Essay

The 4-Hour Body Review – Addendum

By Duff McDuffee on January 14th, 2011

Many recent comments on my 4-Hour Body review have largely missed the point of my article. I’ve grown tired of responding to each in turn, so I figured I’d write a summary response here.

Tim Ferriss appears to me to have a history of misrepresenting himself (see evidence in previous article). All of his claims to fame and tips for self-improvement should immediately be suspect as a result.

Ferriss advocates for ruthless, self-serving, borderline unethical tactics to get ahead in life. Yes, this is relevant to the kinds of tactics he promotes in his new book, The 4-Hour Body. It is relevant because there are two basic approaches to personal development:

  1. Build character.
  2. Create a character and play the part.

The first involves the cultivation of virtue and puts primary emphasis on becoming a better human being. The second involves putting on a show for others in order to gain power over them.

Here’s a different way of putting it:

  1. Recognizing the illusory, impermanent nature of personal and social reality, one becomes liberated, recognizes avenues for change, and dedicates one’s life to ending suffering in some capacity.
  2. Recognizing the illusory, impermanent nature of personal and social reality, one becomes more selfish, exploiting other people’s trust in conditioned reality to get ahead, creating much more suffering for others.

Most of us are a mix of the two. Ferriss’ philosophy is primarily of the second group. Not only this, but he is recruiting devotees to this line of thinking. In a nutshell, I think what he’s doing is evil.

Other common objections to my article:

“But he’s smart!” Darth Vader was pretty smart too. Smarts doesn’t equal good.

“But he’s interesting!” I’ll give you that. In fact, I’ll also say he’s really fit, and it does take a certain level of discipline to attain such levels of fitness. I still think his primary motivations are bad.

“But XYZ as described in his book works!” Three things:

  1. From the point of view of building character, many of his aims don’t make sense. For instance, I feel no compelling need to rapidly gain or lose weight. My BMI is in a healthy range, I exercise moderately in a way that works for me. Gaining or losing weight rapidly cultivates impatience and is usually motivated primarily by vanity, not sustainable health.
  2. Some of the aims make sense, but the timeline doesn’t. This is for two reasons: 1) he may be lying/exaggerating, 2) doing things more quickly is often dangerous or unsustainable. For instance, losing fat fast usually means you are messing up key systems in the body leading to yo-yo dieting in the long term. I’ve done mass gain diets and workouts before—they “worked” (I gained mass) but the side-effects weren’t worth it (continual DOMS, joint pain, injury, feeling bloated, expensive supplementation, lower energy levels, etc.). I also lost this muscle mass just as quickly as I gained it, and this program covered over deeper health issues (digestive problems). More importantly, this program was motivated by vanity. Once I fixed the underlying health problems, I gained 10 lbs of muscle in a year without any of the negative side-effects of the short-term aesthetics focused program using a health-first approach.

Balance, sanity, prioritizing long-term sustainability over short-term superficial results and becoming a somewhat more virtuous, less selfish/lustful/vain/ambitious person are important things to me and anyone else inhabiting this perspective. If you aren’t inhabiting this perspective, no doubt such values will seem quaint, boring, or clueless.

“Ferriss kickboxed Chuck Norris and Godzilla at the same time—I saw it on YouTube. What are your qualifications, punk?”

  1. Most or all of Ferriss’ qualifications are highly suspect. See previous article.
  2. If you are interested in Ferriss’ “qualifications,” my modest successes in life are unlikely to interest you.

Every moment of every day you are cultivating yourself. Whatever you do, you become better at. If you act on your vain motivations, you literally become more vain. If you act virtuously, you become more virtuous. See Zimbardo’s “banality of heroism.”

Thanks for reading and best of luck with your personal development goals.

UPDATE: Penelope Trunk illustrates the problem with The 4-Hour Body in this well-stated comment reply on her blog:

Have you read the 4-hour-body book?

Posted by Stef on December 27, 2010 at 8:28 am

Yeah, I have the book right here, actually. So I want to tell you that the most heartbreaking chapter is the one about sex. This chapter embodies everything that bugs me about Tim.

First, chapter assumes that all a woman wants is to have an orgasm. And that, therefore, we should all take bedroom lessons from Tim Ferriss.

I mean, look, I can hire a guy to give me an orgasm the way Tim is talking about. So on that level, the book is insulting because it assumes that I am not resourceful enough to earn the money and find the guy to hire — that I actually have to train a newbie instead of hiring a pro.

Second, I’d way rather have a guy who loves me and is good to me and honest and connected and not the king of giving me orgasms. I assumed it was common knowledge that women would rather be with a guy who is intimate and sweet and cares about her deeply than a whiz kid in bed.

And here is the money quote for why Tim treats winning in the bedroom like winning at kickboxing: “I was able to facilitate orgasms in every woman who acted as a test subject.” Note to Tim: Who cares? Life is not a contest. Women are not rats in your self-absorbed life experiment.

Also, side note to those who are taking Tim’s sex advice seriously: I am pretty sure that most women would rather the guy goes down on her, and loves it, and makes her feel comfortable being so vulnerable than that he gives her an orgasm. Because going down on a woman is so intimate, and selfless and caring. So maybe Tim should write a book where he goes down on 100 women for four hours a week each. It could be called Sexual Intimacy for Four-Hours A Week.

Penelope

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29 Responses to “The 4-Hour Body Review – Addendum”

  1. @32000days says:

    Good clarification of your previous critical review. I think a lot of the critics of your criticism (whoa, we're really getting meta here…) miss the point.

    To my mind, it looks like you're working at a higher logical level than mere "methods" or "results", and asking whether the overall thrust and philosophy of how 4HWW / 4HB were executed is a good one or a bad one.

    I agree with the basic dichotomy of "Build character" / "Play a character" in personal development efforts, but I think there's a place for the latter one in actually leading to the former. In other words, when we "act as if", we have a lot of flexibility in what we choose to act like. It's possible to build genuine character and virtues by acting the part long enough.

    For example, a person who wanted to develop qualities like compassion and kindness could consciously and deliberately perform actions that a person with a high level of intrinsic compassion and kindness would perform "intuitively".

    I think Christians do this with the "What Would Jesus Do?" meme – the idea that most people aren't necessarily virtuous, but by studying the example of the ideal, awakened human being, we can make our best guess about what the best action in a given situation would be.
    My recent post Life lessons from GG Allin

  2. earlyretirementextreme says:

    The underlying philosophy is important because it gives meaning to the methods. (I take it as a fact that meaning is good.) For example, martial arts without respect for one's opponent and to the philosophy of the system is simple violence; a fighter without respect or honor is considered a punk. He may win because he is stronger or heavier or even by using better techniques, but he is still a punk.

    These principles, which are of course part of a philosophy of life, can be readily transferred to other areas in life. In the personal growth arena we certainly have our share of punks as well.

  3. Angela says:

    Right on, Penelope!!! Love it!!

  4. Eric Normand says:

    Thanks, Duff, for fighting on the side of truth. It is so easy to be taken in by the kinds of claims Ferris is willing to make. I certainly was taken in years ago by the hype when I bought the book. I read the book twice. The second time I was looking for all of the stuff he promised but did not deliver. I never found it, but that didn't stop me from looking elsewhere. I think that's part of the appeal of the book: he feeds you a line of possibility and then strings you along.

    I think the dichotomy you have described (playing the character vs. building character) is a good way to think about it. If we just build the character (that is, good values in ourselves) but we don't play the character (we never go out and make a difference in the world), we are basically spiritual hermits; pure souls who never take action. If we play the character but don't build it, we are con artists. If we build do both, we are complete people. The trouble is keeping the act and the reality in sync. If we develop one side more than the other, we deceive ourselves and it eats away at us.

    The same goes for hype-based marketing. It is so hard to live up to the character you've created. All you're doing is sewing more seeds of sorrow in the world. If the marketing were honest, it would probably sell a lot less. At the same time, it would not attract so much criticism. It's hard to fault the book. As I said in a comment on the previous article, the book is just a collection of stories and tips that Ferris has collected. Nothing wrong with that.
    My recent post 7 things I learned about language learning

    • I like how you re-interpreted my distinction of building character vs. playing the character, like Jack above, to make the dichotomy more complex. :) Your analysis is a good critique of where I often fall on the spectrum–staying in and being good (or sometimes in the past, going out and playing the character that others want to see).

  5. Jacq @ SMRM says:

    Tim's guide to becoming an expert – which is creating a character and playing the part (from the 4HWW):

    "… expert status can be created in less than 4 weeks if you understand basic credibility indicators and what people are conditioned to equate with proof of superior knowledge."

    My recent post The Money Learning Curve

  6. Felix says:

    A bit of reading on the personality disorder of narcissism reveals a very sad picture of Ferriss. Basically, he requires constant proof of his own grandiosity, usually based on some superficial terms, which are all he is capable to be concerned with. It's a sad consequence of a general lack of self-acceptance as a fallible human being. The fact that such an approach reaches so many people is an indicator of the problems of our consumer "keeping up with the Joneses" culture. This materialistic status-based culture breeds narcissism and depression in the same way that victorian anti-sex culture bred hysteria. We're basically producing ourselves into misery, a golden cage if you will. I highly recommend Tim Kesser's "The high cost of materialism" for a great collection of psychological research on this topic.
    In fact, there's a ton of reading material on this. Affluenza, the age of absurdity, Haben und Sein or for the more open-minded and/or hardcore folks the mass psychology of facism and Sahrarasia.
    What we do in modern society (fueled by upbringing and cultural indoctrination) is that – being insecure of our value as a human being- we try to make other people like us based on "accomplishments" similar to the ones achieved through Ferriss' four hour methods. Unfortunately this doesn't help with the underlying insecurity at all but only makes it worse. Some people waste their entire lives unsuccessfully trying to reach peace by acquiring meaningless status items.
    That's also one of the problems I see with the lifestyle design movement. While it is a form of criticism of wage-slave/consumer culture, it still promises six figures while traveling the world and lots of fancy photos in your stylish facebook account. It's another misguided attempt to escape the golden cage by staying inside.
    While it is perfectly justified to criticize Tim Ferriss for his clear lack of character, he is -despite his praise of individuality and excellence- just a sad product of his time. But he can serve as a great example that it is no sign of sanity to be well-adapted to a profoundly sick society.

    • Thanks for commenting, Felix. I agree–narcissism is the right word to describe many self-help gurus, Ferriss included.

      One of the key components in the words these gurus use to describe their own psychology is that Ferriss and others talk about setting big goals because the adrenaline rush will motivate you to achieve them easier than smaller goals. This adrenaline rush addiction is narcissism itself. I put that in bold, but can't emphasize it enough. If your big goal gives you a rush, set a smaller one until it lacks a buzz but still seems challenging. The praise one gets for accomplishing such a goal (or even boasting that one will achieve it) is known as "narcissistic supply" and gives a similar rush.

      Thanks for the reading recommendations. I've heard of Affluenza but not Kesser.

      Great analysis of the lifestyle design movement as well. I agree that Ferriss is but a symptom, yet (hopefully) if we challenge the symptoms, we can point more clearly to the root causes.

  7. Felix says:

    The adrenaline rush addiction is narcissism itself. That makes perfect sense. It's the constant hunting for narcissistic supply. Thanks for this insight. It would be interesting to read an analysis of some self-help gurus. Narcissism would certainly play a major role.

    To correct my reading suggestions: It's Kasser's "The high price of materialism". Having the correct name and author makes it easier to find it. :-)
    There are also videos on youtube.

    Another great read in this regard is Douglas Rushkoff's Life Inc. It makes the case that it is useful for business to keep people in that narcissistic/depressive state and that people in that state want and need business the way it's done now, working yourself to death to prove you're better than the next guy. It's a positive feedback loop with negative effects.
    The narcissistic wage-slave/consumer and a status-based economy (you can't call it a community anymore) are fueling each other. In a sense, we've turned ourselves into a homo oeconomicus to "make it" in today's culture.

    Psychology has now established that money – beyond having food and shelter – doesn't make you any happier. Still we measure the success of an economy by the GDP which goes up if people have to buy antidepressants. It's pretty crazy.

    Regarding reading material, the old greek cynics are a good antidote, too. Epicurus, Diogenes etc. They had it right. Leisure is great. Work is a necessary evil best done by slaves. Compare that with our current hunt for "the perfect job" that will give us everything and to get it we only need to work hard enough and long enough. Work is no longer wage-slavery, but a "calling" and the greatest thing to spend your life with. If only you wear enough pieces of flair …

    My favorite story is of Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the planet before 30, meeting Diogenes sitting -basically as a bum- in his wooden barrel and asking him what he, Alexander the Great, can do for him. And Diogenes looks at him and says: "Just get out of my sun."

    • r.c. says:

      You made some good points at first, but in the last two paragraphs of your post near perfectly paraphrase the opening chapters of 4HWW.

      Essentially that work for work's sake has is foolish. As well that a good life is the sum not of your possessions, but your experiences, and time spent pursuing what excites you.

      He specifically mentions the "overweight middle aged business man in a red convertible" as something not to look to as success.

      • My last two paragraphs are about virtue and "best of luck with your personal development goals." 4HWW (as I recall from when I read it a few years ago) is largely about cheating and manipulating your way to success. This doesn't seem similar to me.

      • Felix says:

        I have nothing against the anti-work attitude of 4HWW. That's fine. I have something against the "let some 2$-per-hour-slave do my work" and "sell ebooks on how to get rich to get rich"attitude. My statement that "Work is a necessary evil best done by slaves." merely meant that work should be put in its proper place. As a means to sustenance, not the meaning of life.
        My way to do this is to live well below my means, doing an average job, and saving for early retirement. Basically dropping out of the game by playing by the rules for 5-10 years and being frugal. That's ethical and reasonable. Building a "40.000$/month ebusiness" selling nonfunctional overpriced supplements is snakeoil bullshit.
        Ferriss is right about the fact that work for work's sake is nonsense. But "beating the system" can also be done without having to screw other people over. But the point that really annoys me, because it spoils a good philosophical message of leaving the fool's gold of materialism behind and -ironically – turns it into a late-night get-rich-quick infomercial.

  8. lisa says:

    I think he’s a somewhat ridiculous character, but let’s be clear, he’s playing a character. And, in regards to the sex stuff, Ferriss is most definitely suffering from short, balding man syndrome. And, he hasn’t had a girlfriend in some time by his own admission, so big surprise.

    I will say that the diet and exercise stuff is legit, but it’s not like he invented it.

    • The one real success of Tim Ferriss is that he is reasonably fit, so it makes sense that the diet and exercise stuff would be the most legit. If he would have written a book about "how to become reasonably fit" that would have been a better contribution to the world, IMHO.

  9. brendanbartholomew says:

    A few weekends ago, I happened to be listening to NPR and they devoted an entire show to interviewing Tim Ferris and talking about his books. I don't remember the name of the show, but the female interviewer and the live studio audience were fawning all over Ferris and eating up everything he spewed. The man really does have a silver tongue, and if I hadn't previously read about him on this blog, I might have been just as hoodwinked as that audience and interviewer.

    It's sad that public radio would allow itself to be used as free advertising for Ferris and his books.

  10. Alex says:

    I think you and Miss Trunk are not understanding what Ferris does.
    His book isn´t about Philosophy Intimacy and deep thoughts and feelings.
    It´s about achieving goals faster, showing that they are within your reach and that it can be a fun trip.

    You can argue about whether or not he is a virtuous person or whether it is philosophically correct to achieve goals faster.
    Menwhile an obese man looses 20 pounds in one months and feels better than ever, seeing the improvement perhaps sets him straight for an healthier life.
    Somehwere else someone gives his girlfriend the first orgasm of her life and they feel more connected and passionate than ever before.
    Ferris provides the tools, what you do with it is your thing.

    • Hi Alex, thanks for commenting. 3 things:

      #1) Philosophy underlies everything. Ferriss does have a philosophy—ruthless self-serving goal achievement. If his books were merely about having fun achieving your goals and believing you can do it, I'd probably have no objections.

      #2) I'm not convinced his fitness advice is healthy, advisable, or even whether it works. SInce Ferriss has a history of manipulating to appear successful, and even promoting fraudlent products like "Super Blue Stuff," everything he does should immediately be suspect by the discerning consumer. Caveat emptor.

      #3) Ms. Trunk's critique of Ferriss' orgasm chapter absolutely applies to the attitude and techniques employed in the bedroom. Her point was that Ferriss views sex as an experiment with interchangable subjects. This objectification of women not only is bad for women in general, but also ruins the best part of sex specifically—that of intimacy. Orgasms themselves do not lead to more connection and passion when in a context of a clinical-like experiment. Doctors in the 1800's used to masturbate women to orgasm using vibrators to cure "female hysteria," but this did not lead to increased passion and connection between doctor and patient.

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