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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Nov 10, 2017

I dropped out of law school before a semester was over but I do remember one Big Idea from Contracts class.

Lawyers like to say that a contract is a good one when there are “bright lines”—when it’s super obvious what everyone is agreeing to. Fuzzy lines? Not so good. We want super crisp, obvious, BRIGHT lines.

Research scientists borrowed that phrase to describe one of the key attributes of creating good deals with yourself as you architect your ideal life.

They tell us that when we’re building new habits, we want to have VERY BRIGHT LINES about what is and what is not acceptable behavior.

For example, when I wanted to quit eating fast food over a decade ago, the fuzzy line I had of “Eat at McDonald’s less often” wasn’t particularly helpful. Every time I’d drive by that McDonald’s on the way home I’d have to ask myself, “Is today the day I get to go there?”

And, when did I go? On the days when I was feeling the worst, of course.

Then, one day, I got BRIGHT with my lines. I decided I would NEVER eat at McDonald's again. Period. Now, of course, I broke that commitment a few times before it stuck, but—and this is an important distinction!—at least now I knew I was breaking a contract with myself. Eventually I dialed it in and kicked the fast food habit.

I did the same thing with ESPN and Google News and the iPhone in bed and countless other things. Fuzzy? Didn’t help. 100% bright? Worked like a charm.

So, how about you?

What’s the #1 bad habit you’d like to get rid of?

How can you move from fuzzy to super bright?

Think about that and get on it.

Nov 9, 2017

We all have areas of our lives we want to Optimize.

Stephen Covey tells us to think about our “Roles and Goals.” Tony Robbins calls it “Categories of Improvement.” The challenge with those is that we can get confused with a near-infinite number of Roles and Categories.

I like to boil it down to my Big 3: Energy + Family + Service.

Energy. For me, it ALL starts with Energy. If I have a tough time getting out of bed in the morning, I’m going to have a tough time living optimally. Therefore, I prioritize making sure my Energy is strong.

Family. Why do I want to feel radiantly alive and energized? First and foremost, I want to be an exemplary husband and father. I’m the only one in the world who can be a great husband to my wife and father to my children. In the midst of striving to do great things and make a difference in the world, it’s easy to forget that it all starts at home.

Service. The other reason I keep my energy strong is to be of service. I want to be, in the words of the French movement philosopher Georges Hébert , “Fit to be useful.”

So, here’s how I like to approach it: First, start by identifying what you at your absolute best would look like in each of those categories. Then capture the benefits you’ll experience when you live from that ideal. Then think of the #1 simple thing you can do to make sure you’re in integrity with that ideal. Then schedule that thing into your Masterpiece Day. And, of course, DO IT.

For me, it looks like this:

Energy: Me at my best: I am a world-class athlete. (Defined as qualifying for the Spartan World Championships at the end of this year. I need to place in the Top 20 in my age group so it’s a JV-version of world-class but it was still a big stretch for me when I set the goal and it has great pull-power.)

The benefits (aka “The Why” a la Nietzsche’s “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”): I am radiantly alive. I am grounded. Powerful. Calm. Confident. Energized.

The #1 thing I will do every day: Sunrise Trail Workout. I'll show up on the mountain and bang out my 1=hour workout. CONSISTENCY of training (obviously oscillating intensity/etc.) is my secret weapon.


Family: Me at my best: I am an exemplary husband and father. I love to work and create. AND I'm committed to being a great husband and father. An exemplar. That standard fires me up.

The benefits: Joy. Presence. Love. Kindness. Patience. Consistency. Celebrating my 50th anniversary with my Love. 😃

The #1 thing I will do every day to make that happen: Quality time one-on-one with my son EVERY day. Defined as at least 30 minutes (target 60 during week and hours on weekend) of just me and him.


Service: Me at my best: I am an exemplary social entrepreneur, philosopher + teacher, and community leader. I am committed to using business as a force for heroic good while continuing to study, embody and teach wisdom I love and making a difference in our Optimize community.

The benefits: The joy of doing what I’m here to do. Flow. Energy. Enthusiasm. Connection. Impact.

The #1 thing I will do every day to make this happen: AM1 Deep Work. Before I go online, I will do my morning rituals and Deep Work. Period.

As I say all the time: You couldn’t pay me to hop online and blow my brain up before doing my creative work. My mind just isn’t quite the same after going online. I’m all about accreting a little more value every day and repeating that every day—allowing the gains to aggregate and compound as the creative power magnifies itself incrementally. It all starts with that first Deep Work slot every morning.


3 + 1 = Magic.

Nov 7, 2017

Here’s another simple way to keep your motivation high: Journal.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of the world’s leading scientists studying well-being. She tells us that one of the most robust ways to boost our optimism and positive thinking (actually, she says it’s "The most robust" strategy) is to journal daily—reflecting on our hopes and dreams, visualizing our success and reflecting on the steps we will take to make it all happen.

Ten to twenty minutes per day.

Even as little as two minutes has been shown to make people happier and healthier.


What are your hopes and dreams? What steps will you take to make it all happen?

Journal lately?

Might be a good +1 for today. 😃

Nov 5, 2017

Stephen Covey's seventh habit of Highly Effective People is "Sharpen the Saw."

He tells us about the importance of renewal if we want to stay at our best and shares this parable to bring the point home:

Imagine walking into a forest. You see a guy sawing a tree. He's working and working and working but not getting very far. His blade is clearly dull.

So, you suggest he step back and sharpen the saw a bit.

He says that's simply not possible. He's way too busy to slow down to sharpen anything.

Hmmmm... Really? But with a sharp blade you'd hammer right through that tree!


Which guy are you?


What's one tiny little easy thing you could start doing (today!!) that would help you build a chainsaw?

Let's do that!!

Nov 4, 2017
In our last +1, we chatted about the scientifically-proven power of gratitude: Simply writing down 5 things you're grateful for can boost your happiness up to 25%. (Wow.) 
Here’s another way to practice the magic of gratitude right in the moment when you need it most.
The Tools guys call it Grateful Flow” and it’s one of their ways to deal with any negative feelings you might be experiencing—overwhelm, depression, that sort of ick sauce.
Here’s the quick take on how to put the tool into practice: The moment you’re aware that a cloud of ick is floating into your day, step back, take a deep breath and simply look around you and notice things you can be grateful for.
For example, right now I’m grateful for the computer I’m working on, the bottle of water I just drank from, my wife and kids, the beautiful mountain out my window, my health, you, and so much more.
That’s Grateful Flow.
Tiny little things in our life that we can either take for granted or appreciate. 
Note: It’s impossible (!) to be in a state of gratitude AND be in a state of misery at the same time. (Don’t believe me? Try it.)
The next time you’re starting to feel a little stressed: Take a deep breath and turn on the Grateful Flow!
How about some practice right now?
What tiny things can you appreciate?
(Let’s live from that place!)
Nov 2, 2017
Patrick McKeown is one of the world’s leading experts on optimal breathing. 
When I interviewed him recently, he made a very interesting point. He said that we spend all our lives in school learning how to think but that we’re never taught how to STOP thinking.
Fact is, most of our thinking” isn’t thinking at all. We’re simply looping the same unproductive thought over and over again.
Get this: According to a study done at USC, the average person has 70,000 thoughts per day. And, according to some experts, 80-90% of those thoughts are useless. 
That’s crazy. (Literally.)
It’s also really enervating. We waste a ton of energy spinning our mental wheels—creating more stress and anxiety and fatigue while diminishing our performance and well-being. (Not a winning combination.)
So, learning how to STOP thinking is a very important skill.
Patrick’s #1 tip on how to master the art of not thinking?
Specifically, breathe through your nose. Deeply (but lightly!) into your diaphragm. 
(One of Patrick’s Big Ideas we’ll talk about more in another +1 is the fact that we all breathe way too much—which, paradoxically, decreases the amount of oxygen released into our cells.)
For now: Breathe through your nose. Deeply. Yet lightly. 
And, ahhhhh… 
Our mind has slowed down. All that wasted energy is recouped. 
btw: Two other ways to stop that mental chatter? Put your attention on your body = #2. And the final tip from Patrick? Immerse yourself in the present moment. 
Let’s think productively when it’s appropriate to do so. And then get really good at turning the brain off. 
Oct 31, 2017
Gold-medal-winning mental toughness coach and author Lanny Bassham is all about focusing on the PROCESS of goal achievement. He tells a great story about one of his clients—a pro golfer. 
Now, this professional golfer was struggling a bit. He was setting his goals for the year and Lanny told him not to think about winning tournaments but to put all of his attention on mastering the process of playing well—identifying the key components of a successful shot and then taking it, literally, one shot at a time. 
So, this golfer embraces the wisdom. Early in the season, he's out on the 18th green in the final round of a big tournament. He's lining up his putt, following the process he and Lanny established. He makes the putt. 
His playing partner shakes his hand and congratulates him. 
Then he realizes something must be up when his wife runs on to the green cheering. 
"Did I win?" he asks. 
Yah. You just won the tournament and 1 million dollars. 
Imagine that. Imagine being so focused on executing the next baby in your process that you don't even know you're sinking a million dollar putt. 
And guess what? 
You are (of course) much more likely to sink the putt when every ounce of your creative energy is focused on doing your best and not leaking out in concerns about doing well enough. 
Process vs. Outcome.
Where’s your focus? 
Oct 30, 2017
In his great book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb walks us through the fact that there’s a big difference between being fragile, being resilient, and being ANTIfragile.
In short:
If you’re fragile and life hits you hard, you break.
If you’re resilient and life hits you hard, you withstand more and… eventually…  you break.
If you’re ANTIFRAGILE, when life hits you hard you actually get stronger.
Think about that. 
The more you get kicked around and challenged by life, the S T R O N G E R you get. 
Wouldn’t that be awesome?
As Nassim tells us and we would be wise to remember: A wind extinguishes a candle but fuels a fire.”
Let’s build a bonfire.
(On that note, how about this gem from Rumi: I am burning. If anyone lacks tinder, let him set his rubbish ablaze with my fire.”)
Oct 28, 2017
At this point, most of us know that Roger Bannister was the first person to break the 4-minute mile. Very smart people of his era said that it was impossible. Period. End of story. He, of course, wasn’t so sure.
But here’s what’s awesome: Do you know how Roger trained to do the impossible? 
Hint: He broke down his goal into bite-sized pieces.
Here’s how: First, he trained until he could run a quarter mile in a minute. (Nice job!) Then he trained until he could run half a mile in two minutes. (Well done!) Then he trained until he could run three-quarters of a mile in three minutes. (Sweet!) Then he trained until he thought he could run the full mile in less than four minutes.
And, voila!
On May 6, 1954 at Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England, the time keeper looked down and saw these magic numbers: 3:59.4.
Roger achieved the impossible by breaking his impossible” goal into little bite-size, do-able pieces—which is always a very good idea. (As Henry Ford once said, Nothing is particularly hard if you break it into enough small pieces.”)
How about you?
What’s your jumbo-big exciting goal? You know, the thing you would do if you weren't afraid?
Yah. That one. 
Write it down in a few words. 
Now, let's chunk it down and give you your next bite-size doable target.
What's the very next micro-goal you need to hit en route to that big goal?! The thing that, once you achieve, will make it possible to hit the next target?
Got it? Awesome. 
Now… What’s your next baby step?
And, most importantly: Is now a good time to take it?
Oct 27, 2017
In our last +1, we had fun applying Rumi’s wisdom that God turns us from one feeling to another so we have two wings to fly and not one.
Today, we’ll look at another one of my favorite gems from Rumi.
He tells us: If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”
Think about that.
If you want to be polished (aka Optimized!!), how do you expect to get there if you’re irritated by every little rub of life?
Guess what?
It’s those rubs” (aka challenges!) that are MAKING YOU SO SHINY!!!
Rumi also tells us: This discipline and rough treatment are a furnace to extract the silver from the dross. This testing purifies the gold by boiling the scum away.”
That’s the ticket.
We need to embrace all the little rubs antifragile-style as we step into the furnace so we can burn the scum away. 
That’s Today’s +1.
Got any challenges these days?
Can you see how the ONLY way you’ve grown in the past is by overcoming challenges?
And that the challenges you’re facing today are simply opportunities for you to actually APPLY all these tools to get a little shinier?
Rub rub rub.
+1. +1. +1.
Oct 20, 2017

Here’s a quick look behind the scenes for one of our next classes: Journaling 101: How to Use a Pen and Paper to Create Clarity, Confidence, and Consistency. I hope you enjoy this overview of the class (and my process in creating it)! P.S. Optimize with us:

Oct 3, 2017

I've been thinking about how I can help you optimize (technically, I'm pretty much *always* obsessing about it) and realized I should probably do some more behind-the-scenes videos to capture my (often messy) thought process about how to take Optimize to the next level and do my life's work while serving you profoundly and creating an exemplary business that scales in the process. This video is the fruits of that. Hope you enjoy!

Optimize with us at

P.S. Notes on my Top 10 favorite Books

P.P.S. Let's do this!

Sep 12, 2017

Michael Gelb is one of the world’s leading creativity teachers. He’s also a qi gong and aikido master who wrote one of my favorite books: “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.” In this book, he teaches us the art of creating connection. Big Ideas we explore include how to optimize our ability to connect (practice with the little moments!), The Pygmalion Effect (aka the self-fulfilling prophecy), the importance of centering for conflict resolution, and how our addiction to digital devices (ADD) is leading to attention deficit disorder (ADD) which is leading to troubles in connecting and what to do about it.

Sep 2, 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.

May 13, 2017

This is a quick-reading, simple, practical guide to, as the sub-title suggests, “Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind—Featuring the Buteyko Breathing Method and Mindfulness.” If you’re looking for a general introduction to the power of Oxygen, I’d recommend you go with Patrick’s more recent and more all-purpose Oxygen Advantage. If you suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks, this might be a great place to start. Big Ideas we explore: The #1 rule of breathing, the 2 key benefits of putting your attention on your breath, why CO2 is your friend and how to play nice, avoiding rat poison and becoming a good mind gardener.

May 12, 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.

May 11, 2017

This book is an adaptation of a series of essays Katy created over the last five years in which she unpacks her evolving views on what she calls “movement ecology.” It’s not your typical “do X, Y, and Z” optimal living guidebook. It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at why—as you can guess by the title—Movement Matters and a challenging look at how our individual and cultural decisions have created a sedentary culture and a significant nature debt that few of us ever stop to think about. Big Ideas: Stacking your life, minimalism vs. maximalism, the tree of your life, and redefining success.

May 6, 2017

Welcome: Your Heroic Quest + Making it a Reality

Our world needs heroes today more than ever before. We need YOU to be a Hero. We hope you enjoy this video from Friday Night of our weekend immersion workshop: Hero Training 101. Let’s do this!

Watch the entire weekend workshop here:

May 5, 2017

Do you know why we call our modern marathon a marathon? You may think you know the real story behind the very first marathon, but in this captivating, inspiring tale, Dean Karnazes (named by Men’s Health as one of the 100 Fittest Men of All Time) gives us a deeper look at the man who, 2,500 years ago, ran the first ULTRAmarathon and, in doing so, effectively saved Western civilization. :) Big Ideas we explore: a history lesson The Battle of Marathon, why balance doesn’t lead to happiness (and what does), a 24 Hour Fitness with Harvard profs, heroes are ready and how to play the pain game.

Feb 25, 2017

I love Stoicism. In this class we take a quick look at the cast of characters (from founder Zeno to Seneca + Epictetus + Marcus Aurelius) and then dive into the ultimate goal of Stoicism (hint: become bff’s with your inner daimon so you can experience a state of well-being and flourishing) along with the practices that help us apply this wisdom to our lives. We’ll create energized tranquility and equanimity as we have fun becoming our own ideal sages.

Jan 30, 2017

Here's what David Allen has to say about Hero Training 101.

Jan 25, 2017

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 = …

Jan 17, 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.

Jan 6, 2017

Here’s another behind-the-scenes look at how I’m thinking about The Big 3: Energy + Family + Service as we raise our standards to heroic levels. Primary questions: What does you at your best look like in each domain? What will you experience/who will you be when you are your best? (Aka: The Why) And, most importantly, what ONE thing will you do to make that ideal self a reality? Hope you enjoy! More on Hero Training 101:

Jan 6, 2017

Join us for my first ever offline immersion workshop. It will be at our new Optimize Oasis in Ojai in April. We’re calling it Hero Training 101. It’s time. Learn more:

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