Tim’s Rapid Learning Method And The Four-Hour Chef

Today I’ve got with me best selling author, Tim Ferriss, who is back with the new book called, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life.

It’s the middle part about learning anything that I’m especially curious about. How does Tim do it? How does he learn rapidly?

Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss

The 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss is author of the #1 New York Times best sellers The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body.



Full Interview Transcript

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Hey there, freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. I’m recording the first interview in my new office here. Not fully set up, it’s looking a little dark, kind of, like, I’m back to looking like a hostage here with the light on me.

I came here and I specifically opened the office, because I wanted to do this interview. I was really eager for this one. Today, I’ve got with me best selling author, Tim Ferriss, who is back with the new book called, “The 4-Hour Chef, The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life.” It’s that middle part that I’m especially curious about, the learning anything. How does Tim do it? How does he learn rapidly? Tim, welcome.

Tim: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Andrew: Languages, especially, in fact, is it language where you first discovered this system for learning quickly?

Tim: Yeah, it was, absolutely. When I was 15, I had already failed at Spanish. I had tried Spanish. I was required to take Spanish for a few years. I couldn’t string sentences together. Then, I had the opportunity to go to Japan as an exchange student. What I hadn’t really been told, I thought I was going to have private language classes, but I ended up just going to school with 5,000 Japanese students; so, going to physics and Kobu, [SP] which is ancient Japanese, with Japanese students.

Andrew: So, you thought you were going to go learn Japanese, but instead, you were going to be in a school where learning would go on in different topics in Japanese?

Tim: Right. So, the lost in translation was, don’t worry, because I was worried, don’t worry, you will have Japanese classes every day. What they meant was that you will be going to normal high school Japanese students are using to cram for college. So, I had to do something different, because the usual approach hadn’t worked for me with Spanish, so it wasn’t going to work with Japanese.

I used comic books, an electronic dictionary, and Judo text books, actually, to learn the grammar; as well as a wall poster, a single poster that has all the common use characters on it, 1,945. It started with trying to figure out this seemingly insurmountable language, Japanese. That’s how it all started out.

Andrew: So, then, 1,945 words that are, what, they’re common? So, why is that significant?

Tim: Well, it’s significant because, to me, learning Japanese was this very huge, amorphous task. I really didn’t know how to break it down into manageable pieces, Lego blocks. I was, actually, in the process of potentially going home. I was about to quit, throw in the towel, because all the other students had, there were a couple that came from New Zealand, Malaysia, another student from the U.S., they had already gone home. I went to Kinukuna Bookstore in Shinjuku in Tokyo, and I was looking for the Book of Five Rings in English, which is a great book, but next to it I saw this rolled up poster that had the common usage characters. What that means is, to facilitate literacy in Japan, the newspapers, magazines, and whatnot limit the characters that they use to these common use characters, 1,945. So, for me, that turned into a representation of Japanese in one page. So, I put it on the back of my bedroom door and that became my target.

Andrew: How long did it take you to learn that and be able to have a conversation with the stranger in the street?

Tim: It took me about 11 months to feel comfortable speaking, reading, and writing Japanese. And what I think is important to know is, number 1, I had determined I was bad at languages prior to that. So it wasn’t a reflection of my innate ability, it was the method, it was the recipe, so to speak. And as I refined that over time, I next did Mandarin Chinese. And it took about 6 months that time around to get to the same level of proficiency. And then a few years later, actually in 2005, I tackled German and that took 3 months. And then I tackled Spanish again, the first one I had failed with, in Argentina and it took 8 weeks to the highest level of the University of Buenos Aires testing for Spanish. So it was just the method. The method was more refined.

Andrew: And it seems to me that the first part of this method is to breakdown the tough topic and figure out what are those key elements that outsized power. In your case it was finding the poster with the 19-hundred 45 characters which you still have today and is in the book ‘The 4 Hour Chef’ which is kind of cool. But how do we do that? How do we break something down and come with those essential pieces?

Tim: A big part of it is looking for the anomalies; whether it’s in language learning. For instance, if it were language learning, I won’t spend all too much time on language learning but I like talking about it because it’s so intimidating to most people. And it doesn’t take a lifetime to get good at a language. That’s total nonsense. It just doesn’t. In 12 weeks, with even a complicated language, you can become very, very, very good. With language it has to do with looking for outlines. An example would be like Daniel Tammet who’s a very skilled nemanist [SP] and mind athlete so he learned Icelandic well enough in seven days to go on television and be interviewed. It’s like how do that. He also memorized pi to a few thousand digits. It’s like, how do you do that? Well there are tricks to doing both of those things or memorizing decks of cards. See, rather throw the baby out with the bath water, by just looking for where people clump, and it’s like, oh, most people do this, therefore it’s the best approach which is very commonly done, even in analysis like the 10,000 hour rule and stuff. I think that’s very commonly done. I’m going to look for the oddities. So, you know, the high school girl who can dead lift 450 pounds for repetitions but still looks like a normal girl. That’s odd to me. I’m going to try to replicate it. Or swimming, an example for swimming, because I couldn’t swim until a few years ago. I was terrified of it. I’d given up.

And then I had stakes, which we can talk about later but, a friend of mine assigned me a one [???], open water race as my New Year’s Resolution and I gave him his. Which is a great way to do resolutions, by the way. You don’t pick your own. And mine to him was no stimulants stronger than green tea for the rest of the year. He was doing like 8 double espressos a day. But Terry Laughlin and total immersion is a method of swimming that is quite the opposite from almost everything else. You don’t do workouts, you barely kick, you don’t even practice breathing until you’ve mastered all these other drills, and it removed all the failure points for swimming for me. So a big part of it is looking for the anomalies and knowing how to find them and ask for them. So if it’s, let’s say, ultra-running, when I talk to some of the best ultra-runners in the world, they’re built like spiders, they’re designed for it. So I would ask them, who’s really good at this who shouldn’t be? Whether they’re really old or really fat or really big, whatever it is, and then you start to look at these unconventional athletes, performers, whatever it is and look at if it’s replicable. A mistake that I think a lot of people make, and then I’ll stop because I get all amped up about this…

Andrew: Do it.

Tim: One of the common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to become really good at something is they say, alright, I want to be good at swimming. I’m going to emulate whoever…

Andrew: Michael Phelps.

Tim: Michael Phelps. Or I want to be good at golf. I’m going to emulate Tiger Woods. And it’s important to realize that people at that level, often succeed despite how they train, not because of it. And I know top NFL athletes, like with 8-pack abs, and they eat McDonald’s for breakfast, Burger King for lunch and Wendy’s for dinner, like total garbage. Secondly, what people use to go from 0, baseline ground 0, to really good, like world class, which to me is top 5% in the world, is very different and I think more instructive than what they do once they’re at the top. So this is a mistake that people make in the investment world a lot. Is they’ll look at somebody who already has $100,000,000 who’s a VC now and they’re like, well let me emulate how he invests. I’m like no, no, no. You don’t want to do that. You want to look at how he went from having $100,000 net worth to $1,000,000 net worth. Look at that first, then you can look at 1,000,000 to 10,000,000. Don’t start off emulating like what Richard Branson’s doing now. Read ‘Losing Your Virginity’ and look at what he did when he was in the beginning.

Andrew: So you’re an investor in tech start-ups.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: You understand this space. If we were going to, say, want to build a successful tech start-up, should we look at Mark Zuckerberg and say, ‘How did he get there,’ or should we ask the question that you asked a moment ago, which is, ‘Who’s great at this start-up thing that shouldn’t be?’

Tim: That’s a good question. It depends on what our objective is. So if our objective is to emulate specific CEOs, to let’s just say, increase personal net worth, there’s one approach. If you want to create a highly profitable start-up, there’s yet another approach. If you want to create a start-up that returns money to investors, it’s yet another approach, right? Because you can make a ton of money as a start-up CEO in the Silicon Valley game just by raising a lot of money. Then, if you’re the hottest girl at the dance and everybody wants to invest, you say, ‘Well, I’d love to do it with you, but I need to take some money off the table, so can you buy 30% of my stock so I can put 10 million dollars in the bank?’ or whatever. Happens every day, right? But that’s a very different approach than perhaps going after creating a highly profitable company that is self-sustaining like Ever Note, for instance. Ever Note is wildly successful, they have millions of paying customers, but Phil, I think is a great example CEO, Phil Lemon, of a fascinating CEO. He’s not a bombastic guy who gets up there like Larry Ellison, he’s not a win at all costs, place everything on the line, he’s very methodical, he plans it out, he tracks his cohort analysis, obviously with his entire team, and there are many different ways to skin the cat. Looking at the anomalies is very helpful, in so much as the best practices are very seldom the most common. So absolutely.

Andrew: So you’re saying first of all, there’s lots of different kinds of entrepreneur. There are the ones who keep raising money. There are the ones who are profitable and so on. Pick the one that’s most similar to where I want to be, and then look for that anomaly.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. That goes for marketing, that goes for ad-campaigns. Certainly for people like PETA. Before PETA started using naked celebrities, there’s a lot to be said for naked celebrities, but they use naked women in their ads all the time to get their point across.

Andrew: Yeah.

Tim: Not that should suddenly emulate that, although the world might be a more beautiful place for it, there are always exceptions to the rule that can be replicated. In the case of whether it’s becoming CEO and building a company, whether it’s losing body fat, creating a best selling book, whatever it might be, there are really three things that determine outcome when you’re choosing method. The least important is, is it efficient? Is the method efficient? Is it a good use of time? The second most important thing is, is it effective? If I actually do it, will it produce the outcome that I want? Effective is doing the right things. The most important is adherence, and all that means is, will you actually do it at the end of the day? People fail all the time with, let’s say, fat loss, because they’re told by whomever, fill in blank expert, ‘Alright, you need to work out at least an hour a day, minimum four times a week,’ and it’s too inconvenient. As soon as they have to pick up the kids or do overtime at work they miss their hour, and then they feel they have to do two hours the next day, and then the quit. Whereas you have to pick method that you will follow first and foremost. Then you can look at whether it’s effective, whether it’s efficient. So for fat loss, for instance, you know the minimum effective dose for which you can apply to everything, including language, shooting basketball, playing billiards, whatever, is 30 grams of protein, 30 minutes, within 30 minutes of waking up. That’s how my dad went from five pound of average fat loss per month to 18.75, and then ultimately lost more than 100. You start with any tiny little tweak, instead of something really big, which is prone to abandonment.

Andrew: You talked about steaks earlier and the importance of having steaks. What do you mean by that and how do we find the right steak?

Tim: Steaks are insurance against human nature. You need a carrot or a stick to propel to do what you need to. All that means is, if you don’t do your job and you’re an employee you get fired. There’s a consequence to not doing your job. If you don’t follow your diet, not much happens, you just stay fat, or whatever, but there is no punishment. There’s frequently not much of a reward other than looking incrementally better over time.

Andrew: Like a lot of things in life, the punishment and the reward are in the future.

Tim: Exactly. As you know, humans are terrible with dealing with the future, whether it’s predicting what will make them happy, or health. Health doesn’t get anyone to do anything. Really, it’s amazing. You see people who have had a heart attack a few months prior and they’re eating doughnuts and smoking cigarettes. It’s too abstract and off in the future. So I’ll give you a real tactical approach to stakes. You can just go to a website like Stickk.com, S-T-I-C-K-K.com which is based on research done by a Yale professor. It was supposed to be a commitment in store. That was the idea, it was a commitment store online, and here’s how it worked. You take some amount of money that is decent to you. I recommend one percent of your pre-tax income is a good starting point, and you put it into escrow and you set your goal and you explain what you’re going to do, whatever it is, 30 grams within 30 minutes of waking up or exercising twice a week, whatever. Writing a chapter a day. And then you have a referee, who is a friend or someone else who will keep you honest.

You then choose an anti-charity. This is a charity you would rather die than give money to this charity. The current most effective one is the George W. Bush Congressional Library. If you don’t follow your program, your money in escrow goes to that charity, and you’re on the record publicly as having donated that money.

Andrew: [laughs]

Tim: And people make incredible changes when that happens. They really make incredible changes, and you can create a Wiki and then just smack talk among your friends which is what (?) did. He was a skinny Indian guy. He had trouble gaining weight. He had a goal, I think, of 15 pounds of muscle in six months, and he did it in three months as soon as he set up those stakes, the risk of public humiliation. There are a lot of ways to do it, (?) the simple way.

Andrew: I’ve done the one you’ve talked about earlier with swimming where I’ll sign myself up for a race if I’m not running enough and I know that I have now paid for this race, I’ve got it coming up, it’s a long one, and unless I train I’m really going to suffer and embarrass myself there. I also have found that for business it helps me to have stakes because if I can go and get a job if this business doesn’t work out, then maybe I’m not so eager to make it work out. Maybe, I want the safety and the comfort of a job sometimes, but if everything goes to pot and I go bankrupt if my business goes south, then I’m really going to work hard and make sure that that doesn’t happen. But here’s the thing that I noticed when I talked about this publicly on Mixergy, some people will say, “Hey, you know what, it freaks me out.” I get to a level where the stakes are so high I get freaked out and I don’t do anything. So what do you do about that?

Tim: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think there is a minimum effective dose, and the dose makes the poison so the stakes that you choose have to be enough to incentivize you to do what you need to do but not so much that you’re constantly an anxious mess. It’s very comparable to investing. How much are you comfortable being down in a given quarter, 10%, 25%, 50% and assessing that very carefully. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot of money. I have a friend at Google, Trevor, who partnered up with one of his friends, and they became accountable for going to the gym. If either of them skipped, they had to pay the other person, I think it was $10, something super nominal, but it was enough to trigger the psychology where they both felt compelled to go, and Trevor ended up losing a ton of weight, running a marathon, under 200 pounds for the first time since college, all because of this ridiculously small $10 wager.

I do agree that if you look at the broad spectrum of startups, now there’s a difference between having a profitable business and having a successful venture back in the Silicon Valley startup, fundamentally very different. I think that there’s a lot to be said for moonlighting while still employed, testing the waters, ensuring that the model you think works, that is generating revenue, and then jumping in feet first, not head first. But if you look at, for instance, Y Combinator and how they pick companies or I should say, pick founders, people to participate in Y Combinator, they don’t like people who are doing a bunch of things part-time because they don’t have that hunger, that drive, that survival instinct to really go all in with what they’re doing.

Andrew: If you were to go all in and… Actually, has this happened to you? Have you gone all in and said, “Whoa, this is way too much. It’s now at a place where I can’t focus on what I need to do because the stakes are so high. I’m worried about losing it all. I’m worried about people seeing me suffer a setback. Have you ever gone to that place?

Tim: Uh, some variation of it. Sure. This book, I mean, look at the width of this thing. It’s 672 pages, and that’s after cutting 250 pages. It’s a choose your own adventure book and whatnot, but I had not been to the breaking point since about 2000, and this book took me to the absolutely breaking point.

Andrew: Why?

Tim: Because it was … I did something that I thought would make a very interesting story, and that was start from ground zero, and show people all my insecurities and fears about cooking and inability with cooking, and then have them watch me go through the whole process of learning it start to finish, and how I apply all these different things that can also apply to language and sports and everything. Turns out that taking something that should take three years, compressing it into six months because of my deadline with Amazon publishing, while trying to learn the skill that you’re writing about? Is really stressful! [LAUGH]

Andrew: Who would have thought?

Tim: There were days when I just wanted to curl up on the ground and do nothing, or stay in bed. I really did not want to get up and face what I had to do that day. And that was [??] to steaks, but I would say that for any entrepreneur – an entrepreneur is [??] to undertake, to make things happen. For anyone who wants to make things happen, there’s an element of risk and there’s an element of fear, always. Read “Letters From a Stoic.” It’s a short book by Seneca, like 2000 years ago, and Seneca wasn’t the Roman equivalent of a motivational speaker, which a lot of philosophers where. They’d sit on a porch and philosophize and eat grapes and do nothing. Seneca was an advisor the Emperor, richest investment banker in Rome, of the most famous playwrights. He got a lot of shit done. Stoicism as an operating system teaches you to not have overly emotional responses to negative things, allows you to condition yourself that way, train yourself. And to also not be completely attached ego-wise to things that are outside of your control. So I think that to create steaks but not be paralyzed by them? It’s really helpful to do just a little bit of reading on stoic philosophy.

Andrew: Is that what you did so when you were at the place where you said maybe this book isn’t going to get published, it’s too much work, it’s taking me away from other stuff… these are the thoughts that you had. How did you snap out of it? And I ask because I’m looking at some of the personal emails that I’m getting from people and they say that they have this issue. That they have an undertaking that’s so big that they’re overwhelmed, they don’t know what to do and they just don’t end up doing anything. So what did you do to get yourself past that?

Tim: A few things. So the first was I reread “Letters from a Stoic.” I also reread multiple times my highlights from a book called “Bird by Bird,” which covers all of the psychology of writing and I think of creativity really well. All the self-doubt and so forth. I also did two things that I do very consistently across all the book and life in general. Number one was have a consistent exercise schedule. You have to get out of your head and take at least a 30 minute vacation from your mental tail-chasing just to see things clearly.

Andrew: Okay.

Tim: Having a consistent exercise is really critical for mental performance and general well-being, and sleep and so forth. The last thing is 80/20 analysis. 80/20, 80/20, 80/20 constantly. So what are the 20% of these thousands of pages that I have in research, what is the 20% that’s going to deliver 80% or more of the value to my readers? What are they actually going to do? I might have fallen in love with this one section about – a real example – George St. Pierre. GSP, the USC fighter, had multiple pages on like a 24-hour schedule, to the calendar, exactly what he eats, exactly how his personal chefs make it, fascinating to me at the end of the day. Not useful to enough people in my readership to go in the book. It’ll end up somewhere else, but I have to make those cuts. So I did 80/20 analysis over and over and over again.

Also, I was working with a big team for this book. I assembled a really elite team of people all over the planet to help put it together. At least, a dozen photographers, illustrators, on and on and on. And there were certain people among them who were very stressful to deal with and who made things worse, so to analyze also the 20% of people or activities that are creating 80+% of my stress, consuming 80+% of my time, and as is almost always the case, the stuff that was consuming the most time did not overlap very much with the 20% that was most important. So not just doing that when I felt like it, but scheduling that type of 80/20 analysis, let’s say every Monday or every Friday, so you have that as a practice, I think was very –

Andrew: So on a regular schedule you’ll sit and do that 80/20 analysis and ask yourself what’s the 20% of my life that’s getting me the most impact, the 80% impact, and how do I stop doing the rest?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s a little bit in between that can go either way. So I’ll look at the 20% that are the highest leverage positive things and I’ll focus on those. I’ll look at then the 20% most negative things that are consuming the most time, and try to eliminate those. There’s quite a bit in-between that in the end, often takes care of itself, but really keeping your eye ball of your to-do list are the 80-20 positive, and the not-to-do list for the 80-20 negative is huge. When I’m really feeling overwhelmed, I actually focus on the negative, which is a good thing. I focus on eliminating as much as possible before I focus on doing more. What can I get rid of? What are the psychic anchors, that are like, tethering me to the ground where I’m trying to sprint forward, but I’m just dragging this weight behind me. What are those things?

Andrew: What is an example of something like that, of something that, as you looked at yourself, and you looked at your life, you thought, this is an anchor, it’s clearly weighing me down. Do you have an example of something like that that you discovered and what’d you do?

Tim: Startup investment. I’m very fortunate. I mean, I work with a lot of wonderful startups. I take my responsibilities to those startups very seriously. I really want to be the most valuable advisor or investor for every single one of my startups, but that requires a lot of attention. I’m fortunate to get great deals, though I see a lot of really interesting start-ups from people I trust, people I like.

Andrew: I bet.

Tim: It was very easy to feel like I was missing opportunities if I turned that off. I was missing these amazing opportunities. What if that’s one of the 15 startups per year that’s the big deal, like, ahh. I have to pay attention to this. I really need to look at this deck and that deck and talk to this guy and have this lunch. It was interrupting my writing. It was causing me a lot of stress even though it was a good thing. Problems are still problems. You never get rid of all your problems, you just trade up. I’m not complaining about it but it was causing me a lot of stress, and so I’d had like, ‘Hey, man, did you get back to that startup I introduced you to? It’s really important, time-sensitive, closing today.’

It was really stressing me out, so I had to say, ‘Look, I’m taking a break until 2013 on investing stuff. I’m done. I would love to talk then, if it’s still relevant, but otherwise, I wish you all the best. I just don’t have the bandwidth. I have to focus on the one Archimedes lever that is most important in me, and that is making sure this book is not just as good as, but better than my last two books, and I get it out to people who can use it best, who need it most.’

It was really, really hard.

Andrew: Yes, that’s what I imagined it would be. I’m glad you’re saying that, because for anyone who’s listening to us who is flooded with extra work that they don’t want to do, they would like to be able to say to the people they’re working with, ‘I’m not going to handle this. I need to just say no to this for now, and I can come back to it in the future.’ The big hesitation around it is, that someone’s going to say, ‘Hey, come on, you’re making too big a deal out of it. Keep a simple.’ or how we’re going to feel admitting said that. I mean, I could put myself in your shoes and say, all these other investors would probably say, ‘Tim doesn’t have enough time to invest? We’re all angel investors here. If Mr. Productivity doesn’t have enough time, then maybe he’s not productive enough, or maybe doesn’t understand a startup.’ How do you get past those things? What an echo in this room?

Tim: I know.

Andrew: This, this room.

Tim: It’s like Al-Jazeera. I love it. Well, (?).

Andrew: Especially with the two random spikes over my head.

Tim: Yeah. Like you said, the hostage video. A few things I would say is the reason that I make those decisions about Angel investing, is because I want to be methodical. It’s not because I don’t have the time. This is really important, because I don’t have the attention. It’s like, do you have the time technically, to have your mom call you every 45 minutes to talk every 45 seconds? Yeah, sure, but if you add that over up over the day, it’s like 15 minutes, 20 minutes? Sure, whatever. Less. You have the time that you can spare the amount of the attention to tolerate those interruptions, and that’s the difference. I want to be very methodical in how I invest and that’s why I tend not to lose money. When I invest is I try to follow my rules.

Anyway, where I was going with that is the only way that I’ve been able to say no to these things is not a new website, it’s not a new tool. It’s really a philosophical decision. I keep on using this term ‘operating system’ but it’s based on stoicism, so the first is, to get the big things one, you have to let small bad things happen. There’s no way around it. You can’t. If you try to prevent all mistakes, all offense that people take, all whatever it might be, penalties for late payments on everything, this, that, and the other thing, you will be a master in minutia until the day you die. You have to get good at letting the little bad things happen or wait, so you can get the big things done. Number one.

Number two, and this is from me. It’s something that became really important in the last six months especially, is if you feel you cannot become defensive with opportunities where you feel like you have to grasp at every opportunity or you’re going to miss the big opportunity. The big shot. You instead need to believe to function, to be a very high functioning entrepreneur or person you need to believe that you can create opportunities at will. That even if you miss the big startup of the year, who cares, because there’s going to be fifteen more next year. And if you get one of those right you can make millions. If you, however, feel like you have to grab at everything and take a spray and (?) you’re going to lose a lot of money guaranteed. So to not feel rushed and to be confident in your ability to create opportunities, this is a problem you see with a lot entrepreneurs, inventors, self-described inventors a lot. Like they have their own idea and they need everybody to sign tech (?) because if you steal my idea I’ll never have another idea. If that’s their position they’re never going to be able to make that one idea work to start with. You have to have the confidence that you, as an entrepreneur can make things happen and create opportunity

Andrew: What’s an example of an opportunity that you made for yourself recently? And I ask because I imagine, well this is Tim Ferriss, opportunities just must be available to him, he doesn’t have to make them.

Tim: Oh yeah, that’s not true. So I put, you know I’m really good at writing my own bio and so it sounds really fancy and like, oh I’ve done all these amazing things. Well I screw up all the time. I mean I couldn’t swim until a few years ago, I was afraid of basketball, humiliated, like, I have all the insecurities that everybody else has. But I have systems for compensating for them. So in terms of creating opportunity, all right. Here’s a very current example. So Barnes and Noble is boycotting the (?) because it’s the first major acquisition of Amazon Publishing.

Andrew: Is it just Barnes and Noble or?

Tim: Many, it’s not all, there are a handful who are carrying it and all the rest are boycotting it. And this is problem, it’s not problematic in some ways, it’s very problematic in other ways. So if I want to hit the New York Times bestseller list I need retail distribution. You have to have at least some, and I’ll have a little bit but I don’t know if it’s enough. And the New York Times is a black box, they don’t tell you how it’s all calculated. Wall Street Journal, Book Span, that’s straight numbers, that’s easy to understand. For the New York Times, of course I want to hit the New York Times. We’ll see if I can, and so for instance, this is actually in a way it’s kind of fun for me because I’m like returning back to my really, really early scrappier days. So I crashed a party recently in New York City, Target actually. I flew to New York and did this, It was the 50th anniversary Target party and I crashed it. I was like friend of a friend, got in, and went looking for the top executive, CTO’s, CMO’s, whoever I can get ahold of to basically make the pitch, to try to get the book into Target. Which is not easy because they’ve already eliminated the Kindle, they’re not carrying the Kindle very purposefully. So it’s like, oh, hey, how am I going to make this happen? You know it’s like, well get on a plane it’s time to pitch, you know, always be closing. Better sharpen your skills. And I’ve been doing a lot of that kind of stuff for this book which on one hand is really tiring, right? Because it’s like boiler room all over again. On the other hand it’s like a dog fight, like I like dog fights, okay, I’ll fight.

Andrew: So are you in Target now as a result of that?

Tim: In process, so, it remains to be seen. I think that it’s an uphill battle. Until this book, hopefully, does incredibly well and it’s sort of ubiquitous online, and then that online turns into radio and TV and then that obviously leads into prints. And then eventually, if the profit seems high enough I think that people who are currently in a grey area, where they’re not officially boycotting but they’re not carrying, could end up carrying. So it’s part of starting that conversation. But there’s the distinct possibility, the high likelihood that I will fail in getting the book into Target. It’s part of the game, you know, it’s like so who do I go after next? Is it Costco, is it Urban Outfitters, is it Airports, like what could I do. And those opportunities that certainly Amazon publishing is helping with. HMH which whom they, it’s Houghton Mifflin, with whom Amazon has partnered with for distribution is helping. But at the end of the day you are responsible for shepherding your product where you want it to go. No one is going to care about it as much as you do. It’s like, great, you’ve hired a public assistant, and nobody’s going to care about it as much as you do. So if you’re pitching the biggest outlet and it is the game changer, pitch them yourself, you know?

Andrew: And here’s one way that you’re encouraging people to help you generate sales because of what’s going on with Barnes and Noble. If we buy three books instead of one, what happens?

Tim: Okay, so this book, not to do the Vanna White thing again, but this book…

Andrew: I didn’t, by the way, I didn’t realize it was that…

Tim: Oh yeah, it’s big. It’s big. And it’s got 1,000 plus photographs. It’s got 100s of illustrations. It’s got Calvin & Hobbs. It’s got supermodels. It’s got guns. There’s something for everybody. Anyway, the point being, it’s a nice holiday book. It’s a beautiful book. So if you buy 3 print copies and you send the email receipt, the Amazon email receipt, to 3books@4hourchef.com, so the number 3 books at number 4 chef dot com, I will invite all those 3 book buyers to an exclusive Q and A with me. So a 2- hour Q and A after book launch, where I’ll grab a bottle of wine and you can ask me anything that you want. So for people who would be interested in that, I would love for you to get 3 copies, 2 as gifts, 1 for yourself, and then we can rock on and you can ask me whatever you want.

Andrew: That includes even the digital version which is what I…

Tim: Yeah, I mean, if you buy three digital versions, I’m not sure if you even can, but, you know, send it across and I’m happy to invite you to the Q and A session for sure.

Andrew: What else was I going to ask you? By the way, here’s the thing, I was trying to think of who it was, I think it was Eric Ries who came on here and I asked him how he got to the Best Seller list. He told me that he sat down with you and you gave a few ideas. And I think one of those ideas was to encourage people to bulk buy. What I’m wondering is, you did pioneer that. Didn’t it bother you that other people were going out and using the same tactic of telling their audiences that if they buy bundles of 10 books, they get accepted into a special place where they can talk? Did you feel like, wait, this is what was going to sell my next book and make it a Best Seller? [???]

Tim: You know, it’s a good question. It doesn’t bother me at all. You know, this is related to what we were just talking about. It doesn’t bother me at all for a few reasons. The first is, I really try, and it doesn’t always work, but I try to have an abundance mentality where I think that, particularly in books, it’s not a winner take all proposition. You can have many, many winners, alright? The New York Times list comes out every week and you have multiple categories. So I don’t fear that. The second is, I’m going to be doing new stuff and so I have to be confident in my ability to create new types of promotions so that I’m always ahead of the curve. I have to be confident about it. And if I claw on to all these other things, I think I’ll be less successful as a result.

Andrew: Do you have a process for becoming creative? I love how you can breakdown someone else’s process, of course, learn it and use it. Are you able to do that for creativity? Because it feels like creativity is too, I mean, it can’t be forced into a process or can it?

Tim: I think that you don’t want to, force is a strong word, but I think that you can absolutely facilitate, greatly accelerate creativity with a system for inducing it.

Andrew: What’s the system?

Tim: So there are a few. Edward De Bono has a lot of really interesting writing. Like Lateral Thinking is quite good. There’s also something that I was given as a gift from a very successful CEO. And I don’t have it in front of me, I wish I did, but I believe it’s called the Whack Pack. W-H-A- C-K Pack and it sounds very obscene but it’s a deck of cards with different creative exercises. So whether it’s reversal, and then it gives a little example, like an anecdote. Or mixing and matching, it’s a really fun way. I used to carry this around with me when I had sticking points for the 4-Hour Chef. Like I wasn’t sure how to format a given section to make it as fun and as actionable as possible. I would go out to dinner with this Whack Pack and I’d shuffle it. Then I’d go through like the first 10 and write down my notes of my ideas that would generate that way. Then go through the next 10. And then we’d do random games and stuff, if I went out with my girlfriend or someone else. It was really, really helpful. So I think that would be 1 super easy option that people could play with, at least.

Andrew: And you would just spring this on your girlfriend or on your friends? Because I feel like a lot of people would be intimidated to let anyone else see this part of them, see that they’re trying something, let alone to bring it into dinner.

Tim: Yeah. I do because I’m playful in that way and I don’t feel like I sacrifice anything by showing my struggles. I don’t feel like I sacrifice anything in doing that. For instance, right now, so struggles, the boycott, everything else. So I’ve been in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, cover, I found out today, of the Miami Herald…..all for talking about this challenge. I have no problem talking about it and I think a lot of good can come out of it. Not the least of which, you make yourself more human because we’re all human. I’m not bulletproof, I’m not always happy and changing the world every day, getting a lot done. No, there are stretches where I get nothing done for an entire week, and I’m depressed, and I’m like oh my God, and I wake up late, and I’m drinking a little bit too much wine … I have all those issues. The key is having systems so that you can recover. The key is having a recipe that can get you out of that and at lease ensure that with the few things you do, you’re getting the highest leverage possible, the highest output possible. So no, I don’t mind. I’m happy to talk about the struggles.

Andrew: How do you keep track of your systems as you make them up? Do you have a separate Evernote notebook where you put this all in?

Tim: I do a lot of it with Evernote, so I do have a separate notebook where I keep a lot of my systems. I calendar a lot of it, whether it’s for instance watching Steve Jobs’ “Stay Hungry” commencement speech, I do that every Monday.

Andrew: Every Monday, you watch that?

Tim: Yeah. Every Monday morning. I have 80/20 analysis I try to do at least bi-weekly on Fridays. All of my in-person meetings I try to do on Fridays as well. I tend to batch similar tasks by day, not portions of the day, but I put that all into my calendar, because I really want it to be as little of a working memory burden as possible. I don’t want to make decisions on things that I shouldn’t have to make decisions about. Whether that’s breakfast, whether that is what my pre-game ritual is for the week on Mondays, I don’t have to think about it, so it’s in my calendar.

Andrew: You ever feel like this is just a little too much? That I should just relax and go through life and let whatever happens happen?

Tim: Sometimes. I suppose the hilarity of my response to that is that I will schedule that.

Andrew: Schedule time to just do nothing? To not be scheduled?

Tim: I’ll schedule time to wander, yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Tim: And hopefully the entire month of February will be that. So I currently have the entire month of February blocked off with the exception of one bachelor party for a good friend of mine.

Andrew: Blocked out to just disappear?

Tim: And probably focus on a new language, like Indonesian, Bahasa and surfing. I think that there is a lesson to we learned there, and that is if you’re personal time is just what’s left over outside of your calendar, work will encroach to fill that vacuum. For me at least, I find it very helpful to block out that time and protect it just like I would an important conference call or a meeting. So to take that personal time – for instance every Tuesday I try to make it a policy by the end of every Tuesday that I have scheduled really cool stuff to do for the weekend. Or really relaxing stuff. Get it on the calendar. You wake up on a Saturday and you don’t have anything planned, you’re like ahhh, I’ll just check email for 10 minutes. That’s how you end up checking email for five hours.

Andrew: Yeah.

Tim: And then you don’t have any weekend, and then you have no recovery time. Then of course you’re going to crash and burn. So I find it very helpful to put the personal stuff on the calendar and block it out.

Andrew: So Derek Sivers the founder of CD Baby told me about the need to systemize your company so I started creating these different systems internally for how to edit an interview. And if we’re going to change the editing process we just go in an improve that step in Evernote or WordPress. I started doing the same thing for myself, saying, if I’m going to get up at 6:30 am, what’s the formula for getting up at 6:30 am? Oh yeah, it’s putting the alarm clock in the other room so that I can’t hit snooze and go to bed without thinking about it. It’s having a cup of cold coffee read so that if I have that first sip I wake up, there’s a set of steps and I’ll write them down and I’ll improve them or I’ll get rid of things that are extraneous. Is that what you do when you want to improve an area of your life?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I focus on a massive elimination first. I try to remove as much as possible so that I have fewer moving pieces to think about. So elimination is a huge part of why I get anything done. And whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, as cheesy as it might sound, I focus on eliminating clutter in my physical environment. My house. If I feel really overwhelmed, the first thing I do is I start clearing things off, scanning documents so I don’t have piles of paper, whatever it might be, as a first step. But I do systematize. And there’s a lot of really interesting research that’s been done through legitimate institutions an has been covered also in the New York Times and elsewhere about decision fatigue. If you wake up and every time you wake up its like, what should I have for breakfast? Huh, oh, maybe I’ll check email first, maybe I’ll check my texts on my phone first. Oh maybe I should brush my teeth. But yeah, oh wait, I forgot to have my vitamins. Whatever, and you’re doing that every day? You only have a certain number of hit points that you can allocate to decision making.

And when you don’t have it systematized and you go to the grocery store and you’re, like, “Wow, which 100 brands of toothpaste should I buy” and you sit there like, ah. It affects your ability to make decisions later on the important stuff. So I try to reserve my creativity and decision making for only the areas that it has the biggest impact. I really believe in the power of ritual and the power of recipes, whether it’s applied to waking up in the morning, searing and making the perfect steak, shooting at the corner basketball, learning a language. The constraints make you free in a way which is very paradoxical, like the constraints really give you incredible freedom.

Andrew: You mentioned basketball. You use the disss process, as you call it. To get yourself to a point where you can hit nine out of ten free throws, right? What’s the disss process, D-I-S-S-S?

Tim: It’s a helpful acronym. So disss is just earlier to remember than DISSS, and it stands for Deconstruction, Selection, Sequence, and then Stakes. So in simple terms I’ll give you an example of each.

Deconstrction is taking this amorphous skill, learning basketball or learning how to shoot a three-pointer and breaking it down into pieces that are digestible that you can analyze. Let’s take swimming because I couldn’t swim until a few years ago. It’s embarrassing having grown up on Long Island. For swimming you could look at number one, the type of strokes. Then you have how the arms move, how the legs move, the rotation; putting down a laundry list of different ways that you could break this skill down and then looking for the anomalies. There’s a whole host of ways that you can do this.

Who are the people who are good at this that shouldn’t be? How are the most controversial coaches training people? What if, and this is a very powerful mechanism, you look at the failure points. The reasons I failed at swimming before, inability to breathe properly. I felt like I was drowning. Exhausting, kicking. I just would kick like a drowning monkey with a paddle board and I wouldn’t go anywhere. I’d go, “I’m out of here. This is humiliating. I’m done”, over and over again. What if I had to swim without kicking? Is there a way to do it? So you go on Google, you go on YouTube and look for different methods. And at the end of the day I found total immersion swimming created by Terry Loughlin [SP]. and that was actually shared with me by Chris Saka {SP], a very well known investor now, and we learned how to swim to become a triathlete. So that’s the deconstruction.

Now Selection is choosing the 20% of all these pieces and all the activities you could do to give you 80% or more of the results you want. So in the case of language, it would be that one page of Japanese or 1200 words for a given language really allows you to be functionally fluent and really I’ll give a couple of tips for that. So Spanish, French, German, Michel, M-I-C-H-E-L Thomas, Holocaust survivor, former intelligence officer, really into teaching language. They’re just audio CDs. Get those for those languages. Wonderful. That is the minimal effect of those or Vis flash cards, V-I-S-ed.com, high frequency flash cards. So you get the best bang for the buck or (?). So that’s Selection. Dealing (?) is also really powerful.

Andrew: OK.

Tim: And we’ll just sequence it. So golf is a good example where people mess this up. Stan Utley {SP} who is one of the most successful short game coaches out there. So (?). He was interviewed once, and he said, “People come to me and they say, ‘Hey, can you fix my forum? How’s my forum?'” And his response is very often, “Your forum is fine. It’s the sequence that’s off. You have all the right pieces, but you’re executing them in the wrong order.” That’s why most people fail most times. I think, is they’re doing things out of order, whether that’s a book launch or otherwise. So sequencing, I’ll give you an example, like cooking the perfect steak. Oftentimes, people are told, “Well, get it to room temperature, sear it first and then you cook it.”

Well, you could do that. There are a couple of different ways, counter intuitive ways that you can make the perfect steak. First is to cook it (?) . It’s a vacuum packed bag at like 135 degrees for a half hour, say, and sear it afterwards. That’s one approach, and that’s what Heston Blumenthal {SP} of the Fat Duck would do, a number one ranked restaurant not too many years ago in the world, but another counter intuitive approach would be, instead of getting it to room temperature you do the opposite. You take the steak, you pat it dry, and you throw it into the freezer for 45 minutes. You do that because the freezer is the driest environment in your entire house. That’s to evaporate all the surface moisture, and then you sear it, right out of the freezer, and you get the crispest, most delicious sear from the (?) reaction because of that. Sequencing is just doing things in the right order.

Then the last is arguably the most important. Steaks are creating a carrot or stick so that you actually do what you’re supposed to do. Putting the alarm clock in the other room, getting that one cup of coffee, getting up at 6:30, eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, whatever. There’s some very easy ways to do this. For instance, one of my favorite is a site called Stickk. (?) Association funds it. S-T-I-C-K- K.com. Lift is another option, which is an app that I’m involved with, which was incubated by the Twitter guys. Talking about Stickk. You go to Stickk, you describe your new behavior, you put money on into escrow. I encourage people to start with something that’s not. . .

Andrew: You were saying that George Bush was the number one recipient on that?

Tim: The punch line is you put money into escrow, and then you choose an anti- charity. Anti-charities are where your money goes if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, and you have references. Your friends who will keep you honest about how you do. ‘Sorry, you didn’t go to the gym twice this week. Your monies going to George W. Bush for President (?)’, which is the most successful anti-charity at the moment. It’s terrible, but it’s really, really effective. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. You can do it with friends.

Andrew: Let me see if I’ve got this. This deconstructs someone else’s process. Number two, select, select the key 20% that are important. Sequence, put it all in the right order, and lastly, steaks, have a reason to do it. If I were, for example, going to take up running, and say I want to run a marathon, I would ask around, say, ‘Who is the person who is least expected to finish a marathon, but did?’ Then I go and I talk to them, maybe a few of those people. Break down their process, and then I select the top, the 20% that’s most important. Maybe it’s that they time their weekly runs, maybe it’s that they joined the New York Road Runners club, so they were forced to keep going, or some other organization. Take those 20%. I start using them in the right sequence, and add steaks to it. I might sign myself up for a marathon in a few months so that I have to stick with this.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. You could also, for instance, when you’re looking for (?) David Goggins is one example. He’s like 230 pound guy or whatever and runs ultra-marathons. Exactly. You would deconstruct, look at what they’re doing differently, and do that on Google, so you don’t necessarily have to find them in person. I do recommend, and I have a lot of tricks for this. Let’s say looking for someone who is really good four or five years ago. They’re not in the limelight now, and they’re actually surprisingly easy, and usually inexpensive to contact. The steaks I would up a little bit. Not just signing up, but signing up with maybe five friends, and having your friends say, a weekly check-in on your times.

Andrew: I see.

Tim: I would encourage you to do as much smack talking as possible.

Andrew: You even set up a Wiki to smack talk.

Tim: Well, that’s what (?) said. Right gains 15 pounds of muscle, he’d never been able to do it, and he did it in three months. Why? Because he was going to get grief for the rest of his life if actually didn’t perform after doing so much smack talking. Yes, that’s the jist of the process.

Andrew: We only have a few more minutes. Can we end it with a discussion of what CAFE is? What does CAFE stand for and how does that help us even more to learn and use what we learn?

Tim: Sure. DIS is the core curriculum. That’s what everybody should apply. CAFÉ is the extra credit. This is stuff that’s very helpful. CAFE is Compression, Frequency, and Encoding. Compression is how you take something big and condense it into the least intimidating form possible. What I mean by that is when you’re trying to learn anything, there’s a predictable growth graph. It actually looks a lot like the wide (?) startup graph. (?) sorrow and all this stuff. For language learning, you’re going to have plateaus, you’re going to have self-doubt, and in those periods, you want to be able to return something, like my one-pager for Japanese that can remove that overwhelm. How do you take a skill and let’s say, put it on one page, like cooking.

Andrew: Compress it so that your instructions for yourself are so simple and so short that you can keep it visible even on your desk and understand it all. One page.

Tim: Yeah, put it on your refrigerator or whatever. In the book, I give some examples of that. (?) skill, cooking in general, whatever. I find that very helpful, and now compression is also closely related to frequency. Frequency is looking at, just like training for a marathon or going to the gym. The brain is an organ; just like you’re limited to let’s say glycogen and muscles for sprint cycling you have a limited amount of neurotransmitters that you can produce over a certain period of time. A limited amount of glucose.

So how do you train your brain? What’s the optimal schedule etcetera? I look at many different examples of how to hack that including how to cram. So that’s where compression is related. So how do you take say, six months of culinary school and compress all the techniques into 48 hours so you can try them. If you want to go really nuts; its high stress high reward and I look at how to do that.

Then the last piece is encoding and encodings fun but it’s not for everybody. It’s kind of for the geeks out there who really want to get into it, which I fall into that category. How to take slippery material, whether it’s foreign vocabulary, Chinese characters, numbers whatever and make them easily graspable. To make them stick. There are many different approaches. There’s the very simple, like acronyms so disk, café, those are acronyms. Those are pneumonics that help you. That is an example of encoding.

You have things, for instance I’m from Long Island so I’m not very refined when it comes down to it and I always forget, I’ll go to fancy dinners and I’ll grab somebody else’s water or I’ll grab somebody else’s bread and it’s embarrassing. So if you make the OK signs with both hands and you look at them under the table you can see that your right hand is a D that means that your drink is on the right hand side and your left hand is a B that means your bread is on your left hand side. So it’s good way to remember to not make an ass of yourself.

Then you can get sophisticated. So I looked up some of the top memory competitors in the world like Ed [?] ,who’s really amazing, to see how they memorize let’s say shuffled decks of cards, an entire deck in less than minute. How do you do that? And the principles that you lean through examining that even if you don’t focus on cards who cares. That can apply to everything, so memorizing really slippery stuff or just acquiring very difficult skills, encoding becomes important but that’s all bonus credits. That’s café.

Andrew: Café bonus. If you really want to make sure that you’ve got this, add that. Add compression so it’s all on one page or easy to see, easy to digest place. Frequency and that one was interesting to me that if there’s something new that you want to do you won’t just put it on a to-do list you said, I’m putting it on my calendar to make sure that I do it and do it often enough and then encoding, anchor it to what you know.

Tim: Yeah, exactly and at the end of the day like I said, adherence. What you will do determines the best method, so more is not better. Doing all of this stuff and all of these acronyms is not the best. What you will do consistently is the best. Even if it’s one third of that, it’s a menu to choose from.

Andrew: The book is the “4 Hour Chef”; I focused on just one aspect of the book, how to learn anything. There’s also the cooking part which is really what the book’s about. The living the good life, shooting your own animal and there’s a video online somewhere where you actually take the insides out of a bird?

Tim: That was a turkey. Yeah, there’s a lot to that side of the discussion but I realized I wanted to become a conscious eater and part of that was learning to forage and also harvest and kill my own meat for a period of time. I don’t consider myself a hunter but I definitely go to exploring that because I was an anti-hunter my whole life and I think there’s lessons to be learned even if you never do that and ultimately I want people to be self-reliant and to really feel self-actualized, to really sharpen the saw and to be able to master one or two things a year, not one or two things per life. I tried to see what people do.

Andrew: That’s what the book is about to me. How do you master one or two things at least per year not just per lifetime? All right, the “4 Hour Chef” and of course if you get three copies of the book. Where do they send the receipt? I like that you do this stuff.

Tim: Yes if you get three copies of the book, print as gifts like you and me that would be most helpful to me and it is really is intent…

Andrew: You get more from print copy than digital?

Tim: I’m sorry?

Andrew: You get a bigger cut from the print than digital?

Tim: I get less. I just designed this book to be a beautiful tactile experience. I really feel like the two page spread is how I designed it, how I thought about the book from the start and in any case, if you get three print copies. First of all you could use them for lifting weights they’re very heavy, but send the receipt, the Amazon receipt to 3books@4hourchef.com , number 3, number 4. And then you’ll get a two hour exclusive Q and A with me. After the [?] you can ask me anything.

Andrew: All right cool. Good luck making the New York Times bestseller list without Barnes and Noble and those other book stores. We’re all rooting for you.

Tim: Thanks, man. It’s going to be a dog fight. It’s going to be fun.

Andrew: All right, cool. Thanks, Tim, and thank you all for being a part of it.

Tim: All right, thanks.

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