Tim Ferriss on Accelerated Learning and Becoming Superhuman

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Podcast

The-Tim-Ferriss-ExperimentYou’re putting too much stock in talent.

Don’t get me wrong, to make it to the absolute elite level of the NFL or NBA, you need a certain amount of natural ability.

But when it comes to the goals 99% of people pursue, the importance of talent is a myth. Thousands have proved this, including myself.

Let me make it clear. I was born a nitwit. I had horrible people skills, didn’t understand business, and was a skinny runt. But by reading the right books, associating with the essential mentors, and drilling the most high-yield habits, I’ve focused my way to success.

Take a second to re-read that last sentence. I didn’t say, “reading all the books, associating with everyone, and developing hundreds of habits.”

It’s not about doing more. Achieving more means doing less. It means doing the right things. The ones that bring the most bang for your buck. And today’s guest, Tim Ferriss, is here to teach you exactly how to do that.

Tim is the New York Times best selling author of The Four Hour Work Week and The Four Hour Chef, and the star of the new TV Show, “The Tim Ferriss Experiment”. He has devoted his life to uncovering the secrets of accelerated success, spending countless hours learning from the world’s best.

These years of experience have allowed him to narrow down his observations into common themes and action items that can boost you to superhuman levels of performance — physical, mental, and financial.

So tune in if you want the inside scoop on the mindsets and habits of the worlds elite. From learning new instruments and languages, to ruling the dating world and dominating physical feats, Tim will teach you to defy your preconceived lack of talent and become a master of any craft.

Today’s Podcast Topics Include:

  • 1:36: The toughest episodes of the new Tim Ferris Experiment
  • 2:39: Tips for finding love, getting laid, and owning the dating scene
  • 6:18: The benefits of being a beginner
  • 8:11: What did Tim learn from playing drums with Foreginer?
  • 11:55: How did Tim keep pushing forward after blowing out his quads and shoulders?
  • 14:38: The purpose of the Tim Ferris Experiment and the reality of failure
  • 16:44: Practical takeaways for accelerated learning
  • 18:21: What tactics did Tim use to get 50x better at swimming
  • 20:55: Practice vs. working out
  • 21:50: Three concepts for picking up any skill
  • 25:00: Applying the 80/20 rule to accelerated learning
  • 27:53: Tim talks about surfing with living legend, Laird Hamilton
  • 30:58: The mindset that keeps Tim from giving up and how it applies to fat loss
  • 36:31: How does Tim get more done by getting less done?
  • 38:25: The sure path to failure and how to avoid it.
  • 39:25: The best apps and tools for getting sh*t done.
  • 43:00: Who does Tim want to punch in the face and how have his values changed?
  • 45:10: Why should you start reading fiction and Tim’s current music obsession

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Full Transcript

Jason:             Tim, I just had the opportunity to watch the preview for the brand new show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment and it looks amazing. I’m actually dying to see how the golf episode turns out because your swing looked worse than Charles Barkley’s. How did that one go?

Tim:                There are a few instances in the show, meaning in the episodes that are really humiliating. I would say golf is just an art form when it comes to embarrassing yourself and I’d say very close, next to that, would be having to do cold approaches in San Francisco with Neil Strauss, the author of The Game.

Jason:             I’m sure.

Tim:                If you put those two together, if you want to see me squirm and be really uncomfortable, yeah, I would say the swing got a lot better. I’m not going to be playing high stakes games against Tiger Woods anytime soon, but it’s all about the rate of improvement for me. As long as I’m … if I’m 10x better than I was, I’m very happy. I might still be mediocre at best, but if I can 10x my progress in say four to five days with the help of some unusual experts, then I’m all for it.

Dating Tips

Jason:             You mentioned the dating episode which I thought was pretty cool. can you give us, based on that experience, maybe a couple of tips for people who are single listening who are out there looking for love or maybe just looking to get lucky?

Tim:                Those are all different things, but I can give them a couple of tips. The first would be if you’re a guy and you’re trying to make … you’re thinking about making a cold approach, follow the three second rule.

As soon as … this is something I violated for most of my life where I’ll see someone, I’ll see a very cute girl I want to approach and then I will try to muster up the courage over like a half hour while I’m staring at her like a serial killer.

At that point she’s totally creeped out so it’s game over.

The three second rule is if you’re going to make an approach, you have to do it within three seconds of spotting the lady or the guy that you’re attracted to.

But let’s be honest, women are not making a lot of cold approaches.

The second, which applies to both genders, but I think is particularly helpful for guys who are again going to have to do most of the hunting and pecking, is testing your profile pics.

You can use something called for instance, I think it’s My Best Face on OkCupid. Even if you don’t use OkCupid, ultimately as a site for dating, it allows you to upload your profile pics which are then voted on by members of the community. It’s basically having people vote your photos hot or not and you can look at the stats and actually do analytics to determine which photo should get the best response.

Jason:             We’re even split testing dating these days.

Tim:                Yeah, that’s right. You can split test it all. Then getting lucky, don’t live in San Francisco. That’s number one. I live in man Francisco and it’s not an ideal scenario. Second would be, I really think tools like Tinder are phenomenally effective because you really are able to jump to chatting as quickly as possible. I think ultimately whether that’s in person or on the computer, a synchronous communication extends the time investment exponentially. Having that real time chat capability is key.

I would say … I will give a little tip and this is, I’ve not verified, but I will give a tip related to Tinder that seems to work and that is, my theory is that when Tinder says “No more matches, invite your friends,” that they are gaming their users. It’s pure speculation because if I go into the settings and I change my age range by just maybe one year and then go back, even if I’ve gone, let’s just say hypothetically I’m looking at whatever, I’m just picking stuff, like 20 to 30 and then I go in and I change it from 20 to 28, now that’s still a subset of what I should have been looking for.

When I go back, it will serve me new matches or it will serve me new people. At least I’ve noticed that with the versions that I’ve used. Those are a couple of tips.

There’s a lot more to it obviously and I think my … let’s see, my ability to find true love is like my golf swing. I think that it’s 10x what it was, but I make … I’m no Cyrano de Bergerac or anything like that or much less at this point, but the good news is, if you really suck at something, there’s unlimited upside.

Poker Face

Tim:               If you look at some of the skills that I tackle, say like poker, I’d never played a hand of poker before going to Vegas to try to cram to then play professionals heads up for thousands of dollars at the end of the week. I’d never played.

Jason:             I actually found that shocking because I’ve actually never played a hand of poker and I thought I was a complete anomaly, but then I was surprised to hear that you hadn’t.

Tim:                No, I hadn’t and when I think about it, it really dumbfounds people when you tell them that. They’re like what, how could you not play a hand of poker? If you think about it, I would imagine there are a lot of people who would love to learn to play poker but have never played because what are the circumstances in which you get invited to play?

People are like “Hey dude, sit down. We’re playing a light game of poker.” Or we’re just like, it’s just small table stakes, whatever and you’re like “ah, I don’t really feel like losing money,” and they’re like “No, no. we’ll teach you how to do it,” and you’re like “Nah, that seems like a sucker’s bet,” and so you don’t play.

Historically whenever I was invited to play poker, it was always with a bunch of people I knew were sharks who had money on the table. I’m like no, that sounds like it’s a horrible way for me to spend an evening, just getting my ass walloped, losing and making it rain out of my wallet for all my friends who are laughing at me.

That sounds like a horrible night. No thanks. When you’re a raw beginner, you don’t have any bad habits, which is amazing.

In many cases, I’m sure you’ve seen this in athletics and elsewhere, it’s like you can take someone who’s very athletic and teach them a fantastic tennis swing probably with greater ease that you could have taken someone who has developed horrible habits over 10 years and trying to rewire their motor patterning. To that extent it’s a blessing in a way to be totally naïve because you’re a blank slate.

Learning the Drums, Then Playing with Foreigner

Jason:             The first episode I’m excited about because I’ m a huge music fan and you, I found this amazing. You had the founding drummer of The Police, Stewart Copeland teach you and then just a few days later, you played with Foreigner in front of a sold out audience in L. A. Tell us a little bit about that experience.

Tim:                Yeah. That was nervous breakdown number two. The experience was incredible. Stewart is … for those people who haven’t ever seen him, he’s number one considered one of the top 10 drummers of all time. Number two, he is like Doc from Back to the Future.

Jason:             Oh really?

Tim:                Yeah. “It’s your kids’ body. It’s your kids.” He’s so enthusiastic and a very smart, well-spoken guy. He’s exceptionally good at breaking down the drum kit and drumming and music in general. There were a couple of other folks who also helped spend some time at School of Rock with a guy named Adam Timmerman and then also spent time with the drummer from Foreigner who’s just incredible. They all complemented one another, but the best advice I got, which was again new to me because I am not a musician was, play the song, don’t play the drums.

It sounds very Mr. Miyagi or Fortune Cookie, but the idea that you’re not focusing on getting good at using a tool for the sake of using really good at using screwdrivers and saws.

It’s like no, you need a project like making a birdhouse or something to really understand how those tools are used. You need a context. Playing the song and really instead of studying the drums exclusively, figuring out all right, how is this song composed?

Because I was trying to memorize the entire thing rote in other words, just like start to finish, let me listen to Hot Blooded and try to figure out how to play this song, which turns out to be a pretty tough song because there are grooves and elements of the blues and all these different things in the song that from the outside looking in seems really simple. That’s what the drummer from Foreigner said. He said I got the gig partially because we had to play this in auditions and some of the other guys didn’t take it seriously and they flopped because it wasn’t on point.

Instead of trying to learn the song rote, breaking it down into chorus, pre-chorus and these different components that you then notice repeat very regularly, and not just repeat in terms of lyrics, but the cords and also the drumming.

What was so cool about that is that once I started to learn the anatomy of a song and to do a CSI dissection of that when I would be going say to and from the drumming studio and listening to the radio and there’d be Van Halen or whatever on and I’d be like “Oh, I see exactly how the drums are broken down here and I could learn that.”

I can learn that. I can learn this. I can learn that. Oh, and then there’s some other song comes on like I totally get it. Okay, I see what the like 10 to 15 second spans are that are just repeating like A, B, C, A, B, C, sequence. It’s like aha, how cool.

Those are my beautiful mind moment, like the diagram in the bar when he’s like well, we all go for the 10 and this happens and then we have to go for the seven and then we do this and then we do that. In my mind that was happening on one of those car rides and I was like oh, I get it, okay.

How Tim Tore Both Quads During an Experiment

I wouldn’t say the only challenge. There were a lot of challenges but one of the major challenges with drumming is that we actually filmed it after the parkour episode and I had torn three of the four quadriceps muscles in both legs.

Jason:             Oh my god. How did that happen?

Tim:                Jumping off high things and got injured.

Jason:             Jesus! It’s a pretty serious injury.

Tim:                Oh, it was horrible.

Jason:             What happened? How did you battle through that and how long did it take you to rehab?

Tim:                I’ m still having trouble with … I think I have accumulated so much scar tissue, particularly in the right leg. I still have trouble actually. It’s really astonishing. I’ll come back to that.

In addition to that, sub patellar tendinitis, acute inflammation of the knees and then a partially torn infraspinatus and torn flexor muscles in my right forearm. You can imagine, so the infraspinatus for those people wondering, yeah it’s in the shoulder and if you’re going to drum and be whacking on something with a bent arm, that’s not the muscle you want torn.

I had to use, to answer your question, I used everything in the kitchen sink. I used ultrasound devices. I used Mac Pro electrical stem. I used PT. I used icing. I used manual therapy. I used DMSO and all sorts of other whacky portions of various types.

If need be I used anti-inflammatories which I really like to keep to a minimum. The list just went on and on and on. I basically had an entire suitcase dedicated to just keeping me at a basic functional level.

Jason:             As you probably know, Triple H is a multi, probably 16 time world champion in wresting had torn both quads and I think each one kept him out nearly a year.

Tim:                Yeah. The quads are really not something you want to tear. It turns out, you’re going to laugh at this, but it turns out that jumping up on boxes does not simulate jumping off of them. Oops.

Jason:             Right. How high of a jump was it?

Tim:                This was like, in some cases like 10 feet off the ground. These are jumping off of walls, jumping like from tree to tree. Just crazy, in retrospect suicidal stuff that makes for good TV. Don’t get me wrong, but man, really, really brutalized my body horribly. Still paying the price for some of that, but the intention in the show is really to show people how to get superhuman results without being superhuman. It’s like what’s the toolkit? How can someone with very mediocre genetics … I am not designed for poker.

You take one look at me and you’re like that guy maybe can pick up heavy rocks, but he’s not going to be running very fast. He’s not going to be doing any gymnastics and certainly not going to be doing any parkour. How can you compensate for the wrong attribute with a different approach to the skillset?

That was the fun of this is showing people how to take a sidestep and compensate for those things and get really good at certain aspects of say whether it’s parkour or poker or tactical shooting or whatever.

The price I had to pay was in some cases just blowing myself out and really ending up just looking like roadkill. That happened in a handful … I don’t hit a home run in all these episodes which I’m glad is the case because I want people to see me challenged. I want people to see me break down. I want people see me panic. I want people to see me fail because most of the time in life, that’s what I’m doing. You know what I mean?

Jason:             Right.

Tim:                Then I write a book or I do this or I do that and people are like oh my god, this guy is just like teeing them up and hitting home runs all day long. It’s like no, no, no. I’m just giving you the highlight real, guys. That’s not what it’s like.

I want people to very strongly identify with that and realize all these people experience this, including me. in the midst of all of those foul balls and strikeouts, every once in a while you can, so you can get on base or you can hit a home run and you can increase the likelihood of that happening by having just a better toolkit and a better set of questions and so on.

How You Can Learn Faster

Jason:             Can you sum that up a little bit, like maybe someone who’s listening right now says wow, Tim is always a master of accelerated learning, of 80/20 stuff like that. Maybe some takeaways from the show, maybe two or three things that help people with the accelerated learning process.

Tim:                Absolutely, yeah. I’ll try not to drone on for hours about it. I would say there are a couple of things that come to mind right now.

The first is don’t assume something is difficult, number one. Don’t assume it’s difficult because people say it’s difficult. These are just a couple of mental shifts. People say it takes a lifetime to learn a language, it takes a lifetime to do this. You have to be young to do that. In almost every case when you stress test those, they are total bullshit.

Adults can learn languages faster than kids for instance.

The reason kids tend to learn languages faster is because they have no jobs. They have no responsibilities and they have no choice. You throw them into school and you’re like learn English or learn this, learn that. As an adult, it’s not a question of neurology o much as just tactics and logistics.

Number one, don’t assume it’s going to be very difficult, even if everyone tells you it’s going to be really difficult.

People like to bitch and moan and wear that as a badge of honor. Like “Oh I’m so busy, oh my god. I can’t even find the time to take a breath. Oh Jesus,” but you don’t have to work that way.

That’s number one.

Number two is ask yourself a handful of questions such as what are the best practices. What do people tell me I must do? What are the most common ways to practice this skill? What do the books all tell you have to start with?

For instance with swimming that might be here’s a kickboard. You’re going to do kick practice back and forth in a pool and that’s how people tried to teach me. I didn’t learn to swim until I was in my 30s, believe it or not. I always failed because I don’t know if my feet are shaped like butter knives or what is it, but I wouldn’t …

Jason:             Tim, do you mean that you would just sink to the bottom or you didn’t know how to sink well?

Tim:                No. I wouldn’t … I could flail around and get … I couldn’t swim a lap. Like I couldn’t go to the end of the pool and back. Would not happen. Could I bounce around in six feet of water and not totally drown? Yes, I could do that, but I could not swim. The only way that I was able to learn to swim was to basically say what if I didn’t do what people told me I have to do in the beginning? What if I did the opposite? People tell you, you have to kick. It’s the kicks that propel you or whatever.

What if I had to swim without kicking? You can study people who are say amputees. What if for instance I didn’t have to use the kickboards and so on? It turns out there’s a method called total immersion swimming which completely, it just rethinks all the biomechanics of swimming and makes a couple of points like if you’re swimming freestyle, thinking of it as swimming on top of the water and reaching out and grabbing and pulling is not the way to do it. You’re going to be 95% underwater just based on the physics of your density.

You can focus on alternating streamlined left to streamlined right. Don’t even think about freestyle as swimming on your stomach. You’re just going to alternate on your left side fully extended like the fuselage of a ship to the right side and you’re going to focus on stroke rate so I made it measurable.

In this case it was like focus on the number of strokes per lap and trying to decrease the bat. Then I was like okay, now you’re speaking my language. This is now getting very interesting. I went from not being able to swim at all to being able to do like 40 laps in a workout without stopping in about 10 to 14 days. It’s insane. Insane.

The point that’s so important to underscore there is that I was thinking of it and I was forced to think about it as practice, not working out. This is a really important distinction because many people think if they’re working on a skill, that they should work out like with tennis or swimming or you pick it, baseball or whatever. If they’re not sweaty and drained and breathing heavy at the end of it, they didn’t do a good job. In the case of total immersion, they would say if you are tired, you’re doing it wrong. This should be easy. You should be able to do this for hours.

Jason:             Yeah. Whenever you want to learn a physical skill you have to practice fresh and finish fresh.

Tim:                Yeah, absolutely. That would be another one. There’s a framework that I talk about in four hour shift which is the dis-frameworks or deconstructing a scale, so breaking it down like not learn Spanish, but breaking it down to say grammar vocabulary, speaking, reading, writing. You’re trying to take a skill, also endurance running and break it down into smaller pieces. Also endurance running, yeah, you get the running.

You’ve got hydration obviously. You have nutrition. You have any number of things breaking down a skill into smaller pieces so that they’re more easily digested. The second piece of that is selection, then sequencing, then stakes or consequences.

Applying the 80/20 Rule

Selection is how do I 80/20 this? What are the 20% of activities that will give me 80% of say the benefit and advantage? If you want to win in three gun shooting for instance, and this is one of the episodes which was an insane episode, so much fun.

This one was one of the episodes where I was like okay, that was a lot of fun. Not all of these are fun for me when I got destroyed. Three gun shooting is basically like speed golf mixed with Call of Duty. You have these courses that you have to run through and each course like a hole and golf, in this case you’re timed. You have to run through it as quickly as possible, shooting different targets at different distances with different weapons. You’re swapping between handguns, assault rifles like AR15s and shotguns.

If you miss things, then that is tucked onto your time. If you want to be really good at three gun shooting, you don’t have to be the best at all three guns. You have to be really good at one and you have to not suck completely at the other two. For instance one of the things that my teacher, Taran Butler who’s something like a 10 or 15 time national champion the guy is amazing.

Jason:             Where was this that you learned this?

Tim:                This was in Los Angeles. He’s a master of shotgun speed reloading. There’s a whole science to this. The guy designed special rigs to hold exactly four rounds and a whole craziness. This guy can load a shotgun with five or six rounds from the bell in like a second and a half. It’s insane. It’s completely insane.

Jason:             That’s mind blowing. I’ve used a shotgun before so I know that’s mind blowing.

Tim:                Yeah. He’s so fast it’s insane. That is the key that unlocks all these other things. With the swimming for instance, it’s realizing that it’s not about propelling yourself forward. It’s about maintaining your body parallel to the water and ensuring that you’re horizontally hydrodynamic and doing a handful of things to make sure that you’re maximally hydrodynamic and then you don’t have to kick it all.

The littlest technique, basically pushing forward oddly enough will drive you forward. It’s so counterintuitive, but the selection, like what are the 20% that are going to get you 80% of what you want? The speed reloading would be an example of that. In languages material beats method. In other words what you study beats how you study.

You have to pick the right high frequency words first and you can do that with say flash cards from a company like Vis-ed.com, VIS-ED.COM or by using a tool like Duolingo which is a free app. The sequencing is just putting all those things in the right order.

I’m sure you’ve seen this ton in different types of skill acquisition. If you’re trying to teach someone how to do let’s say overhead squat, it’s like okay, well there are quite a few things we have to talk about here.

It’s like let’s look at rather than act like a poorly run Crossfit gym and throw you. Okay, cool. Yeah, let’s do snatches to exhaustion. You’ve never done a squat? I’ve been sitting at a desk 10 hours a day for the last 10 years. Who cares? Go for it.

Jason:             Yeah. It sounds like a great idea.

Tim:                Yeah. Instead of doing that, it’s like okay, let’s take a look at your shoulder mobility because you look like you suck at shoulder mobility. Oh yeah, your thoracic spine is glued together and has no flex whatsoever. Oh okay, like how low can you … how flexible are your hamstrings?

Can you hinge at the hip without rounding your back and do that for more than eight inches of depth? If you can’t do that, if you’re hinging at the hip when you go down in a squat, you’re not going blah, blah.

You figure out what the sequence is and you can have a teacher help you with that. I chose the teachers in the show partially because I knew they would be good at sequencing. I think that’s the secret sauce in a lot of ways. Whether it’s a Laird Hamilton in swim … Laird Hamilton is the undisputed king of the great surfing for surfing or anything else.

Tips For Surfing Better

Jason:             I’ve got a personal interest question there because I love surfing. You have any ninja secrets that … I’ve only been surfing seriously for about a year. Any quick ninja secrets you can share from Laird?

Tim:                Definitely. I’ll give one more tip on the sequencing and that is when I did jujitsu, I also did it with a black belt in jujitsu who is a chess protégé. He was the basis for Searching for Bobby Fisher. He actually teaches people to learn chess in reverse. He’ll start with … he won’t start with openings. He’ll start with just the kind and a pawn versus king on an end game scenario. He teaches the principles through teaching chess in reverse. It’s just so cool.

Jason:             Yeah. That’s Josh …

Tim:                Josh Waitzkin, who’s amazing. He’s not just a black belt. He’s a black belt under Marcelo Garcia who’s the Michael Jordan of the sport in terms of surfing. For me, keep in mind, this is the guy who didn’t learn to swim until a handful of years ago. I had a real fear of drowning and surfing magnifies that tremendously. There’s no way you’re not going to get rumble. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to avoid that.

The first thing that Laird did was inoculate me against that fear by getting me accustomed to being rumbled and tossed around in a washing machine. In terms of other tips, a lot of it was related to picking your location, which I thought was so fascinating because if you’re on the wrong spot on the wave, you could battle as hard as you want, not much is going to happen. It’s like how do you pick, for instance how do you walk down the beach, spot where you should be, pick a marker on the beach that you can then line up with when you get out on the water and so on?

How do you conserve energy to get out so that you have the energy to paddle? Laird said what I think is very accurate. He said it should be called paddling because the best surfers are the best paddlers. It’s like let’s focus on paddling technique and really showed me how to paddle with using your legs to help, like balancing your heels into your ass and hamstrings to help propel you.

Jason:             You expend so much less energy.

Tim:                Exactly. Also just to make you more efficient when you’re going for the wave. There’s the popup technique obviously and all that, pushing your chest forward instead of looking down at the board. Like pulling your weight forward and opening your chest and the shorter the board is the more important that is because what I was doing and I’m not a good surfer at all, but …

Jason:             What size board were you learning on?

Tim:                I was using a big board, but once you get a little bit shorter, after doing this with Laird, I actually just loved the experience of being out on the water, even if I wasn’t a master surfer. I just loved sitting out on the water with friends. I went to Costa Rica and did some surfing on bigger waves with shorter boards.

Jason:             There’s something almost meditative about it, right?

Tim:                Completely meditative. Yeah. You can’t be … you’re forced into the now and the present moment. That was my favorite aspect of the entire experience with surfing is it forces you, or at least helps you to be very present state aware and you can turn that into a meditative practice.

I think it’s such a punishing risk, reward ratio in the sense that you’re paddling to wave, like seconds on way of time ratio is so skewed. It forces you to take a deep breath and try to gain some perspective and it’s very helpful for refining characteristics that I would love to have anyway, if that makes sense.

Has Tim Ever Thrown in the Towel on an Experiment?

Jason:             No, it totally does. Was there ever a time during the show, or maybe even in your real life when you weren’t filming when you took on a new skill or challenge and you thought halfway through, “You know, I can’t do this,” and you’ve considered giving up?

Tim:                I’ve done that. You’ll see I’ve done that in almost every skill because I think that one thing that’s very important to understand.

There’s a very predictable curve of despair in learning new skills where you’ll learn a handful of principles very quickly initially. You’ll make a bunch of progress and then you’ll have to layer on additional levels of complexity and that’s when your brain freezes up or you feel like you’re actually going back. You feel like you’re regressing. I think languages are a great example of this.

I concluded that I was bad at languages early in junior high in high school and now I’m known as the language guy, which is hilarious. The reason I quit was that I would learn the basics, like memorize a bunch of sentences. How are you today? Great. Where’s the bathroom? Blah, blah, blah, but once I had to layer in more extemporaneous talking and I had to improvise, that meant I had to learn more grammar. That meant I had to learn more conjugations. That meant I had to learn A, B, C, D and E.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was doing worse than I was before. I was backsliding. If you know when those are going to happen, you can get through them. If a teacher says look, we’re going to do this and in about two weeks you’re going to feel this way. You’re going to feel complete desperation. You’re going to be super frustrated and that is part of the process, that is part of the growth and then you’re going to experience an exponential hockey stick rocket launch of growth, but you’re going to have to go through that pit of despair. People can get through it. I think that … I didn’t realize that in the beginning.

I was just like wow, now I’m sucking. This is terrible. I can’t do this and then I would quit.

That’s also very true with fat loss for instance. When people follow say slow carb diet, I’m like okay look, this is what’s going to happen. For the first two weeks, you’re going to lose a bunch of water weight because carbohydrates cause the kidneys to retain sodium and so on and so forth.

You’re going to lose a bunch of water. You’re going to lose a bunch of fat and then at some point in time you’re going to plateau and it’s probably going to be between say, I’m just off hand like weeks six and eight. You’re going to start to plateau.

Jason:             There’s always that point in a diet where you start to look worse because you’ve lost glycogen stores. You flatten out so now you just look skinny and fat.

Tim:                Yeah, exactly, but when you tell people in advance, they can prepare for it psychologically and then they can push through it, but if they’re uninformed and you don’t tell them, they’re just like oh my god.

Or what happens so frequently and this is coming back to the measurement in swimming. If you want to learn something quickly, figure out a way to measure something. It doesn’t even really matter what it is, but in the case of say swimming, having stroke count per lap was a total game changer.

I was like okay, I’m going to go, and I went from 25 to 10 strokes per lap or something crazy like that. similarly, if you’re looking at say surfing with paddles, like the number of strokes that you take before you stand up, I think is actually a really good measurement of a good surfer, among other things, like how well positioned you are, how much you over expend or under expend. In poke also it’s like if you’re going to be good at poker, you have to be good at folding. What percentage of the time are you folding?

What percentage of the time should you fold? Meaning give up basically, but there are skills … I’m trying to think of something that I’ve totally given up on. I’ve gone back and re-examined almost all of this.

I gave up on basketball for decades because I was a wrestler. I’d go out on the basketball court and I’d be like cool. I remember trying out for the junior varsity team in junior high and the coach, man, he gave me a lifelong complex. He watched me try to do a layup or something and he goes “You know Tim, I think you should just stick with wrestling.”

I was like “Oh, like stab me in the heart you bastard.” I just developed this severe insecurity related to it. Later the four hour chef had this … I’m blanking on his name. I think it’s Better Basketball Rick. I’m sorry, Rick. I can’t remember your last name, but who just is an incredible technician and doctor and psychotherapist when it comes to three point shots and things like that. It was like boom, before I knew it, it was just like swish, swish, net after net after net. Now I will go down to the rec center near my house and just shoot hoops.

I won’t play a game. I’m not ready for that, but I’ll just shoot … I’ll just nail free throws for an hour as a meditative practice. Yeah, that is super relaxing. When you get into the technique, it’s super meditative. Yeah, love it.

How to be More Productive

Jason:             That’s true. Let’s shift gears for a second here before we wrap up. Most people struggle to be a tenth of as productive as you are. What’s one thing that’s holding people back from really getting shit done?

Tim:                That’s a good question. The only reason that I get done what I get done is that I don’t get it all done. Let me explain what that means.

To get the really big positive life changing things done, you have to say no or ignore. Those aren’t always the same thing. You have to say no or ignore thousands of smaller things. I’ve concluded the only way to do that is if you’re willing to upset people. I know that sounds weird, but people are going to find ways to take anything personally. It’s just the nature of human beings.

You have to be willing to say ignore the inbox. If your inbox is beyond management and after fighting lime disease last year, my inbox is beyond management. I have thousands of unread email. People will really get pissed off that I haven’t responded to stuff.

The only way I was able to get this TV show done, the only way I’ve been able to get my books done, is to set up say auto responder that’s like hey, I’m in monk mode or like I’m in the cave. I’m doing this. Please don’t take it personally if I can’t respond to your email. That’s true even for my closest friends and family, blah, blah, blah.

You can set auto responders and systems, but philosophically you have to understand that there’s no one path to success but your path to failure is trying to please everyone.

I’ll make a couple of very specific recommendations. Number one is, in terms of making commitments, and I’m borrowing this from a guy named Derek Sivers, it should be if it’s not a hell yes, it should be a no.

I think the reason most people are stressed out and don’t get as much done as they would like to get done is because they commit to too many things.

That’s it. End of story. I’m continually challenged by this because, and this is a quality problem so don’t get me wrong, but I think that most people who could be great or who could get great results, but who instead end up good or get only good results, do so because they say yes to too many things that are kind of cool or kind of interesting instead of the “Hell yes, oh my god, that’s the thing I have to do” level of excitement. I’ve been guilty of this as well. Really trying to parse that out is important.

Let me give a couple of super solid tactical recommendations, but I want to emphasize the tactics make no difference if your operating system isn’t what I just described.

Some of the tactics. Number one is for email management, using tools like Email Ga.me, G-A.M-E, Email Ga.me which takes you linearly through your email and times you in some very interesting ways. I can process my email in, I’d say about half the time or 60% of the time that it would take normally going into the inbox.

That is worth checking out. There’s a tool called Boomerang that has a pro version which I pay for that has an extension for Chrome. When you’re in Gmail for instance, this is a game changer for people. This alone is like 10x, whatever the thousands of dollars they paid for this podcast and that is this tool called Boomerang …

Jason:             I love Boomerang by the way.

Tim:                Boomerang allows you to do a couple of things that are very fascinating. Number one is you can send an email and when you send it you check a box, I want to be reminded if I haven’t heard back if they have opened it but not replied or regardless in one day, two days or a specific date and time. That saves you a tremendous amount of overhead trying to remember to follow up with things or calendaring follow ups that Boomerang does it for you.

The second one which is underutilized by people is you can schedule emails to be sent in the future. This is huge because if you want to prevent the inbox from becoming instant messenger, I’m sure everyone has had this experience. It’s like you go into the inbox. You reply to 10 emails and then you get 10 responses back and you’re like Goodman it people. Just Whack-A-Mole and you’re right back to the same email count.

You can schedule things to be sent later and if it’s not time sensitive for you, send it later. Send it in two days. Send it in four days. Send it in six days. Send it in a week. If you have someone who really wants to be a pen pal and you don’t want to be their pen pal, you can extend those times over time. It’s like the first time you respond in two days. The next time you respond in four days. The next time you respond in six days and eventually they’ll get the message or you might just have to break up with them as a friend is a whole separate conversation.

Those are the general … those are a couple of tools. There’s also an extension for Chrome called Momentum which is very helpful. That is what prevents you from opening up 70 tabs and getting lost in the internet. If you open a new tab on Chrome, I just opened a new tab on Chrome, boom and it brings up a beautiful photograph. There are new photographs every day and it says “Good morning, Tim. What is your main focus for today?”

What I would put in here is talking to Jason and I hit return and now it says today, talking to Jason, then it has an inspirational quote below it. Every time I open a new tab, it basically says “Hey jerk-off, this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Don’t go to Facebook.” Or something equivalent. It’s an incredibly useful tool.

Jason:             Let’s wrap it up with a couple of rapid fire questions. I’m going to use your own, who would you like to punch in the face?

Tim:                Who would I like to punch in the face? There’s a very specific person yesterday who runs a startup and they just completely dropped the ball on prepping some stuff, because they’re very good at what they do so they think it’s okay not to meet deadlines since they’re so insanely good at what they do. Anyone who is very, very gifted and therefore things it entitles them to deliver things after deadline, I want to punch you in the face, then head butt you in the neck and then Triple H, double leg drop kick you into a refrigerator. This makes me so angry

Jason:             What’s gotten more important to you as you got older and less important? Those are another two of your go-tos.

Tim:                More important as I’ve gotten older would be focusing on whole food nutrition and not trying to get 50% of what you need from supplements. Really focusing on consuming a spectrum of foods of different colors for instance is a very easy way to create checklist for yourself. Then something that’s become less important would be so many things.

I would say making everyone else happy, because for me to make millions of people happy through doing hopefully what I do best, which is the writing and so on, I can’t allow all of the people involved with administrative stuff or just all the people who want to be pen pals or even family members if it comes down to it … if they are high maintenance, it would be a sin for me to abandon the mission and the tools that I’ve been given to babysit that. Does that make sense?

Jason:             I love that answer. Really cool. What is one book you read recently, your most recent read that you think everyone should read?

Tim:                Let’s see. I read the … I just finished a series of books. These are fiction books. Keep in mind, I’m a lifelong non-fiction purist so it’s hard to get me into fiction, but I’ve been trying to read more fiction. That’s another thing I’ve been trying to do as I get older because I think a lot of truths are found in fiction, more than in non-fiction.

Jason:             Interesting.

Tim:                Interestingly enough. Facts you can find …

Tim:                Yeah, Facts you can find in non-fiction in spades, but finding these timeless truths you can find in very good fiction. This series, some people might not think is profound, but it’s hilarious and good for turning off the problem solving mind at night before you go to bed is The Gentleman Bastard series. The first one is called The Lies of Locke Lamora. It’s a fantasy book, but the dialogue is some of the funniest shit you’ve ever read.

It’s as if the guy who wrote it just carried around a little black book and wrote down the most hilarious insults anyone ever said for like 10 years and then created amazing dialogue that includes the gems from that. It’s really just fantastically funny and a very fun read. The Lies of Locke Lamora which is book one of The Gentleman Bastard series would be a great one to read. Then in terms of non-fiction, how … not Scott Adams. Adam Smith. Scott Adams is … How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life is an interesting book as well.

Jason:             Lastly, your current music obsession.

Tim:                Current music obsession is Brazilian samba station on Pandora played over my Sonos sound system. I’m constantly in search of good music for working to and also just relaxing to. Brazilian samba sounds really … actually it’s not samba. It’s just the Brazilian music station and you get this very chill, loungey jazzy music with just super sensual vocals.

Jason:             Nice.

Tim:                Great for working to. It helps that I don’t really understand Portuguese so that the lyrics don’t mess me up.

Jason:             All right Tim, this was awesome. I think everyone listening learned a ton. I know I did. The Tim Ferriss Experiment is on iTunes now. The blog we have all kinds of amazing info. Years, years’ worth of stuff is Fourhourworkweek.com/blog. Ferriss, you’re at TFerriss, with two Rs, two Ss. Any other info you want to give away, Tim?

Tim:                Yeah. I’d say people can see, I’m going to be putting up some video clips on Facebook, just Tim Ferriss, Facebook.com/TimFerriss with two Rs, two Ss. For extended scenes from the TV show, some stuff we couldn’t put in, long how-to tutorials, stuff like that, all the bonus stuff, I will be putting up at Fourhourworkweek.com/TV, all spelled out so that people can find all sorts of good stuff there, including links to the iTunes and everything else.

Jason:             Awesome. Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                Cool. Thanks so much.