Takeaways from Timothy Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Body”

This year, I decided I was going to get better at exercising. To do that, I thought about reading a few books to give myself an idea on how to go about it. One such book was Timothy Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Body“, which is a goldmine of content. In it are suggested exercises that gets the job done, walkthroughs, and some science of how things work. But the book is so much more than just a guide on physical exercises. There’s ideas on self-experimentation, adherence, being proactively skeptical, harajuku moments, a slow-carb diet, and more.

Here are some favorite takeaways:

  • Science starts with educated (read: wild-ass) guesses. Then it’s all trial and error. Sometimes you predict correctly from the outset. More often, you make mistakes and stumble across unexpected findings, which lead to new questions. If you want to sit on the sidelines and play full-time skeptic, suspending actions until a scientific consensus is reached, that’s your choice. But don’t use skepticism as a thinly veiled excuse for inaction or remaining in your comfort zone. Be skeptical, but for the right reason: because you’re looking for the most promising option to test in real life. Be proactively skeptical, not defensively skeptical.
  • We break commitments to ourselves with embarrassing regularity. How can someone trying to lose weight binge on an entire pint of ice cream before bed? How can even the most disciplined of executives fail to make 30 minutes of time per week for exercise? How can someone whose marriage depends on quitting smoking pick up a cigarette? Simple: logic fails.
  • Take adherence seriously: will you actually stick with this change until you hit your goal? If not, find another method, even if it’s less effective and less efficient. The decent method that you follow is better than the perfect method you quit.
  • Self-experimentation can be used by non-experts to (a) see if the experts are right and (b) learn something they don’t know. When you study your own problem (e.g. acne), you care more about finding a solution than others are likely to care.
  • If results are fast and measurable, self-discipline isn’t needed.
  • If you want to be more confident or effective, rather than relying on easily-defeated positive thinking and mental gymnastics, learn to run faster, lift more than your peers, or lose those last ten pounds. It’s measurable, it’s clear, you can’t lie to yourself. It therefore works. The Cartesian separation of mind and body is false. They’re reciprocal. Start with the precision of changing physical reality and a domino effect will often take care of the internal.
  • Job not going well? Company having issues? Some idiot making life difficult? If you add ten laps to your swimming, or if you cut five seconds off your best mile time, it can still be a great week. Controlling your body puts you in life’s driver’s seat.
  • Recreation is for fun. Exercise is for producing changes. Don’t confuse the two.
  • People suck at following advice. Even the most effective people in the world are terrible at it. There are two reasons:
    • Most people have an insufficient reason for action. The pain isn’t painful enough. It’s a nice-to-have, not a must-have.
    • There are no reminders. No consistent tracking = no awareness = no behavioral change. Consistent tracking, even if you have no knowledge of fat-loss or exercise, will often beat advice from world-class trainers.
  • For a long time, I’ve known that the key to getting started down the path of being remarkable in anything is to simply act with the intention of being remarkable. If I want a better-than-average career, I can’t simply go with the flow and get it. Most people do just that: they wish for an outcome but make no intention-driven actions toward that outcome. If they would just do something most people would find that they get some version of the outcome they’re looking for. That’s been my secret. Stop wishing and start doing.
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The Harajuku Moment

On a chapter from Timothy Ferriss‘s book titled “The 4-Hour Body“, he talks about something significant called the Harajuku moment, described as:

.. an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have.

The expression actually came from a realization Chad Fowler (programmer, writer, co-organizer of RubyConf and RailsConf) had in Harajuku with friends some time in the past, while window shopping and lamenting how unfashionable he was. He noticed the tone of helplessness in his own words as he talked about his obesity, and felt angry at himself for being an idiot who went with the flow, making excuses, for many years.

After that defining moment, he turned things around and lost nearly a 100 pounds.

Two years in a row of annual physical exams (2015-2016), I was told that I have hypertension. The previous years I also felt that I tire quickly, becoming more so as the days went by. I’m just over 30, skinny, and believed that I should still be in my prime but was not. I wondered why things turned out the way they did, and eventually recognized that existing habits did not help me become the healthy person I thought I was.

I’m now performing weight-lifts and body-weight exercises 4 times a week, and is in my best shape in the past 10 years or so. What’s interesting is that making the change was actually fun and somewhat easy, very unlike the grueling and exasperating experience I initially thought it would be. I plan to keep things up, gaining as much strength as I can and keeping body fat percentage minimal.

What the Harajuku moment tells us is that, often, on most days, we have insufficient reason to take action. We only have nice-to-haves. We tell ourselves it would be nice to get fit, go on a date with that someone we really like, have a well refactored code, travel internationally, or learn a new skill. But the nice-to-haves do not give us enough pain to move forward. That’s why we sometimes feel we’re stuck in a rut.

Our nice-to-haves must first turn to must-haves before we can take advice and act.