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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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Now displaying: November, 2019
Nov 26, 2019
In our last +1, we spent some time with Todd Herman, Batman, Dora the Explorer and YOUR most heroic self.
 
Today we’re going to connect all that goodness to wisdom from the classic peak-performance book The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey.
 
Here’s how he puts it: “‘Asking for qualities’ describes the other kind of role-playing. When introducing this idea, I usually say something like this: ‘Imagine that I am the director of a television series. Knowing that you are an actor that plays tennis, I ask if you would like to do a bit part as a top-flight tennis player. I assure you that you needn’t worry about hitting the ball out or into the net because the camera will only be focused on you and will not follow the ball. What I’m mainly interested in is that you adopt professional mannerisms, and that you swing your racket with super self-assurance. Above all, your face must express no self-doubt. You should look as if you are hitting every ball exactly where you want to. Really get into the role, hit as hard as you like and ignore where the ball is actually going.”
 
“Asking for qualities.”
 
That’s one of Gallwey’s three practices for communicating with what he calls Self 2—which is basically your Optimus-best self that innately knows how to crush it if we’d simply get out of our own way. 
 
(The other two practices? Letting go of judgments and the art of creating images of the outcomes you want to see.)
 
Today we’re going to walk onto the set of the movie that is our lives.
 
You’re the star. (Go you!)
 
(Well, technically, we’re ALL just bit players in the game of life so perhaps we should adopt that view, eh?)
 
So…
 
What roles are you playing these days? 
 
(Perhaps you can use the Big 3 Identities for Energy + Work + Love.)
 
Now…
 
How would you show up in your life if you acted like a top-flight pro in your given field, adopted professional mannerisms and did your thing with super self-assurance—with no doubt and pure confidence?
 
Let’s ACT LIKE THAT.
 
Today.
 
Seriously.
 
How would you walk, talk, breathe and be if you were acting like the best possible version of yourself? 
 
Be that.
 
And let’s watch our performance (and enjoyment) soar.
Nov 21, 2019
In our last +1, we revisited Ellen Langer at her “Psychology of Possibility” lab at Harvard to learn that words matter. 
 
As you may recall, simply priming people with words associated with old age (via a crossword puzzle!) will cause them to walk more slowly to the elevator than those who weren’t primed with those words.
 
*rubs eyes*
 
One more time: Astonishing, eh? 
 
And…
 
One more time: WORDS MATTER. A lot.
 
Langer shares that study and wisdom in her book Counterclockwise in a section in which she also talks about “placebos” and other truly fascinating studies.
 
Here’s how she puts it: “When we see mind and body as parts of a single entity, the research on placebos takes on new meaning and suggests we can not only control much of our disease experience, but we may also be able to extend our ability to gain, recover, or enhance our health.
 
Placebos often come in the form of a single word that captures a richer mindset. In one study I conducted with my students, we explored the mindset most of us have regarding excellent vision air force pilots have. All participants were given a vision test. One group of participants were then encouraged to role-play ‘air force pilots.’ They dressed the part and, in uniform, sat in a flight simulator. They were asked to read the letters on the wing of a nearby plane, which were actually part of an eye chart. Those participants who adopted the ‘pilot’ mindset, primed to have excellent vision, showed improved vision over those who were simulating being in the simulator and simply asked to read an eye chart from the same distance.”
 
WHAT?!
 
Just having people pretend that they’re air force pilots can improve their vision?
 
SERIOUSLY?
 
Yes.
 
That’s Today’s +1.
 
What’s YOUR “single word that captures a richer mindset”?
 
Let’s pop that mantra-placebo word all day Today.
 
And, if you feel so inspired, why not even dress the part as well?
Nov 16, 2019
Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated is a great book.
 
It falls into the “Effort Counts Twice” / Deliberate Practice bucket of how to reach our Peak via Grit, etc.
 
It’s packed with great stories about, as per the sub-title of the book: “What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.”
 
(Here’s a short hint to the answer: “No matter who they were, or what explanation of their performance was being advanced, it always took them many years to become excellent, and if a person achieves elite status only after many years of toil, assigning the principal role in that success to innate gifts becomes problematic, to say the least.”)
 
(Note: That doesn’t mean Talent Is IRRELEVANT, just OVERRATED when compared to extraordinarily hard work. Again: See Effort Counts Twice for Angela Duckworth’s math on the subject!)
 
So…
 
Today I want to share one of my favorite stories from that book.
 
Here it is.
 
Colvin tells us: “A study of figure skaters found that sub-elite skaters spent lots of time working on the jumps they could already do, while skaters at the highest levels spent more time on the jumps they couldn’t do, the kind that ultimately win Olympic medals and that involve lots of falling down before they’re mastered.”
 
(Aha! Stretching out of our comfort zones into our stretch zones (but not into our panic zones!) for the win!)
 
Colvin then tells the story of Shizuka Arakawa, who won the gold medal in figure skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. 
 
As you may know, she rocked some crazy move called “a layback Ina Bauer” — which basically required her to bend backward “almost double with the feet pointing in opposite directions — leading into a three-jump combination.”
 
You can watch her gold-medal winning performance here
 
(Note1: The move we’re talking about occurs at the 1:45 mark.)
 
(Note2: If you aren’t moved to tears of joy as you watch such a beautiful expression of human excellence then…. well… I don’t know what to say other than rewatch it?!)
 
Now…. When most of us watch something like that it simply looks IMPOSSIBLE to do. (And, for most of us, it pretty much is.
 
But… As we watch that performance in AWE, we would be wise to remember that Shizuka, who won the gold at twenty-four, had been training for NINETEEN years. 
 
NINETEEN years!! 
 
Consistently pushing her edges. 
 
Falling down again and again and again...
 
In fact, Colvin calculated the number of times she probably fell and says: “Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from.”
 
And… That’s Today’s +1.
 
Ineffably elegant grace?
 
It’s the by-product of being willing to inelegantly fall on your butt (on cold ice, no less!) 20,000 (!!) times.
 
Olympic cameras back on you.
 
Let’s cruise back into our respective metaphorical ice-skating rinks to train like world-class performers as we wear our falls like medals and remember this parting wisdom from Colvin: The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Perhaps it’s inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better. Above all, what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking, liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for the pre-ordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.”
Nov 11, 2019
The other day I found myself re-reading our Notes on Christopher McDougall’s great book Natural Born Heroes.
 
Although we’ve talked (many times) about the fact that the ancient word for hero literally meant “protector,” I realized that (somehow!) I’ve never shared McDougall’s brilliant wisdom that catalyzed my emphasis on the whole idea of all of us becoming modern heroes.
 
So…
 
Let’s take a quick look at how McDougall so wisely puts it.
 
He tells us: And what Plutarch taught them is this: Heroes care. True heroism, as the ancients understood, isn’t about strength, or boldness, or even courage. It’s about compassion.
 
When the Greeks created the heroic ideal, they didn’t choose a word that mean ‘Dies Trying’ or ‘Massacres Bad Guy.’ They went with hērōs—‘protector.’ Heroes aren’t perfect; with a god as one parent and a mortal as the other, they’re perpetually teetering between two destinies. What tips them toward greatness is a sidekick, a human connection who helps turn the spigot on the power of compassion. Empathy, the Greeks believed, was a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, the more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into.”
 
That’s Today’s +1.
 
Heroes care.
 
It’s that simple.
 
And…
 
As aspiring modern heroes, we demonstrate that love and compassion by building the strength for two.
 
So…
 
For whom do YOU aspire to have strength?
 
And…
 
How will you build just a little more strength Today?
 
Plus…
 
How can you use the strength you have in service to the world just a little more Today?
 
Modern Hērōs unite!!
 
Let’s do this.
Nov 6, 2019
As we’ve discussed, a mantra is literally “a tool of the mind.”
 
By repeating a mantra over and over and over again (spiritual teachers say!), it takes hold in our subconscious and subtly shapes our mind.
 
Eknath Easwaran is a huge fan and advocate of mantras. He sold me on their power years ago and I’ve experimented with many but I haven’t really found one that stuck. 
 
Until now…
 
I think I might have found my new go-to mantra.
 
Here it is: Thank you.”
 
As in: “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
 
Followed by: “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
 
Followed up by: “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
 
Repeat.
 
Especially when you find yourself triggered by something (or someone).
 
“Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
“Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
“Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
 
It’s kinda weird what happens when I do that.
 
I go from feeling stressed/annoyed/whatever to feeling truly GRATEFUL.
 
I don’t even have to do anything other than kickstart the mantra. After a few reps, my mind comes up with things for which I can be grateful in the midst of whatever might be challenging me.
 
Gratitude just kinda bubbles up. 
 
Bubbles of gratitude like: “Thank you for the challenge itself—which is giving me the opportunity to actually practice these ideas.” “Thank you for all the amazing things you have done for me, o’ person who is currently pushing my buttons.” Etc. Etc. Etc.
 
It’s almost weird how powerful it is. 
 
Perhaps that’s why Meister Eckhart once said: “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
 
That’s Today’s +1.
 
Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Nov 1, 2019
Not too long ago, we talked about Sleep Curfews. Five of them, to be precise. 
 
One for Caffeine. Another for Exercise. Plus Eating. Plus Screens. Plus Work.
 
As you may recall, Caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 6 hours so try to cut back on that by around noon or 2 or whatever you find works best for you. 
 
Exercise late in the day gets your core temperature all jacked up when it should be mellowing out, so aim for at least 3 hours before bedtime. (And, remember that exercise also gives you a 12-hour mood boost so might as well pop a happy pill early in the day, eh?)
 
Eating was a fun one. The standard advice is to eat at least 2 hours before bedtime. (And def don’t snack right before/in the middle of the night.) Want to go gonzo with the glymph? Eat at least 4 (FOUR!) hours before bedtime. 
 
Then we have Screens. Again, turn off the screens AT LEAST an hour before bed. More if you’re feeling it.
 
Finally, we had a Work “shut-down complete” target. We left that one up to you and I said mine was no later than 5:00 pm.
 
So…
 
Today I want to add a new curfew. Let’s call it the Stress Curfew.”
 
I violated this one the other day and, as I found myself wide awake (over)thinking in the middle of the night, I vowed to use the data as wisely as possible to recommit to some bright lines as I Optimized. (I almost gave myself a mistake-learner’s high I was so buzzing.) (Almost.) (lol)
 
Technically, you could say I violated BOTH my digital sunset Screen Curfew AND my shut-down complete Work Curfew when I was using Alexandra’s phone to work on a (somewhat intense) business issue way past my normal 5:00 pm curfews. 
 
Now, it was only 6:45 pm when I put down the phone but that’s an hour before I usually go to bed (laughing at myself; who does that?) and a couple/few hours later than I usually do that kind of work so my brain was hopping WAY (!) more than it usually is that late in the day.
 
Enter: That poor night of sleep and a poor Oura readiness score to show for it. 
 
Good news: I rebounded from the 83 readiness score to back-to-back 95’s with an even deeper appreciation for just how much the seemingly little things matter. (Marginal gains!!)
 
The lesson for me: There are VERY few things that are that important that they can’t wait until the next day to be addressed. And… I’m MUCH more likely to be able to solve them wisely when I’m well-rested. THEREFORE, honor your curfews, yo!
 
That’s Today’s +1.
 
Do YOU have a Stress Curfew?
 
(Should you?)
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