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Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger — The Tim Ferriss Show

Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger — The Tim Ferriss Show

Start (00:00:00)

  • Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger were interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast.
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Notes about this supercombo format. (00:06:43)

  • Tim Ferriss introduces the super combo episodes, a compilation of the best moments from over 700 episodes of his podcast.
  • The goal is to feature both well-known and lesser-known guests who have had a significant impact on Ferriss' life.
  • Listeners can find more information about the guests at

Enter Jocko Willink. (00:07:46)

What separates good leaders from mediocre or bad leaders? (00:08:15)

  • According to Willink, good leaders possess humility and coachability.
  • They are able to balance opposing forces and avoid extremes in their leadership style.
  • Willink emphasizes the importance of finding the right balance between being aggressive and cautious, close to one's team and maintaining objectivity, and providing guidance without micromanaging.
  • He believes that the best leaders are able to navigate these dichotomies effectively.

Identifying good leadership candidates. (00:10:17)

  • Ability to listen and be coachable is crucial.
  • Good leaders acknowledge their mistakes and seek to learn from them.
  • They take notes and are open to feedback.
  • Poor leaders immediately blame others and lack self-awareness.
  • Self-awareness is a key component of good leadership.

Teaching the skill of detachment. (00:12:02)

  • Detachment is the ability to objectively evaluate a situation by stepping outside of it.
  • Detachment is crucial for leaders to observe and understand situations effectively.
  • Detachment can be learned through exposure to extreme pressure where failure to detach would result in failure.
  • Detachment allows leaders to see the real person and their emotions, rather than being influenced by their own emotions or ego.
  • Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger discussed the concept of gaining a tactical advantage by mentally removing oneself from a situation and observing it from a different perspective.

Jocko’s grueling workout that made platoons “tap out.” (00:17:14)

  • Used advanced laser tag system to simulate real combat scenarios.
  • If a soldier was hit, they had to be carried out by their buddies, which slowed down the unit and made them more vulnerable.
  • This forced leaders to think critically and make quick decisions under pressure.
  • Some soldiers were able to learn from these experiences and become better leaders.

Jocko’s morning rituals. (00:19:02)

  • Wakes up at 4:45 AM to get a psychological win over the enemy.
  • Believes there is always an enemy waiting for him, even though he is no longer on active duty.
  • Works out early in the morning, ideally finishing before sunrise.
  • Workout includes pull-ups, push-ups, dips, deadlifts, squats, sprints, kettlebell swings, and burpees.
  • Strength movements are done to build strength, while metabolic conditioning is done to improve endurance.

People Jocko associates with success. (00:21:13)

  • Jocko defines success as bringing light into darkness, especially in the context of war and violence.
  • Jocko considers the following people to be successful:
    • Mark Lee: A SEAL killed in Iraq.
    • Mike Monsour: A SEAL killed in Iraq and awarded the Medal of Honor.
    • Ryan Job: A SEAL wounded in Iraq, blinded, and later died due to complications from surgery.
  • These individuals made selfless sacrifices and fought bravely, which Jocko considers to be the epitome of success.

Recommended reading. (00:23:28)

  • Jocko recommends the book "About Face" by Colonel David Hackworth.
  • Hackworth was a highly decorated veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
  • He was known for questioning the way things were done and for recognizing the need for a paradigm shift in strategy in Vietnam.
  • Jocko also recommends the book "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy.
  • McCarthy is considered a fantastic writer, and "Blood Meridian" is his best book.
  • The novel is a historical account of the Glanton Gang, who killed Indians and anyone with black hair.
  • Jocko finds the book gripping because it shows the darkness in humanity, which is similar to the world he lived in.

How does discipline equal freedom? (00:27:13)

  • Discipline is essential for both individuals and groups, but too much can stifle creativity, while too much freedom can lead to chaos.
  • Positive constraints, such as standard operating procedures, can help focus creativity on important tasks.
  • It's important to learn to say no to some things in order to fully focus on others, as infinite options can be stressful and unproductive.
  • Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger were guests on The Tim Ferriss Show, where Tim Ferriss mentioned a discount code "Tim" for 20% off at the checkout of a website called "live momentous".

Enter Sebastian Junger. (00:32:06)

  • Sebastian Junger is an award-winning journalist, author, and documentarian.
  • His new book is titled "In My Time of Dying".
  • He is on Twitter as @sebastianjunger.

Thomas Paine and Stoic philosophy. (00:32:37)

  • Sebastian Junger is currently reading a biography of Thomas Paine, one of the intellectual fathers of American independence.
  • The Stoics were greatly affected by pain.
  • Junger identifies with the Stoics' approach to life and finds their teachings inspiring and reassuring.
  • He was particularly impressed by the writings of Seneca, a Stoic philosopher from ancient Rome.

The “chainsaw story” and its impact on Sebastian’s writing career. (00:34:41)

  • Sebastian studied anthropology in college but found work as a tree climber after graduating.
  • While working as a tree climber, Sebastian had a near-fatal accident when a chainsaw hit the back of his leg.
  • The accident inspired Sebastian to write about dangerous jobs and led to his first book, "The Perfect Storm."
  • Sebastian got the job as a tree climber after meeting a tree company owner in a bar.
  • He was offered occasional work, which allowed him to make a good income while pursuing his writing career.

Athleticism and long distance running. (00:38:43)

  • Jocko Willink's running times:
    • 12 minutes for a mile.
    • 9:04 for a 2-mile.
    • 24:05 for 5 miles.
    • 2:21 for a marathon.

Developing a writing style. (00:39:16)

  • Jocko Willink developed his writing style through:
    • Reading a lot of books from an early age.
    • Paying attention to the language used by authors he enjoyed.
    • Analyzing books he didn't like to understand what repelled him.
    • Practicing writing in the style he was drawn to.

Sebastian’s attraction to journalism. (00:41:02)

  • Sebastian Junger's passion for writing began while composing a thesis on Navajo long-distance running in college.
  • After graduating, he worked as a waiter while pursuing a journalism career.
  • Junger's breakthrough came at age 35 with the publication of "The Perfect Storm," based on a magazine article he wrote.
  • Despite a small advance, he continued doing tree work to support himself during the writing process.
  • Literary agent Andrew Stuart, who represented a Shakespeare scholar as his smallest client, discovered Junger's potential after reading his writings.
  • Stuart eventually sold Junger's book, prompting him to return from Bosnia, where he had gone as a backup plan to become a war reporter.

Sebastian’s writing style and the importance of structure. (00:46:38)

  • Sebastian Junger views journalism as a craft that relies on research and facts, while fiction writing draws on inspiration and imagination.
  • He credits his former writing instructor, MC, for teaching him valuable lessons about structure, visual representation, and organization in storytelling.
  • Junger's writing process involves visually arranging research materials and ideas until they feel right, using software like Scrivener to aid in the organization.
  • He finds that he does his best writing late at night and believes that a sense of urgency helps bring out his best work.
  • Junger emphasizes the importance of thorough research before writing and believes that language should be used to convey truth and understanding, not to manipulate or deceive readers.

Commencement speech advice for high school graduates. (00:56:07)

  • The hardest thing one will ever do is fail at something.
  • One must be prepared to fail to live a full life.
  • Failure is the path to self-expansion, growth, and becoming the best version of oneself.
  • Read extensively and think critically about what you read.
  • Study anthropology to gain tools for understanding cultural and social situations.
  • Develop an insatiable appetite for humanity, life, and the world.
  • If you have a genuine desire to fill yourself with the wonders of the world, you will find success in writing or other endeavors.

Sebastian’s inspiration to visit war-torn countries. (00:59:25)

  • Sebastian grew up in an affluent suburb of Boston and felt he had never been truly challenged.
  • He studied anthropology and felt he wasn't yet an adult or a man because he hadn't faced a life-threatening situation.
  • Sebastian's father grew up in Europe during World War II, and war is seen as an archetypal ordeal and a gateway to adulthood in many societies.
  • He went to Bosnia partly because he wanted to become a war reporter and partly because he felt war would transform him in a way nothing else could.

Explanation of “skin walkers.” (01:01:30)

  • Skinwalkers are a Navajo belief, similar to werewolves.
  • They are believed to be Navajo men who have lost their humanity and become animals, specifically wolves.
  • Skinwalkers gain the powers of wolves, such as speed, invisibility, and ferocity.
  • They use these powers to kill and eat their fellow Navajo.
  • The Navajo people are terrified of skinwalkers.
  • The author, despite being a rationalist, felt deeply scared of skinwalkers due to the belief system around him.
  • Skinwalkers represent the universal human fear of being vulnerable to a madman within society.
  • Mass shooters in the United States are seen as modern-day equivalents of skinwalkers.

Striving for political correctness in gender. (01:05:16)

  • Despite political correctness, discussing manhood, rites of passage, and male bonding is crucial for achieving true equality.
  • Men and women have inherent biological differences that can hinder equality, and ignoring these differences can have long-term negative consequences.
  • Men are more likely to engage in impulsive risk-taking and bystander rescues due to physical and psychological predispositions.
  • Societies need individuals who fulfill the "male role" of rescuing and risk-taking, as well as those who provide moral courage and moral fiber, especially during crises.
  • During World War II, women were more likely to help hide Jewish families from the Nazis despite the risks.
  • In times of crisis, when initial action-oriented leadership fails, a different type of leader emerges who is more empathic, affiliative, and focused on reaching negotiated solutions and making people feel good.
  • These qualities are typically associated with female roles, but both men and women can fulfill these roles depending on the situation.
  • Society needs both masculine and feminine gender roles, regardless of the sex of the individuals who fill them.

The Iroquois’ peace process and its relevance to modern politics. (01:11:59)

  • The Iroquois had separate peacetime and wartime leaders, inspiring the US Constitution's transition of power after war.
  • Electing a president who serves as both a peacetime and military leader is challenging due to the need for seemingly contradictory traits.
  • Early settlers often fled to Native American tribes due to the restrictive nature of Puritan society, while the reverse rarely occurred.
  • Even kidnapped captives showed reluctance to return to white society, highlighting the appeal of tribal life.
  • Native American tribes adopted captives to replace those lost in battle, and repatriated captives often chose to return to their adopted families, demonstrating the egalitarian nature of these societies.
  • Native American societies were characterized by basic equality, with voluntarily followed leaders and no imposed authority, a trait common in early human societies due to the challenges of carrying wealth in mobile nomadic groups.

Psychiatric effects of war. (01:19:31)

  • During times of war, there is an increase in communal life due to hardship and danger.
  • This communal life has psychological benefits and leads to a net gain in psychological well-being.
  • In countries at war, suicide and murder rates decrease, and antisocial behavior is mitigated.
  • After 9/11 in New York City, despite the trauma, the suicide and violent crime rates decreased.
  • Vietnam veterans with PTSD in New York City reported improved symptoms after 9/11 due to feeling needed and having a sense of purpose.
  • The feeling of "us" buffers people from their psychological demons and provides a sense of relief.

Bringing primitive, war-time cohesion into modern society. (01:22:23)

  • Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger discuss the concept of "manufacturing catastrophe" to simulate the characteristics that drive increased cohesion, community, and mental well-being.
  • Nicknames are seen as a signal of tribal affiliation and group cohesion, which is important for male groups in hunting and defense.
  • Humans evolved in a state of ongoing moderate crisis, and the removal of crisis in modern society has led to a loss of certain aspects of humanity.
  • In a crisis, people are judged based on their actions rather than their social status or background, creating a sense of equality among individuals.
  • The "White Indians," or white captives of American Indians, found appeal in their new environment because they were no longer subject to the unfair colonial society and could determine their own worth through their actions.

PTSD, the C-Train, and returning to New York City after war. (01:27:44)

  • Sebastian Junger, a war reporter, experienced a panic attack in a New York City subway after returning from a traumatic assignment in Afghanistan and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • PTSD is a common reaction to trauma, with almost 100% of traumatized individuals experiencing short-term PTSD, and around 20% developing long-term PTSD.
  • Despite reduced combat intensity and the lowest casualty rates of any major war in US history, the prevalence of PTSD remains significant among US military personnel.
  • The war on terror has seen relatively low casualty rates compared to previous wars due to factors such as better medical care, improved technology, and a shift in the nature of warfare.

The lonely nature of society. (01:32:40)

  • The rates of disability claims have increased despite a decrease in combat experiences and trauma.
  • About 10% of the US military experiences combat, while 50% have filed for PTSD disability.
  • The issue veterans face is not solely due to trauma, but rather the sudden transition from the close-knit platoon life to the isolating modern society.
  • Peace Corps volunteers also experience high rates of depression upon returning home, despite not experiencing direct trauma.
  • Modern Western societies are the first in human history where people live alone in apartments, which can be isolating and even terrifying for young children.
  • Skin-on-skin contact for infants and young children is significantly lower in modern American society compared to tribal societies, which can have consequences for child development.

PTSD prevalence in elite special forces units vs. support units. (01:36:40)

  • PTSD is more prevalent in support units than in elite special forces units.
  • Unit cohesion acts as a buffer against psychological struggles, including PTSD.
  • Highly trained soldiers and units tend to be more psychologically resilient.
  • Trauma is not necessarily related to the level of danger, but to the level of control perceived.
  • Support units experience more psychiatric casualties due to random attacks despite lower overall casualties.
  • Elite special forces units have a high degree of perceived agency and control, which reduces anxiety and stress in dangerous situations.

How to “support the troops.” (01:41:46)

  • Psychedelics can mitigate the focus on the self and increase the sense of oneness and unity with others, potentially reducing the risk of PTSD.
  • Soldiers should be honored for their service and not mistaken for the wars they fight.
  • Racist and contemptuous speech should be considered socially unacceptable and effectively banned from society to create a sense of unity of purpose in the country.
  • National service with a military option for every 18-year-old or young person would be beneficial in creating a melting pot and unity of purpose, as suggested by Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger.
  • Non-military options for national service could include helping in inner cities, repairing infrastructure, or participating in programs like Teach for America or the Peace Corps.
  • The goal is to harness the potential of young people, address the nation's deep crisis, and unify the country for positive reasons rather than waiting for a tragedy to bring people together.

How a Viking helmet started — and stopped — a barfight in Spain. (01:48:03)

  • During the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain, Sebastian Junger encountered a tense situation at a bar.
  • Three North African men claimed ownership of a cheap plastic Viking helmet worn by a Spaniard, leading to a potential conflict.
  • To prevent the helmet's destruction, one of the Spaniards appealed to Junger's honor and ancestry, asking him to defend it on their behalf.
  • Junger agreed and faced off against the North African men while the entire bar watched.
  • The helmet was initially used to drink red wine during the festival, with the toughest-looking Moroccan offered the first drink as a guest of honor.
  • After everyone had their turn, the helmet was refilled and eventually replaced with a jug of wine.
  • Surprisingly, an hour later, the initially hostile group was found singing together in different languages, having forgotten about the Viking helmet entirely.

Developing male closeness while decreasing violence. (01:53:32)

  • The energy of male conflict and male closeness can be very similar, with young men often engaging in risky behaviors and violence to demonstrate their prowess.
  • Male misbehavior, particularly from those without an outlet for their innate capacity for violence, can lead to societal issues, as young men lack organized groups and tasks that allow them to achieve honor and demonstrate their prowess, leading them to create bad groups or turn against society.
  • In modern society, the safety and protection can create a risk of wartime leaders becoming all-time leaders, which can have negative consequences, as young men and women are generally well-intentioned and want to contribute positively to their community, but the lack of appropriate outlets can lead them astray.
  • A combat veteran expressed a preference for having an enemy rather than another close friend, highlighting the complex nature of human relationships rooted in millions of years of evolution and may be difficult to change.

Veterans becoming victims in society after returning from war. (01:59:21)

  • Kip asks about veterans being seen as victims in society after returning from war.
  • Jocko believes that victimhood is not a psychologically healthy state and that society often misclassifies veterans as victims.
  • He compares the treatment of veterans after World War II, who were seen as essential and functioning members of society, to the current treatment of veterans, who are often seen as victims.
  • Jocko argues that victimhood perpetuates the psychological state of passivity and trauma that veterans are trying to escape from.
  • He mentions the presence of fraud in disability claims, with some veterans pretending to have PTSD to receive benefits.
  • Jocko criticizes the VA's policy of allowing veterans to self-diagnose with PTSD without providing proof of trauma, which can lead to dishonesty and negatively impact both the individuals involved and the system as a whole.

Photography/videography habits and Sebastian’s start as a war reporter. (02:03:43)

  • Sebastian Junger carries a video camera during wartime assignments but doesn't take still photos.
  • One of the most impactful moments for Junger was witnessing a nighttime battle in Northern Afghanistan in the 2000s.
  • He saw soldiers who had been injured in a minefield and were brought to a forward field hospital.
  • The sight of dismembered bodies was psychologically deranging and caused Junger to have a moment of crisis.
  • He realized that if he couldn't face the worst aspects of war, he had no business covering the "good parts."
  • Junger found that having a purpose, such as documenting what he saw, helped him cope with the trauma.
  • Junger believes that war correspondents have a responsibility to communicate all aspects of war, including the worst parts.
  • He argues that journalists can't be selective about their experiences of war and must be prepared to face the horrors of conflict.

Tim Hetherington’s story and Sebastian’s decision to stop war reporting. (02:08:01)

  • Tim Hetherington was a brilliant English photographer who Sebastian worked with in the Korengal Valley.
  • They made a film called Restrepo which won awards and was nominated for an Oscar.
  • After the Oscars, they had an assignment to document the Civil War in Libya.
  • Sebastian couldn't go due to personal reasons, and Tim went on his own and was killed by a mortar round.
  • Sebastian decided to stop war reporting after Tim's death as he didn't want to risk causing pain and sorrow to his loved ones.

Sebastian’s future writing plans. (02:11:18)

  • Sebastian's future book, Tribe, is different from his other books.
  • It's an inquiry into something and not a story.
  • It's a meditation and an inquiry about American society.
  • Sebastian believes that the political discourse in the US is toxic and more dangerous than ISIS.
  • His book aims to make people think about what it means to belong to a group.

One thing anyone can do for a military veteran. (02:12:20)

  • Sebastian Junger suggests creating veteran town halls where veterans can speak openly about their experiences for 10 minutes on Veterans Day.
  • This would allow veterans to process their emotions and experiences collectively, which would be therapeutic for them and help bind the country together.
  • Junger believes that if the country can heal itself, veterans will also be able to heal.

Who comes to mind when Sebastian hears the word “successful?” (02:16:30)

  • When Sebastian Junger hears the word "successful," he thinks of Martin Luther King because he courageously transformed society.
  • Junger defines courage as the ability to act despite fear.

Defining courage. (02:17:02)

  • Courage is risking or sacrificing your life for others.

Most gifted books. (02:17:08)

What close friends say Sebastian is exceptionally good at. (02:18:02)

  • Not reacting to things and seeming unaffected.
  • Not being emotionally reactive.

Combining three writers to create the ultimate writer. (02:18:25)

Advice to Sebastian’s younger self. (02:19:03)

  • Advice Sebastian Junger would give to his younger self:
    • The public is not a threat.
    • The public is waiting to hear something helpful and makes sense.
    • We all need each other and can learn from each other.
    • Stage fright goes away when you realize this.

Recent purchase with the most positive impact on Sebastian’s life. (02:20:23)

  • Sebastian mentions the book "Sapiens" as the recent purchase that has had the most positive impact on his life.
  • He describes the book as amazing and says it has changed the way he looks at things.
  • Sebastian also suggests an axe as a valuable purchase, emphasizing the importance of quality and durability.
  • He shares an amusing anecdote about using a hatchet to open cans of tomato sauce for a date, which resulted in splattering her with sauce.

Something Sebastian believes, despite being unable to prove it. (02:22:32)

  • Sebastian expresses his belief that he is a good person, even though he cannot prove it.

Disliked habits and common practices of journalists. (02:22:39)

  • Sebastian criticizes journalists for relying on cliches and linguistic tropes, such as the phrase "the mortars slammed into the hillside."
  • He emphasizes that the point of journalism is to provide accurate information, not to improve society.
  • Sebastian compares journalists to doctors, stating that both professions provide information, but journalists should focus on giving accurate information about how things are, rather than advocating for improvement.

Advice from Sebastian’s 70-year-old self to his current self. (02:23:55)

  • His 70-year-old self would advise him to balance the courage to explore new things with the wisdom to stay committed to what's worthwhile.
  • It's a tough balance to maintain, and many people struggle to find it, leading to unhappiness.

Knowing when to write a book. (02:25:04)

  • For Sebastian, the decision to write a book comes when the idea becomes so persistent that it causes insomnia.
  • He feels a sense of excitement and a need to get the idea out of his head and onto paper.
  • He only writes books that he believes the world needs, and he feels a sense of relief and gratitude when he finishes a book that he believes fulfills this purpose.
  • Many successful people in Silicon Valley have achieved success by scratching their own itch, creating products or services that they felt were needed.

Sebastian’s billboard. (02:27:09)

  • Sebastian would put the word "read" on a billboard if he could put anything on it.
  • He believes books are the only way to have a collective conversation in a large society.
  • Books are cheap, accessible, and contain enough information to be shared and understood by everyone.
  • If people don't read, society will not survive.
  • Books are sacred because society needs them to survive.

Final requests for the audience and parting thoughts. (02:28:38)

  • Sebastian Junger's book delves into human nature and the circumstances that reveal it, rather than solely focusing on war.
  • Jocko Willink and Tim Ferriss discuss the significance of understanding one's values and obligations to their community and country, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice their lives.
  • Tim Ferriss promotes his "Five Bullet Friday" newsletter, which provides a weekly compilation of intriguing articles, books, gadgets, and discoveries.
  • Helix Sleep, the podcast's sponsor, offers a variety of mattresses, including memory foam and responsive foam options, to cater to different sleep preferences.
  • Jocko Willink and Sebastian Junger appeared as guests on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast.
  • The podcast covered a range of topics, including leadership, decision-making, and the importance of physical fitness.
  • Willink and Junger shared their insights on overcoming challenges and achieving success.

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