From podcast: https://BenGreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/why-kids-need-goats-snakes-top-writing-secrets-of-a-famous-author-how-to-read-more-books-33-ways-to-be-insanely-productive-much-more-with-ryan-holiday/
[00:00:53] Podcast Sponsors
[00:03:38] 33 Ways to be Insanely Productive, Happy Balanced Person
[00:12:27] How an in-person bookstore has helped Ryan reconnect with family, health, and more
[00:26:04] Virtue Found In A Non-Urban Lifestyle
[00:35:58] Podcast Sponsors
[00:38:24] cont. Virtue Found In A Non-Urban Lifestyle
[00:46:04] Ryan And Ben’s Daily Rituals And Routines
[00:51:13] Ryan’s Writing Process
[01:02:54] How Ryan’s Appreciation Of History Has Grown By Writing His Books
[01:06:11] Ryan’s Reading Habits
[01:10:55] Why Ryan Holiday Isn’t A Fan Of Checking Out Books At A Library
[01:17:24] How Ryan Got The Idea To Write A Book About Courage
[01:21:40] About Ryan’s Upcoming Series Of Virtue-Themed Books
[01:25:05] Closing the Podcast
[01:26:21] Legal Disclaimer
Ben: On this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Ryan: I’m a big believer in that rule of a few crappy pages a day. You’ll get to the other side. But if you don’t do that, you won’t get where you need to go. You can have someone lift weights for you, but then you’re not going to get any stronger. For me, the process of struggling with it is really, really helpful. Here I am cashing a check that I wrote to myself almost 20 years ago that I put down notes to myself.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Well, in this particular part of the podcast, I’m actually really excited because I have a special guest. What’s up, babe?
Jessa: Hi there.
Ben: So, my wife is here and she’s here because she’s been getting super into these new, I don’t know what you call them, threads.
Jessa: Yeah, joggers.
Ben: That’s right. Yeah, so tell people about what this new, I guess, it’s a jogger that you’re primarily thinking, right?
Jessa: Yeah. It’s from Vuori.
Ben: Vuori. Well, they’re spelled funny. V-U-O-R-I, but it’s Vuori.
Jessa: Yes. I have a jogger from them and I have a couple of other shirts that I wear from them. But what’s great about them is I really like that I can play tennis in them, I can hike in them, I can run to the grocery store in them, I can basically do everything that my life demands of me in these clothes and actually, at the same time, it doesn’t look like I’m going out and working out at the gym. I can look like I’m just kicking it in a day at the coffee shop.
Ben: It’s jogger. It’s actually kind of a sexy jogger. It’s got the cropped legs, and the side pockets, and the draws–
Jessa: Yeah, they’re fashionable, they’re functional.
Ben: They call it DreamKnit, they’re stretched fabric.
Jessa: Yes, super soft.
Jessa: Really nice.
Ben: So, they do a really good job. So, what Vuori is doing because a lot of people thought they were just a company for dudes but their women’s lineup looks really good.
Jessa: Oh, they have a great lineup, yeah.
Ben: So, you go to vuoriclothing.com/ben, vuoriclothing.com/ben gets you big fat 20% off. So, check them out, vuoriclothing.com/ben. Thanks for being a guest on today’s show, babe.
Jessa: Absolutely. I like to talk about clothes.
Ben: This podcast is also, of course, brought to you by Kion, my company and my playground for all things, health and wellness. It’s a company I created a scratch my own itch. We blend ancient wisdom with modern science to create pure efficacious shotgun formulations of supplements and functional foods. Every single product is research-backed, real-world tested. We design everything to empower people to live a long and adventurous, and joyful, and fulfilling life. You can go over there and get everything from our protein powder to our coffee, to our bar, and 20% off site-wide on your first order, anything from Kion. It basically looks like my pantry. My pantry is full of Kion, so yours can be too. Go to getkion.com/BenGreenfield. That’s GetK-I-O-N.com/BenGreenfield.
Well, today is a fun show with my friend, Ryan Holiday. And, we had a wonderful conversation a couple of geeky authors nerding out about reading and writing, and a whole lot more. But I think you’ll really, really dig this.
One thing that Ryan and I kind of briefly mentioned was Ryan’s article about “33 ways to be an insanely productive, happy and balanced person.” And, you know what, it’s such a great article that I figured. Before we delve into the episode with Ryan, just so you better wrap your head around Ryan, and who he is, and what he does. If you’re not familiar with him, I want to share you this article just because I think it’s really, really wonderful as far as really for you perhaps saying the framework of the way that he thinks.
So, he says, “We all try to be productive. We all have lots of stuff that we need to get done for work, for our art, for our families. This is all good. So, maybe you’re too busy to get it all in. To write the book you’ve been meaning to write. Too busy to get to the gym. Or just drowning in email and want it to end. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“The right productivity tweaks can get you where you need to be, to help you get more done without adding more to your plate. But you have to remember: It’s human being not human doing. With that in mind, here is some productivity advice that will certainly help you get more done, but more importantly, will help you get more done in a healthy, effective, and balanced way. Some of these I have learned by virtue of working alongside people much smarter than me and stealing their tricks, others through my own trial and error.”
So, here we go. “Keep texting for friends only. If there are too many ways for people to reach you, the day never ends and you’ll never have time to think. I try to not do any business texting, only email, and only phone. When I get a text, I know it’s from a friend. Walk during all your phone calls. You’ll be happier for it. A small to-do list of five to ten items, if completed day in and day out, will put you far ahead of everyone else. Save time in the mornings before you do email or social media. Write in a journal, have breakfast with your kids, take a long shower. Don’t jump immediately into the noise. Have some peace and thoughtful time first.”
“Inbox zero. Inbox zero. Inbox zero. But here’s the key, you don’t have to respond to most. Delete/archive is your friend.”
“On that note, Napoleon used to deliberately ignore correspondence for weeks so the trivial stuff would deal with itself. I do that with things that are particularly frustrating or aggravating. What if you just thought, oops, I accidentally deleted that offensive email, or oops, I guess I never saw it. Chances are it would save you some anger.”
“What’s your main thing? Okay, so why are you doing all these other things?” I like that one.
Alright, here we go. “Reading is work, important work actually. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re struggling with something, print it out and go over it in physical form. The computer is a medium and not always the best one. Don’t feel stuck or wedded to it.”
That’s also something I do quite a bit when I get something long to read or somebody wants me to review a book, I always say, “Send me the physical version. Send me the physical galley. Send me the hard copy.” And, by the way, I didn’t say this but I also do, like Ryan, walk during all my phone calls. It also is a great way to stay fit. Save all your phone calls for a walk.
Okay, we digress. Let’s keep going.
“Fire crazy people from your life. That is people who send too many emails, people who stir up drama, people who can’t be counted on, people who waste your time with projects that don’t go anywhere. It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to your clients/employer, it’s not fair to your family.”
By the way, I actually disagree with Ryan on this. I think, people can change, people can evolve. I’ve been so close to firing people, or letting people go, or decide I’m just done with energy vampires or negative people. And, I’ve realized, hey, you know what, if I love this person, if I educate them, if I cover this situation with love and peace and forgiveness, this person might just not ever have had the chance to be treated the way a human being deserves to be treated. And, I’ve found that in many cases, people do actually change. So, don’t fire someone right off the bat. Give them a chance first. That’s my opinion.
Alright, back to Ryan. “To concentrate, listen to the same song over and over and over and over. Make commitments short, regular deadlines that you have to meet. It will force you to ship and deliver results. This is how you will improve. It will also get you out of your own head.”
“Use tools but don’t overuse tools. I really like Basecamp, 15five, Buffer, and Google Docs. Yeah, there are some other great ones out there: Scrivener, Evernote, Slack, Asana, Any.do, Timeful, et cetera. But you’re supposed to manage the tools, not be managed by them.”
“How many different platforms can one have going on? Keep it simple and keep it straightforward. Don’t feel guilted into trying every single thing that other people rave about.”
“Beware of work addiction and work aversion. They’re two sides of the same coin. Ask yourself, why am I doing this? Am I avoiding anything in my life? Am I adrenalizing? Is this really that important?”
Next tip and you’ll understand this one if you listen to today’s podcast. “Get a goat, space and city provided.”
Next. “Don’t set up a voice mail. Or if you do, tell people to email you. Avoid conference calls, get-to-know-each-other coffee meetings, industry events, and unless they’re really important, even interview/media requests that require meeting or Skype. Why? Because it puts you on someone else’s schedule and not yours. Email is best for all these things, even if it takes a little longer to actually do, for one reason, it’s on your terms. You can do it after you’ve done the other things you want to do without interruption.”
“Exercise will make you productive. It will clear your head, process any negative energy, and give you a win every day. Don’t follow the news, particularly online. It’s mostly bullshit. Read people you can trust.”
“There’s the old Benjamin Franklin line about being a penny wise but a pound foolish. It’s the same thing with time management. Most people get the little things right and the big things wrong, and then wonder why they don’t get much done.”
“Avoid stimulants. I include passion as one of those dangerous drugs.” Ryan actually has–he has an article called “Passion Is The Problem, Not The Solution” where you can read more and understand what he means by that. And, I’ll link to all these, by the way, if you go to BenGreenfieldfitness.com/Holiday. Spelled with an L, one L, Holiday.
“Be wary of giving your time away just because some asked. Try asking them to pay. It weeds out the moochers and makes sure people will respect it and take it seriously. Don’t play cell phone games. They are designed to be addicting. Besides, you’re an adult. Read an article or pick up a book.”
“Pick a set of clothes you like and are comfortable in and buy a lot of them. Everyone from the president to Steve Jobs realizes that this is a way to cut down on unnecessary decisions. It also means you’re focused on what is important, who you are versus how you look.”
“Treat yourself like a startup. Register an LLC if you need to make it clearer. Now, if your business needs something to be more productive whether it’s a nice pair of headphones or a trip, you won’t think about money. You’ll be objective.”
“Keep a journal if you like, but definitely keep a commonplace book. You’re essentially stockpiling information for when you’ll need it later. Saving you time and making you better prepared.”
“Robert Louis Stevenson has a quote to the effect of ‘Thinking your work is terribly important is the first sign of insanity.’ Remember, you’re not the president of the world here. Relax. It’s going to be alright.”
“You think hiring a professional is expensive? Try hiring an amateur. When you hire help, don’t cut corners. You’ll pay for it, I promise.”
“Don’t buy airplane Wi-Fi. Take that time to get caught up, to think, to be unreachable.”
“Put an inspirational quote or two above your desk. Not something like ‘Hang in there’ with a cat photo but something that reminds you of your purpose and the major tasks at hand.”
“What do you make in a year? Divide that by how many hours you work to get a true hourly rate. I’m not saying not to do anything less than that rate, but don’t lose track of that number. Let it weigh against your choices.”
“One thing that will help you do is say no to things, which is critical. You need to say no more often. We all do.”
And then finally, “You have to know why you do what you do, what you prize and what’s important to you. Or you will be endlessly comparing yourself against other people, which will not only be a major distraction, it will make you miserable.”
Well, that’s Ryan’s article about “33 Ways To Be An Insanely Productive, Happy And Balanced Person.” Plenty of other articles by him and some good ones and some good books by him. We’ll put that all in the shownotes if you go to BenGreenfieldfitness.com/Holiday.
Let’s go talk to Ryan.
Well, folks I’m pretty stoked to be interviewing my guest on today’s show. And, his name is Ryan Holiday. Ryan, I don’t think I’ve actually ever interviewed you on my podcast, have I?
Ryan: I don’t think so, but we’ve known each other for 10 years.
Ben: Yeah, forever. And then, I’d be embarrassed if I actually have interviewed you and forgotten about it because it was that forgettable, but I’m pretty sure I have never interviewed you although I’ve talked about your books a lot. I’ve recommended your books multiple times on the show particularly “Stillness Is The Key” is one that I’ve talked about a lot. But for those of you listening in, you’re probably familiar with some of Ryan’s other books like “The Obstacle Is The Way” and “Ego Is The Enemy,” a couple of newer books. One called “Conspiracy,” and a brand new book called “Courage Is Calling.” And, Ryan writes a lot. You have a bookstore too, don’t you, Ryan?
Ryan: I do. Yeah, I was hoping to show it to you when you were out here, but I opened a bookstore. And, I started it in the winter of 2020, which is just about the worst possible time to have been in the midst of opening a small in-person business. But we soldiered through the pandemic and now, things are going great.
Ben: What’s the name of the bookstore?
Ryan: It’s called The Painted Porch. It’s right outside Austin. And, the idea is it’s basically a bookstore of only my favorite book.
Ben: That’s amazing. So, is it a bookstore where people go in and browse and purchase books? Is it more of a bookstore where all the books stay there and people just read? Or, how’s the bookstore actually work?
Ryan: No, no. It’s your standard bookstore but instead of trying to have every book or trying to compete with Amazon or trying to have whatever the newest sort of hottest book is, over the last 15 or so years, I’ve had this email list where I recommend books every month. So, I have this sort of long relationship with people over what books are really, really good like life-changing books.
And so, the idea is that it’s those books, it’s all my favorite books that I’ve recommended over the years that I would say 10% of our books have come out in the last few years. Almost all the books are old or classics or sort of unknown, sort of cult favorites. Yeah, it’s really fun. I have an office upstairs. And, it’s kind of a podcast based and a bookstore. And yeah, just a bunch of shit.
Ben: What’s funny is I actually kind of sort of worked at a bookstore through college, but basically, it was a coffee shop, it was a pub, and then one of the guys who worked there would just find amazing books and add them to our library. And, it wound up becoming so massive. It lined all the walls of the coffee shop all the way back into the back where there used to be a cigar-smoking room before Idaho is one of the last bastions of places where you could literally have cigar-smoking rooms, got rid of our cigar smoking room. But this bookstore still exists. It’s called Bucer’s Coffee Shop Pub in Moscow, Idaho. But I loved going to work because there were would just be random new books, meaning new old books that I’d never heard of before that were always available, always dirt cheap. Almost a dollar store for books. And, it’s still there to this day. And, as a matter of fact, my sons–you have two sons, right?
Ryan: Yes, I do.
Ben: Okay. Yeah, me too. I’ve got a twin 13-year-old boys. And, they actually fell in love so much of that coffee shop that their dream in life right now is to open their own bookstore, coffee shop. And, they, of course, have all sorts of other fancy ideas like a bean bag and a slide that goes from the top to the bottom of the bookstore. But that’s actually what they want to do is open a bookstore as well.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s sort of one of the reasons we wanted to do it is that like you, so much of my work is sort of digital and it’s awesome. The scale of this podcast, reaching millions of people, and the articles that you write. I mean, the reality is even most of my book sales are digital. It’s something 50 to 60% of my books are sold either in eBook or audio form.
So, so much of what I do is impossible for my kids to interact with or see in any way. And, we wanted something that was real that they could go to and see and experience. And, I think there’s something special about the store in that sense. And, it has a tree house that they love playing and it’s got all this stuff, but I think the main thing is just it’s a brick-and-mortar physical space with human beings in it. And, they can see how–they come here after school, or they come here after daycare, or they come here on a weekend and we hang out. But they see how stuff happens. And, that’s been a really–wasn’t exactly why we did it, but it’s been an important side benefit of it. And, it’s also something they can participate in, and yeah hopefully, one day would, I don’t know, take over if it’s still around. But it’s been one of the most challenging but rewarding things I’ve done in a long time.
Ben: It’s such a good point because I’ve had that kind of angst as a father when I look at the history of education and the fact that in many cases, sons would apprentice with their fathers. And, that was a lot of kind of the formative bonding time that a son would have with their father would be going to, whatever, shoe horses, or build fences, or work on a construction project. And, this idea of shadowing one’s father at work is, to me, a very palatable idea because I love the idea that a son can spend time with their father and learn a skill or a trade. And, I think that’s just as important as a formal, so to speak, education. That’s kind of our modern idea of education. Yet the few times that I have arranged for my sons to shadow me, so to speak, at work, I feel as though they’re terribly bored because dad’s just standing at a computer typing.
Ben: And, they just kind of sit in the background reading a book or coloring. But there’s not a whole lot that goes on. And then, occasionally, because I’ll take–and I think you have somewhere and I’ll link to it in the shownotes. If folks go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Holiday spelled with one L, BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Holiday is where I’ll link to all Ryan’s books and any notes from this discussion. But Ryan has an article somewhere out there on the internet about ways to be insanely productive. And, I think that one of the tips that you have on there is to take all of your phone calls walking, which I also do.
Ben: And so, the only other element of my work day is my sons will just kind of be trailing behind me on a farm road walking along with their hands in their pocket while dad talks to somebody on the phone about their health or their fitness or something like that. And so, the idea of opening a bookstores that your kids can actually be a little bit more involved with dad’s business is that’s kind of a cool idea.
Ryan: The other thing is I work from home, which is great or it has been great, but it’s kind of hard to have good boundaries when you do that. And so, one of the other ideas was like, “Let’s have a place where all of our stuff is.” So, this is where the bookstore is, this is where, I don’t know, I keep my paper. This is the headquarters. It’s where I record the podcast. It’s where I shoot videos. It’s where if I want to meet someone to, if I have to do a meeting, someone comes there. There’s conference spaces where my employees are. Sort of a home base that’s also a bookstore, but then it’s just a place we go as a family outside of the house, which worked out really nice during the pandemic obviously because it was like, “Okay, let’s go here, you can ride your bikes, you can mess around with stuff on the shelves, you can help us do things.” But that it’s a place away from the house. So, there’s also this sense of this is when I’m at the office, this is when I’m at home.
I do think one of the benefits of virtual work is that you can sort of blend stuff together but then it also becomes hard to distinguish between things and distinguish between different modes.
Ryan: And so, I wanted to have a headquarters, but then I also wanted the idea of, well, I need this. I don’t want just faceless office space in some office park somewhere. So, what we did was we got this building in this small town near where we live that has a main street that’s doing okay but it couldn’t, under normal circumstances, support an independent bookstore. But the fact that I don’t need it to–it’s not subject to purely the economics of the foot traffic from the small town that we live in.
Ryan: It can be sort of supported by the other stuff that I’m doing. Also, was a really fun part of sort of being–not just being a part of a community but contributing to and improving a community. And so, it’s just been really awesome.
Ben: Yeah. I think a lot of people who have a digital job including me feel as though it would be nice to have this little office that you can duck away from to go to particularly because the boundary issue that you alluded to that, I think, is, of course, the blessing and the curse for anyone who’s got a digital job is, when does it stop? Can you actually go back to the office at 8:30 pm after the family’s finished dinner? Because it’s so easy to duck down there because it’s about 15 feet away.
And, for me, I started a supplements company a few years ago and our offices are in Boulder and they’re amazing. We have infrared lights, and yoga trapezes, and inversion tables, and kettlebells, and little basketball hoops, and all sorts of stuff. But unfortunately, it’s 1,080 miles away from my front door so I can’t exactly take my sons to show them dad’s office. I just fly down there once every couple of months.
How far from your guys’ house is your bookstore?
Ryan: So, we have a house in town and we have a house at some property out in the country. So, it’s about 30 minutes from one and five minutes from the other. So, we kind of built our life around this sort of three things. We’re kind of rotating between the three things. But yeah, to me, that’s the idea is when you watch old TV shows and the guy’s getting his briefcase and walking to the office, I like that so much. And, that’s sort of the life we kind of wanted to set up that, I think, is rare and rare for people. And, I think one of the things that I really took out of the pandemic was, oh, I’m much more productive, much happier, and much healthier when I’m not getting on airplanes. And so, I want a much more sort of rooted life. And, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Ben: There is a place about 2 miles down the road for me because we kind of live in this quaint little spot out in the forest, about 10 acres and it’s not really out in the middle of nowhere even though it looks it, 25 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from downtown. You kind of drive down the old dirt driveway. And, within a couple of minutes, you’re thrust straight out into the highway and into the normal city life. But it does kind of feel far removed. But about two miles down the road, there’s a little bookstore that sells ice cream and puppets. And, there’s probably just a ton of mold and lots of cobwebs and dust all over the place. But as we’re talking kind of in the back of my mind, I’m like, “Yeah, maybe I should just go and make them an offer on their ice cream puppet bookstore and just put something up there.” So, it could happen. It’s in this little spot called Millwood Washington. Every time I drive through, I think it’d be a perfect place for a little development, but I’m not a real estate developer.
Ryan: That’s totally the vibe. And, it’s been really fun. I mean, look, there were definitely moments especially in the depths of the pandemic or sort of like, what have we done? This was the worst idea you could have possibly spent your life savings on or whatever. But as we’ve come out of it, it’s been really wonderful. And, I think it’s been productive, it’s been better for our family, it’s been better for my sort of work-life balance. And, it’s close to the river, it’s in a beautiful part of the country and it’s just checked a lot of different boxes. And then, on top of it, the most rewarding place, the most rewarding part is people walk in that have lived in this town forever and they’re like, “Oh, my god, I’m so glad there’s a bookstore here.” And so, it does feel nice too.
Again, it’s wonderful to make things that beam out all over the world. And, is there something incredibly rewarding about doing a podcast or books and reaching millions of people at scale? But you never see those people and you’re not watching them come in and leave with books, and then come back a week later to get more books. You’re not seeing other businesses come.
Ryan: Watching ecosystem grow even in the last year, the stuff that’s opened up near us and watching people drive in from Austin are people that have flown in to go to the bookstore and then they’re eating at the deli across the street and then they’re buying stuff from the store down the street. To do something at a much smaller scale has been a different experience. And, I’ve just enjoyed it so much.
Ben: Yeah. And, getting their candy sticks and their flour from the general store.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. Well, the full-on little house on the prairie.
The other thing that you have is a farm. You’ve got basically–I mean, are you actually farming? Are you out on a tractor harvesting wheat? Or what’s the farm like?
Ryan: I never know exactly what to call it. So, it’s not really a farm and that we don’t grow much other than our own tomatoes, and carrots, and stuff and the strawberries in the garden. We have fruit trees and stuff, but it’s not a farm in that sense. And then, to call it a ranch by Texas standards seems also offensive, but we mostly run cattle. We have about 40 acres, we have a small herd of cows, which we sell each year. And then, we have some goats and donkeys. But I guess, you’d call it a hobby farm or a hobby ranch.
Ryan: Again, the people down the street from us have a thousand acres. And so, the contrast is so weird, it feels silly to–it feels like it doesn’t quite get categorized easily but when we moved out here, that’s actually first where we moved. So, we moved out this place called Bastrop County, which is right outside Austin. It’s the county next to the county that Austin is in. And, what happened was we started, and I’m sure you’ve seen this, you think you’re going to commute into the big city but actually you commute to the smaller cities that wherever the closest Walmart is or the closest grocery store. So, that this town that we’re in, where the bookstore is is that sort of closest little city. That was sort of the first step for us sort of leaving your sort of your typical urban or suburban life for a different lifestyle.
Ben: Yeah, we kind of had something similar here where people come over and they don’t quite know if we’re a farm, if we’re just a bunch of random preppers out in the wilderness or what. We’ve got chickens, we’ve got goats, we’ve got a greenhouse. We’re adding bees in a pond right now. The land is kind of on a slope and pretty heavily forested, so it’s not conducive to any livestock or else we’d have those. We have a little fruit orchard, but I think probably the one parallel that you and I both have besides being nerds who write books is the Nigerian dwarf goats. You have dwarf goats. Yeah.
Ryan: I do. We have three goats. And, do you actually milk your goats and stuff or they’re just pets?
Ben: Yeah. Well, we do now. I mean you got to get them knocked up first, of course, to milk them. The males can be kind of ornery, so we send off the females to get bread and then they come back. And, we actually have two babies out in the garage right now. We’ve got a refrigerator actually because of that, just chock full of–we have to find new uses for all the goat milk and all the colostrum and everything they make. But yeah, we’ve got milk, we’ve got some nice goat cheese. My wife made goat cheese the other day, which, oh my gosh, on sourdough bread with a little bit of raw honey and sea salt. That stuff is amazing.
But yeah, these goats, they’re entertaining but they also put out a surprisingly voluminous amount of milk. And of course, goat milk is wonderful for the body, anyways. It’s more bioavailable and more easily digested and less allergenic than cow milk. But the kids love to play with the goats. And, we don’t really use them. I don’t know about you. We don’t really use them as lawn mowers. Some people do or as trash consumers. But they’re wonderful to have around. And, oh my goodness, the amount of milk that they actually produce, once they give birth is pretty surprising.
Ryan: I would say our farm is sort of optimized over around what are the fewest amount of recurring tasks that we have to do. So, we never bred the goats and we don’t milk them because it’s sort of like once you start, you can’t stop kind of a thing. So, the chickens, it’s weird, I think people think having a farm would be a lot of work. And, it is in some ways but weirdly, I would say, chickens are probably the most work of any of the animals that we have because they’re the most vulnerable and create the most daily product that you have to take care of. But for the most part, ours is sort of just a live and let live farm. The cows are out. They’re grass-fed. We give them hay sometimes. We have water on the property in the form of a couple different ponds that they drink out of. It’s a nature park and they live there and we live there. And, we throw feed out to the goats and stuff. But for the most part, it’s cool to be sort of part of an ecosystem and just participate in it. Our kids love it, we love it. It’s both challenging and humbling because the animals. I don’t know about you, but it sort of introduce your kids to death in a very real way.
Ben: That’s a big part of it. And, really absent of the convenience of having fresh milk and eggs every day. For me, one of the coolest parts is how much it ties into child-rearing. Meaning that not only do you, of course, get access to the wonderful hygiene hypothesis theory that your kids get stronger immune systems hanging out with all these dirty animals and getting licked in the face, and playing in the chicken dung, and wandering down, and grabbing the eggs in the morning, and kissing the goats. But I think that for kids, the idea of animal husbandry and learning how to care for a creature and being able to get their hands dirty and doing so in a manner that is a little less intimidating for a parent than say just popping out more babies for the older children to learn how to take care of actual human babies. It’s much easier to just have some animals around it.
And, it’s wonderful for the kids too because they learn how to care for a living creature. And, as you alluded to, they also learn death, they learn what happens when you got to sacrifice a rooster or when a goat kicks the can. It’s something that, I think, creates a healthy relationship for a kid to be aware of this life-death cycle. But for you, I don’t know if you’ve found this, but it really is a very, very cool formative part of a kid’s upbringing to be able to just have these little creatures that you care for.
And, just this morning, I was actually on the stationary bike in the gym, but my gym has just a giant picture window in it that looks out over the barn where the chickens and the goats are next to the greenhouse. And, I see my sons wander down there every morning with mom to do their farm chores. And, I think it’s really, really great from a parenting standpoint as well to have all these little animals around.
Ryan: Yeah, totally. I mean, my dog, my wife, and I got a dog. When we first met, shortly after we first met, that’s now 14 years old. Meanwhile, we’ve been through four cats since we’ve lived on the farm because something comes and snatches them away or they wander off. And so, you’re forced to talk to your kids. And, sorry, that dog is 15 years old now. So, you’re forced to interact with pets in a way that’s a little more, I don’t want to say detached, but it’s a little bit more realistic, a little less antiseptic. Even just the idea of, hey, you have to be careful around these animals. This thing is not your friend, this is not domesticated. And so, I think it’s both very relaxing but then it also kind of keeps you on edge when we go for a walk, we go through a walk every evening out on the farm. And, it’s like, “Hey, you guys can run around, do whatever you want.” But just know there are snakes, and there are spiders, and there are things that exist out on this farm that we can’t–it’s not that we can’t protect you from, but that don’t care about you the way that we care about you.
Ryan: And so, you have to be careful and you have to be smart, sort of what are our practices if we come across a rattlesnake or whatever? Just the other day, I was actually on the phone with Robert Greene and I was like, “Robert, I have to go and I had to run inside and get my rifle and shoot a snake that I could see in the chicken coop from the deck.” It was a whole family thing. The kids are like, “Oh, my gosh, what is that?” They’re so excited and then they’re like, “Okay, guys, this snake has now habituated itself to eating chicken eggs. This isn’t a friend we can keep. It’s bye-bye time for the snake.” And then, the experience of that and then it’s the, what are we going to do with the snake? Well, let’s put it on this ant mound and let’s come back tomorrow and the snake is gone. The sort of cycle of life very much embodied there. All of that, I think, has been really good and really fun.
Although the other funny thing that the humbling thing for me, so we have 40 acres, and our kid’s favorite spot is this patch of dirt next to our driveway. That’s where they want to spend 90% of their time is rolling these trucks around in this 6-foot patch of dirt. And so, it’s also this reminder that you act–I’m always like, “Hey, maybe one of the neighbors will move, we get more space.” And, the kids are happy with 6 by 6 feet in the driveway.
Ryan: I think there’s also a reminder of they don’t really care.
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You’ve seen me probably wearing a blood glucose monitor before. The whole world, especially the health and fitness world, seems to be talking about glucose and so-called glycemic variability these days. And, for good reason, poor glucose control is tied to weight gain and fatigue, and sexual dysfunction, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke. And, it’s hard to track unless you’re making your fingers bleed all the time until now.
There’s this company called Levels. They make an app. The app ties to a sensor, you stick it on your stomach or your arm, the sensor tracks your glucose all day long and the app interprets your data, it scores your individual meals, it allows you to run experiments across different inputs like diet, exercise, fasting protocols. They have a world-class team that backs them. A stand for trained MD, Top engineered from SpaceX, and Google, a research team that includes legends in the space like Dr. Dom D’Agostino and Dr. David Perlmutter. I’m making myself sound cool by dropping names now. Anyways, I’ve been using a CGM for the past couple years. It’s made a huge difference in my lifestyle, my diet, my exercise. It’s so useful. They have a waitlist, a 100,000 plus people, I’m not kidding. But my podcast listeners get to skip that line and join Levels today. If you go to this link and give it to you right now, levels.link/Ben, levels, L-E-V-E-L-S.link/Ben. You can get one of this sexy continuous blood glucose monitor and be the coolest person at the cocktail party/the healthiest person in your neighborhood. Check it out, levels.link/Ben.
The notion of this romanticized nomadic lifestyle where you bring your kids all over the world and expose them to a wide variety of cultures is actually something. It’s a notion that I had in my head when our sons, River and Terran were born. And, for the first few years of their life, we actually traveled a lot with our kids. And, I realized kind of based on this idea of the dark side of hypermobility and the disruption in circadian rhythm, and just the hassle of putting the strollers and the baby seats and everything through security at the airport.
Our kids, the happiest they are, is again just playing on a little dirt patch. For them right now, it’s literally a pile of rocks next to the greenhouse that we dug up to build the greenhouse. They’ll spend two hours out there during the day stacking rocks and putting little sticks in the stacks and making forts. And, if you have those little spots around the house, it’s amazing how happy kids are just with a patch of dirt. It baffles my mind sometimes.
Ryan: Well, that was another thing for us during the pandemic. People sort of talked about it as this lost year. I’m not sure my kids really noticed anything changed. I mean, obviously, you noticed grandma and grandpa were coming around less, or we were getting on airplanes less, or certain things like, “Hey, the groceries are being delivered,” instead of going to the grocery store, whatever. I’m sure there was some small changes but because their world is and they’re young enough but because their world is so rooted in our house and the things they like to do around it and the sort of self-sufficient life that we’ve built, really nothing changed for them. And, obviously, that’s immensely privileged in one sense. But in another, it’s the kids who live in the trailer down the street probably also had a similar experience. I think sometimes people hear this sort of the farm life and they go, “Oh, you can’t afford that,” or oh, that, blah, blah, blah. And, it’s actually a much cheaper accessible easier life in many ways than the people that I know that have really expensive houses in the suburbs or really expensive house in town. Our 40 acres and our decently nice house is what I was renting an apartment in New York City for.
And so, it’s more accessible than people think, I would say, and then turns out what to be one of the best investments we ever made. Because then, when so much of the things you’re dependent on in the world went away as they did in 2020, we were much less impacted than we would have been. Again, if we were house to house in a nice neighborhood, 30 minutes down the road.
Ben: Yeah. But by the way, the story about the snakes brings back fond memories for me because we don’t have snakes where we’re at aside from the occasional garter or bowl snake that occasionally pops up. I grew up in Lewiston, Idaho where we were just surrounded by oodles of rattlesnakes. And, we used to have to battle those things every single day. I remember when I was 13 years old. I had my 22 with snake shot. And, I would just go out and get rid of the snakes. My brother, actually my older brother, his email address is still–I’m not going to give the full email address but it’s basically rattlesnake ike is his handle. I mean, because he used to just basically go out and harvest snakes with his bare hands. He got to the point where he’d go into rattlesnake dens and just yank rattlesnakes out.
Ben: And, people still hire him. He’s a farmer now, but people still hire him to get them snakes. He actually specializes in hunting down and grabbing live rattlesnakes. Well, growing up, he used to save their rattles. We used to have rattlesnakes all over the place. I remember one time I wandered out, my little sister was literally on the back porch eating a half of a rattlesnake that she just found laying around. So, yeah. But that might be the hygiene hypothesis on steroids. But yeah, I grew up with a lot of snakes.
Ryan: One of the reasons we did end up getting a house in this little town that we’re spending more time at is that our kids were turning into feral animals and we wanted some balance of civilization versus do whatever you want in the country before it was too late. But I very much really, I haven’t seen my son eating a rattlesnake but I have seen them doing some crazy things. It’s like, “Hey, look, at home, you can pee anywhere you want.” But when we’re on the road, you can’t just whip it out and go to the bathroom.
Ryan: You just sort of revert to a more natural uninhibited life and it’s quite wonderful.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. My wife finally put her foot down and had all these boys stop peeing outside because she said certain areas were starting to smell a little bit. But yeah, that’s how it is up here sometimes is the FedEx and the USPS and everybody, They kind of sort of know to drive up the driveway slowly to give the Greenfield boys a chance to actually put our pants on because half the time, we’re just wandering around half-naked in the woods and peeing outside.
Now, how old are your kids now?
Ryan: One is five and the other is almost three.
Ben: Are you guys homeschooling?
Ryan: Yeah. So, we’re doing a mix of remote school now. I mean, they’re not quite school age yet, remote school. And then, one of my sons goes to this thing called Adventure School, which is basically sort of a boy scout camp kind of. They go through the woods and they learn different outdoor skills and sort of. They’ve not stepped foot in a classroom yet which has been kind of a cool experience.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Are they doing any type of nature awareness, nature immersion as part of that wilderness school?
Ben: My sons, they’re homeschooled/kind of unschooled, but they go to nature awareness school that they go and take camps at. And then, they also have this woven into their education now that this Kamana curriculum, which comes from, I believe, Tom Brown, the wilderness tracker back East. He’s one of the guys who originated this curriculum. But this whole nature awareness curriculum where they go out each day and they have sit spots. They learn bird language and tracking, and nature awareness, and plant foraging. And so, we’ve woven that into their curriculum a little bit. But this adventure school, do they actually have kind of homework that they do, like sit spots or anything that?
Ryan: Yeah, yeah. It’s like that. And, that’s one of the things we found too is all of our friends who their kids went to remote schooling when the school was shut down during pandemic, and you’re basically taking teachers who used to teach in the classroom were suddenly teaching online. And, that wasn’t a good experience.
We’ve also found a really good remote school where that’s the medium that this person is an expert in. And so, we kind of have a mix of virtual and then a mix of this adventure school, which has all that fun stuff. And then, we try to do as much as we can ourselves too.
Ben: So, for you, having the bookstore kind of removed from the house a little bit and then the farm, and obviously as a prolific author, you put out a lot of books, you put out a lot of writing as well. And, I’ll link to your website because you have fantastic articles you produce, you have these book reviews that you do. But what exactly does kind of a day in your life look like right now? And, obviously there’s a lot of little rabbit holes. I’m sure we could go down. We have a little bit of time. But what’s it look for you right now as far as what your daily routine is?
Ryan: Yeah. So today, I woke up a little bit before 7:00, I took both the kids. We walked for about a mile with them in the stroller, and then I ran about 4 miles, then I came home. I did a little journaling. I took them to their grandparent’s house. That’s where they’re going to do virtual school. And then, I came into the bookstore, I wrote for about an hour, then I had to shoot some videos for Daily Stoic. And then, I had lunch. I’m doing this with you. Someone’s going to visit me later. I’ll probably get a little bit more writing done in the afternoon. I’ll probably be done by, I don’t know, 5:00 or 6:00 today. I’m not sure if we’re going to stay in the country or in town. Kids have soccer practice tonight. And then, that’s sort of the life. I’ll read before bed, but to me, I try to create a sort of a really easy replicable day where I’m always making some progress on the things that I’m supposed to be doing. So, I’m writing, I’m reading and I’m spending time with the kids. And, I’m taking care of my health. Those are the sort of the buckets that I think about when I’m trying to design my day.
Ben: Are there particular comings and goings or book ends or rituals that you weave in? For example, we always have our 7:30 am family 10-minute meditation and then we have a process of self-examination. And, in the evening, when we’re all getting ready for bed and we finally get the kids up to the room. We close our eyes. We play our day like a movie in our mind. We typically always have family dinners and almost always those family dinners involve a game. I have my morning sauna session with the cold pool and then an afternoon workout, et cetera, et cetera. But do you have those things that no matter how widely varied the day’s activities might be that are non-negotiables for you?
Ryan: Yeah. So, waking up early is a huge one. They’re going for the run.
Ben: How early is early for you?
Ryan: Between 6:00 and 7:00 every morning.
Ryan: So, not Jocko Willink early, but early for someone who can make their own schedule early.
Ben: It’s funny that that’s a saying now.
Ben: You actually hear that people say, “Well, I’m not Jocko Willink.” So, early wake time.
Ryan: Yes. And then, my rule is I don’t touch the phone for the first 30 minutes, 30 minutes to one hour that I’m awake. So, I don’t start the day with email, I don’t start the day with social media, I don’t start the day with work. I start the day with being outside, being with the kids, being active. So, that’s, I think, our big set piece. And, we can tell if for some reason we can’t do that in the morning, the kids are a mess. If they’re not outside in movement for a chunk of time in the morning, they are a mess during the day. That’s the biggest part. Writing is a huge part of the routine. Journaling is a huge part of the routine. At night, we do, yeah, a sort of wind down. So, it’s usually a walk, they like to go pick up rocks and find things. So, we do a walk where they splash in puddles if it’s rained recently. So, we do sort of the outdoor thing. And then, we do bath and then we read a poem out of this book called “A Poem for Every Day of the Year.” So, we read a poem, and then we talk, and we read books.
And then, my kids are obsessed with this YouTube channel that’s actually done by a friend of mine. I don’t know if you ever met Brent Underwood, but he has this YouTube channel called “Ghost Town Living.” He lives in this ghost town in the mountains of California, and they’re obsessed with it. And so, every night before bed, they want to watch 10 or 15 minutes of this YouTube video of this guy building cabins, or exploring mines, or rock climbing. So, they’re fascinated with this world. And then, they do that and we listen to music, and we just sort of slowly drift off to sleep. And then, it’s my wife and I’s time after the kids are out of our hair.
Ben: Yeah. What’s the journaling? You alluded to a journaling habit. Do you guys have a specific journal that you use?
Ryan: I use a bunch. So, I sort of do some free-form journaling. One of my favorite ones is I have this journal called the “One Line A Day” journal that you write one sentence a day. I’ve done it now for five years. I can see what I did on that day five years ago. And so, I’ve done that now for a long time.
I did a journal called the “Daily Stoic” journal that has sort of a stoic-inspired prompt every morning, which I also do. So, I kind of just have a stack of journals and I just spend some time putting on pages and then go from there.
Ben: Now, how about how about your writing process? I actually really your writing style. You have kind of well-informed historical approach, a lot of historical anecdotes, combined with what I would consider to be kind of modern-day philosophy, modern-day practical wisdom. You have a very good article on your website where you get into your note-taking process for consuming books, which I think is quite good. And, I’ll link to that in the shownotes. I never like to ask people things on a podcast the folks go get for free in far more detail on an article. But in terms of the actual writing process, what’s that look like for you?
Ryan: So, I go to the office, I sit down and I try to tackle it first thing. I find if I’ve put it off or if I’ve scheduled things during the day or I’ve done anything else first, the writing material is not as good. So, for me, I just sit down and I write every day. I think about it like a job. I think that’s something that some writers struggle with because maybe they never wanted a job. But I had a corporate life before I was a writer. So, the idea of like, “No, you show up for work every day” is sort of ingrained in me. And so, for me, I just show up and I write every day. Sometimes, it’s for my books, sometimes it’s for the email list. Sometimes, it’s articles. But I’m doing some form of writing every day. It doesn’t have to be for very long, it could be–today, it was maybe 45 minutes as I got tied up with stuff. But in those 45 minutes, I made forward progress on this book project that I’m maybe six or seven months in on. And, that project it’s towards the end, it’s starting to wrap up and it’s starting to wrap up because every single day, I’ve made forward progress on. I’m a big believer in that rule of a few crappy pages a day. I think if you do that, you’ll get to the other side. But if you don’t do that, if you’re sort of paralyzed by perfectionism or by procrastination, you won’t get where you need to go.
Ben: Yeah. So, when you’re actually writing, especially when you’re writing a book, are you using any particular software? Are you a Scrivener guy? Are you putting everything on a Google Drive or Google Docs, or how you actually–
Ben: How you actually organizing information you’re writing?
Ryan: All my research, all my early thinking is on note cards. Then, when I actually sit down to write. And, that’s a big transition for me is going from the loose sort of researchy phase to like, okay, if the process has started, I start. And then, from there, I move on to Google Docs. I’m writing google docs, but I write each chapter in a different Google Doc. So, the big transition then. And, I’m almost there on this new project is the transition from 50 Google Docs to the singular Microsoft Word doc where everything has been combined. So, I try to do most of the writing not thinking about word count, not thinking about anything, but what’s the little project I have to do today.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. You and I have never actually talked much about our writing process, but mine is a little bit similar in that. I tend to, when I’m beginning a book, have the–I have one single document that’s kind of the dream catcher document and sometimes that’s an Evernote doc, sometimes it’s a journal, sometimes it’s a mix of that along with little note cards. But what happens is that the book actually is part of a giant Google Drive. And then, each chapter for the book winds up having its own folder each folder has a document. And, one document is the actual chapter. Another document is, for example, people I want to interview for that book. Another document is resources for that particular book. Another document is basically drafts of a chapter.
So, by the time that a book is well underway inside this Google Drive, you’ll find the chapter and different drafts of that chapter, kind of some of the brainstorms, some of the people I want to interview, some of the things I’ve researched regarding that book. But typically, there’s about anywhere from, gosh, by the time a book’s done like eight to ten different Google Docs for each chapter all in the drive. And, what I found honestly to be most useful with that approach is, A, everything’s in the cloud. So, you’re never having that background angst going on about what if this gets lost, probably stemming from the first book I ever wrote as a kid. I think it was 14, I finished this giant epic 400 plus page fantasy fiction novel. And, my brother somehow deleted it from my computer. And, since then, I’ve got backups upon backups of anything that I ever write. But having it all in the cloud to be able to work with an editorial team is super convenient.
And then, the other thing that’s nice is when I’m writing, one of the things I hate the most as you’re getting close to the book being done is the editorial process of having to kiss all your babies goodbye.
Ben: All the writing that you did that you thought was pretty good but maybe not good enough to make it into the book. Well, all of that, that can live on if you’ve got draft one of Chapter 2, draft two of Chapter 2, draft three. And then, what happens is a lot of times once the book’s actually published, I can go back to draft one, grab everything that didn’t actually make it into the book. And, that can live on to be an article on a website or a future book or even hidden material or bonus material that people might be able to unlock after they’ve purchased the actual book. But for me, it’s all Google Drive and then documents for each chapter within specific folders in that one massive overarching Google Drive.
Ryan: Yeah. I think, Steven Pressfield talks about killing your darlings. The hardest part is cutting. And, I’ve been struggling with that on this, I’m doing a series now of these four books on the cardinal virtues. And, one of the only upsides has been like, “Oh, if I cut something out of this book, maybe I can save it for another book.”
Ryan: But that process of like–not only did I write this, then I did five rounds of editing on it, and now, I’m just having to cut it entirely. I mean, it’s just extremely painful. And so, it does require a certain amount of discipline to be able to say, “Look, this is good and this might work.” And, certainly, people would not complain that it was there, but it would negatively affect the quality of the reading experience even if they didn’t know it, right?
Ryan: And so, yeah, having to trim always is just one of the hardest things to do.
Ben: Now, when it comes to brainstorming, and you mentioned that you’ve got these note cards that are full of material that you might use in a book. I think it was actually you who I read an article at one point about the idea of keeping a commonplace book and how a lot of the great men and women in history like Marcus Aurelius, and Montaigne, and Petrarch, and Napoleon, and Thomas Jefferson. All these people had these books that they would just keep clips of just little snippets, ideas, to-dos, et cetera. For you, is that commonplace book an actual book or are you using technology like the notes app on your iPhone or something like that?
Ryan: I think people should use whatever works for them. Mine, it’s not literally a book but it’s also not digital. For me, it’s note cards. As I’m talking to you now, my entire desk is covered in note cards from the chapter that I’m working on in the book now. So, whenever I find something that I like, it goes on a note card. Whenever I read a book, I break down that book in the form of note cards. So, I’m always using note cards and breaking and compiling material, ideas, quotes, thoughts, whatever it is, I am putting down on a note card, which I then organize by themes or go into specific chapters on a specific book that I’m writing.
Ben: Has that ever been an issue with travel? Because the reason I never really got into note cards or physical means of having this kind of commonplace dream catcher, so to speak, or place where I’ll just slap stuff, throw wet noodles against the wall, whatever. The problem with me with the note cards and everything was when you travel, you’re kind of separated from those or else, it’s kind of laborious to actually travel with all of those, all those cards. Have you ever had to kind of battle against that?
Ryan: Of course, of course. But because I sort of break it into smaller pieces, I just take with me what I need. So, “The Obstacle Is The Way” is three parts and it’s about 10 chapters in each part. So, call it 30 chapters plus an intro, and a conclusion, and afterwards, so 33 or whatever. if I’m working on Part 2, I’m bringing Chapters 1, 2, and 3 from part 2. And, that’s all that I need. And, that might be 50 to 100 note cards. And, I actually like having it kind of compartmentalized there because I’m not thinking about the book as a whole, I’m thinking about this 10-chapter section that I’m writing.
Ben: Yeah. I think it’s kind of a clunky piece of software and I don’t use it because I think it’s the best solution, but it works for me is I use Evernote as kind of my–I have one Evernote doc that’s just always open, always synced across, well, mostly my phone and then my couple of laptops but it has anything from articles I’ve read that I may want to tweet later on to little to-dos that I don’t know where I’m going to put them, so I’ll just slap them into the Evernote doc to ideas for books.
And again, for people listening in, this is not just something that’s useful for authors. I mean, any time you have this central resource or depository for ideas, and for quotes, and for observations, and for research, and for to-dos or almost your external brain, I do have that one doc that’s always open in Evernote. Nobody sees it except me because eventually that stuff winds up getting refined and turned into an actual, whatever, series of tweets that I’ll send over to the social media team or things that eventually make it into that Google Drive section for the books. But for me, it’s been, gosh, for almost a decade or so, Evernote.
Ryan: Yeah, of course. I mean, the reason I don’t use Evernote is that I find that if I have to sweat for it a little bit by writing it out or summarizing it or getting it down on the page, I’m more liable to remember it. So, part of the experience of having to transfer it from physical book to physical note card, to organizing the note card, to going through the note cards, it’s to create multiple touch points. I’m obviously copying and pasting, saves a ton of time. But in saving the time, you can have someone lift weights for you but then you’re not going to get any stronger. And so, for me, the process of struggling with it is really, really helpful.
Ben: Now, when it comes to writing, one thing I’ve noticed that I briefly alluded to earlier was you weave in a lot of historical anecdotes into your book. What I think is interesting is that–and I don’t know if it’s that I’m gaining a greater appreciation for learning lessons from history as I’ve grown older or that I’ve just found that there’s a great deal of wisdom to be derived from a lot of these historical anecdotes. I was never into history growing up. U.S. history or really any history class was not my favorite. I didn’t enjoy it that much.
For you, when it comes to how much history, history of the stoics, and history in general that you weave into your books, have you always been into history, or is it something that you kind of had to gain an appreciation for as you became an author?
Ryan: I think I’ve always loved history. I think it’s just as I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve found that the best way to teach is through stories, and that people are more open to hearing the same truth. If you just said, “Hey, this is how it is,” people would be like, “Well, how do you know?” I don’t agree. What about this, this or this? But I find when I tell stories particularly from history, people are somewhat disarmed or more open to hearing about and they remember it better. So, I just find that stories, particularly historical stories are a better way to get buy-in, a better way to connect and a better way to show rather than tell what you’re talking about.
Ben: Yeah. Well, probably history, and I would say personal anecdotes. Those, in my opinion, are two most powerful ways to write like starting off with a story from your own life or a story from history. Are you systematically studying history on a regular basis or are you kind of reverse engineering it to where, whatever? You have this new book “Courage Is Calling.” And, when you’re writing a section of that book that you know you want to weave history into, are you reading history regularly to get ideas? Are you more thinking of something that you want to tell someone that is important and then going in and researching historical anecdotes of that particular idea or theme for the book?
Ryan: It’s both, it’s both. So, I was thinking about writing a book about courage. Obviously, I’ve always been fascinated with courage. I already have a huge selection of ideas or stories or things that I was interested in. And then, before I write the book, I’m sitting down and going, “Okay, who are some people who I know a little bit about or I know might sort of fit in this general bucket?” I’m going to go read biographies and articles, and watch documentaries, and visit the places that they’ve lived, and find really salient examples or ideas that are ultimately going to be important for the book. So, that’s kind of how I think about it.
So, I’m always reading. And then, when I’m working on a book, I’m reading very specifically around the ideas in that book.
Ben: So, when you’re reading, obviously that’s kind of a different animal than writing. And, a lot of people want to read more. I know you’ve written some on how to read more and how reading is work and important work.
Ben: But for you, how are you actually reading? How do you structure getting through books or do you?
Ryan: No, I do. I mean, so it’s always physical and then–
Ben: Really, always? You don’t do much Kindle or anything like that?
Ryan: I don’t do Kindle and I don’t do audiobooks. I have no judgment against people who do those things. And obviously, I’m happy to sell books to people who do those things if that’s what works best for them. But for me, I read physical books. That’s what gets me excited. That’s how I engage best with the material.
People think because I read a lot like, “Oh, what’s your speed-reading secret?” It’s like, “I don’t have one. I read a lot.” I spend time reading a lot. That’s my job and I have for 20 or so years. And so, when people go, “How do you read more?” How do you read faster? If you read a lot, you will start to read faster. Not just because you’ll be better at it, but you’ll have a larger base of knowledge that allows you to read effectively.
On my 15th book about the Civil War, I’m able to burn through it faster than your average person. On my tenth book about Winston Churchill, I’m able to skim a little bit and just look for the parts that I really want.
So, as I think about reading, it’s a thing that you just do a lot of. And, it’s not a thing you’re trying to rush through necessarily, I don’t try to rush through sex, or rush through meals, or rush through beautiful sunsets. The whole point is to savor them, and enjoy them, and appreciate them for their own sake.
Ben: Yeah. I, of course, have said multiple times on this podcast that reading is a muscle. And, same as you, I don’t use any type of particular speed-reading approach. I’ve never taken a speed reading. I’ve just read a lot since I was a kid. And, as a matter of fact, that’s one thing that I do with my sons is every week, they get a book, they get a book from me. I typically read three to five books a week. I’ll choose one of those and I give them to my sons.
And, a lot of times, I’ll let them choose. I’ll set out four books and say, okay, you pick which one’s kind of calling out your name this week. And, all they do is their assignment is to read the book in a week. And, thus I’m trying to get across to them the idea that reading should be something that you can do at a relatively rapid pace in terms of your digestion of books like a book should not be something that takes you one to two months to get through unless it’s a real classic and you’re savoring it and you’re eating it slowly. They’re reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” right now. And, they’re going through that book over the course of a month because they’re taking a little bit more time in it. But at least one book that they’re assigned, they get through in a week, so they’re getting this idea that reading is something that can be done quite a bit throughout the week. And then, they have an assignment to write about a one-page report on what they’ve read. So, they’re able to actually demonstrate that they’ve harnessed some information from that book. Fortunately, all my books have–I fold as I go, then I highlight and I underline. I don’t put note cards in the book you do, but–
Ryan: No, I do the same thing. I fold pages, I highlight or I use a pen usually. And then, it’s afterwards I transition, I take that and that’s what goes on to the note cards.
Ben: Right. So, none of my books will be resold because they’re all pretty much destroyed after I finish them. So, they’re able to read the book and kind of see some of dad’s takes in the book and see what I found important. So, they’re kind of reading the book through my eyes to a certain extent, and then they write that report. And, they do that every week of the year. At least one book from me. It’s not part of their actual curriculum as much as it is. Kind of an extra thing that gets thrown in. But the idea behind that is, of course, as you were just talking about, reading is muscle. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And then, the idea of being able to write down a little bit about what you’ve read, I think, is a good skill.
But this idea of reading, I think this may have also been you that that mentioned that you’re not a huge fan of the library, right?
Ryan: Well, I mean–
Ben: Or at least checking books out from the library.
Ryan: I, of course, love libraries and support them and understand why they exist. But I guess what I’m saying is that to me, I only want to read books that are worth keeping, that are worth writing it, that are worth building my own library out of. So, if you’re reading just sort of disposable fiction, of course, look, if this is the only way you can afford to get books, check as many books out of the library as you can. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that to me, books are not this transactional things like, “Here’s the book, I read it, now I don’t have it anymore.”
Actually, I just finished last night, I reread “The Great Gatsby” for probably the 10th time, but it’s my copy from high school. I can see not just through if someone would read it, they’d not just be seeing it through my own eyes, they would be seeing 10 different Ryans in 10 different snapshots of my life. And, it was fascinating to me to see things that struck me then that don’t strike me now, things that I missed then that are obvious to me now. And so, for me, reading is not just a thing you do once, but it’s something obviously–hopefully, you do multiple times on books that are worth doing that too. But also you want to be able to go back and find what you marked in these books because you could use them for something.
Ben: Right, versus having a loss of the library.
Ben: I like the idea of using a library for reference. And, my happy place used to be the library growing up. I mean, I would literally have my parents drop me off at the library and check out as many books as I could. But I don’t do that anymore either and really haven’t since that point just because I’m kind of on the same page as you, ha-ha, pun intended, that if you’re reading a bunch of books that you’re just giving back after you finish them, then either they’re not important to you or else you’re not going to be able to access them in the future. If it’s a really fantastic book, at least you won’t be able to access it, highlight it, underline, fold it over and kind of have it be your own version of that book.
I even have a shelf. And, I don’t know if you do something this, Ryan, a shelf in my library. That’s the one shelf where all the books go that are the books I want to reread every year or every few years. There’s that one spot that is the–it’s the whole full-body “hell, yes” bookshelf where those are the books that I’m definitely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, going to come back to.
Ryan: Yeah, I sort of called out my life shelf and it’s usually what’s behind me when people see me on Zoom or whatever. But these are the books that are for life that I’m not putting them over with the novels. These are the novels that have shaped who I am as a person that, yeah, I want to reread or I want to go back to.
The last chapter of “Courage” is about the 300 Spartans. And, as I sat down to go, that’s right, that story is like, “Oh wait, who’s the main source on this?” “Oh yes, it’s Herodotus.” So, I went to my shelf, I got Herodotus off the shelf and it was like, oh wow, here is the copy of this book where I learned about these people for the first time. And, here I am having a discussion, or here I am cashing a check that I wrote to myself almost 20 years ago.
Ryan: That I put down notes to myself marking what I liked, what I thought was interesting. I didn’t know that all these years later I would be writing a book about this thing. But I knew that I might use it for something.
Ryan: And again, if I just checked it out from the college library, that would have been lost to me forever.
Ryan: But because I paid $12 for it on Amazon and kept it, now I’m having this nostalgic experience that is worth so much to me.
Ben: What do you do about the inevitable pile of books that wind up accumulating that you really want to read that kind of annoy you every time you walk past them? Wasn’t Bill Gates who would go on a week-long retreat almost a sabbatical each year just to read with a giant pile of books that’d been calling his name? Do you do anything similar?
Ryan: I do. Yeah, I’ve got a big pile of books that I’m supposed to read that I haven’t read. Although the fact if they haven’t made it to the top of the pile that usually is saying something to me, but I’m trying to get better at what am I reading next, what’s my next book. But one of the agreements my wife and I had when we got the bookstore was that if we set up this office, I would not keep my books at home anymore. So, I have the kids’ books and I have the book I’m reading right now, and then everything else is at work. So, I can be a bit more sloppy about it without it turning our home into a hoarder’s den of unread or half-read books. But I tried just to always be reading. And, I know that I’m just chipping away at the pile.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I’m excited because I’ve finally scheduled my first-ever reading retreat. I’ve always thought it was maybe just a little bit gimmicky and perhaps reflected the fact that those books might not be so important that they even need to be read. But I actually have a retreat set up in January because I’ve got a real interest right now in apologetics in systematic theology and in church history. And, oh, my goodness, you don’t wake up in the morning super excited to just delve into something church history or apologetics. But I’ve got seven massive tomes. Every time I walk past them, I almost get annoyed at myself for not having delved in yet. And so, I set up a writing retreat in January. And, it’s a thematic writing retreat. It’s not just a random pile of books like, okay, this is my theology writing routine. I’m actually going to make it happen, take all these books, disappear. And, my team knows I’m not going to be accessible. And, I don’t know how it’ll go, but I’m going to try it out. I mean, I love to read but I’m not sure how much I’ll love to read eight hours a day but we’ll find out.
Ryan: Yeah, it’d be interesting. I’ve never done something like that.
Ben: Yeah. So, this new book about courage, I think that you wrote an article somewhere about your idea how this idea got into your head in the first place to write a book about courage. How did you get that idea?
Ryan: I was just finishing “Stillness Is The Key” or it was just about to come out, and I remember my wife saying, “We should go do something with the kids.” And so, we ended up taking them for a hike in this place called Bastrop State Park, which is down the street from us. And, as we’re on this walk, one of my sons is in the backpack, the other is walking along. And, this idea, it just kind of hit me like, “Hey, it would be cool to do something about courage.” And, that very quickly escalated to not just courage but a four-book series on the cardinal virtues: courage, temperance, justice, wisdom.
And so, for me, it was a nice reminder of just like, “Hey, sometimes by not working, you’re actually doing the most important work.” And, sometimes when you’re trying to do something, you’re actually preventing your mind from doing that sort of unconscious or subconscious unintentional work. And, I would say most of my best ideas have just kind of popped in my head while I was in the middle of doing something else.
Ben: Yeah. My best ideas for articles and books always come from massage. I have found that one of the few times that I’ll just shut myself off to the world and think of nothing else is if I’m paying someone for literally anywhere from two to four hours for me to be laid out on a table with nothing but a little bit of peaceful music in the background, lost in my thoughts as someone does bodywork on me. And, I have a digital recorder right underneath the table. And, while I’m getting the bodywork done, any thoughts that pop into my head. And, many of them are about content I want to produce. I’ll simply speak. And then, after the massage, I take that audio, I upload it to my computer, I send it off to a transcriptionist, I get the transcription back within a week. And, that literally creates almost my dream catcher document for article ideas and for book ideas. But for me, it’s that twice a month very long massage where I just can do nothing but dream about what I want to write or what I want to work on, or problems I’m trying to solve.
Ryan: Yeah, totally. I think, I was swimming once and someone recognized me and said, “Oh, hey, I just read your book. I loved it,” or whatever. And, I said, “I wrote it in this pool.” And, they were like, “What?” And, I was like, “Most of my important work happened at the end of the workout day in this pool.” The idea just sort of popped into my head. I thought I was jammed up or I was stuck and it happened.
Ben: Yeah, I used to race in Ironman and would spend many hours staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool, or in the lake, or in the ocean, or in a river. And, my problem was I would think of something halfway through the swim but be unable to write it down. And, I actually got to the point where I had during my last few years of Ironman training, I would keep a waterproof, like a little notepad that you’d use for logging your swim workouts on the side of the pool. It really wasn’t to log my swim workouts. I would just write down ideas that randomly pop into my head. But I wish someone would come up with some type of way that you could write things down while simultaneously moving your arms and legs while swimming because that sensory deprivation of being in the pool, there’s something about ideas that come into your head that are pretty good but it’s accompanied by the frustration and the awkward situation not being able to actually put them to paper when you’re there in the water.
Ryan: That’s totally right. And, I find on my walks or my runs in the morning, my wife knows. When I come back inside to not say anything to me until I’ve said something because I’m usually on my way to write something down.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, that’s why I like to do my massages late into the evenings. When I finish the massage, I can sell some time to just lay there and dwell on it.
Well, so courage, the new book on courage, “Courage Is Calling” is the full title, right?
Ben: Yeah. It’s part of a series with courage being first virtue. What are the other three virtues going to be or do you know yet?
Ryan: Yes, self-discipline is the next book. Justice is the one after that, and then the final book in the series will be on wisdom.
Ben: Amazing. It’ll be a good series. For those of you listening in, the book is called “Courage Is Calling.” And, I’ll link to it in the shownotes. I just finished writing a book on discipline, Ryan. It’s actually called “Endure.”
Ryan: Oh, lovely.
Ben: It’s really focused on spiritual stamina. Actually, just this morning finished recording the audiobook version of it. I’ve been a little bit tired. I get up at 3:30 every morning of the past–
Ryan: Are you recording it at home?
Ben: The past. Yeah, the past three weeks just because the house is quiet around then. So, I spend the first couple of hours reading the book. And, for this particular audiobook, I’m kind of doing something different where I’m reading but I’m also throwing in a lot of my own pros and little ideas that pop into my head. I’ve realized that when you record an audiobook, you don’t just have to read the book, you can kind of talk about whatever you want to talk about with the book kind of thrown in there too. But yeah, I’ve been getting up very early. So, this idea of self-discipline is something that’s been top of mind for me. And, I’m going to try to get that book out by, I think, April of next year is when we’ve scheduled that one.
Ryan: Yes. So, typically the virtue is described as temperance or moderation.
Ryan: Which obviously I support and I’m a supporter and a fan of, but it’s kind of boring. And so, as I’m thinking about, well, how do you make people understand temperance, what does it really mean, I think it means self-control and self-discipline. And, I think your point is right too. Self-discipline is not just getting up early and taking cold showers or heading into the gym, there’s a spiritual element to it. And, I think really if you do it right, those physical mundane things actually even take on kind of a spiritual element.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, I even have a chapter in the book about how sometimes going to the gym is lack of temperancy and escapism, the ability for you to be able to flop around like a muppet because you’re addicted to moving when in fact there are other more important things to be doing. Or your exercise session is actually a display of a lack of temperance because rather than lifting something heavy, you’re moving in a complex manner or challenging yourself with balance or complexity or something like that. You’re just kind of doing the same old thing that you’ve been stuck in a rut doing overtraining, et cetera, training to eat, eating to train for years. And, yeah even physical activity can be a display of a lack of temperance ironically.
Ryan: For sure. No, especially if you’re a driven ambitious person. For most people, going to the gym is not a sign of a lack of temperance but for those of us who are good at it, who love it, who have done it for so long that it’s become almost an obsessive-compulsive thing, especially if you’re injured or something, it can take more discipline to be like, “Today, I’m going to rest.”
Ben: Right, exactly. Yeah, it’s a concept I wish more people in the health and exercise world could wrap their heads around.
Ryan: It’s bad for business, right?
Ben: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, there are so many articles you’ve written, some of which we’ve alluded to during today’s show, even life lessons you’ve learned from your pet goats but you’ve got your article about different ways. You’re insanely productive and how to read more and how the idea for “Courage Is Calling” came to be. Some of your articles about your daily routine. And, what I’ll do for folks who are listening in who want to take a deeper dive into anything, Ryan and I’ve been talking about, just go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Holiday. And, I’ll highlight and link to some of the articles that I think would be more relevant for you as well as links to Ryan’s new book, “Courage Is Calling,” and all his other books, probably my favorite being “Stillness Is The Key.” I still think that’s one of your greatest works, Ryan.
Ryan: Well, thank you, man. This is really cool.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And so, that’s all going to be at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Holiday. And Ryan, next time I’m in Austin off to come out and show you how to milk a goat.
Ryan: Let’s do it.
Ben: I guess you got to get them pregnant first, then I’ll come out and show you the rest of the process.
Ryan: We’ve got some neighbors who will loan us a goat, I’m sure.
Ben: Alright, man. Well, it’s always a pleasure talking to you.
Ryan: Appreciate it.
Ryan: Alright, we’ll talk soon.
Ben: Alright, folks. I’m Ben Greenfield along with Ryan Holiday signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
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Ryan Holiday is a deep and profound modern day philosopher, a friend of mine, and one of my favorite authors.
He is the bestselling author of the new book Courage Is Calling, along with Trust Me, I’m Lying; The Obstacle Is the Way; Ego Is the Enemy; Conspiracy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition, including my one of my personal favorite books of all time: Stillness Is The Key. His work has been translated into over 30 languages and has appeared everywhere from the The New York Times to Fast Company.
Ryan owns and operates the independent bookstore Painted Porch Bookshop in Bastrop, Texas. He is married and has two sons, and his family lives on a 40-acre ranch in Bastrop County, Texas.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-Ben reading Ryan’s article, 33 Ways to be Insanely Productive, Happy Balanced Person…03:38
-How an in-person bookstore has helped Ryan reconnect with family, health, and more…12:30
- Started The Painted Porch bookstore in December 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic
- The store contains Ryan’s favorite and most recommended books; not trying to compete with the big box stores
- Great way for his two boys to interact and bond with their father on a deep level
- Ben will have his boys “shadow” him at work, only to realize they’re not all that interested in emails, writing novels, etc.
- Article: 33 Ways To Be An Insanely Productive, Happy Balanced Person
- Difficulty establishing boundaries when one works from home
- The bookstore is a dedicated work space for writing, podcasts, a place for employees to go to work, etc.
- You watch the ecosystem grow before you, vs. selling to strangers on a Kindle or audiobook
-Virtue found in a non-urban lifestyle…26:05
- Ryan Holiday owns a 40-acre property with small herd of cattle, garden, fruit trees, etc.
- Purpose was to establish a more rural lifestyle
- Nigerian dwarf goats produce milk, cheese, make fun pets
- Introduces their children to the concept of death in very real way
- Hygiene hypothesis
- Having animals arounds teaches children about fundamentals of life such as child-rearing
- Teaches a healthy fear and respect of nature (animals aren’t your friend)
- Ben and Ryan’s children are perfectly happy in a patch of grass or pile of rocks
- The rural environment mitigated some of the effects of the pandemic
- Ben’s kids do wilderness school – Kamana Wilderness Awareness School
- Tom Brown’s Tracker School
-Some of Ryan Holiday and Ben’s daily rituals and routines…46:03
-Ryan’s writing process..51:15
- Article on writing process by Ryan Holiday
- Ensure all essential tasks are finished before writing
- Think of writing as a job
- Early thinking on note cards
- Do actual writing on Google docs
- Ben uses a “dream catcher” document and relies heavily on Google docs for the writing process
- Keep “commonplace” books nearby
- Ben uses one Evernote doc to keep track of writings, to-do’s, book ideas, etc.
- Having to work a little bit to make a note causes one to remember it more handily
-How Ryan’s appreciation of history has grown by writing his books…1:02:55
- People are more open to your message if it’s tied in with a story from the past
- Personal anecdotes are also effective
-Ryan’s reading habits…1:06:27
- Physical copies only, no Kindle or audiobooks
- No “speed reading” secret; the more you read, the faster it goes
-Why Ryan Holiday isn’t a fan of checking out books at a library…1:10:45
- “Disposable fiction”
- Build your own personal library of books you want to keep forever
- Ben has a shelf of books he wants to re-read every year
- Like cashing a check you wrote to yourself years earlier
-How Ryan got the idea to write a book about courage…1:17:24
- Article about the book on courage:
- When you try to do something, it can prevent you from actually doing it
-About Ryan’s upcoming series of virtue-themed books…1:21:30
- Courage is Calling is the first part of a series, to be followed by:
- Self-discipline (temperance/moderation)
- Ben has a book soon to be released titled Endure
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
– Ryan Holiday:
– Other Resources:
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