Jairek Robbins joined James Altucher to talk about habits, heuristics, and what he thought when 98 pages into writing a book, he couldn’t finish it.
To start, as Altucher says in their interview, they need to get the elephant out of the room – Jairek is Tony Robbins’s kid. Jairek says “we get that a lot” and gives a nice thanks for asking answer. He tells James that his dad actually suggested he not become a coach, and instead do something like join the FBI. Jairek says that he had to become coach, but that he started out only coaching things he knew anything about. “I was 5’9″, 225 pounds in high school” he tells James, not a small guy. So he got in shape, in part by alkalizing.
Alkalizing is the theory that suggests you mimic the natural pH of your body and eat foods that counteract the acidity in life. This means less cheese, poultry, and grains and more fruits and vegetables. The medical literature on this diet is ambiguous at best and slightly harmful at worst. The American Institute for Cancer Research in particular had a warning about cancer patients and alkalizing, “What you eat can have a profound affect on your cancer risk, but the acidity or alkalinity of foods is not important.”
But Jairek had to try this (and it worked for him) because he had to explore this idea before he could help other people do it. “You only go into coaching when you have a passion for people” he tells James.*
Jairek says that he started out coaching 52 clients each month, with two phone calls and many emails back and forth between them. He worked from six in the morning until midnight. Hours that Gary Vaynerchuk (episode #2) was also working. For Vaynerchuk this worked as long as he unplugged on the weekends and focused entirely on his family. Jairek needed something else. “The reason I wanted my own business in the first place was to have more freedom, to have the life I wanted.” Working like crazy wasn’t it.
It echoes what Sam Shank says in episode #78 when James asked him what he would sell his company for. No amount. Shank said. Because what would he do if he had $400M, he’d tried to get right back to where he was.
Knowing he wanted a business, not a practice, Jairek began to refine his system focus on what would bring his clients more value in less time. He began teaching time management. To get started Jairek says, “I timed out my grocery shopping” and “how long it took to make juice in the morning.” He found through his own experiences and reading, that a few things stood in the way of good time management. And another example of his coaching philosophy, that you need to do it before you can tell someone how they should.
One issue that cropped up with time management were the number of interruptions that happened in a regular day. Jairek told his biggest client at the time to buy a “Be back Soon” sign and put it on his office door. Another issue was The Myth of Multitasking, and “the more responsibility you have, the more hats you wear, the more likely you are to become inefficient.”
If you do want to multitask well, Elizabeth Saunders suggests in her book, How to Invest Your Time Like Money to layer your actions. You can walk and talk on the phone or listen to an audiobook while driving a car, but you can’t talk and listen to an audio book. Correct layering means matching the right tasks. A.J. Jacobs (episode #94) has a treadmill desk. He can walk and write at the same time. But be careful because Daniel Kahneman writes that our cognitive tasks – conscious or not – add up. He suggests this experiment: the next time you are walking with a friend, ask them to add 25 + 57. Chances are they will continue their pace. Then, ask them to multiply the same two number, and dollars to doughnuts, I bet they slow down or stop completely. Kahneman writes that we have two mental systems, the first is one that can handle things like walking, talking, and simple addition. It runs in a low energy state and keeps us moving forward. The other system is the one we use more like a super-computer, we engage it only for the harder problems. These two systems draw on the same resources and to use more of one will at some point, take something from the other.
Jairek began coaching in areas like health and productivity because he built a skill his father emphasizes, asking good questions. He tells Altucher that when he was coaching a lawyer at a London law firm he began asking them, “tell me about your day, what happens then, what happens next, what do you do from there?” Asking many questions reduces a situation like a simmer reduces a sauce, and eventually all that’s left is all that matters. Stephen Dubner (episode #20) wrote that asking why like a child is quite handy for solving problems because smaller problems are easier to solve and give better answers.
When he was coaching a lawyer on time management, James asks if Jairek was worried the lawyer might steal his intellectual property during these coaching sessions, but Jairek says no, not really. He began this business to focus on people who could help others. Seth Godin told James in episode #87 that he has much the same metric for his book sales. He doesn’t care about copies sold or the NYT list, but instead about how many lives he’s changed.
During his coaching experiences Jairek wrote a book about these ideas but realized after about 98 pages he couldn’t finish it because he hadn’t lived it long enough, seen enough of it. He kept working, and collecting life lessons. He mentions that there have been a few that he could have avoided had his dad stepped in to help him out, but he realized that he learned more figuring it out on his own.
One of those things was conferences, another is making good online content. He tells James that his team is still trying to figure out, “how do you deliver this message in a way that people want to receive it, that they are going to be entertained and educated at the same time.”
Do you hear that? What’s that sound? That’s the Gary Vaynerchuk social media train that comes through. Gary wrote in Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook that social media has to “actually be their entertainment.” You need to “be generous, be informative, be funny, be inspiring, be all the characteristics we enjoy in other human beings.”
Jairek tells James that one of his favorite books is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. He uses the template of trigger – action – reward to suggest people to change their action for better results. It doesn’t need to be a big thing either, and if you want to get started, the de facto source for this is BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits course.
The conversation eventually turns to Jairek’s book, Live it!. and he explains the different parts:
Learn it. “Figure out what you want to be in life.” Jairek says. He gives four good questions to ask yourself that reveal the true you. A more simple system that I’ve found helpful is to create two options and then rest the fate on a flip of a coin. Then do what it says, but only after to gauge how you’re feeling. Want to tell someone you love them? Heads you tell them now, tails you tell them never. Flip the coin, see how you feel.
Live it. What does your perfect day look like? Try it, experiment, refine, try it again. What people are in that day? Where are you?
Give it. Jairek spent time in Africa and realized the abundance that people have compared to them. So he tried to educate people on this. It didn’t work. What if, he asked himself, I helped people achieve what they think will bring meaning, and then be there for them when they want something else. James says this is a great idea because, “people need to move from ambition to meaning in their lives.”
“I wish everyone could be rich and famous to realize it ain’t it.” – Jim Carrey.
To start growing in any of these areas, Jairek suggests you start small. What daily habit can you begin that will lead to you learning, living, or giving?
Then you can face your opponent. “You can have the best plan in the world,” Jairek says, “but at some point one of these opponents is going to show up.” There is the outside, intimate, and self opponents.
James says that a framework like this is a great model to help people, and it makes solving problems a lot easier. Try it the next time you face a challenge and see if it brings clarity to solve what’s next.
The interview begins to wrap up when Jairek shares some great advice from his dad, “train yourself to find a way” he tells James. Ryan Holiday said much the same thing in his conversation with James in episode #18. About facing obstacles, he told James, “This is what successful people do. Period. They don’t get impeded by things, in fact, when bad things happen, they get better.”
The rest of the interview is about how Jairek is building his coaching business rather than his practice. A business is something that can run without him, a practice is one that only runs with him. Much deeper than I first realized.
Thanks for reading. One ending note. There have a been a lot of people on the podcast suggesting what you should eat or avoid eating. From the coffee to the carbs to the composition of the foods. Two pieces of advice, first take a suggestion from Nassim Taleb, the older something has been eaten, the safer it is. Taleb writes that he only drinks three things, water, wine, and coffee because of how long they have been around. The second bit is from Scott Adams and that is to experiment with what makes you feel your best. There’s a good chance that alkalizing will make you feel better, but not because of any such alkalinity, rather because of what you are eating. If you switch pretzels for parsnips you’ll probably feel a lot better.
*A previous version of this post misspelled Jim Carrey’s name.