The thoughts we have can help shape our health and even our career success. Running one’s own business can be a rollercoaster. It can also teach important life lessons about values, beliefs, and persistence. Having (or adopting) a growth mindset can be a key element of learning and ultimately succeeding. Consider the impact of your identity and use your drives to your advantage. Tap into virtual mentors. Everyone’s entrepreneurial journey is different, but you may learn useful lessons about what it takes—especially in the health field—in today’s podcast.
Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hi everyone, welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Dr. Ruscio, today I’m here with my good friend Tom Bilyeu. If you don’t know Tom’s name, he’s a big name in the space and I won’t steal his thunder. I’ll let him give some of that background. He’s achieved some really remarkable things in the health and fitness space and he’s also just a really cool guy.
I’ve had a chance to interact with him personally when I was in LA and went on his show Impact Theory. I thought it would be a really fun conversation to have him come on and talk about what he’s learned about the health and fitness field. And also as a highly successful entrepreneur within the field: what he’s learned in terms of how to succeed, how to balance your life, overcoming obstacles, mindset, and probably a litany of other things that we may traverse in terms of tangents. So Tom, thank you so much for being on this show and welcome.
Tom Bilyeu: Man, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
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Dr. R’s Fast Facts Summary
Why do some people fail?
- People don’t want it badly enough
- Not reading enough
- Giving up to early. Quitting before they get momentum
Are some people wired to become an entrepreneur?
- Maybe, but we are also very malleable creatures
- If you can attempt to change your values, beliefs, identity etc. you could begin to hardwire new thinking and become an entrepreneur
Staying healthy while trying to become successful
- You may endure some stress, lose some sleep, skip a meal here and there, but the key is to remain healthy and not sacrifice the important drivers of your health
Where to learn more
- Get help using this information to become healthier.
- Get your personalized plan for optimizing your gut health with my new book.
- Healthcare providers looking to sharpen their clinical skills, check out the Future of Functional Medicine Review Clinical Newsletter.
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DrMR: Yeah, I’m excited to have this conversation. Tell people about your background. It’s a really impressive background. Tell people about how you got started, what you’ve done, and what you’re doing now.
TB: It’s probably an unusual story for this crowd. But it started when I went to film school. I wanted to be a filmmaker, graduated, had no idea how I was going to break into the industry. I ended up meeting these two entrepreneurs who made a very astute observation, which is that I was coming to the world with my hand out, and if I wanted to control the art, I was going to have to control the resources. They were starting a new business, they needed a copywriter, and they said, “Why don’t you come with us and get rich?”
I was like, this sounds amazing, and thought it would take about 18 months. 18 months turned into 15 years, multiple businesses, but it ultimately ended up working. The irony was, the company that we ended up having success with will probably be familiar to a lot of people in this space, which is Quest Nutrition. That company really was born out of misery.
The first company that we started was a technology company. That was where they brought me on as a copywriter and they said, “Look, don’t think of yourself as a copywriter, act like an entrepreneur and you can have any role in this company that you want. You just have to become the right person for the role.”
So that meant actually getting good at something, really becoming extraordinary. I took them at their word that if I did that, that would create opportunities for myself. I just went crazy, going from really the most undereducated person in the room—at one point they had packed me away in a server room and everybody else in the company had these beautiful offices overlooking the Pacific Ocean – and I’m literally stuck in the server room. Somebody was like, who’s the kid in the server room? So that’s where I started, and clawed my way out of that by gaining skills. About six and a half years into that journey, I was just miserable. Just miserable in a way that I couldn’t have predicted in my own life. I was chasing money, I was just trying to get rich. I wasn’t thinking about the customer, I wasn’t trying to add value, and that really began to eat away at me.
Finally I actually went in and quit. And it ends up being a cool part of the story, but at the time it was deeply shameful and I was really disappointed in myself. But I was just so unhappy and I couldn’t continue. By that point, I had earned 10% equity in the company, so I was literally giving back millions of dollars to leave. I said, “Look, you know, I’m not going to cross the finish line, I don’t think I should get anything for this.”
And they said, “Well, hold on. We could do this without you, but we don’t want to. What would it look like for us to keep working together?” So I laid out: I was profoundly unhappy, I needed to do something that I was completely passionate about. We were going to have to sell that company, do something completely new, it needed to be based on passion and needed to be based on adding value to people’s lives.
A Move Toward Health Entrepreneurship
Back then nobody was using the word authenticity. What I kept saying was, I want my real personality to shine through. So we talked about it and agreed that we all felt the same way. And what was going to be that next company? For three very different reasons, we ended up going for Quest Nutrition.
For me it was about saving my mom and my sister. They were morbidly obese, they had been essentially eating themselves to death my entire life, and I’d had an uncle who had died of obesity-related complications back when I was 12 years old so that left a really indelible mark on me.
So look, I’m not stupid, I knew that they were struggling profoundly with something that hundreds of millions of people, if not upwards of a billion people struggle with. There was a real business opportunity, but we had all agreed that we were no longer going to lead with what makes the most money. We were going to lead with what adds the most value. And I know how cheesy that sounds, especially now, but back then everyone thought we were crazy. No one was talking like that.
We just ended up moving on being a socially-conscious business that was really trying to add a crushing amount of value. Being realistic about what was metabolically advantageous, not just what we could sell, and doing that right with social media. Right as more people were awakening to some truths of nutrition, right as social media was allowing us to spread that message, and find people who believe that same thing. And we just exploded. Quest grew by 57,000% in our first three years alone, ended up being worth north of a billion dollars, and it changed everything about my life.
DrMR: What was it like being a part of a company that grew that fast? It must have just been so challenging to keep up with the demand, with the demand for new personnel, for troubleshooting, for logistics. I’m sure there were probably some moral confrontations that arose. What was it like riding that explosion?
TB: It was crazy, but if I’m honest, it was a lot of fun. All of the things that end up being dangerous about that kind of growth don’t become apparent for quite some time. So the ride was beautiful, man. It was really a fun time, and it was fun to build something that people were responding to so powerfully. It was neat to touch that many lives and to see how many people were transformed by the product.
It was neat to see people really fall in love with the brand and what we stood for, and to create jobs. At one point we had over 3,000 full-time and part-time employees. We went from shipping on our living room floor to having like 360,000 square feet between manufacturing, fulfillment, and administration.
So it was just awesome. And I’m a learner, man. I really, really love to learn. It was such a vicious period of learn-or-die, and I love that, and I really enjoyed being in that environment. It was something I was so unfamiliar with. I didn’t know anything about manufacturing, so going into that, it was amazing. And that feast of learning is something that I’m now replicating in my new company.
Philosophy Behind Quest Nutrition
DrMR: Now, tell people a little bit about Quest. I’m sure most people have at least seen a Quest bar at a grocery store, but if someone hasn’t heard of Quest, tell them a little bit about the company to get them up to speed.
TB: So our goal was to make food that people could choose based on taste, and it happened to be good for them. The way that people often try to disrupt an industry or a behavior is to get people to change. And what we wanted to do was acknowledge that there was a far more elegant way to get people to make radical change, and that was to leverage their behavior instead of trying to change it.
So rather than asking people to not eat protein bars, or not eat cookies, or not eat chips, we saw it as our opportunity—and obligation, quite frankly—to give them a cookie they could eat, that was healthy, to give them chips they could eat, that were healthy. So that became the obsession: what’s the actual metabolic response with this product? And can we continue to make that even better over time? That became the ethos.
DrMR: So you’re one of the first players in the space of making tasty food that’s also healthy, would you say?
TB: Yeah, for sure. That was what allowed us to really move fast. We were coming into an industry where people didn’t think that they ate protein bars. They were just like, I don’t eat protein bars, they’re all junk, they’re all junk. So our first hurdle was just getting people to pause long enough to look at the nutrition profile on the back. That was it.
Getting them to then take a bite was a whole other challenge. But people were so closed off to the idea of eating a protein bar when we came into the industry that that was really an exciting challenge to overcome. To give people something that they could eat, that they could see the metabolic effects of, and then that they can begin to trust the brand on. That allowed us to launch other products. And people knew, all right, if Quest makes it, it’s going to be high-quality clean ingredients.
DrMR: Mm-hmm. And what did that look like? Was it copywriting, observing the response to the copywriting, updating your copy, and continually mining your message until you found something that really stuck in the mind or moved the consumer?
TB: It was a bit more being the right person in the Zeitgeist. We were our own customer, so we didn’t have to do focus groups and things like that. We just built stuff that we wanted. So I was building things that I wanted to eat personally. We were building things that I wanted to give to my mom and my sister that I knew were going to help them. My sister ended up losing over 125 pounds. It was just crazy. So it was easy to make the right decisions when I’m thinking, “All right, if we use ingredient A, it’ll make us more money, but it’s going to be worse for my mom and my sister.” That just gives so much clarity, because I had real people to think about, I didn’t have to imagine a customer. I know exactly who I’m trying to serve. So that was awesome.
Then, remember I’m coming out of Awareness Technologies where I wasn’t able to be myself, I wasn’t focused on value creation, it wasn’t passion that was driving me. Now all of a sudden it is. Now all of a sudden it’s like, “Hey, I’m going to build a studio inside of Quest, precisely because I think that I can leverage my ability to tell stories to make this brand stand for something, to create a lightning rod that the community can grow up around.” That ended up working insanely well. So we were one of the first brands to use social media. It wasn’t even called social media back then. That helped us to build communities early, and the communities were in love with us, and that helped really build a lot of momentum.
But again, we weren’t doing it because we thought, oh, we’re so clever. We were just like, dude, this is how it has to be, this is how it should be. Companies should be focused on value, they should be focused on community, they should be bringing people together. They shouldn’t be just trying to push their products, they should be creating marketing where the marketing in and of itself is creating value. That was possible because we had the expertise of creating our own commercials, creating shows. We were one of the first brands to create, like, a cooking show. We didn’t overly hype the brand, we didn’t ask influencers that came on to hype the brand. We were just like, let’s make a rad recipe that’s real, that people can eat guilt-free, that’s going to be good for them metabolically.
But we knew how to do the production and create the shows. We just ended up doing all the things from this purest of places, but also happening to do, from a timing/Zeitgeist perspective, everything at the exact right time.
DrMR: Great points there. Obviously right now it’s something I think people are aware of, but being one of the first people there, you really proved the concept of how important it is to add value. I couldn’t agree with that more. The other thing you said that I find really interesting and I think is worth repeating—especially for the healthcare practitioners listening to this—is think of yourself as a customer. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, in the experience you’re creating with your online health business, or your clinic, or what have you. To use an example that may be a bit trite, but I think is always worth repeating, if we in the integrative healthcare space are asking people to do $5-$7,000s worth of lab work, you have to ask yourself if that is how you’d want to be treated.
That’s one of the ways I’ve been able to cut a lot of the fat out of my clinical model. Just asking, would I want to be treated this way? And would this feel good to me? There’s so much there that we have, that we don’t appreciate, when we look at our operation, our product, our service and pretend that we’re on the customer end. We can ask, does this feel good to me? Does it feel genuine? Does it feel like I’m being taken care of? Or does it feel like this is more in the interest of making money for someone or serving someone’s philosophy first, rather than meeting me where I am? I think that’s such an important thing for people to incorporate into how they look at their operation.
TB: Yeah, man. I think that’s really, really well said and people would definitely do well to take that advice.
Impact Theory and Personal Growth Principles
DrMR: Now, what’s your new business? How would you describe that for people?
TB: Impact Theory is a film studio. That’s the easiest way to think of it. So we’re trying to create the next Disney. The reason that I use Disney as an example is because Disney’s the only studio that’s had the discipline to only tell one kind of story from a thousand different angles. Because they did that, the brand has become meaningful in and of itself.
So for instance, if I say I’m going to go see a Warner Brothers movie, a Paramount movie, or a Sony movie, you know nothing about it. But if I say I’m going to go see a Disney movie, you already know something about it. They were able to essentially create Americana. I think a lot of people don’t realize that Disney gave birth to that, the notion that right always wins, that there was this simpler time that we should hearken back and simpler values.
They created that with that consistency of storytelling, the consistency of the brand ethos. In doing that, they created the most magical place on earth. My thesis is, with a similar kind of discipline, could we create the most empowering place on earth? So that’s what we’re focused on. We want to use what I call non-fiction, me talking direct to camera, explaining mindset, business principles, how to empower yourself and learn and grow and get better, but we know that that only affects about 5% of the world (probably a little less than 5% of them if I’m completely honest). The other 95-plus percent, you have to hit them at a limbic level. If you’re not hitting them emotionally, you’re never going to be able to shake them out of old patterns. So the mission of our company is to pull people out of the Matrix by giving them an empowering mindset.
I came to that because I worked in the inner cities a lot, first as a Big Brother for eight and a half years, and then at Quest. Those 3,000 employees that I talked about… about a thousand of them grew up hard as hell in the inner cities. And I’m talking, one guy held his stepfather while he bled to death from a gunshot wound to the head, another’s sister was shot in the heart with an AK-47, many of them had gone to jail for drug charges. It’s just crazy, a level of hard that I honestly didn’t know existed outside of the movies. And I was just thinking, how do I help them? So Impact Theory in its iteration now started as Inside Quest. It was my attempt to show the employees what it meant to be inside Quest, to have that mentality to think like we thought. One thing that I didn’t think that we would ever get credit for was the mentality that the three of us had, that allowed us to come into an industry and completely disrupt it even though we knew nothing about it.
It was that belief that we could learn anything, and that if we were willing to work hard enough, that we could outperform anybody, regardless of not having the pedigree. So I wanted my employees to know that. I never wanted them to work there because they felt trapped by the paycheck. I wanted them to be there because they felt like we were helping them shape their mind, build their skillset, and that they were empowered to go anywhere they wanted. And they would stay essentially because not only did we pay great wages but we really cared about their future. I actually had one guy come in, and this grown man breaks down in tears and says, “You care more about my success than my own mother.” I was like, that to me is how a company should be.
People should feel like you’re investing in them, that you want to help them get better, you want to empower them to be free to go do anything they want, and stay because you cared that much. So when I decided to leave Quest, I was thinking, okay, I feel like that message… me talking to camera, me interviewing these incredible thinkers, it’s really impacting about 5% of my employees. But how do I impact the 95% that are actively antagonistic to change? Because as I’m sure you well know, especially when you’re talking diet, oh good Lord, people have entrenched ideas. They’ve been doing things a certain way, they feel that they deserve to eat a certain way.
The same thing is true of mindset. People just get in these patterns that hold them back, their beliefs about themselves, their beliefs about the way the world works. And they mistake those beliefs for objective truth. So I knew that I was going to have to hit that 95% with a story, with a character that they could identify with, that they could fall in love with. Think about Frozen and the way the kids gravitate towards that, or for me it was The Matrix. There are certain stories that really get under people’s skin, and it’s pretty fascinating how that can begin to influence culture.
Looking at the problem of mindset, you have to change where somebody grows up—unfortunately, zip code impacts somebody’s future prospects dramatically—who their parents are or the way their friends think. I can’t do the first two. But changing the third one, the cultural influence… I think the media really does have that power. So the company is called Impact Theory, because using both nonfiction and fiction is my theory on how to impact people at scale.
Beliefs & Habits of People Who Succeed
DrMR: There is a lot here that I want to dig into. I think this takes us into a conversation about how to understand the architecture of someone’s mind, and try to arrange things—for lack of a better term—in such a way that you can help them to succeed. The underpinning of the question I’m asking here is, what’s the difference between people who succeed and who fail? But there are a couple of pieces of groundwork that I want to lay.
Firstly, I agree with you: there’s this aspect of needing to have the right people or influences around us. And I think back to my college years, when I first started into more of an entrepreneurial venture. I owned a small personal training company and my parents were telling me, “Why don’t you just work at Dad’s? (At the company my father worked at.) Get a safe, secure paycheck?” I remember Robert Kiyosaki with his Rich Dad, Poor Dad series would always say, “You sacrifice a safe, secure paycheck for freedom and the ability to make more money.”
Having the right people around me like Kiyosaki—not literally, but reading his works—helped to give me exposure to other philosophies that resonated more deeply with me. So I do think there’s a degree of truth to that. But I wonder, how much of this do you feel to be constitutional? Meaning, some people are just wired in that more, entrepreneurial, or work-until-I-succeed and I know no other option? Do you think there are some people who are wired that way, compared to other people who, even in a great environment, never seem to get the amount of lift that they want to get?
Sorry for the long prelude here, but I ask this within the context of: are there potentially some people who are trying to force themselves into a box they may not be constitutionally gifted or innately endowed to thrive in? I know there’s a lot there, but how do you want to pick into that?
TB: Yeah. So I think that, unfortunately, we are not blank slates. I want that to be true. I want us all to be these wonderful blank canvases upon which you can paint any masterpiece of your choosing. I think we all know that that is just fundamentally not true. But at the same time, I think that the amount of malleability that we have, even down to the constitution level, is so dramatic that it makes far more sense to focus on that.
So I’ll just give a nice generic breakdown and say 20% of you is static and you’re never going to be able to change it. And 80% is malleable. I’m going to choose to focus on the 80% that’s malleable. Because somebody that never attempts to change their belief system, their value system, their sense of identity, the story that they tell themselves about themselves in the world around them, that never attempts to adjust their habits and routines, doesn’t understand that all of us are essentially like Voltron. We’re this one big, strong, amazing thing that’s built of those things that I just named. Even things like your beliefs and values are malleable, to be certain.
First of all, I had zero entrepreneurial instincts when I started, none. My entire contribution to do conference calls in the beginning was to say goodbye. I’m not joking, I would look forward to it. I’d be like, I can tell the call’s wrapping up, I’m finally going to get to say something.
But now I was around a bunch of people that thought a certain way, that had huge demands on themselves and others about learning, about efficiency, about momentum. To fit in and be respected by these people that I respected, I had to conform to those social norms. So I lived through. I came from an artists’ community where none of that was encouraged, none of that was thought as cool. You were thought cool if you were off the beaten path, if you were telling a story that was weird and esoteric, that was the stuff that people thought was cool. Now all of a sudden I’m in an environment where it’s like, “Yo, you’re either selling or you’re not, if you don’t understand the customer, you’ve got nothing. I don’t care how cool you think your product is, you live and die by the marketplace.”
And that was so jarring and such a culture collision for me. But it showed me how I could begin to adopt the values of the group. In doing that, begin to hardwire it through repetition. While in the beginning I was having to tell myself, “Oh, I should do this faster, oh, I should learn more, oh, I should this, that, or the other,” after awhile it starts to be your default. You’ve repeated it so many times, you’ve invested so much emotionally into it, you’ve allowed people to emotionally reward you or emotionally punish you when you did or didn’t live up to the expectations and the mores of the group. Then all of a sudden, five, six years in, you’re like, whoa, this is real to me now. And people that are outside of that seem weird to me.
So, my dream used to be to direct. The easiest way I can explain it is, now that I’ve gone through the absolute, constitutionally transformative movement from artist to entrepreneur, I could never go back to directing. It’s so myopic. You’re focused on one thing. Whereas now I want to own the studio. I want to run it. I want to oversee 10 projects instead of just directing one. But I could not have imagined that when I was in film school.
Optimize for Growth
DrMR: You make a great point. Perhaps it’s somewhat moot in terms of how much you’re giving constitutionally, because you also just have your environment. If you can’t change your constitution, what you can focus on is trying to optimize for your environment. So that’s a very empowering, well-said message.
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What were some of the things that were influential to you, to help shape your environment and pull you into this more success-geared mentality that you’re espousing?
TB: Well, there are really two things. One, being in a company full of die-hard entrepreneurial people. That was huge. I had this peer group of people. And then reading. If you asked, “What’s the one thing that changed you the most?” I would say reading. The number of people living in debt who have taken the time to write an entire life’s worth of wisdom into a book that you can consume in a week or less is absolutely extraordinary. To think that in seven days, I can learn what Socrates learned in a lifetime, or what Steve Jobs learned in a lifetime, or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, it’s insane. The amount of stuff that the world’s brightest minds have taken the time to write down… you just have to be willing to let it change you.
This is what I always tell people about reading. It’s not enough to pass your eyes over the words, you’ve got to take immediate action, when something really sparks with you. You’ve got to put it to use right away. One book that absolutely changed my life, and I highly recommend reading it to everybody listening to this, is Principles by Ray Dalio. In that book, basically the punchline is, he said to do what he did—and he built the largest, most successful hedge fund in the world—everybody in his company had to do two things. They had to be able to speak truth and they had to be able to hear truth. I never thought you could hold a large organization accountable like that. The way that he defines it is, even if you have a criticism that you’re willing to take to your grave and not even say to your significant other, you still have an obligation to voice that to the group.
I thought, whoa, that’s intense. When I read that, I was halfway through the book. I got the whole team together and said everybody has to read this book, we’re going to be implementing this in the company. This is absolutely transformative. And because as soon as I encountered it, I put it to action in the company and got other people involved so we could all discuss it and learn it together, then it actually sticks. My thing with books is, they will change you, if you let them.
DrMR: Yeah. That’s so well-said. I’ve written about this in our clinicians’ newsletter: to always go to the people on your team—in this case, in my clinical practice—and ask them for feedback. And make the culture okay for them to criticize something. Because I think that’s equally as important. If you ask people for feedback, but you shun them whenever they give you feedback, obviously you’re not encouraging honest and open feedback.
The amount of positive, influential, and informative feedback your customers or your staff have to offer you is absolutely incredible. What a travesty it would be to not take all of that feedback, especially from people who are on the ground floor. Let’s say you’re not handling a lot of customer service, so you’ve become detached from what the customer service experience is like. You’re really dependent upon the people who are interfacing directly to know what the customer experience now looks like. And if you’re not taking their feedback, that is such a huge miss. I couldn’t agree with you there more. That’s an excellent point.
TB: Yeah. You just said that very well.
DrMR: This also reminds me of something that I’ve been doing recently. It sounds like we’re doing the same thing. Essentially, I read a book, and while reading, I’ll highlight things, underline, make little margin notes. Then when I’m done reading, I don’t allow myself to read another book until I go back and write all of those notes into a Word document. Then when all the notes are compiled, I go through them and determine how I’m going to apply them into my life. And those second two aspects of the process are absolutely crucial, just like you said. Because if you read stuff and you don’t really effectuate the lessons from it, then I guess you have interesting banter for cocktail conversation, but you haven’t really done anything to enhance your life.
TB: Totally. Yeah, that’s pretty smart.
DrMR: How are you? How do you go through the process of translating from a book into action? Do you have a certain method that you use?
TB: I do, it’s not nearly as cool as yours. I do take notes, and then when something really hits me, I try to start using it that day, immediately. So even before I finish the book, I try to take it and run with it. I find that most books give you one to three things that you’re really going to get behind and start using in your daily life. So I don’t do an extended breakdown and then say I’m going to take these things. It’s more just getting the gist of these one to three big ideas that I think are very useful, and then I start using them immediately.
DrMR: Sure. And it could depend on the extent that you’re learning from a book. If it’s something where you’re only grabbing one or two things, I guess you wouldn’t have to go through a whole Word document transcription. That makes complete sense. Are there are a few other books that you think are really important to read? Or even interviews? Are there a few interviews that you’ve done? I’ve listened to a few of the Impact Theory interviews, you’ve had some really high-level, well-renowned, and really influential speakers on your show. So books or interviews that you’ve conducted that you think are also really good for people to look at?
Recommended Books and Talks
TB: Yeah, definitely. I have a book list which is at impacttheory.com. I think there are 27 or 28 books on the list now in the order that I think they should be read in. Number one is Mindset by Carol Dweck, which is to me the single most important book in the English language. Like, if you have that book and you’re living by it, it will change everything. It’s just absolutely astonishing. The second book is Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, about owning what’s happening in your life. They say if your life is the way you want it, then you’ve made the right choices, and if it’s not, you’ve made the wrong choices. It’s not circumstance, it’s not fate, it’s not dumb luck. It’s that everything in your life is an exact reflection of the choices that you’re making.
Then the list goes on. Number three is Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. I will say that David Goggins is one of my all-time favorite episodes that we’ve ever done. I just think that for me, he was the exact right message that I needed to hear. He is definitely not shy about swearing, so if people are sensitive to that, that would not be one to listen to. Mel Robbins has been one that people have really resonated with, and the way she ended up turning her life around with a very simple strategy that’s very, very powerful. And then we’ve had people across the gamut.
Depending on what you’re interested in, we’ve had a whole host of health people. You’ve been transformative in my life and my wife’s life. So I often recommend your episode for people trying to get their health in order. It really comes down to what you’re looking to accomplish.
DrMR: Awesome, awesome. Goggins is a pretty remarkable guy. I saw one of his interviews and, talk about a machine.
TB: He is, it’s incredible.
DrMR: So another question here, because I’d like to really pick your brain on why you think some people succeed and some people fail. A couple of times a month, we’ll get a notice from nutritionists or dietitians, sometimes doctors just starting out, saying, “Hey, do you have any advice? I’m just starting. I feel like this is harder than I thought it was going to be.” And I understand. Sometimes you’re painted this picture of someone who’s got a successful clinic or practice, and you think you’re just going to roll into that. And oftentimes the brochure leaves out the years and years of hard work and financial uphill battles it takes to get there.
So one of the things I’m wondering your take on is, how often do you think people give up just a little too early? They don’t get through that darkest before the dawn phenomenon.
The Power of Persistence
TB: If I’m really honest, my gut instinct is that most people give up really early. And it’s probably pretty rare that somebody gives up when they were just about to make it. The reason that people make it or don’t make it is their ability to generate momentum. And when you’ve got momentum going, even if you haven’t won yet, you can feel it. You know it’s building, you know things are moving. You know if you just keep going, that it’s going to work out for you.
The people that end up failing fall into one very simple category. They do not want it badly enough. The thing that I think is grossly misunderstood by humans in general is that desire can be cultivated. Now, you don’t need to. There’s no moral obligation to want greatness in your life. It is absolutely fine to seek peace and tranquility, and want a stress-free life, and to not strive to have a practice that’s helping thousands of people a year. You don’t need to want that.
You don’t need to want to be your own boss. But if you do, then you better learn how to really want that. This is something that I find people fall down on. Tony Robbins has a great quote, I’m going to paraphrase: “You don’t get what you want, you get what you absolutely must have.” Meaning, if you just want something, you’re not going to do the work. Like you said, the brochure leaves out the years of uphill battle.
But if you must have it—if you’re looking at your future self and you’re like, I am unwilling to meet that version of myself without having accomplished this—then all of a sudden, you’re going to find ways to create momentum. Momentum is hard as hell to do. But man, every time, every time this world will bend to your will, if you want it badly enough and you want something that’s actually good for people. If you’re really trying to build something that brings value and you’re open to being wrong and changing and learning, if you keep going because you must have it, then you’re going to get people excited.
People are going to get on board. People are intoxicated by certainty, so if you have that thing that you must make happen in your life, people are going to gravitate to that because they probably don’t. They want to ride on your certainty. They want to ride on your intensity, they want you to create that momentum, and then they can ride on board with that. But the people that end up succeeding, they get that. They understand that this is a game of creating just an undeniable amount of momentum.
DrMR: And I’m assuming you feel this applies equally both to professional as to personal endeavors, yeah?
DrMR: So how do you help people? Or what do you think are some of the most important things to help people cultivate that desire? I’ll throw out one I’d be curious to get your feedback on. I know you’ve thought about this a lot more than I have, but it seems to me that there are almost two kinds of people. I think we all start off with a vision of ourselves in the future that we want to become. I want to be fit, I want to have this, I want to be able to play an instrument and do this and that.
But it seems some people eventually just roll over and say, “Well, I’m not going to be able to do that,” and they reach for whatever excuse is most proximal. I’ve had kids, I have a new job, I have this. Then it seems there are other people who just are never willing to compromise that vision of themselves they see in the future. And they understand that, boy, I may keep trying and keep getting knocked down, but I keep trying to figure out how to work this into my schedule.
I’ll use myself trying to play piano. It took me a while to really find a way to get that ingrained into my schedule where it worked. I failed at that for a couple years, really, but I was unwilling to give up on that future picture of myself. So in my estimation, it seems that some people just become okay with giving up on who they want to be, and other people, for some reason, are unwilling to give up on that. That seems to be maybe the end effect. But I’m curious, do you agree with that? And do you think there are ways to help people keep that image of themselves that they want in the future in their line of sight?
Remake Your Identity, Remake Your Life
TB: I vehemently agree with that. I think that you nailed it. You said it perfectly. Now the question is, how can you help people? This goes back to what I was talking about with beliefs, values, identity, habits, routines. People have got to start leveraging that stuff.
Number one is a phrase that I use, which is: “I’m the type of person that…” I’m the type of person that sets a goal and sticks to it. I would tell people I’m the type of person that does that. I’m the type of person that now when I set my mind to something, I’m going to see it through. So I’m telling people that, I’m reinforcing it, I’m saying it out loud so that congruence kicks in. And now because I’ve said it to people and I felt good when I was saying, if I don’t live up to it, even in my private life, I don’t feel good about myself. I hunger to feel good about myself. I will say that the punchline of life is how you feel about yourself when you’re by yourself.
So I know I want to feel good about myself. I know to feel good about myself, I must be consistent with the things that I say I’m going to do. If I say I’m going to do it, even if nobody’s looking, I’m still going to do it. I’ll give you an example. I’m doing a 30 cold shower challenge… 30 showers in a row. They are cold. Now, there’ve been days in this challenge where I’ve been like, nobody’s looking. I really don’t want to take a cold shower right now, I’m in a huge rush, this is going to be a total pain in the ass. And I still ended up taking that cold shower, because of how I want to feel about myself.
That’s me saying, I’m building an identity. I get to decide who I’m becoming. I can decide to become anyone I want, and because I believe that, I can change my identity. I can morph myself by choosing to value things. In this case, I choose to value being consistent with what I say. Okay, now I have something that I value and I build into that value. And I make it important, and I talk about it, and I emotionally reward myself for being that kind of person. I allow myself to be inspired by other people that are like that. So, through repetition, it really begins to take shape as something I actually value in my life. Now it was just a decision. And other people don’t care about it, maybe they value ease, but that’s the thing that I value. No matter how hard it is, I’m going to be congruent with the things that I say that I’m going to do.
Then, put yourself in a position to live up to that when it’s hard. And value doing the hard things and earning credibility with yourself. Then when you do that, you get to feel good about yourself, and that feeling good about yourself is the single most intoxicating thing you will ever do. So—and I know how inflammatory this phrase is, stick with me—a quote that I always understood the spirit of was, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. I’ll say that a little bit differently: nothing tastes as good as self-discipline. So when I say I’m going to eat for longevity or I’m going to eat for performance, no matter how good something that goes against that tastes, it’s not going to make me feel good about myself because I’ve chosen to value longevity performance. I’ve invested in that emotionally, and I know when I don’t eat that thing, then I’m going to feel good about myself. And that feeling good about myself is far more intoxicating than the sugar or the whatever.
DrMR: Yeah. You make a number of great points. One that I think is really important for people to understand is… it’s going to be hard. And I think that thwarts some people. They set a goal and then it gets hard, and they think, for whatever reason, that because this is hard, it can’t be done. They don’t understand that everyone, as Bill Burr likes to say, “Everyone’s eating the same shit sandwich.” Right? It’s hard for all of us. That’s really the crucial point, not to give up is when it’s hard. Because if you give up when it’s hard, you’re going to give up, because it’s never going to not have the chance of hitting a hard point.
Would you add anything to that? That’s such an important concept for people to get.
TB: For sure. It goes back to values. People don’t realize that they have chosen to learn, over the course of their life, that ease is valuable and hard is to be avoided. In reality, you could flip that, and say, you know what, I’m going to choose to value the hard and I’m going to discount the easy. The great irony of the human animal is, to make physical adaptations usually requires a massive stressor. The body has to be given the impulse that if you don’t adapt, we’re going to have a real problem. So if you do that, then the body begins to adapt. Now, it can adapt to a copious amount of sugar, despite all the issues there, or it can develop to burn ketones. Just as one simple example. Or you can take cold showers or you can lift weights. Whatever the thing is that you want to do that’s hard, you’ll stick with it if you’ve chosen to value the hard things.
So I get pride out of taking a cold shower. And I get neutral or inactive lack of pride if I skip the gym or eat something I’m not supposed to. It really does come down to, people do not understand that values are not based on objective truths (which is what people mistake them for). They are things that probably got planted in your mind as a child, and so you just never thought about the fact that these are unintentionally being taught to you, by people who unintentionally learned them from somebody else.
DrMR: Love it. Couldn’t agree more.
Let’s juxtapose that with another factor that does influence us. It’s going to, of course, vary on a case-by-case basis. Health and achievement, in my opinion, are interwoven together. It seems that you have to have enough health to achieve things. If we extrapolate all the way to the most despairing end of the spectrum where someone just has debilitating chronic fatigue, it’s going to be very hard—at least in my opinion, I’m certainly open to counterarguments—if biologically they are really unwell, to have the energy to do what they need to do to have a successful business, learn an instrument, a new language, or improve their relationships or whatever it is.
So there does seem to be this health aspect. But one can make the counterargument—and I think many of us have probably flirted with this—that when you are healthy, sometimes you sacrifice some of your health to achieve things, right? The person who skips a meal and just has coffee or eats fast food because they don’t think they have the time to eat healthy. They’re caught together.
Do you have any thoughts on how someone who’s struggling with health (and their health is negatively impacting their energy) can know when maybe they’re reaching farther than their body can? Or would you say that that’s an incorrect way to frame this? What would you offer people who are grappling with this?
TB: I would say that there are definitely times where people are going to give up a little bit of health to get what they want, to keep pushing, endure some stress. But I would say what people should steer by are two things. One, the acceptable amount of damage to longevity that you’re sustaining. Then two, the effect that it has on efficiency and performance in the moment. For instance, I know that stress is going to be my one vice. I work a lot. There are definitely times where I’m taking things on that stress me out. But I do that because I have a vision of what I’m trying to build and it just requires that. I think that I keep it in check enough that it’s going to shave some time off the end of my life, but probably not some grotesque amount.
I prioritize sleep over everything. I prioritize eating well over just about everything. And I do that because I need to for my energy levels, and I need to be cognitively optimized to build what I want to build. So to me, everything has to be driven by your goals. I know what I’m trying to accomplish, I know what that’s going to take from a physical perspective, I know the amount of stress that I’m going to have to endure to pull that off. And I also know how cognitively optimized I have to be and how much energy I need to have in order to pull it off. So I’m always weighing those against each other. If I found, hey, I’m now getting just fatigued, I’m not feeling it anymore, or I’m not feeling passionate right now, then I’m going to take time off.
Everything comes down to, what I want from my life is fulfillment. I want to truly enjoy my life, not in a hedonistic way, but in a deeply fulfilled way, engaged with becoming a better version of myself and executing against my goals. I can’t just run myself into the ground, because that won’t work long term. It’s definitely a nuanced give and take. I would say it’s 90% doing things to make sure that your health is in order and only 10% just beating yourself up and hoping you still get across the finish line.
DrMR: Would you say that it took you a while of pushing over that line to identify where the line is and be able to respect your boundary?
TB: No question. When I was younger at the beginning of my entrepreneurial career, it was definitely an absurd amount of work, work, work, work, work. Didn’t mind eating into my sleep, but I got over that pretty young. I would say I was still in my twenties when I started prioritizing sleep and realizing not only is being tired a unique form of misery, but I’m not cognitively optimized. Now it’s taking me twice as long to do the same thing, and it’s a hell of a lot less fun because I’m so fatigued. I got onto that one pretty early, partly because I don’t like to suffer. So being lazy and having emotionally weak desires in me that linger to this day, there’s a hardcore siren call to get sleep. I have that call and then it’s pretty easy to assess and say, not only do I want it, it will be better for efficiency in actually getting things done.
DrMR: Yep. Makes complete sense.
Well, as we come to a close, Tom, any thoughts that you have for people? Also, please remind people of your website and point them anywhere you’d like to point them on the Internet.
TB: So yeah, first I’ll say you can follow me at @tombilyeu, I’m very active socially. Then the website is impacttheory.com. The best place to see my content is either Instagram or YouTube. Then, in terms of advice that we haven’t talked about, I will just say that what you build your self-esteem around matters. I think most people don’t realize that they have a choice as to what they build their self-esteem around. And as somebody who for years made the mistake of building self-esteem around being smart and being right, instead of being the learner and identifying the right answer no matter where it came from, switching your identity and your self-esteem to being the learner is the only thing that I’ve come across that will make your self-esteem truly anti-fragile. Meaning, the more somebody attacks you, the stronger you get.
Because if somebody tells you that you’re dumb or your way doesn’t work or it’s stupid, your only question is, that’s amazing if you can tell me in what way it’s dumb. Then I can change. When you think like that, your progress will be relentless and ever upward.
DrMR: Love it. Love what you’re doing, Tom. Keep up the good work and thank you for the conversation today.
TB: Man, thanks for having me on, dude. This was a lot of fun.
DrMR: And a pleasure. All right, that was awesome.
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
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