After interviewing over 100 people at the top of their fields, Tim Ferriss found they all shared 2 habits

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“Tools of Titans” author Tim Ferriss, pictured, has interviewed award-winning actors to Navy SEALs to billionaire entrepreneurs.
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Business Insider

The 4-Hour Workweek” author Tim Ferriss started his podcast, “The Tim Ferriss Show,” in 2014 as a way to have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their fields.

He’s conducted more than 100 interviews with a wide range of highly successful people, from award-winning actors to Navy SEALs to billionaire entrepreneurs.

He’s distilled his favorite lessons from these interviews in his new book “Tools of Titans.” Ferriss visited Business Insider’s New York office for a Facebook Live Q&A, and he told the audience that there were two habits he noticed among all of his subjects.

1. They ask ‘absurd’ questions

“The people who get uncommon results generally ask really uncommon questions,” Ferriss said.

Ferriss mentioned Peter Thiel, who became a billionaire through building companies like PayPal and investing early in companies like Facebook. Ferriss likes the question Thiel poses to entrepreneurs: “Why can’t you accomplish your 10-year plan in the next six months?”

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X Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis.
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Steve Marcus/Reuters

Ferriss then mentioned a similar question from Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, which fosters projects like private space flight and human-like artificial intelligence programs.

Diamandis asks entrepreneurs he works with how they would increase the financials of their company by 10 times within three months. If they say it’s impossible, Diamandis replies, “I don’t accept that answer – try again.”

“These types of questions force you to abandon your previous constraints and assumptions and all of that you’ve used to make … incremental decisions,” Ferriss said. Even if entrepreneurs working with Diamandis can’t actually boost their company 10x in just a few months, Diamandis wants them to break free from self-imposed constraints that often turn out to not be true, Ferriss explained.

Ferriss said that the people at the top of their fields pose these questions to initiate new ways of thinking that they ruminate on for extended periods of time. He’s found that posing similar questions to himself works best when paired with daily journaling. “And that’s led to some of the biggest breakthroughs personally, for me, as well,” he said. “All of these types of things came from these crazy lists that I put together while exploring these absurd questions.”

2. They deconstruct fear

Ferriss explained that while the most successful people do indeed take risks, they don’t do so recklessly.

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Jamie Foxx poses with his Oscar for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” for “Ray” at the 2005 Academy Awards.
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Carlo Allegri/Getty

Jamie Foxx, who’s won an Oscar and a Grammy, told Ferriss that his freedom to experiment with his career came from a calculated confidence.

He said he taught his kids to ask the question, “What’s on the other side of fear?” when they are hesitant to move forward with something. He has them keep breaking down every aspect of that specific fear until there is nothing left to scare them.

“Once you really get specific with your fears and take the time to put them under a microscope, they lose their power over you, generally, because they end up being temporary or reversible or tiny risks, or all three,” Ferriss said.

In “Tools of Titans,” Ferriss highlights a point made by the director Robert Rodriguez, also about stripping the power away from fear, this time in regards to recognizing the potential benefits of a worst-case scenario (that isn’t life or death). It was something he learned from the director Francis Ford Coppola:

“Failure is not necessarily durable,” Coppola told Rodriguez. Rodriguez explained that, “You can go back and you can look at it and go, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a failure. That was a key moment of my development that I needed to take, and I can trust my instinct. I really can.”

Watch the full Facebook Live Q&A below.