Tim Ferriss, best known as the author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” has built a career around dissecting the techniques of the world’s elite performers and packaging them in a way anyone can use.
He’s worked with experts to learn Brazlian Jiu-Jitsu, how to race a rally car, and how to become conversational in a language in just three months.
The skill he’s most proud of learning, however, is long-distance swimming, Ferriss tells Business Insider.
In 2008, at the age of 31, he not only overcame a lifelong fear of drowning, but became a practiced swimmer.
With the right teacher, in about a week he went from not being able to swim to swimming 40 laps at a time. A few months later, he could swim a mile in open water.
He says the experience was “mind-blowing” and changed his perspective on how skills could be learned. It forced him to ask himself, “If I thought this was impossible, what other things do I think are impossible that are completely achievable?”
In an episode of his show “The Tim Ferriss Experiment,” newly launched in full on iTunes, Ferriss helps one of his readers, Sarah Fryer, learn how to swim.
He recruits Terry Laughlin, the man whose book and DVD on “Total Immersion” swimming got Ferriss to overcome his fears by making the process gradual and intuitive.
Ferriss breaks down the three elements of how Fryer became a capable freestyle swimmer in just several days:
- Sequencing: There must be a logical progression of skills learned. Fryer learns how to become comfortable moving in the water before she can learn to breathe mid-stroke.
- Eliminating Failure: Avoid “skills or drills that are known to make novices quit,” Ferriss says. For swimming, that means saving breathing for last and not placing too much importance on kicking, two elements that can easily lead to novice swimmers working themselves into a panic.
- Engineering Success: The best way to learn something is by giving yourself early wins. “You need successes right off the bat to overcome fear and insecurity,” Ferriss says. It’s why Laughlin has his students learn how to break stride and roll onto their backs for a breath of air, so that they can continue practicing technique without letting the difficulty of learning to breathe properly hamper their progress.
Laughlin’s Total Immersion technique gave Ferriss a tangible example of how something frighteningly difficult can be broken into small parts that when mastered in sequence lead to success.The approach can be adjusted to learn any skill.
As Ferriss explains to Fryer, though, it’s important to note that the learning curve isn’t a straight line; it’s full of ups and downs.
After five days, Ferriss and Laughlin were able to get Fryer swimming in the open ocean for 30 or 40 strokes without breaking stride.
Ferriss says it’s proof that he’s not “an incredible mutant,” but is “finding recipes that anybody can use.”
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