16:26
EG 2008

Tim Ferriss: Smash fear, learn anything

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From the EG conference: Productivity guru Tim Ferriss' fun, encouraging anecdotes show how one simple question -- "What's the worst that could happen?" -- is all you need to learn to do anything.

- Productivity guru, author
Tim Ferriss is author of bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, a self-improvement program of four steps: defining aspirations, managing time, creating automatic income and escaping the trappings of the 9-to-5 life. Full bio

This is Tim Ferriss circa 1979 A.D. Age two.
00:16
You can tell by the power squat, I was a very confident boy --
00:22
and not without reason.
00:25
I had a very charming routine at the time,
00:27
which was to wait until late in the evening
00:29
when my parents were decompressing from a hard day's work,
00:31
doing their crossword puzzles, watching television.
00:34
I would run into the living room, jump up on the couch,
00:36
rip the cushions off, throw them on the floor,
00:39
scream at the top of my lungs and run out
00:41
because I was the Incredible Hulk.
00:43
(Laughter)
00:45
Obviously, you see the resemblance.
00:47
And this routine went on for some time.
00:49
When I was seven I went to summer camp.
00:53
My parents found it necessary for peace of mind.
00:56
And at noon each day
00:58
the campers would go to a pond,
01:00
where they had floating docks.
01:02
You could jump off the end into the deep end.
01:04
I was born premature. I was always very small.
01:06
My left lung had collapsed when I was born.
01:08
And I've always had buoyancy problems.
01:10
So water was something that scared me to begin with.
01:12
But I would go in on occasion.
01:14
And on one particular day,
01:16
the campers were jumping through inner tubes,
01:18
They were diving through inner tubes. And I thought this would be great fun.
01:21
So I dove through the inner tube,
01:23
and the bully of the camp grabbed my ankles.
01:25
And I tried to come up for air,
01:28
and my lower back hit the bottom of the inner tube.
01:32
And I went wild eyed and thought I was going to die.
01:34
A camp counselor fortunately came over and separated us.
01:38
From that point onward I was terrified of swimming.
01:41
That is something that I did not get over.
01:45
My inability to swim has been
01:48
one of my greatest humiliations and embarrassments.
01:50
That is when I realized that I was not the Incredible Hulk.
01:55
But there is a happy ending to this story.
01:58
At age 31 -- that's my age now --
02:01
in August I took two weeks to re-examine swimming,
02:05
and question all the of the obvious aspects of swimming.
02:09
And went from swimming one lap --
02:13
so 20 yards -- like a drowning monkey,
02:15
at about 200 beats per minute heart rate --
02:17
I measured it --
02:19
to going to Montauk on Long Island,
02:21
close to where I grew up,
02:24
and jumping into the ocean and swimming one kilometer in open water,
02:26
getting out and feeling better than when I went in.
02:29
And I came out,
02:31
in my Speedos, European style,
02:33
feeling like the Incredible Hulk.
02:36
And that's what I want everyone in here to feel like,
02:38
the Incredible Hulk, at the end of this presentation.
02:40
More specifically, I want you to feel like you're capable
02:43
of becoming an excellent long-distance swimmer,
02:45
a world-class language learner,
02:49
and a tango champion.
02:51
And I would like to share my art.
02:54
If I have an art, it's deconstructing things
02:57
that really scare the living hell out of me.
02:59
So, moving onward.
03:01
Swimming, first principles.
03:03
First principles, this is very important.
03:05
I find that the best results in life
03:07
are often held back by false constructs and untested assumptions.
03:09
And the turnaround in swimming came
03:14
when a friend of mine said, "I will go a year without any stimulants" --
03:16
this is a six-double-espresso-per-day type of guy --
03:19
"if you can complete a one kilometer open water race."
03:22
So the clock started ticking.
03:25
I started seeking out triathletes
03:27
because I found that lifelong swimmers often couldn't teach what they did.
03:29
I tried kickboards.
03:33
My feet would slice through the water like razors,
03:36
I wouldn't even move. I would leave demoralized, staring at my feet.
03:38
Hand paddles, everything.
03:41
Even did lessons with Olympians -- nothing helped.
03:43
And then Chris Sacca, who is now a dear friend mine,
03:46
had completed an Iron Man with 103 degree temperature,
03:48
said, "I have the answer to your prayers."
03:51
And he introduced me to
03:53
the work of a man named Terry Laughlin
03:55
who is the founder of Total Immersion Swimming.
03:57
That set me on the road to examining biomechanics.
03:59
So here are the new rules of swimming,
04:02
if any of you are afraid of swimming, or not good at it.
04:04
The first is, forget about kicking. Very counterintuitive.
04:07
So it turns out that propulsion isn't really the problem.
04:10
Kicking harder doesn't solve the problem
04:14
because the average swimmer only transfers about three percent
04:16
of their energy expenditure into forward motion.
04:19
The problem is hydrodynamics.
04:22
So what you want to focus on instead
04:24
is allowing your lower body to draft behind your upper body,
04:26
much like a small car behind a big car on the highway.
04:28
And you do that by maintaining a horizontal body position.
04:31
The only way you can do that
04:34
is to not swim on top of the water.
04:36
The body is denser than water. 95 percent of it would be,
04:38
at least, submerged naturally.
04:41
So you end up, number three,
04:43
not swimming, in the case of freestyle,
04:45
on your stomach, as many people think, reaching on top of the water.
04:48
But actually rotating from streamlined right
04:51
to streamlined left,
04:54
maintaining that fuselage position as long as possible.
04:56
So let's look at some examples. This is Terry.
04:59
And you can see that he's extending his right arm
05:01
below his head and far in front.
05:04
And so his entire body really is underwater.
05:06
The arm is extended below the head.
05:09
The head is held in line with the spine,
05:12
so that you use strategic water pressure to raise your legs up --
05:14
very important, especially for people with lower body fat.
05:18
Here is an example of the stroke.
05:21
So you don't kick. But you do use a small flick.
05:23
You can see this is the left extension.
05:26
Then you see his left leg.
05:28
Small flick, and the only purpose of that
05:30
is to rotate his hips so he can get to the opposite side.
05:32
And the entry point for his right hand -- notice this,
05:35
he's not reaching in front and catching the water.
05:37
Rather, he is entering the water
05:39
at a 45-degree angle with his forearm,
05:42
and then propelling himself by streamlining -- very important.
05:44
Incorrect, above, which is what almost every swimming coach will teach you.
05:50
Not their fault, honestly.
05:53
And I'll get to implicit versus explicit in a moment.
05:55
Below is what most swimmers
05:58
will find enables them to do what I did,
06:00
which is going from 21 strokes per 20-yard length
06:02
to 11 strokes
06:06
in two workouts with no coach, no video monitoring.
06:09
And now I love swimming. I can't wait to go swimming.
06:12
I'll be doing a swimming lesson later, for myself, if anyone wants to join me.
06:15
Last thing, breathing. A problem a lot of us have, certainly, when you're swimming.
06:19
In freestyle, easiest way to remedy this is
06:23
to turn with body roll,
06:25
and just to look at your recovery hand as it enters the water.
06:28
And that will get you very far.
06:32
That's it. That's really all you need to know.
06:35
Languages. Material versus method.
06:38
I, like many people, came to the conclusion
06:40
that I was terrible at languages.
06:42
I suffered through Spanish for junior high, first year of high school,
06:44
and the sum total of my knowledge
06:48
was pretty much, "Donde esta el bano?"
06:50
And I wouldn't even catch the response. A sad state of affairs.
06:52
Then I transferred to a different school sophomore year, and
06:57
I had a choice of other languages. Most of my friends were taking Japanese.
07:01
So I thought why not punish myself? I'll do Japanese.
07:03
Six months later I had the chance to go to Japan.
07:07
My teachers assured me, they said, "Don't worry.
07:10
You'll have Japanese language classes every day to help you cope.
07:12
It will be an amazing experience." My first overseas experience in fact.
07:16
So my parents encouraged me to do it. I left.
07:20
I arrived in Tokyo. Amazing.
07:23
I couldn't believe I was on the other side of the world.
07:25
I met my host family. Things went quite well I think,
07:27
all things considered.
07:29
My first evening, before my first day of school,
07:31
I said to my mother, very politely,
07:34
"Please wake me up at eight a.m."
07:36
So, (Japanese)
07:38
But I didn't say (Japanese). I said, (Japanese). Pretty close.
07:40
But I said, "Please rape me at eight a.m."
07:44
(Laughter)
07:47
You've never seen a more confused Japanese woman.
07:50
(Laughter)
07:52
I walked in to school.
07:56
And a teacher came up to me and handed me a piece of paper.
07:58
I couldn't read any of it -- hieroglyphics, it could have been --
08:01
because it was Kanji,
08:04
Chinese characters adapted into the Japanese language.
08:06
Asked him what this said.
08:08
And he goes, "Ahh, okay okay,
08:10
eehto, World History, ehh, Calculus,
08:12
Traditional Japanese." And so on.
08:16
And so it came to me in waves.
08:20
There had been something lost in translation.
08:23
The Japanese classes were not Japanese instruction classes, per se.
08:26
They were the normal high school curriculum for Japanese students --
08:29
the other 4,999 students in the school, who were Japanese, besides the American.
08:33
And that's pretty much my response.
08:37
(Laughter)
08:40
And that set me on this panic driven search for the perfect language method.
08:41
I tried everything. I went to Kinokuniya.
08:46
I tried every possible book, every possible CD.
08:48
Nothing worked until I found this.
08:51
This is the Joyo Kanji. This is a Tablet rather,
08:53
or a poster of the 1,945 common-use characters
08:57
as determined by the Ministry of Education in 1981.
09:01
Many of the publications in Japan limit themselves to these characters,
09:04
to facilitate literacy -- some are required to.
09:08
And this became my Holy Grail, my Rosetta Stone.
09:10
As soon as I focused on this material,
09:13
I took off.
09:18
I ended up being able to read Asahi Shinbu, Asahi newspaper,
09:20
about six months later -- so a total of 11 months later --
09:23
and went from Japanese I to Japanese VI.
09:26
Ended up doing translation work at age 16 when I returned to the U.S.,
09:28
and have continued to apply this material
09:31
over method approach to close to a dozen languages now.
09:36
Someone who was terrible at languages,
09:39
and at any given time, speak, read and write five or six.
09:41
This brings us to the point,
09:46
which is, it's oftentimes what you do,
09:48
not how you do it, that is the determining factor.
09:51
This is the difference between being effective -- doing the right things --
09:54
and being efficient -- doing things well whether or not they're important.
09:57
You can also do this with grammar.
10:00
I came up with these six sentences after much experimentation.
10:02
Having a native speaker allow you to deconstruct their grammar,
10:06
by translating these sentences into past, present, future,
10:09
will show you subject, object, verb,
10:12
placement of indirect, direct objects, gender and so forth.
10:14
From that point, you can then, if you want to,
10:16
acquire multiple languages, alternate them so there is no interference.
10:19
We can talk about that if anyone in interested.
10:21
And now I love languages.
10:24
So ballroom dancing, implicit versus explicit --
10:26
very important.
10:29
You might look at me and say, "That guy must be a ballroom dancer."
10:30
But no, you'd be wrong
10:33
because my body is very poorly designed for most things --
10:35
pretty well designed for lifting heavy rocks perhaps.
10:38
I used to be much bigger, much more muscular.
10:41
And so I ended up walking like this.
10:44
I looked a lot like an orangutan, our close cousins, or the Incredible Hulk.
10:46
Not very good for ballroom dancing.
10:52
I found myself in Argentina in 2005,
10:54
decided to watch a tango class -- had no intention of participating.
10:57
Went in, paid my ten pesos,
11:00
walked up -- 10 women two guys, usually a good ratio.
11:02
The instructor says, "You are participating."
11:05
Immediately: death sweat.
11:08
(Laughter)
11:10
Fight-or-flight fear sweat, because I tried ballroom dancing in college --
11:11
stepped on the girl's foot with my heel. She screamed.
11:14
I was so concerned with her perception of what I was doing,
11:17
that it exploded in my face,
11:20
never to return to the ballroom dancing club.
11:22
She comes up, and this was her approach, the teacher.
11:25
"Okay, come on, grab me."
11:28
Gorgeous assistant instructor.
11:30
She was very pissed off that I had pulled her from her advanced practice.
11:32
So I did my best. I didn't know where to put my hands.
11:35
And she pulled back, threw down her arms,
11:38
put them on her hips, turned around and yelled across the room,
11:40
"This guy is built like a god-damned mountain of muscle,
11:43
and he's grabbing me like a fucking Frenchman,"
11:47
(Laughter)
11:49
which I found encouraging.
11:51
(Laughter)
11:53
Everyone burst into laughter. I was humiliated.
11:55
She came back. She goes, "Come on. I don't have all day."
11:57
As someone who wrestled since age eight, I proceeded to crush her,
12:00
"Of Mice and Men" style.
12:03
And she looked up and said,
12:05
"Now that's better."
12:07
So I bought a month's worth of classes.
12:10
(Laughter)
12:12
And proceeded to look at --
12:13
I wanted to set competition so I'd have a deadline --
12:15
Parkinson's Law,
12:17
the perceived complexity of a task will expand to fill the time you allot it.
12:19
So I had a very short deadline for a competition.
12:23
I got a female instructor first,
12:26
to teach me the female role, the follow,
12:29
because I wanted to understand the sensitivities and abilities
12:32
that the follow needed to develop, so I wouldn't have a repeat of college.
12:34
And then I took an inventory of the characteristics,
12:37
along with her, of the
12:40
of the capabilities and elements of different dancers who'd won championships.
12:44
I interviewed these people because they all taught in Buenos Aires.
12:47
I compared the two lists,
12:51
and what you find is that there is explicitly,
12:53
expertise they recommended, certain training methods.
12:55
Then there were implicit commonalities
12:58
that none of them seemed to be practicing.
13:00
Now the protectionism of Argentine dance teachers aside,
13:03
I found this very interesting. So I decided to focus on three of those commonalities.
13:06
Long steps. So a lot of milongueros --
13:10
the tango dancers will use very short steps.
13:12
I found that longer steps were much more elegant.
13:16
So you can have --
13:20
and you can do it in a very small space in fact.
13:22
Secondly, different types of pivots.
13:24
Thirdly, variation in tempo.
13:27
These seemed to be the three areas that I could exploit to compete
13:30
if I wanted to comptete against people who'd been practicing for 20 to 30 years.
13:33
That photo is of the
13:37
semi-finals of the Buenos Aires championships, four months later.
13:40
Then one month later, went to the world championships,
13:43
made it to the semi-final. And then set a world record, following that,
13:46
two weeks later.
13:48
I want you to see part of what I practiced.
13:49
I'm going to jump forward here.
13:52
This is the instructor that Alicia and I chose for the male lead.
13:55
His name is Gabriel Misse.
14:00
One of the most elegant dancers of his generation,
14:02
known for his long steps, and his tempo changes
14:06
and his pivots.
14:08
Alicia, in her own right, very famous.
14:13
So I think you'll agree, they look quite good together.
14:15
Now what I like about this video
14:20
is it's actually a video of the first time they ever danced together
14:23
because of his lead. He had a strong lead.
14:25
He didn't lead with his chest, which requires you lean forward.
14:28
I couldn't develop the attributes in my toes,
14:30
the strength in my feet, to do that.
14:32
So he uses a lead that focuses on
14:35
his shoulder girdle and his arm.
14:38
So he can lift the woman to break her, for example.
14:41
That's just one benefit of that.
14:43
So then we broke it down.
14:45
This would be an example of one pivot.
14:49
This is a back step pivot.
14:51
There are many different types.
14:53
I have hundreds of hours of footage --
14:55
all categorized, much like George Carlin
14:58
categorized his comedy.
15:00
So using my arch-nemesis,
15:06
Spanish, no less, to learn tango.
15:08
So fear is your friend. Fear is an indicator.
15:10
Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn't do.
15:12
More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do.
15:14
And the best results that I've had in life,
15:17
the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question:
15:19
what's the worst that can happen?
15:22
Especially with fears you gained when you were a child.
15:24
Take the analytical frameworks,
15:28
the capabilities you have, apply them to old fears.
15:31
Apply them to very big dreams.
15:33
And when I think of what I fear now, it's very simple.
15:36
When I imagine my life,
15:39
what my life would have been like
15:42
without the educational opportunities that I had,
15:44
it makes me wonder.
15:48
I've spent the last two years trying to deconstruct
15:50
the American public school system,
15:52
to either fix it or replace it.
15:55
And have done experiments with about 50,000 students thus far --
15:57
built, I'd say, about a half dozen schools,
16:00
my readers, at this point.
16:02
And if any of you are interested in that,
16:04
I would love to speak with you.
16:06
I know nothing. I'm a beginner.
16:08
But I ask a lot of questions, and I would love your advice.
16:10
Thank you very much.
16:13
(Applause)
16:15

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About the Speaker:

Tim Ferriss - Productivity guru, author
Tim Ferriss is author of bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, a self-improvement program of four steps: defining aspirations, managing time, creating automatic income and escaping the trappings of the 9-to-5 life.

Why you should listen

Tim Ferris brings an analytical, yet accessible, approach to the challenges of self-improvement and career advancement through what he calls "lifestyle design." His 2007 book, The 4-Hour Workweek, and his lectures on productivity are stuffed with moving, encouraging anecdotes -- often from his own life -- that show how simple decisions, made despite fears or hesitation, can make for a drastically more meaningful day-to-day experience at work, or in life.

Word-of-blog chatter in Silicon Valley may have propelled his book to bestselling success, but Ferriss himself takes a fervid stance against the distractions of technologies like email and PDAs, which promote unnecessary multitasking.

Following the success of his book, Ferriss has become a full-time angel investor.

More profile about the speaker
Tim Ferriss | Speaker | TED.com