Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 4-Hour Body and lifehacking

I've watched the 4-Hour Body phenomenon from afar, which is to say that I have no skin in the game -- Tim Ferriss isn't recommending any of my products, I don't make commission on sales of his books, and I've really got no upside in the success (or lack thereof) of his latest book.

When I read the 4-Hour Body (and, by the way, I haven't read all of it yet and am not sure that I ever will) it totally made sense to me: it's non-prescriptive on a lot of things.  If you've read it and don't believe me, please provide me with the precise directions, timing, and exact dosage schedule for CQ based on what you read in the book.

The reason that 4-Hour Body made total sense to me is that its really a documentary of Ferriss hacking his life and specifically hacking his body.  He tried a bunch of things, failed a bunch of times, documented the hell out of it, had some other people test some of the things he thought were duplicable, and distilled all of it into a book.  If you're looking for a book that has the magic bullet of weight loss, ask yourself why it's the same book that also gives you ideas in how to expand your lung capacity so that you can hold your breath longer underwater.  More to the point: if you're a woman, ask yourself why, after 4 weeks of the 4-Hour Body diet you're not getting the same results as guys that you know that are doing the same thing as you (if you ask Ferriss, he'll simply respond that for women and people over 40 it takes 4-6 weeks for the effects to happen ... because he's not a woman and he's not over 40 and can't experiment with that basis).

A lot of people out there are looking for the magic bullet and hoping for a diet book as prescriptive as Body for Life (hell, Body for Life even tells you what protein shake to use).  Outside of the fact that 4-Hour Body is not just a diet book, I did the Body for Life thing, didn't like it, and give it up, which was an experiment/lifehack that didn't work for me.  In fact, the thing that I hated the most about it was the fact that it was too prescriptive -- there was no real room whatsoever for experimentation.

For some reason folks think that 4-Hour Body is just a diet book and it's so much more than that.  What 4-Hour Body comes down to is Ferriss using his previous success with 4-Hour Workweek to really get the idea of hacking your own body into the mainstream.  Is this really all that new, though?  I don't think so.  The reality is that we hack out bodies all the time. 

Ever tried smoking?  How's that feel?  Still do it or did you quit? 

Ever drink coffee?  Still do that?  How many cups are you up to?  Do you tell people how many cups it takes you in a day?

Let me give you an example from me: 5-Hour Energy I think is a great way to get an energy boost, but it contains niacin, which causes a flush on the skin of your face.  Although over time the flush goes away, you can take an aspirin to mitigate the effect, so I used to tape aspirin to the tops of the bottles -- if you got a bottle from me, it had the aspirin taped to the top and you got a quick explanation from me why (kind of had to with an unidentified white pill taped with clear tape to the top of it).  Did this mean that taking an aspirin before a 5-Hour was the only way to drink it?  Nope.  Will 5-Hour Energy even work for you?  Maybe.  It worked for me and a lot of other folks that I convinced to try it and a bunch of those folks followed my aspirin advice and didn't have a negative reaction.  I know one person that gets sick to her stomach if she takes 5-Hour Energy, no matter what -- fine, don't drink it.

Let me ask you this (because you probably are still skeptical): do you hack anything else in the rest of your life?  I bet you do.  Easy examples are frequently found in how you manage your online presence.  In my case I manage all of my e-mail addresses (including those on other domains) via my Gmail account for which I've purchased additional GBs of storage.  Whether you know it or not, when you get an e-mail from me, it's come from a single inbox that I've hacked together to ensure that it always appears as though the emails are coming from the address to which you've sent them.  In addition some of you have my direct cell number and some of you have my Google Voice number -- there's really no difference to you (Google Voice does call forwarding, voice forwarding, and voicemail), but you may or may not be actually calling my cellphone directly.  Again, through a combination of Google Voice and PhoneTag, all of my voice messages come to my Gmail inbox and I process them from there.  You may not have something nearly as complicated, but perhaps you have 1 e-mail address you use to sign up for stuff and 1 that you actually use for your friends ... kind of the same idea and your online life is part of your overall life these days, so believe it or not, your engaging in lifehacking.

Touching back on the 4HB diet: I got a lot of comments on my original post of tips and tricks.  Why was that?  Because I was adding my own hacks to the fat burning hacks that Ferriss put forth in 4-Hour Body.  I believe that you can do equally well with the framework of the diet hacks he put together in both Indian restaurants and Mongolian BBQs.  Does that make my hacks better or worse?  Not at all.  My hacks are just an improvement that work for me and might just work for you -- as many famously say: your mileage may vary.

If you don't like the fact that Ferriss recommend no fruit in his fat burning diet, then ignore him.  Try it for a few weeks without fruit, try it for a few weeks with fruit, measure, document, and see what works for you.  Don't like the fact that there are no grains in it?  Experiment with it, hack it, document it, and go with what works for you -- you've got to live with it.

You'll make mistakes -- Ferris did.  Don't believe me?  Read his post of corrections (hint: turns out that the whole PAGG stack thing isn't really supposed to include the green tea extract before bed -- think PAG before bed instead of PAGG.  Since I've been doing PAGG, when I cycle back on to the stack, I'm going to try PAG and see if there's actually a difference; otherwise I'll stick with PAGG because it hasn't been not working for me).

The real point here is that tinkering is ok.  We find it easier to conceive of tinkering with other things that seem easier to tinker with instead of our bodies.  For whatever reason we think that we should only allow those with exact prescriptions and rules and guidelines to provide input on how and what we should do to our bodies.  It's not really easier to sit around and wait 10 years for the FDA to approve something before we try it -- sure there can be downside effects, but the body is pretty good at repairing itself; frankly the body is better at repairing damage done to itself than many of the other things that we hack around with.

I encourage you to get the background on things before you try them, just as Ferriss did (note that he encourages you to skip the back-up and background and medicine and science in the book if it doesn't appeal to you) -- get as much information as you can before you decide.  Tony Robbins recommends: "If you want to master ANYTHING in your life, you just can't leave it to chance, you have to make it a study."  So if you want to hack something, make it a study -- it's never been easier.

Good luck.  Have fun.

Don't be scared to share.

Photo from manu contreras

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