Derek Sivers

Interviews → Live Wild or Die / Dan Vinson

Fitness, consumerism, creative travel, how to live, school, hot-and-cold, discipline, and the importance of nature.

Date: 2020-04

Download: mp3



What has fueled you to be a lifelong creator?


Deep happy versus shallow happy.

Eating ice cream is shallow happy. Being lean and fit because you didn’t eat the ice cream is deep happy.

Watching a movie is shallow happy. Making a movie is deep happy.

It’s the harder thing with a deeper satisfaction.

This is why i think work is more fun than fun.


What would you suggest to people that find themselves stuck in a consumption mode that want to become creative?


Delete the consumption mode. Kill it. Cancel Netflix. Turn off your internet.

Same as someone that wants to kick heroin. Don’t be gentle. It’s the enemy.


What do you find exceptionally beneficial to be a consumer of?


Daydreams of alternate futures.

This morning I woke wishing I was on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand with a little icy-cold pool and little super-hot pool, so I could go back and forth between them outside.

So instead of thinking I need to go there and buy that, I just indulged in picturing it vividly, putting myself there in my mind, felt the endorphins, felt the joy, and really experienced it.

This is so much better than actually buying a house, buying land, digging holes, pouring concrete, using a ton of water, then maintaining it forever.

I do the same thing with all of my alternate futures. I play it out in my head.

If there’s something I think I want, I vividly imagine myself having it and enjoying it, but then also fast-forward and vividly imagine myself growing tired of it, feeling guilty about it, feeling regret, wishing I would have rented instead of bought.


Is all creating created equal?


For our sake, yes.

Just like someone shouldn’t skip exercising because someone told them that bodyweight exercise isn’t as good as barbell exercise.

If we start categorizing some creating as better than other creating, then people will use that as yet another subtle excuse to not create at all.

So, yes.

Creating a circle with a crayon.

Creating a robot with Lego Boost.

Creating a song with two words and six notes.

Creating a staged photo of your friend.

Creating a sandcastle with a moat.

Creating a podcast.

Creating a business.

Creating a conversation.

Go make whatever interests you in the moment.

It’s all good.


How does not being an expert help with creativity?


I disagree with the question.

Being an expert doesn’t hurt.

A linguist knows how to creatively play with grammar better than someone who has never studied word order or suffixes.

A trained musician knows from experience which chord never follows this one, and therefore how to make music that’s surprisingly unique.

NOT being an expert doesn’t HELP.

Most non-experts don’t have the confidence or swagger yet to know how much they can play or the different spectrums they can play with.

Yes there are role models like Jean-Michel Basquiat, with this massive creativity that seems unrestrained by training.

But I think that’s more of an exception.

In general, the more you learn, the better.


Is doing what you do a struggle? By that I mean, does programming, consistently doing your 5x5 lifts, being a Dad, writing, hosting a podcast, starting to do interviews again, etc… are these things a struggle for you or does it feel more like something you get to do (and thus creates even more energy)?


If anything feels like an unnecessary struggle, I play with it in my head until I’ve found a perspective that makes it OK.

Or, like deep happy versus shallow happy, I appreciate the struggle because of its long-term benefits.

I’m always future-focused on the long-term results of anything.


There is an ever-growing belief that avoiding struggle and finding the most comfort possible in life will lead to happiness. On the contrary, there is another strong movement of people really getting deep into Stoicism. Do you think that struggle is what creates purpose? If so, how do you intentionally incorporate struggle into your life?


These are both valid approaches to life. Both can work.

This is what my next book is about. It’s called “HOW TO LIVE”.

You could take the easy road in life, and steer towards pleasure at every decision point.

You would live a life of shallow happiness.

Shallow happy is happy. It’s quite good.

Stoicism says to strengthen yourself to pessimistically prepare for a more difficult future.

It aims to create a deeper future happiness instead of a shallow present happiness.

But nothing is right for everyone.

As for struggle...

Struggle doesn’t create purpose.

Purpose helps you through struggle. It keeps you looking forward at the destination instead of down at the obstacle.

You intentionally incorporate struggle every time you exercise, every time you eat the bowl of vegetables instead of the box of cookies, every time you work to understand or know something you don’t understand already.


Particularly with visiting parks and other wild places, I’m concerned that there is more of a consumptive mindest (that is in most cases subconscious). What is your opinion on travel as a consumptive versus creative endeavor?


I love travel, but I don’t think it’s creative.

You sit on a plane, you go to Japan, you visit Matsushima Bay and look at the rock formations Or you go to Istanbul, you look at the Haja Sophia and walk through the Grand Bazaar. You see. You hear. You smell. You taste. Hopefully you talk with people. Hopefully you learn. Hopefully your mind is changed.

But you could do all that from watching a movie, minus the smell and taste. And you could talk with those same people on the phone instead of in-person.

So... was that creating? Did you create something? I don’t think so.

Travel is input, not output.

Now if you take what you learned from your travels and MAKE something from it, then it’s creative.

But don’t let travel itself make you think you’re being creative. Any idiot can go somewhere. Travel, in itself, is not impressive.


What aspects of life do you find easier/harder to shift your mindset towards?


Recreational drugs, including alcohol.

I have too many negative associations with it.

I’ve known too many people whose lives are lessened because they give in to the escapism urge too easily.

I’ve heard the creativity argument applied to drugs, but it doesn’t hold up.

I love changing my mind, but I don’t see any reason why I should change my mind about recreational drugs.


How do you apply the super-hot and super-cold mentality to life?


First, let’s explain the metaphor.

In Finland, you sit in a hot sauna until you can’t stand it anymore, then you step outside and jump in an icy lake until you can’t stand it anymore, and repeat.

In the end, it leaves me more relaxed than anything I’ve ever done. It’s the only thing that really melts every muscle.

So later I noticed it’s similar to my approach to life.

I like to do one thing at a time until I can’t stand it anymore.

Then I switch and do something else to an extreme until I can’t stand it anymore.

Some friends say I should be more balanced.

But maybe I’m taking the longer view.

Can you imagine if we tried to micro-balance every minute? 10 seconds of exercise, 10 seconds of learning, 10 seconds of creating, 10 seconds of sex, 20 seconds of sleep.

I don’t micro-balance every day, or even every week.

But in the long-run over years, it balances out.

And in the short-run, the extremes are an exciting adventure.


Have you found that for the vast majority of circumstances, it’s beneficial to be either super-hot or super-cold instead of being somewhere in the middle?


No. It’s just my preference - my personality.

I have a one-track mind. I get really into one thing at a time, almost obsessed, and want to dive in completely.

I don’t like switching tasks every few hours.


Life seems to want to steer us towards a comfortable level of warmth in the middle. Why? Is this good? Bad?


Most people are more comfortable in moderation.

Most people tell us to do what they would do, because that helps them feel better about their choices.


More literally, do you regularly do hot and cold exposure as part of your ‘routine’?


I wish! No.

I used to live next to a health club that had the icy cold tub and super-hot tub next to eachother.

I used to go there every day and loved to go back and forth between them.

But I don’t know of any place to do that now.

I’ve tried doing it in the shower but it’s not the same.


I have an 18-month old daughter and another child due in May. One thing I think about a lot is how the education system will change during their lifetime. I also think a lot about how I might do the opposite (or least least do things differently) from how I was educated. How much longer will the current system be relevant?


Don’t place too much importance on school.

Don’t expect school to educate your children.

Nobody can really teach you anything. Everyone has to spend the effort to learn.

Most of that effort won’t come while in the classroom. It’ll be at home, when focused.

So school is a place to practice people skills.

I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is a pretty famous school, but I was so disappointed in the teachers that I almost dropped out after the first year.

But then I realized that the school wasn’t going to teach me anything. I had to learn for myself.

So I went back and treated it like a library - a resource - a place that I could go learn from.

Once I expected nothing of the school, and expected everything of myself, I thrived, and loved it.

If I was 18 now, there would be no need for me to go to Berklee College of Music.

The internet itself is the best resource that has everything.

As for your kids, you’ll know what to do when it’s time.

It sounds like you care more than most.


With access to information continuing to increase, what direction will education head towards?


Who knows. I’m glad people care.

Those people doing things the old way are using the best practices of just 10-20 years ago, which has raised some pretty good people, so the old ways aren’t so bad either.

For every good example of why things need to change, there’s a counter-example of why they don’t.

Notice what fascinates your kids, and encourage it.


Do you have any specific educational plans for your son?




Where (if at all) do you see the concept of mastery school fitting in for kids?


The skill of learning, and the skill of mastery, can develop independently of whatever you’re learning or mastering.

That’s why learning music is so useful. It teaches mastery. It teaches practice. If you can learn music, you can learn anything.

No matter what your kid gets fascinated with, encourage them on the mastery path. Skateboarding, dancing, acting, whatever.

In learning how to be great at it, they’ll learn how to be great at anything else, too.


What does ‘wildness’ mean to you?


THE NATURAL STATE: For animals: not tame, not domesticated. For plants: not cultivated. For places: uninhabited. For people: uncivilized.

OUT OF CONTROL: Running wild. Being a wild-man. No restraint. Resisting control. Wild passion: not holding back.

GOING CRAZY: The weather or the ocean is wild: tempestuous, turbulent. People: Violently excited. Wild eyes. Fierce or ferocious.


Why is it important for humans to be wild?


It’s not.

Nothing’s important unless you feel it could improve your life.

Some people say a morning routine is important.

Maybe their life is too chaotic, and needs more control.

But for me, a morning routine is not important at all.

If you’re feeling too controlled, too tame, too domesticated, too restrained, and if you feel that being wild would improve your life, then it’s important for you.

You can preach it, and say why and how being wild helped you, and maybe others will hear your wolf call and feel that this is what they need too.

But some people could benefit more from a morning routine.


Why is it important for people to experience wild places?


Ah! Now THIS I think is good for everyone!

Because it reminds you what’s REAL and what’s not.

In 2016, everyone was freaking out about the American presidential election.

I was off in the New Zealand wilderness with my kid. No phone, no computer.

Just watching the waves crash against the rocks as they have been for a million years.

Making castles out of shells. Chasing birds. Playing with creatures in rock pools.

I can understand why people get all worked-up about what they see on the news.

We have brains. We predict. We predict disaster or predict fortune. We react to the images in our head.

We’re social. We’re affected by what others say. We share some outrage because we want the comraderie of someone feeling the same outrage we’re feeling.

But when you step away from that completely, just shut it off and go away from people, into the wild.

The natural state. Un-domesticated, un-inhabited, un-civilized, then that means free from human influence.

Controlled only by the laws of nature, the circle of life, other forces that remind us that the world was here before us and will be here after us. Nature doesn’t need us at all. We’re not that important.

And whatever a media outlet is trying to make you upset about today, it’s not the real world.

The real world is waves on rocks, wind in trees, gravity, erosion, photosynthesis, and such.

BUT - THAT SAID - I’m glad that not everyone feels this way.

I’m glad that some people are fighting the fight to protect human rights against predicted disasters.

I’m glad enough people are upset about the news to do something about it and make change for the better.


Unlearning: You are so good at ‘wiping the slate clean’, do you have any specific tactics for erasing bad beliefs?


Put aside private time to reflect.

It has to be private, like in a journal, so that you’re not following the social impulse to defend your point of view.

Take something you believe, and work through how it could be wrong.

Work through how you could believe the opposite.

What other things underneath that would you need to believe?

If you land on a new belief, but your belief is fragile....

Find some wise inputs, whether books or videos, from smart people who believe this new thing.

They’ve probably thought about it more and can give you a better foundation of surrounding ideas to help support it.


I used to be a full-time trainer before becoming a full-time monkii. One of the biggest challenges was getting people to unlearn all the bad information they had internalized over the years (ex. your knees will explode if you squat below parallel with any kind of weight). Have you had to unlearn any training beliefs?


No. I didn’t start lifting until I was 44.


You sound like an extremely disciplined person. Would you describe yourself as disciplined?


No. Just focused.

Discipline has an underlying etymological definition as punishment.

Or of molding the mind and character.

I tend to remove things from my reach instead of master discipline.

I don’t keep cookies in the house.

I shut off the internet when I’m writing.

If you leave a box of cookies open near me, it’s gone before I realize what I’ve done.


What inspires and/or motivates you to train consistently (and ultimately remain disciplined)?


I’m no role model for this, but I’ve had two times in my life where I got the most exercise consistently.

Long ago, I was living on the Oregon coast during the winter, when nobody else was around.

I’d go on these great 8-mile runs in the sand, and wouldn’t see another person the whole time.

It was so wonderfully serene that I never missed doing it every day.

Then last year I was living by a huge private forest in New Zealand that spanned a lot of steep hills.

It would open to the public at 9am.

But it would open to members at 8am.

So I became a member.

And because I wanted so badly to be there before the public, to get maximum tranquility, I now had the ultimate motivation to get there at 7:59am every day.

I would walk for a solid brisk two hours every morning, deep into the trails.

I’d be completely drenched in sweat. It was a great workout. Two hours, every morning, no matter what.

It was such a source of happiness for me - meaning I loved the actual walk so much - it was such a beautiful forest - that you couldn’t make me miss it.

So again, it’s not discipline, it’s not doing something I don’t want to do, but enjoying the process is what makes it stick for me.


When in life do you think it is appropriate to apply the art of selfishness?


Read the book “The Courage to Be Disliked”. It’s the best book I’ve read in the last two years.

It’s sharing the philosophy of Alfred Adler - a contemporary of Freud.

In it, one of his main points is we should always ask, “Whose task is this?”

Meaning, “Who is ultimately going to receive the result of this?”

Then he says, “All interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having your own tasks intruded upon.”

You shouldn’t intervene in other people’s tasks, or allow anyone to intervene in your own tasks.

So, saying “selfish” makes it sound bad. But “minding my own business” or “taking care of my own tasks” is a more digestable perspective.