Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, author, and host of the Cosmos TV show.

With appearances on countless podcasts, late night TV shows, and a huge Twitter following, he may be the most famous living scientist these days.

Whether it is his books, TV shows, or many scientific contributions, Tyson seems to succeed at everything he does.

Here I will share the top lessons I've learned from studying him in relation to succeeding in life:

Lesson 1: What makes a good communicator

  • Great storytelling
  • Knowledge-based humor
  • Facility with words and language.

Carl Sagan also influenced him as a communicator because he was really good at comparing scientific things to things people knew and could visualize.

For example, instead of saying the exact numbers in size something was, Sagan would say it's about the size of a certain household item people might own.

Lesson 2: How to parent your kids for success

His parents took him and his siblings to lots of museums, sports events, planetariums, and other cultural or scientific places to be exposed to many different things.

Doing this helped them be exposed to many different things before they picked what they liked the most. This helps kids do something when they grow up that is a genuine interest of theirs.

His parents, once they realized what their kids seemed to like the most, would buy budget books related to those things for them. For example, Neil latched on to science and one of his siblings was preferred art.

In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Tim mentioned his parents did something very similar. They exposed him and his siblings to a lot of things and got them books they might like.

Both Tim Ferriss and Neil deGrasse Tyson became very successful, so it may actually work for other kids.

Should you raise your kids in the city or suburbs?

Also, Neil made a point that raising your kids in the city isn't necessarily a bad idea.

He referenced a study that showed suicides and car-related deaths might make suburbs more dangerous than the city for kids growing up. Tyson grew up in New York and seemed to have a pretty good childhood himself.

Lesson 3: How to approach school for success

Tyson, in an interview with Tim Ferriss, said he thinks we should have a curriculum in school for stimulating curiosity and how to ask the right questions. It would probably improve student performance in all other subjects as well.

Good grades may not equal success in life

He also mentions that it's better to take harder classes and risk lower grades than to take easy classes and get high grades.

Tyson also suggests that grades are not a great indicator of future success, saying your GPA isnt as important as whether you're a good leader, communicator, problem solver, etc.

“I had mediocre grades in school but I wasn't a mediocre student.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

He read a lot, was very curious, took hard classes, did his own experiments, etc. It seems he developed skills that translated to the real world more than just trying to get an A in every class.

Should parents be hard on kids that don't have straight A's in school?

Tyson's parents weren't constantly pressuring him about his grades. He was passing classes and was doing other things on his own time that made him smarter, so they let him have some freedom growing up.

What are two courses Neil deGrasse Tyson believes all kids need in school?

In an interview with Joe Rogan, Neil mentions that all high schools should have courses on:

  1. Cognitive bias. There are so many ways we fool ourselves.
  2. We also need to teach more about decision making, causes and effects, etc.

Here are a few of his quotes to clarify:

“One of the great challenges in life is knowing enough to think you're right and not knowing enough to know you’re wrong.”

“We need to learn how to turn facts into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into insight.”

“People who get A's on everything in school don't necessarily have the best insight.”

Lesson 4: Always be prepared when your opportunities come

Neil deGrasse Tyson mentioned in an interview with Tim Ferriss that he studies hosts of TV shows before going on to maximize the interview.

For instance, he once studied how many sentences guests would usually get in before John Stewart gets in a joke.

By studying that, Tyson was able to optimize his talking points in a way that made the interview flow better and, therefore, provide a better experience for viewers.

He studies pop culture, so he can better connect with TV audiences and hosts when he makes appearances.

Lesson 5: How to balance projects, family life and time

In his interview with Tim Ferriss, Neil mentions that his life is never in balance between work, family, projects, etc. He just tries to do things more and more efficiently so he can fit in a little more in his schedule.

How he picks his projects

He says he takes on about 10% more projects than he can get done. He only agrees to things he's excited about though. That keeps him motivated.

Tyson has also said he likes to take on projects that he feels he his uniquely qualified to do when very few others would be.

The only problem is, sometimes Tyson gets overbooked and has to cancel projects or reschedule.

You can't do everything

In those instances, he recommends learning how to gracefully say “no”.

He believes, it's much harder to say “no” gracefully than to say “yes”. He will not burn bridges and will try to offer something instead of doing the project that was offered to him. That way, whoever offered him the project will still get some sort of contribution from Tyson instead of coming away empty-handed.

Another productivity tip I learned from Neil deGrasse Tyson is to handle smaller things like email while in between more productive tasks. He seems to do most of his email when he's traveling or when he otherwise would be doing nothing.

Lesson 6: Repurpose what you already have

One thing I noticed about Neil deGrasse Tyson is the fact that he likes to take things he's already doing or collecting, and turn them into something that helps people.

For instance, his Letters from an Astrophysicist book came from people writing letters to Neil over time and him saving them as a collection. Instead of just answering their questions privately and no one else ever getting the valuable answers he gave, he saved them and put them in a book for the public.

Another example is how he built up his Twitter profile by tweeting whether or not certain things in different movies like Star Wars or Gravity were scientifically accurate. Some of these tweets got extremely popular.

He has thoughts on movies anyway, so he used them in a way that entertained and educated people in the form of tweets. This could be a good way to create content for anyone who has a brand. Just use what you already have and repurpose it.

Lesson 7: How to determine the truth

In an interview with Tim Ferriss, he mentioned Tyson briefly talked about how you can find all kinds of people claiming all sorts of things. This makes it hard to find out what is true and what isn't. He makes the point that in science, you want to look for a consensus, not one person claiming something.

I though this was a great point that could be applied just about anything in life. Looking for a consensus among qualified experts seems to be a good way to go for making better decisions.

Also, in an interview with Joe Rogan, Tyson used this question to help people determine whether something was true:

What is the best single piece of evidence for what you're claiming and what would it take to show that you're wrong?

The only point of the scientific method, for example, is to make sure you're not fooled into thinking something is true that's not.

People need to learn to reduce the likelihood that we will misinterpret what we observe.

He says we need to stop being susceptible to charlatans.

Lesson 8: How to stay motivated when pursuing goals

When it comes to trying to do accomplish something like losing a bunch of weight, Tyson, in an interview with Joe Rogan, mentioned that he knew a guy that lost weight and used bowling balls to represent how much he'd lost.

Neil thinks measuring how much weight you lose in something visual is more powerful for your mind than just keeping track in regular metrics like pounds.

He also added that physicists would sum up weight loss like this: consume less calories than you burn.

Lesson 9: It may not be worth it to argue with or debate people

Tyson, in an interview with Joe Rogan, says he doesn't debate people. He references the saying “if the argument lasts more than 5 minutes, both sides are wrong.”

He doesn't see the point in debating people. The one who wins the debate is not necessarily the one who is right. It has more to do with who has more charisma and seems more convincing at the time.

Neil deGrasse Tyson's Recommended books:

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff

Some of Neil deGrasse Tyson's favorite quotes:

“When I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself.”


“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby.”

“Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

Luc Goosen

Books written by Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Letters from an Astrophysicist
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military
Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry

Recommended movies/TV shows by Tyson:

  • The original Twilight Zone
neil degrasse tysons lessons for success

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