What Happens When an Agnostic Follows the Bible Literally for One Year?

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The prophetic AJ Jacobs, who wrote the inspiring “My Outsourced Life” for Esquire back in 2005, has gone prophetic.

A huge fan of radical lifestyle experiments, he has already read all 33,000 pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica, experimented with Radical Honesty for an article called “I Think You’re Fat”… even pretended to be his nanny online to try to find her a boyfriend.

Now he’s done the ultimate.

As an agnostic New Yorker, he attempted to follow every rule of the Bible literally for an entire year.

I read an advanced copy of his new book, The Year of Living Biblically, this past July, and it blew my mind. It is AMAZING. Now it’s finally out, and I’m allowed to talk about it. I learned more about religion in this book than in all previous books combined, and I laughed so hard I almost got kicked out of two airports. Here’s a Q&A with my friend AJ on his incredible experience:

You call yourself an “agnostic Jew” in the book. Why did you even decide to do this? What could the possible benefit be?

This was my most radical experiment yet. It affected everything I did: the way I ate, talked, dressed, thought, and touched my wife.

I did it because I wanted to see if I was missing anything. And I have to say, the benefits were huge. I’ve carried over a lot of thinking and behavior from my Year of Living Biblically. Even if you aren’t particularly religious (in fact, even if you’re a diehard atheist), I believe there are lessons to be learned from the Bible and a biblical lifestyle.

What was hardest for you?

Two types of rules were hardest for me. First, there was avoiding the sins we commit every day: no lying, no gossiping, no coveting. I’m a journalist in New York. That’s like 70 percent of my day.

The second type of difficult rules were those that will get you into trouble if you follow them in modern-day America. For instance, the Old Testament rule that you should stone adulterers. Luckily, I was able to stone one adulterer. I was in the park dressed in my biblical garb (white clothes, a beard, sandals, walking stick) and a man came up to me and asked why I was dressed so strangely. He seemed hostile right from the start. I explained to him my project. And he said “I’m an adulterer. Are you going to stone me?” I said, “That would be great.”

I took out a handful of pebbles, because the Bible never specifies the size of the stones. This man actually grabbed the stones from my hand and chucked them at my face. I felt I had the right to retaliate, so I tossed a pebble at him. And in that way I stoned.

Do you think many people are misguided in their “creed over deed” mentality?

[Note from Tim: "Creed over deed" refers to people who value religious belief more than moral behavior. "Deed over creed" would be the opposite.]

I wouldn’t say misguided. But I’d say most of us do underestimate the power that behavior has to shape thought.

It’s astounding. I watched it happen to myself. For instance, I forced myself to stop gossiping, and eventually I started to have fewer petty thoughts to gossip about. I forced myself to help the needy, and found myself becoming less self-absorbed. I never became Ghandi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some strides.

I even watched it happen with prayer. After a year of praying, I started to believe there’s something to the idea of sacredness. It was remarkable. So if you want to become someone different, just start acting like the person you want to be. It’s like that business motto “fake it till you make it,” but it works on a spiritual and ethical level as well.

Even with my wardrobe, I saw how the outer affects the inner. There’s a line in the Bible that says “your garments should always be white.” I decided to take that literally, and walked around in white clothes. It affected my mood. I felt happier, lighter. Clothes make the man. I felt I couldn’t be in a bad mood if I looked like I was about to play the semi-finals at Wimbledon.


What were some of the greatest benefits of following rules to the letter, and what are the things that have stuck with you since ending the experiment?

It was fascinating. I’d always loved freedom of choice. It’s why I went to a loosey-goosey liberal arts college with no core requirements. But this experiment was all about freedom FROM choice. Or at least a minimal-choice lifestyle. I had a set structure: Should I read the gossip magazine about Cameron Diaz’s latest sex romp? No. Should I give 10 percent of my money to the needy? Yes. Should I turn off my email on the Sabbath (as both the Bible and Tim Ferriss recommend)? Yes.

In fact, there was something Ferriss-esque about the entire way of living. It reminded me of your low-information diet, for instance. In some ways, it was a huge time-saver.


What would you call yourself now?

I’d call myself a “reverent agnostic.” Whether or not there is a God, I believe there’s something to the idea of sacredness. Rituals can be sacred. The Sabbath can be sacred. And there’s an importance to that.

I’d also say that I’m a fan of cafeteria spirituality. During my experiment, I learned that you cannot follow the entire Bible. It’s impossible. You must pick and choose. Everyone does it, whether they admit it or not. Otherwise, we’d end up stoning adulterers on the street.

Some call this “cafeteria religion,” and it’s meant as a disparaging phrase. But I say: There is nothing wrong with cafeterias! I’ve had some great meals at cafeterias. I’ve also had some turkey tetrazzini that made me dry heave. The key is to chose the right dishes, the ones about compassion and tolerance, and leave the ones about hatred and intolerance on the side. So in my year, there was this amazing balance between choosing your religion, which then leads to fewer decisions on a daily basis.

And finally, I’d call myself a reformed individualist. I still see the value of individualism, but I’ve taken it down a few notches. As one of my spiritual advisers told me, you can look at life in one of two ways: As a series of rights and entitlements, or as a series of responsibilities. The biblical way is to look at it as a series of responsibilities, to your family and to your society. It’s like the JFK quote, ask not what your country (or world) can do for you, ask what you can do for your country (or world).

What was the hardest for your wife to put up with?

Well, my wife’s a saint. At one point, I built a biblical hut in our living room, and she didn’t appreciate the construction project in our apartment. Also, the Bible says not to touch women during that time of the month. Even more strictly, though, it says you shouldn’t sit in a seat where an “impure” woman has sat. My wife didn’t like that, so in retaliation, she sat on every seat in our apartment. I was forced to do a lot of standing that year.

Do yourself a favor, whether you’re a bible beater or a beret-wearing atheist, and go get AJ’s book. I put more notes in this book than any book in recent memory.

IMPORTANT:

And remember, you don’t need to be religious to “tithe” like AJ. In fact, you can change the world from your keyboard right now and help me build this school in Nepal for hundreds of children. The top 10 donors (you can donate more than once) get the school dedicated to them on a plaque at the door, and we can all go visit it within a year. Everest base camp, anyone? Here is a glimpse of the wonder that is Nepal if you need a few reasons or want to start planning.

For those of you keeping track, this blog has already successfully funded a school in Vietnam this month, and I’m planning on visiting it in 2008. Life is short and you are fortunate — give hard!

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ODDS AND ENDS:

-Exclusive 90-Minute Marketing and PR Teleconference with Tim Ferriss:

I will be offering an exclusive 90-minute teleconference (date to be mid- or end of November) to discuss marketing and PR in the web 2.0 and social media era. This will be a one-time event and the cost is $125, with all registration money going to LitLiberation and helping US public school students. Line space is very limited, as we will be taking questions at the end, so I encourage you to sign up now before we cut off registration. To sign up for this one-time event, please go to PayPal.com (you can use your credit cards to pay) and send $125 to timothy-at-brainquicken.com. We might increase the price as space gets limited. Call-in info will come via e-mail in the first week of November, and we’ll post a “FULL” notice on this post when we cut off registration. I cannot tell you the exact date of the call, but if you pay and then cannot attend, I will simply refund you in full — no worries.

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The Top 5 Uncommon Timesavers for Bloggers/Writers (Plus: Video of Me Kissing a Hairy "Coo")

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Greetings from a jazz bar in Sardinia, Italy! If you’d like to see what I pack when I also hit cold weather like the pelting rain of Scotland — while still keeping it under 20 lbs. — check out my recent post on Gadling here.

The Monica grape wine here is excellent and a new taste for me. In the spirit of trying new things, I wanted to share a few tips for the would-be bloggers/writers out there (that’s you at some point). Here are five timesavers to save you grief and suffering:

1. Decide how you’re measuring success before writing a post. What’s your metric? Form follows function.

Is it Technorati rank? Then focus on crafting 1-2-sentence bolded sound bites in the text that encourage quoting. Quotes can be just as important as content. Alexa or other traffic rank? Focus on making the headline and how-to appeal to tech-oriented readers on Digg, Reddit, etc. Number of comments? Make the topic either controversial or universal and end with a question that asks for opinions (slightly more effective than asking for experiences).

2. Post less to be read more.

No matter how good your material is, too much of it can cause feed-overwhelm and unsubscribes. Based on input from close to a dozen top bloggers I’ve interviewed, it takes an average of three days for a new post to propagate well in the blogosphere. If you write too often, pushing down the previous post and its visibility, you decrease the reach of each post, run the risk of increasing unsubscribes, and create more work for yourself. Test posting 2-4 times per week — my preference is two — and don’t feel compelled to keep up with the frequency “you have to post three times before lunch” Joneses. Quality, not quantity, is what spreads.

3. Define the lead and close, then fill it in.

This is a habit I picked up from John McPhee, a master of writing structure and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. Decide on your first or last sentence/question/scene, then fill in the rest. If you can’t decide on the lead, start with the close and work backwards.

A good formula for the lead, which I learned from a Wired writer, is: first sentence or paragraph is a question or situation involving a specific person, potentially including a quote; second paragraph is the “nutgraph,” where you explain the trend or topic of the post, perhaps including a statistic, then close the paragraph explaining what you’ll teach (the “nut”) the reader if they finish the post.

4. Think in lists, even if the post isn’t a list.

Separate brainstorming (idea generation) from synthesis (putting it all into a flowing post). I generally note down 10-15 potential points for a post between 10-10:30am with a double espresso, select 4-5 I like and put them in a tentative order from 10:30-10:45am, then I’ll let them marinate until 12am-4am, when I’ll drink yerba mate tea, craft a few examples to match the points, then start composing. It’s important to identify your ideal circadian schedule and pre-writing warm-up for consistent and reliable results.

5. The best posts are often right in front of you… or the ones you avoid.

Fear is the enemy of creativity. If a good serious post just isn’t coming, consider trying the obvious or ridiculous. Obvious to you is often revelatory for someone else, so don’t think a “Basic Confused Terms of Blogging” or similar return to basics would insult your readers. Failing a post on something you take for granted, go for lighthearted. Is this self-indulgent? So what if it is? It might just give your readers the respite from serious thinking they secretly crave. If not, it will at least give them an excuse to comment and get engaged. Two weeks ago at 3am, I was anxious because the words just wouldn’t flow for a ground-breaking post I wanted to finish. To relax, I took a 3-minute video of me doing a few pen tricks and uploaded it as a joke. What happened? It promptly hit the Digg frontpage the next morning and was viewed by more than 120,000 people within 24 hours. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t cater to readers who have no sense of humor. If blogging can’t be fun at least some of the time, it isn’t worth doing.

[Originally posted late last week at Problogger.net]

If you didn’t like this post, perhaps you’ll like this video of me kissing a hairy “coo” in the Scottish highlands:

Most Popular Posts on this Blog:

How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise
From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks
Relax Like A Pro: 5 Steps to Hacking Your Sleep
How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)
The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)
How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again
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The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now

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This is how the world felt before Crackberries. (LeoLuigi)

“Not-to-do” lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance.

The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.

Here are nine stressful and common habits that entrepreneurs and office workers should strive to eliminate. The bullets are followed by more detailed descriptions. Focus on one or two at a time, just as you would with high-priority to-do items. I’ve worded them in no-to-do action form:

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
Feel free to surprise others, but don’t be surprised. It just results in unwanted interruption and poor negotiating position. Let it go to voicemail, and consider using a service like GrandCentral (you can listen to people leaving voicemail) or Simulscribe (receive voicemails as e-mail).

2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
The former scrambles your priorities and plans for the day, and the latter just gives you insomnia. E-mail can wait until 10am, after you’ve completed at least one of your critical to-do items… Read More

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The 7 Commandments of Blogosphere (and Life) Self-Defense

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I learned self-defense early (Tim, first grade)

I love and hate blogs. One minute I feel like David Weinberger and the next I feel like Andrew Keen.

The beauty of blogs: they give every genius a voice. The beast: they give every idiot a voice.
To be fair, most of us are neither pure geniuses nor idiots but seem to alternate between the two. I get stuck in idiot mode at least 60% of the time and don’t realize it 99% of the time.

So the question of blog self-defense isn’t just “how do we defend ourselves against full-time idiots?” but also “how do we defend ourselves against part-time idiots who are probably cool most of the time but woke up on the wrong/stupid side of the bed this morning?”

“Defend ourselves against what?” you ask? Here is a glowing fan e-mail I received one week ago:

[Your sport] shows that you are a hypocrite to profess helping others with your book. You are showing a grave example of the White horseman to our children. Shame on you. Shame on you… Shame. And Wickedness… It is the most evil war on earth, the one for blood spectacle for those who would entertain by whoring themselves prostituting violence to those who seek and lust to watch inhumanity. You are an evil one who has gained the world and lost your soul.

Was this in response to my how-to article on clubbing baby seals? My “Top 10 Places for Tripping Blind Old Ladies” post? No, ma’am…

It was in response to my post aimed at helping the non-profit Donorschoose raise funding for public school teachers. I mentioned my background in collegiate wrestling (and elsewhere mixed-martial arts training), a controlled contact sport between consenting participants. This reader has since sent me more than a dozen increasingly threatening e-mails (BTW, save all of these types of e-mail for law enforcement, if later needed). I suspect that threatening me into embracing the peace teachings of Christ isn’t what good Christians do. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a sin somewhere. For shame! Shame on you! Shame!

One female career blogger I know laughed when I lamented about these attacks. She gets an average of one death threat and one sex request per week… and she’s trying to help people build more fulfilling careers! How dare she! Shame. And Wickedness.

Why do people attack others trying to do good things? I can only come up with two theories:

1. There are two ways to increase perceived self-worth: elevate yourself or cut down others. The latter takes less time. It’s a case of “the worse you look, the better I feel about myself” and a short-lived high.

2. Empowering others involves removing external excuses for inaction. This is threatening to those who would rather complain than take action to improve their circumstances. Their alternative solution is thus 1 above: attack the messenger instead of the message (referred to in logic as an ad hominem attack).

Here are the 7 commandments of blogosphere self-defense that I’ve found to work.

Most of them are adapted from my time as a bouncer, which was one of several jobs I had to help cover expenses at Princeton. I weighed about 175 pounds and the other bouncers were all between 220-275, which meant that every drunk wanted to fight me. There were five of us who were paid twice as much as other bouncers because we never had to throw a single punch. Here are a few of the rules I used, adapted here for social media:

1. The only way to win a fight is to avoid it.
2. Focus on getting your desired outcome, not on being right.
3. If a fight is inevitable, strike first.
4. To diffuse a fight, admit mistakes and validate others’ feelings.
5. If a group fight is unavoidable, take out the leader.
6. Remove anonymity.
7. There is strength in numbers. Never fight alone unless you have to.

Here is how I adapted them to social media:

1. The only way to win a fight is to avoid it.

No one ever “wins” a fight. There is an emotional cost even for the victor in an argument, and certainly in a physical altercation. It is not possible to win a logical argument with an illogical person, so don’t bother. Your attempts will just fuel the fire and cause the situation to escalate, encouraging them and draining you. The best response is often no response, unless they are recruiting more formidable attackers and becoming a leader. This is covered separately.

I could spend all day every day responding to attacks from critics who have never read the book. It would be a waste of my life and I would get nothing important done. I even told my agent in the beginning — as he forwarded me every Google Alert for my name, including the negative — “Unless it’s something I absolutely need to respond to, please don’t send me the negative stuff. I need my enthusiasm and confidence right now for the bigger picture, and reading cheap shots just slows me down.”

Ignore idiots whenever possible. You do it offline all the time, so why not online?

2. Focus on getting your desired outcome, not on being right.

Fix the problem, not the person. Being effective doesn’t require being nasty. One reader posted a comment on the blog calling me a fraud for not allowing him to access the “so-called” bonuses on the reader-only section. This was immediately followed by “If your moderator does not post my comment, I will post it on several sites that discuss fraud.” Both comments were approved, and I responded with the following:

Dear [no need for names, right?],

I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had some trouble. Are you referring to the reader-only section on http://www.fourhourworkweek.com? We’ve worked really hard — there is a team of four or so who work on the site — to add even more extras than are listed in the book. We are really proud to have less than a 1% inquiry rate from those who attempt to register, but sometimes things do pop up, like glitches related to Firefox 2, spam filters for Earthlink/AOL, etc. We also sometimes take down a bonus to add to it or make improvements. More are on the way.

I apologize if you ran into problems and promise that my tech team is really doing their best. They respond to at least 98% of our tech-related e-mails in 18 hours or so, and we’ve made repeated improvements to the registration area based on user feedback.

In all cases, I can’t stop you from putting us on fraud sites, but I’d ask you not to, as there is no fraud here. Please take a second to give it another shot at http://xxxxx.html and email Steve at guru-at-fourhourworkweek-dot-com if you still have problems. We’re really doing our best. Alex and others may also be able to help.

Cheers,
Tim

So, what was the problem? The lead of my tech team spent close to five hours with him, and it was an issue with how he had ZoneAlarm firewall configured on his computer. He thanked the team profusely via phone and said he would post a retraction on the blog. It never came, but the accusations ended. Problem solved. Focus on outcomes, not on being right.

3. If a fight is inevitable, strike first.

If someone is lining up to punch you, there are clear warning signs that a strike is coming. If it’s inevitable, you pre-empt the attack with a loud verbal interruption or you subdue them (for you aspiring bouncers, finger locks work well) so no one gets seriously injured. Knowing that I would be the lightest bouncer on staff at all of the clubs, I fully expected that the drunkest athletes would aim for me at around 1:30am.

The solution? Invite a few of the biggest football players to judo practice for a few consecutive weeks–I was the president of the club–and toss them around or choke them. Word spreads fast and problem solved.

In the case of the book launch, I knew that most people would find my bio unbelievable and aim for personal attacks. To pre-empt this, I put video documentation on the site of the USAWKF kickboxing (sanshou) national championships in 1999, the tango world championships, breakdancing, etc. It didn’t stop people from claiming I was a liar, but those who did due diligence were satisfied. Predict the objections and accusations and pre-empt them.

4. To diffuse a fight, admit mistakes and validate others’ feelings.

and

5. If a group fight is unavoidable, take out the leader.

As a bouncer, you follow the rules of the club and allow in who they want to allow in. This, as you might imagine, produces all sorts of anger in people who are turned away. Simply saying “I don’t make the rules” doesn’t appease anyone, but pointing out that “I would feel the same way, and I hate doing this, but these are the rules I need to follow to keep this job” helps them to empathize and averts most disaster. Emotions run high at the door, so apologizing for an overly aggressive comment also goes miles.

On June 14th, a reader (thank you, Scott!) pointed out a mistaken attribution for the “slow dance” poem featured towards the end of my book. I had hired an intern to double-check the source on this specific reference, but she missed what Scott found. Mistakes happen. I immediately contacted the original author and made the correction that same week for the next printing. Here it is:

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On the 15th, Robert Scoble e-mailed me about someone–let’s call him NBTD (“Nothing Better To Do”)–attacking me all over the web, who was now trolling on Robert’s blog.

Group fights are dangerous. There is a mob intoxication that can drive normal people to attack without good reason. One of my fellow bouncers, a physics graduate student and former amateur middleweight boxing champion of the USSR (this is a world-class accomplishment), had his head kicked in by a group of four shot putters from Princeton and nearby Rutgers. Based on his account, one of them was clearly the leader who incited the rest of a hesitant group to do the unthinkable.

It is near impossible to defeat multiple opponents. The good news is that you don’t have to. If you cut off the head of the group–the leader–in full view, the rest usually regain their sanity or lose their mob-induced balls. I once faced a similar situation with athletes at the door of a club, and as soon as I saw it escalating with one clear alpha-male leader who squared off, I hit him with ippon seoi-nage onto the grass. He just had the wind knocked out of him, but it was so decisive in appearance that the rest of the group dispersed.

NBTD was clearly becoming a potential leader, and I soon saw the extent of his slander all over, but I chose to respond on Robert’s blog because it has the most exposure. Here is part of my response:

I appreciate the skepticism, as I realize that my bio seems unbelievable. I’m a skeptic myself and would probably respond the same way.

I’ll address both of your points here, as I’ve only now come to realize how many places you’ve posted the same criticisms/comments. I would have replied sooner but have been on the road.

I made the attribution of the poem on p. 284 based on the legitimacy of the source of the e-mail — a close friend and doctor. I only just became aware of its use in chain e-mail thanks to a heads up from one of my readers (thank you, Scott), and this will be immediately corrected in the next printing. No fraud involved. I have nothing to gain from making inaccurate attributions other than headache.

For the fighting, please the multimedia section of my site. There is video footage — and has been since the site launched — of me winning the national sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) nationals at 165 lbs. In 1999 in Maryland. I also have a feature article with a photo of me fighting in the May 2007 issue of Fortune Small Business (FSB). I have a black belt in judo from the Kodokan in Tokyo, Japan, where I competed from 1992-1993. I have also trained at Brazilian Top Team (Rio) (photos on Flickr), Norwegian Top Team with Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen (Oslo), Takada Dojo (Tokyo), Kiguchi Dojo (Tokyo, where Takanori Gomi trains), Enson Inoue’s Purebred (Omiya, Japan), Yuki Nakai’s Paraestra (Tokyo), and Fairtex Muay Thai in Bangplee, Thailand (one of my Muay Thai knockouts — knee to the liver — is also on the fight video on my site), among others. I now train with some of best in the world of MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at http://www.akakickbox.com. Drop in anytime to see me in action.

I hope this clears things up. Robert, I sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by my delay in responding.

Have a great weekend to all,
Tim Ferriss

P.S. [NBTD], I’d sincerely appreciate it if you could hold a ceasefire on the assault. I am not a fraud. I’m just a first-time author doing his best to spread ideas that might benefit a few people.

Did it end all of his attacks? Of course not. But it allowed me to prevent an unfounded en masse attack. More people also came out to ask him to stop his one-man war. That’s the best you can do against those who have NBTD.

6. Remove anonymity.

Anonymity breeds what I call coward courage. For that reason, if someone was about to start a fight with me as a bouncer, I would always oddly stare at their face for about 10 seconds without saying anything at first. “What the $#%& are you doing?” they’d ask, to which I would reply, “I’m memorizing your face so we can call the police and press assault charges if you do anything you’ll regret.” Oh. That drops the testosterone right quick. Be stupid and you’ll face consequences.

In the world of blogs, pointing out that you have IP addresses often silences the courageous cowards. If it doesn’t, silence them with deletion or banning. I never publish comments without real e-mail addresses, and I have no problem with deleting and banning users. I treat my blog like a gathering in my home. Polite and productive debate is great, but I have no time for rude people in my living room. I set the rules–spit acid and nonsense somewhere else. Allowing BS on your blog is a disservice to your readers, in my opinion, and it reinforces the type of behavior that does nothing but breed more idiots.

7. There is strength in numbers. Never fight alone unless you have to.

Don’t fight alone unless you have to. Take a breath and see if the community will correct the attacker. If you give it even 24 hours, this happens more often than you might think. Even in the tsunami of misinformation (and disinformation) that is the Internet, the facts sometimes win.

Here are a few goodies I’ve mentioned elsewhere that were strategically missed for these entries:

-I gave out well over 300 advanced copies of the book. Close to 200 were given to SXSW attendees alone. The fact that there were more than 15 five-star reviews the day debuted on Amazon is not strange at all. It is a reflection of A) the sheer number of advanced copies sent out, B) the content, and C) the fact that I encouraged people who e-mailed me about the book pre-publication to post on Amazon when it went live. Few people spend much time reviewing on Amazon, so I can understand how some NBTDs would turn it into the JFK conspiracy, but the numbers alone explain how this happened.

-The body composition changes and muscle gain I talk about on the blog (what does that even have to do with the book?) were measured at San Jose State University using hydrostatic weighing and circumference measurements, combined with measurements from the Brooks Brothers tailor at Santana Row in San Jose, CA.

-I was national champion at 165 lbs. in the 1999 USAWKF sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) championships. I was cornered by Jason Yee of Boston Sanda and hundreds of people watched it unfold. I was nicknamed “sumo”–which was chanted from the stands–for my unorthodox style of throwing or pushing people off the platform to win by default. The African-American I competed against in the kickboxing video here was the silver medalist. Here’s a recent e-mail from one of the coaches, Josh Bartholomew, at Boston Sanda, who videotaped the whole spectacle:

You mean the tournament where you weighed in at 165 and fought at 180. The guy at the scale said that if he put one drop of water on you, you would have been too heavy. You won all of your fights on push outs. You had three or four fights — I have them all on tape. I could probably put them on a DVD for you. Dude I have a memory like a steal trap. I can tell you a great deal more about that event if you want. -Josh

Thanks, Josh! And, no, I don’t want to spar.


After winning the 1999 finals — bowing to the judges.

-Chinese TV? Here is an advertisement I appeared in for one show. I am one of the FBI agents, second from the left, behind the casket (looking very serious and sad). This was filmed in the Bay Area, Daly City, if I remember correctly:

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Of course, you can’t win them all. You can’t prove everything to everyone.

When all else fails, just remember what Maryam Scoble once told me: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Word.

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3 Bibles for Developing Clear Thinking and Problem Solving (Plus: Get an Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!)

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I have this on my refrigerator

Feeling overwhelmed? Chances are that, after looking everywhere else, unclear or cluttered thinking is the root problem.

Have you defined your desired outcome and eliminated the extraneous? Removed all of the busy but non-mission-critical activities that consume attention?

Business books and consultants often skip the fundamental shift we need most often: better mental software. Cut out the bugs and upgrade your machine with these three blueprints, listed in the order I recommend reading them:

Simple & Direct
by Jacques Barzun
(288 pages)

It is hard to improve thinking. It is near impossible to remember and review after-the-fact. Practicing writing (thinking frozen in time) is the best way to refine thinking and upgrade your present awareness. Barzun’s stated goal in this book is “to resensitize the mind to words.” His refrain, which applies as much to self-talk as it does to communicating with others, is: do not use a word unless you know both its meaning and its connotations. Great advice and a great book.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
by William K. Zinsser
(336 pages)

I have read this book more than a dozen times, more often for thinking than for writing. It is a hysterical read and a great example of what it teaches: how to cut all clutter and keep your communication and thinking crystal clear. If you think you think and write well, read this book at least once. It’s like going from a tricycle to a ten-speed.

The Elements of Style
by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
(128 pages)

This is the de facto nuts-and-bolts desk reference for all writers and thinkers alike. There is a refreshing artistry to its bluntness… and brevity. I also love that the New York Times can sum it up and violate its rules at the same time with “Buy it, study it, enjoy it. It’s as timeless as a book can be in our age of volubility.” Volubility? E.B. would have slapped them.

Get the Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!

This list was in the original manuscript for The 4-Hour Workweek, but it was removed — along with bonus chapters and some awesome case studies — due to space constraints.

Would you like to have 1 of the 8 remaining original manuscripts in the world? This was an early version sent to about 15 people for advanced praise quotes, and even the cover is different.

I’m offering it on eBay now, and I’ll return the full sales price to the winner (minus eBay fees) in the form of a gift certificate to DonorsChoose, the educational non-profit I’m addicted to.

I will also write a personal note on the manuscript and give you 30 minutes on the phone to discuss or ask anything you want. Since I don’t do private coaching and my usual speaking fee is $15,000-25,000 per hour, this is a rare offer.

If you’re a fan of 4HWW, this is the ultimate collector’s item for an unbeatable cause. Check out the bidding here!

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The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now

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trady1.jpg
Is this what your thinking looks like?
[Thanks for the Japanese vending machine, Woesinger!]

Words are thoughts.

The better we choose our words, the more we hone our thinking machine, and just like software, it’s a case of GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Thinking hard is pointless if we don’t use the right tools.

Think and speak with precision. Less is often more. Here are 10 common words I have observed to cause stress, depression, and conflict due to their vagueness. All of them are overused to the point of being meaningless. The solution? Stop using them and find more descriptive alternatives. I recommend focusing on removing one or two each week, even if just as an exercise.

In no particular order… Read More

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Paris Hilton Killing Me Softly: How Mass Media Passes Off Crap as News… (plus Learning Annex, 4-Hour Frauds, and More)

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Drew Curtis is the CEO of Fark.com and one cool dude. Not only did he introduce me to horseracing and Woodford Reserve four-grain bourbon, but he is — in my opinion — the most brilliant media observer and trend identifier in the US. No joke. On top of that, one thing was glaringly obvious when I crashed on his couch just outside of Louisville: he is happy ALL THE TIME. This is highly relevant to the advice he gives here in our little Q&A:

1. What is “news” now vs. in the 50s? If different, why?

There were certain things that respectable journalists wouldn’t write about in the 50s. For example, JFK managed to keep his affairs under wraps even though most of the white house press corps knew about it. They refused to write stories on it because it wasn’t respectable. Not that it’s a great ideas to have affairs or anything, but at least there were standards. Those are being slowly whittled away. When Saddam was hung, illicit camera phone footage ran on every major network for three days. We’ve crossed the snuff film barrier; all we have left is hardcore pornography as a limit to what media won’t portray.

2. Which media patterns do you find most annoying, and which media patterns do you think are the most dangerous without being obviously so?

Equal Time for Nutjobs. It’s all funny when you talk about people not believing in moon landings, or who think an alien crash-landed in Texas in
1897, or who believe that there was once an ancient mediterranean civilization in Florida. It’s another thing entirely when people start to believe that denying the holocaust is a valid opinion.

3. If you had to limit your information intake to less than 30 minutes a day (excluding email), what would you consume/read/watch?

Nothing. I’d wait until my friends asked me “did you see that?” and then say “no, why do you ask?” and see if their response is interesting. You can always catch up later. Oftentimes when news breaks it’s hours or days before anyone knows what actually happened. Wait until next week for the summary if it’s that important.

4. What was the specific incident or realization that inspired you to write this book?

Initially, I noticed that a story about German condom sizes being too large would reappear occasionally. Then I noticed other stories that
re-appeared on a regular basis, like Seasonal Articles that come out every year (“There Will Be Traffic on the 4th of July”, “People Procrastinate When Filing Their Taxes”, and the inevitable combo article of “Where To Get Your Halloween Candy X-Rayed — By the Way, It’s a Hoax”

Then I noticed other patterns like Media Fearmongering, Out of Context Celebrity Comment, and so on. But the kicker was noticing that when
actual news does occur, all of these types of stories vanish completely. Until the event ends, and then media returns to its old ways

5. What advice would you give to someone who feels guilty if they’re not keeping up with the latest “news”?

Take two weeks off. Don’t watch any news, don’t read any news, don’t listen to any radio talk shows. Then tune back in. Did you miss
anything? Nope. It’s the same old crap, different days. That’s what I’m talking about in my book — the media patterns that are used to fill space. It’s 95% or more of the content of any given news show.

For you low-information diet aficionados out there, as well as anyone who wants a snort-milk-through-your-nose funny read, go grab a copy of Drew’s awesome (he has blurbs from Stephen King and CNN producers) new book, It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News. It rocks.

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Other Updates and Tidbits — Learning Annex Canceled, New 4HWW Tools from Readers, and 4-Hour Frauds

All Learning Annex appearances scheduled for this week (LA, San Diego, SF) have been canceled.
Because of an unfortunate scheduling mishap, I will not be appearing at the Learning Annex locations in LA, San Diego, and SF this week. My sincerest apologies. This was due to factors outside of my control, and I would like to offer all of you who prepaid for the Learning Annex free entrance to my next speaking engagement where this is possible. Please keep your e-mail receipts!

Finally — a beautiful Excel spreadsheet for Dreamlining!
I owe a special thanks to Jared Goralnick and SET Consulting for putting together a beautiful free spreadsheet that all readers can use for automatic Dreamlining. Download it here and be sure to read the instructions. Too cool. Thanks, Jared!

4-Hour frauds: request for leads and invitation to stop.
It appears that there are a number of people running around offering “4-Hour Workweek” seminars and claiming to be affiliated with me (thanks for the heads up, Shawn). I have no products or seminars related to the book, so this is complete falsehood. If anyone has any information related to anyone doing this, please email it to amy @ fourhourworkweek.com. It has also come to my attention that a number of individuals are using the 4HWW content and trademarks to sell derivative products, primarily online (even linking from my forums!). This includes using the 4HWW trademarks in GoogleAdwords ads and text.

To those of you selling these seminars and products, and using the trademarks for commercial purposes, I invite you to stop. It’ll be about a week before I revisit this to see if it’s continuing. I hate lawyers and all of that, but misrepresentation and federal trademark violation is serious business with serious punishments. I’m sure some of you were unaware that what you are doing is illegal, but now you know: please stop.

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