How Tim Ferriss Learned to ‘Feel like Superman’
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on May 7th, 2013

Tim Ferriss has gained worldwide renown as an expert on how to master a variety of skills very quickly, by finding shortcuts and avoiding what he calls ‘failure points’ that hamstring the average person. In his first book, The Four Hour Workweek, he explained how to escape the 9-5 grind and enjoy more personal freedom by ‘hacking’ the world of work. His blog of the same name expanded from work to ‘Lifestyle Design.’  His followup book, The Four Hour Body was filled with what he called ‘body hacks’ – shortcuts to losing fat, gaining strength and a whole range of others. He included a chapter devoted to TI.

I ordered Tim’s most recent book The Four Hour Chef the day it was released five months ago. Partly because I’m an avid cook. Preparing and eating good food closely follows swimming among my enthusiasms.

And partly because my curiosity was piqued by the subtitle The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, LEARNING ANYTHING [both caps and much larger font size on the cover] and Living the Good Life. For over a dozen years, we’ve given equal emphasis to teaching the behaviors and mindsets of expertise and mastery as to teaching skillful swimming.

As soon as the book arrived, I leafed through it and, as I related in the blog  META-Learning: Who Would You Rather Have As A Teacher–Phelps or Shinji? was surprised to find on p. 31 a familiar picture—a screen shot of TI Coach Shinji Takeuchi’s #1-ranked youtube video, above a screenshot of Michael Phelps’s #2 rated video.

How to Learn ANYTHING

The book’s first section is a guide to what Tim calls Meta-Learning – greatly accelerating the process for learning nearly anything by uncovering clever shortcuts and avoiding failure points that impede and dishearten most people. That Shinji who only took up swimming at 37, gained more followers on youtube than Michael Phelps, who began swimming at 7, makes him a great example of Meta-Learning.

Tim invited those who were eager to begin cooking to skip ahead to the next section where he begins to present cooking skills. I took him up on it after writing the blog about Shinji. Yesterday I returned to the Meta-Learning section to read it in full.

And again, to my great surprise, on p. 62 I found this series of five pictures of me, taken from screen shots in the TI DVD Self Coached Workshop: Perpetual Motion Freestyle in 10 Lessons.

Terry from 4HC

Accompanying it was text, in which Tim extolled TI as an example of a Meta-Learning program – and this section explaining how learning to swim with the help of a TI DVD made him feel like Superman. Here’s the excerpt:

Despite having grown up five minutes from the beach, I could never swim more than two laps in a pool. This was a lifelong embarrassment until I turned 31, when two catalysts changed everything.

At the end of January 2008, a friend issued me a New Year’s resolution challenge: he would go the rest of 2008 without coffee or stimulants if I trained and finished an open-water 1-km swim during the year.

Months after this handshake agreement, after many failed swimming lessons and on the cusp of conceding defeat, a former non-swimmer Chris Sacca, introduced me to TI.

Total Immersion offered one thing no other swimming method had: a well-designed progression.

Each step built upon the previous and eliminated the usual failure points—like kickboards.

The first sessions including drills like pushing off in shallow water and gliding for 5 yards or so, at which point you simply stood up. Practicing breathing came much, much later. Learners of TI, by design, dodge that panic-inducing bullet when they most need to: in the beginning. The TI progression won’t allow you to fail in the early stages.  There is no stress.

The skills are layered, one-by-one, until you can swim on autopilot. “

[Summarizing the next part: Tim cut drag by 50% in his first self-coached practice and had more than doubled the distance he traveled on each stroke by his fourth. Within 10 days he’d increased the distance he could swim nonstop from 40 yards to 400. Note: A 1000% increase! In 10 days!]

Several months later, at my childhood beach, I calmly walked into the ocean, well past my former fear-of-death distance and effortlessly swam over a mile—roughly 1.8 km—parallel to shore. I only stopped because I’d passed my distance landmark, a beachfront house. I felt no fatigue, panic, fear—nothing but the electricity of doing something I’d thought impossible.

I felt like Superman.

And here’s Tim telling the same story at a TED Conference

[youtuber youtube=’’]

More posts about Tim Ferriss, TI and Meta-Learning

How Tim Ferriss Learned to Swim in 10 Days

Could Tim Ferriss turn The Situation on to Swimming?

How to Build World Class Muscle Memory

META-Learning: Who Would You Rather Have As A Teacher–Phelps or Shinji?

7 Responses to “How Tim Ferriss Learned to ‘Feel like Superman’”

  1. Patrick Quinn says:

    Beautiful thinking. He was clearer on swimming than the others ( thanks to Terry?). I could not understand exactly what was on the Japanese character board. I looked to me like a series of dots, rather than characters. Did anyone else get it?

  2. Mark says:

    Photos C&D seem strange from my TI DVDs. The Right entry arm shown is ~ 90 degrees, not 45 degrees, which would present drag rather than arm extension out front. Then the text in D “the left [leading] hand travels back under the body simultaneously [with what? and how is the extension like the Left arm in A is achieved?]

    This is a very strange sequence to show Terry. Please detail the correct sequence of whole-body movements.

  3. Norma says:

    My name is Norma Lee and i’m 70 years old.
    I have been swimming for four years, once or twice with a coach. I learned freestyle, backstroke & butterfly, but considering I’m very uncoordinated I still cannot do the breastroke especially connecting the pull & the kick. Can you help me? Any suggestions? I also love swimming in the ocean but when it comes to freestyle in the pool I can only do four laps, because of my breathing. I love butterfly and backstroke.

    I have been getting your emails for years, and I always enjoyed it. Sorry to bother you, but I ‘m open to suggestions, will like this year to start doing masters. The 400 Im.

    Blessings & light.


  4. Norma
    I suggest you post this query on the TI Discussion Forum. There’s a Breaststroke conference there. Also, have you ordered the TI Breaststroke for Every Body DVD?

  5. Ted says:

    Hi Terry,
    Nice blog post. So, what did you think of his cookbook?

  6. Ted, I’ve adopted the Slow Carb diet which he advocates (and all recipes in the book are slow-carb compliant) and it works. I’m dipping in here and there and think I’ll pick up a great deal of value.

  7. Dylan Tweney says:

    This is an amazing story, but like many of Tim’s other experiments, his results seem wildly excellent. I followed the self training program laid out in your books with the same goal Tim had: to go from being able to swim only a few yards at a time to being a stronger long distance open water swimmer. In my case I saw improvements (I can now swim a half mile easily where I couldn’t before) but nothing nearly as dramatic. I suspect that Tim has some natural advantages (he is already in great shape, has excellent body coordination thanks ton years of championship dance competitions, may be stronger than average to begin with). The result is that the techniques deliver much more impressive results than someone who follows the same program but is starting from a different place: less strong, not as in shape, etc.

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