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OPTIMIZE with Brian Johnson | More Wisdom in Less Time

OPTIMIZE with Brian Johnson features the best Big Ideas from the best optimal living books. More wisdom in less time to help you live your greatest life. (Learn more at optimize.me.)
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OPTIMIZE with Brian Johnson | More Wisdom in Less Time
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Jan 16, 2018

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning NY Times journalist (and Harvard MBA) who wrote the best-selling book The Power of Habit in which he walked us through the science of building better habits. In this book, he walks us through the science of being productive so we can be smarter, faster and better at everything we do. It’s a great book packed with fascinating stories and practical applications. Big Ideas we explore include the 2 keys to motivation, how to build your focus, the best way to set goals (think: Stretch + SMART), why disfluency helps learning and how productivity is all about choices.

Jan 16, 2018
In his classic book on Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi walks us through the science of what makes extraordinary creators so extraordinary. 
 
Of course, one of the key facets of being a truly great creator is the willingness and ability to FOCUS your attention, eliminating distractions.
 
As Csikszentmihalyi puts it: It is practically impossible to learn a domain deeply enough to make a change in it without dedicating all of one’s attention to it.”
 
In the process of giving their craft THAT much attention, some of the best creators out there might look a little weird.
 
For example, Csikszentmihalyi tells us about Albert Einstein. He always wore the same sweater and baggy trousers. Was he deliberately trying to be eccentric? No. He just had better things to think about than what he was going to wear that day.
 
Csikszentmihalyi walks us through the math. If you spend 2 minutes per day deciding what to wear, you just burned 730 minutes or 12 hours for the year. Then, he tells us, add up all the other little things you do that take time and interrupt deep thinking and you get a better idea of why Einstein preferred to play it safe and wear the same old clothes.”
 
Of course, Einstein isn’t alone. Open Steve Jobs’s closet and what would you find? Dozens of the same black turtlenecks and dozens of the same 501 jeans. 
 
Obama once said that he only wears grey and blue suits because he has too many other important decisions to make in a day to worry about what he’s wearing.
 
Google Mark Zuckerberg and click on Images.” Unless he’s at an event that requires him to dress formally, what you’ll find is him in a lot of gray t-shirts and a hoodie. 
 
It seems we have a genius dress code. Wear the same thing every day. (Hah.)
 
Seriously. Let’s simplify and save our brain cells for stuff that matters!
Jan 15, 2018
In our last +1, we had fun hanging out with your Genius. 
 
Recall: EVERYONE in ancient Roman times was said to have their own guiding spirit, or genius” that helped them rock it. 
 
That reminds me of Sir Ken Robinson. In The Element, he tells us that our whole concept of intelligence” is backward.
 
Rather than ask, How intelligent are you?” we SHOULD be asking HOW are you intelligent?”
 
We all have our own Geniuses. And… We all have our own different kinds of Intelligence. 
 
So…
 
How are you intelligent?
 
As we get clarity on that, Sir Ken tells us that we all have the potential to connect to what he calls the Element.” It’s that force within us that allows us to live with deeper meaning and mojo and joy. 
 
The Element has two parts: Passion + Aptitude.
 
Two questions will help us +1 our clarity:
 
  1. What do you LOVE to do? As in, you’d do this in your free time or even pay to do it? This is your passion.
 
  1. What are you naturally good at? What can you do relatively easily that most people can’t do at all? This is your aptitude.
 
Passion + Aptitude = The Element.
 
Sir Ken tells us the world NEEDS us to discover our Element. I agree. Now more than ever.
 
Let’s do the work to discover our Element and then, of course, have the courage to live it!
Jan 12, 2018

Breathing. It’s obviously important. And... I’m beginning to realize *just* how important it is. In fact, breathing properly is quickly becoming my #1 fundamental. Belisa Vranich is a clinical psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on how to breathe right. In this Note, we take a quick peek at why breathing is so important, learn how to measure your Vital Lung Capacity, observe the difference between Clark Kent and Superman and get to work on training the most important and underappreciated muscle in your body (hint: your diaphragm).

Jan 10, 2018

Eric Barker is the creator of the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, which “presents science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life.” This is a REALLY engaging, well-written, compelling book. Eric takes us on a fun adventure through the science of what *really* works. And, as the sub-title suggests: How most of what you *think* works, is either a LOT more nuanced than you may have been led to believe or is just plain wrong. Big Ideas we explore include why valedictorians don’t typically top the success charts, how to get more willpower, why managing your energy is so key, the power of mentors (and how to get one), and the #1 thing to remember for success.

Jan 10, 2018
Martin Seligman is basically the Godfather of the Positive Psychology movement. He’s written a number of seminal books on the science of well-being.
 
When Seligman first kicked off the Positive Psychology party, he wrote a book called Authentic Happiness. A decade later, he updated his thinking with a book called Flourish.
 
Short story: A good life isn’t just about maintaining a positive emotional state represented by that big yellow smiley face. A good life is about moving toward your highest potential flourishing and that DOESN’T always feel like sunshine and rainbows.
 
(Of course, the ancient Greeks made a similar distinction with their two different types of "happiness”: hedonia and eudaimonia. We’ll save that for another discussion.)
 
So, Seligman tells us there are five key facets to the science of flourishing. He captures them in a handy-dandy acronym: PERMA
 
Here’s a quick look:
 
P is for Positive Emotion. Although experiencing a permanent, never-ending positive state isn’t necessary (or possible), having a consistent level of positive emotional affect is a key aspect of well-being. So, smile! Enjoy your life.
 
E is for Engagement. Want to feel great as you flourish? ENGAGE with your life. Create more and more moments of flow as you stretch toward goals that matter and give your best self to the moment. 
 
(Note: Want to feel really good? Engage in your core VIRTUES. The whole science of well-being is grounded on the universal virtues of all major religious and philosophical traditions.)
 
R is for Relationships. Science is unequivocal: Healthy relationships are a core component to a healthy, flourishing life. Invest your time here. Give someone a hug today and tell them how much they mean to you. 
 
M is for Meaning. We need to have a connection to a deep sense of purpose in our lives. What deeply inspires you? Bring that to mind each day and make your life an expression of those values.
 
A is for Achievement. Want to flourish? Then we’ve gotta stretch ourselves with goals that challenge us and experience the joy of achievement. What’s firing you up these days? Are you creating micro wins and celebrating the process?
 
PERMA. Positive Emotion. Engagement. Relationships. Meaning. Achievement. 
 
Where are you strong? Celebrate! And what can use a little work? +1!
 
Here’s to flourishing!
Jan 8, 2018

Travis Macy is best known as the record-setting champion of Leadman—“a sort of six-week Grand Prix of Ultra Endurance” that consists of a jaw-dropping number of challenges. This book is a fun look at the eight principles that make up the Ultra Mindset Travis uses to do extraordinary things. Big Ideas we explore include: Your new mantra, what to do when you don’t feel like it, thinking about thinking, making the choice to give up choice, and never quitting… except when you should quit (w/a great litmus test for when you should/shouldn’t quit).

Jan 5, 2018
One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “First Things First.” He also wrote a whole book by the same name.
 
But you know where he got that phrase?
 
Peter Drucker.
 
It was Drucker who said “Put first things first.”
 
And you know what he said we should do with “second things.” He said we should ignore them. Specifically, he said, “First things first — and second things not at all.” (He also said, “If there is one ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”)
 
Fact is, in any given moment there is only ONE most important thing to do. And, that’s what the best among us do. Over and over and over and over and over again.
 
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to executives. How about one of the greatest athletes of all time, Michael Phelps. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history. Over the span of five Olympics (which, in itself, is an epic achievement), he won 28 medals — 23 of them gold. (Wow.)
 
In his great book No Limits, he tells us about one of the secrets to his success he learned from his coach Bob Bowman. 
 
It’s a very simple question that happens to form a powerful word: What’s important now? 
 
W.I.N.
 
What’s important now? Micro WIN.
 
How about now? Micro WIN.
 
And now? Micro WIN.
 
Over and over and over and over again.
 
He created little micro wins all day every day during his training and before his races. And, well, those micro wins added up to a TON of Big Wins.
 
So…
 
How about that as a guiding question for you today?
 
What’s important now?
 
To be clear: This doesn’t mean working all the time or obsessively grinding in any aspect of our lives. It means seeing the big picture and knowing when the most important thing is NOT working but, rather, turning off your technology so you can connect with your family or your higher self.
 
That’s TRUE Winning.
 
Remember: First things first. Second things? Not at all.
Jan 2, 2018

The Plant Paradox. In a nutshell: The plants that nourish us can also hurt us. Dr. Steven Gundry is a renowned cardiologist and heart surgeon. He’s a former professor at Loma Linda University and has authored 300+ peer-reviewed articles on using diet and supplements to eliminate a bunch of diseases. And, to put it in perspective: He’s Tony Robbins’s doctor. Big Ideas we explore include Rule #1 of nutrition (and life) (hint: STOP eating/doing stuff that doesn’t work for you), the little edible enemies that are taking you down, the vagus nerve and it’s communication from your gut to your brain, how fruit might as well be candy and 90% new you in 90 days.

Dec 31, 2017

Want this year to be the greatest year of your life? Here's how to go about making that happen. We’ll start with a quick inventory of what’s awesome. And, what needs work. Then we’ll move on to imagine THE (!) best version of you in 10 years and 25+ years (eulogy you!) while reflecting on how to make the prior best version of you your new baseline. Then… It’s all about being that version of you NOW. We’ll revisit the fundies and your Big 3 while creating Masterpiece Days, avoiding the pickles and kryptonite dust, WOOPing everything and playing the game that is our lives as well as we can.

Dec 29, 2017

Pierre Hadot was one of the most influential historians of ancient philosophy. In this book, he gives us an incredible look at Marcus Aurelius and his classic Meditations. You can feel Hadot’s incredible intellectual rigor and equally incredible passion for engaged philosophy. It’s inspiring. Big Ideas we explore include spiritual exercises, your inner citadel, your daimōn, amor fate, turning obstacles upside down and carpe areté.

Dec 27, 2017

Got problems with your soul? These days, you’d see a psychotherapist. But, back in the day, it was the philosopher who’d help you optimize—they were the preferred physician of the soul. This book is about the philosophical roots of modern psychotherapy. Specifically, it outlines the connection between cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Stoicism. Big Ideas we explore include being a warrior of the mind vs. a librarian of the mind, your highest human purpose, getting on good terms with your inner daimon, practicing the reserve clause and modeling your ideal sage.

Dec 25, 2017

This book combines two of my favorite things: Stoicism + Ryan Holiday’s wisdom. Stoicism was one of the most influential philosophy of the Roman world and has continued to influence many of history’s greatest minds. As Ryan says: It’s time to bring it back as a powerful tool “in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom.” This is one of the my favorite books ever. Big Ideas we explore: the #1 thing to know about Stoicism, how to create tranquility, a good answer to “What’s the latest and greatest?!,” the 2 essential tasks in life and the art of acquiescence (aka amor fati).

Dec 25, 2017

In one of my coaching sessions with Phil Stutz he told me to write something down. (He often does that. 😃)

He said, “Draw a horizontal line. Above that line, put ‘Thinking Space.’ Below the line, put ‘Work Space.’”

Then he asked me, “You know what the ‘Thinking Space’ is good for?”

I didn’t have a very good answer.

He said, “NOTHING. Nothing happens in the Thinking Space.”

Hah.

Obviously, stepping back and thinking about things is a vital skill but the fact is, nothing actually HAPPENS until we take action, use the tools and get to work on and in our lives. (And, as we’ve discussed numerous times, most of us don’t actually THINK, we ruminate—which, we know, is not good. At all.(https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/rumination/)

Phil says we all tend to live in the Thinking Space. He says we need to force ourselves DOWN—out of (over)thinking and into the Work Space. How? Use one of our +1 tools, get to work, do ANYTHING but overthink (or indulge in our Kryptonites).

He tells us that it’s kinda like a beach ball in water. You press it down and what does it want to do? Pop back up.

Well, we want to get REALLY good at keeping that ball down.

Today’s +1: Do you (like me and most people on the planet), have a default tendency to spend too much time thinking about things and not enough time actually DOING things?

Remember the beach ball.

Push it down every time it pops back up.

Dec 24, 2017

Do you know how caffeine actually works?

Most of us think that caffeine gives us energy. But what it actually does is mask our fatigue—making us feel more energized than we actually are.

Here’s the quick story on what’s going on behind the scenes.

One of the by-products of being awake and having your neurons fire is a neurotransmitter called adenosine. As adenosine accumulates in your brain, you get tired—cueing you to go to sleep to recover.

Caffeine is structurally very similar to adenosine. So similar, in fact, that it can actually sneak into those little adenosine receptors and block the adenosine from doing its job of letting us know we’re tired.

And voila!

You feel energized.

Obviously, that’s pretty cool. (Hah.)

Today’s +1: Two things we want to consider as we optimize our caffeine intake.

1. We want to know that when we use caffeine we’re “borrowing” energy. Therefore, we’d be wise to use caffeine strategically rather than habitually.

If we need caffeine to get going in the morning, what we really need is more rest, not more caffeine.

2. We also want to know that caffeine has a half-life of 5-8 hours—which means that if you have a coffee with 200 mg of caffeine at 2 pm, half of that (or 100 mg) is still in your system as late as 10 pm. (That’s a lot!)

Bottom line: If you’re going to use caffeine, do it strategically and do it earlier in the day. Have a “caffeine curfew” to make sure you get a good night of sleep. Experts say no later than 2 pm and earlier if you’re really serious about allowing your body to recover.

So…

How’s YOUR caffeine intake?

How can you +1 it?

Dec 22, 2017

Darren Hardy is the publisher of SUCCESS magazine. His message is clear: We are living in the era of greatest opportunity in human history. There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. NOW IS THE TIME to hop on the entrepreneur roller coaster. Big Ideas we explore include the importance of getting super freaky, practicing getting up after getting knocked down, setting the pace as an effective leader and remember it’s the fear of fear we fear.

Dec 22, 2017

In our last couple +1s, we’ve been hanging out in an fMRI scanning our brains and seeing some fascinating stuff.

Let’s stay in there for one more study on how your brain lights up in different ways depending on the food you eat.

First, a little background: David Ludwig is a professor and researcher at both Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. He has both an M.D. and a Ph.D. and is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of optimal nutrition. He’s overseen dozens of diet studies and authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles.

In his great book Always Hungry?, he tells us about some powerful research.

Get this: You can bring people into a lab and have them drink a milkshake that’s identical in every way but one. One shake has “fast-acting” carbs and the other has “slow-acting” carbs.

You have the people in the study drink their shakes and then, a few hours later, you scan their brains.

Guess what.

Well, before we even get into that fMRI machine, we see that the individuals who consumed the fast-acting carbs are reporting more hunger and their blood glucose levels have dropped more than the ones who consumed the slow-acting carbs.

And…

When we look at their brains, we see something amazing.

The people who consumed the “fast-acting” carbs have a little part of their brain lit up that’s called the “nucleus accumbens.” The nucleus accumbens is the primary reward center of our brains. It’s the part of our brains tied to addiction—addiction to stuff like alcohol, tobacco and cocaine. It’s what drives you to compulsively consume more of something.

And, it LIGHTS up when you eat fast-acting carbs!!!

So, right as your blood sugar drops and your hunger increases, you have your nucleus accumbens screaming at you to have more of the sugary stuff. Not a winning combination.

The solution?

First, make the connection between your food choices right now and your future self x minutes and hours from now as per our last +1.

And…

Reduce or eliminate those fast-acting carbs.

What qualifies as fast-acting carbs? Well, the obvious stuff like sugar (in all its forms!) needs to go. The less obvious stuff like bread and pastas also need to go.

Let’s cool off that nucleus accumbens as we Optimize our nutrition one bite at a time.

+1. +1. +1.

Dec 20, 2017

This is a quick-reading, smart, practical guide on how to, as the sub-title suggests, “Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. My kind of book. I *highly* recommend it. Big Ideas we explore include rats + rewards (real vs. random), progress hacks to conquer the progress paradox, saying “YES!!!” en route to saying “No” plus the physics of emails and 21st century superpowers.

Dec 20, 2017

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the world’s leading researchers studying the science of well-being. He co-founded the Positive Psychology movement with Martin Seligman and has written landmark books on Creativity and Flow.

After surveying thousands of people, Mihaly was able to shine some light on that elusive state in which we’re at our best. In fact, he’s the one who coined the word “Flow.”

Here’s the basic idea:

Imagine drawing two lines. On the x axis we have our Skill level. On the y axis we have our Challenge level.

If the Challenge is high but your Skill is low, what will you experience? ANXIETY.

On the other hand, if your Skill is high, but the Challenge is low, what will you experience? BOREDOM.

Now, what if your Skill level matches the Challenge? Enter: FLOW.

So, Today’s +1: A quick inventory.

Are you feeling Bored? Increase the level of Challenge. (For example, if you’re doing a mundane, repetitive task, see how flawlessly you can do it or how quickly or both!)

Feeling Anxious? Decrease the Challenge a bit and/or increase your Skill.

Want to feel more Flow? Bring more awareness to the whole process, set a goal that focuses your attention (that is ALWAYS the first step, btw!!), eliminate distractions (Go Deep!!), and allow yourself to be fully immersed in the experience.

Repeat.

FLOW!!!

+1. +1. +1.

Dec 19, 2017

In our last +1, we talked about the fact that the word courage comes from the Latin word for “heart.” Just as our heart pumps blood to the rest of our body, our COURAGE pumps energy to our other virtues.

Here’s one of the simplest, easiest and most powerful ways to build your courage in any given moment.

Strike a pose.

A courageous, power pose.

As we’ve discussed so many times, the relationship between our feelings and our behaviors is what researchers describe as “bidirectional.” It goes both ways. Science says that feelings FOLLOW behavior at least as much as the other way around. In other words, by simply taking certain actions, we can influence how we feel.

Amy Cuddy has demonstrated this in her lab at Harvard.

In her great book Presence, she tells us that we all E X P A N D when we feel most powerful.

Get this: Even blind athletes, who have never seen anyone else do it, will strike that victorious “V!” pose with arms triumphantly up in the air when they win a race.

So, she started her research with this question: “Since we naturally expand our bodies when we feel powerful, do we also naturally feel powerful when we expand our bodies?”

Spoiler alert: YES!!!

In one study, individuals were split into two groups. One group assumed “low-power” poses in which they, essentially, took up less space (sitting while slouching, with their hands close to their bodies and standing with their legs close together, and their arms close to their bodies and their heads down). The other group assumed “high-power” poses in which they EXPANDED and took up more space (sitting in a relaxed, confident manner with legs out and hands behind head; standing like Wonder Woman or Superman with hands on hips, chin up and feet wide apart).

After only TWO minutes of posing, here’s what happened: “the high-power posers showed a 19 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol. Low-power posers showed the opposite pattern—a 10 percent decrease in testosterone and a 17 percent increase in cortisol, the exact pattern we predicted.”

That pattern is known as the dual hormone hypothesis. High testosterone + low cortisol = HIGH power. Low testosterone + high cortisol = LOW power.

Think about that: Two minutes of posing produced those dramatic shifts in biology. Simply moving our bodies in a more expansive way significantly boosts our confidence and power.

That’s Today’s +1. Feel the difference between going through life in a low-power, shrunken state vs. expanding into your most powerful self.

Want to feel more confidence and power today?

Smile. Strike a power pose. And go rock it.

Dec 18, 2017

Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of the world’s leading positive psychology researchers. Her award-winning and very well-funded research is on “the possibility of permanently increasing happiness.” <— How cool is that? This book focuses on, you guessed it, the myths of happiness—those things we *think* will make us happy (or devastated) but don’t. The book has over 700 (!) scholarly references. I always love connecting ancient wisdom and fun self-help with SOLID research so this book was a great treat. Big Ideas: hedonic adaptation, #1 way to boost optimism (kinda surprising), the ultradian dip, affluenza virus, frequency > intensity and how to set goals.

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