Priming Ourselves for the Day Ahead

Our goal?

To create “masterpiece days.”

This week we’ve looked at the importance of our morning and evening routines, what philosopher Brian Johnson calls our AM and PM bookends.  I’m currently enrolled in Brian’s year-long Optimize Mastery program which has been an incredible learning opportunity.  

One of the key elements of Brian’s AM bookend is meditation.  We aim to practice “paying attention to our attention.”  We begin by focusing on our breath.  When we become aware of our mind wandering, we patiently and persistently return our attention back to our breath.  Again.  And again.

Our ability to focus our attention allows us to be more present moment-to-moment in our lives.  When we meditate, we cultivate our ability to insert ourselves into the space between stimulus and response. Between what happens to us and how we respond. Rather than react, we get better at being able to choose our response.  

This is a game-changer.

Brian tells us the goal with meditation is not perfection.  His message: Do it, don’t judge it.  He tells us: “It’s okay to suck.  It’s not okay to skip.”

Today we will look at a slight variation on the standard mindfulness meditation practice Brian calls the “virtue meditation or prayer.”  This meditation is all about priming ourselves for the day ahead, which is my goal for my morning routine.

The virtue meditation or prayer combines Plato’s four Cardinal Virtues with four additional virtues from positive psychology.

The idea is to say the virtue on our in-breath and the definition on our out-breath.

1: God, please grant me the wisdom…  to know the game I’m playing and play it well

2: God, please grant me the self-mastery… to play that game well today

3: God, please grant me the courage…  to be willing to act in the presence of fear.

4: God, please grant me the love…  to be present and engaged and connected and encouraging today

5: God, please grant me the hope…  to know my future will be better than my present because I am willing to do whatever it takes to make it so

6: God please grant me the gratitude…  to celebrate the Blessings I have in my life today

7:  God please grant me the curiosity…  to be open-minded and see what’s working and what needs work

8: God please grant me the zest…  to have the energy to show up most powerfully in my work and love today.

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Reflection:  Consider the benefits of meditation, and specifically Brian Johnson’s virtue meditation.

Action:  Try it tomorrow morning.

Why Love, Work, and Energy are the Three Areas on which to Focus

This week we are exploring what it means to be heroic.  

This is the key learning from Brian Johnson’s year-long Optimize Mastery class.  Brian tells us our highest goal as human beings is to flourish.

How do we do that?

By living virtuously.  By expressing the best version of ourselves moment by moment.

Specifically, Brian recommends we focus on three areas of our lives: love, work, and energy.  

According to Freud, if we do work and love well, we will be happy.  

Brian suggests we add energy to Freud’s list because it is the fuel for everything we do.  Physiology drives psychology.  Of all the virtues, Brian tells us zest is most aligned with flourishing.

We begin by reflecting how we show up when we are at our absolute best in each area – energy, love, and work.  

We look backwards and forward.  

When in the past were we at our absolute best with energy?  With love?  With work?   

Next, we look to the future and envision the absolute best version of ourselves in each of these areas.

Tomorrow we will explore how to take these best versions of ourselves to create masterpiece days.

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Reflection:  When in the past was I at my absolute best regarding love, work, and energy?  Imagine five years from today: Envision the absolute best version of myself in each area.   

Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.

Our Secret Weapon 

What is the one question to ask to help us to turn things around?

According to Brian Johnson, this question is our secret weapon.  He calls it the hero’s wand because it has the power to transform bad situations into something good.

What do I want?

Asking this question moves us from victim to creator.  We ask: If I could wave a wand at this challenge, what would I like to happen?   What is the desired outcome? 

An alternate version of this question is: What am I here to learn?  

It’s not win or lose.

It’s win or learn.

Instead of catastrophizing the situation, Brian writes, we alchemize it.  Doing so transforms the challenge we are facing into kindling for the hero’s fire.

A key part of Brian Johnson’s year-long Optimize Mastery course is learning to ask questions.  Of ourselves.  And others.  

Brian shares three questions to ask ourselves (as well as our teams) after any significant occurrence:

What was awesome?

What needs work?

How can I optimize it for the future?

These questions are part of the Active Learning Cycle.  Danny Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within, calls this cycle “the Infinite Curriculum” because it never stops.

1. We have an experience.

2. We reflect on that experience.

3. We decide to take action.

Which leads to another experience… about which we reflect… and then we decide to take action… and so on…

Better questions = Better result.

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Reflection:  What challenge am I facing?  

Action:  Ask: What is it I want?

How to be a Hero

When we feel our worst…

When things are not going our way…  

When life seems too much…

Instead of giving in…, 

We get more committed.

That’s called heroic stamina, Brian Johnson tell us.

The worse we feel, the more committed we are to flourishing, to expressing the best version of ourselves.

Brian calls this lesson the most important part of the work to be done in his year-long Optimize Mastery online class.

How do we do it?  

We ask ourselves: What would the best version of me do right now?

We cultivate our heroic presence.  We show up with intensity.  We practice our philosophy moment by moment.  Feelings follow behaviors.  The sublime comes through the mundane. 

We train like our lives are at stake.

Because they are.

“Obstacles make me stronger.”

This is my favorite of Brian’s heroic mantras.  These are tools of the mind.  We say: “Bring it on,” not “Make it go away.” 

As Optimizers, we aim to comfortable being uncomfortable.  We know we have infinite potential on the other side of our comfort zone.

We realize the only thing within control is our ability to choose our response.  The heroic question is: What’s the best possible response right now?

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Reflection:  When I’m on, what do I do?

Action:  At least once today, intentionally close the gap between how I’m currently showing up and the best version of myself.

Are We Playing the Wrong Game?

On the side of a bus is a big advertisement emblazoned with the word “Freedom!”

It’s an ad for a local casino.

Society is selling us the wrong form of happiness, Brian Johnson remarks in his year-long Optimize Mastery course.  

Brian quotes the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” 

The science shows us too many of these quick pleasures lead to sadness and depression.

It’s a choice between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: doing something to earn a reward like fame, wealth, and “hotness” vs. doing something because it’s personally rewarding to us – improving relationships, finding ways to make an authentic contribution to the world

Hercules was given the choice to experience the joys of life without any work at all or to engage life fully, with the knowledge that there would be hardship and struggles to overcome. 

He chose virtue over vice.  

The hero is willing to do the hard work to make difference in the world.

That’s us, too.

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Reflection:  Are there areas of my life where I am playing “the wrong game.”

Action:  Ask: am I willing to take action to minimize or eliminate these forces from my life?

Discovering Our Unique Character Strengths

Yesterday, we explored the idea of human flourishing by living with virtue.  Today we are going to take a deeper look into the concept of virtues.

In Brian Johnson’s year-long course Optimize Mastery course, he challenges us to consider universal virtues and to discover our unique virtues.      

One tool to help us discover our unique virtues or character strengths is to take a short survey on the viacharacter.org website.  

Brian also does a nice job of synthesizing the universal virtues.  

He starts with Plato’s four Cardinal virtues:

1: wisdom: the ability to discern the appropriate course of action in any situation 

2: courage: the ability to confront fear

3: temperance: the practice of self-mastery, having self-control

4: justice: the Greek word meaning righteousness; not just treating others fairly, but love

The positive psychologists add two additional virtues:

5: Transcendence: a connection to the larger world; sense of purpose 

6: Humanity: interpersonal strength that helps one befriend others and tend to relationships 

Positive psychologists then expanded their list of six virtues into a total 24 sub-virtues. 

From this list, Brian keys in on four primary virtues:

1: Wisdom: May I know the game I’m playing and may I know how to play it well

2: Self-mastery: May I play the game well today

3: Courage – May I act in the presence of fear

4: Love: May I be kind, generous, present, and encouraging.

He then adds four additional virtues which are most correlated with human flourishing:

5: Hope: May I believe the future will be better than the present because I will do whatever it takes to make it so

6: Gratitude: May I deeply appreciate… everything

7: Curiosity: May I see what’s working and what needs work

8: Zest: May I be energized to give the world all I’ve got

Compass:

Wisdom

Hope        Gratitude

Courage                    Love

Zest            Curiosity

Self-Mastery

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Reflection:  Which virtues best describe how I am at my best?

Action:  Identify my five signature character strengths at viacharacter.org.

Today Started Last Night?

So far this week we’ve covered getting up an hour earlier to experience a “Miracle Morning.”    

Terrific.  That’s step #1.

But – will we be energized and ready to go?  

Today started lasted night, says Brian Johnson, creator of the Optimize Mastery program, year-long learning program I’m currently participating in (and loving!).  

In other words, the choices we make tonight will determine our level of energy and focus tomorrow morning.  

To create a “masterpiece life,” Brian tells us, we begin by creating “masterpiece days.” And, the key to creating masterpiece days is focusing on the parts of our day around where we have maximum control: the beginning and end of the day – what he calls the AM and PM bookends.

Today we are focusing on the PM bookend. We’ll cover three big ideas. Suggestion: see these ideas as giving yourself a gift. Not a chore to be done.

1: Get a good night’s sleep. Brian argues sleep is not just a pillar of health, it is the foundation on which all the other pillars rest.  

The sleep researchers tell us we need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Not time in bed. Time asleep. So, if we are going to get up at 6 am, we need to be in bed around 10 pm. [Note: I’m a night owl and this is a clear area of opportunity to me.]

2: Digital sunset. Brian uses the metaphor of a snow globe. Stimulating ourselves (shaking the snow globe) by watching Netflix or answering email up until the moment we fall asleep will directly impact the amount and quality of our sleep. The solution: turn off all devices (aka digital sunset) one hour before bedtime.

3: Shutdown complete. The idea here is to create a bright line between our work day and time with family and friends. Brian suggests having a specific time (5 pm? 6 pm?) when our work day is over. Hard stop. He suggests ritual zing it. When the clock hits the appointed hour, power off our computer and say “shutdown complete” and work no more until the following morning.    

Lots of benefits here. Knowing we have a hard stop will naturally increase the intensity with which we work. 

We also will be more present with the people we care about. In their book 5 Gears, authors Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram outline five different modes: recharge, connect, social, task, and focus. They argue being intentional about recognizing what the moment calls for and fully embracing that mode is the key to happiness and success.  

When we are working – work!  When we are playing – play!  Trying to do both at the same time is the road to burn out and ineffectiveness.

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Reflection: Do I want more definition between my personal and professional lives?

Action: Experiment with a digital sunset one hour before I go to sleep tonight.