Tim Ferriss attempts to do what hundreds of years of psychological research couldn't

By Kym McNicholas , written on November 27, 2012

From The News Desk

Tim Ferriss is probably one of the most notable self-marketers around. Some people love him. Others think he's full of shit. But there's one thing that no one can argue with and that's that the author of “The 4-Hour Work Week,” “The 4-Hour Body,” and his latest book, “The 4-Hour Chef,” is always up for a challenge. And he certainly has one with his latest experiment. He's trying to automate the process of behavioral change.

What does that mean?

Ferriss wants to figure out the secret by which people break habits and create new ones. He's most concerned about getting people to break unhealthy habits and create healthier lifestyles. But he imagines a day where his breakthrough could also be applied in the workplace where entrepreneurs can create the right set of habits which will help their employees lead their company to success.

Good luck with that, Tim. Hundreds of years of psychological research hasn't helped me go to the gym regularly, or gotten my mom to stick with her medical diet.

But Ferriss knows he won’t find a way to create a behavioral structure by which 100 percent of people will be able to accomplish a goal. And he’s starting with the toughest group: Dieters.

Ahead of his latest book launch “The 4-Hour Chef,” Ferris is hoping to get to the bottom of why people fall off the wagon with their diets, and figure out how to keep them on track. It’s certainly not as sexy as his last big experiment where he had to have a lot of sex to test out the "Man’s Diet For Superhuman Sex," for his book, “The 4-Hour Body.” But it’ll have a more widespread impact if he’s successful.

His first step was to put all participants on the same low carb diet and exercise program, which includes 30 grams of protein in the morning and a cold shower. He then split them into three groups. The first group simply acknowledged they were on a diet, which he knows doesn’t work for most people. The other two groups are using online tools that claim to help people create goals and stick with them in different ways that hold them more accountable and then offer them rewards for their success:

That brings us to Lift, a company Ferriss has invested in, which just announced a $2.5 million dollar round. The app allows people to track their progress in breaking bad habits and creating new positive ones by sharing your goal with a group of friends to help support you or mock you along the way. It actually breaks down a person's goal into specific habits, such as in the case of Ferriss' diet, when a person consumes 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of wake-up, they check-in as if on FourSquare, or when they consumer a low-carb meal they check-in, or when they take a cold shower, they check-in again.

Lift’s app is clean. It’s simple. It doesn’t require a lot of data entry, which is key for people who struggle to keep track of their progress. More importantly though, it actually allows all users to track the advice that actually works for people, and what doesn’t, simply by their results., is a competing company in a sense, which Ferriss is looking at potentially investing in. It allows users to compete with their friends to achieve the same goal. They settle on a dollar amount to put in a reward pot, and those who achieve the goal split the pot, while the others lose their cash.

“The question I have is whether simply being conscious of a behavior you want to change will work, whether creating a support group is enough, or whether it’s most effective when someone stands to lose something like their cash,” explains Ferriss.

Out of the more than 3,000 people who participated in Lift’s challenge, 400 responded to a survey asking for their weightloss results. Of that 400, 84 percent lost an average of 8.6lbs and 14 percent lost more than 15lbs.

Lift CEO Tony Stubblebine says, “I would have guessed the success rate would be around 30 percent, so 84 percent is a huge win and a big validation for Tim's advice.”

A funny fact: 29 percent of folks surveyed said they dropped the cold shower quickly.

As for, it had 673 players finish the game for a pot of $33,700.  Three-hundred sixty-two  people (54 percent) won $79.13 each.

I love this quote from an article in BC Business Beat which says, "If you want transformation, you must do the work." Obviously most of these folks who participated in both contests did the hard work and achieved their goals. But there’s not enough information yet for to Ferriss completely automate the process. He wouldn’t step out to even choose one method over another, because they reach different people. Everyone is motivated in a different way.

“People don’t need a magic method,” Ferriss says. “If you create a deadline, tracking, and stakes, things tend to happen without any micromanaging. No personal trainer required.”

Ferriss says he now has just that much more info that will help him in his plight. Every experiment helps get him closer to achieving his goal. But don't expect a complete assessment of these results until after his book tour which began on November 20th.

[Image courtesy circasassy]