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
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OPTIMIZE with Brian Johnson | More Wisdom in Less Time




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Nov 17, 2017

I’m a HUGE fan of Phil and Barry's first book, The Tools. Coming Alive is kinda like The Tools Part 2. In this book, we get four new tools to go along with the original five tools. Big Ideas we explore include how to connect to our Life Force, defeat Part X (their name for that part of each of us that gets in the way), build our confidence and learn to see problems as gifts as we live a GREAT life.

Sep 23, 2016

Robin Sharma is one of the world’s top leadership experts. He’s also an extraordinarily inspiring guy. This is an inspiring fable about a disillusioned former veteran (Blake) who meets a mysterious mentor (Tommy) who introduces him to four exceptional leaders who change his life. Via this fun cast of characters, Robin downloads his ENORMOUS array of wisdom on leadership + personal greatness. Big Ideas we explore: the four keys to leading without a title, how to flip the leadership switch, the power of moving thru fear and embracing adversity, a simple way to optimize your relationships, and training like an athlete to achieve your personal greatness.

Sep 21, 2016

James Kouzes and Barry Posner are two of the world’s preeminent researchers on leadership. This is the 25th anniversary, fifth edition version of their best-selling classic that has sold over 2 million copies. One of the things I most like about this book is the fact that it covers the SCIENCE of leadership. Kouzes and Posnar have been conducting empirical research for over three decades. Big Ideas we explore: The 5 Practices (<— key word!) of Exemplary Leaders, the foundation of leadership (= credibility which = …), Law #2: DWYSYWD, and the best-kept secret of leadership = …

Sep 16, 2016

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, novelist, playwright, and critic. He was a leading intellectual of the 20th century and the leading proponent of existentialism. This short book is a transcript of a speech Sartre gave in 1945 to address many of the critics of existentialism. It’s a *remarkably* lucid, concise exposition on the primary tenets of existentialism—even more remarkable given the fact that Sartre gave this lecture without notes. Big Ideas we explore: Anguish + its antidote, passion vs. choice, quietism vs. commitment, the stern optimism of existentialism and moral choices as a work of art.

Sep 13, 2016

This is the classic text on the psychology of persuasion. Robert Cialdini is a professor of both psychology and marketing at Arizona State University. He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of persuasion. The book is simultaneously kind of a consumer protection guide (how not to be duped) AND a manual for marketers (how to sell your stuff!). Cialdini has identified six core psychological principles of persuasion. We take a quick look at each, how they can be used for good or ill and how to apply the wisdom to our lives today.

Sep 9, 2016

Charisma. The idea that you’re either one of the lucky few born with it or not is a MYTH. Fact is: We can all cultivate our personal magnetism. In this fun, quick-reading, compelling book, Olivia Fox Cabane walks us through the practical application of the art and science of deliberately dialing our charisma up. Big Ideas we cover: The Big 3 of charisma: Presence + Power + Warmth (and how to boost each), what gets in the way (and what to do about it), the power of visualization (#1 tip) and more.

Sep 7, 2016

John Maxwell is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership. He’s trained millions (literally) of leaders and has written over 50 (!) books that have sold over 13 million copies—this one alone has sold over 3 million copies. After a super quick look at the 21 Laws, Big Ideas we explore: The Law of Process (aka: Leaders are learners), the foundation of leadership (= trust), leaders are practical AND visionary, the law of victory (!), and your legacy—what will people say when you die? + What’s your “life sentence”?

Sep 5, 2016

Epictetus is known as one of the world’s leading Stoic philosophers. (Along with Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, the three make up a very interesting bunch.) Epictetus was a former slave turned philosopher who lived from 55-135 (a little later than Seneca and before Aurelius). This book is a transcription of the informal lectures Epictetus gave to his students. It’s awesome. Big Ideas we explore: why Hercules needed challenges (and so do you), what figs can teach us about greatness, the good + the bad + the indifferent and how to tell the difference, “impressions” and the tricks they play, and the fact NOW is the time to live this stuff.

Sep 2, 2016

Wonder what the iconoclast’s brain looks like? Well, that’s what this book is all about. Our guide is Gregory Berns, one of the world’s leading pioneers (iconoclasts?) in the field of neuroeconomics. Berns is a professor in the department of Psychiatry and Economics and at the Goizeta Business School at Emory University. This book is a fascinating look at the three primary facets of the iconoclast’s brain (perception + courage + social skills), brought to life via research studies and biographical sketches of modern iconoclasts. Big Ideas we cover: how to change the way you see the world, how to control your fear and how to build your social skills (hint: be a good human).

Aug 29, 2016

Warren Bennis is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership. This is, as Peter Drucker puts it, his “most important book.” Big Ideas we explore include the basic ingredients of leadership (#1 = Guiding Vision!), the importance of self-invention (hint: write your own story!), the power of trusting ourselves, choosing to express ourselves rather than prove ourselves, how to cultivate trust, and becoming a world-class leader.

Aug 26, 2016

Vice Admiral James Stockdale is an American hero. Stockdale spent nearly eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He spent four of those years in solitary confinement and was repeatedly tortured. He was the commanding officer of hundreds of other U.S. soldiers and received the Medal of Honor for his service beyond the call of duty. This is an incredibly inspiring look at the powerful mind and equally powerful moral commitment of a hero. Big Ideas we explore: Being our brother’s keeper, chiseling our integrity to achieve delight with life, courage as endurance of the soul and heroes vs. bums.

Aug 24, 2016

Phil Knight created Nike. This book is a *phenomenally* well-written, funny, tear-jerking, inspiring look at how he and his eclectic team of misfit geniuses made Nike one of the most iconic brands in the world. If you’re into sports, business and hero’s journeys, you’ll love it. I highly recommend it. Big Ideas we explore include: Crazy Ideas, victory, billionaires getting their credit cards declined (before they’re billionaires), optimal business, gratitude, luck and answering your calling.

Aug 17, 2016

Christopher McDougall is a brilliant story teller (and author of Born to Run). In this great book, he weaves together a number of different narratives, with an emphasis on two: one about an extraordinary wartime adventure on Crete and the other about Natural Movement. In the process, he shares a ton of Ideas on how we can each tap into the extraordinary superpowers latent within. Big Ideas we explore include the ancient Greek meaning of the word “hero,” the mantra of the hero, why weeds + fat are optimal fuel and a great test.

Aug 14, 2016

This is a *super* popular book in the Paleo movement that, as the sub-title suggests, introduces us to the Whole30 and can change your life in unexpected ways. Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig created the Whole30 that has inspired tens of thousands of people to follow their plan and change their life. I’m one of those people. I talk more about how my life changed as a result in the Note. Big Ideas we explore include +1 or -1 bite by bite, the experiment of ONE, the four tests of Good Food, are grains necessary? and your personal health equation.

Aug 12, 2016

Joe De Sena is the founder of the Spartan Race. He’s also, as Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, tells us: “a paragon of grit” who “shows you how you’re capable of so much more than you think.” A paragon of grit. That’s the perfect description. After inspiring us with stories of real-life heroes and ancient Spartan lore, De Sena walks us through the seven pillars of Spartan training + a 30-day plan to get Spartan Fit. Big Ideas we explore include getting to the starting line, developing obstacle immunity, making thousands of small decisions and your gritty oath.

Aug 10, 2016

Michael Pollan is one of the world’s leading thinkers on nutrition. Time magazine voted him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He’s also a Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. One of the things I most love about him and his work is that, as a journalist, he takes a much wider, more objective view of the nutritional landscape—which can often be dominated by (and muddled by) individuals with *very* strong, dogmatic, inflexible ideologies. Big Ideas we explore: Nutritionism (vs. food), the big experiment (that failed), the Aborigine in all of us, the 5 fundamental transformations of industrializing food and Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puff and Trix cereals as health foods as per the American Heart Association. (<— Can you believe that? Crazy. And true.)

Aug 8, 2016

What if happiness began at the end of your fork? The latest research on neuroscience and nutrition tells us that’s a VERY wise place to start. And, of course, that’s what this book is all about: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body. It’s a really well-written, eye-opening look at how we got into the nutritional mess we’re in and the extremely damaging effects of the modern American diet. And, of course, more importantly, how we can optimize our nutrition so we can dial in the three facets of happiness: our focus, our mood, and our energy.

Aug 4, 2016

Cal Newport is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Dartmouth who went on to MIT for his Ph.D. and is now a Professor at Georgetown. In this book, Cal shares the top ideas he gleaned from interviews with non-grind Phi Beta Kappa members at elite schools across the country. They had to perform well AND they had to achieve those results without grinding away. Their practices, although discovered independently, reflect the same wisdom shared in the science books. It’s great to see the overlap. Big Ideas: pseudo-work vs. real work (and a secret formula), conquering procrastination, when/where/how long should you study?, #1 way to learn (and #1 trap), the importance of spacing out your work and the power to choose your future via excellent grades.

Jul 29, 2016

Want to reach your optimal weight while preventing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and cancer AND while feeling energized as you live longer? Eat more fat. That’s what Dr. Mark Hyman—one of the world’s leading Functional Medicine doctors—tells us. This book is ridiculously packed with Big Ideas—walking us through the eye-opening science of why fat is awesome along with a plan on how to “reboot our biology to our original factory settings” via a 21-day program followed by a long-term plan to rock it. We explore the surprising truth about fat, good fats vs. bad fats, going pegan (think: best of vegan + Paleo), a quality carb, and dealing with root causes rather than symptoms.

Jul 27, 2016

Benedict Carey is an award-winning science writer for The New York Times. This book is his exploration of what the latest research says about, you guessed it, How We Learn. Big Ideas we cover include the #1 enemy to learning (and how to win that battle), why distributed your learning is where it’s at, how sleeping is like learning with your eyes closed and how to put the Zeigarnick Effect to use for maximum benefit.

Jul 25, 2016

David Ludwig has both an M.D. and a Ph.D. and is a professor and researcher at both Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. He’s overseen dozens of diet studies, authored over 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles, and supported thousands of patients looking to optimize their weight. In this book, we learn how to conquer cravings, retrain fat cells, and lose weight permanently.

Jul 22, 2016

Michael Pollan is the author of a number of New York Times best-selling books on nutrition. In 2010, Time magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world. If you’re looking for a SUPER compact, witty look at the primary rules on how to eat well, this is it. It’s a fun, witty, concise guide to eating well featuring 64 food rules structured around Pollan’s seven words of wisdom: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Big Ideas we explore include the 2 Facts of nutrition everyone can agree on, Rule #1, why low-fat made us fat, and the final rule (#64).

Jul 20, 2016

Eric Goodman is the creator of Foundation Training. If you’ve ever had back or neck or other physical pain, this book might be just what your doctor forgot to order. And, of course, if you’re just looking to take your energy to the next level, this is a gem. In the Note, we take a quick look at why gravity + sitting/bad posture = compression and why that’s so bad plus how to deal with it as we become fluent in a new movement language and have fun becoming perpetual motion machines.

Jul 18, 2016

The gut. That’s where all the health magic (or challenges!) begins. Alejandro Junger is a cardiologist turned functional medicine doctor who created the incredibly popular Clean Program. We covered his first book Clean and now for a spotlight on the Clean Gut. Big Ideas we explore include symptoms vs. root causes (paint any brown leaves green lately?), how food’s shelf life correlates with yours, your 2nd brain, nutrigenomics, gluten (the ubiquitous poison) and step 1 to cleaning things up (hint: remove toxic triggers).

Jul 14, 2016

ACT. That’s where it’s at. This is our second Note on Russ Harris and his great introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. (Check out the Notes on The Confidence Gap as well.) In this book, Russ walks us through how we get caught in the happiness trap and, more importantly, how to free ourselves. We’ll take a quick look at the myths of happiness, the six principles of ACT, how to deal with emotional quicksand, how NOT to visualize (and what to do instead), and writing down your values (<— science says that’s wise).

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