Are we approaching life with zest or avoiding it? Is our real goal hoping to avoid challenge and failure? Put another way: do we see obstacles as threats or as challenges to get better?

This week we’re looking at some of the lessons from Brian Johnson’s Optimize course. The big idea for today is: happy people are open to life’s experiences. Brian encourages us to adopt a playful attitude towards life.

Instead of: win or lose, we can think: win or… learn. Doing so allows us to approach our mistakes with curiosity. We are scientists wearing lab coats running experiments, looking for data on what works and what doesn’t, and what we can modify to be more successful. Not everything we do is going to work out beautifully. In fact, few things will… at first. But each time we stumble, we learn. We improve. We get better.

Turns out how we view things makes a huge difference. Like stress. In her book The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal shares compelling research that if we think stress is harmful, it is. Instead, we can choose to see stress and stressful events as giving us energy to meet life’s challenges.

To act this way requires courage, which Aristotle tells us is the most important of all human virtues. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s feeling the fear… and then getting on with it. Doing what needs to be done.

Brian gives us some strategies to access our courage. Ask: What’s important now? What needs to get done? Stand up straight. Breathe deeply. Then say: “Bring it on!”

Interesting science: the research shows in stressful situations when we say, “I’m excited” we perform significantly better than when we tell ourselves to “relax.”

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