The Art and Science of Learning Anything Faster


Tim Ferriss meta learning
“If effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right.”

This is a special episode because it doesn’t focus on the lessons of one particular person. Instead, I explore the tips, tricks, and framework I’ve used to learn just about any skill.

This is the meta-skill of meta-learning, or learning how to learn.

I’m going to share techniques that can help you — even if you’re sub-par or a rote beginner — take the smartest first steps and use 80/20 analysis to accelerate your progress.

This is adapted from The 4-Hour Chef, which is the cookbook that’s not a cookbook — it’s a book on accelerated learning.

Without further ado, please enjoy this episode on meta-learning.


Want to hear another episode about accelerated learning? — Listen to my interview with Luis Von Ahn, the co-founder of Duolingo. In this episode, we discuss what 2-3 books and resources he’d recommend to entrepreneurs, language learning tips, early mentors and key lessons learned, and how to recruit and vet technical talent (stream below or right-click here to download):

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • Meta-learning allows us to mimic the world’s fastest learners to become world class — in just about anything — in six months or less. [06:05]
  • When Dan Formosa created Smart Design, the extremes informed the mean, but not vice versa. [06:28]
  • Sometimes it pays to model the outliers, not flatten them into averages. [08:06]
  • WWWBS? (What would Warren Buffett say) about outliers and averages? [09:31]
  • Just about everything you need to know about meta-learning can be understood — or at least observed — by watching these two videos. (Michael Phelps vs. Shinji Takeuchi) [12:06]
  • The top one percent often succeed in spite of how they train, not because of it. [13:21]
  • Shifting from frequent nootropics use to understanding the blueprints behind high-performance. [15:33]
  • On using judo textbooks for transferring the principles of Japanese. [21:10]
  • The missing piece: is the method efficient? [22:30]
  • The catalyst for finding the method (which involved me dropping out of college in the middle of my senior year). [23:11]
  • Using the DiSSS (deconstruction, selection, sequencing, and stakes) process to drastically shorten the time it took to learn languages. [25:04]
  • Deconstruction: What are the minimal learnable units with which you should start? [27:50]
  • Sequencing: In what order should you learn the blocks? [28:14]
  • Stakes: How do you set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee you follow the program? [28:19]
  • The secondary principles of CaFE (compression, frequency, encoding). [28:32]
  • Compression: Can you encapsulate the most important 20 percent into an easily graspable one-pager? [28:51]
  • Frequency: How frequently should you practice? What is the minimum effective dose (MED) for volume? [29:00]
  • Encoding: How do you anchor the new material to what you already know for rapid recall?  [29:13]
  • How I began interviewing people as a way to deconstruct and learn any skill. [29:36]
  • My general interviewing process. [31:36]
  • Learning from the process: applying the answers to your own experiences. [34:40]

People Mentioned

Posted on: October 6, 2016.

The Tim Ferriss Show is generally the #1 business podcast on iTunes, and it was selected for iTunes' "Best of 2015." Each episode deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use. If you want to 10x your productivity, click here.

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76 comments on “The Art and Science of Learning Anything Faster

  1. Thanks for this Tim – I’m in the middle of the 4 Hour chef right now and this podcast really helps with my understanding.

    One question I have (and I know there is a benefit in going through the process of learning a new language) but if new translating wearable technology comes out that solves the communication barriers we face is there any point in learning a new language?


    • One of the highest levels of learning a language is to think in that language. I remember coming back to the US after 4 years in Germany. I was fluent enough that there were times that some Germans thought I was German. To get to that level requires not only an understanding of a translation of words, it requires some level of assimilating a culture and speaking from that context. So by the time I left Germany I had absorbed not just the meanings of words, but the common/appropriate application of specific phrases for various circumstances. When I returned to the US I found I would automatically think some of those phrases for which there was no simple/direct translation that would be appreciated in US culture. It was a bitter-sweet experience. While having an advanced translation aide can facilitate communication as well as learning a language, it doesn’t replace learning a language. And to truly learn a language we must spend time in the culture. That can be done various ways: study, culture groups, travel to the country, immersion training, etc. Depending upon your goals and plans, learning a language can have significant advantages over merely having a translator. Probably the best advantages are appreciation of another culture and the impact that learning another language has on your cognitive capability.


    • I think for the next five years at least, yes. It will be a while before machines can work with odd idioms, pop culture references, and — especially — humor.

      For me, I find learning languages so rewarding that a rise of the machines won’t stop me from continuing🙂

      Good luck!



  2. Tim, yet another great episode to start off my day instead of actually working. This episode was very insightful and loaded with great action items, keep up the great work!

    I have been a huge fan of the show for quite some time and have heard you talk about most of this before and have always wondered how do you know if you’ve gotten any of the pieces of DiSSS wrong?

    Obviously one would know they are doing something wrong if they continue to suck at the task so maybe the question should be about how long after trying this process would it take to realize I’ve selected the wrong few techniques and needed to return to the beginning and re-assemble my building blocks?

    Brazilian jiu jitsu is my example, and I’ve watched the related episode of your show several times.

    I had a far longer post but decided to cut it off here for the sake of your time!

    Favorite quote of the episode: “Duuude, do me favor!”

    -John Michael


  3. awesome possum pod son (cast that is).

    Just throwing this out there, episode 226 of the podcast 99% Invisible, is all about averages… the history, how the civil war affects t-shirt sizes today (seriously) and how averages almost lost the war.

    I loved it (like this podcast) you may hate it, enjoy at your own risk🙂


  4. Hey Tim,

    Not sure if you’ll see this, but i feel like you can help.
    I’m 22 and finishing up my bachelors next year. These last few weeks i have been stressed because i don’t know what i want to in terms of career/life. I’m facing internal and familial pressures. Any tips/advice on how to go about this would be greatly appreciated.

    If you can email me that’d be great too. Or not, if you’re super busy. I understand.

    Thank you. Big fan.


  5. I’m so thankful for this episode. It almost seems serendipitous.

    I just moved to Shanghai, China from Virginia for a job opportunity (I’ve been here a month) and have been looking for a way to break down the language to learn it, and be conversational, within a year.
    My co-workers give me the “tilted head, side eye” and say it can’t be done. For my own sake, and sanity, I will have to prove them wrong.

    I will somehow get the book recommendation in the show notes sent to me, and have contacted Berlitz (though, I don’t think I heard you mention them in the episode – again, just saw it in the show notes and figured ‘why not’), and will look forward to researching who I can speak with, in interview format, about learning Chinese quickly, efficiently, and effectively. I’ll basically do whatever they say to the “T” if it gets me speaking and (possibly) reading faster.

    It sucks that I had to leave my door stop, The 4-Hour Cookbook, in the U.S. It would’ve been handy right about now (haha!), but thankful for these kinds of episodes – so again, thanks.


  6. Tim, about a year ago I used your metalearning process to create a system for long term love and sexual passion with a woman. Your advice on avoiding common pitfalls and questioning best practices took it in a really unique direction but it works like a charm – relationship of 5 years has more love than ever and sex hits a new all time high nearly every week. I like to call it Relationship Minimalism in your honor.🙂

    Thanks so much for all you’ve done, my life wouldn’t be the same without your influence. Hope to meet you one day.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Epiphany moments were experienced with alarming frequency while reading the 4 Hour Chef. A lifelong lesson on the relationship between blending peas and my legendary Dutch kickboxing coach Ivan Hippolyte being one of them.
    One fateful night, at some godforsaken hour, I had another, my most heartstopping yet, and have copy/pasted the blog post here for you guys (sans URL!) to enjoy. I hope you find it interesting.

    “01:55 GMT.

    After reading two pages in the book draped across my lap I looked up and, staring at my reflection in the window opposite, have just spent the last few minutes muttering “I knew it” into hands clasped around my mouth. To the right and to the left my fellow Starbuckians at Stephens Green know naught that a future world champion has been born into their midst.
    Lo and behold ladies and gents, I have just had confirmed a hypothesis I developed – all on my own – about accelerated learning and acquisition of expertise in the 21st century, and the *belief* that courses through me right now is a beauty to be treasured. My personal theories are being confirmed, my life’s work is coming into focus and a drive to condense fighting into its axioms that was initially born out of a fundamental, absolute, utter lack of belief in myself now becomes the anchor upon which I will succeed. And this is quite probably the most sublime irony I will ever experience (will I smile tenderly at those words in future years I wonder?)
    I’m going to outsmart my competitors and use my own career and background as evidence. I’m going to document about 80 percent of the process through this page and to the people reading this in the future scouring my blog for all the answers, im going to keep the most treasured informations all up here *taps rather large forehead twice*

    Call me Fosbury, and I’ll see you on the otherside.

    …Oh, what was I reading, you must be wondering?

    Here’s a blurry pic of the page and, in addition, a rather scenic viewpoint into my consciousness.

    02:30 GMT.”

    **Alas! No URL = no pics ;-]**


  8. Hi Tim. I would actually word it the other way: “If effectiveness is doing the things right, efficiency is doing the right things.”


  9. Tim, great episode and post. Excited for your new book. Also interested in your thoughts on renewable energy and where you think it’s going. The infrastructure, the climate, the social impact or lack there of. What’re your thoughts? Is it an area of interest for you investment wise? Would love to share my kickstarter campaign with you and see/hear your thoughts and advice. Lmk thanks.


  10. This is just a superb treat for my weekend. I think this half an hour talk packed with so much valuable lessons. Crux and essence of what Tim has been advocating so long.
    I have done transcription of this video so if anyone interested, let me know, I will be happy to share it.


      • I am interested, Tarique. Can you copy and paste it in this page (as another comment entry) ? I am guessing Tim Ferriss wouldn’t mind. Thank you in advance.


      • Here is the Transcription of the Audio (Hope u will not mind for few of my mistakes) I skipped the sponsorship intro.

        The Art and Science of Learning Anything Faster

        Meta or Meta Learning;
        Meta is where you will learn to mimic the world’s fastest learners. It is possible to become world class in just about anything in 6months or less, it is based on everything I have done and everything I have seen armed with the right framework you can seemingly perform miracles whether it is Spanish, swimming or anything in-between.
        Smart design became one of the top industrial design frames in the world by being you guessed it smart with locations in New York, San Francisco and Barcelona – Smart design represents clients ranging from snowboards to Starbucks.
        The company has also been strategic partners with Oxen international since 1989 that ubiquitous line of good kitchen wear with the comfy black handles, the one that covers an entire wall of Bed, Bath and beyond – yeah they made those. In the documentary objectified Dan Famousa PHD then with smart designs research department explained one of the first steps in its innovation process –“we have clients coming to us and saying here is our average consumer for instance female she is 34years old she has 2.3 kids and we look at him politely and say well that’s great but we don’t care out that person – what we really need to do to design is look at the extremes the weakest or the person with arthritis or the athlete – the strong, faster person because if we understand what the extremes are the middle will take care itself”.
        In other words the extreme form the means but not vice versa that quote average user can be deceptive or even meaningless just as all averages can be – here is a statistician joke for your next hot date –
        Person A; what happens when Bill Gates walks into a bar with 55 people?
        Person B; I don’t know what,
        Person A; The average net worth jumps to more than a billion dollars (laughs) it is not exactly Chris Rock but the joke makes an important point.
        Sometimes it pays to model the outliners not flatten them into the averages, this isn’t limited to business – take for instance the seemingly average 132 pound girl who ended up anything but average –not to listener imagine average looking high school girl here, her picture was sent to me by Barry Ross a sprint coach, or track and field coach who creates world record breaking athletics to illustrate an ab exercise called the torture twist. He nonchalantly added on the phone ‘oh yeah and she dead lifts more than 400 pounds for repetition’ what for those of you not familiar with the dead lift Google Mark Bell – even more impressive she developed this worldly power the wrong way at least according to all conventions.
        Rather than train the conventional full range of motions she focused on only the weakest strength of motion lifting the bar to knee height and then lowering it. Total muscular tension actual weight lifting was limited to 5 minutes per week, this all makes our average looking high-schooler extreme – but the real question is was she an exception?
        In the outside world absolutely even in track and field she was a total freak, had she been thrown into a study with 40 random selected sprinters she would have been a ridiculous exception must have been a measurement error the baby would get thrown out with the bath water but WWBF what would Warren Buffet say – I suspect the oracle of Omaha would say what he said at Columbia university in 1984 when mocking proponents in the efficiency of marketing hypothesis.
        First he pointed out that yes value investors that is DVT of Benjamin Graham and David Dodd who constantly beat the market are outliners but then he posed a question which I have condensed here
        “What if there was a nationwide competition in coin flipping? 250million flippers in total in the population of the US, each flipping once per morning and we found a select few – say 215 people who flipped 20 straight winning flips – flips for the results was guessed correctly on 20 mornings” then he continued “Some business school professor will probably be rude enough to bring up the fact that 225million orang-utans that engage in a similar exercise the results will be much the same. 215 egotistical orang-utans with 20 straight winning flips- There are some important differences in the example of value investors that I am going to present for one thing if A. You are taking 225 million orang-utans distributed roughly as the US population is, if B. 215 winners were left there for 20days and here if for emphasis if C. You found that 40 came from a particular zoo in Omaha you would be pretty sure that you were on to something”
        So you would probably go and ask the zoo keeper about what he is feeding them, whether they have special exercises, what books they read and who knows what else –if you found any really extraordinary concentrations of success you might want to see if you can identify concentrations of unusual characteristics that might be cause or factors.
        So back to our sprint coach Barry Ross, he has the most unusual zoo; in fact he can engineer mutants at will. His best female distance runner has dead lifted 415pounds at a body weight of 132 pounds. His youngest male lifter 11 years old has dead lifted 225 pounds at a body weight of 108 pounds. So our extreme high-schooler is the same standard in his gym, this naturally led me to ask could I a non elite runner average possibly replicate her results? I tried and it worked flawlessly.
        In less than 12 weeks with no coach and following a print out from Barry, I went from a max lifter of 300 pounds to more than 650 pounds. Just about everything you need to know about Meta Learning can be understood or at least observed by watching two videos on YouTube related to freestyle swimming of all things.
        The first is from Michael Phelps you probably know that name, and the second is from Shinzu Takei Young a much lesser known name. Phelps makes sense but who the hell is Shinzu Takei Young, Phelps learned to swim at the tender age of 7, Shinzu on the other hand learned to swim at the ripe age of 37, more interesting to me Shinzu learned to swim by learning practically the opposite of Phelps. Shinzu leads his drive arm forward almost 2 feet beneath the water, rather than grabbing near the surface and pulling.
        Rather than focusing on kicking Shinzu appears to have eliminated it all together – no paddleboard work outs to be found, Shinzu often does freestyle stroke with closed fists or by pointing his index finger forward and keeping the arms entirely under water Phelps on the other hand looks like he is attached to an outboard motor it is a heroic output of horse power, Shinzu has been watched millions of times because he offers the flip side effortless propulsion. So who would you rather have as a teacher Phelps or Shinzu? Arthur Jones founder of Novelist ‘ How to gain muscle mass quickly ‘recommends the following and I paraphrase –‘ approach the biggest body builder at your gym ideally a ripped 250-300 pound professional and politely ask him for detailed advice then do exactly the opposite.
        If the T-Rex size meat head recommends 10 sets do one set, if he recommends post work out protein consume 3 workout proteins so on and so forth. Jones tone and cheek parable was used to highlight one of the dangers of hero worship and that is top 1% often succeed despite how they train and not because of it.
        Superior genetics which is a luxurious full time schedule to make up for a lot, this is not to say that Phelps isn’t technical – everything needs to be flawless to an 18goal medals of course. It’s the people that are a few rungs down that are the best to realistically have access to that we need to be wary of.
        Then there is the second danger of hero worship, career specialists often cant externalise what they internalise, the second nature is very hard to teach and this is true across industries as Erik Cosselmon Executive Chef of Kokkari my favourite Greek Restaurant in San Francisco said to me when I did my novice questioning “the problem with me is that I have always been a cook, I don’t remember ever wanting to be something else. Daniel Burka a designer at Google and the co founder of tech start up called Milk echoes the sentiment ‘ I don’t think I would be particularly good at teaching the basics of CSC a language used for the formatting of web pages, now I do 12 things at once and they all make sense.
        I can’t remember which one of those were confusing when I was just starting out , these top 1.0 % have spent a lifetime honing their craft they are invaluable in later stages but they are not ideal if you want to rocket of the ground floor.
        The Shinzu Takei Young on the other hand are the rare anomalies who have gone from zero to global top 5% in record time despite mediocre raw materials are worth their weight in gold. I have spent the last 15 years finding the Shinzu’s of the world and trying to model them. Inhaling hormones what would go wrong, my interest in accelerated learning started at a bio chemical level.
        In 1996 as a planned neuron science major at Princeton University I became experimenting with a panoply smart drugs otherwise known as nar-tropics I imported to the US under the FDA personal importation policy. Footnote – this is not something I recommend, one mistake and you are illegally trafficking drugs which is always frowned upon.
        Back to the text after 4 weeks I had fine tuned a routine for Mandarin Chinese character quizzes – 15minutes prior to class I would administer two hits of Vaporised Desmopressin in each nostril Desmopressin is a synthetic version of Vasopressin a naturally occurring antidiuretic peptide hormone as a nasal spray it is often prescribed for children who bed wet past a certain age, not my problem I was more interested in its off label applications for long term memory, putting theory into practise it looked like this –
        Step number 1 – Two hits of Desmopressin in each nostril
        Step number 2 – flip through characters in a book called Chinese Prima character text almost as quickly as I could turn the pages.
        Step number 3 – score 100% in a quiz 5-10minutes later – footnote if you would like the opposite effect go binge drinking perhaps excessive alcohol inhibits vasopressin release which explains the peeing every 10minutes followed by time travel I.E blacking out or forgetting everything.
        Back to my quizzes this method was fantastically reliable but after a few minutes of testing hydrogen, And combination of dozens of other drugs surprise, surprise headaches set in and thought set in. Perhaps snorting antidiuretic hormones isn’t the best long term strategy and my dorm room bathroom had also started to resemble a meth lab which was repelling girls a very high priority at the time.
        So I shifted my obsession from molecules to process, was it possible to develop a sequence or blue print that would allow me to learn anything faster – any subject, any sport, anything at all I suspected so. I glimpsed one piece of the puzzle 4 years earlier in 1992.
        Material beats method – in 1992 I was 15 years old and I had landed in Japan for my first extended trip abroad, I would be an exchange Student at (place name) school for 1 year for those interested it is in Kichijoji on the first day of classes I reported to the faculty lounge in a required navy blue uniform looking like a west point cadet high collar the whole 9 yards. I nervously awaited my student chaperone who would be taking me to my home class with a group of 40 or so students I would be spending most of my time with. One of the faculty members notices me sitting in the corner ah (Japanese)he said with a way Kun is kind of like son but used to address male inferiors (Japanese’s) this is as he pointed out a mysterious piece of paper. I could barely manage Greetings so he hailed an English teacher to explain the document. The page was written entirely in characters that I couldn’t read, detailed my daily schedule as it turned out.
        Then the English teacher translated physics, mathematics, world history, traditional Japanese and on it went, and then is when panic set in. I only had a few months of rudimentary Japanese prior to arrival and my teachers in the US had reassured me with don’t worry you will have plenty of Japanese Classes, now irretrievably in Tokyo I realised I was dealing with a major lost in translation screw up “Japanese Classes’ hadn’t meant Language classes.
        For the entire year ahead I was to attend normal Japanese high school classes alongside 5000 Japanese students prepping for University exams so this is when I pooped my pampers. I proceeded to flounder horribly just as I failed Spanish in junior high. Sadly as a lot of people concluded it seemed I was simply bad at languages. 6 months into my exchange I was ready to go home.
        Then lady luck smiled upon me, I stumbled upon a poster while looking for the book of 5 rings written by Miyamoto Musashi in (place)) this poster which I still have on my wall 20 years later contained all 1945 of the Kyoiku kanji the characters designated for basic literacy by the Japanese Ministry of Education .
        Most newspapers and magazines limit themselves using the Kyoiku kanji so for all practical purposes this means if you know the meaning of the characters on this one poster you know Japanese including all the most important verbs – Japanese on one page so to me Holy Shit that was quite the discovery – language is infinitely expansive much like cooking and therefore horribly overwhelming if unfiltered this poster was a revelation – it brought to light the most important lesson language learning and that is what you study is more important than how you study .
        Students are subordinate to materials much like novice cooks are subordinate to recipes, if you select the wrong material, the wrong text book, the wrong group of words it doesn’t matter how much or how well you are studying, it doesn’t matter how good your teacher is one must find the highest frequency material – material beats method.
        The authors of most Japanese learning books appear to think reading the Hashishi moon that is the Hashishi newspaper was the only literacy test that needs mastering, for a high school student and even now for that matter reading the Hashishi moon is as interesting as watching paint dry.
        Fortunately as long as you hit the highest frequency material I learnt that content matters very, very little. My (unclear) turned out with Judo textbooks though the vocabulary think ingredients was highly specialised I eclipsed the grammatical ability 4 and 5 years students of Japanese after 2 months of studying Judo why? Because the grammar think cooking methods were universal, the principles transferred to everything else.
        I came back to the US after Tokyo and scored higher in the Japanese SAT2 then a friend who was a native speaker, by high school graduation in 1995 I have developed two simple lenses through which I have used language learning methods and learning in general.
        Number 1; is the method effective? Have you narrowed down your material the highest frequency? Second is the method sustainable? Have you chosen a schedule and subject matter that you can stick with or put up with until reaching fluency? Will you actually swallow the pill you prescribe yourself in other words?
        Alas there is still one last missing piece efficiency if effectiveness is doing the right things efficiency is doing things right, Martin Luther King JR famously remarked ‘Just as to long delayed is just as denied ‘learning is similar speed determines its value even with the best materials if your time to fluency is 20 years your return on investment ROI is terrible. Though 1996 heralded itself with vasopressin and its cousins taking me to the bio chemical level for immediate payoff it wasn’t until 1999 that I returned to the hardest part – the most slippery element of the puzzle the method again – thinking of efficiency.
        The catalyst came serendipitously one even on Weatherspoon Street in downtown Princeton. I was heads down working on my senior thesis a sexy paper entitled “Acquisition of Japanese Kanji, conventional practice and mnemonic supplementation and I developed a phone friendship with Doctor Bernie Feria then director of curriculum and development at the world headquarters of Bartlett international conveniently located only miles from Campus.
        He invited me out to a jacket and tie dinner, I put on my fanciest corduroys and my ill fitting sports coat and a counterfeit polo shirt.
        It was a glorious feast and Bernie was a gracious host, he knew his languages and the red wine flowed which I couldn’t afford at the time by the way. We shared war stories from linguistic trenches, lessons learns, comedic mistakes and cultural fax par. Bernie shared his adventures and I told him about the time I asked my Japanese host mother to rape me at 8am the next morning. Just (Japanese) to rape was not (Japanese) to wake up. He roared and it went on and on and by the time desert came around Bernie poised and said “you know it is a shame you are not graduating earlier as we have this project starting soon and you would be perfect for”
        The project was helping them redesign there introductory to Japanese Curriculum which doubled as an opportunity to revisit their English Curriculum which then accounted for 70% of the roughly 5 million lessons a year and 320 language centres around the globe.
        Imagine wondering into your local guitar shop and approaching the high school intern behind the counter;
        “Hey Kid how would you like to tune the erm London Philharmonic Orchestra, they have a live gig in Central Park next week and it will be broadcast to over 50 countries you in?”
        I felt like that kid, so much too perhaps my parents (word not clear) at least briefly I left Princeton in the middle of my senior year, just months before graduation to pursue this love of language. I worked for Bartlett then itching to test new ideas immediately travelled to Taiwan where many of the piece started to fall into place for DISSS which I will explain shortly.
        Then I did something odd, I applied the same DISSS process to learning kick boxing and then less than 2 months later won the Chinese National Kickboxing championships at 165 pounds – lets fast forward to 2005 I spent 6 years testing different approaches to natural languages, here is what my acquisition language time looked like in order using standardise testing in all but Chinese. Japanese 1 year, Mandarin Chinese 6 months, German 3 months, Spanish 8 weeks, now you must recall at age 15 I had failed to learn enough Spanish to hold a basic conversation, now people were applauding me for being good at languages or congratulate me on “being gifted”.
        It was pretty hysterical to me I just had a better instruction manual it had nothing to do with my raw attributes in 2005 I travelled the world as a digital nomad in an experience that I later chronicled in the in four hour work week, I focused on language to conquer the loneliness it ranged from Irish Gaelic to Norwegian, to German, to Spanish to including (name) dialect in Argentina – anything that I came into contact with, the refine which continued to 2010 and the present. I vetted the process on Turkish, Greek and other languages in short of one to two week periods the dis-process I used was effective for acquiring the clarities that is facts and figures knowledge for instance memorising serial numbers or remember where your car is parked.
        It also worked incredibly well for what is known as procedural or action knowledge for instance practising judo, riding a bike, driving a car – it even worked for hybrids such as writing Chinese characters. None of this is said to impress you, it is said to impress upon you however that there is a repeatable process that hundreds of readers that is of my blog and my books have used to replicate my results.
        It is possible to become world class and to the top 5percent of performers in the world in almost any subject within 6-12 months or even in some cases 6-12 weeks there is a recipe and the real recipe in this book and that is DISSS, and the recipe for learning any skill is encapsulated in this acronym.
        How to remember it? The 1980s cultural contribution to modern English DISS to diss someone, just remember diss with an extra S that is DISSS. If you are a gamer and know PS3 that is Playstation3 just think of DS3.
        So here is the sequence D stands for Deconstruction and in that step you answer the question what are the minimal learnable units? The Lego blocks I should be starting with. The first S is Selection, which 20% of the block should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcome I want.
        You may have noticed that we ignored the I but just use it to remember the word, the second S is sequencing – in what order should I learn the blocks? And then the last S is Stakes, how do I set up Stakes? How do I set up Stakes to create real consequences and guarantee that I follow the programme? CAFE – there are several secondary principles that are very helpful, I use all 3 constantly others are not required.
        Here CAFE is the acronym so you can think of it as a secondary framework for accelerated learning further the first C – the only C I suppose stands for compression. Can I encapsulate the most important 20% into an easily graspable one pager? F – Frequency – how frequently should I practise – can I cram and what should my schedule look like, what growing pains can I predict. What is the minimum effective dose otherwise known as the MED for the volume, and the E stands for encoding- How do I anchor the new material that I already know for rapid recall Acronym like CAFE and DISSS are examples of encoding.
        Deconstruction is best thought of as exploration, this is where we throw a lot on the wall to see what sticks, where we flip things upside down and look at what the outliers are doing differently and also what they are doing at all. First and foremost is where we answer the question ‘ how do I break this Amorphous so called skill into small manageable pieces?’ just as with literal deconstruction taking a building apart for instance or demolishing something breaking it apart whatever it might be dissecting something you need the tools to do the job.
        In our case one of the best tactics is interviewing – here is a real world example of how I have used interviewing to learn just about any skill and I include the exact questions that I asked and still ask. A while back this was probably a few years ago I was sharing drinks with start up Naval Ravikant – you may have met the guy co founder of Angel you can check them out. We were discussing the deconstruction of various skills when he had a random suggestion if you ever want to deconstruct basketball I have the DVD for you – better basketball and that is how a lot got started.
        Now ever since 7th grade when a PE teacher told me I dribbled like a caveman, which I did I had written basketball off so I said thanks but no thanks and that was my answer to Nivvie , but low and behold 3 years later I found myself watching a Lakers game with my friend Kevin Rose and his wife Daria a Laker fanatic – there dog even had a Lakers jersey on and it was then that I had an epiphany even if I have 0 interest in playing basketball, perhaps learning the fundamental over a weekend would allow me to love watching it.
        That is when I asked Nivvie to point me to the master Rick Torbit the founder of Better Basketball – Rich has coached entire teams to shoot better than 40% for 3 consecutive seasons – to put that in perspective in the last decade only one NBA team the Phoenix Suns came close to 40% from the 3 point line.
        To dissect his unusual success and his process I started by emailing a bunch of interview questions the answers to which I will share with you in a moment but let’s start with the general process. First create a list of people to interview it seems self evident I suppose if you are going to go with high level athletics for instance 1 use Wikipedia to find out who is the best or second best that is often ideal in the world 5-10 years ago or 2-4 Olympics ago since those currently in the limelight are less likely to respond.
        Number 2 – search Google for “insert city, insert sport, insert Olympian, or world champion” hypothetically I might search for San Francisco Bob Sledge Olympian which gets me to a team doctor perfect for a first lead. Next step make first contact and provide context ‘Dude do me a favour’ is not a compelling pitch as much as I receive it myself, the proposed interview should somehow benefit your contact the path of least resistance is to freelance writer for a blog, newsletter or local newspaper and do a piece on this person and his or her methods or to quote him and her on a topic as an expert for instance expert predication for winter Olympics or something like that.
        Once you are in the door ask your expert all the questions you like are you terrible at writing? No problem make it a Q & A format and print the relevant questions and answers on the other hand if they coach and do hourly consultations you can also just pay for a telephone or Skype session.
        Last step ask your questions, when I was looking into ultra endurance for the body I sent different combinations of the following types of questions to people like the legendary Scott Gerick who won the Western States 100 in ? 100 mile races a record 7 times – who is good at ultra running despite being poorly built for it. Who is good at this and who shouldn’t be?
        Who are the most controversial or unorthodox runners or trainers? Why? What do you think of them?

        Who are the most impressive lesser known teachers? What makes you different? Who trained you? Have you trained others to do this? Have you replicated your results? What are the biggest mistakes and myths that you see in ultra running training? What are the biggest wastes of time? This is a really important one.

        What are your favourite instructional books or resources on that subject? If people had to teach themselves what would you suggest they use? If you were to train me for 4 weeks for a fill in the blank competition and had million dollars on the line what would the training look like?

        What if I trained for 8 weeks – in the case of basketball I started by sending Rick 4 questions related to shooting. Number 1 – First what are the biggest mistakes novice’s makes when shooting or practising shooting? What are the biggest misuses of time? That should sound familiar. Number 2 – Even at the pro level what mistakes are most common what are your key principles for better and more consistent shooting?. What are they for foul shot? Free throws that is versus 3 pointers. What does the progression of exercises look like? that is the fourth and the final .

        I received his email responses in and two days later hit 9 out of 10 free throws for the first time in my life, then on Christmas eve I went bowling and many of the same principles applied – remember we talked about transfer scored 124 my first time over 100 and well above my usual 50/70 points embarrassing yes.

        Upon returning home I immediately went outside and sunk the first 2 3 pointers of my life. For Lakers games with the Roses I now see a ballet of kinaesthetic beauty that was completely invisible before – that is a hell of a lot of fun.


      • @Tim Ferriss, you are right. Why not buy the book? $10 is nothing. And while the book is out there, getting the transcript is pointless. It might even come across as being cheap. I will get a copy.


      • This is a reply to Tims comment above.
        Tim, while it’s fair enough authors wish to plug their book – you are correct, the 4 Hour Chef is an excellent book, but stuff this kindle crap. It would be absolutely wasted on Kindle. It’s not an Ian Fleming novel. The hard copy is the only way to absorb it. It’s a life long resource. Granted, for your third book its clear you’ve not grasped the art of writing and probably won’t, but then you’re not claiming to be a writer and you have other strengths; and the four hour chef is not intended to be a master work in literature. It is something else – and something very good indeed. It’s great.
        However I take exception by your insinuation you we owe you something.
        ‘Your podcast takes hours to do’ Of course it does. Thats why you monetize everything you do. That person spend many hours transcribing your voice, just there. They did it for free and as a service.
        In your ‘how to do a podcast’ post you explained that the upper end of the scale for advertising is around $20 paid per a download, although you wouldn’t disclose your personal rates. (fair enough) But you probably get a very very good rate indeed, more than most.
        You have THREE advertisers supporting each podcast. Apparently you have millions of people downloading them. Even if ‘only’ 500,000 people download your podcast the first week, that podcast remains a source of income for you in perpetuity. That one single episode is more money for you than most of the world sees in their lifetime and their immediate family, put together. And WE are exposed to the advertising. Thats our exchange for receiving your work, which we do gladly.
        So, I don’t make the mistake of seeing you as Mr Generous like so many of the sycophants on here do.
        5 bullet friday is another example. Many propagate the charade that you’re so generous you send out this free list of ‘stuff’. [if we put aside the fact you use it to promote products and services you are an investor in] But why are the links so distorted and hidden. It’s highly manipulative. In a time when everyone needs to be learning not to blindly click on any link thats presented to them, for security and privacy reasons, here you are doing god knows what with these obfuscated links. Taking advantage. someone as high profile as you. What exactly are those links doing? Kind of funny seeing as you promoted Bruce Schneier in the early pages of 4 Hour Chef – one of the premier experts on computer security in the world.
        And, unlike everyone else whom knows better, you don’t even bother upgrading your website to HTTPS. 1995, anybody? So, your website and emails could so easily by MITM . Ie, hijacked. It’s actually rude. I know heaps of people who have lost trust in you for reasons like the above. And whom will never, ever disclose any personal information to your site or click on any links you send out, because you don’t seem to care.
        I believe in the US there is an expression ‘jumped the couch’ or ‘jumped the shark’. So easy to take ones supporters for granted when you’re rich famous and comfortable eh? Just a small point.


  11. Enter your comment here…I love this episode. I loved it so much that I purchased The Four Hour Chef in Kindle. I had heard you say, multiple times, that this book is disguised as a book on accellerated learning. But I had my own preconceived notions about it. I understand a whole lot better, now since the release of this episode. I guess I have been waiting for something just like this.

    By the way, I have a question concerning language learning as a blind individual. I am completely blind and I have to attain a high fluency level of oral proficiency in French. I work for the Canadian Federal Government and I have a workable level of French, but I need a higher level of fluency to successfully pass the second language evaluation test for the Federal Government.
    My question is: Do you know of any effective resources which can help me as a blind learner to be more fluent in French in 10 weeks? I obviously cannot read a one-pager type of resource similar to the one you stumbled upon for Japanese. I do have access to quite a bit of material, but I don’t think they fit into your criteria of DiSSS and CaFE.

    I would welcome any suggestions from yourself or other tribe readers.

    Thank you.

    “Dude. … So appreciate the favour.”


    • Jen,
      There are three articles Tim has posted on the blog about express language learning, a quick search should find them easy enough. You could find the 100 or 1000 most commonly spoken French words and memorise them, along with reading some French literature to give you the grammatical knowledge.


    • Thanks, Jen! I like Michel Thomas’s old audio courses and some of Pimsleur, but it sounds like you’re quite advanced. Duolingo is another great, free option, but I think it’s mostly for beginners. I would suggest searching for Benny Lewis’s post on language learning on my blog. He discusses quite a few audio options using radio, etc.

      Hope that helps and good luck!



  12. Hi Tim,

    Is there anyway that you can post a framework in regards to the sections and key take aways from this episode ? Or would you suggest skimming through the 4HChef as a reference?

    Much appreciated!


  13. I’ve been trying to learn German, but due the lack of consistency and a well designed plan or framework I stoped. Going to try it again applying Tim’s ideas. Keep the good work man!


  14. I teach a form of deception detection or what I like to call sentiment analysis. A Cognitive/Empathetic interview style, as well as behavioral analysis. Recently I was challenged to teach what I normally takes 40-80 hours in 2.5 hours… Yes, I accepted. So… I am in the process of deconstructing everything I have ever learned and rebuilding the process from the ground up (the adaptive unconscious.) Combining takeaways from your work, Holiday’s, Ego is the Enemy and the Stoic’s. Any words of wisdom? Would you like to hear it? My client is big for me and is compensating me well for the challenge. WHEN I nail this, it will open up for more related work. I’m a medically retired 20 year police officer and Marine. (Oh, yeah… It’s behavioral analysis for franchise sales in realestate.)


  15. I want to deconstruct a speech therapy program for my 11 year old (somewhere on the autistic spectrum) son. I can’t figure out where to start. Doing it in 4 hours would be great. I have tried speech therapists locally but with no luck. Any ideas would be welcome.


  16. Hello this is Clay Ables. I’m a sophomore at Ball State and play by play broadcaster for ESPN 3 and The SEC Network.

    I also doing writing and have my own podcast.

    I wanted to ask career advice about building my own brand as a sports broadcaster.

    Also as a person dealing with depression and OCD in my 20’s I didn’t know if there would be any advice.

    Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.


  17. Hello Tim, I had no idea this would navigate to basketball. I coach high school basketball and I am familiar with Rick Torbett. I am very curious to see his answers to your interview questions.
    Always fun to read and hear your insights on a wide range of topics that always make me think about better ways to do things.
    Thank you!


    • Howdy! Well, the biggest secret I discovered to be able to have fun “playing” basketball is that you have to become good at ball handling. My only shortcut to that is 10-15 minutes a day on two ball drills (overloading the learning capacity) Ball handling is the foundation to the game. I don’t know that longer time per day increases learning much? That is: 8 hours on Saturday will do little but 10 minutes for 30 days will make a difference. Shooting is critical, but unless standing still or unguarded, (which if you can shoot … you won’t be very often). So for confidence in your own ability, the trust of teammates and coaches… you have to be able to handle the ball decently to be able to play the game and get shot opportunities. Getting to the free throw line is most often from attacking the basket and ball handling created that opportunity, most often. jmo And I do have shooting theories and absolutely helped kids become better shooters (all state etc from not playing before) )but s-l-o-w-e-r than Tim is talking.


  18. Great episode Tim. I’m more curious how you would apply this to tasks which require ‘muscle memory’. Say for example, and I saw your vimeo video where you learnt some basic drumming with the legendary Mr Copeland you needed to become a proficient drummer. I know the timescale was super short and you can learn basic 4/4 and even 16th note patterns within in a couple of hours.

    However to become unconsciously competent with rudiments, such as the paradiddle would take more than 6 weeks of deliberate practice (or possible if you spent 8 hours a day doing it)

    So while you can ‘cram’ your mental capacity can you ‘cram’ your dexterity/muscle memory? I think not but would loved to be proved wrong!


  19. Hi Tim,

    I am reading the 4HC and loving it.
    Just wondering if there is a group or community where we could share our DSSS and CAFEs.
    I see great potential in group learning.



  20. Tim, the technique you used for your deadlift domination – was the printout from Barry you used similar to the program outlined in his Dragon Door post? Or did you use the “weakest part of the lift” technique? If the latter, can you outline?

    Also, given such significant gains over a relatively short period, how were you calibrating percentages of your 1RM?


  21. Okay guys and gals,

    The problem I have with Tim is that he gets you to start thinking which opens doors in your mind, which leads to opening more doors and now I can’t stop seeing opportunities everywhere!

    To me generating ideas isn’t my problem – as my rejections from 500 startups, Sequoia Capital and Techstars will attest, my issue is execution.
    So with that in mind and in the true spirit of collaboration, cooperation and helping each other out I’d like to float an idea relating to this podcast.

    The idea:

    Why don’t we build and develop a website ( based on these principles in order to provide one page cheat sheets on a myriad of skills that people might be interested in breaking down?
    Using the Slow-carb diet one pager as a guide we could delve into the body, relationships, health, work, investing, wine tasting, language learning, how to propose to your partner, better sex… the list is endless!

    We could even apply the 4 hour work week principles and outsource the research to find the weakest and strongest extremes in each skill and then get interviews done that answer the key questions like what are the biggest mistakes novices can make?

    I can also see add-ons like mini podcasts and instructional videos to round it out and we could either charge a couple of bucks to download a cheat sheet or offer a subscription service that gives full access to the site.

    How great would it be that a bunch of Tim Ferriss fans from around the globe (I’m in Australia) got together on a Tim Ferriss podcast and developed this to the point that it provided enough automated income to allow us to live our own 4 hour work weeks?

    Tim do you have any problems with this?

    Maybe I’m just blowing smoke out of my ass or maybe someone will pinch this idea all for themselves but if anyone is interested I’d love to see where it could go. Send me an email at if you’re interested.


  22. Thank you tim for your this,
    I’ve a question regarding this: Is this possible that getting the same results as we’re expecting after reading this post? people like me are weak in every class until someone give special attention.


  23. Great article Tim.

    I had a lot of trouble learning languages earlier on in my life, going through vocabulary books and learning tons of (what I found to be useless) phrases.

    Eventually I had a real need to learn the language and focused only on being functional enough to perform at the level that I thought was necessary. I changed my approach – and changed my material – to only that which helped me meet my goal instead of shooting for overall fluency.

    What a difference it made in the results. A few years later I’m fluent in three languages and in the process of learning a fourth!


  24. Hi Tim–I’m looking for all the resources/spreadsheets listed in The 4-Hour Workweek. Could you please provide a link to them? I can’t seem to find the information (or a way to log-in) on your current site.


  25. Hi Tim
    Kindly and respectfully, as a positive feedback:

    Can you please stop staying ‘without further ado’ ?

    Firstly, it’s a cliche, and you already use enough cliches and pop culture phrases etc. A real writer avoids these at all cost. You already need to work on that.

    And it’s just additional ‘ado’. It’s like you have an intro that’s ‘ado ado ado ado’ and we’re waiting waiting waiting to get into the meat of things and you add some more ‘ado’ by finally saying ‘without further ado’

    It’s barely bearable in the written form but especially the spoken form it’s superfluous, irritating and subtracts from the weight and value of what ever you are saying or writing

    You are allowed to have an intro and then START, just commence, just jump into it. It would add a refreshing spark to just START. Almost a moment of cognitive dissonance, because people always expect a host to crap on with filler, but if you just intro as briefly as possible and just BAM just jump into it the listener is briefly thrown and their attention is siezed
    It would start you on a high point instead of everyone being drained by all the filler, the filler is the opposite of stimulating

    Presently it’s just, ‘and here we are, and here we are, and now we are about to start, and now we are about to start, and now we are about to start – and just one more thing – now I’m finishing and we are starting’


  26. Hi Tim. Very interesting podcast – I’ve been able to apply these principles to lots of learning endeavors (pottery, painting, speaking). But slalom water skiing seems to break the rules. There is so little practice time in a day. The sport is so intense, even the top performers in the world can only practice about 3 minutes in a day (16 second pass – usually no more than 6-12 passes) And I’ve been picking the world class performer’s brains for years. The best learning curve I’ve seen for someone really good is 6-7 years. I can’t imagine someone becoming “world class” in less than 10 years – even for someone as fit as you. I wonder – have you tried it? Would love to see you apply the methods in this sport. (or maybe I’m just looking to prove why I haven’t been able to learn this at the rate I would like to!) Seriously – it would blow the sport wide open if the DSSS method worked even a little bit here…


  27. Tim, in this and other of your podcasts you often make reference to the 80/20 principle (attributed to Pareto?). For me, the 80/20 principle alone has dramatically transformed my life, so much so that I have taped it on my bulletin board as a constant reminder to focus on that 20% which yields 80% of results, or in the converse, that negative 20% that is causing 80% of problems.
    Thanks as always.
    Carl Kruse


  28. Been out of work, out of the loop, and revisited your page on putting a kindle book up. Trying to finish the tax paper for Amazon, have a short (really short) kids book designed and made, so thanks for that tutorial. But sheesh, I can’t for-the-life-of-me design a webpage. Mine looks like a retard designed it. What’s frustrating is I have taught myself to mix music over the last three years that I have been partially unemployed and sick, but website, I just can’t figure out. And mixing music with Ableton is really a B**** to learn.


  29. Hi everyone. The most sophisticated, complete, efficient and effective
    resource that exists for learning languages – any language – is the book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. It’s a methodology that uses the free flashcard software Anki. Gabriel has created language trainers for Anki that are optional, but extremely helpful, for a good many languages and are available for a minimal fee on his website. Or you can use his instructions to make your own, for free.
    His website is packed with free resources, and he’s a really humble, experienced and smart guy whom self taught about 5 languages to working fluency using this method, in about as many years.
    There’s a blog post written by him on this blog from exactly two years ago, that outlines every single step of his process – it’s a great read, see below:

    I bought Gabriels book and Benny Lewis book at the same time and I found Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner just covered everything, I flipped through Bennys book and never needed to pick it up for a second glance. It has some good ideas (expanded upon here and there in various places online) but his approach is more ‘how to survive and get by, and how to stay motivated’ rather than an actual comprehensive approach to working fluency. He doesn’t seem too interested in going deep. And Benny has some ideas that don’t really hold up – they are not particularly rigorous – and he doesn’t seem to give much, if any weight to reading and writing acquisition. Good on him and everything and yes he does have some good cognitive tips and tries to challenge the status quo on language learning, but after observation I am not sure he’s really as multi lingual as he likes to give himself credit for. It does appear he and Tim have some kind of financial agreement. although there is some kind of special language tips PDF Tim makes available care of Benny on this site, many of the links don’t work.
    Anyway, Fluent Forever really is an outstanding body of work, it’s really impressive. It’s also a very low price, which is remarkable for such a dense and cohesive and well articulated text. Apologies if this sounds like an advertisement – I am purely a fan!! – but am definitely surprised Tm doesn’t mention it here. Competition with Benny I suppose.


  30. Tim,
    I was a bit intrigued by your conclusion that what you study, trumps how you study. I get what you say but having seen/taught hundreds if not thousands of people learning languages by way of rote memorisation, translation, grammar study etc with by and large pretty woeful results, I had come to a different conclusion.

    The methods (how) referred to above are for the vast majority a one way ticket to giving up. However I can see that embedded in the above is also a “what” not just a “how”. So I have become aware of another level here, which in a way I knew but had not clearly articulated.

    I will suggest here that if we look for ways (how) that engage us (and that of course has an element of “what” in it) and keep us engaged then we will be led to the ‘what” we need! Too often I have seen learners get stuck on the “how” ( memorise/translate/study), not paying any attention to the affective signposts. So they try to power through boredom and turnoffs to success.
    These methods don’t sufficiently activate the skill parts of ourselves. They tend to create knowledge and understandings…not skills.

    Infants are incomparable learners for many reasons. One reason is that they gravitate towards things that interest them and engage them, and shy away things that bore them. We have been taught to ignore this touchstone by educational practices that emphasise the “what”. I think this is another criteria that gives another perspective on the “what” and “how” distinction.

    Could rattle on, but will stop here!🙂


  31. Hi Tim,
    I am planning on studying in Austria next fall, and have taken two semesters of German but I haven’t really retained very much. I would like to be fluent in German before I go, so what sort of training methods or resources would you recommend?



  32. Hi Tim great pod

    With regard to DiSSS for languages, could I trouble you for some examples or suggestions of how to apply this? I am learning Mandarin and am stuck in intermediate hell, I want to get out of repetitive classes to really make a breakthrough

    Many thanks



  33. Loved this episode, but it left me hanging on the basketball thing. “I started by emailing a bunch of interview questions the answers to which I will share with you in a moment.” If you shared those answers, I missed them. What were his answers?


  34. Hi Tim,

    I realise I am a bit late to the party, but I am playing catch-up on your podcasts. I know this might be a cheeky question, but if you had to apply the 80 20 rule to the works of Tim Ferris, what would you propose to be elements to make up that 20%?

    Cheers Tim,

    David, London (UK)