Today, I’m SO excited to bring Brian Johnson back on the podcast to talk about his newly released book (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite books of all time!), Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.
To say, “Brian is brilliant” is an understatement! He has an extraordinary ability to distill the knowledge and insights of the most brilliant minds in the world—past and present—to provide you with a blueprint for becoming the best version of yourself.
Brian integrates ancient wisdom, modern science, and practical tools to help you win the ultimate game of life and fulfill your potential. When so many of us are feelings overwhelmed and even hopelessness, I hope you’ll find inspiration to keep going and pursue your dreams and goals from this conversation. Enjoy!
- Remember that you’re not alone. Struggling is a universal issue
- Suffering is a sign you’re capable of more than you think
- The journey is the goal, not the destination
- The hero’s secret weapon is love
- Have faith that your future will shine brighter than your present
- The journey to your greatest self isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. And it starts with a single step
- Mastery is a journey marked by action, even if it’s flawed action
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Rise by CURED Nutrition is a natural supplement made from CBD, Lions Mane and Ginseng (among others) that helps boost energy, performance and cognitive function. There’s no caffeine, no jitters and most importantly, no crash. Visit CuredNutrition.com/Hal and receive 20% off of your entire order. They have tons of other products as well, hopefully you’ll find something that works for you. :^)
- Brian Johnson on LinkedIn | YouTube | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
- Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential by Brian Johnson
- A Philosopher’s Notes: On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness by Brian Johnson
- Heroic with Brian Johnson | Activate Your Best. Every Day.
- Celebratory Love | Gratitude’s Generous Cousin
- AYG 486: 7 Steps To Activate Your Heroic Potential With Brian Johnson
- Ryan Holiday
- Winston Churchill
- Steve Jobs
- Phil Stutz
- Jonah Hill
- Blackstone Publishing
- Donald J. Robertson
- Brené Brown
- Robin Sharma
- Steve Chandler
- Marcus Aurelius
- Matthew Kelly
- The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose by Matthew Kelly
- J Brad Britton
- Abraham Maslow
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Eleanor Roosevelt
- Albert Einstein
- Tal Ben-Shahar
- BJ Fogg
- Jon Vroman
- Mark Victor Hansen
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Hal Elrod: Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod, and I am beyond excited for the conversation you are about to hear with Brian Johnson, author of the new book, Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential. I had Brian on not that long ago, Episode 486, talking about this book that was coming out, but I didn’t have the book yet. And once I got the book and I started reading it, I’m blown away. And I reached out to Brian, I said, “I want you to come on the show.”
And I want to have him on again when I’m done reading the book because it’s a 1001-page book. So, I have a long way to go. I’m not even halfway done, which is fair. It’s a thousand-page book, right? But it’s 451 chapters, very unique, like two to three-page chapters of the greatest wisdom that leads you on a path to fulfilling your potential. And that’s what the word Areté means, it’s fulfilling your potential or becoming the best version of yourself.
Abraham Maslow, the great philosopher, talks about self-actualization. And Brian Johnson is one of the best in this field, literally, one of the best in the world. He is the founder and CEO of Heroic Public Benefit Corporation. And he would tell you he’s 50% philosopher and 50% CEO and 101% committed to helping create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051.
And as a founder and CEO, he’s made crowdfunding history, raising over $20 million as a philosopher and a teacher. He’s helped millions of people from around the world, trained over 10,000 heroic coaches from 100-plus countries, and created a protocol that science says changes lives. And he teaches that protocol in his book. And he’s going to touch on it today to inspire you to realize that you are meant for more. You are meant to live to your full potential, to self-actualize. And he’s going to walk you through how to do it. And as I’m reading this book, he’s just one of my favorite people. He’s so kind and thoughtful and fun. Yeah, I think you’re going to love this conversation as much as I did.
Before we dive into the conversation, let me take just a couple of minutes to thank our two sponsors that bring you this show every week. And I am so appreciative because they help support my family and they make it possible for me to bring you these episodes because there’s a lot of cause that goes behind the scenes to produce the podcast. And the first of our sponsors is Organifi.
Organifi makes the highest quality whole food organic supplements in powder form, from their protein powder to their red juice that I just took this morning, actually, both of those. I took the protein powder in my smoothie. I took the red juice before my workout because it helps to increase your blood flow and I can push harder in the gym. And then, I take their Pure for my cognitive abilities, I mean, you name it. If you want to improve your mental health, physical health, and whether it’s your sleep or your hormones or your immune system, head over to Organifi.com/Hal, that is spelled O-R-G-A-N-I-F-I, Organifi with two I’s, Organifi.com/Hal, and then use the discount code H-A-L at checkout for 20% off your order because you’re listening to the podcast.
And then, last but not least, I call him Organifi’s cousin because they have similar products that complement Organifi, and I take both in conjunction with each other, and that is CURED Nutrition. CURED Nutrition also makes some of the highest quality organic whole food supplements, yet most, if not all of their supplements have CBD and/or CBN oil for the health benefits of those two compounds. Now, I love their Night Caps and their Nighttime Oil. Same product, two different forms. One’s capsule, one are drops that go under the tongue.
And when I’m on the road, I take the capsules. When I’m at home, I take the drops under the tongue, that’s the Nighttime Oil. And the Night Caps are the capsules. There you go. Do you want to improve your sleep? Head over to CuredNutrition.com/Hal and look up Night Caps and look up Nighttime Oil, whichever you prefer, whichever method of delivery. And it helps me fall asleep and stay asleep. And it will help you do the same. Check out, again, CuredNutrition.com/Hal, and use that same discount code H-A-L for 20% off your entire order. And thanks for supporting our sponsors. Again, they make this show possible and they’ve been with me for a long, long, long time. And I love both those companies and their products.
All right. Without further ado, author of the new book, Areté, my good friend, Mr. Brian Johnson, talking about how and why to fulfill your limitless potential.
Hal Elrod: Brian, it is good to see you, brother.
Brian Johnson: Hal, it is great to see you as well.
Hal Elrod: You’re becoming one of the most repeat guests, popular guests, favorite guests on the Achieve Your Goals podcast, man. It’s good to have you back.
Brian Johnson: It’s an honor, man. You’re one of my favorite people on the planet, and we always have such great conversations. We have so many people in our community who say, “I heard about you on Hal.” So, I love you, I appreciate you, and I’m just excited to have another great chat.
Hal Elrod: So, it’s funny. We’re going to start somewhere, but we’re not going to stay there long. Then we’re going to go somewhere else. We’re going to bounce around a little bit. But here’s the deal. And most people are listening to this, most likely, right? If you haven’t been watching it, I’m holding up Brian’s new book. First of all, I want to make sure the pronunciation is right. The word, the book is titled, it’s spelled A-R-E-T and E with like a hyphen over the top. Is it like karate? Areté?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, dude, perfect. Out the gate. Let’s go. I like that, too, karate. That’s cool.
Hal Elrod: Karate, that’s what I thought, yeah.
Brian Johnson: Areté, perfect.
Hal Elrod: Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential. And I was just fanboying as an author with you before we started recording. This is unlike any book I have ever held in my hands, literally. And the word that came up for me is it’s a masterpiece. And I’m not just talking about the content. Now, it’s almost a thousand pages long. You’ve distilled over 400 books in terms of just the wisdom that you’ve collected. I know you’ve read more books than that, but based on your work doing Philosopher’s Notes, but this book, everything from you saw me, I was rubbing it on my face. Like, I’ve never felt a book like this. I’ve never held a book like this. The paper is– so anyway, man, I am blown away and I want to really acknowledge you because it’s so easy as an author to write the book, delegate the printing, like I know that your hand is in every single aspect, every color, the font, the texture, the cover, every– even the box that this came in when it arrived at my house, the presentation was off the chart. So, I want it.
And here’s why I’m saying this because for anybody listening and the conversation you’re about to hear with me and Brian, you’re about to hear from someone, not me, from Brian, that his standard of excellence is beyond 99.9% of human beings on the planet. Brian, that’s what I’m acknowledging for you right now is everything you do, you do with such a standard of excellence that it makes me feel inferior. No, but really, it makes me feel happy. It blows me away, dude. So, congratulations on the new book. And you just did a phenomenal job. I’m excited.
Brian Johnson: Dude, I so appreciate you. And this is one of the qualities in you that I admire and I’m so grateful for, your unbelievable ability to– and I have goosebumps right now and tears in my eyes as you were sharing that, scientists call it Celebratory Love and they call it Gratitude’s Generous Cousin, where you take the time to see someone else doing something you admire, it gets me emotional and you celebrate it. And they actually say that that’s the most important part of love being expressed in intimate relationships and friendships is celebrating people when they’re at their best. So, it means a lot to me. I admire that in you, that you’re so beautiful that you’ve always done that in our conversations and demonstrated that humility and that grace and that celebratory love.
And I once did something similar for Ryan Holiday, where there was a part of his book, and I’ve read a lot of books. I don’t know how many pages of books I’ve read, but a lot of pages of books. And in a sequence of 10 or 15 pages was tied for first, it’s the best 10 or 15 pages I’d ever read, on Winston Churchill and all of this stuff. And I celebrated him in a similar way that you just did for me. And it struck him because he was really proud of that passage. It was one of his all-time favorite passages.
So, we had a really beautiful, sacred moment. And for you to recognize that, our team worked so hard. I’ve got Steve Jobs on my wall looking at me. And Steve Jobs’ rule number one is it has to be insanely great. So, we really, really worked hard to create something that we hoped would be insanely great and would elicit exactly that response of this is different. And we wanted to create that felt sense of beauty.
In Areté, we’ll talk about what it means. But Areté was a goddess in ancient Greece. And so, there’s this story about Hercules as a young man before he was Hercules being approached by two goddesses. It’s called The Choice of Hercules. Socrates would talk about it. The Stoics talked about it. One goddess came up and was overly dressed and preening, looked like she could take a selfie for Instagram. And she tried to seduce Hercules into a life of ease and all of this stuff.
The other goddess waited patiently, but had this stern, austere beauty to her, and then told Hercules, “No, no, no, no. A good life is about hardship and challenge for something bigger than yourself. But if you live that life, the gods will admire you and you’ll have a life worth remembering.” Anyway, her name was Areté.
So, the entire essence of the book was, can we bring Areté to life, her in a beautiful gown? You know what I mean? On the cover, where you feel there’s a gravitas to it. There’s something about it. Anyway, I really appreciate you. That was a really special thing for me to feel from you. And it means a lot coming from you. And thank you. Appreciate you, brother.
Hal Elrod: You’re welcome, man. And yeah, it is sincere. And thank you for teaching me something, right? And I say this, I don’t know that I say this to anybody else, I’m sure there’s somebody else. But actually, Ryan Holiday, I would say this too, but you’re a modern-day philosopher. And it’s not only your wisdom, like I love the foreword in your book by Phil Stutz, right? He so eloquently talks about how he’s worked with so many patients over his, I think, 45-year career as a therapist to the stars. I mean, he’s Jonah Hill’s therapist.
There was a documentary on Netflix made about him. And he talks about how you stand above all of them as in the many years he’s worked with you that you come to every session learning all of his best wisdom and just taking notes and distilling it. And then he said, “You absorb it at a level of no human being that he’s ever met.” And he’s worked with some really brilliant people. So, you really are a modern-day philosopher.
And this book, almost a thousand pages, I’ll be reading it for a while now. But I saw the audiobook is 28 hours. That will be a friend by your side for quite some time. But this is a thousand pages of consciousness expanding wisdom. And before we talk about the new book, I want to talk about you. I mentioned before we started recording that we’ve talked a lot about your wisdom, I think, in our past interviews and not as much about your origin story. And I really want to understand how you became who you are. And I know a little about what you went through.
Now, before we dive into your origin story, I actually want to talk about the book for a second in terms of where can people get it in case they don’t make it to the end of the podcast. I know that for me, sometimes, I start listening to a podcast on the way to the doctor in the car, I don’t get to the end sometimes. So, where can people get the book first and foremost?
Brian Johnson: Yeah. So, everywhere you buy a book, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores. We’re actually thrilled. We’ll be in Hudson, we’ll be in FedExes, you know where we launch. We’re excited. Our partner, Blackstone Publishing. We formed our own imprint, Heroic Blackstone, to maintain autonomy. We do things, like publish a 160,000-word, thousand-page book. We broke some rules. And we have a great partnership with them, but we’re everywhere you’d expect to find a book.
And then, Heroic.us/book or Areté, but book is a lot easier, right? You’ll get all of it. You can get a free sample of the book, e-book first. Next chapter is Phil’s foreword, the audiobook, which he read the foreword for and a sample there and a bunch of other bonuses that come with buying the book, but Heroic.us/book. I really appreciate you asking. And Amazon, search A-R-E-T-E, Brian Johnson. Boom! There you go. Let’s go.
Hal Elrod: Yes. A-R-E-T-E, Areté, like karate. All right. So, let’s talk about your story because I know you didn’t have the easiest, most privileged life and you could have gone down a very different path than you did. So, take us back to kind of your childhood growing up and wherever you want to take that story.
Brian Johnson: Yeah. Again, I really appreciate we’re starting here. And we talked before we came on just how important it is that– especially people that our position, who are blessed to have these conversations. And then we talk about our humanity. It’s really easy to have that airbrushed, Photoshopped. “Oh, yeah, I’m perfect. I got it all figured out.” You don’t, but if you pay me more, then maybe one day, you’ll have what I have.
Hal Elrod: Sure.
Brian Johnson: And again, no disrespect, and we’re all doing what we’re doing. But it’s really important for me to share. My joke is we’ll talk origin story, but bring my wife in. She’ll tell you all the ways I’m imperfect. Yeah, yeah, yeah, modern-day philosopher. Talk to my wife, talk to my kids, I’m a human being who’s striving to do my best.
But origin story, I’m the youngest of five, blue-collar Catholic family. Mom got married at 17. Dad had just gotten out of the Navy, youngest of five kids. My dad struggled with alcohol and depression that went with that. His father struggled with alcohol, ended his own life. So, I can joke now that it appears that I lost both the genetic and the environmental lottery in that condition, but had a lot of anxiety as a little boy and kid. If you look at my first-grade school picture, you’ll see that my sweatshirt is completely soaked. It’s just wet, it’s dripping. I’m constantly soaking on and I’m scared of everything. High school, I’m bringing extra T-shirts and shirts because I’m sweating through everything. And the first 45 minutes of the first class, I still sweat. But no, it’s like I’m intense and I’m in.
But first-generation college student and graduated from UCLA, studied psychology and business. I really wanted to study what makes great people great and leaders and people who make a difference. But nothing was happening in 1996 in that domain. So, I got a job at Arthur Andersen, old Arthur Andersen, and their audit and tax and financial planning and consulting business. And I threw up on the way home from work on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, second day of work or whatever, traffic, pullover, throw up. That’s not for me.
I go to law school thinking the law school will be my escape valve, go to a top 10 law school. I throw up when I move in to my apartment. I’ve always had a visceral response. Anyway, I wind up dropping out. I’m 23 years old, 22, 23 years old. Moved back in with my mom. No idea what I want to do, but I had the same intensity I have right now. I was always passionate about life, but I had no idea literally how I would ever fit in and create a life of meaning, gives me tears in my eyes right now.
And the way I describe it is I’m often described as a fire hydrant of energy and ideas and wisdom. I had that, but it was as if I was spraying this water against a glass wall and it was just coming right back on me. And I had none of these skills. The fundamentals will talk about philosophical insights. And the only thing I knew I wanted to do, other than coach a baseball team, was figure out how to end my life. I’m 23, 24 years old now, and thankfully, for whatever set of reasons, I didn’t. But I know what it feels like to feel the depths of despair more than once. And I also know what it feels like to feel this.
And then I also have a decent sense of what I did idiosyncratically to go from there to here. And it’s what I’m most proud of with my work is sharing that, both my own pain, my own suffering, both today, I’m not perfect, and what I went through and the people who tell me that they’ve got the next, next level in their lives, awesome. But it’s the people who said I didn’t want to get out of bed tomorrow or I had a plan to end my life. And I found your work somehow. And these things affected me.
But it’s really important for me to start there. And I’m really happy we did because 80% of us, I gave a talk on Mental Health Day recently, and 80% of us, invisible disabilities is what it’s called. If you’re in a wheelchair, you know you’re in a wheelchair. But if you have a mental health disability, no one knows. You’re struggling and you think you’re alone, which is the important point. We’re not. Eighty percent of us are struggling and all of us are in different moments, me and you and anyone that we see throughout the day. So, it’s really important, I think, to embrace our common humanity while knowing we can change. And when you hold those two things together, life becomes a lot more, frankly, exciting, fun, joyful, purpose-driven, and all the other things that you’re so committed to. And we’re both so committed to helping people create.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Oh, beautifully said. And thank you for sharing your story. And it is important to know, like you mentioned that when you’re, they call it an influencer, right? Anyone that basically is, you’re an author, you’ve got a social media following, right? You have influence over a group of followers or fans or whatever. And I think that the typical influencer to your point is like, “Look at me, my life’s perfect. Pay me money and I’ll teach you how to be like me,” right?
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel connected to that. When I see somebody be vulnerable, I feel connected to that. When I see somebody reveal how they’re struggling and they’re doing their best, even though they might have a level of success like that, I feel connected to that. And so, I’m glad that we started there as well. So, this book, Areté…
Brian Johnson: Can you extend that theme just for a moment longer because I think it’s so important? So, I interviewed a guy named Donald Robertson, and you’re joining our Heroic Chats with masters soon. I can’t wait to help you with your book coming back out, Miracle Morning, to send it out in this context, one of my all-time favorite books. So, starting our day, getting a head start on our day, being our best selves through your model that you’ve created your heroic journey and who you are and what you’ve overcome from what I just learned about you as an eight-year-old to your near-death experiences, literally plural, and how you’ve shown up and alchemized that pain and that trauma into a beautiful, humble, heroic life is deeply inspiring for me. And it’s one of the reasons I feel connected to you and I feel so grateful for your reflection back to me of what I’m trying to do. So, bless you and the demonstration, and I can’t wait to do the same thing you’re doing for me shining a light on you, which, of course, I’ve done in different contexts.
But Donald Robertson is one of the leading– he’s a therapist and a Stoic scholar and a practitioner. Fascinating guy. One of my favorite human beings. He wrote a number of books, but when we talked, he talked about this and he shared with me some science I had never heard of. So, if you look at your heroes or the influencers you follow on social media or whatever it is, the events you go to, and all you see is their mastery, you’ll actually be less psychologically stable and you’ll have a level of like, “Oh, I can’t be them.” They’ll be a part of you unconsciously that’s like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m inspired by them,” but you don’t feel like you can be that, so you feel disconnected from them, but also, from yourself and you’re actually sufferable.
Now, if that same person doesn’t tell you all about their mastery exclusively, but they tell you how they coped through their stresses and they don’t pretend like they’re done, that’s the other thing people will do. Sometimes, and again, I don’t want to be mean spirited about it, but oftentimes, people will be “vulnerable” because it’s now the thing to be. But they’ll pretend like they have arrived at a place where they no longer suffer the way they used to suffer.
Epictetus, my favorite teacher, says, when anyone criticizes, you laugh and say, dude, if you knew all my flaws, we’d have a very long conversation. So, having the humility to say it’s an ongoing process, and oh, by the way, here’s how I’m currently coping with the argument I had with my wife last night, I don’t have a perfect relationship with my wife. Again, she’ll attest to that. I got upset with my kids this morning. And how can I move through that? How can I share how I’m practicing that?
But anyway, it’s called mastery versus coping. So, when a hero “shares” how they coped with life’s challenges, then you feel not only connected with them but to your best self. And then to make it explicit and practical, I struggled heroically with this book. It was very, very hard for me to make the decision I made to create a book that had never been done. I walked away from a deal with a top three publisher after I got in an argument with them years ago on a word count issue. They were arguing about 10,000 words. It was supposed to be an 80,000-copy book. I’m like, I would have like a little more. Argument. Walked away from it, made hard decision after hard decision. And it still may not prove to be right. I appreciate your feedback, but again, we’re all struggling all the time.
And what I’m trying to do is use those struggles to alchemize the pain into growth. And again, long aside, but it felt important to me to highlight there’s a science to this. And so, we can do what Brené Brown talks about, which is be vulnerable. The thing we all want from people that we’re most afraid of giving to other people and embrace our humanity and enjoy the process when we quit, needing to pretend like we’ve got it all figured out when clearly none of us do, ultimately.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Well, it’s one of my favorite quotes. And actually, my podcast last week was about how to ask for help when you need it most because I was reflecting. I usually say, what do people need help with right now and/or what am I struggling with that I can relate to them? And I was like, well, I struggle to ask for help. And I think that we all need help right now. And I think a lot of people struggle because it’s being vulnerable when you ask for help.
But Robin Sharma said, when you’re vulnerable with people, they fall in love with you. And I never forgot that. And it really gave me courage. Now, I’ve leaned into it so much. So, it’s funny. I’ve leaned into being vulnerable so much that sometimes, I question on my podcast, I’m like, “Do people think this is like a therapy session? Am I sounding like I’m complaining and being whiny and being like, God, Hal, stop talking about all your issues?” So, I actually now wonder, have I gone too far? Can you go too far being vulnerable?
But to your point, I think that for all of us, when we’re vulnerable, why people feel connected, it’s not just if you’re an influencer or an author or like that being vulnerable works, it’s actually one of the most important ways to connect. If you think about it, even with your spouse, arguing with your spouse when you actually stop trying to prove your point or be right or whatever, and you just go, you know what? I’m actually hurting inside right now. I’m actually really struggling.
And what you said earlier, not your fault at all, but it made me scared that I might not be enough for you. Think about how that completely shifts the dynamic of the disagreement with the other person, right? Now, they’re like, “Oh, oh my. Wow. I didn’t realize that. Now, I feel connected. Now, I feel empathetic. Now, I feel loving towards you.”
Brian Johnson: Goosebumps and tears in my eyes. And with your kids, too. I mean, I’m using opportunities to share my own imperfections with my kids all the time. And I wish my dad had done that. He worked so hard, but he was so overwhelmed, and so just trying to repair the relationships that need repair as soon as you make a mistake and fall short in that humility. And ultimately, it’s courage. I mean, it’s the willingness to communicate in the presence of fear. And of course, there’s an excess of sharing in which it’s a little bit too much and that not saying, you’re doing that, of course. It’s that too little too much and that virtuous mean. But for almost all of us, we need to move up to no, no, no, it’s okay to be imperfect.
These are obvious things. You say it out loud and you’re like, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. But in my own experience, it’s okay for other people to experience challenges. It’s not okay for me. Look how hard I’ve worked. You know what I mean? And now, here I am, getting my butt kicked again with that thing. Why am I still struggling with this?
One of my coaches, Steve Chandler, before I worked with Phil Stutz, I worked with a beloved, unbelievable human being, Steve Chandler, who said, it’s not because you’re you, it’s because you’re human. Quit telling yourself the story that something’s wrong with you. And again, we’ve all got our own idiosyncratic flaws, but you’re human. Welcome to the game, which, again, is such an important thing to shine a light on and then to remember it in the moments which we tend to forget, right?
Hal Elrod: Yeah, yeah. You just said, welcome to the game. And that reminds me, I know last time we spoke, you talked about the ultimate game. And it’s something you address in the book. Can you talk about what that is? I think that’s a great kind of foundational piece to understand.
Brian Johnson: Yeah. I mean, the ultimate game is, in a word, to live with Areté. So, I don’t think we’ve framed up what that word actually means. So, the quick context on that, if you were to ask the ancient Stoics and ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and then Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and Epictetus, my favorite teachers, how to live a good life? They would answer you in a single word, which is Areté. And we translate the ancient Greek word in the English as virtue or excellence, but it has a deeper meaning.
And the way I explain it in the book is I teach my kid, explain it like you’re 10. He’s 10 years old, Emerson. And he was going through some challenges. He’s really into chess. And the way I frame it up is, and most people, as you said, will be listening to this, but I like to say that, look, if you’re capable of being a certain version of yourself in any given moment and I like to draw a line with my hand at my eye level, but you’re actually being less than that. Then my hand was now a foot below it and there’s a gap between who you could have been in a moment and who you were in that moment, it’s in that gap moment to moment to moment in which regret, anxiety, disillusionment, depression exist. It’s more nuanced than that.
But when you close the gap and you express the best version of yourself moment to moment to moment, you live with Areté, you feel great. There’s a deep sense of joy and purpose and meaning, especially when you show up as your best self when you didn’t feel like it. Goosebumps, paradoxical, whoa! It’s those moments you used to go backwards into safety or fear, and you had the love and the courage to step forward that you feel great. The Greeks call that living with Areté. That’s the ultimate game.
And when you do that, you fulfill the– Aristotle had the summum bonum. The greatest good of life was to live with eudaimonia, which means good soul, eudaimon, where you feel that deep sense of joy and meaning and purpose. Nothing life is easy, but you know you’re doing what you’re here to do. And again, you win that game and experience that joy when you, I like to say, high five your inner daimon, your guiding spirit. That’s living with Areté to experience that deep sense of joy.
And we all have that guiding spirit within us. The Greeks, by the way, called it daimon. The Romans called it genius. So, people weren’t geniuses. They had a genius, they had a daimon, they had a guiding spirit. And the ultimate game is to listen to that voice more often and then to do the things that that voice is encouraging you to do.
Briefly, to sum up, the diminutive of daimon is demon. So, the whole voice on your one shoulder, voice on the other shoulder. Daimon. Demon. So, there’s the good voice, the virtuous voice, and the less than awesome voice, the vicious voice. And winning that inner battle is the ultimate game. All wisdom traditions say the same thing.
Jihad, for example, the ultimate jihad is within your own head. The lesser jihad is against “external oppressors.” So, that battle is what all the great teachers talked about, the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism, sacred Bible. It’s set on a battlefield, a metaphorical battle for that representation of the challenge within to be our best selves moment to moment to moment. Again, long answer now, that’s Areté. That’s the ultimate game. And then the book, of course, is in everything I do, well, all right, that sounds nice. How do I play that game well and experience that deep sense of joy and meaning and purpose?
Hal Elrod: All right. You said so many great things here and I want to break them down and I want to simplify them. I feel that– so, some ways that I translate what you’re saying for me, Matthew Kelly, you ever read Matthew Kelly?
Brian Johnson: Oh, my God. Matthew is one of my all-time favorite writers. Yes. Another reason why we love one another, we both love Matthew.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. So, Matthew, I was reading Rhythm of Life when I was writing The Miracle Morning. So, that was a big part of my consciousness at the time. And he defines the purpose of life is to become the best version of yourself. And so, to me, that’s like a really simplified way of Areté. What does it mean? Become the best version of yourself. So, there’s that piece. And what’s great about when you identify that as your purpose is it’s universal. And in every moment, you talked about daimon. Is it daimon?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yep.
Hal Elrod: Daimon versus demon, right? The angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other. And he said that if you can make your North Star be becoming the best version of yourself, then in every choice that you make, right? Okay, which food should I order? This healthy food that would fuel my body and increase my energy and longevity? Or this really juicy, fried, greasy, sugary food that would taste really good? And then the simple question is, which would help me become the best version of myself? And it’s training yourself, where if that’s your purpose, well, then now that’s your North Star as your guiding light.
And then it takes me back to something else that one of the most valuable lessons I learned when I was 20 years old came from my mentor at the time, Brad Britton. And he said the secret to success in life is do the right thing, not the easy thing. And occasionally, they’re the same. And the more you do the right thing, it actually eventually becomes the easy thing. But it doesn’t ever start that way, right? Never starts that way.
But everything you’re saying, so I’m translating it through my life experiences, lessons that I’ve learned, and I’m going, “Ooh, yeah, that’s a different way of saying this.” And I know that for me, I think for all of us, when you hear something and then you can hear it in a different way and then hear it in a different way, and then you can connect all the dots and go, “Okay, wow. Now, that’s really resonating, really making sense.”
So, Areté, the way I would translate it, it’s becoming the best version of yourself. How to become the best version of yourself? First, you make that your purpose, right? And then to fulfill that purpose in the moment to moment decision making that we all have every day, should I get out of bed, do my miracle morning? Or should I keep sleeping? Should I eat healthy food or should I eat unhealthy food? Should I exercise or should I wait till tomorrow, right, procrastinate?
The daimon versus demon, it’s the doing what’s right, which is anything that helps you become the best version of yourself versus doing what’s easy, which is the opposite, right? And that’s human nature is doing what’s easy. So, that’s my next question for you is how do you get yourself to do this? And let me give a quick context to this question. It’s so funny. We are so much alike. When you start doing the, I put my hand at my eye level, that’s your full potential. When I speak, I go, this is you at a level 10. I put my hand at the eye level. I go, and if you’re settling for less than that, and I put my hand down at the bottom and I show this is the disconnect. If this is what you want, but this is who you’re being and they’re not on the same level or at least one’s not aspiring to the other, you’re going to always feel unfulfilled, depressed, sad.
So, it’s always fun when you hear somebody that you’ve had a completely different education than I have, right? But we arrive at the same conclusions. So, my question is this, when people ask me, they go, Hal, why do I have to be a level 10? That feels a lot of pressure. It feels exhausting. Why can’t I just be pretty good, right? And it’s a question that sometimes I struggle to ask and I go, you’re right. The number 10 is really– what’s the word I’m looking for? I can’t think of the word, but it doesn’t matter. It’s really not about a 10, it’s about becoming a better version of yourself every day. It’s about doing the right thing every day that moves you in the direction of who you aspire to become. And you’ll never get to a level 10 because when you’re 95 years old, you could always get better. On your deathbed, you could still learn something new, try something new, right?
So, again, the question that have been taken three minutes to ask you is for people listening, I guess, there’s two parts to the question, one is why? Do I need to fulfill my potential? Areté feels overwhelming. I’m just trying to make it through the day, Brian, like, come on, man. So, number one is why and number two is how.
Brian Johnson: Yep. Dude, insert emoji of head exploding. The way that you reframe that was so beautiful and, of course, so aligned with everything you said, how you said it, and then the really important philosophical and teaching insight that seeing things from different angles is how we learn things. And this again is the book. It’s 451 micro chapters, little ideas that give you exactly what you described. Literally, it’s what I did. Two pages, three pages, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Let me just kind of throw all the different angles at it.
But the way you framed it up is so good. We’re going to snip this out and share and there you go. You want an Areté, just listen to Hal. I mean, there’s so many things we can riff on there, the hedonic versus the eudaimonic, the good mood versus the good life. Getting to a point where you share this in your work, 30 days or whatever arbitrary number to get to a habit change, well, it’s unbearable, and then it’s harder and then you’ve got your great way to frame it, then you become unstoppable. We’re doing the right thing. Seneca says, becomes the thing you most enjoy. And this is ancient Chinese philosophy. Wu wei is effortless right action, where it actually becomes easy to do the right thing and harder not to. Now, that takes time. It takes wisdom and discipline, etc.
But I think the why, Abraham Maslow perhaps can help us answer the question. So, Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs, as you know, and he studied the greatest people of his generation. I’ve got one of them on my wall back here, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, people that truly actualize their potential. First most important thing, none of them are perfect. He says, there are truly great people, “movers and shakers.” But not one human being that he’s ever studied was ever perfect. Embracing that is important.
Then we come back to your star, the guiding star. And that’s a beautiful thing. Tal Ben-Shahar, another one of my favorite teachers, said, our ideals are guiding stars. They are not distant shores. You will never get there. Your potential is asymptotic to use a mathematical word, which is you’ll get close, maybe, but you’ll never get there. You got to own that. If you don’t, you’re going to be an unhealthy perfectionist and you’re going to have eating disorders, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, I give up. So, you got to have the wisdom to know that the game isn’t getting anywhere. You’re never going to get there. The game is in any given moment, there’s a best choice, best expression of your best self, and unless then, you do not need to be perfect.
But can you more consistently close the gap? Even improving on that 1%, 3%, 5% is life changing completely. Then you feel the joy in that and then it goes from being a chore. This is a pain. One more thing I got to do. Who wants to do chores, to a gift you give to yourself? And your future self is second later, me yelling at my kid versus repairing having yelled at him, completely different experience. Moment to moment to moment, we have an opportunity to experience that joy.
And when you make the connection between if this, then that, it’s what I teach our kids. My kids don’t like to get sick, right? So, if they get the runny nose, we make a connection. Oh, you hate this and this. And then we were up late and this and this. I help them make the connection. So, the gift we’re giving to ourselves needs to be clear. And again, they’ve done tons of research on this. You can put someone in an MRI machine and ask them to think about themselves and a certain part of their brain will light up. Ask them then to think about a stranger, a certain part of their brain will light up for everybody.
Then what’s interesting is think about your future self, whether it’s X years ahead or, frankly, X days ahead. For some people, their future self lights up in the stranger part of their brain. For other people, it lights up in the self center of their brain. You want to make the connection between your current self and choices and your future self, and know that your choices to binge watch or binge drink or binge eat are affecting you 1, 2, 5, 10 hours downstream. And that’s exciting to get that agency back and then to start making choices.
But then the why is, I think there’s truth here, what Hal and Brian are talking about. The only reason why it resonates, if it does is, because everybody, ancient wisdom, modern science, say the same thing, period, full stop, which is why you do your research and studying for decades. I do mine. We come to the same conclusion. But anyway, feeling that sense of potentiality to go back to Maslow, and then he says, as you ascend the hierarchy of needs and you take care of basic things. And anyone who’s here this long into this conversation has fulfilled, not perfectly, but enough of their basic needs that the need Maslow says to actualize your potential is as real, as I say, as your need to breathe. I call it Soul Oxygen. There’s a part of you that needs to be expressed.
And if you are not expressing that moment to moment to moment, you will suffer. And that suffering is a good thing. It’s a sign that you’re capable of more. Maslow says, we all have capacities that are clamoring to be used. What one can be, one must be is the one sentence summation of my life’s work. Areté is the one word. What one can be, one must be. This impulse to actualize is a real thing. It’s as real as your need to breathe at a certain stage of development. All of us are at that point.
Then you either agree with that or you don’t. But then you need to move from overwhelmed to and I can. That’s the why is that that’s your ultimate drive in life is to express the best version of yourself in service to something bigger than yourself, longer shot. But the hero secret weapon is love. It’s my kids. It’s your kids. It’s our family, our communities that drive us to do the hard work. You want to make that connection. I’ll pause there.
And then there’s the how. All that’s nice and warm and fuzzy. Get that wide, deep, feel the connection to something bigger than yourself, the need to express. But then you got to feel the agency in the how, which I just want to pause for a moment, take a sip of water, and then we’ll get into laser tag is how I explain it in the book, by the way, is you got to know how. Because if you don’t know how to play the game of laser tag, I tell a fun little story in the book of how I sucked at laser tag so I didn’t know how to play it.
Well, if you currently feel like you’re sucking at life, BJ Fogg says, you may think it’s a character flaw. You may think something’s wrong with you. But what if it’s actually a design flaw and you weren’t taught how to play the game of life? And I use the story of me sucking in laser tag to make the point. It’s a lot more fun to know how to play laser tag. It’s a lot more fun to know how to play the game of life.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And I feel like this, I mean, your work, your and this book, this book to me is like it’s a collector’s item. In fact, I hesitated. I take notes in all of my books. And I was like, do I want to– I almost don’t want to take notes in it. But then I got over it real quick. I’m like, “No, I have to take notes in it.” Or I mean, I have to underline. I’m not going remember it all, especially 451 mini chapters.
So, let’s talk about the how. Yeah, that is the why. And I think that for anybody, if you’re listening right now, let me actually, I’ll sum it up from my perspective. If you’re listening right now and you’re feeling you’re in a bad place mentally and/or emotionally, you’re scared, you’re anxious, you’re depressed, maybe circumstantially, you’re in a bad place, right? You lost your job. There’s health challenges. I’ve been there in all of those. I’ve lost my income, my health, on and on and on. I’ve been in really difficult spots in my marriage, so on and so forth, right?
I think it’s important to know that it’s temporary if you do something about it. And there’s that famous quote, it’s like it’s always temporary. Well, not if you keep doing the exact same things or you don’t do anything differently. If you want your life to be different, you have to be willing to do something different first. And often, for me, I do know that when I’m in a funk, picking up a book and reading a book, that almost all– it’s one of two things, it’s either having a conversation with some specific friends, not my friends that are complaining all the time, but my friends like you or my buddy Jon Vroman who always offer an enlightened, heightened perspective, right? And just one conversation, I go, “Wow, thank you. I’m so glad I called you.” I’m so in it, I couldn’t see it that way. But now, I see it differently.
So, I either have a conversation with a friend and/or I pick up a book and I start reading a book and I go, “Oh, oh, wow. New possibilities, new ways of thinking,” right? And then that gets me out of my depressive funk. So, to me, the why is yes, you’re designed for greatness. You’re a human being with limitless potential. You wouldn’t be born with limitless potential if you weren’t supposed to live into that, lean into that. How do you do that? Pick up a book, talk to a friend, get a new perspective, and start taking steps forward.
I love Mark Victor Hansen. I saw him speak once and he said people don’t make changes because they get overwhelmed by the change because they only see how far they have to go to make the change. He said, just lean into it. Just lean a tiny bit into the change. Just do one little baby step forward each day, and all of a sudden, the steps get easier and easier and more exciting and more expansive and so on and so forth. Let’s talk about the how, unless there’s anything that you want to say to…
Brian Johnson: We’re both in Austin. And it was so humid that I cranked up the AC. So, I’m going to put on a jacket. Very important.
Hal Elrod: It will be freezing, by the way, in the next few days.
Brian Johnson: Is that right? I love it hot.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, literally down to almost freezing. Right now, it’s like 85 or 90 and humid. And I think in a day or two, we’re going to hit freeze. Texas has the craziest weather.
Brian Johnson: It’s a whole ‘nother conversation. So, everything you said, amen. So, my whole thing is ancient wisdom and then modern science. So, when you talk about the despair we all feel at times and many of us may be feeling right now or our loved ones or our kids or our spouses or whatever, hope, the science of hope is really important. So, there are three scientific aspects to hope. Then we’ll talk about how to navigate life’s challenges, etc.
But first and foremost, you’ve got to believe that you can create a better future, that your future will be better than your present. If you do not believe that your future can be better than your present, then you will literally be hopeless. Hopelessness, learned helplessness is the fast track to depression. So, first step is alright, alright, I faced a lot of challenges, I made a lot of mistakes, I failed myself, and whatever other stories you’re having. It is what it is. But you know what? I do think that I can create a better future. More specifically, this is something like it may look like, in my energy, my work, and my love, etc. A vision and inspiring goal is the first step.
The second is agency, which is science speak for your confidence in your ability to be able to create that future reality. It’s important that you don’t get manicky about it and we’ll map out some vision board thing you don’t actually believe in. You got to rub it up against reality. You got to believe that, yeah, yeah, you can do this or that, right? Agency comes with the future vision and then a plan. You need a plan. Those three aspects are something I come back to in the book all the time.
But hope is important and, hopefully, we’ll give you some hope that you can concretely change your life. So, here’s the metaphor I use to make the point in the book. I kick off with my son and I doing this thing. He goes to a chess tournament he didn’t want to go to. My son loves chess. He wants to be a grandmaster. There was a tournament he didn’t want to go to. And by the way, I use that as the starting point to the book. Like, all right, buddy, we’ve all got a voice in our head. What’s your voice telling you right now?
My coach, Phil Stutz, calls it Part X. What’s Part X telling you? Is he helping you get what you want, be the best version of yourself or not? Anyway, he winds up going to the tournament. We celebrate, and he lost two games and won two games, won or learn. And then, afterwards, we celebrate by going to play laser tag, right? So, we go to laser tag. I haven’t played laser tag in 40 years. We walk in and we were just missing that session. And it was like 30 minutes until the next one, it was going to be too late to stay.
So, the dude says, “Look, you missed the briefing, but I can get you in if you want to go in.” In my head, I’m like, he played the prior week. It’s laser tag. It can’t be that hard. You know what I mean? Like, “All right, dude, perfect. Sign us up.” We cruise in last 30 seconds of how to play this game of laser tag. Put on my laser tag, we do outfit or whatever, and I go into play. Now, my wife had played with him the week before and she was so bad, she had a -99 score at the end. The guy at the end said, “I’ve never seen anyone play that bad.” And we all laughed it off, right? So, I’m out, 10 minutes into laser tag. I’m at -100. I am so bad. It is pathetic. And literally, I’m sweating. My story in my head is, dude, you suck. This is embarrassing. Just stop playing. This is just bad, right?
Anyway, long story slightly shorter. I look at my little dashboard, -99, but then I look a little bit up and I have a thousand units of laser tag ammo. And I’m like, I’m pretty sure I started at a thousand units of laser tag ammo. And my finger is sore from pulling the trigger so many times. I’m like, there’s no way I haven’t shot. And then I realized, oh my gosh, not one of my shots has been released. Then I fiddle around and I find this little button. I had to press on the top of the laser while pulling the trigger. And then, boom, I did it. And I heard this laser sound and it was like this amazing sound.
Anyway, I spent the next 10 minutes channeling my inner Navy SEAL. And I’m having fun and it’s all great. Now, the reason for that story is I didn’t know how to play laser tag. I missed the briefing and it sucked. I wanted to give up, literally. I hated it. The moment I actually knew how to play the game, it became really fun.
So, the metaphor for life is, extending BJ Fogg’s wisdom, nothing’s wrong with you. You just haven’t been taught how to play the game well. And when you learn how to play it even marginally better, a few simple things like holding the button down that allows you to actually play the game, everything becomes more fun. So, the whole book is that, how to play the game of life well. We can talk about how we approach it with Areté and with Heroic.
But anyway, I found that story personally helpful for my kids and, hopefully, frame it up of all right, cool. There are ways to play it. Of course, this is all you do. And we all know these ideas. And so, my big thing is we just kind of get you to move from theory to practice more often to mastery. And we can talk about some of the most salient things that I’ve picked up. But that’s now a long kind of context setting of how to do it. But you got to know you can. You got to believe. You got to have the agency that you can, in fact, become better at behavioral change. Otherwise, you won’t try. You don’t have the why, you don’t have the sense.
Hal Elrod: I love that story. I mean, it’s such a simple story, but it’s such a good point. And I love the analogy, yeah, that there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with you, right? Nothing more wrong with you than is wrong with me or is wrong with Brian, who fought with his wife recently and yelled at his kids. I mean, we’re all human beings, but when you know how to play the game of life and you’ve got a strategy, you’ve got a technique, I know like for me, you mentioned hopelessness.
And in 2008, my income had been declining for six months. My house was foreclosed on, my body fat was increasing. I was looking in the mirror and going, “Oh, my God, I’m not liking the person looking back.” And nothing I was trying was working to get myself out of the rut. And then I created this little morning routine, and within a couple of months, I had doubled my income. Everything was different.
And here’s the big thing, the big difference, what I want to say is I was hopeless and, therefore, I was depressed. I thought nothing I’ve tried is working. My life is continuously getting worse and worse and worse and worse. And I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t see a way to make it better. I literally got online. I Googled what are the world’s most successful people do every day for their personal development. Oh, I’m going to do those things.
The very first day, I did those things and I did them poorly because I didn’t have experience meditating or reciting these goofy affirmations that I was finding online and that didn’t feel authentic anyway. But even after a mediocre miracle morning, my first one, the hopelessness was gone because I went, “Oh, if I start every day like this and learn something new every day and generate clarity and energy and enthusiasm and learn strategies I can implement, it’s only a matter of time before I become the person that I need to be to turn my life around and create the success that I want.” And that to me was like, “Oh, that’s the power of hope.” And then on the other side of that, that’s the detriment of hopelessness, right? It’s depression.
Brian Johnson: Dude, I want to highlight, I love the back and forth here. And you translated what I’m saying from the abstract to the concrete, and you came back to a really important thing. You did something, so you took action. The tiniest little thing you think you can do in the moment is how you create the momentum to create a great life. The practical, concrete exercise that I like to use is, and I love yours going online, what are the successful people do? How do they run their days? How do they start their days?
But I would offer that each of us has experienced successful days. Each of us has been our best selves in the past. So, the exercise I do is bust out a blank piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, put do on the left and don’t on the right. And then imagine yourself at your best, again, whatever point in your life in which you are showing up powerfully for a minute or five or ten or a day, or five or ten or a week or two or five or ten, what did you do? We all had experienced that. We’ve all done certain things. And then what did you not do?
And then circle the one thing that you could start doing that if you started doing it, it would most positively change your life. And circle the thing you need to stop doing, which frankly, is always the fastest way to change your life. We call them kryptonites. But to concretize this and to get that agency back, to start taking action, however imperfectly, is ultimately what it’s all about, to move from the abstract to the concrete, the theory to the practice in our own idiosyncratic ways. My practices are very much like yours, and you create a great structure. But the specifics are obviously different for everybody.
Hal Elrod: So, here’s what I’m going to want to do, Brian, I want to wrap for today, and I want to invite people if they want to go deeper, not just the book, but also, you and I did a podcast not too long ago. We talked about antifragile confidence and how we can forge it. We talked about what you call the Big Three and how to optimize our energy, work, and love. We talked about how to make every day a masterpiece, how to master ourselves, how to dominate the fundamentals and what you call soul force, and how we activate it.
So, if you want to go deeper with Brian auditorily, I encourage you to go back and listen to podcast number 486. You can go to MiracleMorning.com/486 or you can go to any podcasting platform. I have two podcasts, whatever, and just go back to Episode 486 for more auditory Brian Johnson. But I really want to encourage people to get the book. So, I’d love for us to wrap and invite people to go and buy Areté. You already told everybody where they can get it. They can go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, wherever books are sold, but give that website again where they can get some bonuses.
Brian Johnson: Heroic.us, Heroic.us/book. You can get again the samples, the bonuses, and all that good stuff. And again, Hal, I appreciate you, dude. What a great chat. Time flies when we’re having fun with friends. Thank you for making sure we focused on the humanity. I hope everyone got an idea that can help them go to the next level, however they define that in their lives. And I can’t wait to have you on our show and introduce you to our Heroic community.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Awesome, man. I love you. And I want to say to everybody listening, if you’re where I am, sometimes, it’s like I have 17 books on the shelf right now and I don’t have time to read all of them, let alone this new one Areté that I just learned about, I’m going to say this, kind of what I said in the beginning, but this is a special book. This is one that you want to get, even if you can’t start reading it right away because you’re in the middle of another book, maybe you’re in the middle of the new Miracle Morning updated and expanded edition, right? But Areté, this is a book, Brian, and I don’t say this, I’ve never said this maybe for another author, like this needs to be in everyone’s collection. It is a collector’s item. It is a masterpiece. It is 451 mini chapters, which, how often you find a book with 451 chapters? Not very often. It’s one of a kind book. And I really encourage you to grab yourself a copy.
Brian, you and I need to be together in person here in Austin. I love you, brother. I can’t wait to come on with your audience, your community, and talk about the new Miracle Morning Edition. And until next time, man. Areté.
Brian Johnson: I love you, too. I can’t wait for our families to connect. Day one, all in. Let’s go, as we like to say. Great to see you.
Hal Elrod: Let’s go.