Course Crunch: “Optimal Living 101”, Brian Johnson

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Optimize.Me, Brian Johnson

“Optimal Living 101”, Brian Johnson

Perfect for you if:

  • You wish there was a class on “how to live” at school.
  • You love finding pockets of super-concentrated wisdom.
  • You’re always looking out for exciting new thinkers and perspectives.

I love biting into pockets of concentrated wisdom. They burst on the brain like an overripe mango. An old favourite is Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. My new favourite might just be Brian Johnson’s Optimize.me.

Brian is a serial-entrepreneur, deep-thinker, relentless-reader and modern-day philosopher. If you like the crunches on Faster To Master, you will love his “Philosopher’s Notes“. But his best works (so far) are his Optimal Living 101 course and his Master Classes. They’re a synthesis of all he’s read and discovered. They’re a mishmash of principles and methods to live by.

The crunch below is of Optimal Living 101 – the class on “how to live” that every school’s missing. It’s clear that Brian’s thinking is still evolving. And at times the fixation on “ten steps” obstructs brevity and clarity. But OL101 is so good already that I thought it worth crunching. If you have time (~4 – 5 hours), the original videos are well worth any investment you make.

What’s missing below is Brian’s inspiring energy and the huge breadth of examples and sources he cites. What I’ve added is some simplicity and the odd point of my own. In any case, if you like what you read I’d strongly recommend making time to check out Brian’s work. I’m excited to watch his thinking evolve in the coming years and have no doubt his best is yet to come.

THE HIGHEST GOAL: LIVE WITH ARETÉ (ρετή)

Brian’s message is simple: live with areté. That is, express the best current version of yourself in every moment. Do this and, as moments become minutes become months, all else will follow, from joy to fulfilment to success.

Got it? Good.

But how? Great question.

I said it was simple, I didn’t say it was easy.

Luckily, Brian has squeezed the highlights of hundreds of thinkers into ten steps he thinks might just help. They are:

Let’s have a quick look at each.

1.  PRACTICE OPTIMISM

“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.” – Buddha

Expressing the best person you can be takes hope and confidence in the future. It needs optimism. Luckily optimism is a learned skill, and it starts with controlling your mind.

Controlling your mind means learning to place attention where you want, when you want for as long as you want. If you don’t control the mind, it controls you. That’s a problem for two reasons:

First, because, thanks to evolution, your mind is Teflon for positive thoughts and velcro for negative ones. The fearful and suspicious monkey in your midbrain helps keep you alive. But it’s also an irrational and jumpy companion. Control lets you keep it in check.

Second, because you often get stuck in the past or the future. This is mad as you’re unable to change either directly. Control of attention unsticks you. It lets you pick up the past and the future when useful. It also lets you put them down again when not. That means you can focus on living and acting right now.

Optimism and control of your mind are muscles. You can train them with effort and practice. Here are 10 ways to get started:

  1. CHOOSE THE MOST EMPOWERED RESPONSE – Between stimulus and response comes a gap. Cultivate self-awareness. Notice the gap. And when you do, choose a response that empowers you. Act in your circle of influence.
  2. HIRE BOUNCERS AND ATTORNEYS FOR YOUR MIND – Stop negative thoughts at the door. When they sneak in, cross-examine them logically and mercilessly. You’ll find most are irrational. Overwhelm your mind’s Teflon by writing ten positive points for each negative one you identify.
  3. PRACTICE GRATITUDE AND GRATEFUL FLOW – Write 5 things each week that you’re grateful for (studies show you’ll be 25% happier). As you go through the day, consider how many thousands of people make even the simplest activities possible. Slip into this grateful flow as often as you remember.
  4. SAVOUR THE THINGS THAT GO WELL – Track 3 big wins each day and explore why they happened. It will train you to see and rest your mind in the positive.
  5. PLAY THE EQUANIMITY GAME – Make a game of catching yourself whenever you lose your cool. See how fast you can get back to baseline.
  6. BE BIGGER – To a size 1 person size 3 problems are huge. To a size 9 person, they are trifles. What does the size of your problems say about you? Now, do all you can to be bigger.
  7. LAUGH – Choose to laugh at yourself and at life. If it’s going to be funny in ten minutes or ten years, why wait? You may as well laugh at it now.
  8. USE MANTRAS – We all use mantras whether realise it or not. Replace automatic negative thoughts with conscious positive mantras (e.g., “Thank you” → gratitude flow) until they gain automatic positive life of their own.
  9. MEDITATE – Breathe in deep to a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 6. Repeat 5 times. You just meditated! Connecting with your breathing alters your nervous system and shapes the contents of your consciousness. Use it to turn fight-or-flight into pause-and-plan when needed. Create the gap between stimulus and response.
  10. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – Talk is cheap. Convert theory into practice with diligent, patient and persistent effort.

2. LIVE ON PURPOSE

“What human beings can be, they must be.” – Abraham Maslow

Purpose and mission, says Brian, are two different things.

Consider the 6 core virtues to which all religious and philosophical traditions return:

  • Wisdom – the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement;
  • Justice –  the quality of being fair and reasonable;
  • Courage – the ability to do something you fear;
  • Love – the quality of exhibiting deep compassion and concern for others;
  • Temperance – the ability to discipline and sublimate mind and body; and
  • Spirituality – the quality of seeing beyond material or physical forms.

Your purpose is to live by those principles – to live with areté, to express your best self in each moment.

How? Use this 3 step drill whenever you need to return to true north:

  1. Breathe in deep to a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 6. (→ pause-and-plan)
  2. Ask: what would the wisest, most just, most courageous, most loving, most temperate and most spiritual version of myself do in this moment?
  3. Now, do it, whether you feel like it or not.

That is areté. That is your purpose. It’s the same for me, as it is for you, as it is for everyone else on the Earth.

And yet, each of our missions is different. Your mission is the unique contribution you’ll make and roles that you’ll play in your life. To discover it, ask yourself:

  • What are the unique gifts and strengths life has gifted you?
  • How will you pay those gifts forward in the greatest quantity and quality you are able?
  • How will you serve your family, community and the world?
  • What does that mean to you right now?

Those aren’t easy questions. But a good place to start is to…

3. DEVELOP SELF-AWARENESS

“Know thyself.” – Socrates

Self-awareness comes on two levels:

  • MICRO AWARENESS – Who are you in this moment? What sensations, emotions and thoughts are you experiencing? What’s working for you right now? What isn’t? and
  • MACRO AWARENESS – Who are you more generally? What are your values and strengths? What do you want to do with your life? What must you do?

We’ll talk about micro awareness later. For now, let’s look at the bigger picture.

It can feel daunting to work out your mission, to uncover your values and strengths. But, like anything, all it takes is persistent effort and practice. Here are 3 ways to get started:

  1. TAKE A SURVEY Take a survey to identify your signature strengths. How could you integrate and exercise them consistently? Can you do so in service to something greater than yourself?
  2. START WITH THE END IN MIND – Ask:
    1. What would your 110-year-old-self say to you about the course you are on? Listen to them. They are wiser than you know.
    2. What would your life look like in +10 and +25 years if you kept working with diligence, patience and persistence? Is that outcome what you want?
    3. How would you want your friends, family and community to remember you at your funeral? Who would you want people to say you were? What would you want people to say you contributed?
  3. NURTURE YOUR DREAMS – What excites you? What most inspires you? Remember Teflon and velcro? Incubate your early ideas. Give them a chance at life. Listen to the angel, not the devil on your shoulder.

To develop macro awareness, take time to plan, draft, reflect on and develop these ideas. They are the foundation of your entire existence.

The most important product of macro self-awareness is a sense of authenticity. Success in anything needs hard, diligent, patient and persistent effort. What are you passionate about? What will you put that level of dedication into?

Be the author of your own life. Be true to your virtues and ideals. Have fun living out your vision. Write a story that you know you’d love reading.

4. SET GOALS

“Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way towards a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.” – Tal Ben-Shahar

Productive people have goals. But happy people manage the gap between their goals and reality well.

Here are 10 principles to help you stay happy and effective:

  1. SET GOALS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY – The pursuit of happiness is the only reason we do anything. Be mindful what kind of goals you set. Always do things that lead to happiness.
  2. SET INTRINSIC GOALS – Extrinsic goals ask how can I have? Intrinsic goals ask how can I be? Set the latter and not only will you be happier but the former will take care of themselves.
  3. BE EXCITED FOR THE FUTURE AND THE PRESENT – Happy people are excited for the future but not dependent on it. They know that everything they need to be happy is with them already in each present moment.
  4. EMBRACE DYNAMIC TENSION – Dynamic tension creates an elastic energy between reality and ideals. Create it. Explore it. Embrace it. Tension is the engine of progress.
  5. STRETCH BUT DON’T SNAP – Goals with 1% success rates puts us in an unhappy panic zone. Instead, set 7 incremental goals with a 50/50 chance of success – same outcome, happier process, guaranteed.
  6. ORIENT ON OUTCOME, ACT ON PROCESS – Know where you’re heading? Great. Now focus on the daily, weekly and monthly actions that take you closer to it. Watch your feet, look up occasionally to correct your course and reaching the peak will take care of itself.
  7. ANTICIPATE CHALLENGES – Actively surface and reflect on likely challenges when planning. You’ll be prepared for them when they appear and less likely to give up as a result. True confidence is knowing you can achieve a goal and being prepared for expected and unexpected setbacks.
  8. GET INTO FLOW – Flow is the optimal state of human experience. It arises when our skills and a challenge are perfectly balanced. To engineer it, tinker with dynamic tension. Find the sweet spot between boredom and burden.
  9. APPEAL TO YOUR STRENGTHSIdentify your strengths. Now make exercising them a goal. Actively appeal to your strengths and your goals will actively appeal to you.
  10. REMEMBER ARETÉ – Your purpose is your highest goal. Use it whenever you need to come back to centre. Choose your most empowered response. Close the gap between what you are and what you are capable of being right now.

5. TAKE ACTION

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself” – Leonardo da Vinci

Between stimulus and response comes a gap. If and how you choose to use that gap determines your fate. It is the foundry of areté.

To fuel this foundry, to overcome instinct, to break and make habits, you must exert willpower. You must do what is needed, when needed, whether you feel like it or not.

How? This queen of all virtues is a muscle. You can train it, you can fuel it and you can exhaust it. Here are 10 secrets to mastering it:

  1. BREATHE – Breathe in deep to a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 6. Repeat 5 times. Now act. Sound familiar? It should. Connecting with your breath turns fight-or-flight into pause-and-plan. It’s the most robust way to boost willpower in the moment.
  2. MEDITATE – Start with 1 minute a day, then work your way up to 10 minutes or more. Consistency is more vital than quantity. Meditation cultivates willpower through attention. It trains you to repeatedly refocus on an anchor. It puts you in control of your mind.
  3. EXERCISE – Carve out a time each day or 3 to 5 times per week to exercise. It’s the closest thing to a miracle drug and a quick way to boost attention and mood.
  4. EAT – Notice and boost flagging energy with a healthy snack. Willpower needs glucose. Fuel it like you’d fuel a workout.
  5. PRACTICE – Willpower generalises. Take on small, simple challenges like exercising, taking a cold shower or making your bed. Beating them will boost willpower more widely.
  6. ADD STRUCTURE – Do the same things, at ~the same times for ~the same length of time. Put your alarm on the other side of the room. Lay your clothes out in advance. Make it easy to do what you must. These tricks reduce the need for willpower and turn actions into habits, fast.
  7. COMMIT 100% – Create bright lines. Full commitments are easier to enforce than 99% commitments. Willpower is hard enough without thinking.
  8. TIDY UP – Clean and order your action space. Experiments show it’s easier to exert willpower in a tidy environment than a messy one.
  9. REMOVE TEMPTATION – Block time-sink websites. Mute notifications. Quit social media. Don’t waste willpower resisting what you can easily abolish. (This point isn’t a Brian original but it’s so important I couldn’t leave it out. I combined his original 7 and 9 to make space.)
  10. BE NICE TO YOURSELF – You are not going to be the first perfect person on the planet. Self-loathing and criticism diminish willpower. Hold yourself to high standards but allow yourself to fail.

Willpower is the engine of consistent action. And conscious, consistent action is the essence of areté. Here are 10 ways to build your action muscles:

  1. MAKE IT A GAME – Have fun, embrace challenge and aim for a daily high-score. Every moment lets you step forward into growth (+1) or backward into safety (-1). Pay attention to your choices from moment to moment. Total your +1s and -1s. How many points will you finish today with?
  2. BE AN OPTIMALIST – Make perfection a guiding star to live by (optimalism), not a distant shore to aim for (perfectionism). Embrace and learn from setbacks. But embrace and appreciate success also. Embrace awesome days and positive emotions. But embrace off-days and negative emotions too. Live with areté. You can do nothing more.
  3. FAIL MORE – In every setback lies a seed of equal or greater opportunity. An expert is just someone who has made every mistake in a narrow field of expertise. Have a shot. Apologise if you miss. Ask for another go. A mistake is just a miss-take. How many takes do you think go into making the perfect Hollywood blockbuster?
  4. BE FUNDAMENTALLY CONSISTENT – Pianists must learn to play scales. Tennis players must learn to hold rackets. Skyscrapers must rise from firm and deep foundations. What are the foundations of your life? Of your mission? Identify them and then nail them. Your greatness is limited by your consistency on your fundamentals.
  5. ASK POWER QUESTIONS TO REFOCUS – Recenter yourself with these power questions:
    1. Now what needs to be done? What one thing are you doing or what one thing needs to be done right now? Forget everything else and just do it.
    2. How could I make myself proud? You won’t always feel on but you always have the ability to create meaning in your life by taking effective action.
    3. What would the highest version myself do? Now do it.
  6. PERSIST – There is no greatness gene. The secret to greatness in anything is intense, diligent, consistent, persistent and compounding effort. Quitters never win and winners never quit.
  7. FOCUS – There is no such thing as multitasking, so don’t try to do it. Instead, when you feel overwhelmed, just pick one thing. Ask: now what needs to be done?
  8. IF IT TAKES LESS THAN 2 MINUTES, DO IT NOW – Does what it says on the tin, for more see David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
  9. COMMIT, RECOMMIT + COMPLETE – Do everything you commit to and commit only to things you will do. Recommit firmly when you lose inspiration and make a game of honouring your commitments as quickly as possible. You’ll unlock an amazing dynamic of trust with the people around you.
  10. IDENTIFY YOUR FOCAL POINT – What is the one thing that you can start/stop doing in your life that will have the most positive impact on your life? Whenever you feel overwhelmed or lost, come back to this question and its answer. Turn inwards and the blur that is outwards will stop.

There you have it, the secrets of willpower and action. But don’t forget, the ultimate goal is a sense of meaning, of flourishing and of wellbeing.

However hectic things get, every moment gives you an opportunity to come back to the present moment. And all you need to be happy is now.

6. GATHER ENERGY

“Exercise balances neurotransmitters – along with the rest of the neurochemicals in the brain… keeping your brain in balance can change your life.” – John Ratey, M.D.

If you have a hard time getting out of bed, you’ll have a hard time living to your potential.

Here are Brian’s tips on gathering the most energy from exercise, nutrition and rest.

EXERCISE

Exercise is proven to boost mood and attention as much as prescription medication – without the side-effects. It also improves creativity, circulation, energy, strength and willpower.

To benefit, exercise for 45 minutes at moderate intensity at least 3 times per week. For extra points, build more movement into your day. Park further away, use the stairs, go for a walking meeting or shake out your body when you can.

The most important thing is to get started. After that consistency is key. Intensity is great, but the goal of each session is to show up to and finish the next one.

NUTRITION

We already know a surprising amount about nutrition. The secret here is turning common sense into common practice. In particular:

  1. BUY MORE WHOLE FOODS – Increase the number of single-ingredient items in your diet. That means more whole grains, greens, vegetables and one-ingredient items.
  2. CROWD OUT THEN ELIMINATE – First, fill your house and your body with good stuff. Then eliminate the sugars, dairy, boxed and processed items from your home and your diet.

Don’t waste your willpower resisting treats. Remove them from your home and replace them with healthy snacks. Result? You’ll have nothing to wear down your discipline.

REST(ORATION)

Your problem is probably not that you’re working too hard. Your problem is you’re not recovering enough.

To fell a big tree, you must stop, rest and sharpen your saw. The same is true of life, so:

  1. SHARPEN YOUR SAW – Make time for exercise, meditation, rest and nutrition. Every minute you invest in each will give you ten times as much productivity in return.
  2. SLEEP – Less sleep doesn’t make you hardcore, it makes you tired. Obey your circadian rhythms, sleep and rise early and aim for at least 8 hours each night.
  3. NAP – All animals nap. And for good reason, because naps rock. Even 20 minutes will give you a huge boost that will set you up for success without impacting your sleep.
  4. REST ACTIVELY – When you rest, rest. Breathe, feel grounded, hang out in person with friends or enjoy nature. Don’t confuse active rest with distraction.

7. WELCOME WISDOM

“As an irrigator guides water to his fields, as an archer aims an arrow, as a carpenter carves wood, the wise shape their lives.” – Buddha

Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. And philosophy is literally the love of that wisdom. It’s the preoccupation with living the best life you can. It’s the theory at the core of areté.

But welcoming wisdom in your life means more than just learning and talking. It means constantly pushing and practising. Sound difficult? Here are 10 tips from Brian to get started:

  1. BECOME A PHILOSOPHER – The first step to welcoming wisdom is to decide to become a philosopher. If you love wisdom, you’re in the gang. Entry is as simple as that.
  2. PURSUE HAPPINESS – Jefferson’s “Pursuit of happiness” translates today not as “Chasing” but as “Practice”. To practice philosophy, practice happiness as you would any skill. Learn, try, fail, adjust and repeat. Live with areté. There is no other way.
  3. CARPE PUNCTUM – To seize the day, seize the moment – that’s where our power is. If you show up for enough moments, the days, weeks and months will surely follow.
  4. BE FLEXIBLE – Find a balance between structure and spontaneity. When you feel off, check in to see where you lie. Happy people combine structure with mental and emotional flexibility.
  5. DEVELOP ANTI-FRAGILITY – Don’t just be robust in the face of challenges, feed on them. Our ultimate potential is outside of our comfort zone. Welcome anything that puts us there as an opportunity to challenge and express yourself fully.
  6. TAKE THE HIGHS WITH THE LOWS – Embrace the cyclic nature of life. Sometimes we’re on. Sometimes we’re off. Philosophy lets us navigate the highest path through our lows and find the most authentic version of our highs.
  7. FILL YOUR EMOTIONAL GAS TANKS – When your car runs low on gas, you don’t take it personally. The same should be true of emotions. When you’re off, pick an activity that nourishes your soul. Hang out with friends, listen to music, workout, walk in nature. When you’re empty, fill up.
  8. STOP THE SPIN CYCLE – When you’re spinning out of control, break the cycle of thoughts and emotions. Don’t ruminate on negative thoughts, they’ll just feed and encourage themselves. Instead, noticed acknowledge, breathe and act.
  9. DON’T MISTAKE GUIDING STARS FOR DISTANT SHORES – You are not going to be the first perfect human. Use your ideals as a way to navigate through life but don’t expect to reach them. Don’t give yourself a hard time when you fall short.
  10. USE THE 12 RULES OF HAPPINESS – Here are 12 scientifically proven ways to boost happiness from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s How of Happiness:
    1. Express gratitude
    2. Cultivate optimism
    3. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison
    4. Practice acts of kindness
    5. Nurture social relationships
    6. Develop strategies for coping
    7. Learn to forgive
    8. Increase flow experiences
    9. Savour life’s joy
    10. Commit to your goals
    11. Practice spirituality
    12. Take good care of your body

8. FIND COURAGE

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliot

Fear is the nemesis of action. To conquer it, try one or more of the 10 steps below:

  1. CHOOSE COURAGE – To find courage, choose it. Courage is the heartbeat of areté. It puts theory into action. It vitalises the other virtues.
  2. REMEMBER YOU ARE NOT ALONE – Even the best performers in the world get nervous. But their goal is not to get rid of them – nerves give them the energy and vitality to perform. Instead, accept it, know you’re not alone. Channel that energy into what needs to get done.
  3. EMBRACE FEAR – Treat fear with respect without letting it overwhelm you. Caution helps us find Aristotle’s golden mean – the perfect balance between cowardice and recklessness.
  4. BE WILLING TO FAILDevelop a growth mindset. Remember there is no such thing as failure only feedback. The greatest performers are those who have learned the most. The only way to learn is through failure.
  5. STRETCH DON’T SNAP – Keep fear in check by stringing small steps together. Remember, seven 50/50 steps have the same outcome as that 1% goal.
  6. MOVE FORWARDS – So long as you are moving forward, toward your challenges, you have power. Fear only finds us when we look backwards or downwards.
  7. TRUST YOURSELF – Thinking is for training. When it’s time to perform, let rip fearlessly. Stress is an incredibly powerful motivator. Eat it like it’s an energy bar. Learn to manage it rather than restraining it. Get out of your head and trust your instincts and practice.
  8. BREATHE. In for 4 seconds. Out for 6. Repeating this exercise three times is enough to slow down your heart-rate, thoughts and energy. Connect with your breath, come back to pause-and-plan. Channel your energy in a positive direction.
  9. EXPECT THE BEST – Fear and excitement are the same energy. The difference is expectations. To shift from one to the other, play devil’s advocate to negativity. What is the best possible outcome you could experience? At the very least you’ll come out with a good story and a valuable life lesson.
  10. REVERSE YOUR DESIRE – We fear what lies outside of our comfort zone. But that’s also where growth exists. So don’t see fear as something to be avoided. See it as a clue that leads you in the direction of growth and experience. Get excited when you feel it. Move towards it. Because all your potential lies on the other side.

To conquer your fear in 30 seconds, try the following foolproof process:

  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds and out for 6. As you do, say, “Bring it on!”. Reverse your desire.
  2. Again, in for 4 seconds and out for 6. This time, ask, “What is the best imaginable outcome?”. Shift your expectations.
  3. One last time, in for 4 and out for 6. Combine steps one and two. Bring on the best outcome imaginable.
  4. Take action.

Next time you’re afraid, experiment with this process. Practice it. Face the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.

9. EMBRACE LOVE

“Love is our highest word and the synonym for God” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Almost all of your happiness will be defined by the relationships that matter most to you. Without love, none of the rest of this matters.

The good news is that love is a skill like any other – you can master it with study and practice. To start, keep the 10 points below close to your heart:

  1. LIVE THE GOLDEN RULE – Treat others as you’d like to be treated. There’s a reason a version of this rule is central to all cultures and all religions through time.
  2. LEARN THE PLATINUM RULE – Treat yourself as you would treat other people. You cannot give what you do not have. Only from a place of love and compassion for ourselves are we able to give love and compassion to others.
  3. AIM FOR A 5 TO 1 RATIO – Remember, we are Teflon for positive and velcro for negative. To overcome this, outweigh each negative interaction with at least five positive interactions. Doing so creates healthy and thriving relationships.
  4. APPRECIATE OTHERS – “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” – How can you appreciate the people around you more? Doing so is the best way to nourish them.
  5. DO GOOD DEEDS – Studies show that kind acts release serotonin in you, the person you help and anybody watching. Paying it forward, pays it forward in more ways than you could possibly imagine.
  6. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF – Think about the things you admire and appreciate in others, not the ways in which you compare to them. It will make you a happier, healthier and more likeable person.
  7. EAT AND SLEEP – You’re at your feistiest when we’re tired and hungry. Keep an eye on your energy levels and notice when you’re flagging. The quickest way to avoid many problems is as simple as snacking or a napping.
  8. RECOGNISE YOUR FLAWS FIRST – You find frustrating in others what you most need to work on yourself. When something annoys you, ask “How am I that?”. Recognising your own flaws first will make you kinder, more patient and more compassionate.
  9. GIVE WHAT YOU WANT – To get happiness, give happiness. To get appreciation, be appreciative. To make money, be charitable. Make a game of giving first whatever it is you want to get. You may be surprised at the results.
  10. GIVE YOUR GREATEST GIFTS IN GREATEST SERVICE TO THE WORLD – Approach work as love made visible. Ask yourself what your greatest strengths and passions are. Commit yourself to giving it to your family, community and world in the greatest quantity and quality you are able.

10. SEEK EN*THEOS

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world need is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

In Greek: En = Within, Theos = God, used loosely here as a higher force; a sense of something greater. EN*THEOS is at the circumference and the centre of all the ideas above. It means living in integrity with the 6 core virtues. It releases a radiant enthusiasm within you. It connects you to something more.

Likewise, the 10 points below are a synthesis and a summary of the most important aspects of Brian’s Optimal Living 101. They are the heart and the soul of areté:

  1. MAKE LIFE A GAME – When you play a game, do challenges depress you or excite you? The same is true of life. Make it a game and you will have more joy, more enthusiasm and more success than you can imagine. Challenge yourself each moment to step forward into growth. Set a high-score of +1s for the day.
  2. TAKE A DEEP BREATH – Connect with your breath as often as you can. It alters your physiology, it shapes your thoughts, it builds courage, willpower and creates a gap between stimulus and response. Breathe deep. Find the gap. Choose your most empowering response. Do it again, and again and live in integrity with areté.
  3. EXERCISE – Make movement a critical fundamental in your life. Investments in exercise will return to you 10 fold in greater energy and creativity. As a pillar of your existence, it is too fundamental to ignore.
  4. TRAIN YOUR ATTENTION – To seize each moment, practice meditation and optimism every day. Learn to put your mind where you want, when you want for how long you want. Every challenge, every headwind is an opportunity to get stronger. Every gap is a chance to step between stimulus and response.
  5. BE GRATEFUL – Be grateful as often as you can remember. It took millions of people to just get you into the world. It takes millions more to deliver even the humblest of conveniences. When you live from a place of gratitude, it’s impossible to be depressed.
  6. START FROM THE INSIDE-OUT – Fight the tendency of society to focus on and celebrate the shallows. Instead, focus on personal growth, deep relationships and the contributions you can make to your family, community and the world. If fame, wealth and fortune are on the cards, they will come as a natural result.
  7. MOVE FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE – Show, don’t tell. Theory is the easy part of philosophy. The advanced work is in the long and steady application of its principles.
  8. FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS – What are your fundamentals? What are the foundations on which everything is built? Focus on them. Get them right. Greatness is about consistency on the basics.
  9. PICK YOUR NUMBER ONES – What one thing would make the biggest positive improvement to your life if you started or stopped doing it now? Make a 100% commitment to it. Focus on it. Act on it. Persist until it becomes a reality.
  10. REMEMBER YOUR PURPOSE – Live with areté. Express the best current version of yourself in every moment. That is your compass. That is your surest path to flourishing.

CONCLUSION

There you have it, Optimal Living 101 – the class on “how to live” that every school’s missing. If you’re not as excited about Brian as I am, that’s my fault, because you should be.

But now you’ve had a glimpse of his way, it’s time to come up with your way. It’s time to write your own book, to be the author of your own existence, to choose to live an authentic, integrated and virtuous life.

But most importantly, it’s time to take action. You can’t change everything, but you can always start with something. Pick just one of the points you read here today. Make a plan to make it part of your life.

Take action now. Live with areté. Express the best version of yourself you can in every moment. Do this and, as moments become minutes become months, all else will follow, from joy to fulfilment to success.

What one point above resonated most with you today?

Arthur
Arthur is a learning-freak, slow-thinker, and writer who loves helping curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his Free Ultimate Language Learning Guide today to save you or a friend thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.

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1 Comment on "Course Crunch: “Optimal Living 101”, Brian Johnson"

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Erin
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Great post 🙂
I’ve started the New Year with a number of new habits that are listed in this post and they are having a wonderful impact on my wellbeing.
– Exercise: Increasing my exercise from 1 to 7/8 hours a week has doubled my energy
– Meditation: Sticking to a daily 20 minute meditation habit has enhanced my focus and work stamina
– Incorporating gratefulness as a habit in a new productivity system allows me to enjoy the little things every day.