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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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Now displaying: 2017
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.

Dec 17, 2017

In our last +1, we talked about the power of recommitting. You make a big commitment, then you fall a little off track. No big deal, REcommit and continue on.

Today, we’re going to add a little letter to recommitment.

It’s a “P.” We’ll drop it in right at the beginning.

Giving us: PREcommitment.

So, now we have: Precommitment. Commitment. And Recommitment.

Science says precommitment is one of the most powerful tools in the Willpower tool chest. They even give precommitments a pretty cool name: Odysseus Contracts.

Before we jump into ancient mythology and see what it has to say about modern science, let’s remember: Will power exemplars play OFFENSE not DEFENSE (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/want-willpower-play-offense-not-defense/). They use their finite willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot—avoiding the temptations that drain our willpower as we try to resist them. Offense. Not defense.

One of the most powerful ways to do that? Decide in ADVANCE how we will handle a challenging situation. PRECOMMIT ourselves to the best possible action.

So, back to mythology.

What did Odysessus do when he and his sailors needed to get by the Sirens without crashing into the rocks?

He precommitted himself to a course of action.

How?

By tying himself to his mast and commanding his sailors not to untie him regardless of how much he begged them to do so.

THAT’s precommitment. He chose to do something that locked himself into a virtuous course of action when he knew he’d be challenged.

His sailors precommitted as well. Rather than tie themselves to the boat, they took an even smarter path and avoided the temptation in the first place by plugging their ears with beeswax. They didn’t even hear the tempting sounds of the Sirens. Voila! Safe passage through that dangerous path.

Again, THAT’s precommitment.

Odysseus Contracts.

Someone struggling with alcohol, for example, would be much wiser to never go into a bar than to try to not drink once they’re in there. Someone looking to Optimize their energy would be much wiser to not even walk down the fake food aisles at the grocery store than to buy the sugar and refined flour toxic goop and then try to resist eating it once it’s in their pantry.

Back to you and Today’s +1:

What Odysseus Contracts do YOU need to make with yourself?

Dec 15, 2017

Ready to upgrade your vision of love? Then you’re in for a treat with this fantastic book by Barbara Fredrickson. Barbara is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists. The book is incredibly well-written, deeply inspiring and incredibly practical as well. In fact, I just told Alexandra that this book might be the one that most positively impacts my life. Big Ideas we explore include: Love 1.0 vs. Love 2.0, taking a trip to Vagus, identifying our prevailing desire, #1 tip: create 3 loving moments today, exiting our cocoon of self-absorption via loving-kindness meditation, and Love 2.0 x 2: compassionate + celebratory love.

Dec 15, 2017

In our last +1 we hopped on a treadmill with Will Smith and Smokeybot.

Today, let’s hop on a treadmill with well-being researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky.

Sonja is one of the world’s leading experts on the science of what is called “hedonic adaptation.”

Basically, hedonic adaptation is a fancy phrase for our tendency to get used to good things. The way we so easily adapt to awesome stuff is kinda like being on a treadmill. You get fired up about making $x per year or having a certain car or house or whatever then you get to that point and quickly adapt to it—now wanting the NEXT $X per year or house or car or whatever.

Then guess what?

There you are on your treadmill, working harder and harder and not going anywhere.

That’s hedonic adaptation.

On a related note, Maslow told us that getting used to our blessings is one of the most “nonevil evils” out there. It’s not an obvious evil-evil but it’s an evil thing nonetheless.

So, how do we deal with this tendency to so quickly adapt and take things for granted as we sweat and get nowhere on that happiness treadmill?

Well, first, know that this tendency exists. Know that nothing “out there” is E V E R going to make you happy. Ultimately, creating a durable sense of well-being is an inside job.

Today’s +1: Let’s step off the treadmill.

Another thing Maslow taught us is that the most actualized among us have “fresh appreciation” for the things others tend to take for granted.

Let’s appreciate the amazing things you have in your life.

How about three things/people that are awesome in your life right now? (That you might be taking for granted!)

1. __________________
2. __________________
3. __________________

Practice gratitude (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/gratitude/).Grateful flow (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/grateful-flow/). Celebratory love. etc. Regularly.

Step off the treadmill. Appreciate the awesome.(https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/celebratory-love/)

Repeat.

+1. +1. +1.

Dec 14, 2017

Continuing our movement-is-good for you theme, let’s talk about how Michelle Segar looks at this.

You may recall that Michelle is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of actually DOING the things you know are good for you.

In her book No Sweat she tells us that we need to find “opportunities to move” throughout the day. Her clients like to shorten that to OTMs.

OTMs.

Opportunities to Move.

Little things. They exist all day, every day. And, if we want to make our TRILLIONS (!) of cells happy so we can shine with a deeper level of radiant, energized enthusiasm, we’d be wise to look for more OTMs throughout our day.

Simple stuff.

So mundane, unsexy and seemingly unimportant that we can easily overlook them.

You know, like parking as far away from the store (or gym or whatever) as possible so you get a few more steps in. Or, even better, just walking to the store and leaving your car at home.

Or, once you’re in the store, using a hand-held shopping basket rather than a cart. Tiny little opportunities to move more = good.

Or…

If you really want to go all in and be like one of the 100 Fittest People of All Time like Dean Karnazes, you can go from finding Opportunities to MOVE all day to basically working out all day every day.

In our interview, The Ultramarathon Man Dean told me that’s how he likes to roll. Apparently, right before our chat he banged out a quick (12- or 14-min) high intensity interval training workout. And, he planned to do another mini-workout right after our chat. Simple sequence of burpees, pull-ups and sit-ups.

All day. Every day.

That focus on moving his body has allowed him to do the seemingly impossible like run 350 miles at once and run 50 marathons in 50 US states in 50 days. (Wow.)

So, Today’s +1:

Whether you’re looking for Opportunities to Move (OTMs!!) or Opportunities to Workout (OTWs!!), let’s move a little more today.

And tomorrow.

And the day after that…

+1. +1. +1.

Dec 13, 2017

A former U.S. Navy SEAL Commander, Mark Divine integrates the ancient warrior traditions with grounded, practical virtue and 21st century get-it-done effectiveness in a way that I find incredibly inspiring. Big Ideas we cover include the power of front-sight focus, how to DIRECT your mind, going Yoda on your commitments and creating micro goals when things are tough.

Dec 12, 2017

Men’s Health says that Dean Karnazes is one of the 100 Fittest Men of ALL Time.

He’s done crazy things—like running 350 miles at once. Plus running a marathon to the South Pole in negative 40 degrees. Then there was the time he ran 50 marathons in all 50 US states in 50 days—finishing with the NYC Marathon which he banged out in 3 hours flat. (Nice!)

In our interview about his great book The Road to Sparta, I asked him what ONE piece of wisdom he would share with someone looking to Optimize their lives so they could make a positive difference in the world.

His response?

He quoted the ancient Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid only of stopping.”

Going slowly?

Not a problem.

Stopping?

Eek. That’s when we get in trouble.

Whether it’s writing a book or running a marathon or doing whatever challenging thing worthy of our attention, KEEP GOING!!!

Steve Chandler has a great line for this. He says we need to “Stop stopping.”

All of which leads us to today’s +1 Questions:

What epic quest are you on right now? What’s your next baby step?

Keep moving!! No matter how slowly.

And…

What’s the habit you just KNOW would most benefit you? That keystone habit that, when in place, will most help you Optimize? The one that, when you do it, you feel GREAT!! Yes. THAT ONE.

KEEP DOING IT!!!

It’s OK to suck. But it’s not OK to skip. (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/how-to-avoid-habit-suicide/)

Remember: STOP STOPPING!

+1. +1. +1.

Dec 11, 2017

Patrick McKeown is one of the world’s leading teachers of the Buteyko Breathing Method which was created in the 1950s by a Russian doctor named Dr. Konstantin Buteyko. McKeown suffered from asthma for decades until he found the Buteyko Method. At which point, he reversed his asthma symptoms and then dedicated his life to helping others optimize their breathing. In this book, he extends the Buteyko Method into an approach he calls the Oxygen Advantage. Big Ideas we cover include the #1 obstacle to optimal breathing, Oxygen Delivery 101, the #1 breathing tip, and how to dial in your sleep.

Dec 10, 2017

In our last +1 we chatted about the difference between FALLING in love and STANDING in love.

It’s easy to fall in love. It’s considerably more challenging to stand in love—whether we’re talking about an intimate relationship with a significant other, a child or a dear friend.

So, know this: We’re inevitably going to run into conflict and challenges in our intimate relationships.

THAT’S
A
GIVEN

Today’s +1 is a key practice for STANDING in love.

Leading mindfulness and neuroscience and relationship expert Dan Siegel tells us that when something inevitably goes wrong in a relationship we want to REPAIR it as quickly as we can.

One of the examples he uses to make his point is a story about a time when he, Mr. Mindfulness, “flipped his lid,” turning off his prefrontal cortex and going full limbic-lame yelling at one of his kids.

(Laughing as I type that as a) It’s always refreshing to see a world-class teacher and practitioner humbly reminding us that no one is perfect and b) I very much know the feeling as the father of a very energetic 4-year-old. 😃)

So, we have an interaction that we’re not proud of.

Then what?

Then, you REPAIR the relationship as quickly as you can.

Something like, “Wow. I got really impatient / loud / fill-in-the-blank. I flipped my lid! I’m so sorry about that and I can see what Needs work (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/needs-work/). I just want you to know I’m sorry and that I love you and that I’m committed to getting a little better at handling those challenging moments in the future.”

* insert potential hug *

We don’t want those little micro-moments of negativity to stew into jumbo-resentments and unhealthy cauldrons of ick.

Take a deep breath. Drop into your heart. Label the emotion Name It to Tame It! (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/name-it-to-tame-it/). Practice some Active Love (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/active-love/). Use whatever tool you need to do to regain your Equanimity (https://www.optimize.me/plus-one/the-equanimity-game/).

And then Repair.

Today’s +1 Optimizing opportunity: Any Repairs waiting for you?

Dec 9, 2017

In our last +1, we talked about the importance of identifying and installing your #1 self-care habit.

Today I want to talk about another SUPER important thing: Identifying your significant other’s (or kids’ or friends’ or colleagues’) #1 self-care habit.

Fact is, great relationships are only created by two healthy people.

1 + 1.

If you want to Optimize the love in your life, you’d be wise to a) start by Optimizing yourself and b) support your partner (assuming they want the support!) Optimize THEIR lives.

And our #1 self-care habit is a REALLY (like, Jumbo-REALLY!!!!) good place to start.

For example, my #1 is sleep. Alexandra knows this. And, she knows that she doesn’t really want to be around me when I’m not meeting this fundamental need. So, we prioritize this to make sure I’m getting good sleep. (Thank you, Darling!!)

Alexandra’s #1 self-care habit is time alone every day to meditate/reflect/create/etc. Knowing this, we prioritize it to make sure she gets that time.

So…

What’s YOUR #1.

And…

What’s your PARTNER’S #1?

Find out. Help them rock it.

And watch your relationship flourish.

+1 that 1 + 1.

Dec 8, 2017

Dr. Craig Malkin is an author, clinical psychologist, and Instructor of Psychology for Harvard Medical School. He’s also one of the world’s leading authorities on the science of narcissism. In this book, he shares “The bad—and surprising good—about feeling special.” The short story? Narcissism is a lot more nuanced than we might have been led to believe. Big Ideas we explore: the Myth of Narcissus, the Spectrum of Narcissism, healthy narcissism (no, that isn’t an oxymoron), how to bring it forth in our lives, and the passionate life (passion + compassion = magic!).

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