What makes you different from Tim Ferriss?

by SuspiciousTitForTat2 min read21st Jun 201346 comments

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Do not read this if you don't know anything about this Tim Ferriss person

I suspect anyone here is less different from Tim Ferriss than they'd like to be able to justifiably claim (see here, here, here, here). 

I don't mean Tim the Result. Results are clouded by what has been brought to attention in one of the 2009/2010 rationality quotes here

Were it possible to trace the succession of ideas in the mind of Sir Isaac Newton, during the time that he made his greatest discoveries, I make no doubt but our amazement at the extent of his genius would a little subside. But if, when a man publishes his discoveries, he either through a design, or through habit, omit the intermediary steps by which he himself arrived at them, it is no wonder that his speculations confound them, and that the generality of mankind stand amazed at his reach of thought. If a man ascend to the top of a building by the help of a common ladder, but cut away most of the steps after he has done with them, leaving only every ninth of tenth step, the view of the ladder, in the condition which he has pleased to exhibit it, gives us a prodigious, but unjust view of the man who could have made use of it. But if he had intended that any body should follow him, he should have left the ladder as he constructed it, or perhaps as he found it, for it might have been a mere accident that threw it in his way... I think that the interests of science have suffered by the excessive admiration and wonder with which several first rate philosophers are considered, and that an opinion of the greater equality of mankind, in point of genius, and power of understanding, would be of real service in the present age." - Joseph Priestly, The History and present State of Electricity

I mean Tim the method.

The varieties of achievements he's done are behaviourally distinct from living normal life. They are not so complicated to learn though. 

I invite you to ask the following question: What is one thing he's done I haven't that probably I could do, and what is the explanation I invented to myself for not having done it? Do I truly believe this explanation? Think for a minute before reading more

When I ask this to friends who read some of his stuff, I see three kinds of answers:

This is impossible for anyone who doesn't have property X (where X is always a fixed characteristic, like place of birth, blondness, impeccable genetic motivation)

We have very different values, and there is no point in trying that about which I don't care - interestingly, with every new book, there are more interests on the table to be considered "not my values", but no one suddenly came to me and said: Wow, finally he cares about throwing knives! I have reason to try after all. Are my friends values narrowing in proportion to Tim's expansions?

There are a lot of people who don't want to have more money, learn languages, work less, or travel a lot, but there are much fewer people who besides all of those don't want to exercise effectively, learn quickly, improve their sex lives, throw knives, memorize card decks, program, dance tango, become an angel investor, be famous, write books, cook well, get thinner, read quicker, contact interesting people, outsource boring stuff and so on...

The third kind is personal attack. People claim he has property E, which makes him Evil, and his evil either is proof of the falsity of his accomplishments, or is proof that emulating Tim means you are a dark creature who shall not pass through the gates of heaven. The most interesting E's are "He's a brilliant marketing man, selling profitable lies, but marketing is Evil." "He doesn't understand survivor bias, and how lucky he was, and has not read outliers to know it takes min4000 hours to get good at stuff" "He's a good looking ivy league blonde, this makes him evil" (this girl probably had in mind Nietzsche's lamb morality, from Genealogy of Morals).

What is one thing he's done you haven't that probably you could do, and what is the explanation you invented to yourself for not having done it? Do you truly believe this explanation? Would your best rationalist friend truly believe that explanation?

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46 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:15 PM
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[-][anonymous]8y 15

So, I came to this post not knowing anything about Tim Ferriss.

I clicked on the three links in the first paragraph (yes, there are three links) and discovered next to nothing about him. Oh, he wrote a fad diet once that EY probably didn't end up trying? Hurray? The last link barely mentions him at all.

Then I read the rest of the post, and let me tell you, I have no idea why I should care about how your friends react to this mythological figure, Tim Ferriss. He's just, like, a guy, or something?

[-][anonymous]8y 3

It's a bit late for you to tell me not to read your post.

I'd say that the major difference between me and Tim Ferris is that I just don't care enough. It's interesting that thinking about that started to bring back the "because I'm a piece of shit" internal monologue which has mercifully been relatively off-line for the past day or so. [1] Oh, right-- big dose of David Wong, who really isn't safe for a fair number of people.

There's a sort of "you're just not good enough" motivation-forcing which seems to work backwards for me. It does not help to be told that if I was thinking right, then I wouldn't care how I was feeling.

I don't think Tim Ferris is evil in general, though I don't think his story of hacking the rules for making weight for a martial arts tournament reflects well on him. Aside from unfairness to the other contestants, he was cheating the audience because he could just shove the other players instead of doing something worth looking at.

[1] I seem to be making progress on that-- not only has the monologue been off-line a fair amount in the past few days, and it's been less intense and running for much less time when it's started. I've gotten more done with less stress.

I've thrown so many different things at the problem that it's hard to tell (for purposes of giving advice) what's made the difference, but I'll start by recommending Transforming Negative Self-Talk and The Gaslight Effect. The latter is about emotional abuse in general.

I'd say that the major difference between me and Tim Ferris is that I just don't care enough.

I don't know that Ferris has some tremendous reservoir of determination and drive that you or I lack.

We fill our days doing something. Isn't it odd that we choose such unproductive things?

When forced by time and other constraints to be productive, I will be, and I enjoy it. Recently, I've had such constraints, and I've been pretty productive. For me, at least. I've been working on my car recently, and find that work begets the desire for more work. I'm looking for more things to fix. I'll be off to the auto store today to get more parts. I don't have to wrestle my desires to make myself think of my car, I do, and I want to fix it.

Ferris seems to find a problem, or an opportunity, and do something about it. What could seemingly be more natural, yet actually be more rare?

It's probably not a case of self control as much as habits in thought and action. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and believe that whole time period, were big on virtue as the habit of right action. It's probably nothing more complicated, nor emotionally significant, than habit.

It's probably nothing more complicated, nor emotionally significant, than habit.

That is to say... very complicated and significant but easier to trivialise.

It does not help to be told that if I was thinking right, then I wouldn't care how I was feeling.

It might if someone said it right. I had similar unproductive internal monologues, and unproductive feelings as well. But eventually I determined that the feelings themselves weren't the problem, it was the "I'm defective" death spiral I engaged in when I felt those feelings that was the real problem. Why do I feel bad? Why can't I do this? What's wrong with me? Blah blah blah blah blah. The feelings weren't hurting me (much), my reaction to them was (a lot). The reaction I've promoted, and which has helped, is "It's just a feeling. It sucks, but it won't kill me."

I'm familiar with Tim Ferriss. I just finished reading The Four Hour Body yesterday. I read over this essay three times. I read everything you linked to once. And I still don't actually understand what you're asking.

Are you asking why don't I do the things Tim Ferriss says he's done? Usually because I'm skeptical that they'll actually work. I feel like Tim generalizes a lot from one example.

I was generally aware of who Tim Ferriss was when coming to his post, but my first understanding (from the title and early paragraphs) was along the lines of "You people may think Tim Ferriss is a loud-mouthed crank, but you're not any better!" and not "What the great Tim Ferriss has done, even a schmuck like you can do too!", which is probably closer to your intended meaning.

Curses! The Illusion Of Transparency strikes again!

and not "What the great Tim Ferris has done, even a schmuck like you can do too!", which is probably closer to your intended meaning.

Really? That interpretation doesn't seem compatible with the first sentence.

You mean " I suspect anyone here is less different from Tim Ferriss than they'd like to be able to justifiably claim"? It's not very clear, but I suspect the intended meaning is closer to "Tim Ferriss is not that far above you" than to "Tim Ferriss is not that far below you" ... no?

(Or if the meaning depends on the content of the four links, then I dunno, I haven't went and reread those).

I think the sticking point is the word "like". This implies they want to be different from Tim Ferris. In the "not that far above you" interpretation, that could just mean they're making excuses, but it's not an interpretation that jumps as easily to mind.

I agree it implies wanting to be different from Tim Ferriss, but it doesn't say in which direction. And things like

What is one thing he's done you haven't that probably you could do, and what is the explanation you invented to yourself for not having done it?

... makes me think SuspiciousTitForTat meant the not that far above you" interpretation. Though the fact that both you and wedrifid don't makes me doubt.

SuspiciousTitForTat: if you have three people scratching their head and coming up with opposite interpretations of your opening sentence, you may need to make your writing clearer :)

(at this stage, this subthread is more interesting as a case study in unclear communication than as discussion of the article...)

Oh no, I agree that the post means what you think it means. I was guessing at why people interpreted it that way. I should have added that it's not an interpretation that jumps as easily to mind when the first sentence alone is read out of context.

The problem for most self-help books like Tim's is that the author usually underestimates what one might call "micro-judgments," the tiny, largely subconscious decisions that we don't even realize we are making. I suspect those micro-judgments are the reason people like TF or Warren Buffet consistently succeed but cannot consistently help other people succeed to the same degree.

I followed the 4HWW plan for creating a low-effort business. The first 5 ideas failed during initial testing, one seemed to work, but proved unsustainable (I lost several hundred dollars on this), and another works well, and is still my largest source of income. No other idea I've tried since then has worked out.

I suspect those micro-judgments are the reason people like TF or Warren Buffet consistently succeed but cannot consistently help other people succeed to the same degree.

Those and "actually starting then continually applying focussed effort".

Mainly, just actually starting and carrying out the plan. Many of his solutions require little real effort.

I suspect everyone continually underestimates "have powerful allies", and that this effect is larger than mico-behaviors, because surrounding yourself with powerful allies begets better micro-behaviors anyway, in addition to myriad other benefits(you are the average of your surroundings).

I suspect everyone continually underestimates "have powerful allies"

Given that everyone spends most of their time and emotional processing resources optimising for alliances and that perhaps a majority of advice and self help books can be considered to be giving advice for optimising alliance building this seems unlikely.

People seem to care more about affiliation than about building alliances that are useful.

People seem to care more about affiliation than about building alliances that are useful.

I agree (enthusiastically) with the position that people's heuristics regarding social alliances are often grossly miscalibrated to the actual environment they live in.

The problem for most self-help books like Tim's is that the author usually underestimates what one might call "micro-judgments," the tiny, largely subconscious decisions that we don't even realize we are making.

I don't think so. Ferriss is all about maximal results in minimal time. In general, his plans require you to do something for some limited time a day, not control your actions 24hours a day. You don't have to make so many microdecisions, just one macrodecision, and then a limited number of microdecisions to follow that macrodecision.

Hmm. Interesting, this is the first time I ever heard of Tim Ferris, but what I learned about him in 5 minutes made me classify him in the same set with Steve Pavlina, titled: "Apply extreme caution. May or may not have some possible interesting nuggets in a vast pile of bullshit. Likely a total waste of time".

Should I research further?

I've been aware of Ferriss and Pavlina for some years, and that is my impression as well, of both. And as one of the metabolically privileged (this body does not accumulate fat) I have little personal use for his Four Hour Body material.

Why did you single out this one guy to stand for accomplishment in general? Why did one guy have to be singled out to stand for accomplishment in general?

(Unless, of course, you're part of his marketing team, and then it all makes sense.)

I suspect anyone here is less different from Tim Ferriss than they'd like to be able to justifiably claim (see here, here, here, here).

Thankyou.

I mean Tim the method.

Again, thankyou. Tim is far more instrumentally rational than either myself or the vast majority of people here. His epistemic rationality is less impressive but would probably still top quartile among lesswrong participants if he was one.

What makes you different from Tim Ferriss?

In my case the most significant difference would be Executive Function. His is excellent (albeit idiosyncratic), mine is abysmal.

He's a better popular non-fiction writer.

[-][anonymous]8y 2

where X is always a fixed characteristic, like [...] blondness

Isn't there such a thing as hair dye? ;-)

You have a good point about motivation, but I don't think Timothy Ferriss is a good example person to use for explaining this idea to LWers. Perhaps a very successful and motivated scientist such as Feynman?

Personally, I don't find Timothy Ferris' motivation level that impressive- on the contrary, I think he's dangerously lazy.

For example, he presents himself as an elite and highly experienced biohacker in 4HB, but he's just copying methods from already published books that he doesn't understand well. He's using relatively dangerous and ineffective techniques, because he never invested the time to understand the relevant biology, history, and many key methods surrounding the ideas he talks about.

This is actually a very traditional kind of over-caution. It's being lazy by pretending not to be, and never actually doing anything. You learn more about how effective a diet is for you by trying it for two months than you do by studying nutrition science for 4 years, but one is a scary difficult life change and the other you can leave to the experts and do nothing.

He's put in way more time and effort into figuring out his own body and its reactions to things than you ever will. What's lazy about this? It may be inefficient or incorrect if you believe in the primacy of research, but in what universe does it count as lazy?

I was not arguing for studying theory over practical experience- but to argue that he is far from an expert at either approach.

It's true that most effective fitness techniques lack any solid theoretical basis and were discovered by self experimentation. However, his knowledge level of these practical fitness techniques is shallow.

For example his workouts were copied nearly verbatim from the book "Body by Science" but are missing important advice from that book on how to perform them safely and effectively. He also seems unaware of the methods developed by self-experimentation/bodybuilding pioneer Vince Gironda, which are generally more effective than the methods he talks about in 4HB.

Another example- The low rep/low duration/infrequent lifting methods in 4HB don't work without EXTREMELY high effort/intensity levels. He does mention this in his book (I think he says lift like you have a gun to your head), but the vast majority of people can't do this without specific mental techniques that increase intensity. By leaving "intensity mental hacks" out of his book, the workouts will do nothing for most people.

I'm glad that he's popularizing alternative fitness and nutrition ideas, but at the same time I'm frustrated that he didn't take the time to do a better job of researching and understanding what's out there first.

Personally, I don't find Timothy Ferris' motivation level that impressive- on the contrary, I think he's dangerously lazy.

You are wrong. Any definition of 'lazy' which makes your claim true would be ridiculous. And, in case you were wondering, suicide bombers aren't cowards either.

but he's just copying methods from already published books

Bravo.

that he doesn't understand well

Unsubstantiated claim that I have no reason be believe. His understanding seems to be more than adequate, even if oriented more towards practice than theory.

He's using relatively dangerous and ineffective techniques

This seems false (except the parts that explicitly say "this is dangerous", "don't do this without medical supervision").

Invest some time looking into modern bodybuilding methods and "paleo 2.0" diets, and you'll quickly see that his knowledge level of practical fitness methods is shockingly shallow (and outdated) for someone who claims such a longstanding interest in them.

I haven't read The Four Hour Work Week, but I have read The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winters, and haven't been able to move beyond attempts at success spirals and enforcing work times by disconnecting the internet. Mostly, I think of the most powerful motivators he mentions to require the kind of precommitment that could be quite costly if you fail, and given my financial situation and personal history regarding doing what I plan to do, I would be hard pressed to bet more than $10 that I'll accomplish any given task in a given interval.

Basically, he had some starting capital and a few reliable allies when he set out on his high-productivity mission. I tend to expect that, had I either, I would be accomplishing much more.

The idea, of course, is to make failure so costly that one can't help but succeed. I have a much more pessimistic view on how my brain works. Putting something costly enough to truly hurt up as collateral seems likely to motivate me to want to work, not enough to actually work. (Something similar to this happened in late 2010, and I was even on Focalin at the time, and all it managed to accomplish was making me so miserable that I switched from Focalin to Prozak by the end of the month. It was not as high-stakes as the sorts of things I was imagining trying, but it did manage to ruin something I'd been planning for about a year without accomplishing anything.) I suspect that if I tried Beeminder, I'd lose all the money I've made in the past 1.25 years pretty quickly. (All the money I've made comes down to about $300, minus some software upgrades.)

I used to think that making failure more costly might be a good source of motivation as well. I ended up failing out of college and spending several months in a haze of depression and total apathy about life.

I'm doing a lot better now, but I've learned my lesson, and no longer use negative incentives as sources of motivation. For a person of my mindset, there is no such thing as "failure so costly one can't help but succeed."

Using "make failure so costly you can't help but succeed" sounds like an approach where good results would have a stronger than average survival effect.

The idea, of course, is to make failure so costly that one can't help but succeed.

To be fair to Nick Winters, he gives several warnings before introducing this tactic and (if my memory doesn't fail me) suggests using it only as a last resort.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Do not read this if you don't know anything about this Tim Ferriss person

I've read his name somewhere, but I'm not sure I remember who he was and I can't be bothered to check, which I guess is close enough to not knowing anything about him. So I'm skipping the rest of the article.

Tim Ferriss is little more than a very successful self-promoter. I say this as a big fan of his, having bought and read all of his books and following his blog. He's very good at identifying what makes other humans sit up and take notice, what we find impressive, and then going full munchkin on the process of achieving those things.

Perfect examples include the martial arts tournament where he hacked the weight classes, his use of Google Adwords to determine the most effective book titles, his workout routines and language-learning honed to obtain maximum results from minimum time investment, likewise his bare-bones approach to learning to cook ... In fact, the entire point of Four Hour Chef is to teach the reader generalized skills for munchkining your way through to apparent competence at apparently difficult skills like cooking.

He's a master of finding psychological levers, which is another way of saying he's an expert at marketing. But he is not actually superhuman; the idea that he is superhuman is the marketing tool which he has used to sell you books.

I've also seen a claim that he doesn't include self-promotion in his 4 hour work week. Does this seem plausible to you?

It does not. The entire book is about how he cleverly figured out how to take his struggling small business and automate, streamline, or outsource all its parts until he only had to actually attend to it ... roughly four hours a week. The rest of the book that isn't about this is about how to use your new-found free time to live an enviable life, using himself as an example.

I say again that I am a fan of his and that The Four Hour Workweek had a lasting positive effect on how I think about work and how I think about the value of my free time. I am not saying that the content of his books is bunk because he is an aggressive self-promoter. I am rather saying that the content of his books is in a sense inextricable from the fact that he is an aggressive self-promoter, perhaps because a hidden theme across all his work is that being an aggressive self-promoter is useful.

ETA: He also uses other people as examples, in all his books, but he always includes himself and his personal anecdotes. I wanted to clarify that the books aren't actually 100% about him, they're not even 10% about him, but his signature and his exploits run throughout them.

I'm a bit sceptical about T4HW, since the numbers in this blog post (http://thehackensack.blogspot.de/2009/10/how-much-was-tim-ferriss-really-making.html) imply he exaggerated very, very much (although 4.000 $/month still alllows a comfortable living).