Change The World By Activating Your Heroic Potential with Brian Johnson

Content By: Ari Whitten & Brian Johnson

In this episode, I’m speaking with Brian Johnson, founder and CEO of Heroic and the author of Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Brian and I discuss:

  • The secret meaning of the word “Hero” and how redefining the word will change our world
  • 7 practical objectives that bridge ancient wisdom with modern science…and Brian’s vision for building a community of people committed to making the world a better place 
  • The concept of Areté and how it’s the most deceivingly simple way to finally live a life you love
  • The fascinating way our mitochondria are tied to our life’s purpose and the emerging field of mitochondrial psychobiology
  • The number one way to foster physiological and psychological anti-fragility…the concept that challenges of all types make us stronger, more purposeful, and more capable of supporting others
  • The nearly unbelievable results of a study done on Brian’s work showing that just ONE targeted action per day leads to 23% more energy

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Ari: Brian, welcome. It is such a pleasure to have you. The last time we connected was at your house outside of Austin, Texas, two, three years ago, where you became instantly one of my absolute favorite people in the world. We’ve been talking about making this happen now ever since then, two, three years now, and it’s awesome to finally make it happen.

Brian: Ari, it is great to see you. I can feel your soul force from here. My wife’s been such a huge fan of you for so long, so it was fun to connect. It’s already been two to three years, dude. That feels like it was two to three months ago. My wife, we both love you and your wife, and it was so much fun to hang out. Great to be here with you today, and just appreciate you, man.

Ari: Absolutely. I don’t generally waste time with personal stories and sort of the fluff, but there’s a personal story of how we met that I think is worth telling, because it’s funny. Basically, we have some mutual friends who my wife and I met down here in Costa Rica, and we happened to be traveling to Texas, to Austin, and they called us up and they said, you have to meet our friends outside of Austin, and you’ve got to meet them. Instantly I went, oh, no, I got to meet random people and do this small talk, chit-chat stuff. Just that whole process, it was kind of something that I was dreading.

Our friends insisted, and so we went, and we met your wife, and we went for a walk around your property, and you were at the time hiding in your office, basically. What we later found out was–

Brian: I had this same internal dialogue, by the way.

Ari: Exactly. That’s what’s funny, is both you and I were like, no, we got to meet new people and make small talk. I really have important stuff to do. I don’t really have time for this. We hung out with your wife for a while, for a couple of hours, and then finally, as the day was winding down, we were in your house, and then you came out of your office, and we started talking, we had a great conversation, and you said something to the effect of, man, if I knew how cool you guys were, I wouldn’t have been hiding in my office this whole time.

Brian: Soul brothers, from before we met. My goodness, that is a fantastic story. I’m sweating with laughter already, that is so good.

Ari: There’s one more aspect to this that was interesting because I think it was maybe 6.30 PM, it was just around sunset, and you said something like, okay, well, we got to wind down for bedtime. I started laughing because I thought you were joking. You were like, no, I’m serious, we actually go to bed really soon. That’s when I was like, what time do you wake up in the mornings? You said, I don’t know what time it was, you wake up at 4.30 in the morning or something to start your morning routines, and your work day, and all this stuff. That’s when I realized, you are the single most disciplined and just all-in-committed person that I have ever seen in my entire life. It’s true, and I know a lot of high-performance, very successful people, but I have never met someone with your level of commitment and drive and discipline. People talk about me as being those things, and I was like, you should meet Brian Johnson because he puts me to shame in that regard. That’s sort of like what I want the listeners to know about you as a person. You walk the walk more than I think anybody, I would imagine anybody on the planet, or you’re in the running for first place, certainly.

Brian: I appreciate that so much. Again, so funny and fun that we had the same inner dialogue, and I didn’t realize it was that long that you guys were here. My apologies for that. Back in the day too, I was even more bubble-wrapped. Then it was like, no, I read, I write, I think, I repeat, no interruptions in these timeframes. Then I think it must’ve been winter. It’s funny too, because, of course, you inspired us with a lot of that wisdom in terms of just light therapy and getting our energy dialed in and really taking care of our mitochondria. We’re so simple, and we’re so deliberately iconoclastic. Look, last night, the time just changed. Last night I went to bed late, which was 8 p.m. Usually I go to bed like at 7 p.m, but that’s an hour and a half, hour and 45 minutes after the sunset in Austin. There’s just no scenario as the winter approaches, that we were out hanging out, partying

under what, the dark skies at night? I appreciate you. I so enjoyed our connection and I’m so inspired by you. Just feeling your presence, your wisdom your discipline, and just your brightness is really inspiring for me. Bless you. Thank you for your kind words.

Ari: Thank you, brother. There’s one more piece of the story I realized I just left out. Right about as we were about to meet, our friend said, oh, it’s Brian Johnson. I said, wait, Brian Johnson from Philosopher’s Notes? She goes, yes. I was like, oh, I’ve been following that guy’s work for like over 10 years. I used to listen when I was a personal trainer in my 20s, I used to listen to his Philosopher’s Notes, 20-minute audio summaries for listeners, 20-minute audio summaries of all these different personal development and success and happiness books.

Like, I know who Brian Johnson. Are you kidding me? I get to meet Brian Johnson. That’s awesome. Then shortly before we met, you and your wife discovered that you knew who I was too, because you had read my book on red light therapy and you were trying to interview me and that stuff. We discovered beforehand or during that we knew each other already. That was pretty cool as well.

Brian: Super cool, man. Life is good. You guys need to come back, by the way. We were excited there for the flirting of, wait, we might be close, but longer chat. I love the prelude and too funny.

Ari: Let’s get into this. Right at the time we met, you were launching Heroic, basically. you were showing me the mock-ups for the website and the app, and it wasn’t even public-facing yet. You had a big tattoo on your arm, Heroic.

Brian: That hasn’t gone away.

Ari: You were in the process of all that. You’ve now launched this new brand. You’ve moved out of the Philosopher’s Notes brand and it became Optimize. Then now it’s Heroic. Tell everybody about why Heroic? Where did this brand come from?

Brian: Yes, I appreciate you talking about the Philosopher’s Notes. I spent half of the last 25 years as a founder CEO. I built two social platforms before Facebook. Then when I wasn’t doing that, I was reading, writing, thinking, teaching, repeating. I distilled over 600 books, ancient wisdom, modern science, into those Philosopher’s Notes. Then we integrated that into a coach certification program that 10,000 people have gone through from 100 countries. Basically, I’m a hermit. When you came out, dude, I was seriously bubble-wrapped. All I did was read, write, teach, repeat. Read, write, teach, repeat. Then on election night 2020, politics aside, we’ve been blessed to serve people at the highest levels of, both parties. Just woke up and I had waited 18 years for somebody to create an alternative to Facebook. The platform that I had built preceding Facebook that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, invested in and nearly bought, died a sad death when I sold it to a different publicly traded company. A quarter of a million people were in this social platform trying to make a difference in the world before Facebook. I literally waited 18 years for someone to create an answer to the social dilemma, that great documentary on the unintended catastrophic consequences of social platforms built hacking your attention. Longer chat. Anyway, election night, I woke up and I’m like, look, we can do better. In that moment, it was one of those epiphanal moments where I realized I’m going to do it. I’m going to do my best to create a platform that can help people move from theory to practice to mastery together using the best of social and persuasive technology for the best. Long story slightly shorter, that company is called Heroic Public Benefit Corporation. We wound up making history as the first company to ever raise $5 million via the crowdfunding regulations. We actually raised 10 million. People were so excited to help us create that platform. We built it with the same company that built Slack, Tinder, and Uber Eats. That’s right when you came is right when we were going to launch that. That’s now a long overview of what’s going on with that. That’s what we’ve been focused on for the last couple of years before the book.

What does heroic mean?

Ari: Why Heroic? What’s significant about heroes and heroic?

Brian: Yes, I’m going to rebrand what the word heroic and what the word hero means. In ancient Greece, I’m kind of an etymology nerd. In ancient Greece, the word that they picked for hero didn’t mean tough guy or a killer of bad guy or anything like that. The word hero, etymologically, means protector. A hero is a protector. A hero has strength for two. They move from victim to creator to hero to make a difference in the world. The hero’s secret weapon is love. The way I like to frame it up is my wife is more heroic than me. I get all the public accolades

because I’m front-facing, but she’s extraordinary for 101 reasons. Redefining what it means to be heroic and the idea that you, whoever’s listening to this, you’re the hero we’ve been waiting for. Quit looking outside yourself. My life’s work is all about helping activate the heroic potential within the individuals we serve. I have our mission tattooed to my body, which is to help create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051, inspired by Martin Seligman and the positive psychology movement. That’s the basic idea is you’re the hero we’ve been waiting for. Let’s move from theory to practice to mastery together. Very importantly, the fastest way to change your life is to join a community of people with high standards. The integration of all those ideas is what we’re all about.

Ari: Speaking of integrating ideas, you spent many years in the brand Philosopher’s Notes where you were doing summaries. I think it was six-page or three-page PDF summaries and then audio summaries and sometimes also video summaries of, or maybe always video summaries, I don’t remember. I would always listen to the 20-minute audio summaries, of hundreds and hundreds of personal development books on happiness, on purpose, on human flourishing, positive psychology, on Eastern philosophy, on ancient Greek philosophy, on spirituality, on Buddhism, on so many different topics. I’m curious, and I know this is maybe a hard ask, but it relates to the work that you’re doing now. How do you best sort of congregate these ideas or reconcile them or sort of like make sense of all of these different things, create some a synthesis of all of these things? Because I know that was part of the heroic vision as well, is to move away from just creating, okay, here’s access to 5,000 book summaries and audio summaries and more towards like, here’s a simple, coherent framework to implement in your life.

Brian: Yes, that’s exactly, goosebumps what I’ve spent, again, the better half, better part of the last 25 years trying to figure out. Ancient wisdom, modern science is how I frame it up. Then, of course, all the self-development that leans on some of each of those elements. That’s been my obsession, to understand what all the great teachers have said across all cultures, across history, that modern science has validated and then live it.

To move from theory to practice in my own life and then to figure out a practical framework through which individuals can simplify the whole process and truly fundamentally change their life. We’ve done a lot of research on our platform and there are seven objectives that I’ve seen that we’ve used to, like you said, congregate, aggregate, make a coherent practical application and synthesis of all that wisdom, which our coach program is based on, the book is based on, and we’ve been told it works.

I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at simplifying complex things and then finding the through line and then most importantly, helping you figure out how you’re going to idiosyncratically apply it to your life. The other arm is tattooed with Arete, right? The book is called Arete because that’s the one-word summation of what every single one of those ancient wisdom philosophers and faith traditions and modern scientists have to say about how to live a good life. If you asked the ancient stoics how to live a good life, Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca, who are my favorite, flavor of ancient wisdom, they’d answer you in a single word. They’d say arete, live with arete. We translate the word as virtue or excellence, but it means something closer to being your best self moment to moment to moment. I like to say, if this is what you’re capable of being and there’s a gap between who you could have been and who you’re actually being, it’s in that gap in which your regret, anxiety, disillusionment, depression exists. On one level, it’s more nuanced than that, of course. On another, it’s that simple. When you close the gap and you express the best version of yourself and you live with arete, you experience what the ancient Greek and stoics described as the summum bonum, the greatest good of life, eudaimonia, a deep sense of joy and flourishing. That’s the one-word summation of all of my work. Then there are also seven objectives. I know that we have an affinity for the second one, forging antifragile confidence. That’s the way I’ve framed it up. Again, this is my obsession. It’s what I’ve spent. Why I didn’t come out of my office when you came to– when I was done with that day’s work is I’ve just been really working hard on myself, on the craft and trying to be worthy of being in a position to hopefully lead a movement of people passionate about these ideas who can truly change the world together.

We have been brought up to focus on the wrong priorities

Ari: Yes, beautiful. I have your book here. Thank you for sending me this. I have some thoughts on it. First of all, it’s like a thousand pages long. I don’t say a thousand pages as an exaggeration. It is literally a thousand pages long. I’m saying this to the listener. I know how long your book is, but just so people know I’m not actually exaggerating when I say it’s a thousand pages. It’s literally a thousand pages. This book is something approximating and forgive like a religious reference here, I don’t mean it in that sense, but it’s something approximating the Bible in the sense that this is so rich with wisdom.

It’s almost unbelievable that you packed all of this into one book and that you didn’t decide to like make it into five books or something like, because it easily could be. It’s amazing. I’ve only started reading it about a week ago. It’s just truly amazing how much good stuff is packed into this. First of all, well done on this. To everybody listening, this book is the absolute real deal. Go to Amazon, go to Barnes and Noble, wherever you buy books, go grab yourself a copy of this book right now. It’s amazing. It’s brilliant. It’s life-changing if you read this and you apply it. No question about it, my highest possible endorsement that I could give. Now you mentioned these seven objectives that you talk about in the book. The first one is know the ultimate game. You say in the book that it’s important to make sure that you’re playing the right game and that in such a profoundly sick society, most of us probably aren’t playing the right game. Let’s talk about what you mean by that.

Brian: Yes, and again, just rewind for a moment. Thank you. I appreciate your kind words very, very much. As we were joking before we came on, I had 70% of a normal, non-pejoratively, but fluffy book. 250, 300 page book. I’m like, that’s not the book I want to write. The book is 1,000, I think 26 pages to be precise, but it’s 451, which is the number of degrees Fahrenheit you need to get to ignite a fire and hit activation energy. 451 micro chapters, one, two, three pages long on the best ideas I know that I hope can help change people’s lives.

They’re organized in seven objectives. The first objective is you got to go know the ultimate game. This is the thing that all the ancient wisdom, again, philosophers and wisdom and faith traditions say, across the span, you can have the choice of Hercules 2,500 years ago that Socrates talked about, the stoics talked about, or how about the Bhagavad Gita? Slightly more, not quite 2,500 years ago, but what’s the Bhagavad Gita? The Bhagavad Gita is a reluctant warrior, Arjuna, being counseled by his God, Krishna. He doesn’t want to go to war. The war is a metaphorical representation of the war within himself, between vice and virtue.

Again, we can talk about all the different contexts in which all the great teachers have said, you got to go know the ultimate game, and you got to go play it well. David Brooks, more modern, style, he says, look, you get to the first mountain, in The Second Mountain, his great book, you get on the top of the first mountain, you did everything you were told to do. You chased all the “right things” but you get up to the top of that mountain, and you look around, you’re like, I’m not happy, I’m not fulfilled. The reason is because we’ve been seduced to play the wrong game, to chase fame, wealth, and hotness.

Scientists say, even if you are successful in pursuit of fame, wealth, and hotness, you are, I get goosebumps every time I say this, you’re “less psychologically stable,” even if you’re successfully pursuing them, than people who are predominantly focused on the intrinsic motivators, the simple things of life, being a better person, deepening relationships, and making a contribution.

Not to impress people with your Instagram followers or square footage in your house, but just to do the right thing, to live with virtue and be your best self so that’s the ultimate game. The other fun metaphor I like to use is, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. But if your first step is in the wrong direction, the faster you go toward that destination, the further away you get from where you really want to go. Slowing down, taking a breath, and checking in and saying, in a world in which 80% of us are struggling with anxiety and depression, and nearly the same are struggling with weight issues or chronic disease.

As Krishnamurti says, it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society, and that’s objective one. You’ve got to know the ultimate game and how to play it well, and that’s life-changing. For people, when they slow down and they see that, it’s so obvious when I say it out loud, but when you slow down and see it and then start architecting your life in accordance with those ideas, things change.

Ari: Okay, so arete is defined, you said, as something approximating showing up as your best self, right?

Brian: Yes.

Should we pursue things like enlightenment?

Ari: Okay. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on how that sort of reconciles with some of the Eastern philosophical notions around sort of just being. Stop trying to get somewhere else other than where you are. Just be you, exist as you are, stop trying to– We even hear messages from some spiritual gurus like stop trying to pursue enlightenment, for example, because it’s already there, you just sort of have to relax away all of your pursuits of trying to be something other than you are. I know this is a big question and maybe not an easy answer.

Brian: I have very strong opinions on that subject, so let’s go, we’ll go back and forth, but I love the frame. I think those individuals should talk to Buddha. I think if the Buddha was alive today and we can watch what he did, how unbelievably, relentlessly hard he worked to attain his enlightenment. what the Buddha did to attain enlightenment is truly astonishing. He makes me and you look like we’re sitting still. Look at what Gandhi did. Gandhi’s level of self-discipline to reduce himself to zero was such a heroic effort, it’s not even funny. The Buddha meditated after he reached enlightenment, after he worked as hard as he did to reach that enlightened state. We can frame this up through Hinduism, Buddhism, and then we’ll go to Confucianism, talk about Chinese philosophy because they say similar things, but I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding related to what you’re talking about.

At near the end of the book, I talk about the ego and there’s just different definitions for it, but some of the unhealthiest people in the world are those who have disassociated from their ego prematurely. You can’t let go of something you never had hold of. That’s a longer chat. In Buddhism, the ideal that I aspire to is the Bodhisattvic ideal, where I work tirelessly to build my bodhicitta, my enlightened mind, such that what? I can attain my own enlightenment for its own sake? No, so I can return with open hands to the marketplace, back to the world and help others reduce their suffering. That’s hard work, that’s arduous work.

Again, longer philosophical chat, I respect different perspectives, but I feel strongly about that. Gandhi, his discipline, his moral integrity and moral courage is astonishing what he did. Then you have the ancient Chinese philosophers, Lao Tzu, Confucius, et cetera, their whole idea was wu wei. Wu wei, you translate W-U-W-E-I, right? Wu wei, you translate as effortless action. I talk about this a lot lately, but when I first heard that, I’m like, oh, so I should just not do anything? That’s what that means? No, no, no it’s effortless right action. You effortlessly show up as your best self.

Now, they had different approaches to get there. Lao Tzu was, no, just let it all go and just be yourself, be fully, “wild and untamed” and all those things and you can reach that state of effortless perfection. I’m more Confucian. Confucius was, no, no, no you better discipline yourself and know exactly what you need to do when such that you can polish all the rough edges out and boom, you are that best version of you. There’s a neuroscience to that. In a great book called, Trying Not To Try on how hard it is to get to a point where you don’t need to try.

They talk about when an individual gets to that point of living with wu-wei effortlessly, [inaudible 00:24:18] best, which again is Arete and Eudaimonia by the way, just to make that connection. It’s just the Chinese Eastern expression of what we’re talking about from the West. You have what they call Da, D-E. You have moral charisma, this power about you that people can feel. We are neurologically wired to feel people who are living in integrity with their highest values, which is why the ancient Chinese philosophers who taught the leaders who wanted to be that person because that’s how you lead. Gandhi called that soul force. His Satyagraha, we mistranslated as nonviolent resistance. It means truth force, virtue force, love force, soul force.

Martin Luther King quoted him, soul force in I have a dream, his I have a dream speech. Anyway, it’s my belief that requires wisdom and discipline in order to get to a point where you are a conduit to something bigger than yourself. We can talk about it a lot more, and I’d love to, because it’s such a fun topic. Those are my quick thoughts on it with respect to the, varying perspectives, et cetera. There you go.

Willpower and effort

Ari: Yes, beautiful answer. I’m wondering also, there’s this, there’s a sort of counterintuitive aspect of willpower and effort versus non-effort. What I mean by that is, one of my mentors who I know you’re friends with as well is John Assaraf. I was walking with him on the beach a few days ago. We were talking about behavioral change. Someone who makes choices, who’s trying to lose weight, for example, and, how much effort and willpower is required for them to, maybe not go for the potato chips or the ice cream, but to choose healthier food instead.

How at the beginning, that takes an enormous amount of effort but you get to a certain point where it’s actually easier, it’s less effort to choose the healthier option than it is to choose the unhealthy option. For me, for example, it’s easier to choose healthier options. I know it is also for you. Because we have so much negativity linked, we know the results, the long-term results of not taking the right action. It becomes easier to take the right action plus the habit is ingrained. I feel like that also links up with this idea of effortless action.

Brian: Yes. We can drill down into our brainstem. 250 million years ago, we developed the basal ganglia, which is the part of our brain that basically has us do us. What you repeatedly do becomes wired in your consciousness at the most basic fundamental level. You’re exactly right. If you have a habitual way of being, you’re going to continue to be that way until you decide, I’m going to live from a different identity. I’m going to reshape my mind with inner size, with John’s work, and with what you do. That requires effort. That requires the discipline to create those new neural pathways.

At the most fundamental level, you get to a point where literally it’s harder to do the things that you do naturally now. The ancient stoics talked about this too. Seneca said, how much [inaudible 00:27:45] to a straight course. Where doing what is best for you is what you most enjoy. It requires pertinacity, was the word that he used, and discipline. You need to show up and you need to do it. Then it becomes easier and easier and easier. This is the fifth objective in the book, is master yourself, in which I talk about the art and science of behavioral change. I talk about B.J. Fogg, James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and all the other guys and women.

He makes a really important point because where most people get it wrong is, they think something’s wrong with them. They think they have a character flaw. Because you have failed to install this habit and that habit and this habit, and now you have this addictive behavior, et cetera, you want to give up because you think something’s wrong with you. You have a character flaw. He says, no, it’s a design flaw. You haven’t been taught behavioral design because it’s actually not that complicated.

To install and delete habits, you need to do three things. To install, as how I teach it, and three things to delete habits. When you practice that, the same way you’d practice a musical instrument or a martial art or a language you want to learn, you get better at it. We’re not taught how to do that. It’s insanely important that we teach the next generation and ourselves to do it because willpower, discipline, out predicts everything for everything you want in your life. You can cultivate it. Longer chat we can have on that, but I feel so passionately about it. It’s exciting. This is life-changing. When you realize it’s not you, you’ve been playing the wrong game. It’s supposed to be hard, oh and I can simplify the whole thing. This is how I do it. Then it becomes fun.

These aren’t chores you’re checking off a list. They’re gifts you’re giving to yourself, which is the other difference between me and you and the old version of ourselves. Look, I used to order, buy one pizza to get one free. I’d have one pizza for dinner and the next one for breakfast. I felt that way. I wanted to end my own life 25 years ago. I had none of these skills that we’re talking about now. I have felt the depths of despair and that pain. I’ve built the scaffolding in my life where I have ups and downs as we all do, but I’m never going there. Now I can help people and show them the breadcrumbs that I followed to get to. point of just deep joy, and it’s what we do with our kids, and I’ll wrap this up, but we tell our kids, make the connection. We’ve been blessed, they’ve never had an antibiotic, 11 and 6, they like feeling good. When they get a little bit sick, make the connection, oh, that’s sugary food and this and that, and they don’t like that. When we make the connection between this and that, we bring joy to the process and give ourselves the gift of well-being with each choice that we make, and oh, by the way, that’s arete. In any given moment, what would your best self do? Are they going to do this? Are they going to do that? Again, we don’t need to be perfect, but even getting 3%, 5%, 10% better in that, you change your life, then you aggregate and compound it, and things become a lot more fun in the process.

Zest and Mitochondria

Ari: You’ve been talking lately on occasion about mitochondria. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see you talking about mitochondria, and it’s obviously something I’ve been talking about for many, many years now and is very central to the work that I do at The Energy Blueprint. You talk also about this term called zest and how that is often referenced in scientific literature and as one of the well, you know what, maybe I’ll let you explain the importance of zest. Why is it that you talk so much about zest? What is this term all about?

Brian: Well, I appreciate your wisdom. You’ve influenced me and my family with your wisdom on the power of those powerhouses mitochondria within every cell in our body and get them right. Thank you, Mom, and let’s go right.

Ari: Yes.

Brian: Again, ancient wisdom we’ve talked a lot about. Modern science the positive psychology movement was founded studying all the ancient wisdom traditions we just talked about, literally the Judeo-Christian, Islamic traditions, the ancient Greeks, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism they all say the same thing, be a good person in service to something bigger than yourself, live with virtue.

Now they identified the virtues most highly correlated with one’s flourishing or well-being. Those virtues include things that you’d expect like hope and gratitude. Those are tied for second. It’s impossible to be simultaneously depressed and grateful. Now again, in any given moment, it’s more nuanced than that, but in any given moment, you can take things for granted or as granted, and if you can find things to be grateful for, you’re going to feel better in that moment. Hope, science behind that.

Then there’s things like love, which is obviously so essential. Curiosity, being open to life, having that discipline we talked about, and courage, et cetera. Somewhat surprisingly, most highly correlated, not surprisingly when you actually think about it, most highly correlated with your flourishing is they call it zest but a sense of vitality, a sense of enthusiasm for life. I’ve been saying forever that your physiology drives a lot more of your psychology than you may think.

Again, you know this but the science is catching up from a traditional positive psychologist view, but it’s everything. We have to start with our energy. We have to optimize that through what we describe as the basic fundamentals: eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, and focusing your attention, and as you do that, your life changes. The psychological challenges you’ve been facing are mitigated. The intensity of your challenges, the frequency of your challenges. Again, 80% to 85%, 90% of our serotonin is produced in our gut. That’s an astonishing fact that your psychiatrist should know and should be prescribing a healthy diet. Stop drinking your sugar. Stop eating the refined foods and you’ll be able to change your psychology, yes.

Anyway, zest, vitality, enthusiasm for life coming through those powerhouses within every cell of our body is exciting because then you can focus on things within your control. It’s a lot easier for me to control what I put into my mouth and how I move my body and when I go to sleep than it is figuring out my purpose and figuring out how I’m going to deal with that huge relationship challenge or whatever’s going on outside of that.

Ari: There’s a field of research you might be familiar with. It’s called mitochondrial psychobiology. Some of the leading researchers there are Martin Picard and Douglas Wallace, and there’s several others in their group. They’re a dominant group in this field, and they do lots of interesting experiments where they, for example, subject people to psychological stress and then analyze mitochondrial function or analyze for the presence of mitochondrial DNA that’s leaked into the bloodstream after intense psychological stress, which indicates mitochondrial damage took place because mitochondrial DNA shouldn’t be floating around your bloodstream, it should be in your cells, in your mitochondria. What this field of research has shown very conclusively is that there is a very strong, powerful link between our mind and our mitochondria. Those two things are interacting all the time. They’re in communication. What’s going on in the mind affects our mitochondria within seconds. What I’m curious to hear from you given how deep you’ve gone in personal development and psychology and purpose and human flourishing and all of this work you’ve been doing for so many years, and the work you’re doing with Heroic is how you see this relationship between purpose, between arete showing up as your best self in life.

Feeling driven to work on yourself, or feeling driven to develop bodhicitta to become a bodhisattva, and having that energy versus somebody who is lacking in purpose, lacking in meaning, lacking in this sense of like, there’s Iki guy, I have a reason for being, there’s something important I’m here to do. How do you see that stuff which is the center of your work matching up with physical energy levels and zest?

Brian: I see it as unbelievably foundational. Just to close the loop on what you were saying, you were talking about, and I can’t wait to read your book with all this stuff and get all the other references you recommend. I read books, so I cannot wait to digest yours and share your wisdom in your next book, but yes, the mind affects your mitochondria, but what I’m more interested in frankly is your mitochondria affecting your mind because it’s a lot easier for me, my own personal experience to get better and better at making choices about what food I put into my body. Then what thoughts I allow to continue to circulate in my head.

Even for me, I had meditated for years, and again, this is idiosyncratic and I don’t get into the religious zealot discussion on details on nutrition. For me, when I removed grains, not only did I not look as pregnant as my wife did who was seven months pregnant at the time when we did this, literally all this inflammation went away, et cetera. I was a really anxious kid, scared of everything. I had meditated for years and I cultivated a level of reasonable calm confidence but I’d still have this odd social anxiety that was just so not “appropriate” in situations. I removed grains from my diet and that literally was gone. It was dropped radically.

Then I started training my breath more rigorously, and now it’s like, of course, you feel the nerves and excitement when you’re doing something that you’re excited about, but the physiology and the changes I made in my eating and my moving and my sleeping and my breathing and how radically that impacted my psychology. The mitochondria going to the mind I have found to be, again, I’m exaggerating perhaps 10 times more powerful than the other way. That’s so exciting for me because I can control the eating and the moving and the sleeping and that’s what I’ve trained our coaches to do.

If I’m carrying extra weight and I’m clearly got some hormonal imbalances from insulin and [inaudible 00:38:25] exercising that control, the downstream psychological benefits that come from optimizing our physiology and then the clarity that I personally get me on six hours of sleep versus nine hours of sleep, I see the world differently. There’s nothing I can do on six hours of sleep to see the world with the same optimism I see it at with eight to nine hours of sleep. Period. There’s no exercise you could ever give me. I mean that. You can go today, even today I got seven hours of sleep, slightly different, pretty good. Six and a half hours of sleep.

I just don’t see the world the same way I do as when I have eight and a half hours of sleep. So that’s my main lever, frankly, right there. Get an extra hour of sleep at night, then we’ll talk more about your purpose because then you’re going to feel that zest, that vitality, which is for me, the conduit to more and more clarity. It’s not either/or but I found both ways to be incredibly impactful personally in the work that we do.

Ari: Well, this is strange for me to push back on you here because the work that I do is what you’re describing. What I’m talking about is physiological energy production. This is what I teach. I teach people how to get their physiology producing lots of energy at the cellular level, at the level of neurochemistry hormones, all of these things dialed in. Having said that, and it’s interesting that me being the one who does this work to be pushing back on you in this instantance. I think your perception of it is that case, because you are coming at it as an individual who already had so much of the mind stuff and purpose and the personal development stuff dialed in, and then you came to the health stuff second-

Brian: Yes. Maybe

Ari: -that you discovered like, whoa, this stuff is way more powerful. I actually think there’s a demographic of people that are the exact opposite of that. That are maybe not the exact opposite, but people who are maybe physically in decent health, maybe they’ve been eating a good diet for several years. They’re on an exercise regimen, they’re following certain healthy habits. They’re seeing a functional medicine doctor, they’re doing those protocols for detox, whatever. Yet, maybe they work a job they hate and–

Brian: No, no. So I’m not saying you are so let’s–

Ari: No, no, no, and I don’t mean to argue with you, but I’m just saying that-

Brian: No, please do.

Ari: -there’s a demographic of people for whom I think they will actually find the purpose stuff, the stuff you talk about in your book that is [unintelligible 00:41:12] like whoa.

Brian: Yes, but that’s because they’ve done, but I want to emphasize– You’re right. Of course. I’m not trying to, and I tried to caveat it where it’s not either or, so it goes both ways. Clearly, I’m influenced from my own personal experience on it. I would offer that the individuals you’re talking about have hit the 80/20 on physiology such that now we need to go to the psychology, but look Chris Palmer’s work with Brain Energy?

Ari: Sure.

Brian: Do you know the one story that he tells, and that to me is the most powerful book I’ve ever read. It used to be Matthew Walker’s, Why We Sleep. It’s the one book I recommend. I have our coaches read, Why We Sleep. The odds of you being able to get by on less than seven hours of recommended sleep are the same of your odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime, 1 in 11,000. Me helping people get one extra hour of sleep changes so much of their psychology. It’s insane. I’ve done this and you’ve done it too, but I’ve done that thousands and thousands and thousands of times. Chris Palmer tells a story about a woman who is psychotic.

Every single thing that could possibly be wrong was wrong with her. Just a tragic story of trauma and institutionalization and schizophrenia and horrific life situations, who for some reason went to Duke to do some ketogenic thing for her weight because she was also obese. In the process of getting her insulin-regulated and losing the weight, all of her psychological problems resolved in weeks, goosebumps.

Just insane, and of course, that’s been done over and over and over again. Now, she was worked on forever psychologically, and I love John and I love Innercise. She’s not innercising her way to finding a life of pure joy and meaning. You have to go at least both ways, and so I think it’s what Aristotle talks about. For some people, it’s more this, for some people it’s more that, and together that yin and yang, if you will, yang, if you will, of coming together.

I’ve seen it so many times and I’ve been so moved by that. That’s easier. It’s easier to get someone too. We demand our coaches get to a waist-to-height ratio of 0.5. It’s the number one predictor of your morbidity, and it’s also going to be the number one predictor of your psychological stability from my vantage point. Having said all of that, I’m happy to talk about what we do in order to forge antifragile confidence because that mindset is essential and we are also very good at that.

Even that’s driven by consistency on your basic fundamentals, getting both the physiological benefits of your physiology driving your psychology and the psychology of being the type of person who does what they say they will do. Then you get a virtuous cycle up. Again, I really appreciate this and I’m excited to go back and forth and want to emphasize. To me, it’s not either/or, but I do think the physiology’s foundational, I would actually still say that. I don’t think you can psych yourself up mind-wise with all the other things not working. I agree with you, and at the very least, you would certainly accelerate the growth if you found a pathway to both.

Ari: I totally agree. It’s foundational. This is such a funny moment for me. I’m just observing this as what I do is teach the physiology of energy and health. For me, you’re like the master of mindset and arete personal development and showing up as your best self and purpose and human flourishing. I’m sitting here saying to you, talk to me about why that stuff is the big key, and you’re like, “No, what you are what you are doing is the big key.” I’m like, “No, wait. What you’re doing is the big key.” Of course, both are super important.

Brian: Dude, if I did what I did 25 years ago, I’d still want to kill myself to put it directly. If I ate what I ate, if I moved, never, and if I slept the way I did, I probably wouldn’t be alive. I would either be dead by my own hand or from some chronic disease. The truth of that for me, and what I’ve seen is so fundamental that I would be a circus. Again, I am the guy that I am, and I train the way that I do, and I do the things that I do because I know that pain, and I know the scaffolding I’ve built in my life. You couldn’t pay me to not do the things I do; eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, and focusing in that order for me. It’s just so exciting. Again, it’s you and your group of individuals who have really brought me into that. That’s why I’m so bullish right now in this conversation, even. Dude, 80% of my psychology, at least 90% is driven by this. I’ll tell you what, if I was up late last night binge– I never drank. My dad drank enough. His dad drank enough for me and my brother. If I was up late last night and I got five hours of sleep, dude, I’m not innercising my way to purpose and meaning and joy. I’m just not. I meditate this morning for 30 minutes. It’s 15 to 60 minutes a day.

Dude, I’m on my cushion. I’m just exhausted. Good luck. I’m not connecting to something bigger than myself. Again, it’s yes and always. I’ll tell you again, this is where I think the spiritual aspirants get it wrong, to put it directly. I watched a guy, I won’t name, talk to an individual in one of the enlightened circles. The guy was clearly obese, just was not physically healthy, hunched over, and was talking about esoteric ideas. I wish I could have reached the screen and helped the individual get some clarity on their basic fundamentals. Let’s get their eating, their moving, their sleeping, their underlying physiology right because these abstract ideas at some level aren’t helpful.

We need to demonstrate that level of wisdom and discipline and clean the systems, the mitochondria that allows us to connect to the divine impulse. This is, again, why I’m pushing so hard is, yes, but it’s exciting because we can do these things. Then boom, in my experience, there’s a natural effervescent spirituality and enlightenment and purpose and clarity and meaning that comes from that zest that makes my job as, my job is this, dude. I’m talking to the US men’s national soccer team tonight before they play their game in Austin tomorrow.

Now I’m talking to their head coach and assistant coach about what we’re talking about right now. Them dominating their Aura score. I’m trading Aura scores with the head coach right now. All right, boom, look at you. You just went up. That last meal, three to four hours before you go to bed, doesn’t that affect your resting heart rate, your HRV, your recovery index? Oh, that’s fun, isn’t it? A couple of tiny little levers. You want to win the World Cup? We got to pull a lot of those little levers. I love it, dude. Again, admire you and appreciate you, and realize I didn’t go where you wanted to go with the money.

Ari: No. It’s like, you’re not going to get any disagreement from me about the stuff you’re saying. I realize the importance of this work. This is what I’ve been doing since I’ve been 13 years old is the science of human health. That’s what I do for a living. I completely agree, and rather than sort of an or in antagonism to what you’re describing, I do think there’s an element that you’re so dialed in on the psychology at this point that I think the big needle movers are the physical stuff. I think there’s a subset of people that are just like, they’re in terrible relationships.

Brian: Let’s go there, yes.

Ari: They’re in jobs that they don’t love, they don’t have a sense of purpose in their life. There’s that subset of people that no matter how much more they optimize their nutrition or their exercise routine, they’re fundamentally in a place where they don’t feel a strong motivation to even be alive, a sense of a reason for existing.

Brian: Let’s go there. Again, I love it, and I appreciate you pushing, and I don’t feel antagonistic at all. I feel this is a fun, intellectual, and practical, we call it pan-creation, the ancient full strength, their version of wrestling and whatnot, but intellectually and respectfully, and just getting stronger in the process. Yes, I would still go to those people, and I would encourage them to go next, next, next, next level on all of those things.

Ari: I agree.

Brian: That will increase their ability to get clarity. Then it’s the idea that I think we both love the most, at least in my work, which is anti-fragile confidence. Before that, even it’s targeted thinking. The thing that I come back to with everyone we train is, what do you want? What do you want in your life?

For most people, that’s a very, very, very difficult question to answer because they’re so busy creating and synthesizing, and digesting all the inputs. All of the social media posts, all of the digital news, and just when you thought our world couldn’t get any worse, the last 45 days happened. Just heartbreaking tragedy after heartbreaking tragedy. Oh my God, my kids, you look at the self-harm and suicide ideation and suicide among the next generation, which you can correlate at least to the social media, the iPhones, the screen time, et cetera. Stepping back, asking yourself what you want. Then again, in our practical philosophy, we look at the energy, the work, and the love that the individuals can show up in. We help them get clarity on what they want. Energy, work, and love. What their ideal vision would be in three, five years, it’s a best selves exercise. It’s the fastest way to boost your hope, purpose, and meaning is to imagine yourself five years from now. I do this obsessively. Every single day, I journal for three to five minutes to get my consciousness clear on what I want in my life.

Then I direct my actions today in pursuit of that. Now, I am “Iron Man” psychologically, any day of the week, because I’ve trained for so long. People who haven’t trained and haven’t asked themselves what they want in their lives, and if their current lives are in integrity with that, need to do the hard work to start building the clarity. You only get that through repetition after repetition after repetition. Then we start chipping away at the things that aren’t in integrity with our highest lives. We build that deep sense of trust that is what confidence means.

Deep, deep trust that you can handle whatever life throws at you. You can create an ideal relationship. What would that look like for you, and who do you need to be? You can create the ideal work environment. What is it you aspire to do, and what do you need to do to get to that point? Then we can break down the science of hope, which is one of my favorite things, which I practice all that as hard as I do the other stuff in combination to where you wanted to take us, then frankly, you’re as close to unstoppable as you’re going to get. I don’t use the word enlightened.

It’s not really my thing, but you can activate your heroic potential. You can feel a deep sense of eudaimonic, grounded, calm, confidence, energized, tranquility, meaning, and purpose. There’s a ton of things we can talk about, about how to help people get that clarity, but we’re fully aligned. Thank you for letting me indulge in preaching. You’re not the preacher. To use your religious metaphor-

Ari: Preaching to the choir.

Brian: [unintelligible 00:52:31] I’m preaching to the Pope right here, so, pardon me.

Ari: No, it’s beautiful. Of course, I agree with everything you said. It’s great. It’s a bro fest. I’m loving on the personal development stuff and the idea of areté as being super important. You’re like, “Hey, just as central to this whole thing, showing up as your best self.” The foundation of it is the stuff you’ve been talking about and the stuff you teach around physical health and energy and bringing that to the forefront. We’re totally on the same page.


Ari: I have so much more on my list here. You’ve mentioned anti-fragility a couple of times. I know that’s something I flagged before this conversation, that I said, “Brian, we need to talk about anti-fragility.” As you know, this is very much the subject of my upcoming book, but I love your thoughts on it. Several months ago, I don’t know if it was six months ago or something like that. I listened to your anti-fragile 101, hour-long lecture on the topic. I texted you, and I was like, “Dude, this is awesome stuff. You did a phenomenal job. I’m going to even take some of your thoughts from this and put them in my new book because it’s so good.

Of course, I’m going to credit you, but it’s great stuff.” I love your thoughts on this topic, obviously, if I’m writing a book on it. I think it’s very much of central importance to health and disease prevention, energy, longevity. There’s different elements of this. You’ve mentioned anti-fragile confidence. There’s a physiological anti-fragility, which is the topic of my book. Talk to me about fragility versus resilience versus anti-fragility.

Brian: What a wonderful frame. I remember getting that text from you. I was at the park where my son plays chess on Saturdays. I’m pretty sure that’s where it was. May have been a different set, but you sent me the most thoughtful note about anti-fragility, and I cannot wait to read your book. That goosebumps, so excited about your application to anti-fragility as it relates to all the things we’re talking about, mitochondrial functioning and flourishing, et cetera. Cannot wait. I got the word anti-fragile from Nassim Taleb who coined the word.

He juxtaposes fragility with anti-fragility. Before he named it, there was nothing in our cultural vernacular instead of being fragile. It’s not resilient. Imagine yourself as a package. You send yourself out in the mail, and if you’re fragile, you write, “Handle me with care, nothing hard can happen or I’m going to break.” Now, all of us are fragile at different times, but none of us want to be fragile. We don’t want to break when our relationships have challenges, or our work have challenges, or our health has challenges. We want to get stronger. Now, if you’re resilient, you can endure more stress, and then you wear it down, then you bounce back faster.

That’s not the opposite of fragile, though. If you are anti-fragile, on that same package you write, “Throw me around, please, because the more you throw me around, the more challenges I face, the stronger I get.” The metaphor there would be, when you go to the gym, you don’t lift styrofoam weights, you lift real weights. Of course, you need to find the right threshold of stress so you don’t injure yourself. We want to approach life’s challenges with that mindset, that when life hits me I get stronger. Those challenges are not something to avoid, they’re something to approach.

Science 101, you move from a threat response where your underlying physiology is in panic mode, to a challenge response when you approach your challenges rather than avoid. If the ultimate game is to be your best self in service to something bigger than yourself, then I would say, activate your heroic potential. Then Rule Number 1 of that game is, it’s supposed to be hard. We’ve been seduced to play the wrong game, and then we’ve been seduced to think it should be easy, so when we suffer like I did as a young man, I thought something was wrong with me.

I thought I was the only one who felt overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and thinking the things I was thinking. Self-compassion 101 comes in. Mindset, self-compassion. You’re not alone, common humanity. 80 to 90% of us are struggling with anxiety, overwhelmed, whatever it is these days. Then you got to know you can do something about it. We got to go from self-compassion to self-encouragement and believe that you can fundamentally change your life. This is where confidence comes in. Confidence means intense trust, confidere. Intense trust in what?

That things would go perfectly? Of course not. That you have what it takes, it doesn’t matter what happens. Then I say, “If you want to build trust in any relationship, what do you have to do? You have to do what you say you will do.” We rescheduled this and it was no big deal because we have trust, and it was all good, and we were moving fast and all that. If I didn’t show up or you didn’t show up once or twice, you’d be like, “I don’t trust this guy.” You shouldn’t trust me. You shouldn’t have confidence in me. If you tell yourself that you will do something and you don’t do it over and over and over again, you shouldn’t trust yourself.

To be blunt, you shouldn’t have high degrees of intense trust or confidence. Stated positively, when you start more consistently, never perfectly, but more consistently doing the little things, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, being without phones with your kids, you build this trust that’s really powerful. My coach, Phil Stutz, he’s in the documentary called Stutz with Jonah Hill on Netflix. I’ve worked with him 400 one-on-one sessions over the last seven years. In one of the early ones, he complimented me on my emotional stamina. I had no idea what that was, but I’m like, “Awesome.”

Next session, what’s emotional stamina? It is what you’d expect it to be. I can handle stress, he says, and I can endure chaos and all these things. Then I said, “How do I develop emotional stamina?” which I now call anti-fragile confidence. This changed my life. He said, “The worse you feel, the more committed you need to be to your protocol.” When life hits you, what do you do? Do you go do the vicious things and all the indulgences and addictive behaviors and kryptonites you know you shouldn’t do? Or in those moments, do you slow down and say, “This is one of those moments, I need to double down on my protocol and be my best self even when I don’t feel like it.”?

If you can take that stress and use it to get stronger, then you can forge anti-fragile confidence. The metaphor, to conclude, that Nassim Taleb uses is, the wind will extinguish a candle, but the same wind will fuel a fire. The question is, what are you? When life hits you, do you get extinguished and give up, and fragile, or do you literally use it to get stronger? That’s my mindset. Now you want to get to the mindset. This is what the most elite coaches and military officers, and performers come to me on, and that I push them on. This is where you complimented me on my discipline. I walk into any room and I’m, like you said, at the risk of being immodest, I know

I’m at least tied for first. Show me somebody that shows up with more intensity to their protocol, and I’ll respect what they do way better than I do, but I can help them go up a degree or two in their intensity on their protocol. It’s literally what I’m talking to the men’s national team about tonight. Activation, energy, intensity, seizing the moment, all the other things that are required for us to be our best selves. Very long answer to your question, but again, can’t wait for your book, and that’s my frame on it.

Ari: Yes, beautiful. What’s your number one tool or strategy that you focus on or how do you think of the fundamentals for developing this trait of anti-fragile confidence?

Brian: In a word, it is that; it’s anti-fragile confidence. The worse I feel, the more committed I am, but in a word, it’s consistency. I do the most simple, mundane, basic things with a ferocious consistency. Again, there are exceptions and appropriate exceptions, by the way, to every general principle, that we need to be virtuous and flexible and not rigid and break, but I’m consistent. I show up, and then I show up again. Then if I have an off day, which of course I have, I bounce back. Then it’s, all right, what’s the one thing I need to start doing and the one thing I need to stop doing, which is the way I help people get clarity on their protocol, by the way, is to draw a line down a piece of paper, put Do on the upper left, Don’t on the upper right.

Imagine yourself at your best, whether it was a day, a week, a month, a year, or a decade. You at your best, what did you do? Boom. What did you not do? Boom. Then what’s the one thing you’re currently not doing that you do when you’re at your best? You need to start doing that. Then what’s the thing you need to stop doing? It’s consistency, and it’s an integration of all these things. In a word, at the risk of being obnoxious, it’s areté. It’s a mantra of mine when I’m meditating. It’s, I’ll say it to myself when I’m falling asleep, I’m out in the trail, “It’s areté, areté, areté.”

It’s this opportunity to close the gap moment to moment to moment, knowing that you’re never going to be, as my coach says, exonerated. You’re never going to get to a point where you’re done. You’re always going to have more pain, more uncertainty, more hard work. Then you say, “Bring it on.” That pain, that discomfort becomes the catalyst to your growth, and the integration of all these ideas; the wisdom, the discipline, the love, the courage, becomes more effortless, to use that frame that we discussed, and it becomes more joyful.

Very importantly, this isn’t a joyless urgency. This is a joyful, “Wow, this is a gift, this life.” How can I show up as my best self in service to my kids, my wife, my team, you and I right now for our communities? It gives me tears in my eyes. It becomes a sacred opportunity, and each moment becomes a true gift that we can give to ourselves and those we love.

Stepping forward into growth or backward into safety

Ari: Talk to me about Maslow’s idea of stepping forward into growth or backward into safety.

Brian: This is a bromance. You’re hitting all my absolute favorite ideas. Soul Brothers. I had a flashback to our kitchen when we were hanging out. Abraham Maslow, if I was going to summarize my philosophy in a single word, it’s areté. If I was going to summarize it in a sentence, it would be Abraham Maslow’s line, “What one can be, one must be.” Maslow, humanistic psychologist in the ’50s, he created the hierarchy of needs. As you ascend the hierarchy of basic needs, and anyone this far into this chat has done so, not necessarily perfectly, but you now have the ultimate need, which is twofold.

He says to self-actualize, but then also to self-transcend. You become the hero of your own story so that you can become the guide for others, and the example for others, the bodhisattva, to use that frame. He said that in any given moment, you have a choice. You can step forward into growth or back into safety. Forward into growth, back into safety. You and I demonstrated this in our chat. I could have been less intense. You could have been less intense. We were respectfully pushing, but we stepped forward. That’s what I think made, at least from my vantage point, such a beautiful, rich conversation.

Plus one, minus one, plus one, minus one, plus one, minus one. You can put that up like this. Was there a gap? Was there a gap? Was there a gap? Was there a gap? On the days where you just didn’t close the gap and you went minus one, those are the days you want to numb yourself with whatever you do. We’ve all got our different numbing agents. Again, stated positively, when you can cobble together more plus ones, your life takes on a totally different texture. Maslow also says that. every single deviation from what you know as your best self makes an imprint on your consciousness.

He goes, he’s intense, he says, “If you deliberately plan on being less than you’re capable of, then I warn you, you will be miserable for the rest of your life.” The intensity with which he taught as a great intellectual, but also just a great pragmatist, is powerful. Again, stated positively, that’s exciting. When you take responsibility, you maintain that urgency and then you do your best, you do your best, life changes. That’s the plus one, minus one that I love as well.

Creating discipline

Ari: Yes, I love it. I have a couple more questions for you. One is, given that you are so disciplined, so that you’re like a man on fire, you’re just so driven and so on it with your mission and with areté, with being your best self and giving back to the world, how do you relax? How do you think about taking breaks and spending time with your kids and taking a break from being driven, working and developing yourself and being your best self and helping the world, and just going, “Okay, is it time for me to take a break? Is it time for me to do nothing? Is it time for me to hang out with my family?” What is your frame around that?

Brian: I’m going to share something. Can you see my screen?

Ari: I can, yes.

Brian: Okay, cool. Then the only reason I can be this intense on a sustainable level is I train my recovery this hard. My intensity in my meditation, my intensity in my sleep is as rigorous as everything that you’re feeling from me. My whole thing is energize tranquility. Here’s our launch date. We launched our book yesterday. The night before we launched our book, I went to bed at 7:20, and my Oura score is 90-90. Now, yesterday was, and I was in bed for– You’d show me your numbers, and you’d make me look like I’m at a two right now, but I’m happy with that.

Ari: No, no.

Brian: The day before I launched a book, we’ve sold 20,000 copies of the book, we’ve been hustling before we launch, and I got a lot going on. I’m looking at that last meal, boom, let’s work your protocol. The more stressed you are, the more committed you are. The more excited you are, the more committed you are. I used to be up and down. Now I don’t allow myself to get too excited. Boom, bring it down. Anyway, I’m in bed for 9 hours and 46 minutes before I launch the book, the morning we launched the book. Didn’t get a lot of deep sleep that night for various reasons.

Then last night I was only in bed for eight hours, which is less than I like to get, but I worked my protocol, so I’m doing the little things. Every morning I meditate for 15, 30, 60 minutes. Before I do so, I put a pulse oximeter on my finger, and this is why. I opened it up, and I see how calm and still I can get. That’s a 100 oxygen saturation and a 40 resting heart rate. It’s the first thing I do after I wake up. Kids are still asleep. It’s whatever it was, five o’clock, 4:45 this morning, and I’m seeing how calm I can get. You’re feeling me on the amplitude on the way up, but I train myself to bring myself down.

Then there’s the obvious things like I’m training, I’m exercising, I’m doing the cold punch. It’s all the things we talked about. It’s eating and the moving and the sleeping and the breathing and the focusing with the same “intensity” on the downside because you can’t maintain this without that. Then family-wise, that’s always my biggest challenge. Energy and work are very easy for me. I’ve been with Alexander now for almost 17 years. We’ve got an 11-year-old and a 6-year-old. I’m super proud of how I show up, and that’s the area that continues to need more work.

I end my day at a certain time to be with them and to recover. We go to bed early together as a family. Then the weekends are when I tend to spend more time with my kids. Taking my son to a chess tournament, which I talk a lot about in the book. We’re heading out Friday afternoon for a weekend. Just the boys, I’ll fall asleep holding his hand [inaudible 01:09:25] the hotel and create those sweet moments. Same thing, up and down. When you said I’m a man on fire, I thought of Rumi, the great Sufi mystic. He said, look, what his job was to set himself ablaze.

“If you’re lacking tinder,” he says, “set yourself ablaze with my fire.” That idea of, and it gives me tears in my eyes, for me to strive to live my practice, my philosophy, to activate what we call your soul force, and to help people do it in their own idiosyncratic ways. I’m absolutely rigorous in practicing. That’s what the app does, by the way, is we help people get clarity on who they are at their best. I hit 101 targets every single day. The science we’ve done on our app, we haven’t talked about. If you hit one app in our target a day, and that comes as a function of knowing who you are at your best, energy, work, and love, and then what you do when you’re at your best, if you hit one target, you’re 23% more energized than people who don’t.

In a randomized controlled study with people who had never heard of me or Heroic, led by Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the premier wellbeing researchers-

Ari: Happiness researchers.

Brian: -in the field, yes, the How of Happiness, she said she’d never seen data in 35 years of research on what she did on our coach program. She would have thought it was fake if she hadn’t done it herself because it’s obvious things, operationalized, but it’s consistency, to go back to that. I don’t do it once in a while, and I don’t do it when I feel like it. I do it day in and day out, not perfectly, but especially when I don’t feel like it. Then cool, life gets a lot easier and we get to focus on the important things.

Ari: That 23% that you’re referring to is the result of using the app, having a target, and achieving your target, which, by the way,-

Brian: And hitting it too.

Ari: -I think gets back to our earlier discussion, our earlier back and forth around purpose, intentionality, goals, reaching goals, and how that ties into this energy story.

Brian: 100%. You’ve got to know who you are at your best to be that. That’s the ultimate purpose, by the way, that everyone can do. You don’t need to know, oh, what your ideal job is in a relationship. Make it about you being your best self, independent of that. We help you get clarity on your identities, et cetera. We designed this with the same company that designed Tinder, swipe right, swipe left. You set up a target, I meditated this morning for 11 minutes. I’m in bed for eight to nine hours. I had protein. Right now, I’m practicing with, two hours before I get up, after I get up, Gabrielle Lyon.

Early morning sunlight, I do my burpees. I’ll do a PM meditation. I’ll do a cold plunge. I just have a breadcrumbed protocol of things that I do when I’m at my best, and I do them. I’m hitting all these targets. Again, you set your intention for the day in our app, your attention follows, and then your behavior follows. Yes, that’s the basic idea of, I’ll hit my targets while we’re hanging out, of how we built the app to help people move from theory to practice to mastery.

Ari: Nice. Tell Gabrielle I said hi if you’re meeting with her later. She’s a friend of mine as well.

Brian: Oh, my goodness, I love Gabrielle. Yes, I will.

Ari: Last couple things. I’m curious, and this ties into what you were just showing there in your app, what does your daily routine look like?

Brian: Dude, that’s actually the best way to show it. I’ll just plug this thing back in. My daily routine begins with committing to being my best self in my app. Actually, my day began yesterday, so I like to say today began last night. How you ended yesterday obviously is going to directly impact the quality of your energy today, which will impact the quality of your productivity and your connection. Basically, this is the app. I showed you some of my energy stuff. Every morning in my work, I strive to show up as a Heroic philosopher CEO, which means something to me.

I recommit to a vow I created. We have 3,000 investors as our public benefit corporation. Then I do the most important thing for our business. My joke is the new me gets more done before the old me got up. The most important thing, I do this strategic visioning for three minutes every single day. I’m creative before reactive. I do deep work. We have a social platform we’re building. I do that. I work on the book. I’m going to coach people in a few minutes here. I reconnect to our community. I have fun. I crush it. I appreciate the fact teamwork makes the dream work.

Practice my philosophy. That’s work. Then, in love, I’m looking to create micro-moments of awesome with my wife and my kids. There’s a whole science behind that. Have I kissed my wife? She was sick– Not sick, but she was like, “You don’t want to get too close.” We just had a big event last weekend. I gave her an air kiss. I hugged my kids. These are targets I set for myself. Give my kids a hug, may sound mundane, but my mother-in-law spends part of her time on our property. We’ve got a tiny house. Right around when you visited, we were testing the app.

She didn’t know I was using it, but I was committing to certain things, including creating moments with her. I committed in the morning. Now, I’m a decent guy, but I tend to be a hermit, focused like you experienced in this two hours it took me to come out. Anyway, I’m using

the app and committing to doing these things. She told my wife, “Something is different with Brian.” She had no idea I was using the app. That was actually the thing that frankly gave and gives me the most confidence in the app. My mother-in-law saw that I was showing up differently, by simply reminding myself of tiny little things that when done consistently can fundamentally change our lives. Those are some of the things that I do on a consistent basis.

The ultimate virtue

Ari: What is the ultimate virtue?

Brian: Again, at the risk of being obnoxious, areté is the virtue of virtues, but then wisdom would be the more practical one step below. Wisdom is knowledge of life, but it’s also the expression of the proper virtue in the moment in which you need that virtue. In any given moment, you may need more courage or love or discipline or gratitude, or hope, or curiosity, or zest. Wisdom would be the virtue that helps you put the right virtue into action. Then areté is the meta sense of, yes, that’s you doing those things. Then the by-product is that eudaimonia that we talked about.

Ari: Beautiful. That was a fast explanation for a big topic I’m sure you could talk about for an hour.

Brian: The first thing we built in our app was a virtue compass. We spent $5 million to build this up. This is the first thing we built because a good life comes down to putting your virtues in action. We’ve got all these quotes and virtue declarations, and ways to operationalize all these ideas. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart. I just absolutely love the questions you’re asking because it shows again, just the coherence of our thinking and how we’re committed to living.

Ari: I just realized as you were showing that, that you showing me that when I was at your house a couple of years ago, probably imprinted in my mind because, let me show you the labels of my new supplement line, something that’s central to my new brand called Human Optimization that I was brainstorming at the time I was speaking to you. This is what it looks like. I don’t know if you can see that.

Brian: Oh, my goodness, goosebumps. Look at that. Oh, that’s gorgeous.

Ari: Okay, so this is the box for my new molecular hydrogen supplement. Every one of the new line of supplement is going to have this dial on it with its own fingerprint, essentially, of-

Brian: Wow.

Ari: -those arrows, or, I don’t know what you call them, those lines are meant to indicate what the supplement is good for, of these different things on this dial. Each supplement is going to have specific benefits that are indicated right there on the label so people can figure out, “Okay, my goals are brain performance,” or, “My goals are longevity, what are the specific formulas and ingredients that are useful for that role?” I would bet that you showing me your design elements a couple of years ago probably imprinted somewhere up there and maybe helped me to come up with this.

Brian: Or vice versa. This is all in the field. I won’t name the brand of molecular hydrogen I have on my desk, but I cannot wait to use yours. We’re going to have some fun [unintelligible 01:18:17] around that too.

Ari: Mine just came out, so I’m not offended. You wouldn’t have an opportunity to buy it until a few days ago.

Brian: We’re going to have to have that conversation too. Excited to support you on that [unintelligible 01:18:27].

Commit to something bigger than yourself

Ari: I’ll hook you up, don’t worry. The last thing is, what is the one thing that all heroes have in common, and how do we activate it?

Brian: What a beautiful question. Commitment to something bigger than themselves, unquestionably. Dedicating their lives to that thing, whether it’s our kids or our family or our team or the community or the world or the environment, whatever it is. A hero isn’t a victim. A hero isn’t complaining about all the challenges in life. They’re just not. Criticizing, complaining, gossiping, all these things, the critical, the cynicism, the nihilism. We’ve got to move from victim to creator and dedicate our lives to something bigger than ourselves. The conduit, by the way, is what do I want?

That’s how you move from victim to creator. If you’re complaining something is missing in your life, that’s okay, of course, but what do you want? What would a more noble and virtuous world look like? Then how will you play your role well to help create that world? Then we come back to our chat around the discipline. Then the source of my strength and my discipline is, I’m all in. I deeply care about this life that I have and serving those that I’ve been blessed to serve gives me tears in my eyes. Then you go do all these things. That purpose orientation with the humble, it’s hard work.

I come across, and I try to share my origin story, and I’m bringing my wife in here. She’ll tell you all the ways I’m not perfect, but today is the day to show up and be our best. in service of something bigger than ourselves. I think that’s what heroes have in common, that integrated approach. Then it’s these virtues. The embodiment of wisdom, discipline, love, courage, gratitude, hope, curiosity, and zest. It’s the back cover of the book. A Good Life is one in which we embody these. Those are my mantras that I repeat even more than areté, thousands and thousands of times. Bless you, this has been such a joy. Really enjoyed our conversation and just appreciate you and admire you, and, yes, grateful.

Ari: Brian, seriously, this has been amazing. We need to have conversations more often because I always love the conversations that we have. I always love talking with you. Thank you so much for coming on here and sharing your wisdom, sharing your brilliance with my audience. Thank you for writing this book. I’m going to be making this nightly reading for myself, for probably what looks like maybe the next year, with how long this book is. It’s so dense with practical advice. It’s going to take a long time to implement that stuff. I don’t want it to just be intellectual ideas floating around my brain.

I wanted to implement it and integrate it into my life. Thank you so much for the work you’re doing. I think it’s really important. You are absolutely one of my favorite people in the world. Certainly, one of the most favorite people that I know personally. You’re an inspiration to me, and I’m personally very grateful for you. To everybody listening, go get yourself this book right now. Don’t wait any further. I’m sure you’ve been blown away by Brian in this podcast. He has tons more wisdom to share. This is just scratching the surface. Go get his book. Brian, is there any thoughts you want to leave people with, or any final words?

Brian: Thank you. I appreciate you. I appreciate the opportunity to be here. Anyone that’s listened this long, I hope you enjoyed, and got one idea that can help you activate your heroic potential. I guess you can learn more about us at and then the book, Areté, A-R-E-T-É, you can find anywhere. More than anything, just gratitude. Appreciate you. Thank you so much.

Ari: Beautiful. Thank you, brother.

Show Notes

00:00 – Intro
00:52 – Guest intro
11:55 – What does heroic mean?
17:47 – We have been brought up to focus on the wrong priorities
23:15 – Should we pursue things like enlightenment?
28:03 – Willpower and effort
32:30 – Zest and Mitochondria
55:40 – Anti-fragility
1:05:20 – Stepping forward into growth or backward into safety
1:08:20 – Creating discipline
1:17:20The ultimate virtue


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