Bestselling Author Tim Ferriss Reveals How to Master Any New Skill in Record Time

Bestselling Author Tim Ferriss Reveals How to Master Any New Skill in Record Time
Benny Luo
April 28, 2015
Tim Ferriss’ entrepreneurial journey began when he founded BrainQuicken in 2001. It was his first company and focused on selling nutritional supplements online.
The 4-Hour Workweek” documents Tim’s journey running BrainQuicken and explains how he went from earning $40,000 per year working 80 hours a week to $40,000 per month working 4 hours a week. Wildly popular, his book has sparked criticism as well, because —  seriously, a 4-hour workweek?!
Today, Tim Ferriss is an angel investor and has served as an advisor to large companies such as Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and Uber. He’s also authored two other books, including “The 4-Hour Body” and “The 4-Hour Chef.”
Today, Tim releases his new show “The Time Ferriss Experiment” on iTunes. In each episode, he challenges himself to learn a new, unfamiliar skill, including professional poker, parkour, a foreign language — he already speaks a total of five — or surfing. He also partners with the best teachers in the world in their respective industries to see if he’s able to learn each within one week.
Extra fun facts: Tim holds a Guinness record for for the most consecutive tango turns in under a minute and was named by Wired magazine as the “Greatest Self-Promoter of 2008.”
NextShark recently had a chance to catch up with Tim Ferriss via email, where we talked about the weaknesses he still struggles with, his new show and his key to success.
Lets start from the beginning. How were you back in your younger days during school? Did you struggle at all? 
Everyone struggles. I was generally a good student, but there were real rough patches. I was fed soap in kindergarten for refusing to learn the alphabet. My teacher’s words to my mom were “Tim will be lucky to survive first grade.” Fortunately, things didn’t end there, but I tried and gave up on a lot: music, Spanish, basketball, etc. If I got harshly criticized early on by teachers, I would conclude I was “bad at” something. In college, this included writing. I took a year off, partially because I couldn’t take the stress of writing my senior thesis. The fact that I ended up a writer is hilarious.
You’re an entrepreneur, speaker, author and, now, a TV star. But in your heart, what is the one word you would use to describe yourself?
Teacher. I don’t view myself as a “writer,” per se. I always thought I would end up teaching 9th grade. Ninth grade is a massively critical year, when kids make decisions that affect the rest of their lives. By 10th or 11th grade, high schoolers are often set in their ways. They’ve chosen forks in the road: surrounding themselves with positive influences (or not), deciding to take sports (or not), deciding they can get into a top school (or not), etc.
After all these accolades and success, what are some weaknesses and/or insecurities you still struggle with personally?
I still have dozens of insecurities and struggles. I’ve battled depression for years and suffer through extended dark periods. There’s a post I wrote about this (I think “Productivity Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)”). My reason for exposing it was simple: everyone suffers from self-doubt, including all the people we put on a pedestal. I’m not immune, and I don’t want people to falsely view me as superhuman. When that illusion exists, people don’t believe they can replicate my results, which isn’t true. I have great recipes (formulas and hacks) that allow me to do crazy things, and that allow me to overcome my lesser self. Anyone can use these recipes.
I hit the snooze button too much, then I get angry at myself. I’ll drink too much with friends, then I feel horrible the next day and get nothing done. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed at all and face the world.
Why is it important for my readers and fans to know all this? I want them to say, “Holy, shit. I thought he was productive 24/7 and had everything figured out. If he can create such an incredible life despite all his fuck ups and bad habits, maybe I can do the same thing …”
That’s when “normal” people do absolutely astonishing things. They have to believe it’s possible first.
Tell us a little bit about your new show and what inspired you to do it.
“The Tim Ferriss Experiment” is “Mythbusters” meets “Jackass.” I want to use action movie-like cinematics to teach people how to learn anything 10x faster. Each episode — whether it’s on poker, tactical gun fighting, rally car racing, language learning, surfing or otherwise — features techniques for getting seemingly superhuman results.
There are injuries, catastrophes, but also quite a lot of miracles. In the case of the miracles, I show you how to engineer them and replicate the successes for yourself.
I have one critique though right off the bat. Seeing that you are so fit and sharp, shouldn’t you have a leg up on achieving these things compared to regular joes?
My genetics are mediocre or so-so at best, and I’ve tested this. Muscle biopsies? Done it, and my endurance enzymes are worse than Homer Simpson. The reason I can do the things I do is that I’ve studied accelerated learning for 20 years. These are tricks anyone can learn. If people want to prove that to themselves, they can search “scientific speed-reading” and “Ferriss” for a blog post that will 2-3x their reading speed in about 15 minutes. Impressive things don’t need to be hard.
Out of all the experiences on the show, which one was most nerve-wracking for you?
Man, there are so many. A few offhand: playing drums to a sold-out auditorium after only three to four days of practice, surfing with Laird Hamilton (I’m terrified of drowning and learned to swim in my 30s), playing against pro poker players for money as a know-nothing, sparring with world-class fighters at the gym of Marcelo Garcia, 10x world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, etc. The list goes on and on. It become an inside joke with my crew that I would have a predictable nervous breakdown every second night for each new episode.
Looking back on your life, what is one thing you failed at learning after a good attempt? Why do you think you failed? 
Spanish and basketball. I failed both because teachers weren’t teaching me the right way. For instance, they didn’t provide “early wins” to increase my confidence, and I didn’t know any better at the time. It’s a shame how many people conclude “I’m just not good at X” when it’s entirely their teachers’ faults. It’s easy to reverse all this.
Whats your general approach to learning something new and becoming really good atit? 
Deconstruction –  What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?
Selection –  Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcome I want?
Sequencing –  In what order should I learn the blocks?
Stakes How do I set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee I follow the program?
Compression — Can I encapsulate the most important 20% into an easily graspable one-pager?
Frequency — How frequently should I practice? Can I cram, and what should my schedule look like? What growing pains can I predict? What is the minimum effective does (MED) for a volume?
Encoding — How do I anchor the new material to what I already know for rapid recall? Acronyms like DiSSS and CaFE are examples of encoding.
You’re a man who is obsessed at being productive and efficient. It seems that you value time a lot, so how much time do you dedicate a day for just relaxing? 
All the time. Achievement without appreciation is a hollow victory, so I’m very focused on injecting play, taking Saturdays as my “screen-free” day and avoiding time obsession. I have no clocks in my house, for instance. All that said, I have a frenetic, obsessive personality, so I need meditation and other tools to keep me from running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Break down the key to success for us based on your experience. 
You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so choose wisely. “Break up” with friends if need be. Excellent books can also be “friends” and mentors.
As a successful entrepreneur, what do you observe that a lot of young entrepreneurs currently struggle with?
Physical optimization. A lot of 20- or 30-something founders survive on Red Bull and ramen, because they view the mind and body as separate. Caffeine alone does not a Ferrari of cognition make. The brain is an organ, and you can use diet and supplementation to optimize neurotransmitter production, memory consolidation during REM sleep, etc. Specific types of exercise can be used to increase BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and so on. “The 4-Hour Body” covers most of this, so I won’t bore everyone with a diatribe, but startup founders often crash and burn because they don’t “protect the asset” through carefully selecting food, training, etc. For “The Tim Ferriss Experiment,” I traveled with an entire suitcase full of tools, potions, pills, etc.
You’re no stranger to controversy since people have had harsh critiques about your work in the past. What would you say is the biggest negative critique about you from your haters? 
I don’t see that much hate. The people who get all upset are – 99 times out of 100 – those who hate the connotations of the “4-Hour” titles and haven’t read the books. They claim I’m promoting laziness, which is the last thing I’m promoting. I’m suggesting a blueprint for getting 10x more done per hour. On top of that, I would say the following, which I’m borrowing from the incredible Maria Popova of Brain Pickings: “If you don’t have the patience to read something, don’t have the hubris to comment on it.” Good advice for the Internet and for life.
All 13 episodes of “The Tim Ferriss Experiment”  is now available on iTunes. Check out Tim Ferriss’ blog for more info on the show. 
Photography by Melly Lee
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