I just watched several episodes of “The Tim Ferriss Experiment,” a web series where bestselling author Tim Ferriss attempts to master a different skillset for every episode within just 4-5 days. In the series, he starts playing the drums to perform with legendary rock band Foreigner, he studies Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with world champion Marcelo Garcia and he goes surfing with big wave legend Laird Hamilton.
I like the general concept of the show and I like Tim Ferriss as a person; heck, I even wrote a psychogram on the guy. However, I am very critical of the underlying premise of the show, which is also the central argument of Ferriss most recent book, “The 4-Hour Chef“: Everything can be hacked. In essence, Ferriss argues that by applying unusual learning strategies like “deconstruct your subject first” or “starting with the end in mind” you can significantly shorten your learning curve, cramming years of practice into just months or even a few weeks.
That is a promise very few are able to resist, including myself. And it is a strategy that Ferriss has used successfully several times before – in a commercial sense I should mention. As for the actual effectiveness of his proclaimed shortcuts, I have some serious doubts in my mind: Especially with the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu episode, I couldn’t help but marvel at the discrepancies between the analysis Ferriss was giving and what was actually happening on the mat. I have been training for close to 12 years now and trust me, there was some serious self-delusion going on.
This post is not about Tim Ferriss, though. It is about how the personal development industry as a whole is thriving on a basic but very seductive lie:
Things can be easy for you.
So if you buy into in the personal development lifestyle, everything suddenly becomes easy. Weight loss becomes easy. Making more money becomes easy. Adding muscle becomes easy. Improving your relationships becomes easy. And so forth. You just need to allow the gurus to show you the tricks you don’t know yet. Tremendous change is just one life hack away.
It seems all rather obvious if you point it out like this, but most people I know, including some very intelligent people, fall for the false promise of easy all the time. At best, more intelligent people fall for a slightly more subtle version of easy – so they do a 30 day vegan challenge instead of ordering the magic weight loss pills from QVC. At the core, you’ll find the same mindset though: “I want to get this problem solved with the least amount of planning, effort and time. I want this to be easy.”
Here is the harsh truth though: Easy does not exist – but neither does difficult. Both of these notions ultimately just refer back to you as the experiencing subject, i.e. how much stress a certain project will cause you. Easy or Difficult – this is the completely wrong way of looking at this. In truth, there are only ADEQUATE solutions to a problem and there are NON-ADEQUATE solutions. By changing the focus to these terms, the relation suddenly becomes about the problem to be solved and the type of action applied to it. This is where your focus needs to be, what you need to obsess about: Am I doing the adequate thing?
Thinking about adequate solutions to learning a certain skill will naturally get you to dig deeper, beyond what your desired skill set entails. It will get you started on ideas like long term thinking over short term thinking, sustainable self-motivation and the power of habits. “Adequate” will lead you to these tools – the universal tools of learning – that actually get the job done (but probably not within the next week, the next month or the next year).
This all might sound like a long and strenuous process, but it comes with the territory: There is a NECESSARY level of complexity you need to embrace as a learner, one that just naturally comes with the complex skillset you are shooting for – both mirror each other. You can’t simplify your learning method without seriously castrating the complex skillset you are trying to learn in the first place. So, don’t try to do so. Instead, learn to endure the initial complexity and the stress it puts on you. This is just reality’s way of telling you: “These are the elements that skillset is made up of, which you don’t understand yet; so you better get started.” Stick with it and it will get better.
It really comes down to this: Complex skillsets are learned by doing the right thing (=the adequate thing) every day for the next couple of years. This way, the seemingly overwhelming complexity of a task gets broken up into thousands of smaller, more manageable units. Some days, dealing with that daily unit will feel very easy (to go back to that notion); some days that daily practice will feel difficult and / or boring. That’s not the point though. You are doing what gets the job done, what HAS to be done. You are complementing your ambitious goal with adequate action. You are paying attention to the demands of reality, not trying to sell books based on exploiting people’s weak spot for “easy.”
Don’t waste time on the myth of easy. Instead, invest your time into adequate action.