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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: January, 2020
Jan 30, 2020
In our last +1, we talked about the research on the fact that The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.
 
Today I want to talk about another way to make what we’re learning stick.
 
We’re going to consult with Barbara Oakley on this one.
 
Barbara taught one of the most popular classes in history. Nearly 2 million people from 200 countries have taken her Coursera class called Learning How to Learn.
 
She also wrote a book on how to learn called A Mind for Numbers where she tells us: “The legendary Charles Darwin would do much the same thing. When trying to explain a concept, he imagined someone had just walked into his study. He would put his pen down and try to explain the idea in the simplest terms. That helped him figure out how he would describe the concept in print. Along those lines, the website Reddit.com has a section called ‘Explain like I’m 5’ where anyone can make a post asking for a simple explanation of a complex topic.
 
You may think you really have to understand something in order to explain it. But observe what happens when you are talking to other people about what you are studying. You’ll be surprised to see how often understanding arises as a consequence of attempts to explain to others and yourself, rather than the explanation arising out of your previous understanding. This is why teachers often say that the first time they ever really understood the material was when they had to teach it.”
 
That’s Today’s +1.
 
Want to master something?
 
Explain it to someone.
 
Like they’re 5.
 
TODAY.
Jan 25, 2020
In our last couple +1s, we talked about a key (arguably the #1 key) predictor of our long-term health/morbidity: our visceral fat. 
 
We also discussed the Optimized WHtR (Waist-to-Height Ratio!) that gives us some insight on how we’re doing with that facet of our lives. (+1 +1 +1 for the <.5 win!)
 
There are, of course, a number of things we can do to Optimize our WHtR.
 
Eat + Move + Sleep Fundies for the win!
 
But…
 
The #1 thing? 
 
Nutrition.
 
At the end of the day, if we want to get our weight Optimized, we need to get our nutrition Optimized. (And, that requires us to get our metabolism/insulin Optimized.)
 
For the record: I’m agnostic as to whether you should go vegan or paleo or keto or carnivore or whatever strikes your fancy.
 
I am, however, very (!) committed to a) encouraging you to GO ALL IN on whatever path you choose while b) remaining open to experimenting as new data comes in while c) making sure whatever path you choose includes limiting/eliminating sugar and flour and ultra-processed foods while d) reminding you that the more weight you need to lose, the MORE committed you’ll need to be, the more important the margins will be, and the brighter your lines will need to be.
 
But that’s not quite the point of Today’s +1.
 
Today I want to talk about the fact that exercise, as awesome as it is, is PRIMARILY a WELL-BEING tool *not* a WEIGHT-LOSS tool.
 
We talk about this in our Notes on Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney’s book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.
 
It’s one of their “Ten Clinical Pearls.” 
 
They tell us: “Exercise is a wellness tool. It is not a weight loss tool.”
 
They also tell us: “Exercise done by heavy people causes a lot of collateral damage. Think ankles, knees, hips, and low backs. So here’s a radical idea… let heavy people try carbohydrate restriction first, lose some weight (which most do without resorting to exercise), and then let them decide when to become more active once they are empowered, energized, and lighter of foot. Making heavy people exercise is punitive. Enabling heavy people to lose weight and then become more fit is smart.”
 
So…
 
Exercise is unquestionably awesome for our overall well-being. It’s like that little bit of Ritalin and Prozac a la John Ratey’s Spark. And, as Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us in The How of Happiness, it’s been shown to be as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression.
 
But, again, remember: Exercise is NOT primarily a weight-loss tool. It’s a wellness tool.
 
I often think of this when I’m out on the trail and see significantly overweight people training super hard. It makes a LOT more sense to slow down and get your weight down THEN train. 
 
To put it in perspective, I used to carry something heavy for the first and last 5 minutes up to the start of the trail—either a 50-pound sand bag or a bucket filled with 50 pounds of gravel-rocks. (That’s like me!)
 
People often looked at me and asked, “What are you carrying?!” Then we’d have a sweet, Love 2.0 moment as we chat about Spartan Races, etc. 
 
But...
 
No one ever pauses to think about the fact that running with 15 to 25 to 50+ extra pounds is AT LEAST as weird as me carrying a 50-pound bag of sand or a 50-pound bucket of rocks! 
 
So... 
 
If you’re carrying extra weight, consider putting ALL your energy into dropping it THEN hitting your higher-impact aerobic training. (Note: Carry on with the lower-impact MAF aerobic goodness and resistance training during the transition!)
 
One more time…
 
Let’s remember: “Exercise is a wellness tool. It is not a weight loss tool.”
Jan 20, 2020
In our last +1, we talked about the PM ritual Pythagoras came up with 2,500 years ago (!) that the Stoics liked to follow:
 

"Allow not sleep to close your wearied eyes,

Until you have reckoned up each daytime deed:

 

‘Where did I go wrong? What did I do? And what duty’s left undone?’

From first to last review your acts and then

Reprove yourself for wretched acts, but rejoice in those done well.”

 
Today we’ll step back a bit and put in an AM Intention practice to go with that PM Reflection practice.
 
Let’s go back to Donald Robertson’s How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.
 
He encourages us to follow another one of Aurelius’s practices and “Contemplate the Sage.” Specifically, he tells us that Marcus made it a practice to think about the virtues he admired in others that he aspired to put into practice in his own life.
 
He also tells us: “In addition to the virtues of real people, the Stoics were also known for contemplating the hypothetical character of an ideal Sage, or wise person.”
 
Then he shares my favorite practice: “In addition to asking ourselves what qualities the ideal wise person might have, we can ask what qualities we might hope to possess in the distant future. For instance, what sort of person would you hope to be after having trained in Stoicism for ten or twenty years?”
 
When I read that I immediately thought of our Carpe Diem journaling process.
 
In our Mastery Series, after establishing the ultimate game we’re playing (and how to play it well), we walk you through a Steven Covey-inspired eulogy exercise in which you attend your own funeral and listen to what your loved ones have to say about you.
 
Pause for a moment, if you feel so inspired, and imagine that scene. You’re gone. It’s your funeral. Who says what?
 
Specifically, what VIRTUES do you hope people use to describe you and your presence in their lives? WRITE THOSE DOWN.
 
We then proceed to help you get more clarity on who you are at your Optimus-best so that you can more consistently express those virtues TODAY. 
 
We need to move out of the abstract, “Oh, yah. That’s how I’d like to be remembered” to a VERY concrete, “Well, if I *really* think those qualities are important, then TODAY is the day to live in integrity with them.” (Right?)
 
Which leads us right into the next piece of wisdom Donald shares which also happens to map over nearly perfectly with what we encourage our Optimizers to do. 
 
He tells us to reflect on your ideal self and those virtues you intend to embody every morning. Write them down. Imagine your ideal self interacting with people Today. Who are you? How do you show up? That’s essentially what Aurelius did. 
 
We call our Optimize process “Carpe Diem Journaling.” We start by getting clarity on our Optimus-best selves in our Big 3 of Energy + Work + Love. Then we briefly reflect on that best-self Identity and write down the virtues that version of you embodies. Then we identify the #1 behavior we’ll engage in that day as we re-commit to being that version of ourselves TODAY.
 
Donald encourages us to add a PM reflection so we can go through what he calls daily “learning cycles.” At the end of each day, he tells us to ask ourselves three simple questions: 
  1. What did you do badly?
  2. What did you do well?
  3. What could you do differently?
Those three questions happen to be exactly the questions Lanny Bassham tells us to reflect on after a performance. Only, he switches #1 and #2—starting with the positive.
 
Shall we start that reflection process Today? 
 
How about RIGHT NOW?
 
If you feel so inspired, reflect on those three questions for your day so far today:
 
  1. What did you do well?                __________________________________________________
  2. What did you do badly?              __________________________________________________
  3. What could you do differently?  __________________________________________________
Fantastic. 
 
Imagine your life in ten to twenty years if the ONLY thing you changed was adding that simple reflection practice into your life.
 
Here’s to aggregating and compounding those incremental gains over an extended period of time so that BEST version of us is the one looking back at us in the mirror in ten or twenty years. 
Jan 15, 2020
In our last +1, we had fun chatting about the diploma we give to our Optimize Coaches.
 
It so perfectly captures the underlying purpose of all of our work together that I’d like to share it again. 
 
Here it is one more time:
  • Having demonstrated a commitment to areté through the mastery of ancient wisdom, modern science, and the fundamentals of Optimal living—both in their own life and in service to others—let it be known that
  • [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] is hereby recognized as a Certified Optimize Coach and granted all privileges thereunto appertaining, for as long as they continue to demonstrate their commitment through practice.
  • In witness whereof, we hereby commit to do our best to operationalize virtue and live with areté, honoring the fundamentals and striving to be our Optimize = Optimus = Best = Eudaimōn = Hērō selves in Energy, Work, and Love.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Today I want to chat about one particular subtle little thing from this section: 
 
“… is hereby recognized as a Certified Optimize Coach and granted all privileges thereunto appertaining, for as long as they continue to demonstrate their commitment through practice.
 
I actually laughed as I bolded that.
 
for as long as they continue to demonstrate their commitment through practice.
 
Our program is 300-days long. We graduate after doing a Spartan Race together on Saturday.
 
Then you know what happens on Sunday?
 
We start again.
 
It’s Day 1.
 
Yes, after completing our program and demonstrating Mastery, our Coaches “graduate.” They’re now “certified.” 
 
Then, inspired in part by the the Navy SEALs who need to “earn their tridents every day,” we start again. 
 
And again. And again. 
 
It’s Day 1. 
 
EVERY DAY.
 
Why?
 
Well, as we talk about all the time, moving from Theory to Practice to Mastery isn’t a “Check me out, I’m done!” kinda thing.
 
It’s a constant and never-ending process in which we strive to show up, work our always-evolving protocols and see just what we’re capable of as we make our prior best our new baseline and give the world all we've got.
 
If that sounds like fun, we’d love to have you join us in our 2020 Optimize Coach program.
 
Either way, of course, we’re ALL IN on supporting you and helping you make 2020 THE greatest year of our lives and the start of the greatest decade of our lives.
 
Love and let’s do this!
Jan 10, 2020
Last night as I was falling asleep, I was reflecting on the wonderful time I spent with a dear friend who came up to Ojai for a hike to chat about his next hero’s journey. 
 
We talked about some of the key themes of our upcoming Mastery Series/Optimize Coach program. (Fun fact: Looks like he’ll be doing the program with TWO of his kids—which makes my soul smile.)
 
So…
 
One of the things we discussed was creating Masterpiece Days. Of course, we talked about the fact that our day starts the night before (PM counts twice!), the importance of being creative before we’re reactive and all that jazz. 
 
We also spent a fair amount of time talking about The Fundamentals (Eat! Move! Sleep! Breathe! Be Present! Prosper!) and how important it is to Optimize our Energy so we can show up most fully in our Work and our Love.
 
But what I found myself thinking about as I was falling asleep was the fact that when most people start to think about architecting their ideal days, they start with “Time Management.”
 
Optimizing the nuts and bolts of how we manage our time is, of course, important. But I think there’s something more important and essential than managing our time. 
 
As Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr put it in The Power of Full Engagement, we need to manage our ENERGY. When we prioritize Energy Management, things like our PM Bookends (with its shut-down complete and digital sunset rituals) become obvious high priorities.
 
So… 
 
Energy Management > Time Management.
 
But…
 
There’s something FAR more important than either Energy Management or Time Management.
 
Virtue Management.
 
This is, essentially, what all (!) the great philosophers and spiritual traditions have taught us since the dawn of time. 
 
Live with Wisdom. And Self-Mastery. And Courage. And Love.
 
Why?
 
So we can more consistently close the gap between who we’re capable of being and who we’re actually being as we joyfully show up as the Optimus-best version of ourselves in service to our families, communities, and world.
 
When?
 
TODAY.
 
P.S. We’d be honored to welcome you to our 2020 Mastery Series and Optimize Coach programs. You can sign up now. Based on the feedback of the 1,000+ Optimizers who participated in our inaugural class, I KNOW we can help you make 2020 THE greatest year of your life and the start of the greatest decade of your life. 
 
Let’s do this!!! 
Jan 5, 2020
Emily Fletcher was a Broadway performer living the dream.
 
Only…
 
Her hair was graying at 27, she was always stressed and had chronic insomnia.
 
One of her fellow Broadway performers was always super calm and confident. Emily asked her how she did it. The woman told her that she meditated. Emily rolled her eyes. Then she decided to give meditation a try.
 
After ONE day of meditation, her insomnia was gone. She was hooked. Soon after, she quit Broadway, traveled to India to study more deeply then became a meditation teacher and created something called the “Ziva Technique” which she’s taught to thousands of people.
 
In her book Stress Less, Accomplish More, Emily walks us through the science of WHY meditation is so powerful and then introduces us to the “3 M’s” of her Z Technique: Mindfulness, Meditation and Manifesting.
 
As you know if you’ve been following along, I’m a HUGE fan of meditation. I’ve missed ONE day in the last 12+ years. 
 
If you’ve been looking for a book that will help you get started on your meditation journey and/or take your existing practice to the next level, I think you’ll love it. It’s a great place to start. 
 
Today I want to chat about one of my favorite distinctions from the book.
 
Emily tells us: “The single most important piece of meditation advice you can hold with you as you dive in is this: Thoughts are not the enemy. Remember that the mind thinks involuntarily just like the heart beats involuntarily, so please don’t try to give your mind a command to be silent. Instead, know that thoughts are okay—they’re actually a useful part of this process and now you have your trusty anchor, one, to come back to when you notice you’ve taken a mental field trip.”
 
I always love it when an author prefaces some wisdom with “The single most important thing you need to know about X is...” As we’ve discussed, IF that happens, THEN I sit up a little straighter (gently pulling that thread through the head, of course) and pay even closer attention.
 
So... 
 
Sit up a little straighter and pull that thread if you feel so inspired as we note: “The single most important piece of meditation advice you can hold with you as you dive in is this: Thoughts are not the enemy.”
 
Have YOU “tried” to meditate but felt like a failure because you couldn’t stop thinking?
 
Well... Uh... 
 
Know this: You’re not SUPPOSED to be able to stop your brain from thinking. PERIOD.
 
Emily tells us that she’s NEVER (!) had a session in which she didn’t have a single thought bubble up. It’s not going to happen. EVER.
 
Why? Because, and I just love this line: “The mind thinks involuntarily just like the heart beats involuntarily.” <- Isn’t that a beautiful, empowering way to think about it?
 
The mind THINKS involuntarily just like the heart BEATS involuntarily.
 
Yes, you can slow your heart rate quite a bit by learning how to breathe deeply, training wisely and all that jazz. BUT... You can’t just flip the switch OFF.
 
SAME WITH YOUR BRAIN.
 
We can learn how to slow our thoughts down (interestingly, via the same mechanisms we use to slow our heart rates down: deep breathing, good sleep, exercise, etc.) BUT... We can’t just flip the switch OFF. <- Isn’t that empowering?
 
Knowing that, when our minds inevitably move away from our anchors, we can just say “Oh, well” like Herbert Benson recommends and get back to our practice—in this case, to allowing our mantra to gently bubble up in our consciousness as we deeply relax our minds and bodies.
 
So… One more time: Our thoughts are not our enemies.
 
In fact, a meditation in which we have a LOT of thoughts bubble up is actually, potentially, one of our BEST meditations because the process of sitting and calmly bringing ourselves back to our anchor allows us to “digest”/“release” those thoughts that would otherwise have remained locked up in our minds and bodies.
 
As Emily says: “Thinking during meditation is actually an indicator that some stress is leaving the body. This is where the healing happens. Better out than in, right? When you feel those thoughts coming up and out, know that it is stress exiting your nervous system.”
 
And: “If you remember one thing from this whole book, let it be this: A deep meditation is no better for you than a shallow meditation. I’m going to say that again for dramatic effect. A deep meditation is no better for you than a shallow meditation. I am defining a deep meditation as one in which time passes quickly, you have few thoughts, and you generally enjoy the sitting. In a shallow meditation, the time may pass more slowly, you may feel like you are just sitting there having thoughts the whole time, and you may not enjoy the sitting itself. Both are beneficial for you. A deep meditation means the body is getting deep rest; a shallow meditation means the body is releasing stresses in the form of thoughts. One is not better for you than the other. Write it on your mirror, make a T-shirt, tattoo it on your forehead. I know it sounds crazy and counter to everything you have likely heard about meditation so far, but it’s true.”
 
Here’s to just showing up and brushing our brains.
 
TODAY.
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