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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 1, 2018
In our last +1, Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin told us that leadership is all about EXTREME Ownership. No excuses. No blaming. Ever.
 
They tell us that, ultimately, there are no bad teams per se, only bad leaders. To bring the point home, they tell us a story about guys in boats.
 
Imagine Navy SEAL training. You’re already exhausted from weeks of basic training. Now it’s time for Hell Week.
 
One of the most brutal aspects of the training is when the aspiring SEALs are split into boat crews”—each with seven guys. Each team gets an old-school World War II-era inflatable boat that weighs 200 pounds. They need to carry this boat up and over 20-foot-high sand berms and run with it for miles. Then they get to paddle it out to the ocean, dump it over so everyone’s out and freezing wet and then paddle it back in.
 
And...
 
They’re always competing with everyone else. If you lose, you have to go through extra, bonus brutal stuff while the winners get to take the next race off. (The instructors constantly remind everyone: It pays to be a winner!”)
 
So, with that in mind, imagine Boat Crew II. These guys win every single race. They’re simply crushing it. And, although they’re physically hammered, they’re actually smiling throughout the process.
 
Then we have Boat Crew VI. These guys are LOSING every single race. To put it mildly, they are simply NOT crushing it. And, as you can imagine, they’re not too happy about it—cursing and blaming one another for all their problems.
 
So…
 
Each crew has a leader. Boat Crew VI’s leader is convinced that they’re losing because his team sucks. He’s certain that Boat Crew II is simply made up of the best guys and his team isn’t.
 
Now, our wise instructor knows that there’s no such thing as a bad team, just a bad leader.
 
So, he devises a little experiment. He commands the leaders to swap teams. The leader from the always-winning Boat Crew II would now switch places with the leader from the always-losing Boat Crew VI.
 
What happens?
 
Well, the worst boat crew suddenly became the best. They went from losing nearly every race to winning nearly every race.
 
As Jocko and Leif remind us: There are NO bad teams. Only bad leaders.
 
Today’s +1.  Let’s shine the spotlight on you.
 
Whether it’s at home or at work, do you ever think you’re on a bad” team?
 
Guess what…
 
You’re the problem. (Hah. Seriously.) 
 
Quit blaming and criticizing and start taking EXTREME OWNERSHIP for the situation.
 
Find solutions. Make it better. Lead. Win.
Jan 1, 2018
In our last +1, we talked about the Cal Newport-inspired Shut-down complete!”
 
First, quick check in: You win that game?
 
Get this: Seneca was talking about the same thing 2,000 years ago. 
 
As you may know, Seneca was born around the time Jesus was born. He was one of history’s leading Stoic philosophers. In addition to being one of the wealthiest people of Rome and a statesman plus advisor to emperors, he was also a playwright and is considered the creator of the essay.
 
In one of his great books called On the Shortness of Life, Seneca talks about the importance of giving our minds time to rest. 
 
Specifically, he says: Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmland, as uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigour, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy.”
 
He tells us that back in the good ol’ days of the Roman senate, they couldn’t introduce anything important after the tenth hour. Checking our math, we’ll note that the sixth hour was for rest (and, as we discussed, is the origin of siesta”). That was at noon. So, our 10th hour? That was 4pm.
 
The ancient Roman senate didn’t allow anything new to be introduced that would tax their brains after 4pm.
 
If that policy was good enough for the Roman senate, I say it’s good enough for our lives! (Hah.)
 
Again, we’ve gotta give our minds time to rest. 
 
End your days at a reasonable time.
 
Turn your brain off.
 
Restore your power. 
 
Rise better and keener after a solid rest!
Jan 1, 2018
Mark Twain tells us that twenty years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we didn't do than by the things we did do. So, he says, we should throw off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbor—catching the trade winds in our sails.
 
Get this: Science agrees. 
 
In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky walks us through the fact that we are surprisingly resilient in the face of adversity. 
 
And, we consistently overestimate how bad we’ll feel in the future if something goes wrong. 
 
This is one of her myths” of happiness. 
 
In fact, this is such a common phenomenon that scientists actually have a name for it. They say we have poor affective forecasting” abilities.
 
So, back to our quote to go for it. 
 
If you go for it and fail, odds are you’ll bounce back faster than you think. 
 
But…
 
If you don’t go for it, you run the risk of torturing yourself with an infinite number of scenarios where it could have worked out. Enter: Regret.
 
So…
 
Do you have any dreams that you need to pursue?
 
Here’s to sailing away from the safe harbors—knowing we have what it takes to bounce back from the inevitable storms (and occasional shipwrecks)!
 
Twenty years from now, let’s look back with a smile at all the things we had the courage to do.
Jan 1, 2018

Once upon a time, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. Over 100 years of trying, and, precisely, zero wins.

Then a guy named Sir David Brailsford stepped in and created Team Sky. He said that a British cyclist would win the Tour within five years. People thought he was crazy.

Until they won it in two years.

Then, for good measure, they won four of the next five races as well. 

How’d he do it?

Marginal gains.

He looked for all the tiny little places where he could Optimize. 

Things like making sure the riders uniforms were always washed in the same skin-friendly detergent for a little more comfort. 

Things like making sure the riders always slept on the same exact mattresses every night to give them the best shot at a good night of sleep. 

Things like making sure the hotel rooms were always properly vacuumed to reduce potential infections.

TINY little things.

Any one gain wouldn’t do a whole lot, of course.

But, as we know, when you aggregate and compound enough of those tiny little incremental optimizations MAGIC happens.

In this case, Tour de France victories. 

As Brailsford puts it (via Matthew Syed in Black Box Thinking): “I realized early on that having a grand strategy was futile on its own. You also have to look at the smaller level, figure out what is working and what isn’t. Each step may be small, but the aggregation can be huge.”

Guess what?

The same rules apply to our lives. A grand strategy, although important, is futile on its own. We need to go granular and figure out what’s working and what isn’t.

So… Today’s +1.

What’s working for you? Do more of it.

What’s NOT working for you? Do less of it.

Specifically: Do you have a better day when you begin your day in a certain way? Do you have more energy when you eat less of x and more of y? Do you feel better when you exercise or go to bed by a certain time? What other data can you collect?

TEST!!! Get feedback. Look honestly at what’s working and at what’s not and dial it in. 

FIND THE MARGINAL GAINS.

Not complicated. Easy to overlook. But super powerful.

Echo: When we aggregate and compound marginal gains over an extended period of time we get EXTRAORDINARY gains. 

In cycling, that’s what separates you from the pack and leads to Tour de France victories.

In life, that’s what separates us from our old selves so we can actualize our potential.

Here’s to marginal gains!

+1. +1. +1.

Jan 1, 2018
Continuing our theme of sharpening our saw and resting before we get tired, let’s figure out how to avoid burnout.
 
Tal Ben-Shahar wrote a great book on how to quit being a perfectionist. He tells us that the root cause of fatigue, anxiety, depression and burnout in the corporate world is not hard work; the problem is insufficient recovery.”
 
Think about that for a moment.
 
The problem isn’t that we WORK too hard per se. It’s that we don’t RECOVER enough.
 
That’s a really powerful distinction. 
 
Which, of course, begs the question: Are YOU recovering enough?
 
Tal recommends we think about recovery on three levels: Micro + Mid + Macro.
 
Micro-level recoveries include things like taking a 15-minute break every 60 to 90 minutes.
 
Mid-level recoveries include things like making sure you have a shut-down complete that helps you get 7-9 hours of sleep every night and that you take at least a day off every week.
 
Macro-level breaks include taking 2-4 weeks off every year.
 
Let’s do a quick inventory. How are we doing?
 
Micro? Mid? Macro?
 
Personally, I’m pretty good at the Micro- and Mid-level breaks. And, I’m pretty terrible at the Macro-level. (Hah. Needs work!)
 
How about you?
 
Where are you rocking it? Celebrate that.
 
And, where can you Optimize just a little more? Get on that. 
 
Remember: It’s not that we work too hard. It’s that we don’t recover enough!
 
Here’s to having fun going hard and an equal amount of fun recovering deeply. 
Jan 1, 2018
We’re officially on a roll with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We’ve covered Habit #1: Be Proactive and Habit #2: Begin with the End in Mind.
 
Today? Habit #3: Put First Things First.
 
Here’s the short story: Covey tells us that some things matter and other things don’t. Highly Effective People know the difference and they Put First Things First.”
 
As Goethe said: Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”
 
Covey shares a handy-dandy four-quadrant model to help us get clarity on what’s really important. He organizes activities by Urgency and Importance. So, something can be Important or not and Urgent or not. 
 
In Quadrant I we have things that are both Urgent and Important.” These are fire drill-like activities. Unfortunately, way too many activities fall into this category. We need to do a better job of reducing the amount of stuff that shows up here or we’ll be constantly stressed and burned out.
 
In Quadrant II we have things that are NOT Urgent but ARE Important. This is our magic bucket. It’s where our real impact occurs. Unfortunately, most people are spending all their time reacting to stuff all day every day. They don't spend enough proactive time doing what really matters. 
 
In Quadrant III we have Urgent but Not Important stuff. These are really just interruptions. We want to identify and reduce.
 
In Quadrant IV we have Not Urgent and Not Important stuff. This is pure time-wasting stuff. Surfing the Internet, checking your phone for notifications every 5 seconds. Spend enough time here and you’ll get fired.
 
So…
 
If we want to Put First Things First” what do we need to do?
 
Very simple (but not easy): We need to prioritize the Quadrant II activities. 
 
How? Well, here’s one easy way: Go back to Habit #1 of being proactive and go back to +1 #201 of being Creative BEFORE you’re Reactive.
 
You simply CAN’T check your email (or news feeds or social media notifications) first thing in the morning and expect to be as Effective as you’d like. P E R I O D.
 
Do you?
 
Today’s question: What little thing can you do to put first things first today?
 
Get on that, +1 style!
Jan 1, 2018
When Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts after fourteen seasons, a number of teams recruited him. He picked the Denver Broncos.
 
Now, when he decided to go with the Broncos, he didn’t say to himself, I hope this works out alright.”
 
He decided to PROVE HIMSELF RIGHT.
 
There’s an epically huge difference between those two perspectives.
 
In one, you kinda-sorta hedge and never really go all in. It’s a good way to protect yourself from the risk of being wrong but it’s also a really good way to be mediocre.
 
When you make a real decision, you, by definition, cut off all the other options and go ALL IN. Then you’re not interested in hedging. You’re interested in winning. So, you go to work, HUSTLING to make sure you prove yourself right.
 
Today’s +1.
 
Quick check in: What’s important to you right now? Like super important. If you could wave a wand and make THIS wildly important thing happen, what would it be?
 
Got it? You willing to really dream? Fantastic.
 
Now, are you hedging or are you going all in antifragile style?
 
Go prove yourself right.
Jan 1, 2018

Legend has it that when Michelangelo stepped up to a block of marble, he could see the finished statue in his mind’s eye.

His job was simple: Get rid of what was in the way.

That’s a pretty powerful image. Let’s apply it to our lives.

Step back from your current life for a moment. Fast-forward 5-10 years. Look within the block of marble that is you and your potential. 

SEE the best version of you sitting within that block of marble.

Can you see it? You at your best. 

Now…

What’s in the way of you expressing that heroic version of you more and more consistently? 

What little habits do we need to chip away at to reveal the most beautiful version of you hidden within that marble?

And, what’s the one little habit we’re going to let go of today to reveal just a little more of the awesome?

Fantastic. Here’s a chisel. Let’s do this! 

How? +1. +1. +1. 

Jan 1, 2018

William Shakespeare once told us (via Polonius in Hamlet): “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

For some reason, as a 15-year old in high school, I decided THAT would be the very first quote I ever wrote down and committed to memory.

I can still vaguely see my handwriting on a little index card in my mind’s eye. I laugh with joy as I think of that awesome younger version of me thinking that was a quote worthy of my attention. 

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

To thine own self be true…

Are you?

Emerson echoed this wisdom centuries later when he said: “Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string!”

Trust thyself…

Do you?

Today’s +1. Let’s live the wise words of our dear friends Will and Ralph just a little more today.

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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