zen habits : breathe

Extreme Lifehacking: How Timothy Ferriss Conquered TV and Horseback Archery

There’s a lot of buzz right now about the new TV show from Trial By Fire” … where Tim takes his famous extreme lifehacking and simplifying to the television screen.

I had a chance to talk with Tim Ferriss about the show recently, and it sounds pretty exciting. He takes topics — this first show is about how he learned horseback archery in Japan — that usually take years to learn, and tries to learn them in a short amount of time.

Tim has proven adept at this type of learning already with languages, martial arts, tango dancing, business, writing and selling a best-selling book, and blogging, among other things. He’s definitely got a knack for learning and tackling exciting challenges, and he serves as an inspiration for all of us.

“Trial By Fire” airs tonight (Thursday, Dec. 4) 11pm ET/PT on History Channel … check it out and help make the show a success! If it does well, he’ll be able to make more exciting stuff, so help him out if you can. I’d love to see the show continue. For more specific air times for the show, check out the History Channel’s schedule.

Check it out the preview here, and then read on for my interview with Tim:

Leo: Tell us about how and why you came up with the concept for this show. It seems right in line with your style of taking things to the extreme. :)

Tim:  I’ve broken more than 30 bones and find great enjoyment in pushing the envelope.  “How could I get paid for this and have some fun?” I recall thinking about two years ago.  TV seemed a natural vehicle for documenting all the strange trouble I pursue, and the methods I use to deconstruct complex skills, whether language learning, tango, motorcycle racing, or — in this case — horseback archery in Japan.  Sometimes it works with spectacular success, and other times I crash and burn.  That’s all part of the fun and excitement.

Leo: What other topics do you have in store for us?

Tim: Everything depends on the viewership tonight at 11pm ET/PT on History Channel.  Please Tivo as well if you can (some insist Tivo numbers are reported in addition)!  If the “Trial by Fire” pilot rates well, it could become a fascinating series.  Other ideas include: museum heists, scaling El Capitan after 48 hours training, setting landspeed records, free diving with Great White sharks in South Africa, big wave surfing, and much more.  But one thing at a time: we need people to prove to History Channel that there’s a real demand for this type of content.  Real drama based on deconstruction, skill hacking, and real stakes… not manufactured TV drama.

Leo: What’s your philosophy for learning something difficult in such a short time?

Tim:  It’s not unlike some of the economic principles in The 4-Hour Workweek.  Pareto’s 80/20 principle applies, for example — instead of focusing on language learning methods, it’s more effective to focus on high-frequency word lists and materials proven by diplomats.  Material beats method, in other words.  Second, don’t assume it’s difficult.  People who specialize are paid to complicate things and make them seem difficult — if you can test their assumptions and field-test supposed best practices, you find out quickly that the unorthodox methods are often the most logical.  The best in the world simplify complex subjects; the most common make the simple complex.

Leo: You mentioned that you have access to some of the best trainers/teachers in the world for this show … how can the average Joe put these methods into action without such experts?

Tim:  First, I need to emphasize that it’s very possible to become world-class in many things.  There is a science to becoming a Jack-of-all-trades in the most empowering sense.  Look at Steve Jobs — he’s mastered the power of being a generalist who can synthesize.

Finding world-class performers who are willing to help you is not hard.  It just depends on how much you fine-comb it.  Getting the current most famous tennis coach in the world to give you tips might be hugely difficult, but don’t chase people who are on magazine covers.  How about a world-class Olympian who never went pro?  Someone who retired 15 years ago and became a semi-recluse, quietly producing the best college players in the US or perhaps a neglected Eastern European county?  I’ve been seeking out this experts for more than a decade, since well before anyone knew who I was.  If you are committed to learn and ask concise, specific questions, you’d be astounded by how generous even the best on the planet can be.  This show will hopefully make that clear.  The world truly can be your oyster… you just have to think big and ask for what you want.

Check out “Trial By Fire” tonight (Thursday, Dec. 4) 11pm ET/PT on History Channel.

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