin our conversation discussing why having an inquisitive mindset is more important than ever in this fast changing, uncertain world of ours, but why people are afraid to ask questions. Warren then argues that questions don’t necessarily need to have answers to be useful and explains what he thinks makes a question a "beautiful question." Warren then talks through the importance of asking questions when you're trying to make decisions, be creative, form relationships, and lead people, while providing concrete examples of questions to ask yourself and others to be more effective in each domain.
Get the show notes at aom.is/beautifulquestion.
Humans are storytelling and story-listening creatures. We use stories to teach, persuade, and to make sense of the complexities of existence. Being able to craft and deliver a good story is thus a real advantage in all areas of life, giving you a foot up when doing job interviews, going on dates, interacting with friends, or making a sales pitch.
Fortunately, good storytelling is a skill that can learned by anyone. Here to teach us the art of storytelling is Matthew Dicks, a writer, five-time Moth GrandSlam storytelling winner, and the author of the book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling.
Today on the show, Matthew walks us through the nuts and bolts of how to craft a compelling story. We begin our conversation discussing ways to generate story ideas, why good stories don’t have to be about big moments, and why he recommends a practice called "Homework for Life." Matthew then tells us what we can learn from movies about making a story so engaging that people are waiting to hear what you say next. We also discuss the don'ts of storytelling, including how to never begin a story. And we end our conversation with a five-minute story from Matthew that showcases all the principles we discussed during the show.
Get the show notes at aom.is/storyworthy.
For thousands of years, the Spartans have captured the imaginations of Westerners. In ancient Greece, the city-state was admired for its military prowess, civic unity, and dedication to leisurely athletic pursuits. Today, we make movies about Spartans and name sports teams after them. When we moderns think of Spartans, we typically think of them simply as fierce warriors.
But while the Spartans were indeed warriors par excellence, their culture was much more complex. Today on the show, I unpack some of these complexities with historian Paul Rahe. Paul is working on a series of books with Yale University Press which explore both the military and political strategy of the Spartans. We begin our conversation discussing why it’s hard for us moderns to truly understand Sparta. We then dig into the history and culture of Spartans, including where they came from, their economic set-up and relationship with the helot population, and the strenuous upbringing of boys that made them fit for battle. We then talk about the mixed government of the Spartans. We end our conversation discussing how the city-state faded into obscurity, and why the Spartans yet live on in modern culture.
Get the show notes at aom.is/sparta.
First responders and members of the military have physically and mentally demanding jobs. To tackle those jobs effectively, they need to be in shape physically and mentally. But most first responders have erratic schedules that make working out difficult, so that many don’t, and consequently suffer from injuries and poor health. My guest today is a former Navy SEAL on a mission to solve that problem. His name is Adam La Reau, and he's the founder of O2X, an organization dedicated to training tactical athletes.
Adam walks us through the unique challenges soldiers and first responders have when it comes to physical fitness and explains his philosophy on training “tactical athletes.” We then discuss insights civilians can take away from how first responders train, including making time for working out on an erratic schedule, managing stress, and making recovery a priority.
We end our conversation discussing the other organization Adam founded called One Summit, which pairs children who have cancer with a Navy SEAL mentor who helps the kids gain greater resilience through rock climbing.
Get the show notes and resources at aom.is/O2X.
Your time on earth is finite and once you use it up, it's gone forever. Thus on the AoM podcast, we talk a lot about how to maximize your time -- how to use it more effectively to be more productive. But is it possible to be too concerned about managing your time? Should you also make space for chucking out all the to-do lists and schedules and just being kind of idle?
My guest would say yes. His name is Alan Lightman, he’s a physicist and writer, and the author of the book In Praise of Wasting Time. Today on the show Alan forwards the sort of countercultural argument that intentionally wasting time isn't a vice but a virtue. We begin our conversation by discussing what Alan means by wasting time, and then get into how wasting time benefits our psyches, creativity, sense of mental self-reliance, and even, ironically enough, our productivity. We end our conversation discussing the difference between chronos time and kairos time, and how wasting time allows us to spend more time in the latter state.
Get the show notes at aom.is/wastingtime.
Magicians usually become magicians because they experienced a sense of wonder seeing a cool trick as a kid, and they want to re-create that awe for audience members on a regular basis.
But what happens when a professional magician stops feeling the magic of magic?
That happened to my guest today.
His name is Nate Staniforth, and he recently wrote a book titled Here is Real Magic. Today on the show, Nate shares how he got into magic and became a professional magician, only to become disillusioned with his career. Nate then talks about how he embarked on a search to re-discover the magic of magic, which took him to the slums of India where he encountered a three-thousand-year-old clan of fire-eating street performers, and re-kindled his sense of wonder. If you’re feeling burnt out from your work or disenchanted with life, this episode will have some insights for you.
Get the show notes at aom.is/realmagic.
Are great leaders born or made? Do circumstances make great leaders or do great leaders change the times? These are a few of the big picture questions my guest explores in her latest book. Her name is Doris Kearns Goodwin, she’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, and in her latest book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, she explores the makings of great leaders by looking at the biographies of four US presidents who led the country through periods of crisis: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
We begin our conversation discussing the ambition all four of these leaders had as young men to do something great and how they connected their personal ambition to the greater good. We then discuss the personal setbacks all of them experienced early in life and how these challenges influenced them as leaders. Doris then shares the leadership traits and skills all of them implemented during their presidencies as well as how they did things differently. We end our conversation discussing whether any other leader could have managed the crisis each of these presidents confronted or if these men were singularly suited to the circumstances.
Get the show notes at aom.is/turbulent.