Smash Fear, Learn Anything

From the EG conference: Productivity guru Tim Ferriss’ fun, encouraging anecdotes show how one simple question — “What’s the worst that could happen?” — is all you need to learn to do anything.

Smash Fear, Learn Anything

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My notes
Tim Ferriss is a best-selling author and podcaster.

Tim thinks everyone should feel capable of learning anything by deconstructing things (even the things that scare you).

Fear is an indicator —> More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do (especially with fears you gained when you were a child)

To smash fear, start by asking yourself: what’s the worst that can happen?

In this video, Tim identifies three ways to deconstruct and learn anything:

First principles —> break things down to their basic parts and learn each part.

Materials versus methods —> prioritize learning the material versus learning the methods.

Implicit versus explicit —> practice and master what is implied instead of what is expressed.

1. First principles

The best results in life are often held back by false constructs and untested assumptions.

A first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be broken down (or deconstructed) any further.

The idea here is to break down (i.e. deconstruct) a complicated skill into its basic parts (its first principles), learn them, and then put them together from the ground up.

Swimming example:

Tim could never learn how to swim as a kid.

Recommitted to learning in his 30s.

Could not learn until he found someone to break freestyle swimming down into its basic parts:

Forget about kicking.

Propulsion isn’t really the problem.

The problem is hydrodynamics.

Focus on drafting

So what you want to focus on instead is allowing your lower body to draft behind your upper body, much like drivers in a car race.

By keeping your body underwater and rotating from side to side with each stroke

Don’t swim on your stomach.

Rotate from streamlined right to streamlined left, maintaining each position as long as possible so your entire body is underwater.

Optimize your arm and leg movements for this outcome.

Breath by rolling your body and looking at your recovery hand as it enters the water hand.

The recovery hand is the hand you are going to use to push your body forward and roll to the other side.

Now he can swim kilometers.

2. Materials versus methods.

Materials are the things you put together to accomplish something.

Methods are a particular way of accomplishing something leveraging materials.

The idea here is to focus on learning the materials (what you do) versus the methods (how do you do it).

Oftentimes what you do (not how you do it) is the determining factor for learning.

Language example:

Tim was terrible at languages.

Went to Japan and discovered the Jōyō kanji (a poster of the 2,136 common-use characters as determined by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1981).

Many of the publications in Japan limit themselves to these characters, to facilitate literacy.

As soon as he focused on this material, he took off.

Six months later he was reading newspapers.

Tim can now speak more than five languages.

Tim also applies this concept this with grammar:

He came up with six sentences that when translated into past, present, and future, will show you subject, object, verb, placement of indirect, direct objects, gender, etc.

3. Implicit versus explicit.

When attempting to learn a skill from experts, there are many training methods they explicitly recommend.

But there are also specific implicit commonalities among the experts that they don’t include in their training recommendations.

The idea here is to watch for the unspoken commonalities across experts and train yourself on the ones you can best exploit.

Dancing example:

Tim became a champion tango dancer in a short period of time.

He did this by constructing and comparing the two lists from expert consultants:

One – explicit expertise they recommended (e.g. training activities).

Two – implicit commonalities that none of them seemed to be practicing.

And by focusing on three of the implicit commonalities he thought he could exploit:

Long steps.

Different types of pivots.

Variation in tempo.


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