Education

4-hour man Tim Ferriss on fear, fighting, and failure — and his new TV show, ‘The Tim Ferriss Experiment’

Image Credit: HLH

The four-hour man finally got a day job.

Tim Ferris, who apparently works four hours a week, keeps his body in sub-10 percent body fat fighting trim in four hours a week, and generally does everything else in four hours or less, is now working exhausting 12-15 hour days filming his first TV show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment.

The new show, airing for the first time Sunday night on CNN’s Headline News Network channel, features Ferriss putting his super-speed learning skills to the test in public each and every week. Learning parkour without dying, playing the drums for Foreigner in a live concert, learning a language in a week, fighting Brazilian jiujitsu … Ferriss does it all, in three to four days of exhausting shooting, as we see the techniques and secrets that has made him a best-selling author, a prolific and popular blogger, a successful entrepreneur, investor, and more.

Learning to surf

Above: Learning to surf.

Image Credit: HLH

Including, now, reality TV star.

I caught up with Ferriss in a momentary break in his hectic schedule. Here’s what he had to say.

VentureBeat: You’ve done hundreds of experiments, and you’re succeeding pretty amazingly. Have you ever considered that maybe you’re just Superman, and ordinary people can’t do this stuff?

Tim Ferriss: No, I don’t think so. [Laughs] I think the impression that I’m doing so many things at once creates that illusion, but what I’m good at is picking the right domino to flip over.

In this case it’s prime-time TV — I’ve being trying to create this show for a very long time. If I do that, it pushes the books, the blog, me, my work and education, and the anti-obesity research I’m doing … it makes all of that jump forward

If it’s successful, of course … and that’s a big if.

VentureBeat: How many shows are in the can already? And what are you learning/doing in those shows?

Ferriss: We have eight done and five to go — we’re doing a full season right off the bat. I didn’t want to get half-pregnant — that’s the way I operate — if you just do one or two shows, people are not going to figure out how to do this themselves.

In one I’m a drummer with Foreigner — I had four days to do it — in others I learn parkour, rally racing, building a business in a week, Brazilian jiujitsu, and learning a language in one week. We’ve also got surfing and poker. 

The first episode airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern, and it’s also up for free on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Xbox Live.

Learning how to drum with Foreigner

Above: Learning how to drum with Foreigner

Image Credit: HLH

VentureBeat: How much time does it take to run an experiment on myself, if I wanted to do it?

Ferriss: The general thesis and message of the show is that to produce superhuman results, you don’t need infinite budget; you just need a better toolkit.

Technically, the way that the show works I have a week, but in reality that is normally 3-4 days, and because we’re trying to catch beautiful, interesting shots, the total number of hours I get to practice ranges between 8 and 12 hours. That’s proven very, very challenging, and I’ve been having nervous breakdowns every day [Laughs], but the show itself is solid.

People will learn the primary tools of accelerated learning — they will learn how to do what I’m doing.

For example, if you want to be conversationally fluent in Spanish, there’s a million and one ways to be there, but density of practice is very, very important. One hour a day per year is only 1 percent as effective as cramming for 52 hours in two weeks — distributing your time over a year is not nearly as successful.

VentureBeat: But how can you keep yourself motivated?

Ferriss: You really need a reward or punishment. For example, use Stickk, get a friend to be an impartial judge, and pick an anti-charity that will benefit if you don’t keep your promise.

My friend [and Esquire editor-at-large] AJ Jacobs — who is Jewish — put a $1,000 check on the table for the American Nazi party if he didn’t lose X number of pounds. That seems extreme, but if you’re not serious, why bother in the first place?

The incentive is something that tests your resolve. I’ve seen too many examples of readers who think they’re ordinary that go on to do extraordinary amazing super human results to buy that excuse [that ordinary people can't do what Ferriss does].

People shouldn’t let themselves off the hook so easily.

VentureBeat: Anyone can be superhuman?

Ferriss: You can … if you want to.

VentureBeat: What was your inspiration for the show?

Ferriss: I wanted to take all of these crazy self-experiments that I do and put them in some visual medium. I’ve also been kicking myself since I did 4-Hour Body that I didn’t capture them on video — some of the adventures were so wonderfully spectacular or horribly face-plantingly bad.

And, I’ve wanted to do this for years.

VentureBeat: You talk about using fear as a motivation. How’s that work?

Ferriss: It’s a bit of Jedi self-hypnosis.

If I’ve ever in doubt about the most important to-do item on list is, typically it’s what makes me most uncomfortable. Like drumming with Foreigner … I’ve never been comfortable with music. And surfing … I’ve never been comfortable with water and have had a fear of drowning. And, of course, parkour, because I have a fear of heights and falling and a bad ankle.

Using fear as a motivator is as simple as believing that in many things the thing we fear most is what we most need to do.

VentureBeat: What was your inspiration for the style and feel of the show?

Ferriss: I tried to pull as many people as possible from documentary film-making as opposed to reality stuff. In terms of influence … I’ve really like [chef-turned-TV star] Anthony Bourdain’s shows. But we looked mostly to movies, like A Beautiful Mind — the bar scene — and Snatch.

I would freeze-frame different examples of treatments and then bring them to the production crew … we pulled from all over the place including super-high-end snowboarding films.

VentureBeat: You’ve told me that not all these experiments will end in success. Which ones failed?

Ferriss: [Laughs] I can’t tell you what specifically I failed at, but I can tell you that there are mistakes and frustration and meltdowns in many episodes — and some end with me in a complete train-wreck.

The reality is that if I’m not failing at least some of the time … I’m not pushing myself hard enough.

VentureBeat: Sounds exhausting. And it’s taking a lot more than four hours a week.

Ferriss: TV is more of an art project for me than a financial decision — especially the first season. Financially, I would be better off writing another book.

But it also doesn’t hurt that I’m checking off my favorite bucket list items while doing the show!

More information:

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