Challenge Accepted!

posted in: Personal | 4

Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur. In a way, he’s also a motivational / inspirational speaker. He’s the author of the Four Hour Work-week. He’s the world record holder for tango spins, and a champion kickboxer in China (I think?). He has accomplished some absolutely amazing things in his life and shares his strategies and philosophies openly.

Ferriss’s approach is an often an innovative “hack” based one; where a “hack” is a creative “out of the box” solution to a problem. I think he sums it up best with this lengthy quote from an interview on BoingBoing today:

Secondly, I will look at the most common approaches, which are, oftentimes, the lowest common denominator but have some thread of efficacy. I will ask, “What if I did the opposite?” I’ll look at the established common practices, the established dogma, and ask myself what if I did the opposite.

If someone says it takes a lifetime to learn a language or it should take 10 years, what if I had to compress that into 10 weeks? And if they say that vocabulary comes first because we should learn as we did when we were a child, which I completely disagree with – it’s entirely unfounded – what if you were to start with a radical structure?

So, flipping things on their heads and looking at opposites can provide some very surprising discoveries and shortcuts.

Ferriss’ approach is echoed in his book The Four-hour Work Week. For example, to win the belt for kickboxing that he earned in China (I think?), he didn’t win by being the best kickboxer, he exploited two things:

  1. There is a technicality in their boxing circuit where a boxer will lose if they are knocked out of the ring 3 times
  2. When a boxer weighs in, it is done and recorded a few days before the bout (the weigh-in determines what weight class the boxer will fight in)

What Ferriss did, after learning both these points, was to focus less on being the best fighter and more on being the best at mastering the maneuvers that make it easiest to knock someone out of the ring. Before weighing in, he would flush his system to lose as much water weight as possible to weigh low, and then bulk up immediately after to weigh as much as possible for the bout. I seem to remember it being roughly a 20 or 30 lb difference; quite substantial!

Little tricks like these help to give him the edge he needed to accomplish some truly amazing feats.

Another one of his strategies that I particularly liked was how he uses metrics:

… [F]irst and foremost, I have to have a very clear, measurable objective, whether that’s in language acquisition or in power lifting.The common element is measurement, so you need to know when you have succeeded and how to measure progress to that success point, whether that’s a 500 pound dead lift or a 50 kilometer ultra marathon or getting to the point where you can do, let’s say, a single lap in an Olympic pool with 15 or fewer strokes. These are all real examples. The number of footfalls, meaning stride rate, per minute in endurance training and how long I can sustain that for say with a goal of 20 minutes at a time. Or a 95 percent fluency in conversational German as measured through different metrics. These are all real examples.

So the first is measurement. I have a clear idea of what success looks like and how to measure it.

As I’ve talked about previously with the New Year’s Resolutions, setting concrete explicit goals is the key to making things happen. Ferriss’ emphasis on using metrics for the goals makes the idea of using personal challenges especially useful. In Four Hour Work Week, Ferriss suggests that we write down attainable dreams – things that we may say “I would love to do this if only I had ___”. He says we may not be able to become millionaires overnight, but we can emulate the experience of that lifestyle on a relatively small budget — and what better time to do it then when we still have our youthful stamina and physical condition.

But Ferriss says that the goals we set should be downright glorious – not just a “next step” thing — we should really shoot for the moon, go for broke, really do something that almost sounds crazy. Maybe not quite “Win a gold medal in the olympics in 4 years”, but certainly something like “run a marathon within six months”. He says that it’s important to pick goals that require a bit of a stretch to achieve otherwise we may not feel as committed to pulling them off.

I feel like I’ve been lacking some focus and my productivity suffers because of it. Those of you that know me personally will have a pretty good idea as to why I’ve been lacking focus. Reading this article about his process inspired me to try and think of some attainable, yet outlandish, goals for myself to try and re-introduce some focus. Things like “do 500 situps per day for a week solid”, or “play drums for at least one song with the jazz trio within six months”, or “run 3 miles in under 25 minutes”.

By setting specific targets, it becomes more possible to measure progress, to motivate, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and most importantly, to know when you’ve reached the finish line. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the idea of an endless task. Putting some constraints on it helps to make it less intimidating, even if it’s an impressively daunting task.

4 Responses

  1. Marcia

    Sooo.. how do you determine what is a good goal? Do you make multiple goals? How do keep track?
    This is very inspiring. I lack focus and I have no motivation. So I have no idea how to even approach something like this.
    Well, actually I accepted your challenge. I bought a juicer today too. 😛 Can’t wait!! I’m not doing the fast but I am going to replace a traditional meal with juice. Probably in the morning. And if that works, I’ll replace another. This in addition to the limited meat days I am allowing myself. So maybe I’m not so unfocused. Having that October 8th deadline is motivation enough. I’ll be damned if I show up in NYC looking like this.

    • Aaron

      My suggestion would be to track it as minimally as possible. An elaborate system is going to be too cumbersome to maintain and you need as few obstacles in the way of your progress, because you will likely encounter a lot of resistance from yourself as you try to make the change. When I say minimally, I mean you should figure out some way to track it so that it fits into your normal routine as seamlessly as possible. If you’re a pen-and-paper person, then get a notepad or work it into your daily writeups. If you’re on the computer a lot (like I am) a gDoc spreadsheet or notepad item might be enough. Maybe a wall calendar is the best way, with an “X” through each day that you’ve completed. Keep it simple 🙂

      That is AWESOME about your juicer! Good for you!

      My suggestion for you would be to define your starting point (which you have, you bought a juicer) and your endpoint — what’s your goal? What does your life look like on Oct 8th? Are you still drinking juice, and if so — how much? Are you exercising too? Visualization of that point is REALLY IMPORTANT because it will help you map out the steps you need to take to get there. Once you have both of those, you should have a good idea about what the first step should be (and it sounds like you’ve already figured that part out).

      Make small incremental changes one at a time, stabilize on those changes, and keep building on that. If you try to make a vast sweeping change, you’re going to face a LOT more resistance because your life is built around how things were. Go for the small battles that you can win, and build up your momentum with those. 🙂

  2. Marcia

    Another problem I’m facing is lack of support. I don’t have anyone on my side, helping me. I have no one to watch the kids for me if I want to go for a walk (waaaay to hot to run). The hot weather is another downer. I don’t want to move even a little bit in this heat.
    I need to start exercising. There is no getting around it. I just hate it so much. it seems like such a production. If I wanna Zumba, I have to clear out the living room. If I wanna do a Pilates DVD, I have to hook up the DVD player in my room. And if I manage to do any of that, I have less than 10 minutes before one of the kids needs something.
    Bleh. I’ll figure it out

    • Aaron

      I understand the difficulties that you face — I think the key is to start as small as you need to. Instead of doing Zumba or Pilates or something that requires more than 10 minutes of time, why not start with something that takes 5-10 minutes, start to finish? But do it EVERY DAY.

      Maybe you do some crunches / pushups / calisthenics, or a Yoga Sun Salutation, or some simple pilates stretches just to start your day. Time is scarce for you, so things that require lots of time are off the table — that’s fine. If you can incorporate the kids into whatever you do, it’ll make it a little easier, but if not, that’s ok.

      The main thing is to make smaller incremental changes so that you’re doing SOMETHING different; if you have some way of tracking the metrics on that, it can make it a lot easier to see how you’ve progressed and that can be encouraging. You don’t need to necessarily aim for something impossible — just something that’s challenging; something that’s not “easy” to do, though if you’re just getting started, maybe “easy” is a good place to start since getting into a new routine can be challenging in and of itself. 🙂