Do not assume anything.
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Tim: This is Tim Ferris, circa 1975 AD, age 2. You can tell by the power squat, I was a very confident boy and not without reason. I had a very charming routine at the time which was to wait until late into the evening, when my parents were decompressing from a hard-day’s work: doing their crossword puzzles, watching television. I would run into the living room, jump on to the couch, rip the cushions off, throw them on the floor, scream form the top of my lungs and run out. Because I was the Incredible Hulk. Obviously, you see the resemblance. And this routing went on for some time.
When I was 7, I went to summer camp. My parents found it necessary for peace of mind and at noon each day, the campers would go to a pond where they had floating docks and you can jump off the end into the deep end. I was born premature, I was always very small, my left lung had collapsed when I was born and I always had buoyancy problems. So water was something that scared me to begin with but I would go in on occasion. And on one particular day, the campers were jumping through inner tubes, or diving through inner tubes and I thought this was going to be great fun. So I go through the inner tube and the bully of the camp grabbed my ankles. And I tried to come up for air and my lower back hit the bottom of the inner tube and I went wild-eyed and thought I was going to die. And the camp counselor came over, separated us and from that point onward I was terrified of swimming.
And that is something that I did not get over and my inability to swim has one of my greatest humiliations and embarrassments. And that was when I realized that I was not the Incredible Hulk. But there’s a happy ending to this story – at age 31, in August I took two weeks to reexamine swimming and question all the obvious aspects of swimming and went from swimming one lap, so 20 yards like a drowning monkey, at about 20 beats per minute, heart rate, I measured it to going to Montauk on Long Island, close to where I grew up and jumping into the ocean, swimming one kilometer open water, getting out and feeling better than when I went in. And I came out in my Speedos, European style – feeling like the Incredible Hulk. And that’s what I want everyone in here to feel like, the Incredible Hulk at the end of this presentation.
More specifically, I want you to feel capable of becoming an excellent long-distance swimmer, world-class language learner and tango champion. And I would like to share my art, if I have an art, of deconstructing things that really scare the living hell out of me. So, moving onward. Swimming: first principles. First principles – these are so important. I find that the best results in life are often held back by false constructs and untested assumptions. And the turnaround in swimming came when a friend of mine said “I will go a year without any stimulants” – this is a six double espresso per day type of guy “if you can complete a 1 kilometer, open water race”.
So the clock started ticking. I found that life-long swimmers often couldn’t teach what they did. I tried kickboards – my feet would slice through the water like razors, I wouldn’t even move. I would leave demoralized, staring at my feet. Hand paddles, everything. Even did lessons with olympians – nothing helped. And then Chris Sacca, who’s now a dear friend of mine, had completed an iron man with 103 degree temperature, said “I have the answer to your prayers”. And he introduced me to the work of a man named Terry Laughlin who’s the founder of Total Immersion Swimming. And that set me on the road to examining biomechanics.
So here are the new rules of swimming, if any of you are afraid of swimming or not good at it. The first is: forget about kicking. Very counter-intuitive. So turns out that propulsion isn’t really the problem. Kicking harder doesn’t solve the problem because the average swimmer only transfers about 3% of their energy expenditure into forward motion. The problem is hydrodynamics. So what you wanna focus on instead is allowing your lower body to draft behind your upper body, much like a small car behind a big car on the highway. And you do that by maintaining a horizontal body position. The only way you can do that is to not swim on top of the water. The body is denser than water – 95% would be, at least, submerged naturally.
So you end up, number 3, not swimming in the case of freestyle as many people think, reaching on top of the water, but actually rotating from streamline right, to streamline left. Maintaining that fuselage position as long as possible. So let’s look at some examples. This is Terry and you can see that he’s extending his right arm below his head and far in front. So his entire body is under water. And the arm is extended below the head, the head is held in line with the spine so that you use strategic water pressure to raise your legs up. Very important for people with lower body fat. And then here’s an example of the stroke. You don’t kick, but you do use a small flick. So you see, this is the left extension and then you see his left leg, small flick and the only purpose of that is to rotate his hips so that he can get to the opposite side. And the entry point for his right hand, notice that he’s not reaching in front and catching the water. Rather, he is entering the water at a 45 degree angle with his forearm and then propelling himself by streamlining – very important.
Incorrect above, which is what almost every swimming coach will teach you – not their fault and I’ll get to implicit versus explicit in a moment. And bellow is what most swimmers will find, enables them to do what I did: which is going from 21 strokes per 20 yard length, to 11 strokes in two workouts with no coach, no video monitoring. And now I love swimming. I can’t wait to go swimming. And I’ll be doing a swimming lesson later for myself if anyone wants to joint me.
Last thing – breathing. A problem a lot of us have, certainly, when you’re swimming. In freestyle, the way to remedy this is to turn with body roll and just to look at your recovery hand as it enters the water. And that will get you very far. And that’s it! That will get you very far.
Languages – material versus method. I, like many people, came to the conclusion that I was terrible at languages. I suffered through Spanish in junior high, first year of high school and the sum total of my knowledge was pretty much “Donde esta el bano?” And I wouldn’t even catch the response – a sad state of affairs. Then I transferred to a different school, sophomore year and I had a choice of other languages. And most of my friends were taking Japanese so I thought: Why not punish myself? I’ll do Japanese. Six months later I had the chance to go to Japan. And my teachers assured me, they said “Don’t worry – you’ll have Japanese language classes every day to help you cope, it’ll be an amazing experience.” My first overseas experience, in fact.
So, my parents encouraged me to do it. I arrived in Tokyo, amazing! Couldn’t believe I was on the other side of the world. Met my host family, things went quite well, all things considered. My first evening before my first day of school, I said to my mother, very politely – Please wake me up at 8 AM. But I said “Please rape me at 8 AM”. You’ve never seen a more confused Japanese woman. And I walked into school and a teacher came up to me and handed me a piece of paper. And I couldn’t read any of it, hieroglyphics. It was khan-ji – Chinese characters adapted into the Japanese language. Asked him what this said and he goes “Ah, okay, okay.” And it came to me in waves – there had been something lost in translation. The Japanese classes were not Japanese instruction classes per say. They were the normal high school curriculum for Japanese students. The other 4999 students in the school who were Japanese, besides the American. And that’s pretty much my response.
And that set me on this panic-driven search for the perfect language method. I tried everything. I tried every possible book, every possible CD – nothing worked. Until I found this. This is a tablet, rather or a poster of the 1945 common used characters as determined by the ministry of education in 1981. Many of the publications in Japan limit themselves to these characters to facilitate literacy, some are required to. And this became my Holy Grail, my Rosetta Stone. And as soon as I focused on this material, I took off. And I ended up being able to read a newspaper. About six months later – so a total of 11 months later, went from Japanese 1 to Japanese 6, ended up doing translation work at age 16 when I returned to the US. And I have continued to apply this material over method approach to close to a dozen languages now. For someone who was terrible at languages and at any given time speak, read or write any given 6.
And this brings us to the point which is, it’s often times what you do and not how you do it that is the determining factor. This is the difference between being effective, doing the right things and being efficient, doing things whether or not they’re important. And you can also do this with grammar – I came up with these six sentences after much experimentation. Having a native speaker, allow you to deconstruct their grammar by translating these sentences into past, present, future will show you the subject, object, verb, placement of indirect and direct objects, gender and so forth.
From that point, you can then, if you want to, acquire multiple languages, alternate them so there’s no interference. And we can talk about that if anyone’s interested. And now, I love languages.
So ballroom dancing. Implicit versus explicit. Very important. You might look at me and say “That guy must be a ballroom dancer”. But no, you’d be wrong. Because my body is very poorly designed for most things, pretty well designed for lifting heavy rocks perhaps. And I used to be much bigger, much more muscular so I ended up walking like this. I looked a lot like an orangutan or close cousin or the Incredible Hulk – not very good for ballroom dancing. I found myself in Argentina in 2005, decided to watch a tango class. Had no intention in participating.
Went in, paid my 10 pesos, walked up, 10 women, two guys – usually a good ratio. The instructor says “You are participating”. Immediately death sweat. Fighter flight fear sweat because I tried ballroom dancing in college, stepped on the girl’s foot with my heal, she screamed, I was so concerned with her perception of what I was doing that it exploded in my face, never to return to the ballroom dancing club.
She comes up – gorgeous assistant instructor. She was very pissed off that I pulled her from her advanced practice. So I did my best, I knew where to put my hands and she pulled back, put them on her hips, turned around and yelled across the room “This guys is built like a goddamn mountain of muscle and he’s grabbing me like a fucking French man!” which I found encouraging. Everyone burst into laughter, I was humiliated, she came back, she goes “Come on, I don’t have all day.” And as someone who wrestled since age 8, I proceeded to crush her and she looked up and she said “Now that’s better.”
So I bought a month’s worth of classes. And proceeded to look at – I wanted to set a competition so I had a deadline, Parkinson’s law – the perceived complexity of a task will expand to fill the time you allot it. So I had a very short deadline for a competition. I got a female instructor first to teach me the female role. The follow – because I wanted to understand that sensitivities and abilities the follows need to develop. So I wouldn’t have a repeat of college. And then I took an inventory of the characteristics along with her, the capabilities and elements of different dancers who won championships.
And then I interviewed these people, because they all taught in Buenos Aires – and I compared the two lists. And what you find is that there’s explicitly expertise that they recommended: certain training methods. And then there were implicit commonalities that none of them seemed to be practicing. Now, the professionalism of argentine dance teachers aside, I found this very interesting.
So I decided to focus on 3 of those commonalities: long steps, a lot of dancers use short steps but I found that long steps were more elegant and you can do it in a very small space, in fact. Secondly, different types of pivots. Thirdly, variation and tempo. These seemed to be the 3 areas I could exploit to compete if I wanted to compete against people who have been practicing for 20-30 years. That photo is of the semi-finals of the Buenos Aires championships, 4 months later. And then 1 month later, I went to the world championships, made it to semifinals and set a world record, following that two weeks later.
I want you to see part of what I practiced. I’m gonna jump forward here, but this is the instructor the Alesia and I chose for the male lead. His name is Gabriel Mise – one of the most elegant dancers of his generation. Known for his long steps, for his tempo changes and his pivots. Alesia in her own right, very famous. And I think you’ll agree they look quite good together. Now, what I like about this video is that it’s actually a video of the first time they ever actually danced together. Because of his lead – he had a strong lead. He didn’t lead with his chest, which requires you to lean forward – I couldn’t develop the attributes in my toes, the strength in my feet to do that. So he uses a lead that focuses on his shoulder girdle and his arm so he can lift his woman to break her, for example – it’s a large benefit of that.
So then, we broke it down – this would be an example of one pivot. This is a back-step pivot, there are many of different times. And I have hundreds of hours of footage, all categorized much like George Carlin categorized his comedy. So, using my arch-nemesis, Spanish: “Fear is your friend, fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do but more often than not, it shows you what you should do.”
And the best results I had in life, the most enjoyable times have all been from asking a simple question – what’s the worst that could happen? Especially with fears that you gain when you were a child. Take the analytical frameworks, the capabilities you have, apply them to old fears, apply them to very big dreams and when I think of what I fear now, it’s very simple. When I imagine what my life would’ve been like without the educational opportunities that I had, it makes me wonder. And I spent the last two years trying to deconstruct the American public school system – to either fix it or replace it. And have done experiments with 50,000 students thus far, built half-dozen schools with my readers at this point. And if any of you are interested in that, I would love to speak with you. I know nothing, I’m a beginner but I ask a lot of questions and I would love your advice. Thank you very much!