Optimize Your Life: An Epic Handbook for Modern-Day Heroes
So, you want to optimize your life? This post will help you do exactly that. Here’s how it happened for Sporty and I.
The start of November is a tricky time of year for me.
It’s when I reflect on the past 10 months and come to the sobering realisation that I haven’t achieved anything.
January’s lofty goals and resolutions are long gone. Most of the time I can’t even remember what they were. Rather than doubling down and making the most of the last two months, I use my failure as an excuse to coast.
I’ll start fresh in the new year, I reason with myself, as I slouch lower on the couch. Kindle and family-size bag of snacks ready at hand.
Before I know it, it’s March and I haven’t done a thing to improve my life, let alone optimize it. I want to say I’m exaggerating, but sadly, I’m not.
In December, 2020 Optimize Coach pitched up on my radar. As a longtime fan and follower of Brian Johnson, I immediately sat up and took notice.
I read the reviews and watched videos of happy participants raving about the year they’d just had. I immediately signed up to learn more.
The program was classic Brian Johnson. Epic. All in.
It sounded amazing. It sounded like exactly what I needed to jolt me from the decade-long slumber I’d been in.
The $1000* price tag made my eyes water. Not because I thought it was too expensive, but because the exchange rate coupled with the fact that I hadn’t earned much in the last year made it prohibitive.
They’ve temporarily reduced the price to $300 (and you can bring a friend).
When I received a follow-up email alerting me to the registration deadline, I responded, “Thanks, this looks awesome, maybe next year.”
They countered with, “We can offer you a scholarship!”
That was a little over 300 days ago (January 2 to be precise).
Sporty and I subsequently joined Optimize Coach Class IV and embarked on a journey to optimize our lives. (Sporty joined unofficially, so we’ll be redoing the program as paid members early in 2022.)
Yeah, it’s that good.
An Epic Handbook for Modern-Day Heroes
This handbook is the result of the last 10 months. As with life, it’s a work in progress. We came away from the 300-day program with our heads packed with wisdom. Now it’s time to make the transition from librarian to warrior.
We’ve been practicing what we’ve learnt throughout the year, but now that we’ve graduated the stakes are that much higher. We have to lead ourselves. Hence the handbook.
Brian and his team could have given us a manual with everything they taught us, but they know that the chances of us actually using it are minimal. Instead, they encouraged us to write our own manual.
That way, we’d include the information most relevant to us and our current situation. More importantly, we’d actually be inclined to refer back to these nuggets of wisdom and implement them in our lives on a daily basis.
Introduction to the Handbook
Based on their recommendation, I wrote three drafts from memory before arriving at this iteration. Although I can refer back to the notes online as well as the ones I took over the course of the program, I purposefully chose not to do that.
I wanted to let my higher self guide me. (I wanted to get out of my own way.)
There is way, way, way, way more to Optimize Coach than what’s outlined below. But, it’s what’s important for me right now.
These are the things I need to remember, work on, implement, reflect on, etc. In 3-6 months I’ll revisit my notes and see if there’s anything I’d like to add or change.
Keen to optimize your life? Feel free to draw on my learnings and be sure to sign up for your own Optimize Lifetime Membership, too. It’s 100% free. No credit card required. No strings attached. Nothing.
That’s like a win/win to the power of infinity.
One more thing before we dive into the handbook. It’s packed with references to books, tools and tips. I’ve done some explaining, but if you want to know more about something you can find it on the Optimize platform.
I told you it’s free, right!?
Brian’s body of work (Philosopher Notes, +1s, Master Classes, etc.) is vast. Simply do a search for whatever’s piqued your interest and you’ll find everything you’re looking for (and more).
1. Flip the Switch – Hi Optimus!
Optimus is the Latin word for ‘the best’. In Optimize Coach we’re invited to give our best self a name. Brian’s is Optimus, Head Coach Michael’s is TK (I forget what it means), mine is Awesome Ang and Sporty’s is Sas de Sena (she’s a Joe de Sena groupie).
What will yours be?
Your best self is the version of you that you’re most proud of, the one who makes all the right choices. The one who shows up and does what they say they’ll do.
Flipping the switch is a physical and mental invocation to invite your best self to take the reins. You can do it anytime, anywhere, but if you’re able to, flipping the switch from a Superman stance works best.
Stand up straight. Put your hands on your hips. Smile. Breathe: in through the nose, deep into the belly and exhale through the nose, slightly longer than the inhale. Repeat a couple of times.
Say: Hi Optimus. <- – – or whatever your name is.
You’ll feel a subtle but distinct shift in mindset. The person who wants to lounge on the couch with Oreos will recede into the background and Optimus will lead the way.
Usually not to the couch.
Pro tip: this isn’t a one time thing. You need to invite Optimus to the party constantly in the beginning. But as you get better at listening to and taking direction from your best self, you’ll find you have to call on them less. They’ll just show up of their own accord.
Eventually Oreo You will stop trying to entice you with evil thoughts!
Start your day by flipping the switch. The minute your feet hit the ground in the morning, put your hands on your hips and invite Optimus to the party.
Cape optional. Fluffy slippers are fine, too.
–>> Today is the Day
Tomorrow and Monday won’t get you anywhere. Today is the day. Make the right choice today. Do the right thing today.
You know the saying: Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?
I used to say: Why put off until tomorrow what you can do next week.
Yeah, that’s not a great approach when you’re trying to live your best life.
It’s also a good reminder that life is precious. Let’s not squander our time when we could be out there making an impact in the world.
2. #1 Self-Care Habit
In her book No Sweat, Michelle Segar encourages us to identify our #1 self-care habit. The one thing that, when we do it, pretty much guarantees an awesome day. And when we don’t, results in a not so great day.
While we all have one overarching self-care habit, we also have others that come really close. For me, the order goes like this:
Sleep >> Meditate >> Move
If I have a good night’s sleep followed by a 30 minute meditation and an hour of exercise, I’ve won the day before it’s even started.
Spoiler: knowing doesn’t automatically mean doing. We’re human, we fall short of our ideals time and again. Whenever I notice my energy levels waning or my mood dipping, I look to those three things.
Invariably, I’ve let one or all of them fall by the wayside. The trick is to notice and immediately get back on the self-care horse.
Take the time to figure out your #1 self-care habit and see how it improves your life.
Pro tip: Sleep is everyone’s #1 self-care habit. More on sleep below.
3. Consistency on the Fundamentals
The loftier your goals and dreams are, the more consistent and dialled in you must be on your fundamentals. As Brian likes to point out (I’m paraphrasing here): If you have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, good luck making a success of your day.
We humans love focusing on the big stuff, forgetting that it’s the mundane stuff, the moment to moment choices and actions, that lead to ultimate success.
In Optimize Coach they break the fundamentals down into seven categories, each is as important as the other. However, sleep is the most important.
Spoiler: that’s not an invitation to snooze until midday. There’s strong evidence pointing to the fact that too much sleep is as detrimental to your health as too little. Sorry not sorry.
Success is all about consistency around the fundamentals. —Robin Sharma
–>> Fundamental #1: Eating
No matter what dietary lifestyle you prescribe to (vegan, keto, flexitarian, etc.) there are three rules we all need to follow to maintain optimal health.
Rule #1: Quit drinking your sugar
Soda is obviously a no-brainer, but fruit juice isn’t any better. Stop drinking it. Stick to water and vegetable juice. And, if you’re like Sporty and I, coffee.
Seriously though, this one thing has the potential to greatly improve your overall health and wellbeing. Take a look at Mark Hyman’s Food Fix for a more detailed look at this idea.
Rule #2: Eat Real Food, Not Factory-Farmed or Processed Junk
Make a point of reading the label. If you don’t recognise one or more of the ingredients, don’t buy it. As much as possible, stick to the produce section of the supermarket and you’ll be fine.
If you do eat animal products, go for the ethical options. Wild caught, free range and grass fed are all hints that what you’re buying didn’t originate in a factory.
Avoid ‘factory’ oils like soybean, canola, safflower and corn. Make olive oil your go-to oil. Avocado is also a great option.
Rule #3 Introduce an Eating Sunset
Most of us eat way too close to bedtime and then wonder why we don’t sleep well or wake up feeling exhausted. Make sure you give your body enough time to digest your last meal before you hit the hay. Your body has a lot to do while you’re sleeping, don’t distract it with digestion requests.
Eating two hours prior to bedtime is a good start. Four hours is the gold standard. Sporty and I are hitting between two and three and we can definitely feel the difference.
We also try to leave a window of 14-17 hours before our next meal. Sporty manages 16 fairly consistently and 17 occasionally, while I generally manage around 15 hours before the need for breakfast overcomes me.
I’m a smoothie-holic.
–>> Fundamental #2: Moving
Exercise is good for the body and the soul. According to Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, “a bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.”
But, as important as it is, exercise alone isn’t enough. We need to incorporate movement throughout our day. Set a timer to go off every 20-25 minutes and get up and do something.
You could do some burpees or sun salutes if you feel like it, but even if you just get up out of your chair and walk around for a few minutes, you’ll be doing your body a huge favour.
–>> Fundamental #3: Sleeping
There are people who claim they can get by on less than the recommended 7-9 hours of shut eye a night. The majority of us can’t, so that’s probably you, too.
Sleep isn’t just an important pillar, it’s the very foundation upon which our health rests. Don’t underestimate its importance. Your body is hard at work cleaning while you’re lying there. Prioritising sleep is the best gift you can give yourself.
–>> Fundamental #4: Breathing
Humans have a tendency to breathe through the mouth. We’ve got a nose that does a great job of filtering the air we breathe, yet we don’t make nearly enough use of it.
Take notice and you’ll find that your mouth is open a lot of the time. Close it. Keep your tongue tucked (gently) behind your front teeth. This stops you from breathing through your mouth even when it’s open.
The goal is to breathe through your nose all of the time, even during exercise. When you’re just starting out you’ll find this challenging. Keep at it, you’ll get better.
Start taking notice of the people around you. You’ll see open mouths wherever you look. The older you get, the worse it becomes. Get into the habit of breathing through your nose now.
There’s a lot more to breathing correctly than that though. Check out The Breathing Cure by Patrick McKeown for a more in-depth look at this under appreciated bodily function.
–>> Fundamental #5: Focusing
We’re encouraged to multitask in the workplace, but all we’re really doing is task-switching. This results in neither task being done well.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport (the guy who got me to quit social media) says one of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare.
Master the ability to focus without distraction (i.e. no email, social media, text messages, talking to anyone, etc.) on a cognitively demanding task for an extended period of time and you’ll achieve extraordinary results.
–>> Fundamental #6: Prospering
Prosper means to go forward with hope. Hope has three keys: goals + agency + pathways.
You have a goal (or goals) you’re striving towards.
You have agency (the belief you have what it takes to achieve those goals).
You have multiple pathways to get there.
It’s important to remember that humans are teleological. Happy people have projects. And, happy, hopeful people have goals and a future they’re excited about.
In his early research on hope, Rick Snyder found that thinking about multiple pathways to a goal is a core skill of hopeful people. It is also one that can be taught. —Shane J. Lopez, PhD
–>> Fundamental #7: Celebrating
We don’t celebrate ourselves nearly enough.
In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg tells us: “If you learn just one thing from my entire book, I hope it’s this: Celebrate your tiny successes. This one small shift in your life can have a massive impact even when you feel there is no way up or out of your situation. Celebration can be your lifeline.”
And: “If there’s one concept from my book I hope you embrace, it’s this: People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”
Celebrating makes us feel good about our progress, but more than that, it helps bake in the good habits we’re working on. At the end of a run Sporty and I will high five and say, “Yes! That’s like us!”
That small celebratory act releases a little bit of dopamine, which lets our respective brains know we should do more of that. It feels a little silly initially, but it works. Give it a try!
4. AM & PM Bookends
You can’t always predict how your day will pan out. Life has a habit of happening to us, despite our best laid plans. However, the two areas we have the most control are our mornings and evenings.
By making the most of these AM and PM bookends you set yourself up to win your day before it’s even started.
–>> AM Bookend
Pre-input wins – decide on one thing energy, work and love wise that you want to accomplish before you open yourself up to other people’s inputs i.e. email, news, social media, etc.
Mine often look something like this:
- Energy: run + 50 burpees + 10 min on the rebounder
- Work: 1 x deep work time block to write a blog post draft
- Love: walk/coffee one on one time with Sporty
–>> PM Bookend
Aim for a hard shutdown at the end of the day. Your brain needs time to cool off after the day’s work. Make a ritual out of it. Prepare for the following day by cleaning up your workspace and outlining our tasks and then close your laptop and say: Shutdown complete!
When you’re done you’re done. Don’t go back to your phone or laptop after dinner and check email. Work can wait until tomorrow.
A digital sunset essentially means shutting down electronics at least 1-2 hours before bed so the blue light effect from your devices has time to dissipate before you go to sleep.
If you’ve got a TV in the bedroom, remove it asap. And definitely don’t lie in bed staring at your phone or iPad. If you enjoy reading in bed, a Kindle Paperwhite or old school books are your best options if you want a good night’s sleep.
It’s important to remember that your PM bookend counts twice. It’ll guarantee a good night of sleep, which in turn means a great next day because you’ll wake up feeling rested.
5. Antifragile Confidence
The notion of antifragility comes from Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile. In it he explains the difference between being fragile, being resilient and being what he calls ANTIfragile.
Here’s how Brian summed it up for us in Optimize Coach:
If you’re fragile and life hits you hard, you break.
If you’re resilient and life hits you hard, you withstand more and… eventually… you break.
If you’re ANTIFRAGILE, when life hits you hard you actually get stronger.
Think about that.
The more you get kicked around and challenged by life, the S T R O N G E R you get.
As Nassim reminds us: “A wind extinguishes a candle but fuels a fire.”
Don’t shy away from life’s challenges. Follow Joseph Campbell’s advice and say yes to it all.
The warrior’s approach is to say “yes” to life: “yes” to it all. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
6. The Equanimity Game
When life knocks you down (as it will on occasion), play the equanimity game. See how fast you can recover and get back up.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself: “When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”
Playing the Equaminity Game kept Sporty and I sane during our stay in a small town where life had fun tossing challenges at us.
–>> Thank you Stoic Gods!
Whatever happens, we try to remember these words: Thank you Stoic Gods for the opportunity to practice my philosophy.
Thank you Stoic Gods when we spill coffee all over the kitchen counter and floor.
Thank you Stoic Gods when we run into unexpected traffic.
Thank you Stoic Gods when our wifi stops working.
I won’t say we are always gracious enough to do this, but more often than not we manage to keep our composure and laugh about whatever has happened.
–>> OMMS – Obstacles Make Me Stronger
Instead of saying woe is me, we say OMMS! Obstacles make me stronger.
If I’m struggling on a run or while doing burpees I’ll remind myself of this wisdom.
–>> Emotional Stamina
Emotional stamina is the ability to show up regardless. The worse I feel, the more committed I am. If you can develop emotional stamina your life will improve dramatically.
Me? I’m still working on this one. Some days are better than others.
–>> Suck Don’t Skip
So often we don’t feel like doing the very thing we know will make us feel better, like meditating or exercising, and so we just don’t do it. That approach obviously doesn’t serve us.
A better approach is to just do it even if you suck. Maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re not feeling at your energetic best, so what. Suck, but don’t skip.
Keep the streak alive!
–>> Mood Follows Action
This one’s a biggie. As someone who’s struggled with mood swings for a long time, I’d often wake up feeling anxious or depressed and just lie in bed wallowing.
All that did was make me even more anxious and depressed. Now I remind myself that mood follows action. No matter how deep in the doldrums my mood is, I get up and meditate and go for a run.
Not once have I come back without having improved my mood. Make no mistake, it’s not easy to convince yourself to get up when you’re feeling depressed, but it’s the best thing you can do.
Plus, over time it gets easier because you’ll come to realise how well it works.
–>> Never Waste a Good Fiasco
Joseph Campbell tells us that on the hero’s journey there’s always the possibility of a fiasco. But, he’s quick to remind us that there’s also the possibility of bliss.
If you’re human you’ll encounter many fiascos as you move from cradle to grave.
The trick is to follow Michael Hyatt’s advice and never waste a good fiasco. Use them as fuel for growth. Thank the Stoic Gods for the opportunity to practice your philosophy.
7. Algorithms + Willpower
Instead of relying on willpower, use algorithms to install habits that run on autopilot. Brian calls this tapping into our built in AI (Ancient Intelligence).
Habit stacking is a great way to install a new habit. Add the new habit onto an existing one. For example, after I brush my teeth, then I do 10 minutes on the rebounder.
The trick with willpower is to play offence, not defence. An example of this is to buy your willpower at the store.
If you know you’ll eat the whole box of Oreos, don’t buy them in the first place. If they’re not in the house you won’t be tempted to eat them.
Remember to celebrate when you do something you said you’d do (like rebounding in the evening)!
8. Embody Your Virtues
Embody the virtues you want to be remembered for. On the Optimize virtue compass, we have wisdom, self-mastery, courage, love, hope, gratitude, curiosity and zest.
I run through each of those virtues in my morning meditation, asking God to help me embody them.
It’s also a great time to think about my core virtues: kindness, humour, gratitude, forgiveness and honesty. Find out yours by doing the VIA Character Strength survey.
Pro tip: They don’t stay the same, so try and take the survey at least once a year.
Another practice is to reflect on the virtues I’d most like to focus on in my journal each morning. Keeps things front of mind for me.
Pro tip: Journalling is super useful, but it’s not everyone’s cup of green tea. If that’s you, you’re going to love the Heroic app.
9. Tools (and Tips) to Make Life Easier
Optimize Coach is packed with wisdom. It’s easy to get overwhelmed (but in a good way). I originally had each of these as its own section and Sporty quickly pointed out that it might scare potential Optimizers off.
She had a point. On reviewing the table of contents even I felt overwhelmed by the length of it. To minimise that, I’ve shared the bare bones of these tools and tips.
It’s my handbook after all. Ha!
If anything grabs your interest, simply hop on over to Optimize and do a search for whatever it is you’re interested in learning more about.
–>> Targeted Thinking
If ever I feel overwhelmed or unhappy about my current situation, I practice targeted thinking. It’s a simple but powerful two-part process.
- What do I want?
- Now what needs to be done?
Essentially, it’s a way of moving from victim (this shouldn’t have happened, etc.) to creator (it sucks, but let’s see what we can do to fix it).
In Rethinking Positive Thinking, Gabriele Oettingen introduces us to WOOP, a science-based mental strategy that people can use to find and fulfill their wishes, set preferences, and change their habits.
- W >> Wish
- O >> Outcome
- O >> Obstacles
- P >> Plan
WOOPing something helps you remember your ‘why’ and alerts you to potential pitfalls along the way. It’s a SUPER handy tool.
–>> Win or Learn
With this approach, failure isn’t an option. You either win or you learn, which is still winning.
–>> There Are No Perfect Human Beings
We humans are so hung up on perfection. It’s time to let that go and embody Abe’s wisdom on the subject.
There are no perfect human beings! Persons can be found who are good, very good indeed, in fact, great. There do in fact exist creators, seers, sages, saints, shakers, and movers…even if they are uncommon and do not come by the dozen. And yet these very same people can at times be boring, irritating, petulant, selfish, angry, or depressed. To avoid disillusionment with human nature, we must first give up our illusions about it. —Abraham Maslow
–>> Use a Flashlight, Not a Sledgehammer
Along with letting go of the pursuit for perfection, we need to learn the art of self-compassion. When we fall short the tendency is to beat ourselves up for our perceived failure.
A better, more help approach is to practice self-compassion. Notice where you fell short, figure out how to do better next time and move on.
–>> You’re Never Exonerated – It’s Always Day 1
While we may consistently improve, we’ll never reach a point when we’re done. Unless we’re dead there’ll still be work to do.
That’s a gift rather than a curse. It’s exciting to think that we’ll always be learning and growing, getting better and better as we go.
To loosely quote Tal Ben Star, our ideals are more like guiding stars than distant shores.
–>> There is No ‘The’ Way
We each have to find our own way in the world. We can look to others for guidance, but ultimately we must take responsibility for ourselves.
Be boldly idiosyncratic. Don’t be afraid to walk your own path.
You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. —Friedrich Nietzsche
–>> DWYSYWD – Do What You Say You Will Do
The simple act of honouring your commitments builds trust in yourself and in the eyes of others. You’re someone who can be relied upon.
10. Some Latin (and a Little Sanskrit) Wisdom
We also learnt some Latin (and a little Sanskrit) on our journey to optimize every aspect of our lives. These are some of my faves.
–>> Mudita: The Antidote to Envy
Mudita is a Sanskrit term that means “to delight in the good fortunes or the accomplishments of others.’
Interestingly, it has no counterpart in English. The Germans, however, have a word for its opposite: schadenfreude. Satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.
While it’s obvious that we shouldn’t engage in schadenfreude, it can be easy to fall prey to envy. The advent of social media has made comparing ourselves to others even easier to do.
It’s not healthy. I’ve certainly made a habit of this in the past. The tendency is still there, but now whenever I notice that I’m doing it I follow Brian’s advice and sprinkle a little mudita on the person or situation.
It’s an instant fix. Give it a try if you’re also prone to envy or unreasonable comparisons (and they’re always unreasonable).
–>> Carpe Punctum – Seize the Moment
You can’t seize the day, only moments. In each new moment strive to be better and do better than the one before.
–>> Carpe Diem – Seize the Day
That being said, there’s no reason you can’t strive to seize the day. Acing your AM and PM bookends is a good way to get started. Throw in some pre-input wins and a few deep work time blocks and who knows. Maybe you will seize the day after all.
–>> Amor Fati – Love of Fate
Say yes to everything life brings you – the good, the bad, the meh…say yes to it all. Practicing acceptance makes life easier and a whole lot more fun.
That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
–>> Deo Volente – God Willing
This serves as a reminder to always practice acceptance. Goals are important (humans are teleological after all), but we must not be attached to the outcome. We must aim, shoot straight and then accept our fate.
Byron Katie echoes this wisdom in her great book Loving What Is.
Letters used to be signed “Deo volente”—God willing. Because who knew what would happen? —Ryan Holiday
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels
Optimize Your Life for Free
If any of this resonates, go ahead and join Optimize. It’s 100% free and contains everything they teach in Optimize Coach and more.
While Sporty and I both highly recommend the program, we also get that not everyone can afford to join. With Optimize you have everything at your disposal to improve every aspect of your life without spending a cent.
Start there and see what you think before shelling out any of your hard earned dollars (or ZAR, as the case may be). You can always join Optimize Coach at a later stage.
If you love what Optimize is about and want to level up your personal growth even further, go ahead and sign up to become a Heroic founding member.
Heroic is social training platform built to change the world by helping you be the best, most Heroic version of yourself. They’re releasing the app in April 2022 at a cost of $70 per year.
If you sign up now you get a 50% discount. $35 for everything it includes (we’ve seen iterations of the prototype as it’s being built and it’s AWESOME!) is crazy good value for money.
That all being said, Optimize alone has everything you need to become the very best version of you and it doesn’t cost a cent. Optimize Coach and Heroic are like icing on an already delicious cake.
Ready to optimize your life?