Health and Wellness

How Tim Ferriss uses techniques from this ancient philosophy to handle Covid-19 stock market volatility, emotions

Tim Ferriss
Getty Images | Amy E. Price

Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur and best-selling author whose podcast has been downloaded more than 400 million times. But even Ferriss has had his share of struggles amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

For one thing, Ferriss, who was an early investor in Facebook, Uber, Twitter and Alibaba, said on a recent episode of his podcast, "The Tim Ferriss Show," that he's seen his stock portfolio drop "70% in value."

"I've struggled a lot in certain areas," Ferriss said on his podcast on April 9. And while Ferriss recognizes that there are "people who are far less fortunate" than him, he said the effects of the pandemic have hit home, especially among his family members who work in the service industry.

But Ferriss said he has used techniques from the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism to help stay calm and resilient while self-quarantining at home in Austin, Texas with his girlfriend during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Stoicism emphasizes that you can't control events, but you can control your responses to them. Other successful people, from Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey to musician LL Cool J, are believers in these tenets.

Ferriss said in a 2017 TED Talk that Stoicism is "the most reliable safety net for emotional free fall" and the "tool that has helped me to make my best business decisions."

During the pandemic, one of "the most powerful" Stoic practices Ferriss has been using is rehearsing outcomes. 

"The areas where I have not struggled are the places where I have rehearsed, to the extent possible, what might happen," Ferriss said.

The Stoics called this practice "premeditatio malorum," which translates to "the pre-meditation of evils." Essentially, by imagining and rehearsing worst-case scenarios, you can be more prepared emotionally and tactically to encounter them (even if they never actually happen).

So what does this look like in practice? Ferriss uses a three-step fear-setting exercise, "which is really just a ... practice of writing out the worst case scenario, what you could do to decrease the likelihood of [that] happening [and] what you could do to decrease the damage if [it does] happen," Ferriss said on his podcast.

"A big part of that for me has been deeply envisioning the worst-case scenarios and what they would, not just look like but feel like to observe and experience," he said.

Another important the Stoic belief that Ferriss said he has found helpful is that "all of our decisions are irreversible." The idea is that if a decision is permanent, there is no use wasting time or energy on regret or worrying about lost opportunities. It's more productive to move forward and look for new ones.

In particular, during the pandemic Ferriss said he leaned on the tenet to avoid feelings of regret when it comes to his investments in the stock market, which has been extremely volatile. 

For example, a more experienced investor told Ferriss that he should commit to holding his Uber stock for at least five years. (As Warren Buffett says, "If you aren't willing to own a stock for 10 years, don't even think about owning it for 10 minutes.") But in this climate, that commitment comes with the expectation that the price of the stock, which was at $40 on Feb. 21 when Ferriss was considering the matter, would likely fall to $15 or $20.

"When it hits $20 and $15 you are going to want to sell more than you do now," Ferriss recalled the more experienced investor saying. "And you need to prepare for that." Just a matter of weeks later on March 18, Uber stock fell to $14 a share.

"I really mentally committed to holding for an extended period of time," Ferriss said. "I prepared myself for $15 share." (Uber closed at $27.85 on Wednesday.)

Ferriss said the idea of moving on from what you cannot change helped put things in perspective.

"This [panemic] ... will be on some level, a marathon and not a sprint, so there will be more opportunities" in the stock market, he said. 

And focusing on opportunities, rather than regrets, can help you feel less stressed, regardless of your issue or industry, he said.

"It doesn't matter how many opportunities you miss it matters how many opportunities you take advantage of," he said.

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