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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
Emerson echoed this wisdom centuries later when he said: “Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string!”
Today’s +1. Let’s live the wise words of our dear friends Will and Ralph just a little more today.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
How’s YOUR caffeine intake?
How can you +1 it?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
+1. +1. +1.
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.
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.