July | DISCOVERY
Curiosity Created an Empire: How Tim Ferriss Made a Career Out of Self-Experimentation
By Tricia Stewart Shiu
“Pastel” – Kevin Kern
“With a decrease in the number of pirates, there has been an increase in global warming over the same period. Therefore, global warming is caused by a lack of pirates. Even more compelling: Somalia has the highest number of Pirates AND the lowest Carbon emissions of any country. Coincidence?”
― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
ARTISTIC ALLEGORY | LE MOT JUSTE
There is something inherently confusing about a curious person. The constant questioning, never ending stream of thoughts and, worst of all, the looming potential for catastrophic change. In one action, curiosity can both attract and repel attention. After all, it is only by putting a hand too close to a hot stove that we truly discover what happens.
For Tim Ferriss, curiosity (and perhaps obsession) has not only meant big business, but has also become a way of life. His self-experimentation has open doors, jangled nerves and—yes, saved a few lives along the way.
After discovering the “The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman” (Random House. December, 2010) I was beyond curious. The title alone, is enough to infuriate and incite the most open-minded scientists into a chorus of “what qualifies you” and “uncontrolled variables!”
“The 4 Hour Body,” was published just one year after Ferriss’ popular, yet controversial book, “The 4 Hour Work Week,” which was published in 2009.
When I first read “The 4 Hour Body,” in 2010, initially driven by a desire to lose weight, I was completely transformed by something altogether different— Ferriss’ relentless curiosity.
Critics might argue differently, but there is no denying the results of self-discovery. When you are both the experimenter and the “lab rat,“ self-experimentation creates a visceral, dense and more emotional connection to the subject matter, as well as the result. Reading Ferriss’ material is, all at once, inspiring and terrifying and creates a one of a kind motivation—an obsession to know more.
According to “How Tim Ferriss Has Turned His Body Into a Research Lab” in KQUED Science, Ferris started out as a competitive wrestler in high school, where he would regularly lose up to 30 pounds in a week in order to compete.
His curiosity about his own conditioning and weight loss, led him to some unusual practices and eventual experiments over the years. For example, “hanging upside down with gravity boots for a few minutes before bed to help with back pain, to a diet of only mixed nuts and meat.” His methods, by his own admission are quite simple: “testing is just like any academic research study, have a baseline, form a hypothesis, test it and write down the results.” The only difference between Ferriss’ work and a traditional study, is that he wears every hat during the experiment. This can cause some conflict, as it is virtually impossible to be entirely objective. However, Ferriss seizes that opportunity to maximize the potential for results by being deeply honest. This honesty is a thread that, not only, runs through Ferriss’ books and articles, but also throughout his brand. Trustworthiness and a no-limits approach to his experiments are the core of his brand and success.
Ferriss took his extreme forthrightness to an entirely new level in a 2015 post on his own blog. He wrote: “These are stories I’ve kept secret from my family, girlfriends, and closest friends for years. Recently, however, I had an experience that shook me — woke me up — and I decided that it was time to share it all. So, despite the shame I might feel, the fear that is making my palms sweat as I type this, allow me to get started.”
Ferriss detailed his plan and, thankfully, subsequent failure at attempting suicide. Not only did Ferriss prove the importance of self-evaluation, but hammered the point home with the imperative nature of sharing.
During a book signing, Ferris was approached by a young man who asked for a book to be inscribed to his brother. It wasn’t until after the event that the young man shared his reason for getting his book signed for his sibling. His brother had, at the age of 22, died by suicide.
“He looked up to you,” the young man explained, “He loved listening to you and Joe Rogan. I wanted to get your signature for him. I’m going to put this in his room.” He motioned to the book.
Ferris saw tears welling up in the young man’s eyes, and began to feel the same way.
We all have stories to share—some include incredibly dark chapters in our lives—that are filled with abuse and could easily be buried for a lifetime. However, by sharing the results of what we’ve lived through, observed and culled from our unique experience, can actually save lives. Even if it saves one life, it is well worth getting over the fear of judgement.
What was once considered a light-hearted, off the cuff albeit deeply personal journaling exercise in self-experimentation, has taken on a much more profound meaning. In fact, we could all use a lesson following our curiosity by having a baseline, forming a hypothesis, testing it and writing down the results. After that, run your race!