DiSSS and CaFE: Tim Ferriss’ approach to quick mastery of any topic

DiSSS and CaFE are Tim Ferriss’ frameworks for mastering new information-based topics. In particular, he applies them to foreign languages and in 4-Hour Chef, to the mastery of cooking.

Mostly personal notes but I Googled and couldn’t even find a basic description of DiSSS and CaFE, so here it is!


1. D for Deconstruction. What is the minimum useful unit of knowledge? For a foreign language, it would be a word

2. S for Selection. What 20% of those minimum units will lead to 80% of your desired outcomes? For cooking, it would be basic knife handling skills so you can cut, chop, filet, mince, and do whatever to your heart’s delight (my guess since I suck at cooking).

3. S for Sequencing. What’s the most effective order for learning these units? For cooking, Tim tells the story of how most cookbooks have the wrong sequence for beginners, since what newbie really wants to cook 6 chicken dishes in a row?

4. S for Stakes. What psychological and social mechanisms can you setup for discipline and motivation? For example, you could publicly announce your goal and a deadline, and have your friends keep you accountable (from what I’ve read, this seems effective for losing weight). You could set a calendar reminder to spend 30 minutes each morning before work, and reward yourself with a piece of chocolate (lol, yes…that’s a lame reward).


1. C for Compression. Can I compress the most important 20% into an awesome cheatsheet?

2. F for Frequency.  What is the best duration and frequency, knowing my personal limits and goals? Setup a SCHEDULE. If you’re a slow learner, 5 minutes/day won’t do shit since you’ll barely warm up your brain before time’s up.

3. E for Encoding. How do I create mental anchors & tricks to make sure I remember stuff? CaFE and DiSSS are great examples :)

Thanks Tim, for an awesome book. Only 15% of the way through but appreciate the hard work and beautiful product!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

4 thoughts on “DiSSS and CaFE: Tim Ferriss’ approach to quick mastery of any topic”

  1. How you implement these principles to your life. Could you share me your experiences. I am trying to learn playing guitar by applying these two principles.

    1. I read these chapters in the 4 hour chef yesterday so here are some basic thought starters on how I might apply the principles to learning the guitar:

      Deconstruction – building blocks might be string tuning, notes, chords and strumming.
      Selection – 80% of all rock music is based on 8-10 chords. Loads of songs use only D, A, E so choose to learn those first.
      Part of the ‘selection’ process includes asking for tips from particularly successful experts, reverse engineering a skill so I’d suggest doing those too.
      Sequencing – hmm, I reckon start with 1) tuning 2) strumming 3) chords – NB some chords are easy, others are harder. Learn the easy ones first!
      Stakes are for you alone to determine.

      As with the stakes, C & F are for you alone to work out!
      Encoding for tuning E A D G B E could be:
      Every Apple Does Get Bitten Eventually
      and so on :)

Thoughts? Questions?