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Smash Fear, Learn Anything: Tim Ferriss (Full Transcript)

Full text of productivity guru Tim Ferriss’ talk: Smash Fear, Learn Anything at TED conference.

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Tim Ferriss – Author & Entrepreneur

This is Tim Ferriss circa 1979 A.D. Age two. You can tell by the power squat, I was a very confident boy… and not without reason. I had a very charming routine at the time, which was to wait until late in the evening when my parents were decompressing from a hard day’s work, doing their crossword puzzles, watching television.

I would run into the living room, jump up on the couch, rip the cushions off, throw them on the floor, scream at the top of my lungs and run out because I was the Incredible Hulk. Obviously, you see the resemblance.

And this routine went on for some time. When I was seven, I went to summer camp. My parents found it necessary for peace of mind.

And at noon each day the campers would go to a pond, where they had floating docks. You could jump off the end into the deep end. I was born premature. I was always very small. My left lung had collapsed when I was born. And I’ve always had buoyancy problems. So water was something that scared me to begin with.

But I would go in on occasion.

And on one particular day, the campers were jumping through inner tubes. They were diving through inner tubes. And I thought this would be great fun.

So I dove through the inner tube, and the bully of the camp grabbed my ankles. And I tried to come up for air, and my lower back hit the bottom of the inner tube. And I went wild eyed and thought I was going to die. A camp counselor fortunately came over and separated us.

And from that point onward I was terrified of swimming. That is something that I did not get over. And my inability to swim has been one of my greatest humiliations and embarrassments.

That is when I realized that I was not the Incredible Hulk.

But there is a happy ending to this story. At age 31 — that’s my age now — in August I took two weeks to re-examine swimming, and questioned all the of the obvious aspects of swimming. And went from swimming one lap — so 20 yards — like a drowning monkey, at about 200 beats per minute heart rate — I measured it — to going to Montauk on Long Island, close to where I grew up, and jumping into the ocean and swimming one kilometer in open water, getting out and feeling better than when I went in.

And I came out, in my Speedos, European style, feeling like the Incredible Hulk. And that’s what I want everyone in here to feel like, the Incredible Hulk, at the end of this presentation.

More specifically, I want you to feel like you’re capable of becoming an excellent long-distance swimmer, a world-class language learner, and a tango champion.

And I would like to share my art. If I have an art, it’s deconstructing things that really scare the living hell out of me.

So, moving onward. Swimming, first principles. First principles, this is very important. I find that the best results in life are often held back by false constructs and untested assumptions.

And the turnaround in swimming came when a friend of mine said, “I will go a year without any stimulants” — this is a six-double-espresso-per-day type of guy — “if you can complete a one kilometer open water race.”

So the clock started ticking. I started seeking out triathletes because I found that lifelong swimmers often couldn’t teach what they did. And I tried kickboards. My feet would slice through the water like razors, I wouldn’t even move. I would leave demoralized, staring at my feet. Hand paddles, everything.

Even did lessons with Olympians — nothing helped. And then Chris Sacca, who is now a dear friend mine, had completed an Iron Man with 103 degree temperature, said, “I have the answer to your prayers.” And he introduced me to the work of a man named Terry Laughlin who is the founder of Total Immersion Swimming.

And that set me on the road to examining biomechanics.

So here are the new rules of swimming, if any of you are afraid of swimming, or not good at it. The first is, forget about kicking. Very counterintuitive. So it turns out that propulsion isn’t really the problem. Kicking harder doesn’t solve the problem because the average swimmer only transfers about 3% of their energy expenditure into forward motion.

The problem is hydrodynamics. So what you want to focus on instead is allowing your lower body to draft behind your upper body, much like a small car behind a big car on the highway. And you do that by maintaining a horizontal body position.

The only way you can do that is to not swim on top of the water. The body is denser than water. 95% of it would be, at least, submerged naturally.

So you end up, number three, not swimming, in the case of freestyle, on your stomach, as many people think, reaching on top of the water. But actually rotating from streamlined right to streamlined left, maintaining that fuselage position as long as possible.

So let’s look at some examples. This is Terry. And you can see that he’s extending his right arm below his head and far in front. And so his entire body really is underwater.

And the arm is extended below the head. The head is held in line with the spine, so that you use strategic water pressure to raise your legs up — very important, especially for people with lower body fat.

Here is an example of the stroke. So you don’t kick. But you do use a small flick. You can see this is the left extension. And then you see his left leg. Small flick, and the only purpose of that is to rotate his hips so he can get to the opposite side.

And the entry point for his right hand — notice this, he’s not reaching in front and catching the water. Rather, he is entering the water at a 45-degree angle with his forearm, and then propelling himself by streamlining — very important.

Incorrect, above, which is what almost every swimming coach will teach you. Not their fault, honestly. And I’ll get to implicit versus explicit in a moment.

And then below is what most swimmers will find enables them to do what I did, which is going from 21 strokes per 20-yard length to 11 strokes in two workouts with no coach, no video monitoring.

And now I love swimming. I can’t wait to go swimming. And I’ll be doing a swimming lesson later, for myself, if anyone wants to join me.

Last thing, breathing. A problem a lot of us have, certainly, when you’re swimming. In freestyle, easiest way to remedy this is to turn with body roll, and just to look at your recovery hand as it enters the water. And that will get you very far.

That’s it. That’s really all you need to know.

Languages. Material versus method.

I, like many people, came to the conclusion that I was terrible at languages. I suffered through Spanish for junior high, first year of high school, and the sum total of my knowledge was pretty much, “Donde esta el bano?” And I wouldn’t even catch the response. A sad state of affairs.

Then I transferred to a different school sophomore year, and I had a choice of other languages. Most of my friends were taking Japanese. So I thought why not punish myself? I’ll do Japanese.

Six months later I had the chance to go to Japan. My teachers assured me, they said, “Don’t worry. You’ll have Japanese language classes every day to help you cope. It will be an amazing experience.” My first overseas experience in fact.

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