The 3 Lies of Lifestyle Design (& Why Tim Ferriss Is Making You Hate Your Life)

by Alexander Heyne · 83 comments

Lifestyle design and tim ferriss

Where I worked remotely last week – Catalina island.

If you love Tim Ferriss, and are following his “lifestyle design” advice, you’re setting yourself up to be miserable.

I’ve lived the lifestyle design dream for the past few years… and I’ve realized there’s one huge problem

At first, discovering this was a godsend. Although I was making great money at my first job out of college, by the end of the first year working fulltime I could feel myself slowly dying. I wanted more excitement from life, I wanted more life in my years, and I wanted more than two days a year that I actually remembered.

Around that time is when I moved to China – I actually didn’t discover this whole Tim Ferriss character until a long time after I returned and had already written the manifesto here.

When I did, I was like “Wow this guy is just like me, he’s figured this shit all out and wants to live an exciting, worthwhile life rather than just work because he’s bored.”

So the next few years I found a way to live it.

I got a remote job on the computer – it paid $15 an hour which was way more than enough if I was working remotely (or even paying American rent somewhere outside of a major city).

I spent 9 months or so in one place back home, and about 3 months of the year traveling.  Most days I did what I wanted, when I wanted, with whoever I wanted.

I was hoping deep down it would fix that “listless” feeling – the nagging feeling that I was still supposed to be doing something important in life… I just couldn’t figure out what.   It was almost the weird feeling that I had to discover my destiny or something.

So I went deeper into the movement. I took mini retirements, I learned skills, languages, traveled, and did pretty much all the bucket list stuff that most people want to do when they email me and say they’re “stuck.”

It was fun.

It was exciting.

I lived a “conversation-worthy” life.

I became one of the interesting people in the room.

But I can definitively say I fucked up big time thinking this was “the way.”  Actually, since that time I’ve found that the lifestyle design dream doesn’t provide any answers… it just looks like an attractive lifestyle to most people trapped in the system.

In other words, it’s another distraction. One that looks particularly juicy because it’s probably the exact opposite of what you’re currently living.

You’re lying to yourself about what you want

Lifestyle design and tim ferriss

Part of the reason why lifestyle design isn’t going to solve your deep issues about life is that, well, it’s a distraction and not a solution. It’s a coping mechanism.

There are two major flaws here.

Also, there are three truths about human nature that will keep making you miserable no matter how much of a “lifestyle designer” you may become.

Two truths that will make you re-consider lifestyle design:

FirstPeople that live in one place suffer from the same maladies as people that travel or are location independent. In other words, we’re all fighting human nature. Travel is another overly-glorified distraction. Is it worthwhile? Hell yes. Should you do it? Hell yes. But the idea that it will suddenly make like meaningful, worthwhile, and the magical perfect life you’re dreaming of simply  is a lie. (I wrote about this before when I talked about why not to quit your job and travel the world).

The vast majority of long-term travelers like travel bloggers, vagabonds, and other folks often complain of being lonely. Whereas the dream originated with some kind of 4 hour work week muse, once you’re sitting on the beach alone, with having almost no work to do, you realize it’s not all that it’s chalked up to be.

You realize that, wow, you really miss having close friends around you to talk to.

And you realize that, hmm, you actually like work – but working on stuff that you actually like. You don’t want to work 4 hours a week – you want to work however many hours a week you want, working on whatever you want.

You realize that beaches are really fucking boring after a month, and even when you’re bored out of your skull, your friends still envy you – but only because they’re sitting at their desks.

You have money, and you have freedom, and you’re doing fun stuff to cross off your bucket list – but you still feel listless. You still don’t feel quite right.

Unfortunately, money and freedom are just a very tiny part of the picture. The much bigger part involves people and meaning.

Second“Lifestyle design” is just another way to distract yourself.

And it’s most often appealing to people who are working full-time that don’t have resources to travel or enjoy their life (remember rule #1 about human nature? We want what we don’t have, and we over-estimate how much this will boost our happiness).

I’ve often talked about distraction a lot – it’s one of the main coping mechanisms that people have when they hate the shit out of their daily existence. Video games, drugs, excessive passive consumption of media, partying and drinking, materialism, workaholism – they’re all ways we try to distract ourselves.  Why? It’s scary and hard to man up and face the truth. Sometimes it’s easier to drink yourself stupid than fess up to yourself that your relationship isn’t working.

They’re all coping mechanisms to deal with unhappiness.

More: Have you ever had a dropout friend? Someone who is just a real bum that doesn’t do shit like go to school or work? Let me ask you this – how do they spend their days? Reading books, working out, and walking their dog? Hell no.

Most of the time they are absorbed in drugs, alcohol, TV and video games. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because they dull the senses, let you temporarily forget about life, and just pass the hours in the least painful way – by turning off the mind.

Whatever deeply rooted human issues you already have will not go away by becoming the next Tim Ferriss.

Also, there is going to come a time when you need to stop distracting yourself – where you’re going to have to face your issues or self-medicate forever.

Whether that’s as simple as loneliness, living in a shitty location, having a boring spouse or a terrible job, remember – these are human issues. People everywhere have them.

The second thing is that the lifestyle design idea fails to take into account three truths about human nature. These three truths account for a huge amount of our unhappiness.

The Three Truths About Human Nature That Will Instantly Make You Happier [or Miserable] (No Matter Where You Are Or What You Do)

Lifestyle design and tim ferriss

There are three other reasons why lifestyle design probably looks so good to you. And these all take advantage of human nature and the way we think:

Human nature  -

  1. We think about what we don’t have
  2. We play up what we don’t have
  3. We over-estimate how much “what we don’t have” will make us happier if we get it

Take some of these 2012 studies for example: they repeatedly show that we overestimate how happy getting certain things makes us (a vacation, or a new material thing), and that our happiness often peaks right before we go on the vacation or buy the watch, but afterwards goes back to normal.

Another oft-cited study mentioned that people who win the lottery, a year later, just go back to being as happy as they were before.

In a negative sense, sedentary people stuck in one spot often crave travel, and people that hate their jobs crave jobs they like (or to quit their job).

In a positive sense, even people with great spouses that they’re dating or married to sometimes fantasize about being single.  People that even have great jobs or fantastic life situations sometimes fuck it all up trying to get to the next level.

I don’t know if contentment comes naturally to our modern species.

You often obsess over escaping from work and a 4 hour work week lifestyle not because it’ll make you happier, but just because it’s the exact opposite of the life you’re probably living now.

Think about that.

Chances are it’s not the life you want to move towards to — you just want to move away from the life you are probably living now.

The secret – from people who are really designing their lifestyles – and are actually happy

Lifestyle design and tim ferriss

Very few travel bloggers will really be vulnerable enough to tell you the cons of their lifestyle.

As one friend said, people are often too busy convincing themselves of the false truths of travel – and the same is true of the location independent crowd.

It doesn’t solve the deeply rooted issues that most people have.

So what am I trying to get at here?

The irony is that when Tim was interviewed regarding his “day in the life”, he said the following:

Morning meditation, meet with people he advises, exercise, a bunch of hours of work in the afternoon, long, multiple-hour dinner with a couple glasses of wine and tons of friends.

He didn’t say fly to Thailand, bungee jump, swim with sharks, and then bang a tranny.


For many years I wondered how small-town folks could be so content with not seeing the outside world.

A couple months back I went to rural Maine and started talking with some local locals. Super local.

And I realized that they’ve got it all right- they have it all figured out.  They have close, meaningful relationships with people they can see regularly.

They have work that fills their time, even if it isn’t inherently meaningful, they accept it and take it in as part of life. If they can, they do meaningful work.

They have leisure hobbies that are relaxing and invigorating. They hunt, fish, take life easy, and make sure to enjoy themselves and not take life too seriously.

In other words, they’re getting all they want here, so they don’t need to go there.

I think lifestyle design is just yet another desire – another want – another distraction – that is preventing you from enjoying your life.

All I’m saying is that you need to go for what you really want.

For some people (like myself) that doesn’t involve beaches at all. It also doesn’t involve 4 hours of work a week. I actually like working – when it’s on something I like.

I actually get bored traveling alone – and would rather take fewer vacations, but with people I like, than just go off and see 30 countries a year by myself.

My all-time favorite simple pleasure is sitting down to a bottle of wine with good friends and talking about life.

So, for you, I say stop getting caught up in “lifestyle design.”

Design your life, definitely. But forget lifestyle design.

Forget what you want your life to look like 3 months of the year.

What do you want it to look like every day?

–  Alex

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