Brian Johnson of Optimize just released an incredible video.
It’s so good that I listened to it twice and felt compelled to publish this full summary. Brian describes this video as his “life’s work in an hour.”
Think of it as your “start here” guide:
“Start here. This is the best of what I know of ancient wisdom, modern science, practical tools. This is how we move from theory, to practice, to mastery. This is how we close the gap between who we’re capable of being and who we’re actually being.”
Here’s the full video for reference:
- I’m not affiliated with Optimize—just a fan of Brian Johnson’s life’s work. If you’re interested in the Optimize membership or coaching program, you can find more info on Optimize.me.
- All quotes and content are from Brian Johnson unless otherwise stated.
- I’ve added my own emphasis throughout in bold.
Summary Contents: Click a link here to jump to a section below
- Who is Brian Johnson of Optimize?
- Start Here: Terminology & Ultimate Purpose
- On Virtue
- 7 Optimal Living Fundamentals
- 9 More Bonus Optimize Ideas
- Algorithms & Habits
- Consistency in Taking Action
Optimize with Brian Johnson: An Intro to his Life’s Work on Virtues, Habits, & the Fundamentals of Optimal Living
Who is Brian Johnson of Optimize?
Brian Johnson is the founder of Optimize. After selling his first business at age 26, he became a lover of wisdom to understand what makes great people great.
The driving question: “What is it about that .0001% of people in the world who truly optimize their lives, actualize their potential and give their greatest gifts in greatest service to the world? (And… enjoy the process!)”
After selling a second business, Brian says:
“I looked into a range of Ph.D. programs but couldn’t find one that integrated everything I wanted to study, so I playfully (emphasis on playfully) decided to give myself my own Ph.D. in Optimal Living—integrating ancient wisdom, modern science and practical tools across a range of domains (from nutrition and psychology to business and peak performance) to Optimize and actualize.”
He then read 100 of the best books on optimal living and distilled it into a book called A Philosopher’s Notes – On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness (Amazon).
Tip: Brian says his favorite philosopher is Epictetus.
“His book, Enchiridion (Summary | Amazon), literally means ‘ready at hand.'”
The Ultimate Target: “Mastering ourselves so we can serve heroically and empower others to do the same. Why? Because that’s how we’re going to change the world, one person at a time, together, starting with you and me. TODAY.”
- “We need to understand the game we are playing, and how to play it well.”
- “All of our work together is about operationalizing virtue. That’s the game we’re playing.”
- “The good life is all about two things: work and love (paraphrasing Freud). You get that right, you’re doing pretty well.”
- “The foundation must be strong if you want to go up and actualize.”
“Arete—if I had to summarize my entire philosophy in one word it would be this. We directly translate that word as ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence’ but it has a deeper meaning. Something closer to ‘expressing the best version of yourself moment to moment to moment.’“
- “Optimize = Optimus = Best = Eudaimōn = Hero”
- “Optimize comes from the Latin word ‘optimus’ which means ‘the best.’“
- “In ancient Greece … they called people who were committed to optimizing and actualizing ‘eudaimōns.'” (“good soul” according to Aristotle)
- “You experience eudaimonia via arete.”
- “We don’t just become the best version of ourselves for ourselves … we do it so we can become heroes. The ancient etymology of that word (hero) is very interesting as well. It means ‘protector‘ … Heroes have strength for two; their secret weapon is love.”
- “The word ‘confidence’ etymologically means ‘intense trust’ … not that everything is going to go perfectly, but that you have what it takes to respond to whatever life throw at you.”
- Daimōn (good/heaven); Demon (bad/hell)
The Ultimate Purpose of Life:
“The ultimate purpose, the ‘summum bonum‘ (how Aristotle put it) is to be a good soul—to high five your inner soul.”
- “Let’s pretend we could bring Aristotle into a room and bring Martin Seligman (the founder of positive psychology) into a room and say: ‘What’s the ultimate purpose of life?’ Aristotle would answer: ‘eudaimonia’ (good soul). Seligman would answer: ‘flourish.’“
“We need people to be virtue connoisseurs.”
- “The ancient Stoic and Roman philosophers said the four cardinal virtues were: wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. Modern science added two more: humanity and transcendence.”
- “Optimize has four cardinal virtues: wisdom, self-mastery (what we call temperance), courage, and love (which integrates justice and humanity).”
- “Science says there are 5 core virtues that are most highly correlated with your flourishing. The #1 virtue is zest—your energy level.“
- “If your energy isn’t right … good luck showing up powerfully in life.”
- “Start by managing your energy (vs your time). Oscillate throughout the day. Be super on, but also super off.”
- “Zest, hope, and gratitude are the top 3 most highly correlated with your flourishing.“
The Optimize Virtue Compass:
- North (N): Wisdom—I know the game that I’m playing and how to play it well.
- Northeast (NE): Gratitude—I appreciate what I have: God, thank you for blessing me with the gift of…everything.
- East (E): Love—I am present and kind and generous and encouraging.
- Southeast (SE): Curiosity—I see what’s working and what needs work.
- South (S): Self-Mastery—I am committed to playing the game well today (moving from theory to practice to mastery).
- Southwest (SW): Zest—I am energized as I practice my fundamentals and give the world all I’ve got.
- West (W): Courage—I am willing to act in the presence of fear.
- Northwest (NW): Hope—I know that my future will be better than my present because I will do whatever it takes to make it.
7 Optimal Living Fundamentals
“It’s a spiritual practice to optimize your eating, moving, sleeping, breathing…”
“Pick your favorite philosopher who is at least 300 years old, and eat like them. They didn’t have sugar they could drink, they ate real food because factories didn’t exist, and they didn’t have refrigerators so they weren’t eating all day.”
- “The greatest predictor of your morbidity is your waist-to-height ratio. If it’s greater than 0.5, your risk of dying of chronic disease is through the roof.”
- Sugar: “Researchers call that candy for cancer cells.”
- Food Rule #1: “If you could do one thing that would most fundamentally change your life health-wise, quit drinking sugar.” — referencing Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Food Fix (Amazon)
- Food Rule #2: “Eat real food and throw out the factory food.” (ultra-processed food, factory-farmed animals, factory-produced fat)
- Food Rule #3: “You need an eating sunset … 14+ hours is our target.” (a fasting window of less than 13 hours makes your risk of cancer go up dramatically)
“Sedentariness is the new smoking.”
- “You need to move consistently through the day if you want to have the energy you want.”
- “Movement transcends and includes exercise. We want to be perpetual motion machines.”
- “Standing up every 15-20-30 minutes literally changes your insulin levels, it changes your overall energy.”
- Get up every 1,000 seconds (16-17 minutes).
- “There’s actually a number of steps threshold for depression. If you get less than 5,649 steps/day, you’re more likely to not feel great.”
“Sleep is actually the foundation on which the other pillars of health exist.” — referencing Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep (Amazon)
- “If you get less than the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended, you double your risk of getting cancer.”
- Understand the actual sleep you’re getting vs time in bed.
- The #1 Sleep Practice is Digital Sunset: “At least an hour before you go to bed, put your electronics away. It jacks up your cortisol which reduces your melatonin.”
- “Sleep is the bridge from despair to hope.”
“This actually is the thing that may have changed my life the most: optimizing my breathing. It triggers a level of calm confidence.”
- “If you breathe through your mouth, you’re breathing wrong.”
- “Simply breathing through your nose, into your belly, exhaling slightly longer creates an energized tranquility that’s astonishing.” — referencing Patrick McKeown, leading expert on breathing and author of The Oxygen Advantage (Amazon)
“Focus the spotlight of your attention.”
- “Psychologists will tell you your ability to put your mind where you want, when you want, for how long you want (they call it a spotlight of attention) is the most important hallmark of flourishing human beings.”
- “A wandering mind (science says) is an unhappy mind.”
“We work too hard to not enjoy our lives.”
- 1) Acceptance — “Accept yourself, your reality, and your failures.”
- 2) Gratitude — “You’re 25% happier simply by doing a gratitude journal capturing 5 things once a week for 10 weeks … oh by the way, you’ll sleep 30 minutes more a night, you’ll exercise 33% more than people who aren’t happy.”
- 3) Celebration
“We think of money when we think of prospering. This is the final thing we talk about. We focus on virtue, virtue, virtue, virtue, virtue, operationalizing wisdom, self-mastery, courage, love, hope, gratitude, curiosity, zest—then we’ll talk about money.”
- “But even that we’re going to talk about in a spiritual, philosophical sense. Etymologically, the word ‘prosper’ means ‘to go forward with hope.’“
- “The FIRE movement you may be familiar with? We tweak it. Not Financial Independence Retire Early, but Financial Integrity Realizing Eudaimonia.”
9 More Bonus Optimize Ideas
1. The Hero’s Journey: “It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard. You’re fighting dragons on a hero’s journey.”
2. Antifragile Confidence: “We want to be antifragile—the more we get kicked around, the stronger we get.” — referencing Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile (Amazon)
3. “Our mantra is OMMS: Obstacles Make Me Stronger.”
4. Heroic Courage: “Courage is the virtue that vitalizes all the other virtues.”
5. Response-ability: “Stephen Covey’s #1 habit from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Amazon) is: Be Proactive.”
6. Targeted Thinking: “When something happens that you don’t want to have happen (stimulus), first of all quit having that story that it shouldn’t be happening (embrace it), then ask yourself ‘what do you want?’, what’s your target, then say what needs to get done.”
7. Micro Transactions: “There’s never a moment when we aren’t called to express that best version of ourselves.”
8. AM/PM Bookends: “You have more control over your AM and PM bookends than any other time of your day” — referencing Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect (Amazon)
9. Energized Tranquility: “You’re simultaneously super energized and super grounded. Most people have enervated anxiety.”
Algorithms & Habits
Algorithms & Equations:
“Yuval Noah Harari and Ray Dalio tell us the #1 language of the 21st century is algorithms.”
- “Use your willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot via those algorithms.”
- “Willpower exemplars play offense not defense. They actually don’t use their willpower.” — referencing Roy Baumeister, author of Willpower (Amazon)
Soul Force (or Genius Work) Equation:
Extending Cal Newport’s Deep Work (Amazon) equation:
- Soul Force = T x (E x F x W.I.N.) to the power of C
- Soul Force = Time x (Energy x Focus x What’s Important Now) to the power of Consistency
- 100 x 100 x 100 = 1M (to the power of 100) = INFINITY
- 100 x 100 x 100 = 1M (to the power of 0) = 1
Installing & Deleting Habits:
“Design your behavior so you use your willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot and delete the ones that don’t belong there.”
— referencing James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (Summary | Amazon)
BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits (Amazon)
Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits (Amazon)
- Install Habits: 1) Make the trigger/prompt/cue obvious; 2) Make it easy to win (install the behavior and then optimize); 3) Celebrate (immediately and intensely to change your brain’s neurochemistry to crave that)
- Delete Habits: 1) Make it invisible; 2) Make it hard to do it; 3) Needs work equation (replay it, learn from it, go get better)
- “The fastest way to optimize your life is actually to delete a Kryptonite … get rid of the stuff that’s toxic.”
Consistency in Taking Action
“You’re either stepping forward into the next best version of you, or you’re stepping backwards.”
- “Greatness is consistency on the fundamentals.” — referencing Robin Sharma, author of The Greatness Guide (Amazon)
- “Whether or not you show up is in your control.”
- “One will be happier in the deep eudaimonic sense when they put their virtues in action.”
- “What’s the #1 thing that you just know you could be doing—that you’re not doing right now—that if you did it would most change your life?“
- “What’s the #1 thing the best version of you from the future tells you they wish you started right now?“
- “You’re only a success in the moment you perform a successful act. You have to do it again.” — Phil Jackson
- “Remember our mortality. Wake up, this isn’t a dress rehearsal.“
- “This is how we fundamentally and permanently change our lives.”
- “All the power we need is always already there.”
- “We want you to become a master at creating masterpiece days.”
- “It’s all about you mastering yourself in service to the world.”
- “Make your prior best your new baseline.” — referencing Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning (Amazon)
- “Move from Theory to Practice to Mastery.“
“If I had to boil down our entire 300 day program in 30 seconds … this is the ultimate algorithm, this is how you win the optimizing game:
1) If your daimōn (the best version of yourself) tells you something, whispering or yelling, LISTEN;
2) Flip the switch (acknowledge the voice and act);
3) Go bring all the soul force you’ve got to the only moment that ever matters: RIGHT NOW!“
Reminder: If you’re interested in the Optimize membership or coaching program, you can find more info on Optimize.me. I’m not affiliated. Just a fan of Brian Johnson’s life’s work.
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Zak from Team Optimize here!
Nice share and call to action!
And for anyone who wants to dive deeper into Brian’s wisdom, check out out at optimize.me of course!!
Appreciate it, Zak!
This is Brian Johnson. I really appreciate you taking the time to create such an incredibly thoughtful and thorough overview of my life’s work. Truly amazing.
With love and let’s do this!!
Thank YOU, Brian! It’s an honor to have you swing by Sloww and take the time to comment. Really appreciate all you continue to do for the world.
Hello Kyle, like your work! thank you.
just a thought: you quote “A wondering mind (science says) is an unhappy mind.” This sounds strange as wondering is being curious which is good. Maybe you want to refer to a “wandering” mind like the “monkey mind”?
Thank you, Bart! Great catch. I’ve updated the post.
What a fabulous summary of Brian’s work at Optimize.me! This is great for those who are unaware of all the greatness at Optimize and I will be sharing! Happy to have run across this post!
Blessings to you!
Fantastic, thanks for stopping by and sharing Tanya!
You know that your life algorithm is working when two wonderful people coincide under the same line of work. Brian and you are really changing people’s lives. I am actually starting Optimize Coach Class III which is going to be a life changing experience. Great to see you are a fan of Brian’s work.
Keep synthesizing the constant amazing knowledge for your audience.
That’s awesome to hear, Pablo! Love that you call it your “life algorithm.” It’s definitely working when the stars seem to align and you experience more synchronicities. Enjoy Optimize Coach Class III!
Thought you’d enjoy a Puppet Show of “Podcasters Anonymous Support Group.” Starring puppets of favorite Podcasters. Russell B, Joe R, Sam H, Tim F, Brene B, etc. Hilarious with depth. Let us know what you think.
All the best, Jenna
Thanks for sharing, Jenna. Not sure if Brian will ever come back and see it, but I’ll check it out 🙂