Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner—the smartypants duo behind the Freakonomics blog, books, and radio show—have a new title out that suggests rethinking the way we think.

Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything posits that we can solve our problems more effectively by examining our approach to them. And one of the case studies it uses to illustrate its point is that of competitive eating titan Takeru Kobayashi.


[Photo: Freakonomics]

In an extract published online by the Guardian, the authors recount how in 2001, the unknown first-timer smoked the competition at the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. The previous record was 25⅛ hot dogs in 12 minutes; Kobi, as he is nicknamed, swallowed 50 tube steaks.

According to Dubner and Levitt, his success had little to do with physical prowess, and everything to do with his mental strategy.


Dubner and Levitt explain,

“If you think like a freak, there are at least two broader lessons to be gleaned from his approach. The first is about problem solving generally. Kobayashi redefined the problem he was trying to solve. What question were his competitors asking? It was essentially: how do I eat more hot dogs? Kobayashi asked a different question: how do I make hot dogs easier to eat?”

The dog demon pioneered a new speed-chowing system, which involves breaking the dogs in half, dunking the buns in water, and eating the meat and bread separately. Not only did he ingest faster, but he saved valuable seconds that might have been spent chewing and drinking water.


The Think Like a Freak authors continue,

“The second lesson has to do with the limits that we accept, or refuse to. Kobayashi said that when he started training, he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the existing Coney Island record of 25⅛ hot dogs. Why? He reasoned that the record didn’t stand for much since his earlier competitors had been asking the wrong question about eating hot dogs. As he saw it, the record was an artificial barrier. It was by refusing to accept it that Kobayashi blasted right through number 25 that first year.”

So, like any other athlete, he brought his swag on game day—and it paid off.

You can read the rest of the excerpt on the Guardian’s website, but if you’re one of those people who prefer to watch the movie, watch the video above of Stephen Dubner explaining how a skinny Japanese man could become the world’s most famous competitive eater.

[via the Guardian]

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