When you stop caring about being right in the eyes of everyone . . . it’s amazing how little you care to waste energy trying to convince people of your view

DR. PETER ATTIA is a former ultraendurance athlete (e.g., swimming races of 25 miles), a compulsive self-experimenter, and one of the most fascinating human beings I know. He is one of my go-to doctors for anything performance- or longevity-related. Peter earned his MD from Stanford University and holds a BS in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He did his residency in general surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and conducted research at the National Cancer Institute under Dr. Steven Rosenberg, where Peter focused on the role of regulatory T cells in cancer regression and other immune-based therapies for cancer.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Books that influenced me the most:

The Transformed Cell by Steven A. Rosenberg
Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say? Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
Well, assuming it’s a big billboard, I’d lobby for the following:

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”—Bertrand Russell

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”—John F. Kennedy

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”—Albert Einstein

“If you set a goal, it should meet these two conditions: 1) It matters; 2) You can influence the outcome.”—Peter Attia

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
My understanding of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for both men and women has evolved by leaps and bounds. That JFK billboard quote really spanked me. I had long taken on face value that HRT was “bad” because, well, that’s what I learned in school and heard a bunch of seemingly smart talking heads saying. I’m not suggesting that my view today is that everyone should take hormones—the endocrine system is upsettingly complex and I can’t even comprehend blanket statements—but that I was unwilling to even consider this therapy without actually going back and poring over the literature is upsetting. It also makes me wonder how I’ll answer this question five years from now. . . .

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Probably learning to box, though I have mixed feelings about it, since I’m almost assuredly 10 to 20 IQ points lighter as a result of the concussions. I spent many years boxing, as I wanted to be a professional boxer. It became the foundation for the work ethic and discipline that would define my life once I decided, at age 18, to pursue mathematics and engineering. It also gave me great confidence that, oddly, still remains (though I can’t fight my way out of a proverbial wet paper bag today). Back in the day, I recall being so confident that I could defend myself, or any person, that I didn’t feel the need to look for trouble, and I was actually happy to let someone (i.e., a pseudo tough guy) think I was afraid of him. It was not the case, but the point is that I realized ability alone was sufficient; I did not need to demonstrate it.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Egg boxing, though I’m convinced if the world knew about it, it would become a worldwide sport and eventually an Olympic sport and therefore cease to be absurd. [Note from Tim: Egg boxing arguably deserves its own chapter, but it’s beyond the scope of this book. For a video of Peter demonstrating egg boxing, please visit tim.blog/eggboxing]

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore? My advice: Be as genuine as you can. Don’t fake it. In my view, better to be a cold stiff than fake that you care. If you are genuinely interested in a subset of other people, even if that number is small, you will foster relationships that really matter. As we age, I believe, frivolous relationships in business and our personal life become less and less bearable, so only put energy into completely genuine interactions with other people.

A second piece of advice would be to seek out mentors constantly and without shame (and mentor others). This requires adhering to the above point, of course, but it highlights a vulnerability and asymmetry. Always be a student and always be a teacher.

As for advice to ignore: Too often, I hear people effectively given advice that is consistent with sunk cost fallacies. I certainly heard it a lot. “You’ve spent X years learning Y, you can’t just up and leave and now do Z,” they say. I think this is flawed advice because it weighs too heavily the time behind you, which can’t be changed, and largely discounts the time in front of you, which is completely malleable.

For example, when I decided to go to college, I wanted to specialize in aerospace engineering, so I entered a program where I could study mechanical engineering and applied math concurrently as an undergrad and planned to do my PhD in aerospace with an emphasis on control theory (hence, all the math). Unrelated to this aspiration, during my undergrad also, I spent quite a bit of time volunteering with kids who had been sexually abused and, separately, with kids who were going though cancer treatment. By my senior year, I felt really conflicted about doing my PhD in engineering. I felt a real tug to do something completely different with my life, but I didn’t know exactly what. After much agony and soul searching, I realized medicine was a better fit for me, despite all the reasons I should have stuck with engineering (e.g., lots of scholarships to the best PhD programs in the country). People I respected—professors, family, friends—thought I was crazy. I had worked so hard to get where I was. But I took an extra year, did a postbaccalaureate program, and applied to med school.

Ten years later, I again found myself at a point where I was contemplating the unimaginable—after a decade of medical training, I left medicine altogether to join a consulting firm and work on modeling credit risk. The next decade would bring two more seismic career shifts. Perhaps I’m just rationalizing my own behavior, but I’ve never looked back at my winding path to here and either (a) regretted the time I spent trying to master previous domains (e.g., engineering, surgery) or (b) regretted a career change, even when on the other side of the proverbial fence.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In my specific area of longevity, I hear too much emphasis on how people look (sort of important) and feel (important, to be sure), but very little on the actual task of delaying the onset of chronic disease, which is almost the mathematical equivalent of delaying death and improving quality of life. I’m consistently amazed how little the experts in this space advocate for approaches to delay the onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and accidental deaths.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

Saying no to always having to be right, feeling the need to argue every point, and responding to every criticism. If anything, the pendulum has probably swung too far in the other direction, at times approaching apathy. When you stop caring about being right in the eyes of everyone—versus being right in your own eyes and the eyes of those who matter to you—it’s amazing how little you care to waste energy trying to convince people of your view.

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