What was the first personal development book you ever read? How did it impact you? For me, it was How to Win Friends & Influence People when I was 19 years old. It introduced me to the concepts of personal growth and personal development. It kickstarted my first career and was the catalyst for my decision to dedicate myself to lifelong personal development.
My friend, Brian Johnson, embodies this at the highest level. He has read over 1,000 books related to philosophy and personal development. You may also remember Brian from The Miracle Morning Movie (he was the expert in the “Reading” scene), or you might know him as the creator of Philosopher’s Notes (where I first discovered him) or the founder of Optimize. Most recently, he is the founder and CEO of Heroic.
In this conversation, Brian and I share the most valuable lesson(s) we’ve learned from reading over 1,000 personal development books.
- The book that changed Brian’s life when he was 21.
- The single most valuable lesson that stands out more than any other from all the books Brian has read.
- The value of what Brian calls “antifragile confidence” and why so many personal development junkies fail to make what they read part of their daily practice.
- The value of living your life in 30-day challenges and installing habits that can run on autopilot.
- How to get free access to 600 book summaries at Optimize.me/Hal.
TWEETABLES“Be the best version of you moment to moment to moment.” - Brian JohnsonClick To Tweet “Historically significant challenges demand historically significant responses from all of us stepping up and showing up as protectors of things we value.” - Brian JohnsonClick To Tweet
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Hal Elrod: Hello and welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod, and oh, my gosh, are you in for a treat? I just finished literally one of the best conversations I’ve ever had on the podcast, maybe one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with Brian Johnson. And I went from being a fan of his for many years to becoming friends. He was featured in the Miracle Morning movie. And if you don’t know about Brian, I’ll tell you he is the creator of Optimize, and the founder and CEO of Heroic. These are his two missions in life, if you will.
And as a founder, he recently broke an all-time record. He’s raised over $20 million and built and sold two market-leading social platforms. As a philosopher, he’s served tens of thousands of people from nearly every country in the world with his Optimize membership, and he’s trained over 3,500 people from 90-plus countries with his Optimize Coach program, which you’ll hear about today, has been scientifically proven to change lives. But Brian recently made the decision to unlock his Optimize Premium membership and make it free, completely free, no strings attached, in order to help more people lead a heroic life. We will dive into the why and the why you should care in this episode. But needless to say, he is really changing the world, and I think you’re going to be blown away and inspired as I was during this conversation.
Before we dive in with Brian, I want to take just a minute to thank our sponsor of today’s podcast, Organifi. And if you’re a listener to the podcast, you know Organifi is something I take every single day. They make some of the most delicious, nutritious, and convenient superfood powders that you throw into a cup of water or almond milk or your smoothie, and immediately are given a boost of energy, mental clarity using adaptogens, which enable your body to adapt to stress so that no matter what’s thrown at you during the day, your body is more resilient and able to adjust, adapt, and thrive in the midst of what can be challenging days that we all face.
Head over to Organifi.com/Hal, that is O-R-G-A-N-I-F-I, Organifi.com/Hal, and then use the code HAL at checkout. If you find something that you like there, use the code H-A-L at checkout, you’ll get an additional 20% off your entire order, including on top of all of the sale prices. So, I’m a fan, I’ve used Organifi for many years, and it will help you to optimize your mental, emotional, and physical well-being, as will my conversation today with the one and only Brian Johnson. It is my great pleasure to share this conversation with you, and I hope it impacts you as much as it did for me.
Hal Elrod: Mr. Brian Johnson, welcome to the podcast.
Brian Johnson: Mr. Hal Elrod, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here.
Hal Elrod: This is the second or third time we’ve talked here in the last week or so, man,
Brian Johnson: Possibly even blowing up the text. I’m so happy that we’ve been able to spend so much time together in the last 10 days.
Hal Elrod: It’s been enjoyable. Well, and it’s interesting, you and I often share this on the podcast when I interview somebody that I go, I was a fan of this person, from fan to friend, right? Like I was a fan of yours, and then a huge fan of PhilosophersNotes. And then one day, my buddy Matt, we were at a conference, and he goes, “Hal, have you seen this?” And he shows me a YouTube video, and it’s the Brian Johnson doing a Philosophers Note on the Miracle Morning. And I’m like, “Shut up, I’m a huge fan of that guy.”
Brian Johnson: No way.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. So, like that, yeah, I don’t even know if you knew that, but that’s how…
Brian Johnson: Dude, I did not know that story. And I don’t know if you know, and I got goosebumps when you said that, I got introduced to you from one of my big investors and dear friends. He’s like, “You got to read this book,” and I pay attention to recommendations he makes, and it was just so good. And then that PNTV is now one of the most popular ones we’ve ever done. But I didn’t know that that was how we connected. And I love the phrase fan to friend. What a blessing and thrilled that we have that arc. Thank your friend for me.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, for sure. So, one of the things that you and I have in common, I think, is personal development is such a core aspect of our lives. I know it’s one of your main passions, your work centers around that. So, how did you get into this world?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, that’s a great question and that’s a long story. I was raised Catholic, conservative family, and then I was recruited while at UCLA to go to this leadership thing. And I was introduced to Stephen Covey, this is like 1995, and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and it just changed my life. It was the first self-development book I’d ever read and it showed me that you can create your ideal life and it literally just changed my life and then got really passionate about understanding what it is that makes great people great. So, that’s really been my lifetime obsession, that’s evolved into how do we optimize our lives? How do we show up as the best, most heroic version of ourselves? We can go out and change the world, one person at a time together, starting with you and me today is kind of a thing, but that’s the kind of awakening moment for me.
Hal Elrod: And what age was that that you read that book?
Brian Johnson: 21.
Hal Elrod: 21 years old.
Brian Johnson: Yeah, in between junior and senior year at UCLA.
Hal Elrod: Interesting. So, I think I was 19 when I got into personal development, and How to Win Friends & Influence People, I believe, was the first book that I read. And yeah, I started a career in sales. My mentor taught me about personal development. I don’t even know that was. It was a totally new concept. I didn’t grow up learning about personal growth or personal development. But once you get into it, you’re like, “Oh, wow,” like, you can learn about how to be better, and it’s a really positive addiction, right?
Brian Johnson: Yep, exactly.
Hal Elrod: And you’ve read now– I mean, so PhilosophersNotes was you essentially summarizing these books. You’ve read now, what is it? Over 600 philosophy and personal development books? Is that accurate?
Brian Johnson: I don’t know how many books I’ve actually read. It’s more than that, but I have created these PhilosophersNotes, which are six-page PDF, 20-minute MP3 summaries on 600 and something books, ancient wisdom, modern science, the best books across all these different domains. We’ve got like three dozens of them, including your book, The Miracle Morning, again, one of my favorites.
Hal Elrod: That’s your favorite, sure.
Brian Johnson: It is my all-time favorite, clearly. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People, and he’s got two other books I’ve profiled, one on how to stop worrying and start living and another one on how to build confidence through public speaking. I love Dale Carnegie, too. And then, of course, we’ve got 7 Habits and Stoicism and Positive Psychology, etc. But yeah, that’s all I did, for the better part of 10 years was read, write, think, teach, repeat, try to understand what these great teachers had to say and pull out the best big ideas from these books. And our phrase is kind of more wisdom in less time. Most people are too busy to read full time. Even now, as I’m back in CEO mode, I don’t have time to read, you know? But here are the best ideas you need to think about, and if you want to go deep into the book, do it. And that’s the basic idea with PhilosophersNotes, and what’s kept me busy or did keep me busy for years there.
Hal Elrod: Well, and for anybody listening, think about that, for 10 years, 600 books, that’s 60 books a year, that’s five books a month. You’re a voracious reader, man. That’s wild.
Brian Johnson: Dude, I peaked at 10 a month. I actually did 100 in 22 years in a row.
Hal Elrod: Wow.
Brian Johnson: And I look at my schedule back in the day and I’m like, Wow, that guy was productive. I didn’t use my phone for years, dude, I didn’t…
Hal Elrod: You were a hermit. I would text you and I would get a response six months later, like, “Hey, sorry for the delayed reply.” I’m like, “Dude, that was six months ago.” I’ve been in hermit mode. I would get, that was like, yeah, that was your default response.
Brian Johnson: It’s so funny.
Hal Elrod: I think your email autoresponder is probably, I’m in hermit mode. I’ll get back to you in the next six months. Just be patient. Yeah, it’s funny, like I owned 600 books, but when I opened a lot of them, I go, dude, I only read like the first two chapters of that one. I only got halfway through that one, so. Now, dude, here, I’m going to put you on the spot. If you could share one lesson from all of those 600-plus books today, is there one that stands out? Was there one lesson above all others that stands out?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, I wish we are on video. We’re both from the country here so we’re doing audio only, in our chat. But I’d hold up my arm and I’d show you one of my two tattoos. I’ve shared that several tattoos, but the two principal tattoos, it’s Arete. So, it’s a Greek word, but by far, the number one thing I got from over 600 books, again, ancient wisdom, modern science, is this one word. So, I like to say that if you ask Aristotle and Martin Seligman as proxies for ancient wisdom and modern science, again, Aristotle doesn’t need an introduction, but Martin Seligman, as many of you will probably know, is the founder of the Positive Psychology movement. So, he’s our proxy for modern science.
If you ask those guys, “Hey, what’s the ultimate meaning of life?” They give you the exact same one-word answer. Aristotle would say eudaimonia, which means good soul. We translate that into English as flourishing, which is the name of Martin Seligman’s most recent book. And I get goosebumps every time I tell that story. Then if you say, “Okay, guys, that’s cool.” So, the point of life is to flourish, not to make a lot of money or to be famous or to be hot, per se, although those things, of course, can be powerful contributors to flourishing, but to flourish to be the best version of yourself. Then you say, “Okay, follow-up question, how do you do that? Like what’s the answer to that?” And they will literally answer in the exact same way. And this leads us to the number one lesson.
Aristotle would say Arete. If you want to have a good soul and to flourish, then you must live with Arete. Now, we translate that word as virtue or excellence, but it means basically expressing the best version of yourself moment to moment to moment. So, if there’s a gap between who you’re capable of being and who you’re actually being and you’re not living with Arete, then you experience regret, anxiety, disillusionment. But if you can close that gap, there’s no room for the bad stuff, and you feel great, you feel eudaimonia, etc.
Anyway, Martin Seligman says, “Yep, I agree with Aristotle. We founded the whole Positive Psychology movement on putting virtues in action.” And then a long conversation ensues. But that’s a long answer to your short question, one word, Arete. Be the best version of you moment to moment to moment. That’s what it’s all about.
Hal Elrod: We know when you say you use the word virtues, right? Is there a distinction between virtues and values? Like for me, I talk a lot on the podcast about living in alignment with your values, like if you want to live, if you want a fulfilled life, that to me, is fulfillment is I’ve defined my values every day. I strive to live in alignment with all of my values. And when I do, I feel great. And when I don’t, like you said, I feel disconnected. I feel depressed. I feel like something’s off. So, yeah, virtues and values, is that just a synonym? Or is there a difference?
Brian Johnson: Well, first of all, this is why I love you because that’s exactly, again, what, as you know, all the great teachers across all the time have said, right?
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Brian Johnson: Now, I would offer that it’s yes, and, as most things are. Yes, they are synonyms, and for me, virtue has a really deep meaning because virtue, it’s the essential quality, and it just has profound like gravitas for me, it’s deeper and more powerful than just values. And there’s things like the cardinal virtues that the ancient Greek and Stoics talked about that positive psychology literally founded their whole movement on. And so, they talk about the fact that you’ve got to put your virtues in action.
So, we’ve actually architected our entire Heroic app that we’re building around a virtue compass. And our whole thing is, look, the world has lost its moral compass. Here’s yours. And the four cardinal virtues as we adapt them are wisdom, self-mastery, courage, and love. All traditions talk about those four things. And then science says the most robust virtues, most highly correlated with flourishing are hope, gratitude, curiosity, zest. And when you put those together, that’s how you create an extraordinary life, and you show up as the best, most heroic version of yourself more consistently to your point, and not once in a while, but look, if I do this today, odds are I’m going to have a great day. So, again, how do you operationalize that? Has been my life’s work is figuring out how you go from the abstract to the concrete, from theory to practice to mastery, not once in a while, but consistently day in and day out?
Hal Elrod: Talk about that more, I know you talk a lot about moving from exactly what you just said, from theory to practice to mastery, and I always say that when people ask me about the Miracle Morning, why has that book reached so many people? My theory or my guess around that is that most books give you a lot of theory, and as you’re reading, your mind is blown. You go, oh my God, what a brilliant concept. Oh, what a great idea. Oh, but then when the book ends, you don’t do anything differently. You just go buy a new– you go grab the next book. You’re like, yeah, the book I’d read was like the best book ever. And then you read the next book, you’re like, oh my god, this is the best book ever, right? And most people like you that have read 600 books, they just have 600 books worth of mish-mash knowledge and theory in their head, but their life is essentially the same, right? So, I’d love for you to just dive a little deeper. How do you move from theory to practice to mastering?
Brian Johnson: I mean, you just articulated. The first thing you got to do, and again, I do still love you and like soul brothers, yes, exactly. The first thing is recognizing. Again, you want to solve a problem or a challenge, you got to recognize the problem or challenge. Now, again, our line with Heroic and Optimize, and especially Optimize Coach, where that is the whole program, move from theory to practice to mastery over 300 days is you’ve got to get that. Look, we don’t need to listen to another podcast, we don’t need to read another book or watch another class. We’d actually do the things we know we could be doing, and then, not once in a while. The master is the one who the worse they feel, the more committed they are to their practice is a huge part of my philosophy. We call it antifragile confidence.
If you want to get stronger, the harder life is, then you need to get to a place where you don’t fall apart when life challenges you. And again, longer chat, but COVID? That’s just exposed some vulnerabilities. If you didn’t have a solid foundation, good luck dealing with the historically significant challenges. Our coaches in our community, I’ve told them exactly this, we’re going to see how are your fundamentals – eating, moving, sleeping, breathing. When you are pushed to the limits like we all are right now, you better be focused on that. You better be moving from theory to practice to mastery, and again, not once in a while but consistently.
I’m obsessed about this. Like, this is literally what I’ve dedicated my entire life to is figuring that out. What’s the formula? How do we do that? Because that’s how you change your life. Not in a– I got inspired and I’d, whatever, walk on fire, which I loved walking on fire. Or I can meditate for 10 hours a day for 10 days, which I’ve done in Vipassana, but when I come back to my life, I can maintain gains. I know what I need to do and I do it consistently. That level of self-mastery, the wisdom to know the game they’re playing, to go back to the virtues. The self-mastery to actually play that game well, whether you feel like it or not, is ultimately what it’s all about.
Hal Elrod: So, yeah, what you just said, it can often be an escape, where someone creates this illusion of, well, I’m walking on fire or I’m at the event or I’m reading the book, so I’m growing. But if you don’t implement it, what growth did you experience, right? It’s like reading a workout book without lifting the weights.
Brian Johnson: Yeah. And Ken Wilber is another one of my favorite teachers. I featured Ken Wilber, I featured Tony Robbins in the PhilosophersNotes, etc. I love both of them and so many of more teachers. Ken Wilber puts it brilliantly. He says, “Look, it’s easy to experience a state experience. It’s like getting shot out of a cannonball, and you experience this inspiration or of your spiritual enlightenment moment or whatever. But then the cannonball is going to come back to the ground, and you got to know how to make that state experience a trait and make it part of who you are. And the only possible way you can do that is if you slow down long enough to look at it and say, “Okay, what do I do when I’m at my best?” When I’m at my best, I meditate for 15, 20 minutes a day and I do the SAVERS, Miracle Morning style, which again, is why your book, goosebumps, had such impact. You made it practical and you helped us create a great morning through very practical do this every day and then go try to have a bad day is one of the lines I use a lot. You know what I mean?
Hal Elrod: Yeah, dude.
Brian Johnson: But again, you got to have the wisdom to know that we’re seduced by culture at large, and then within the kind of rah rah pom pom waving side of self-help that it should be easy. And it’s one good state after another. But it’s not easy, obviously, and you’ve got to do the hard work, again, not once in a while but consistently. And then it becomes fun, and then doing the things that are best for you become what you most enjoy doing, which is the Seneca reference. He said, “How much better to get to a point?” We’re doing what’s best for you, whether it’s going to bed on time, or getting up early and doing your workout, your meditation, your visualization, or whatever, is not only what’s best for you but what you most enjoy. Like, you couldn’t pay me to not meditate or to stay up late watching some show on Netflix, not possible, because I enjoy doing what’s best for me because I’m having fun seeing what I’m capable of and what I can do and this precious life that we’re blessed to have. And then it gets exciting because you get curious and will shoot. If I was able to do that at that level, what can I do if I consistently show up at a world-class level? Then you roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. There’s so much frickin wisdom, what you just said. I was taking notes, so.
Brian Johnson: You get me fired up, Hal.
Hal Elrod: Alright. So, one thing you said is, I think with a Ken Wilber reference, make the state a trait, right? Meaning you read a book, you feel elevated, you feel inspired, you feel motivated, you feel more confident, hey, if I did the thing I just learned, why that would change my life? How do you make that state, that temporary state that will dissolve into a perpetual trait? I love that, make the state a trait. And the other thing that you said is from Seneca, eventually, what’s best for you becomes what you enjoy most. It reminds me, gosh, it was 20 years ago, I was living in an apartment, it was right after my car accident, and my high school buddy came to visit me, who I hadn’t seen in like a year, my buddy, Brian. And I was eating at the time what I thought was healthy. Looking back, like, I was eating soy milk out of a box, right? It might have been organic. From what I knew at the time, I thought I was eating really healthy.
And he goes, “Dude,” he’s like, “Is it really worth it?” And I go, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “For you to have to endure drinking that soy milk crap, just because you want to be healthier.” And like, I just kind of looked up and around and I looked at him and I go, “You think this is hard?” It was a weird transition eight months ago, right? But now, I look forward to it. It’s part of my life. And I have some friends that are like, “Oh my God, you’re so disciplined in your diet.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I drink a smoothie every day that I frickin can’t wait to drink that I love.” They’re like, “But it has a ginger in it and garlic in it.” I’m like, “Yeah, but all the other things, it has orange, it has vanilla protein powder. They taste amazing.” And same thing with my lunch, my salad every day. My lunch, they’re like, “Oh my god, you make this?” “I love it.” It’s like two of my favorite times a day when I get to drink my smoothie in the morning and get to eat my salad at lunch.
But the point is, once you do the things that are really good for you and you’re living in alignment with values of health and productivity and growth and all of those things, eventually, that just becomes who you are, and you love it. You can either be addicted to negative destructive vices, or you can be addicted to positive productive vices, right? Either way, you can have both addictions. You could pick your addiction.
Brian Johnson: Now, dude, I said I just took all kinds of notes of yes, exactly. Going from the back forward, yes to all of that. It’s vice versus virtue, really, because you’ve got certain vicious behaviors and habits, and then you’ve got that you can become addicted to, and then you’ve got virtuous habits. So, really, every challenge in the world for 2,500 years, all the great wisdom teachers have said comes down to vice versus virtue. You’ve got a daimon, which means a soul over one shoulder, but then you’ve got a little demon, which is literally the diminutive of daimon is demon, daimon, demon, on the other shoulder. We all have that, and we all had that forever, but we just need to start, I like to say, high fiving our daimon more consistently because the wisdom is always there.
And then, you made me think of a great stoic. I’m essentially a practicing stoic who tries to bring all that into modern science. From a huge stoic thinker and practitioner, etc., one of the– I’m forgetting which was, I think it was the practicing stoic by a guy named Ward Farnsworth, who’s the dean of the University of Texas Law School, super-smart guy. We got a PhilosophersNotes on that and dozens of other stoic books, by the way. He says, “You got to make a decision. Do you want the good life? Or do you want the good mood?” Because if you’re driving every decision by the good mood, and again, goosebumps, think your walk, if you need to feel great right this second, then your life is going to, I don’t want to be rude, suck. But if you’re committed to you and you have the wisdom to know the game you’re playing, which is to flourish by putting your virtues in action and living with Arete, then all of a sudden, doing what’s best for you starts to feel the best as well, and you have a good mood and a good life. And that’s the point. And it takes some willpower and some discipline to break the habit.
And again, we live in such a sick society that you and I are the outliers. But again, another guy, now, I know I’m going off, but Yuval Noah Harari is my favorite thinker. That man, I knew I’ve read three of his books. We’ve got notes on Sapiens, Homo Deus, and like, I don’t know, 21 Lesson for the 21st Century. Reading his books, I knew that he was an insane meditator. Literally, I just knew it because his mind was so clear, and it was just astonishing. He dedicated his third book to S. N. Goenka, his Vipassana meditation teacher. And I’m like, “Yep, knew it.” He’s meditated two hours a day for decades, and his thinking is so lucid. Anyway, he says that “We live in a strange world,” and the idea that you have a front lawn is not natural or inevitable. The fact that we wear shoes, like that’s just a cultural creation. So, the fact that we live in a culture…
Hal Elrod: Wait, who is this person? I want to read this because I’d…
Brian Johnson: Oh, dude, I’ll send you the PhilosophersNotes.
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Brian Johnson: Yuval Noah Harari. He’s a historian out of Israel who’s a genius. I mean, he’s just brilliant. So, one of our corporate partners wanted me to do notes on them, hundreds of thousands of employees. They’re like, “Can you do notes on Yuval Noah Harari stuff?” I’m like, “Yes.”
Hal Elrod: How do you spell his first name?
Brian Johnson: Y-U-V-A-L Noah Harari, H-A-R-A-R-I, and we’ll send you links so that you can directly– we’ve three PhilosophersNotes on his books, and they’re deep. You got to think to get these books.
Hal Elrod: I just text you and your team a reminder so you won’t forget.
Brian Johnson: Dude, I just heard that got through. So, we’re going to hook you up with that. We’ll have direct links so the community can check it out. And again, that’s all free now.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brian Johnson: And anyway, he’s brilliant. And my point with that was that you and I talking about this, it’s like, we’re the weird ones. But that wasn’t inevitable. We could have lived in a culture in which living with virtue was the default. We don’t because you have leadership that’s more interested in other things and kind of that vice versus virtue thing, which is why we need to step up and create a better culture for our kids and their kids, etc. But anyway, I’m going off, so I’ll be quiet. But I loved everything you said, and good life, good mood, vice, virtue, today’s the day, let’s go.
Hal Elrod: So, I want to ask you your opinion on 30-day challenges. So, I personally, and this is really following up on Seneca’s, what you shared, eventually, what’s best for you becomes what you enjoy most. And for me, the way I’ve done that is it’s kind of I believe in living my life in 30-day challenges, where every 30 days, I ask myself, “What’s one thing I want to improve?” I want to get rid of a bad habit. I want to implement a new habit. I want to try something new with my wife or my kids or whatever, and then focus on that for 30 days. And what I find is at the beginning of the 30 days, there is that inertia, that resistance, like, I don’t know, this is awkward, it’s uncomfortable, but within 30 days for me, I acclimate to it.
And I know there’s the Harvard study that they talked about in The One Thing, which is that it takes 66 days to change a habit. There’s Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz talked about the 21 days to change a habit. I personally believe so much in the mind over matter that if you think you can change a habit in a day, you probably can if you are fully committed to that. If you think that’s going to take you 66, it will, right? So, for me, I like that 30-day sweet spot. So, I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that in general, even just quick thoughts on living your life in 30-day challenges so that every 30 days you can take any one trait that you want to adopt and have it become something that you enjoy by the end of the 30 days.
Brian Johnson: I love it. And again, your book, the way you describe that arc, the first 10 days, you’re like this, and then the second 10 days, you’re like that, and the third 10 days, you’re like, you couldn’t pay me to not do it.
Hal Elrod: Unbearable, uncomfortable, unstoppable, yeah.
Brian Johnson: Dude, I thought that was one of the best frames, and again, your response for the fifth time that I’ve heard. So, I love that. Absolutely love that. And then, of course, the 30 days needs to be translated into 365 days. But what the 30 days does is it’s almost like that that lift off, you’re inspired. It’s more than a weekend. And then you can experiment, you can have fun and see which things are going to stick or not. And then the way I frame it is The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin, genius book, again, PhilosophersNotes on that. He says, “You need to make your prior best your new baseline.”
So, my thing would be, we’re not out here to do it and then to go back to our prior levels. You want to create a new baseline every time you create a new best. That’s how you get good. And you build scaffolding in your life. You don’t go up and then down, your highs get higher and your lows get higher because you decide which things are now non-negotiable. And then there’s a whole, as you know, and you teach and you practice art and science to have a creation. I’m a huge student of Willpower Habit. We’ve got notes on Tiny Habits, on Atomic Habits. Get on your book and on a ton of other books in that domain, and we’ve got to get good at that. We absolutely need to create that self-mastery, and I break that down briefly into use your willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot via algorithms.
So, if I wake up, then I meditate. And after I meditate, then I do my deep work in which I do a lot of the things that you teach, etc. Then you create these things that you’re not negotiating with yourself every time, and that prior best becomes a new baseline, then you get really excited about will shoot. If I can do that, then what can I do next? And again, I love your 30-day challenge as a really fun, dynamic way to go out and crush it, for sure.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. So, your PhilosophersNotes when I discovered PhilosophersNotes, one of the things I love about the concept of book summaries is that, as you said, we only have so much time. There are so many books out there that we want to read. And the reality is, you think about it. if I were to ask you of any book that you’ve read, now, your different brain, your memory is like a frickin elephant, but if I were to ask the average person like, “Hey, tell me, like, teach me what you learn from that book that you read last month.” The amount that somebody can recall from a book is typically pretty limited. They’re going to go, ah, like Miracle Morning, oh yeah, you wake up early so you have more purpose and you do the SAVERS, the six practices. The point is, the amount that you remember from a book you read is even less than is in the PhilosophersNote.
So, what I love about books, some recent PhilosophersNotes, and what I love about PhilosophersNotes specific to book summaries in the category is that you highlight the way you do, if nobody’s ever seen this, and I know we’ll share where, this is all free now, but PhilosophersNotes are done so well. And two things, one, like the highlights that you do but also your personality, like you’re just a nut. It’s fun. It’s fun to read. Like, you’re goofy, you slang, but of course, you bring in the best insight. So, when I discovered you, it was through PhilosophersNotes specifically, and then that evolved, correct me if I’m wrong, did that evolve to become Optimize? Is that kind of how that worked? That was the evolution of PhilosophersNotes?
Brian Johnson: Yeah. Again, there’s so much there. And thank you again for your kind words across the board there. And just to highlight the idea of PhilosophersNotes, so when you read a great book like the Miracle Morning or How to Win Friends & Influence People or 7 habits or Atomic Habits or whatever, fill in the blank on 600 PhilosophersNotes, there are what I call big ideas, which are the sections that you asterisk and underline and mark all up. And there’s 5 to 10 whatever, really potentially life-changing ideas in those books. I pull those out, put them into a six-page PDF. We have an app, iOS and Android, as well. And it’s in a highlighter effect. So, you can see this is from the book.
And then I come in and, as Hal said, playfully kind of kick you in the butt to go move from theory to practice to mastery. I connect them to other ideas. So, I say, “Well, Hal says this, but Stephen Covey says the same thing, and so does James Clear, and you want to know this.” So, anyway, that’s the idea there. And then, you’re absolutely right, PhilosophersNotes is just part of Optimize. And it’s funny because when you were saying the learning thing, I basically, literally have read every great book in habits. So, I’ve got PhilosophersNotes on it, then I distilled it into Habits 101, a 60-minute class with 10 of the best big ideas, worksheets, and all that stuff. And then I did the same thing for learning. So, of course, we need to learn how to learn. So, I read all of the best books on the science and art of learning, and then I created a class called Learning 101. And I literally did that…
Hal Elrod: Meaning, that’s an online video class, yeah?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, yeah. 60 minutes video, worksheets, all of that, and I did that 50 times, literally, 50 different categories – stoicism, mental toughness, all the best in ABC of books, all the best willpower books, again, habits, sleeping, movements, nutrition, fitness, literally, dozens of categories. But that’s the basic idea with Optimize. We’ve got the PhilosophersNotes, 600 of them. We got 50-hour long video masterclasses, and then we’ve also got super-short form, Optimize +1s, which are like two to three-minute, boom, here you go. We’ve got over a thousand of those. I did those every day for three years in a row.
Hal Elrod: And those are videos?
Brian Johnson: And again, those are little microvideos, and…
Hal Elrod: Over a thousand of those videos, that’s crazy.
Brian Johnson: Short-form content, yeah, it was super fun. I was going to do it for a year and I kind of got on a roll and wound up doing like 1,200 of them. Yeah, it was awesome.
Hal Elrod: You’re next level, man.
Brian Johnson: The punch line is that used to be 100 bucks a year. So, we’ve had…
Hal Elrod: I used to pay 100 bucks a year.
Brian Johnson: I appreciate that, Hal. I appreciate that. I appreciate your support back in the day. And then, it’s now free. So, that’s the exciting thing with Optimize that we’re just giddy about, having just unlocked that super recently.
Hal Elrod: So, where can people get it? But also, why did you make it free?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, I will answer that in order. So, Optimize.me/Hal, it’s where you can get that for free.
Hal Elrod: Nice. We appreciate that.
Brian Johnson: Yeah, yeah, so Optimize.me/Hal, all of that stuff we’ve been talking about is absolutely free. And then, the short answer on why we decided to give it away for free is we want to catalyze a movement, we want to change the world. And my new business is called Heroic, which I founded on election night last year. We wound up raising $11 million as part of a seed round. We made history as the first company to ever raise $5 million via new regulations from our community, our crowd.
And Heroic acquired Optimize, and the first thing we did was give the premium membership away for free as an opportunity to look. We’ve been told it was a world-class, well-priced product before, and it’s perfect. Let’s unlock it. Unlock Optimize, catalyze Heroic. And we’re launching the Heroic app next spring, and I’m just excited to welcome people in. And it’s been thrilling to have 60,000 people join in the first 30 days and just so excited to welcome you Optimizers and take the wisdom and give it away for free. And then we also have, as you know, the Optimize Coach program, which is a 300-day program scientifically proven to work by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading positive psychologist. Yes, we have two PhilosophersNotes on her two books and 70 PhilosophersNotes on Positive Psychology, by the way. Every single book in positive psychology, basically, I’ve covered. Anyway, a 300-day program scientifically proven to change lives, we’ve had 3,500 people sign up for that out of 1,000 bucks. And we’re now offering that for 300 bucks, and you can bring a friend, and we’re fired up. So that’s Optimize.me/HalCoach, one word, HalCoach, couldn’t be more excited about that, and yeah.
Hal Elrod: So, I understand, is that for someone who wants to become a coach or someone who wants to get coaching?
Brian Johnson: It’s like you’ve done this before, Hal, that’s good questions. It’s funny, like literally, exactly 50% of the people who have gone through it. And now, it’s like, 3,500, we’ve done it for almost three years. We’re in our eighth class. So, Optimize Coach Class 8 starts January 3, 2022, almost exactly half of them do it because they are a coach and they want to go next level or they want to become a coach, and the other half do it simply because they want to become the best, most heroic version of themselves and move from theory to practice to mastery. So, it’s literally half and half, but basically, if you want the absolute best stuff, all the things that Hal and I have been talking about in a 300-day, again, proud and humbled to have been scientifically proven to work.
And Sonja said that if she didn’t do the research herself, she would have thought the data was fake because the results were so profound. And we talk about that at Optimize.me/HalCoach. But yeah, that’s the basic deal. What’s alchemized the two years’ worth of historically significant challenges and make 2022 the best years of our lives, like that’s then what’s made cash not in the way, let’s go, that’s the basic idea.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And I think that, have you read Margaret Wheatley’s book, Who Do We Choose to Be?
Brian Johnson: Dude, what are you doing right now? I have not.
Hal Elrod: Did I just stamped…
Brian Johnson: What have I been doing with my…
Hal Elrod: Oh, my gosh. Go read that book. You’ll love it. I reference it occasionally on the show, yeah, Margaret Wheatley, Who Do We Choose to Be? And the reference is she was an activist for most of her life, like saving the whales and saving the ocean and all this stuff. And she essentially got to a point where she had to face reality like some of the problems that her younger self was trying to solve, she has realized are cataclysmic, like, no optimism will change it. They’re in motion. They’re already bigger than anything that she can do. Like she had to come to grips with some of the things I thought that, like 20 years ago, I’m like, we’re going to have this fixed in five years. Okay. No, no, no, no, no. But 10 years, we’ll fix it. Well, maybe. And then now, she’s like, “Oh, it’s gotten considerably worse.”
So, while that could be depressing, the entire book, again, it’s called Who Do We Choose to Be? It’s like, hey, there are things in life and things in the world that you’re not going to change. Like all the activism, all the hope, all the optimism is as great as it might be, is that there are certain things that are bigger than any one person that are out of our control. She said, but the only thing you can control is who do you choose to be? Who are you going to choose to be? And she also references books on like civilization collapses and she goes, in those times, there were people that gave up and then thought the world is ending, and they shriveled up and whatever. And there were those that rose up and go, hey, even in the darkest of times, even in the midst of adversity, we need leaders. In fact, we need them now more than ever. We need people that will stand for their virtues and their values in the midst of chaos in her. The phrase that she uses, Brian, I know you’ll love this is to choose to be an island of sanity in a sea of chaos.
Brian Johnson: Wow.
Hal Elrod: Right. You get to choose, we get to choose, and we can choose it in our own internal mental and emotional and spiritual well-being, that oh my god, I’ve so much stress and chaos in my life, I’m going to choose to be an island of sanity in this sea of chaos, right? And then the same thing outward in your family, your family might be chaotic, you can choose to be an island of sanity in a sea of chaos, and then in your community and in the world and then, you know what I mean, in your nation, etc., etc. Yeah, so the point being that what you’re talking about, let’s make 2022 the best year of our lives is that’s based on who are you going to be in 2022? I know I’ve gone a little motivational tangent here, but…
Brian Johnson: Weird, I’m sitting here like, let’s go, you got me going.
Hal Elrod: Right. But that for me is when I feel stressed by the outer world, like, one thing I’ve been saying for the last year is that when you focus on things that are out of control, you feel out of control. And that’s never the state to be in, right? That’s what causes stress and fear and depression and anxiety is I feel out of control. Well, what are you focused on? All the things going on in the world that I’m seeing on the news, right? Like, do you have any control over those? No. Well, there you go. The only thing you have control over is what you can focus on.
And that’s what I love about Optimize is this is about optimizing you in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the uncertainty. How can you become the best version of yourself starting today, right? We’re in November going into December. What if you were to go, what is it, Optimize.me/Hal, it’s free, and start diving into the PhilosophersNotes. And the beauty of it is you could read one a day during your Miracle Morning. It’s about 10 minutes. Read one PhilosophersNote every day. And then at the end of 30 days, you’ve consumed 30 books. And you go into 2022 with a different level of thinking and a different level of consciousness and a different choice or a set of choices as to who can you choose to be. Now, you’ve got 30 PhilosophersNotes worth of knowledge that you didn’t have before, worth of options that you didn’t have right now, in this moment, as you listen to the podcast, that’s just available to you, what is it? Optimize.me/Hal. So, anyway, man, I’m stoked because this is where I’m at right now. It’s like, how am I going to go into 2022 better than I’ve ever been before?
Brian Johnson: So, anyway, man, who says, mic drop? I’m like, ready to go, like, hit my trail and work it out, I’m fired up, this is good.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And where are we? So, one thing I admire about you, Brian, is that you live this. I mean, there’s a lot of influencers or whatever that don’t necessarily like you wonder, like they seem kind of salesy. Is it authentic? Like, are they living that? And I know you well enough to know that you live by your principles and your values and you believe deeply in habits and goals and like, you fully live in alignment with that. In fact, so much so that you tattooed some of them on your arms, right? So, if you can explain the tattoos real quick, I know we don’t have the video, people can’t see, but what does it mean to have a goal that’s worth tattooing on your body? I know one is heroic, and the other is, how do you pronounce the word?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, Arete.
Hal Elrod: Arete, yeah, talk about that.
Brian Johnson: Yeah. So, again, what you said, I’ve hopefully had the mic drop moment there, which was true in earnest, and who do we choose to be? I mean, that is such a cool phrase, and to choose to be an island of sanity in a sea of chaos. And when you were talking about the fall of different civilizations and some people freaking out and kind of fallen into victimhood and others stepping up and doing something about it, so the word I use for that is heroes. So, to go there, that’s the way the response for the 20th time. Like, I’m a big etymology guy. I just like the origin story of words and stuff, so Arete has deep meaning for me. And the word hero has deep meaning for me. It starts with optimize, by the way. So, briefly, optimize comes from the Latin word optimus, which means the best. So, when we talk about it, we’re talking about helping you be the best version of yourself.
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Brian Johnson: Now, that’s nice, but what does that mean? Because we’re not talking about you being the best version of yourself in a culturally normative way, meaning you’ve got tons of Instagram followers and a six-pack, you show off in a selfie, and whatever. We’re talking about you being the best version of yourself in service to something bigger than yourself, your family, your community, your world, etc. Now, there’s a word for that, which is hero. And so, etymologically, when the ancient Greeks were coming up for the word hero, they didn’t pick a word that meant tough guy or killer or bad guys, they picked the word that meant protector. And the hero’s secret weapon was love. It’s love that drove them to have the courage to go face enormous challenges. And it was love that gave them the self-mastery to actually do what they needed to do, whether they felt like it or not.
And so, our whole thing is, who do we choose to be? And why I named our company Heroic? And why I tattooed my body with the word heroic, our logo for our company is, I think– I don’t think, I know we are facing historically significant challenges. We’re not just recovering from the effects of COVID-19. We have pandemic levels of anxiety, of depression, of diabetes, of cancer, of political polarization, of environmental degradation. Historically significant challenges demand historically significant responses from all of us stepping up and showing up as protectors of things we value. So, two words, Areteion heroic. And the reality is Arete, when we show up as that best, most heroic version of ourselves right this moment, we are heroic. We don’t need to wait for a year or for 10 years. And if we can do that consistently, we can create a better world, which leads us to my third tattoo.
So, I’ve got Arete in big font, ancient-looking font on my right forearm, and then I’ve got a modern hyperminimalist font we crafted, heroic. And then above that, I’ve got 512051. So, I’ve dedicated my life to playing my role as humbly, yet heroic well as I can to help create a world in which 51% of the world’s population is flourishing by the year 2051, which is a moonshot goal that the Positive Psychologist founded their whole movement on in the year 2000. When I first heard it, I thought it was insane. I still think it’s insane, but I’ve adopted it as my life’s mission, our Heroic mission, and then one step at a time. And by the way, that’s why we gave Optimize away for free. We wanted to unlock Optimize to see if we can catalyze that Heroic movement and help as many people as we possibly can with more wisdom and less time, be the change they want to see, be the best, most heroic version of themselves, so we can literally change the world. Like, that’s the unapologetically intense ambition we have, and that’s why I tattooed my body with Arete, heroic, 512051.
And then, again, today’s the day. Get out of the abstract, look in the mirror, you’re the hero we’ve been waiting for. And again, not as a trite statement, but as a real fact. If you’re looking outside of those uncontrollables, as you brilliantly said, no, no, control your morning ritual. Make today a Miracle Morning, right? Go do your SAVERS, and then go make your evening a miracle and make every moment you can, however imperfectly a miracle today, because we need you to show up, and move from victim to hero. That’s one of the orientations we talk a lot about. You can pull the sheet or covers over your head and whine about everything going on. Perfect. A lot of people are doing that. Or you can stand up strong, and the hero runs toward the sound of gunfire. They run toward the battle, not away from it. So, again, that’s me doing my thing, but that’s why I tattooed my body with it. I’m obviously all in. And appreciate you, man. And I’d just such a great conversation. And yeah, you’ve inspired me for a long time, and I’m honored to be doing it together.
Hal Elrod: Well, the goosebumps you transferred, you threw them back here, you reciprocated. Now, I got the goosebumps. I resonate so much with that because Arete, am I saying it right?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, perfectly.
Hal Elrod: Arete and heroic, yeah, that to me, those two words represent what kind of my purpose in life has been for a long time, which is I defined it as I’m committed to living to my full potential in service of helping other people live to theirs. And to me, that’s it, Arete, living to your full potential, becoming the best version of yourself, heroic, and then serving others from a place of love. So, God, for you to sum up all of that into two words, two tattoos, man.
Brian Johnson: Two tattoos.
Hal Elrod: I get it. I know, like, I’ve thought about getting like a sunrise on my lower back, but I never, no, just kidding, but right on, man. Well, dude, we can keep talking. But you tell me, like, I kind of want to wrap it up, man. I feel like you just…
Brian Johnson: I feel like we just did what we needed to do. I’m honored to have you in my life, to be part of your community, and to be able to go so deep. That was one of my favorite conversations I’ve ever had. And our ability to go so deep and broad is just amazing. So, Hal, totally appreciate you and excited to– heroes unite is our call, let’s go, today’s the day.
Hal Elrod: Awesome, man. And the best place to get started with your work right now is free, the Optimize Premium membership at Optimize.me/Hal. If anybody is interested in the coaching piece, can you remind me of what’s the coaching?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, exactly. So, all the free stuff, the 600 PhilosophersNotes, the 50 101 classes, the thousand Optimize +1s, Optimize.me/Hal, and then, get to know us. And if we’re resonating all that stuff, we think you might like Optimize.me/HalCoach, which is the 300-day program. It’s a mastery series with the coaching staff. If you want to go there, we’re going to break down all this stuff over 25 different full lessons, 300 days, seven objectives. We help you know to game your plan. We help you forge antifragile confidence. We boil self-help down into what we call The Big 3, energy, work, and love. We teach you all the things we talked about with habits and self-mastery. Then we teach you how to dominate the fundamentals – eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, focusing, celebrating, and prospering. Then we send you on your way to go crush it. But that’s Optimize.me/HalCoach.
And again, we’ve been blessed to have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of testimonials. We know it can change lives if people are willing to do the hard work, and that’s now 300 bucks. Bring a friend. If it isn’t the best investment you’ve ever made in yourself, we will humbly give you your money back, again, all in, and appreciate anyone that’s made it this far in the conversation and excited about the potential of us connecting more deeply.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, man, I will have you back on for sure. When this Heroic launch? You said Spring 2022?
Brian Johnson: April 9th. I am giddy we are going to live stream the whole launch. We’ve got my favorite band, The Score, performing live for some of our investors in Austin. Of course, you’re going to be there.
Hal Elrod: I’ll be there, dude, yeah.
Brian Johnson: Yeah, dude. So, that’s going to be amazing. And then so much other stuff coming downstream. But again, man, really, really appreciate you and can’t wait to see you in person soon.
Hal Elrod: Brian, love you, brother. Thank you for being here today and everybody that tuned in for today’s conversation. And it was one of my favorites as well. So, hope you enjoyed it. And I will talk to you all next week.
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