The world needs you to be the best, most heroic version of yourself. My guest today will guide you through the 7-step roadmap that will enable you to become the best version of yourself and activate your full (heroic) potential.
As the cliché goes, not all superheroes wear capes, and that’s what today’s episode is about. Returning for his 3rd appearance on the podcast is the ever-inspiring Brian Johnson, author of the new book, Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.
Brian is also the Founder and CEO of Heroic, a groundbreaking organization that is committed to a mission to help 51% of humanity flourish by 2051.
Today, he shares the seven objectives that will help you turn your biggest problems and obstacles in life into an unstoppable force for good. It’s about going from a victim to a hero mindset and understanding that you have the power to make the world a better place, one person at a time, beginning with yourself.
- The wonders that having big, audacious goals do for your confidence and sense of achievement.
- Why it’s crucial to stop getting sucked into other people’s games and dramas.
- How to bounce back stronger after each setback, no matter how difficult.
- Stay committed to your goals when life’s easy – so you’re ready to handle the bad times.
- Your potential for exceptional achievements sits outside your comfort zone.
- The perfect life starts with the perfect day. Make each one a masterpiece.
- How to build unwavering discipline and stay consistent even when you don’t feel like it.
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- Brian Johnson on LinkedIn | YouTube | Twitter
- Activate Your Heroic Potential: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, & Practical Tools to Win the Ultimate Game & Fulfill Your Destiny by Brian Johnson
- AYG 124: Wisdom From A Modern Day Philosopher (Interview With Brian Johnson)
- AYG 405: Lessons Learned From Reading Over 1,000 Personal Growth Books With Brian Johnson
- A Philosopher’s Notes: On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness by Brian Johnson
- Phil Stutz
- James Pawelski
- Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman
- The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose by Matthew Kelly
- Christopher McDougall
- Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by Christopher McDougall
- Margaret Wheatley
- Who Do We Choose To Be?, Second Edition: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity by Margaret J. Wheatley
- Ray Dalio
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Uber Eats
- Elon Musk
- Michael Balchan
- The Notorious B.I.G.
- Steve Chandler
- Stephen Covey
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
- Tony Robbins
- Josh Waitzkin
- Dale Carnegie
- James Clear
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
- BJ Fogg
- Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg, PhD
- Viktor Frankl
- John Wooden
- Eckhart Tolle
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Hal Elrod: Hello, friends. Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod, and I am fired up. You’re going to love today’s episode. I may be projecting, but I think today’s episode turned out so good, not because of me, but because of our guest, Brian Johnson, the creator of Optimize, the founder and CEO of Heroic. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Brian. He’s been on the podcast twice now and he’s so brilliant.
And today’s episode is centered around his new book. It’s called Activate Your Heroic Potential: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, & Practical Tools to Win the Ultimate Game & Fulfill Your Destiny. And he walks us through the seven objectives that are necessary to activate your heroic potential. And Brian is so inspiring. In fact, I’m going to read this to you.
Have you seen the documentary Stutz that Jonah Hill produced on Netflix? It’s about Phil Stutz. Well, Phil Stutz has been Brian’s therapist now for, I think you said, five or seven years. And this is what he said about Brian. Brian is a dreamer and he dreams big. What sets him apart is that he is disciplined and practical in pursuit of those dreams. Most self-help books are products waiting to be sold. They have little ambition beyond catching the attention of a potential buyer. We read them to give ourselves a nonspecific sense of hope.
Brian doesn’t criticize others, but he would never publish a book with such modest goals, especially now, because right now we face a challenge so all-encompassing that it puts our very existence at risk. This challenge comes from an enemy that wants to destroy us. This enemy is invisible, but its effects there is right in the face. Take a hard look at the institutions that form the foundation of modern society, government, education, the church, science, finance, media, medicine, the judiciary system, etc. In every area, there is a lack of discipline, leadership, and transparency. This is a picture of a world that is falling apart, a world of chaos, fear, and darkness. And only if we put that world back together again will we be strong enough to defend ourselves. Sounds bleak and overwhelming. Enter Brian Johnson.
Brian didn’t know it. The world didn’t know it. But he has been preparing for this moment all his life. And his new book, Activate Your Heroic Potential will change your life. And if enough of us commit, it will change the world. That was Dr. Phil Stutz, the star of the documentary, Stutz. And I couldn’t agree more. We are facing a challenging time in human history. Brian Johnson is not just a big thinker and a dreamer as Stutz said, he is taking action, he has a plan, he has a mission to activate the heroic potential within all of us.
And this podcast episode introduces you to his seven steps, his seven objectives to wake up the heroic potential within you. And like Phil Stutz said, if enough of us commit, this can change the world. I wholeheartedly believe that. And I stand behind and beside Brian Johnson on his mission, and I will support him all the way. So, without further ado– oh, I got to thank our sponsor, Organifi. I almost forgot. I’m so fired up on this conversation. I’m like, I’m reeling off this conversation that I just had, and you’re about to hear it yourself.
Organifi brings you this show by bringing you the highest quality, whole food, organic supplements possibly on Earth. I take them every day. I take Rise in the morning. I take Aura for my gut health. What else do I take? Red Juice. I take their protein powder. I mean on and on. I started taking their Balance to also help with my gut microbiome. They have so many great supplements. Go to Organifi.com/Hal, again, that is O-R-G-A-N-I-F-I, Organifi.com/Hal, and then use the discount code H-A-L, my name, for 20% off your entire order as a listener of the podcast. I love their products. I hope you will too.
Without further ado, let’s talk about how to activate your heroic potential with the most qualified person to talk to you about it, the one and only Mr. Brian Johnson.
Hal Elrod: Brian Johnson, it is so good to see you, brother.
Brian Johnson: Hal Elrod, always great to see you, brother.
Hal Elrod: First of all, you just took a sip of Mountain Valley Spring Water, that’s my jam. So, just another thing we have in common.
Brian Johnson: You know what? And this is a Mountain Valley Spring Water bottle filled with some other water that we probably also get delivered to our houses in Austin. If not, I’ll have to give you the pro tip on that. My wife gets us whatever we’ve got, but yes.
Hal Elrod: Hook me up. I’m admittedly a water snob, yeah.
Brian Johnson: You and I both.
Hal Elrod: Dude, here we go. So, we had you on, it was funny, I was just looking right– and you were on Episode 124 years ago on this podcast, and then you came back for Episode 405, which was probably about a year or a year and a half ago. And the reason I’m having you on today, it’s very specific. Well, actually, there’s a lot of reasons, I guess, underneath this, but the reason being that you have a new book that has just came out for preorder. It’s Activate Your Heroic Potential: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, & Practical Tools to Win the Ultimate Game & Fulfill Your Destiny. First, I just have to insert that you and I both have an affinity for obnoxiously long subtitles.
Brian Johnson: It’s okay to be long. It’s not okay to be boring. I’ve been told, yeah.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. So, mine’s the Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM), right?
Brian Johnson: You got me beat by a number of syllables there.
Hal Elrod: I don’t know. Actually, when the episode’s over, I’m going to do an official count, man. So, you pivoted, I met you. And I have to tell the story. I probably told this we met before, but for people who don’t know, I was a huge fan of yours. I mean, yeah, I’m still a huge fan of yours. But I used to read your Philosopher’s Notes, the PDFs. I was a paying member, and I used to watch your videos on YouTube where you would bring the Philosopher’s Notes to life.
For those of you who don’t know, Philosopher Notes are Bryan’s version on book summaries. But Brian is just extremely– you’re just brilliant. And so, you were able to make what I thought were the best book summaries that I’d ever seen. And I was at a conference and my best friend Matt was there with me, and he goes, “Dude, did you see that Brian Johnson did a Philosopher’s Note video on YouTube for The Miracle Morning?” I’m like, “Shut up.” And he brings me the phone. And so, I’m like, “No way.” Like, I was so blown away by that, man. So, first of all, thank you for that. Thank you, man. It means a lot.
Brian Johnson: Dude, you’re amazing. I appreciate everything you just said, the way you said it. And I’ve shared with you, but one of my big investors said you have to read this book. So, I read it. I’m like, I got a new soul brother here, do the note, and then we connect. And just a small world. I appreciate you and all your support over the years, and I think it’s one of the reasons why we’re so connected. We’re just saying the same thing in different ways and the same mission as we were talking about, articulate it in different way, but all at the essence, basically, exactly the same.
Hal Elrod: Let’s actually start with your mission. Now that you just mentioned, I think that’s a really great place to start. And I’ve got that your mission is to help create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by 2051. What does that mean? And why is that your mission?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, that’s great. And then, I don’t need to look forward to see that mission. So, I tattooed my body with our Heroic kind of logo. And then, on the top of it, Hero, I see a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by 2051. So, the joke is, research shows that if you write down your goals, you have like a 43% higher likelihood of achieving them. Most people write it on a Post-it note, put it on their bathroom mirror. I’m like, I’m going to put it somewhere I can’t miss.
But the 51, 2051 is actually the moonshot goal with which Martin Seligman launched the Positive Psychology movement. So, a friend of mine named James Pawelski was a young philosopher in the year 2000, and he was facilitating meetings with Marty and their colleagues, and he said, “Hey, we should have a moonshot goal for our movement.” This is right before the Positive Psychology movement was really founded.
Apparently, Marty is a self-proclaimed curmudgeon, kind of pooh-poohed the idea, “We don’t need a moonshot goal.” Then the next morning, he showed up and said, “I figured it out.” And James said, “What?” “I figured out our moonshot goal. We need to do the academic research to help create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051.” Even when I say that, I get goosebumps. But the first time that I heard that, I’m like, “That’s insane.” I’m an ambitious guy, but that’s crazy. And I still think it’s crazy. But I also think it’s exactly right in terms of a really, really bold, audacious goal to which I’ve dedicated my life.
And again, we’re not going to singlehandedly do that, obviously. But can we humbly, yet heroically play our roles well to help create that world? And that’s what it means for me and what I’m so fiercely committed to doing everything I can to help support, create.
Hal Elrod: You know what I love about that? And I want to ask you to define what it means to flourish in a second so people can really, including me, understand what that mission means for 51% flourishing. But what I want to point out is that it shows where your ego is in check and that you tagged on to somebody else’s mission that you believed in, right? Most leaders don’t do that. They go, it’s got to be my own. I’ve got to be the man. I’ve got to be the head of this. I’ve got to be the leader. And that just stood out for me right there when you mentioned it. Like, most people would be like, my life’s mission wasn’t actually invented by me. I actually found someone else’s mission that I really believed in. And I wanted to play a small part in it. And I think that’s it. Like, no single person is going to singlehandedly change the world, right? We all have to do our part.
And actually, I’ll just mention this, but that’s what I like about your Heroic mission. In your intro of the book, you talk about that, like everyone’s a hero and we need people to step into their heroic self now more than ever before. So, before we get into that, I don’t want to skip past the– what does it mean for 51% of humanity flourishing? What is flourishing mean? Like, you got drinking water, you got food. Like, what does that mean?
Brian Johnson: Again, goosebumps, dude. Love everything you just frame and all the things that will come out of how you just frame that up. So, in the book, the first objective is you got to know the ultimate game because we’ve been seduced to play the wrong game. We think, and again, we don’t really think this, but we’ve been seduced to believe that all the extrinsic stuff, the fame, the wealth, the hotness, the Instagram followers, and all the other things that just don’t lead to happiness are the essence of a good life.
But what I try to explain by integrating ancient wisdom and modern science is that we got to know the ultimate game. So, flourishing, this is how I frame it up. So, I imagine, okay, look, what do all the great ancient wisdom, philosophers, religious wisdom traditions have to say and what does modern science have to say about the ultimate purpose of life? So, I playfully say, “Let’s invite Aristotle and Martin Seligman to the party.”
Aristotle was a proxy for ancient wisdom and Martin Seligman is a proxy for modern science. And we ask them a simple question. What’s the purpose of life? Easy question, right? So, then I playfully say in the first chapter, they look at each other with a little wink and a twinkle in their eye. And then Aristotle says, “Well, look, I’ll answer you in one word. The summum bonum.” The greatest good of life is to live with what he calls eudaimonia. Now, that’s an ancient Greek word, eudaemon. It means good soul, to have a good soul. Interesting, right? We translate that into English roughly and imperfectly as happiness.
But the real meaning of the word is, and then we look at Martin Seligman. “What do you think?” And he holds up the cover to his most recent book, which is called Flourish. So, ancient wisdom and modern science agree that the ultimate purpose of life is to flourish. And again, what does that mean? It means essentially to show up as the best version of yourself in service to something bigger than yourself. But then the follow-on question to the ancient wisdom and modern science guys is, well, how do you do that? Nice and warm and fuzzy. Still don’t really know what you mean. But how do I actually do that? And then they give you the exact same answer again.
So, I tattooed my body on this arm with Aristotle’s single-word answer to how you flourish or become a good soul, which is arete, which we translate into English as virtue or excellence. But the way that I describe it is, in any given moment, you’re capable of being this person. And if you’re actually being this person and there’s a gap, in that gap, you have regret, anxiety, disillusionment, depression. If you close the gap and you express the best version of yourself, if you live with arete in this moment, there’s no room for regret, anxiety, disillusionment. You feel eudaimonia. You feel this deep sense of flourishing that you’re doing what you’re here to do. And that’s a moment to moment to moment experience. You don’t need to wait a decade.
The moment you live with arete, I say, you are heroic. You’ve expressed the best version of yourself. Then the challenge is, how do you do that more and more consistently? And the Positive Psychology movement was founded on virtue. It literally is the essence of everything They studied all of the ancient wisdom traditions, all of which said the exact same thing in their own cultural, nuanced way. Live with wisdom. They call it temperance, but it’s really self-mastery. Live with courage and live with love. If you can do that, you’ll create a great life and you’ll feel great. You’ll win the ultimate game. So, that’s literally the first objective of the book, and that changes lives. The moment you get that in a really grounded, practical, ancient wisdom, modern science, everybody agrees. It’s been very transformative for the people that we’ve been able to affect.
Hal Elrod: We keep saying this to each other, but I’m so inspired by that. So, I read a book. Did you read The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly by chance?
Brian Johnson: Oh, my God. Matthew Kelly is one of my all-time favorite guys.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, I’m hoping that, like, one day, I’m going to stump you on a book. I had to go through my collection, see about any obscure books that I know, I’m going to pull off, like the five most obscure books, see if I can stump. There should be a game, Stump Brian Johnson. Can you find a book he hasn’t read?
But Matthew Kelly in The Rhythm of Life says the purpose of life is to become the best version of yourself, and then, in service of others so that you can help them become the best version of themselves. And for me, I kind of translate it as like, okay, so my mission is to fulfill my potential so that I then become knowledgeable and experienced and qualified and capable of helping other people fulfill their potential, right? And so, everything that we’re saying is lots of different words describing the same thing.
I want to touch, I want to unpack Heroic a little bit and the word hero, just that like, let’s just ask it this way. You could have called this book anything. And I know as an author, titling a book, it’s a big deal, right? It’s what’s going to determine whether or not somebody is interested enough to pick up the book and open it up. You titled this book Activate Your Heroic Potential. Why is that the title? What does that mean to you?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, I mean, there’s two really big words in there, activate and heroic. But to step back, and you kind of hinted at this, but let’s define hero really quickly because it’s important. Because hero is not someone other than you, it’s not someone that you admire a historical figure or some really world-famous person that, oh, my God, wouldn’t it be cool to be them? But we never could be.
And the way that I like to frame it is I ask people, do you know what the word hero actually means? So, no one’s known the answer to that question except the person who taught me it, which is Christopher McDougall in Natural Born Heroes. So, in ancient Greece, when they were coming up for a word for hero, they didn’t pick a word that meant tough guy or killer of bad guys or anything like that. The word they chose literally, etymologically means protector.
So, a hero is a protector. A hero has strength for two and a hero’s secret weapon is love. So, my whole thing is, and I’ve goosebumps as I said this, each are called to be the hero of our own lives. And when you look at what’s going on in the world today with all of the– we’re recovering from COVID, we’ve got pandemic, levels of anxiety, depression, diabetes, cancer, political polarization, environmental degradation, etc.
And historically significant challenges demand historically significant responses from each of us. So, we each need to step up and do the hard work to create that strength for two such that we can protect and be a hero for our families, for our communities, for the values in which we believe. So, that’s the essence of hero and heroic that we each within us have the heroic potential that we just need to activate.
So, activation energy is a scientific concept. So, if you want to boil water, for example, nothing happens until you reach an activation energy point of 212 degrees, as you know very well. If you want to make a fire and you’re rubbing two sticks together, you got your whatever thing you’re doing to make fire. Nothing happens at 200 degrees, 300 degrees, 400 degrees, 425, even 450 degrees. You have to get to an activation energy point of 451 degrees. But then when you do, everything changes. One thing becomes another thing.
So, my thing is we each need to activate that potential that is latent within each of us, and that requires a level of intensity and a level of commitment that in our modern culture just isn’t cool. It’s like cool to be cynical and to be slightly critical of everything. And we want to be mindful and deliberate and obviously grounded. But we’ve also got to be willing to activate that potential within ourselves, as you beautifully said, in service to something bigger than ourselves.
Then the hero gets a guide in the beginning of their quest. Harry Potter got Dumbledore, right? And then they get buddies, Hermione and Ron. But then the hero conquers their own dragons and then they return as the guide. And that’s the ultimate quest, where we become our best selves so we can help others become their best selves. And that to me, is how we change the world, literally, one person at a time together, starting with you and me and everyone who’s listening to this now, and not some day, but today. So, that’s the essence of what I was thinking about with the title.
Hal Elrod: Well said. And yeah, not some day, but today, like that’s we are, I feel like humanity, and this is a route that we would go deep down, but humanity is we’re at a crossroads. Like, I believe that right now, we are needed. And there’s a lot with when you study the fall of empires and societies. Margaret Wheatley has a new book that came out yesterday called Who Do We Choose To Be? that’s about that. And then Ray Dalio has recently covered that a lot, right? But a lot of really smart people are studying that, hey, no, society thrives forever. And yeah, so I think that your work, this book, the timing of it is, I mean the best time to read it was yesterday. The next best time is when it comes out on, is it November 17th is when it actually arrives?
Brian Johnson: You’re amazing. November 7th. And amen, let’s go.
Hal Elrod: Awesome. I’ll be done by the 17th then, okay, cool. I know one of the concepts that you talked about is what you call Antifragile Confidence. What is that? And how do we forge it?
Brian Johnson: Oh, that’s so good. And the objective in the chapter title is, so objective one is you got to know the ultimate game. So, once we know the ultimate game, we’ve been seduced to play the wrong one. We try to create a good life instead of create a good mood as the Stoics say, right? Then the next step is you’ve got to forge antifragile confidence. So, we activated your potential in objective one. We do a lot of exercises to get you to wake up and to realize this isn’t a dress rehearsal. What are you waiting for?
But then a forge, you got to go from 451 degrees to 2,100, 2,200 degrees, truly forge your consciousness. And the phrase that I use is antifragile confidence. And rule number one of objective two of a good heroic life is it’s supposed to be hard. And this is what we’ve been seduced to believe. We’ve been seduced to play the wrong game, which is to accumulate the cars and the houses and the initials after our name. And then we’ve been told it should be easy. And if it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong.
You combine those two things and you’ve got some issues. And again, there’s a deep science around intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation we won’t go into. But I like to talk about antifragility, which is a word I borrowed from Nassim Taleb, who wrote a book about antifragility in the context of institutions and financial markets and things like that.
But basically, you can either be fragile, resilient, or something that’s the opposite of fragile, which is antifragile. Most people think you’re either fragile or resilient. So, the idea here is this, imagine you’re a package being shipped in the mail. If you’re fragile, you write, handle me with care, I’ll break. And when life hits you, you break. You’re like a fragile glass. Now, if you’re resilient, you can get kicked around and then you break and then you bounce back.
But the question is, what’s the opposite of fragile? Because there’s an opposite to it. What if on the same box, you said to life, kick me around, literally throw me around, because the more you kick me around, the stronger I get? That’s antifragility. Now, then the question is, well, how do you create that? And I say you need a deep sense of confidence. And I’m kind of an etymological nerd, right? So, confidence in Latin is confidere. I am also superpower mispronouncing it. That’s probably not how you say it in Latin, but confidere, right, means intense trust.
So, you want to have intense trust in what? That everything will go perfectly? Of course not. That’s insane. You want to have intense trust that it doesn’t matter what happens. You have what it takes to respond to that with a mental toughness. Now, then the follow-on question to that is how do you build trust in yourself? And the answer to that is you build trust in yourself the same way trust is built in any relationship. You have to do what you say you will do.
So, if you have a relationship with someone and they say they’re going to do something and they don’t do it, do you trust them? Do you have confidence in them? Of course not. So, if you say you’re going to get up and have a miracle morning and you’re going to do this, this, and this, goosebumps, you do it for a day. Second day, it’s not real fun, right? And then the third day, you’re like, I forgot I even committed that. Let me forget about that. You shouldn’t have confidence in yourself. You shouldn’t trust yourself.
But if you’re the type of person who does what you say you will do, never perfectly, but more and more consistently, especially when you don’t feel like it. So, when you get knocked around, rather than spiral out into vicious behaviors, you use those moments to actually work your protocol with a deeper level of intensity, then you can forge antifragile confidence. And then literally, the more you get knocked around, the more deeply you deep in your practice and the stronger you get. And again, even improving that by 2%, 5%, 10% is life-changing. That’s how I approach mental toughness and consistency and antifragile confidence.
Hal Elrod: What’s something that, like give an example of a time when you were knocked down, when you were kicked, and then something you got through? I love a real-life example of something, whether that was in your childhood or recently.
Brian Johnson: Now, I’ll go, dude. So, Heroic, we’re a public benefit corporation. And we were blessed to be supported by our community. So, we made crowdfunding history. We were the first company to ever raise $5 million from our community as part of a $10 million seed round. Well, now, we have 3,000 investors from 75 countries around the world who gave us $10 million, now $15 million to go build a social training platform, longer chat.
Hal Elrod: So, I feel sorry for you, but I’m sure this is going to take a turn.
Brian Johnson: Oh, this is going to be good because then, as you know, I hired a company called MetaLab, the same company that built Slack, Tinder, Uber Eats, and even Elon Musk’s Neuralink. You still don’t feel bad for me. Life is happening. This is exciting, right? I feel like I’m fulfilling my dharma. This is what I’m here to do.
We work for a year, literally for a year straight. Two days before we’re launching our app, goosebumps, that we worked insanely hard to build, we put $10 million into building. It’s April 9th we’re launching. We’ve got hundreds of our investors coming. I’m live streaming to 10,000 people on Saturday.
On Wednesday night, I tell my wife for the first time ever, I’m going to enjoy this week, and I’m usually pretty high-strung when I give big talks. You know what I mean? And I don’t enjoy it until it’s done. But this, I was ready. The app was good, it was working, people were happy, etc. So, Wednesday night, I say, “Honey, I’m going to enjoy this weekend.”
Thursday morning, my team’s out at the ranch. We live close to one another. We’re hanging out. We’re excited. The UPS driver pulls up, and I’m buddies with him. “Hey, West, what’s up?” You know what a micro-moment of awesome there, etc. He said, “Hey, that’s great.” Little skinny envelope. I look at it. Heroic Legal Department. My heart skips a beat. I’m like, “We got a great legal team. We don’t have a legal department.” Okay, I wonder what that is all about. I zip open the little letter. Letterhead, United States Securities and Exchange Commission.
Now, I’m pretty sure the combination of a legal department and the United States Securities and Exchange isn’t a winning formula. My team’s in my kitchen. I bring it in, I go to the island. You know what? I’m looking at it, I’m reading it. I was, as I like to playfully say, hoping for a letter of commendation from the Securities and Exchange Commission for being the first ever do what they change their legislation to do. Instead, they opened an inquiry into our business. So, not what I was looking for. That was not in the playbook, etc.
Now, to make the story slightly shorter, in that moment, I don’t remember this, but my right-hand guy, Michael, told me the first words out of my mouth after I practice my philosophy and did my thing was, “Mr. Balchan, the heroic gods have given us an opportunity to practice our philosophy.” Now, the old me would have crumbled in that. What do I do? Oh, my God. The new me said, “Perfect.” This is an energy bar. I’m going to practice my philosophy at the highest possible level.
Now, we had done everything at the highest moral and technical level, so I wasn’t thrust on that. But then we couldn’t raise the money we had. So, here’s where the problems come in. I had a $15 million round in. I had $5 million committed in the bank. I was the biggest client for our partner, $6 million contract that was dependent on me raising the money that I had two weeks. I was going to be raising the next round.
Anyway, long story slightly shorter. Couldn’t raise the money for reasons outside of our control. Had to restructure my partnerships, had to let go of a bunch of people. And in the whole process, my mantra to myself was, I’m going to practice my philosophy at the highest possible level. The worse I feel, the more committed I am. And in the process, we forged an antifragile business. I became a better human being, a better man, a better leader through the challenges that we faced. I can give you a million other examples, but that’s a very life-changing one for me.
And then fast forward to the end of it, the law firm that we hired who navigated the process with us in eight months, usually takes 24, hired me to keynote their partner meeting for 250 partners because they’d never seen anybody go through the process the way our team did because we were committed to practicing these ideas. So, the final thing, this is a Phil Stutz-inspired idea. So, Phil Stutz is my seven-year-long beloved coach. I’ve done 400 coaching sessions with him over seven years. He’s in Jonah Hill’s Netflix documentary called Stutz.
Brian Johnson: Yeah, loved it.
Hal Elrod: He calls it emotional stamina. And he told me early on that she got to get to a point where the worse you feel, the more committed you are to your protocol. Most people, when they feel bad, whether it’s something as big as what that was or someone cuts them off on the way to work, they spiral out. But you got to get to the point where the worse you feel, the more committed you are to your protocol, which begs the question, what do you do when you’re at your best? What’s your protocol? And do you work it when it matters most? Anyway, I’ve said a lot, but there is an example that was transformative for me that hopefully shed some light on the concept.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, and that story reminds me of what a great philosopher of my youth said, which is Notorious B.I.G. said, “Mo money mo problems.” And so, you think that having $10 million in the bank is easy, but it’s like, dude, I mean, seriously, I know that as my business has grown, the stakes grow, the stress goes, the pressure goes. It’s almost like the more money you start having to deal with in your business life or whatever life, I feel like I go back to being a little kid and I go, dude, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know. I’ve got this investor or this or that, and it’s like, this is really scary. I think imposter syndrome shows up. So, yeah, man, good on you.
Brian Johnson: But what’s so funny is that, and this becomes the moment where the hero, and you’ve spiraled up so you do actually have the power to deal with bigger challenges. But two of my mentors, Phil, said, “You’re facing real bullets. I’m so happy for you. Finally, we get to deal with real problems now.” Another buddy of mine is an investor and sat on boards with Elon Musk. He laughed at me. He’s like, “You’re in the big boy gym now. You’re lifting real weights.”
But most of us want to go through life as another mentor of mine, Steve Chandler said, “Lifting Styrofoam weights. We want to avoid problems and challenges.” It’s like going to the gym and lifting Styrofoam. So, rule number one is, it’s supposed to be hard and your story that it should be easy is what’s getting you in trouble. So, when you embrace your challenges, psychologists say, “You want to approach life. Don’t avoid your challenges, approach them.” Then you say, “Bring it on,” and you truly see that your infinite potential exists outside of your comfort zone. By definition, when you leave your comfort zone, you feel uncomfortable. But then you want to reverse your desire and get excited about the challenges. And again, you can apply that at the smallest level or the biggest level, but that’s, from my vantage point, one of the keys to heroic living.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, beautiful. So, I’ll frame this when I record the intro, but I realize that I didn’t frame it up until this point. For anybody listening, what we’re covering today, these are the seven objectives to activate your heroic potential. So, objective number one is know the ultimate game. Objective number two is forge antifragile confidence. And then, Brian, let’s unpack objective three, which is to optimize your energy, work, and love. Would you call those the big three?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, yeah, I love it. And again, briefly on this one, Stephen Covey was my first favorite author, first book I ever read, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He’s got roles and goals. He tells you a good life. You got to identify your roles and the goals. Tony Robbins adapted that in his own way. He calls them Categories of Improvement, all the different areas you want to improve.
Now, for me, as a young man, when I tried to do that, I got overwhelmed very quickly because there’s so many things I do and so many things I want to do. Then I would start and then stop. Freud, with whom I don’t agree on many things, said, “A good life comes down to work and love.” And when I heard that, I’m like, “That’s exactly right. That’s at least 80% of a good life, work, and love.” But then I said, “But if your energy sucks because of poor lifestyle choices, good luck showing up in your work and your love.”
And then the big three was born – energy, work, and love. And so, our whole philosophy is simplify self-development, simplify your life. If you can get your energy dialed in and then show up in your work and in your love at a high level, you can achieve what you want to achieve. And then we go through certain things to help you get clarity on who you are at your best in energy, work, and love, what virtues you embody, and then most importantly, what specific things you do.
So, when you and I are at our best, we do certain things. I get a certain number of hours of sleep, I eat a certain way, I move a certain way, obvious things. But we got to take our prior best and make it our new baseline, which is a Josh Waitzkin phrase. So, whenever you’ve achieved a level of success, don’t give up those gains. Get clear on what you do when you’re at your best and then do that, and then you get really curious about just how great you can be. Anyway, we systematically help people get clarity on their identities, virtues, and behaviors in their energy, work, and love in the third objective.
Hal Elrod: I love the holisticness of this book that you’re walking us through objective by objective, step by step. And I’m just seeing how each one builds on and supports and complements the one previous. The fourth objective is to make today a masterpiece. And I always say, make every day the best day of your life because there’s no reason not to. So, how do we do that? How do we make today a masterpiece?
Brian Johnson: Well, the first thing is, and again, this is why you and I are brothers, you got to take it seriously. Today is the day. So, a lot of people are, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t feel like it today, or I’ll get to that. But no, no, no, today is the only day, obviously, we ever have. But today’s the day to move from theory to practice to mastery. And so, here, there’s a lot we can talk about, but I’m all about getting clarity on what your masterpiece day looks like.
But the first thing is, you got to recognize the importance of that. Live in what Dale Carnegie would call day-tight compartments. Whatever happened yesterday happened. Whatever’s going to happen tomorrow is going to happen. But how do you make today, as you would say, the best day of your life?
And then we talk about bookends, AM and PM. And one of my big distinctions that I like to share is today started yesterday. How you ended your day yesterday directly impacts, and it’s obvious, but we need to get really clear on the fact that staying up late, eating late, binge-watching Netflix, getting an hour or two or three less sleep than you know you need, good luck having a great day tomorrow.
So, paradoxically, your PM counts twice, I like to say. The night before and tonight, you get two PMs in one day. So, you want to get your PM bookends dialed in, and then that leads to high energy in the morning. Then you just do it how Elrod tells you to do and make it a miracle morning, and then boom, you’ve won the day. And then you go through your day and then you end it strong so you can repeat the next day. It’s always day one, then all of those things.
Hal Elrod: And again, this is why we’re brothers because I say miracle morning starts the night before with a miracle evening, right?
Brian Johnson: Amen.
Hal Elrod: I love it. All right. So, we talk about mastering the day, and then objective five is master yourself. And what’s your take on this, your perspective?
Brian Johnson: Yeah. So, I think there’s an art and science here. I have two different frames, one, willpower, self-mastery, discipline, whatever you want to call it, out-predicts everything by a huge factor. So, kids, for example, if you want to know which kids are going to do best in a classroom and you knew two things, their IQ and their willpower quotient, which one do you think would predict their success better than the other, their IQ or their willpower?
Hal Elrod: Willpower.
Brian Johnson: But most people are going to intuitively…
Hal Elrod: Most people would say IQ.
Brian Johnson: Yeah, the smart kids, of course, us and anyone who’s thought about this deeply. But most people think, well, smart kids do better in school, but it’s not true. Of course, they have a certain advantage from an intellectual perspective, but willpower out-predicts IQ by a factor of two, not 2% or 5%, by a factor of two. Now, I share that with…
Hal Elrod: This is statistically. This isn’t just in theory.
Brian Johnson: Yeah, this is the Martin Seligman cited stat. And by the way, very importantly, it’s teachable. So, in this objective, we talk about how to use your willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot via algorithms. And I integrate James Clear’s Atomic Habits, BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits, and a lot of your stuff. You got great wisdom on that, such that your basal ganglia gets programmed and it’s harder to do anything but the right thing.
But then I also bring in some more Phil Stutz’s wisdom here. He says there are three types of discipline – structural, reactive, and expansive. So, structural discipline is your masterpiece day. You know that a good day starts like this, goes like that, ends like that. That’s structural discipline. You got to take the time to get clarity on it and then execute it.
The second discipline is reactive discipline. This is a Viktor Frankl idea. Viktor Frankl says that between a stimulus and a response, there’s a gap. In that gap is your freedom. That’s a discipline. When you feel triggered, can you choose a better response? That’s a reactive discipline. We talk about that a lot.
And then the third discipline is expansive discipline. This is basically courage. So, when you feel fear, when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel like pulling back when you know you should go forward, you want to expand into your infinite potential by leaning into your challenges, bring it on, all those things.
So, in the objective, we do the structural, the reactive, and the expansive discipline, and really make it concrete. I mean, there’s very specific things that James does a great job articulating in Atomic Habits, and BJ, of course, does as well. But there are ways to install habits very easily, and there are ways to delete habits very easily that you want to get really good at, that we talk about in the book. And the playful thing is become a ninja, uninstalling and deleting habits at will.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, and it’s one of, if not the most important skill to master. And it is a skill, right? If you can master your habits, if you’re going to become a habit ninja, as you call it, there’s nothing you can’t do or create or achieve or change, right? But I think it’s that story that people have, which is like, I’m just not disciplined. And it’s because of what you said in the beginning, which is they’ve broken their own trust. And so, what I love about this book is it’s going to help people rebuild that trust, build that discipline to activate the heroic potential. I mean, it all makes so much sense. Now, objective number six is dominate the fundamentals. What does it mean to dominate the fundamentals? How do we do it?
Brian Johnson: Yep. So, then at this stage in the book, hopefully, we’ve cultivated some wisdom. We understand what the game is. We’re forging antifragile confidence. We’ve got a protocol on our big three. We know how to make today a masterpiece. We know how to master ourselves via the disciplines. Then we go deeper, we step back again, and then we look at the fundamentals.
So, if you want to look at how tall a building is going to be, the number one thing you should look at besides the architectural plans is how deeply they’re digging the foundation. So, a little shack doesn’t need anything at all. A single-story house needs a shallow foundation. You want to build a skyscraper, you dig really deeply.
So, foundations are insanely important, and I call those the fundamentals. And it’s the basic, basic stuff. So, it’s eating, it’s moving, it’s sleeping, it’s breathing, it’s focusing our attention are the five principle fundamentals that I talk a lot about. And it’s kind of like John Wooden, the greatest coach in sports history according to ESPN. The first thing that he taught his basketball players, the best of his generation, he wouldn’t let them touch a basketball until he taught them how to put on their socks.
So, for me, everyone wants to do the sexy thing. They don’t want to do the mundane things, but you got to get really, really good at the simple stuff. So, if you’re overconsuming sugar, if you’re overconsuming refined foods, good luck, your insulin’s dysregulated. Your energy isn’t going to be there. Your mitochondrial function isn’t healthy. You won’t show up well in your work or your love.
But there are easy changes there, fundamental things you can do to fundamentally change your life. Moving. We know that if you don’t exercise, you might as well take a depressant. There’s an over/under on the number of steps a day. Sleeping is my number one thing, so that’s my kryptonite. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I am a different human being. Simply adding an hour of sleep to most people’s lives is life-changing. Well, we talk about sleep hygiene, obvious things, but integrate them.
And then breathing is a surprisingly powerful practice. Of all the things I’ve done, regulating my breath and training it every single day in a very precise way has fundamentally changed my life. I mean, I used to be super anxious and afraid of everything as a little boy and young man, etc.
And then focusing. Scientists say if you want to flourish, you have to shine what they call the spotlight of your attention on what you want, when you want, for how long you want. If you can’t do that, you’re going to suffer. So, if you’re constantly splitting your attention via all the different stimuli, you’re going to have a tough time showing up powerfully. So, that’s a fundamental practice that we get into as well.
Hal Elrod: Got it. All right. We have six objectives down.
Brian Johnson: Let’s go.
Hal Elrod: One to go. All of that leads us to our final objective. I’m going to let you say what it is and explain it.
Brian Johnson: Yeah. So, this one is, again, what’s the name of the book? It’s to activate your heroic potential. So, one of the things I like to talk about is if you look at the heroes that I have on my wall behind me now and you look at them and I’ve got some on the top. I was raised Catholic, right? So, I’ve got Jesus on the top left. You can’t see it. Then I got Gandhi, then I got Winston Churchill, I got Mr. Rogers who’s one of my heroes. And I’ve got Eleanor Roosevelt.
Now, Winston Churchill, who’s right about me and Gandhi didn’t even like each other, lived in the same era. They literally didn’t like each other. Winston is a big man. He talks all the time. Gandhi’s is a skinny little dude. They will go days without talking. They didn’t even like each other, yet they’re both heroic and they both have the exact same quality as I see it.
And Gandhi named it. He called it satyagraha, which we translated as nonviolent resistance, but it meant something much deeper. It meant satya and graha. It means truth force or love force or soul force. And the way that he changed the world was to create soul force among his community. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about soul force in his I Have a Dream speech.
Confucius, he’s on that side of my wall, talked about it, and it was the whole point of ancient Chinese philosophy was to create wu-wei, which is effortless right action. It’s not no action. It’s effortlessly doing the right thing moment to moment to moment. In order to create that, you had to cultivate something called de in ancient Chinese, which we translate as moral charisma or soul force. And they were so committed to cultivating it because someone who’s living in integrity with their highest self and with their ideals and doing the things we just discussed in the first six objectives have a moral charisma, a soul force, and they’ve activated what I consider to be our superpowers. And that’s the seventh objective. We’ve got a lot of stuff we talk about in there in terms of how to activate it and how to measure it and how to engage it moment to moment to moment.
Hal Elrod: So, we’re talking activate your superpower.
Brian Johnson: Yep, which I call soul force.
Hal Elrod: And this is to say you may go, I’m just a normal, ordinary, average person, I don’t have a superpower. What would you say to that person?
Brian Johnson: I’d say you’re kidding yourself. When you watch a movie, everyone here can think of their favorite hero’s story, everyone’s got a favorite one. I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Gladiator, Harry Potter series. A good heroic quest has a hero. On a quest, they get a guide, they get buddies, and they find that they have more power than they thought, right? And the reason we are so drawn to them and why all cultures across all time, Joseph Campbell says, the hero with a thousand faces. Every culture has talked about this for one simple reason. That potential exists within every single one of us.
So, what I say is, you want to know who my favorite hero is? Go look in the mirror. It’s you. Like you, the individual who is listening to this or connecting to this, you are the hero we’ve been waiting for. Everyone’s looking outside of themselves, waiting for someone to save them. That’s the victim. We got enough victims in our world. We need to move from the victim to the creator to the hero. And it’s hard work.
But when we embrace, I believe, when we know the ultimate game, which is to activate our ultimate potential in service to something bigger than ourselves, when we know rule number one of that game, that it’s supposed to be hard and we forge antifragile confidence, and then we simplify it all. Big three. Who am I at my best? Energy, work, and love. When am I going to be that? Today. How am I going to do it? I’m going to master myself systematically, structurally, reactively, expansive disciplines. Then I’m going to go deep in my fundamentals, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, focusing, and then boom.
And then I like to talk about it as a formula. So, Eckhart Tolle totally has his power of now, which I love conceptually, but I’m like, “What does that mean? I get it, I’ve learned a lot, but I mean, okay, the power of now, what does that mean?” We have a formula that I unpack in the seventh objective where soul force equals energy focused on what’s important now (to the power of consistency).
So, let’s say that you work your miracle morning. You get yourself more energized than you’ve ever been. And then you’re able to focus that energy on what’s truly important right now. If you can do that, you feel really, really high. And then if you can do that consistently, you’re a completely different person. You’re showing up, in my mind, heroically.
And we do math on it really briefly. Let’s say your energy is 100 versus 1. And let’s say your focus is 100 instead of 1 and let’s say you’re really doing what’s important now. Now, that might be me and you talking right now. It might be me hanging out with my daughter, pushing her in the hammock. That’s important. I’m not looking at my phone. I’m with her. So, it isn’t work. It’s what’s important right now.
But if you can get your energy to 100 and you can get your focus to 100 and you can get it focused on what’s truly important now at 100. 100 times 100 times 100 is a million. Now, if you do that (up to the power), the exponential miser is consistency. You can’t do it once in a while. You can’t go to a weekend event and walk on fire and think your life changed. It didn’t. You have to come back the next day. And if you don’t come back the next day and do it again, you will feel worse than you felt before the weekend because now you tasted it.
Hal Elrod: Now, you know there.
Brian Johnson: Now, you feel, dude. And I felt it, certainly. And I think we all have. And then we feel ashamed. We feel guilty. What’s wrong with me? And what’s wrong with you isn’t you. We weren’t taught properly that it’s hard and you’re going to have to show up every single day moment to moment to moment, where if there’s a gap, you’re going to feel it. Anyway, a million to the power of zero, let’s say you have no consistency. You only do it when you feel like it. If you’re inspired, you do it. But if you’re not, you don’t. That million becomes a 1 when you raise it to the power of zero.
But then you felt the million. And now, you’re at a 1, you’re like, oh, my God. But if you can take the million and you can raise it to the power of 100, you’re incredibly consistent, which is the thing we all have the most power over. We all can choose to show up today in moment to moment. A million to the power of a hundred. I remember when I first did this in my mind, I’m like, what is that?
And I went to Google and I did a little calculator thing. I’m like, trying to figure out where the exponential thing was, right? I’m like, oh, there it is. A million to the power of 100, the answer is infinity. Your power is infinite. All of a sudden, boom, and goosebumps, you’ve activated your superpower. To me, that’s the heroic take on the power of now and how you get to the power of now. You get your energy dialed in. You focus it on what’s truly important now. And you don’t do it once in a while when you feel like it. You do it to the best of your ability all day, every day, especially when you don’t feel like it. And then you’re truly the hero of your story. You’re a model of what’s possible for your family and for your community.
We may never hear about you. That doesn’t matter. But you’re showing up and you know you were doing your best. You’re closing the gap never perfectly, very importantly, but more and more consistently. And then what do you get? You’re a good soul. You experience eudaimonia and you’re flourishing, and you’re serving the world and showing us what’s possible. And that’s the pathway through which, I believe we can change the world again, one person at a time, starting with us today in order to 51, 2051. Let’s go hero is kind of my callsign there.
Hal Elrod: Dude, I am fired up right now, genuinely. I’m so inspired by you, Brian. And that was just masterfully explained. I can tell, you spend some time on this book. It wasn’t one of those write-a-book-in-a-weekend deals. This is who you’ve been for decades and all funneling it into this moment, this book, this interview. I am so excited to read this. I pre-ordered the book the day it came up the other day. Where can people preorder? I got mine on Amazon. Is that the best bought? Or where should they preorder Activate Your Heroic Potential?
Brian Johnson: Yeah, Amazon’s great. So, we are at Barnes & Noble and we will be when we launch in all the other obvious places. But Amazon, Activate Your Heroic Potential, and you can also go to Heroic.us/Book and then you can read the foreword by Phil Stutz who I mentioned. He wrote the foreword and the introduction to the book and see some kind words from different people out there.
But yeah, man, I appreciate you. Our chats are some of my favorites. I get to a level with you that I don’t get too often. So, I really appreciate you and who you are, and the space you hold for us together. So, thank you, and bless you. And day one, let’s go.
Hal Elrod: Amen, brother. Activate Your Heroic Potential, everybody. I’m so excited for this book. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Go to Amazon and preorder it. Go to Heroic.us/Book. You can read the foreword. You can read the introduction and everything and really get your feet wet. And then the book will arrive on your doorstep on November 7th. I can’t wait. Brother, I appreciate you. Thank you for the work that you’re doing, Brian. I love you, man. And I can’t wait to talk again.