RENEW ISSUE: Bestselling author and fitness guru Tim Ferriss will lifehack us all
Here's how it all happened. When he was 23, Ferriss started a nutritional supplement company. It did well. Soon enough, his old Princeton professor Ed Zschau was inviting him to give regular lectures at the alma mater on building a profitable business without outside investment. But after a few lectures, Ferriss started becoming more interested in "lifestyle design," which were influenced by his world travels and technological research. As a result, his lectures were veering off into areas his business student audiences found too woo-woo for their tastes. On one of his feedback surveys after such a talk, Ferriss says he received the following mocking comment: "Why don't you just write a book?"
"It was the perfect comment to fuel my chronic insomnia," he remembers. And when something keeps this man up at night, that something can check its watch — its days are numbered. Soon Ferriss signed a publishing deal (original working title: Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit) in a shack in Belize. The book, which ended up The 4-Hour Workweek, sold out its first run and has been on the bestseller list for four years. He says he never anticipated its success, but does acknowledge that he has a knack for "spotting unmet needs in a particular demographic," this one being tech-savvy men in the 20-35 age group who he says constitute his core audience.
Ferriss' success depends on a concept called lifehacking, a term that at one point referred to the efficiency tricks used by computer programmers to cut through swaths of useless information and is now used in reference to anything that attempts to simplify life by messing with it. His thesis is that most of the time we are working way too hard at things that offer too little return. He recommends finding the exact weights and reps that will turn your workout into a muscle popping strength fest (he can help with this) and cutting way back on the time you spend checking e-mails.
I ask him what he thinks is the most common self-help misconception in San Francisco, where he lives and where he is Google-searched more than any other place in the world, according to Google Trends. "A commonly held belief in academic communities is that the physical is a hand you are dealt by fate. I think people mix up cause and effect."
It is to this community that the 4-Hours are geared. "If you try to write for people you don't initially understand, you fuck up," Ferriss says. But 4-Hour Body, at least ostensibly, is also geared toward women — more than half the fitness models are women and all the exercise plans include variations for men and women. I take note when he tells me that among women, the most common downfall he sees is the ever-nefarious caloric bomb: peanut butter (although inside I weep). There's a sizable chapter on the art of the 15-minute female orgasm with detailed charts of the vagina. I inquire if he's taken any flack from women on this well-meaning, if slightly reductive take on their anatomy. "The orgasm stuff, they're fine with that. It's no big deal."
"The point of the book is to become the best possible version of yourself," he says.
Can it work? As engaging as Ferriss was during our interview, and in my binges on his expansive web universe (sample blog posts: "How to be Jason Bourne: Multiple Passports, Swiss Banking, and Crossing Borders!"; "How to Lose 20 Pounds of Fat in 30 Days ... Without Doing Any Exercise!"), 4-Hour Body sat in my bedroom undisturbed for a month after I initially cruised through its "rapid sense of total well-being" action plan. But then, I am lazy. Again, if the Internet is to be believed, this man has inspired some people to make real changes in their lives.