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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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Now displaying: March, 2020
Mar 30, 2020
Richard Rohr is one of my new favorite teachers.
 
Alexandra got me his book called Falling Upward after I told her how much I loved David Brooks’ The Second Mountain. Apparently it’s recommended alongside that book on Amazon. With 1,400+ reviews, Alexandra thought I might like it.
 
And, well, YES!! Not only did I like the book, I loved it. (Check out those Notes for more.)
 
And… I fell in love with Richard Rohr.
 
Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest. In fact, he’s been a Franciscan priest for FIVE DECADES. 
 
This has particular resonance for me. As we’ve discussed, I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for twelve years. At my elementary school and primary church, our priests were Franciscan. 
 
Yet... The closest I’ve come to studying an integrated Catholic perspective thus far has been Anthony de Mello—a Jesuit priest. 
 
So... I found Father Richard’s wisdom particularly resonant for a range of reasons.
 
Now... When I read a book, I use a blank note card as a bookmark. On that note card, I jot down related books and ideas I want to make sure we cover in our Notes together. After reading chapters in which he connected Odysseus and the Hero’s Journey to Christianity and our modern lives, at the top of the bookmark-card for this book I wrote this description of Father Richard: “If Joseph Campbell was a Franciscan monk.”
 
I laughed as I typed that but it’s pretty darn close to being a great micro-bio. Throw in a little Ken Wilber and a TON of “elderly” wisdom and voila. We have one of my new favorite spiritual teachers.
 
But that’s not quite the point of Today’s +1.
 
Today I want to chat about a fantastic line from the book that comes pretty darn close to capturing the intention behind ALL of our work together.
 
Here it is: “As Desmond Tutu once told me on a recent trip to Cape Town, ‘We are only the light bulbs, Richard, and our job is just to remain screwed in!’”
 
How great is THAT?
 
We’re only the light bulbs. Our job is just to remain screwed in. (Thank you, Bishop Tutu.)
 
Not only does that line capture the essence of all of our work together, it’s also a great answer to Joseph Campbell’s question: “What am I? Am I the bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle?”
 
So...
 
Here’s to keeping ourselves screwed in so the Divine Light can shine through us. 
 
TODAY!
Mar 25, 2020
In our last +1, we talked about being Efficient vs. Effective.
 
Efficiency? 
 
It’s GREAT for managing our time and completing tasks. Not so great for creating EFFECTIVE relationships with people.
 
We also hammered our “technology is the obstacle to presence!” theme one more time. (I promise to keep coming back to it.)
 
Today I want to chat about another big relationship idea I’ve been meaning to discuss.
 
We’re going to talk about the idea of “bids.”
 
I’m pretty sure I learned about this from Dan Siegel. 
 
Enter: Search of my Mac for “bids”…
 
Oh, wait. 
 
Actually, I learned about this from THE leading researcher on the science of effective marriages: Jon Gottman!
 
In his GREAT book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman tells us that we need to “Turn Toward” our partners and respond to their “bids.” 
 
Here’s how he puts it: “Hollywood has distorted our notions of romance and what makes passion sizzle. Watching Humphrey Bogart gather teary-eyed Ingrid Bergman into his arms may make your heart pound, but real-life romance is fueled by far more humdrum scenes. It is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life. In marriage, couples are always making what I call ‘bids’ for each other’s attention, affection, humor, or support. Bids can be as minor as asking for a backrub or as significant as seeking help in carrying the burden when an aging parent is ill. The partner responds to each bid either by turning toward the spouse or turning away. A tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and a satisfying sex life. Comical as it may sound, romance is strengthened in the supermarket aisle when your partner asks, ‘Are we out of butter?’ and you answer, ‘I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,’ instead of shrugging apathetically. It grows when you know your spouse is having a bad day at work and you take a few seconds out of your schedule to send him an encouraging text. In all of these instances, partners are making a choice to turn toward rather than away.”
 
“Turning toward” our partner instead of away from them. 
 
Gottman tells us that our partners are always making “bids” for our attention. Whether we accept their invitation to connect or not is one of the greatest predictors of the longevity of our relationship.
 
Get this: Gottman did a 6-year follow-up study of newlyweds. For those who were still married, the partner’s responded to each other’s bids 86% of the time.
 
For those who got divorced? They only responded 33% of the time. 
 
So…
 
Today’s +1.
 
How’s YOUR Bid Math?
 
Let’s pay attention and see if we can notice some more bids and, of course, remember to TURN TOWARD our partners a little more TODAY.
Mar 20, 2020
In our last couple +1s, we flipped through my notes from session number 150-something with my Yoda/spiritual Godfather Phil Stutz.
 
On page one we had: Success doesn’t matter in this world, commitment does.”
 
On the middle of page three we had: “Real enthusiasm is passing through the worst and realizing it’s the best.”
 
Looking at the bottom of page three, we see: “How you react to dramatic things is good. How you react to SMALL things is GREAT! That’s where the power is.”
 
As I reread my messy writing, I actually remember asking Phil to hold on a second so I could write that down. (Hah. Seriously.)
 
I repeat: “How you react to dramatic things is good. How you react to SMALL things is GREAT! That’s where the power is.”
 
As we’ve discussed, Phil (and all great teachers, really) is ALL ABOUT the SMALL THINGS. 
 
He calls our moment-to-moment experiences (with ourselves and others) “micro transactions.” Although we tend to ignore them and think only the “big” stuff is “really” important, he flips that around and says it’s the TINY things that matter the MOST.
 
(Of course, by practicing with the small things, we’re well-trained to handle the “big” things when they inevitably arrive.)
 
So…
 
One more time: “How you react to dramatic things is good. How you react to SMALL things is GREAT! That’s where the power is.”
 
David Allen comes to mind.
 
As we’ve discussed, in our interview years ago, he said that “the sublime comes through the mundane.”
 
That’s Today’s +1.
 
Let’s bring our best.
 
To the small things.
 
TODAY.
 
P.S. Fun family fact: Midway through writing this +1, I heard a ferocious banging on my office door. Like jumbo crazy loud. (Laughing.) 
 
My initial reaction was WTNotFantastic! (Laughing.)
 
Then I ran my “If… Then…” algorithm and got ready to welcome my little man.
 
And…
 
What did I see?
 
Emerson in his brand-new BRIGHT GREEN (hah) helmet standing next to his sister in her helmet.
 
“Daddy!!! Look at my new bike!!!”
 
Yep. His new bike we got last night was downstairs. He cruised down, hopped on it and rode around the house. 
 
To think I almost ruined that TINY moment by getting upset IN THE MIDDLE of writing this +1… (Laughing yet again.)
 
Here’s to moving from Theory to Practice.
 
With the little things. 
 
And little ones.
 
TODAY.
Mar 15, 2020
Gratitude.
 
Yes, we’ve been chatting about it quite a bit recently. 
 
That’s deliberate.
 
You know how we recently established the (scientifically-validated) Top 2 virtues as Zest + Hope?
 
Well… 
 
Positive psychologists arm wrestle a bit about those top two virtues. 
 
While Ryan Niemiec (via The Power of Character Strengths) tells us that Zest + Hope are our Top 2, Robert Emmons tells us that Gratitude is even more predictive of well-being than Hope. 
 
We’ll leave the arm-wrestling debate on the precise order of those Top 2 to our academic friends but let’s shine a BRIGHT LIGHT on the Big 3 Virtues: Zest + Hope + Gratitude.
 
As I’ve been thinking about it, I actually like the order: Zest + Gratitude + Hope.
 
We’re Optimizing our Energy-Zest so we can give our best to our Work + Love. (Zest is still the undisputed #1 Virtue—although I’d say it’s technically achieved as a by-product of Wisdom + Self-Mastery/Discipline on the the fundamentals.)
 
Then… We practice Gratitude for the fact that we’re alive and for everything in our lives. (INCLUDING all the challenges, of course.)
 
Then… We practice Hope as we see a better future via a specific goal that inspires us, know we can make it happen and make a plan to make it so.
 
Zest + Gratitude + Hope.
 
(Note: Throw in Love + Curiosity for the Top 5.)
 
I love coming back to that and I’m constantly spinning those virtues around in my mind, trying to think about how to help us operationalize them more consistently in our lives. 
 
But… 
 
That’s not quite what I want to talk about Today.
 
Today I want to talk about that “What Went Well and Why?” gratitude exercise I referenced not too long ago. It’s one of Robert Emmons’ top recommended practices. 
 
Here’s how Martin Seligman puts it in Flourish: “Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (‘My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today’), but they can be important (‘My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy’).
 
Next to each positive event, answer the question ‘Why did this happen?’ For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes’ or ‘because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.’ Or if you write, ‘My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy,’ you might pick as the cause ‘God was looking out for her’ or ‘She did everything right during her pregnancy.’
 
Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”
 
Today’s +1.
 
Here’s to celebrating many more awesome moments (and clarity on how they came about!) between here and our next +1!
 
+1. +1. +1. 
Mar 12, 2020

William Damon is one of the world's leading scholars on human development. As the Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, Professor of Education at Stanford University, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Damon's research explores how people develop purpose and integrity in their work, family, and civic life. In his most recent book, The Power of Ideals, Professor Damon shares how we all have the power to cultivate more noble, moral possibilities in our lives.

Mar 10, 2020
In our last couple +1s, we talked about the science of gratitude and explored some tips on Robert Emmons’ #1 practice: Gratitude Journaling.
 
Today I want to chat about one of the distinctions I most loved from his book Gratitude Works!
 
He tells us: “Think about and then write down those aspects of your life that you are prone to take for granted. Instead, take them as granted.”
 
I just LOVE that distinction. 
 
Ungrateful people tend to take things (and people!) for granted
 
For example, we take for granted all of the astonishing modern benefits that make our lives possible: like a warm house, a car, a smartphone, the Internet and all the other magical marvels of modern life.
 
Robert tells us we’d be wise to move from taking people and things FOR GRANTED to seeing them AS GRANTED.
 
Let’s think about that for a moment longer.
 
We can take the amazing people and goodness in our lives FOR GRANTED or AS GRANTED
 
It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a REALLY big distinction. 
 
Science says: We’d be wise to remember that NONE of it is guaranteed. 
 
Making the shift to see that it’s ALL one big GIFT is at the heart of gratitude. In fact, it’s so important that we’re going to spend another moment on it tomorrow as we talk about the #1 obstacle to gratitude.
 
For now…
 
Let’s think of three things we normally take for granted and see if we can shift to seeing them “as granted.”
 
Here are three things pop up immediately for me…
 
#1: The computer on which I’m typing this. 
 
It’s easy for me to take this for granted (and get frustrated when it inevitably doesn’t work perfectly). But MY GOODNESS!!! It’s a MIRACLE. 
 
I can type on little black pieces of plastic and somehow (!) create letters that somehow (!) show up on the screen and on a website (Dropbox Paper) that I can edit and share with our team who can share it with you and with other Optimizers around the world. MIND BOGGLING. 
 
I hereby commit to, for this moment, seeing all of this AS GRANTED to me (via countless people over countless iterations over countless generations…). Grateful wow.
 
#2: The house in which I’m typing this. 
 
As I looked up from the screen out my office window at the mountain I hike every morning I thought of how easy it is to take the fact that I live in a safe, climate controlled house FOR GRANTED. That’s crazy. I’m so blessed (by so many people—including YOU) that it’s not even funny. 
 
I shall now, for this moment, see it AS GRANTED to me. Thank you.
 
#3: The bottle from which I’m drinking fresh water. 
 
I drink from a water bottle all day every day. Of course, it’s very easy to take that FOR GRANTED. But… Again… MY GOODNESS. That’s a miracle. Countless people around the world don’t have fresh water (gah) and ALL of us used to have to trek long distances to get our daily water (when we could find it). 
 
I hereby, for this moment, commit to seeing this gift AS GRANTED. And, for that I am grateful.
 
Of course, we can go on all day every day on this. And STILL barely scratch the surface of all the benefits we receive. 
 
THAT’S THE POINT.
 
And, that’s Today’s +1.
 
What three things can you shift from taking FOR GRANTED to AS GRANTED?
 
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Mar 5, 2020

Alzheimer’s. Even just thinking about that dreaded disease freaks you out a bit, eh? Over 5 million people in the US alone have Alzheimer’s. 1 in 9 people over 65. We’re told that there’s little we can do to prevent it and even less (make that: nothing) we can do to reverse it. Well... What if we could put an End to Alzheimer’s? In his great book, The End of Alzheimers, and in this conversation, Dale Bredeson, MD shares how Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented, and in many cases its associated decline can be reversed.

Mar 5, 2020
In our last +1, we talked about how to sidestep depression and anxiety. 
 
I still can’t believe that scientists have identified a threshold for our step counts under which we make ourselves more vulnerable for anxiety and depression.
 
As Kelly McGonigal tells us in The Joy of Movement: “The average daily step count required to induce feelings of anxiety and depression and decrease satisfaction with life is 5,649. The typical American takes 4,774 steps per day. Across the globe, the average is 4,961.”
 
Right before those step count thresholds, she tells us: “Other experiments in the U.S. and UK have forced moderately active adults to become sedentary for a period of time, only to watch their well-being wither. Regular exercisers who replace physical activity with a sedentary activity for two weeks become more anxious, tired, and hostile. When adults are randomly assigned to reduce their daily step count, 88 percent become more depressed. Within one week of becoming more sedentary, they report a 31 percent decline in life satisfaction.”
 
Those stats are nuts as well.
 
Take a regular exerciser, force them to become more sedentary and VOILA! 
 
Their “well-being withers.”
 
88% (EIGHTY-EIGHT PERCENT!!!) become more depressed. 
 
Within ONE WEEK of becoming more sedentary, they report a 31% (!!!) decline in life satisfaction.
 
Kinda makes you want to move, eh?
 
It’s funny, because, having been a non-exercising and much more “anxious, tired, hostile and depressed” version of myself, I’ve often jokingly said that you couldn’t PAY me to NOT exercise. 
 
As it turns out, the researchers conducting studies like that often ran into challenges finding people willing to not exercise! (Apparently, I’m not alone.)
 
So... One more time. Back to you. 
 
How can you move a little more?
 
TODAY!!!
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