How To Live Intentionally with Brian Johnson


Jonathon: Hey everybody, Jonathon Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Very excited about today’s show because we have an individual whose work I personally have been following for years. He is a great provider of wisdom, and he’s also just a great beacon in the community for bringing people together and celebrating similarities, pursuing the positive and rooting them all in just deep, deep truths, which is something that is rare in this culture.

Sometimes we have hype and marketing and myths, so he’s a good guy. He’s a great guy, and we should all be honored to have him here. His name is Brian Johnson. He is a philosopher and CEO of a great company called en*theos that just creates cool stuff to help people optimize their lives. He’s also the cofounder of the Entheos Academy, PhilosophersNotes, and a word that I’m going to mispronounce, which is like Blisstitations, which he can pronounce correctly in a second. He’s also the author of the lovely book, A Philosopher’s Notes. Brian, welcome to the show, brother.

Brian: Jonathon, thank you. I’m thrilled to be here and looking forward to chatting.

Jonathon: Brian, you have a very unique story and one that I can personally appreciate. Can you tell us how you went from little Brian to big, wise Brian?

Brian: It’s certainly still a work in progress. Yeah, the quick story is blue-collar family, first-generation college student. Went to UCLA, studied psychology and business. Wound up — bounced around doing some consulting at the old Arthur Anderson. Went to law school — that wasn’t it. Dropped out. The only thing I knew I wanted to do was to work with kids. Coach a little league baseball team. I did that. Never would have thought I’d have the idea to create a company serving them. This was in the late ’90s. We created a company called eteamz, which was all about building websites for, like, little league baseball teams, that sort of thing. First dot com boom, super fun, and wound up selling that.

I had enough time to kind of figure out what I really wanted to do when I grew up and decided to study philosophy and became a lover of wisdom and just immersed myself in studying as much as I could. Then started a second business when the cash ran out and had fun building that, and then took another three-plus years off after selling that business to study philosophy.

I’ve kind of gone back and forth between the philosopher and the CEO. I’m just really passionate about understanding optimal living, what the greatest teachers have said across time and what modern science proves. Most importantly, trying to integrate that into my life and embody these ideas and continue to create cool stuff that empowers people to figure out their truths and to live in integrity with it.

Jonathon: Brian, it might sound like a dumb question here. What is philosophy?

Brian: For me, I go to the root of the word, so the Greeks tell us philosophy, two little words, philo (??) and Sophia. The Greeks had three words for love: philo, éros and agápe. Éros is more of the intimate, sensual love. Agápe is kind of a general love of life, and philo is like a brotherly love. It’s in philanthropy, philosophy. Sophia is wisdom, so a philosopher and philosophy is basically loving wisdom. For me, wisdom is knowledge of life, knowledge of how to live properly.

When I discovered that, I thought that was the coolest word ever. Philosopher is a lover of wisdom, someone passionate about understanding how to live optimally. I think it’s just gotten a different brand, if you will, in the 21st century with how we view that. I want to just bring it back and make it more real and make it cool, sexy and fun and smart to love wisdom and engage in it in a powerful way.

Jonathon: Brian, my understanding of philosophy and my personal studies of it, it’s very — I sometimes hate to use this word because it can be overused and misused — but it’s very paradigm centered. It takes a very holistic — it’s looking at a macro-level understanding. It’s teaching principles. We live in a culture that is so fraught with top-7 tips, top-20 quick this, and it’s not going to that core, that deeper philosophy. But it seems like those quick tips are critical for that sexiness. How do we balance that?

Brian: I think that’s a great question. I think one of the bigger challenges, too, is I would add to how philosophy is these days is it’s a bit pedantic. It’s also a bit abstract and theoretical. I think the challenge that I’m most excited about is to make it real and to make it applied. Wisdom is embodied truth. It’s not an intellectualization of something. It’s, “Look, I know this to be true. I’ve read the research. I’ve thought about it and this is true for me, and I’m going to live that truth.” To me, that’s the essence of philosophy, and then that can be wrapped in deep, rigorous, pure, reviewed research, and it can be translated into the kind of fun, more wisdom in less time stuff that I like to do with PhilosophersNotes and all the other stuff.

I think ultimately, for me, it’s closing the gap between theory and practice and realizing that theory is the rudimentary stuff, and the practice is the advanced stuff.

Jonathon: Such a critical point, Brian. A quick personal story. My father is a philosophy professor, and my mother is an English professor. My mother always criticizes my father, because she says philosophy is great, like, it’s all great to talk about Descartes and Kant, but the only people who can read Descartes are like this tiny fraction of the population. It’s like philosophers have all this wisdom, but then they just talk to other philosophers and then no one gets any better.

Brian: I think the old school of stoics said that the great philosopher is the one who helps people live better, to achieve more happiness in their lives. Just having fun applying these ideas as often as we can and moving from, again, the theory and the discussions to true embodied living.

Jonathon: I heard a story one time about the point of studying philosophy. People often joke if you say you studied philosophy in school, you have a degree in philosophy. They’re like, “Well, good luck getting a job.” I heard a story which I love, and I’m curious to get your take on it. It was people who lift weights say they don’t lift weights because they anticipate that one day, they’ll be walking down the street and someone will drop a barbell on their chest, and they’ll need to lift it off. They lift weights because it makes them better at everything else in their life. I tend to see philosophy similarly.

Brian: Absolutely. Amen. Perfectly said, and that’s exactly it. I don’t meditate. I don’t practice choosing empowered thoughts. I don’t practice applying these ideas that we’re all so passionate about. That’s what it’s all about is in our day-to-day lives, to take it and make it real. I think that’s beautiful.

Jonathon: Brian, what are some of your favorite — philosophies is the wrong word — but maybe like one to three teachings or distinctions that when you heard, you would never be the same again.

Brian: I think we’ve been hitting on some of the themes, moving from theory to practice, and true mastery, and that it’s about consistency over intensity. It’s a big distinction for me, and after I sold my first business, I realized that I needed to optimize my health if I wanted to have a shot at living the life that I wanted to live. I studied becoming a trainer, just so I can kind of understand some of these ideas. The biggest distinction I made there was consistency over intensity and just showing up consistently. It’s not about — again, showing up with intensity in a given workout, but doing so consistently.

I just love that idea of, again, theory to practice and how do we embody these ideas is just huge for me. That path of the mastery and being willing to stumble and fall down and get back up and strive to live these truths again and again and again. That’s a huge one for me.

I’m a huge fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the idea of self-reliance. In today’s culture — in his culture, he said it’s heroic to not conform, to trust yourself as your own taskmaster. Everyone will whip you with their displeasure, he says. It’s even more true now. It’s truly a heroic act to put into place the ideas that you’re sharing and are just common sense, as you say, but they’re not common practice.

So, to have the courage to do what we feel and know is right is a huge philosophical distinction that’s easy to take for granted. Those are a couple that have moved me profoundly. We can talk about more, but I’ll check in with that.

Jonathon: I certainly can appreciate those, especially in a world — I think back to maybe the days of some of the classic philosophers like Aristotle and some of my favorites. It seems like maybe there were a lot fewer external influences back then, where if you didn’t have your own philosophy, it’s not like you had the media bombarding you with, let’s say, maybe a philosophy of materialism. While we think of philosophy, we often think of people, old white men in robes. Today, it seems even more important to become a philosopher because if you don’t have a philosophy and a philosophy rooted in true wisdom, you will live someone else’s. Is that fair?

Brian: I think that’s absolutely true. I think that the challenges have existed throughout time. If you read Aurelius and his reminders — the same types of pressures, but I think that, to your point, they’re both accelerated and amplified. Now, it’s just literally crazy how bombarded we are by the various media to live a life that’s primarily focused on the extrinsic motivators that science is unequivocal about. You will be less psychologically stable if you’re going after fame and wealth and hotness, predominantly, versus the intrinsic motivators of autonomy and becoming a better human being and deepening our relationships and making a contribution to your community.

Our society is all about the extrinsic, so to step back long enough and to see am I choosing my life consciously, or am I just being like a puppet by how we’re being conditioned is a huge, heroic step.

Jonathon: Brian, you embody the definition of genius. I’m not just pandering to you here, but you really do embody the definition of genius, because some people define genius as a person who can hold two contradictory ideas in their mind simultaneously and not go crazy — and make sense of that. Certainly, being a philosopher and a CEO is a dichotomy in and of itself, but another dichotomy that I want to get your insight on is, like, you’re in the business of making this deep information accessible to everyone. Please correct me if that’s a misrepresentation. Accessible and applicable to everyone.

At the same time, I know you’re a fan of Dr. Stephen Covey, which I am as well. It’s hard not to be. He talks about the Law of the Farm, where you cannot rush the seed. Once you put it in the soil, it’s going to take time. When it comes to developing a deep, principle-centered philosophy, there are certainly ways to do that intelligently and efficiently, but do you just need to put the time in? How do we balance that?

Brian: Great question, and one we could explore for a weekend. A few things come to mind. Everything you said I think is just absolutely right. I think the game that we’re playing is to prove that embodying these deepest truths is the best possible thing you can do for your business’s bottom line and for your own wellbeing, etc. I think it’s just, the essence of wisdom is patience and maturity and having a long perspective. So much of business these days, particularly online business, is about launches and quick hits and all the latest stuff you can do to kind of game it and all that good stuff. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a yes and. For us, it’s about being principle-driven, as you said, virtues-based, and doing the right thing day-in and day-out and giving that time.

Anytime I feel myself getting impatient, which used to be all the time and now it’s more often than I like, but Epictetus, again, the classic stoic philosopher, he says all great things take time. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer, “There must be time. First, let it blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” That process of allowing things to take their natural course is one that I continue to work on, but I think in a society that wants everything immediately, it’s tough to own that.

For me, all my stress evaporates when I do two things. One, patience. I don’t pretend like I need to have it tomorrow or yesterday. I give it time. Two, I make it about something bigger than myself. If it’s all about me and I’m being super impatient, I’m going to be stressed, but if I can be patient and I can make it about service, serving profoundly and seeing how I can give my gifts and service to the world and how our team can do that and our partners can do that, it’s remarkable. The joy that always is there has an opportunity to come through more consistently and more powerfully, you know?

Jonathon: Absolutely. In the spirit of living a more examined life, what are the three books or notes, because I’m sure you have philosopher’s notes of them, that have most influenced you on this journey?

Brian: Another great question. A couple immediately come to mind. I know that you’re so grounded in evidence-based wisdom with everything you do. One of my favorite books in the kind of science of happiness movement is called The How of Happiness by Sonya Lyubomirsky. Great researcher who, you know, just what do we know scientifically works? I’m a fan of exciting pom-poms and getting all fired up, but I want to see what’s evidence based. She does an extraordinary job with that.

Tal Ben-Shahar taught the most popular class in Harvard’s history, Positive Psychology 101. Wrote a book called Happier. He does the same thing.

So those are two of my favorite books. I love Emerson. We named our son Emerson. His Collective Works deeply inspires me and just kind of that American energy of merging the West with the East and just applying them in such a beautiful way is something that deeply inspires me as well.

Those are a few of my favorites, and I’ve done 180 notes at this point. They’re all tied for the top three. I love them all in different ways, but those are three of my favorites.

Jonathon: I love it, Brian. You talked about living for a purpose — a noble purpose — and leaving a legacy. As just one lover of wisdom to another, I think to myself — because one of my favorite philosophers is Aristotle. For me, it’s hard to beat The Nicomachean Ethics. While it’s not the sexiest book in the world, I read it — you may have had this experience — I’m like, a person wrote this 2000 years ago, and it is like everything else is a Cliff Note compared to it. Like, that was 2000 years ago. Does that ever blow your mind a little bit in this world of technological advancements every second?

Brian: It does, and it’s what you say in your work again and again too. It’s simple. Before we could even count calories — we didn’t even know what they were –people were healthy. You look back at someone like Aristotle and Socrates and that whole kind of Greek movement, the one word that I get out of that work that has transformed my life — it is the essence of everything that I do — is areté, the Greek word for virtue or excellence. They said it’s very simple. If you want happiness, live with areté. Fully express yourself. Be in integrity, so there’s no gap between who you’re capable of being and who you’re actually being. That one word summarizes my work and how I aspire to be more than any other.

Yeah, it’s mind boggling to look back and say how and what. Then it’s just a matter of applying these truths, boiling it down, keeping it simple and making it practical.

Jonathon: Brian, a quick personal story, because that word has a special place in my heart as well. When we were getting ready to launch my first book, The Smarter Science of Slim, my brother, who has an MBA and is much more business savvy than I am, came down to spend some time with me to help. We were doing an exercise where we wanted to write our core values down on a whiteboard. The very first word I said was areté. He just smiles, because my brother and I are very similar. He lifts up his right pant leg, and there tattooed on his ankle is that word. I was just like, that’s crazy.

Brian: Yeah, on my right wrist I have this Sanskrit symbol for the third chakra, which is a representation of your dan tien (??), your self-mastery. Essentially, areté, where your power comes from and are you in integrity. I love it. I love the kinship. As we talked about before, we’re just kind of cut from the same cloth, and amen.

Jonathon: Brian, just one thing to close on here, because we could talk all day. As we’re talking about Aristotle and as we’re talking about the Greeks and as we’re talking about living with wisdom, bettering oneself, sometimes this effort can be misunderstood as selfish. But if we look back to philosophy and we look at, for example, the Aristotelian idea of self-love, we actually see that living this examined life — the life that you and your companies enable — is one of the most selfless things you can do. Can you explain that a little bit?

Brian: First of all, again, amen. In an interview I did with Sonya Lyubomirsky, whom I mentioned, this is — she went to Stanford, PhD, extraordinary teacher. We talked about this. She makes the point that happy people are more selfless. So as you just said, the most selfless thing you can do is to do the little things that help you create more happiness in your life.

Happy people are more successful. They’re more selfless. They’re more service oriented. Again, in our society where we’re so busy, it’s heroic to take the time to check in on whatever your fundamentals are. Mine are meditation and movement and nutrition and rest and gratitude. These simple things that, when done consistently, allow me to show up more powerfully in my life with people whom I love and want to support.

Again, we just need to create the time and have the fundamentals in place. It’s all about the fundamentals. What are the few things that we do that when we’re on, we’re doing these things, and commit 100 percent to doing them consistently. That’s the most selfless thing we can do for our families, our partners, our colleagues, our friends, our communities and the world.

Jonathon: Brian, you are certainly being that change we want to see in the world, so kudos to you. What’s next for you, en*theos and all the other work you have going on?

Brian: We have a great conference coming up called the Calorie Myth. You know, we’re just committed to doing everything we can to empower people to optimize their lives so we can change the world together. That’s our purpose. One of our big things is to empower people in the business of empowering people and to help them amplify their wisdom, stay in their genius zones and just do the work they’re here to do. We take care of a lot of the technology and all that good stuff.

So, that’s exciting, and then our big push — we have two. One is — three actually. The conferences, with yours coming up later this year. We’re creating Facebook-like tools for optimal living. It’s just about optimal living. Let’s talk about these ideas, expand on them, etc. Then the third big thing is our academy. We’re launching an Academy for Optimal Living in the fall. Extraordinary, world-class teachers sharing their wisdom in really simple, 60-minute, live-stream classes on how to optimize your life. We are just thrilled about that and excited to be playing with you on that front as well.

Those are some of the things, and just feel blessed and excited to continue to get the opportunity to grow and serve.

Jonathon: Brian, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been absolutely brilliant.

Brian: Really enjoyed it. Great questions and just great energy. Looking forward to playing together more in the years to come.

Jonathon: I love it. Listeners, again, our guest today is Brian Johnson from the wonderful company en*theos. I don’t want to pander here, but I’ve interacted with a lot of companies and there’s something over at en*theos, because every single person I’ve interacted with is like the most gracious — it’s like a movie. They’re just like gracious and happy. So, whatever they have going on there is working. It’s a bunch of wisdom. It’s a lot of fun, and there’s a massive amount of integrity built into that culture, so check it out over at Entheos.com.

I’m seeing at the bottom of my screen that you can sign up and get three free PhilosophersNotes, so give that a look. Remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, live more wisely and live better. Chat with you soon.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Brian Johnson. In his own words:

A Philosopher’s Notes: On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness, Vol. 1

“Brian leads the team as the Philosopher + CEO of en*theos. He also wrote a little book called “A Philosopher’s Notes”, has a monthly “Big Ideas” column in Experience Life magazine and was featured in the documentary Finding Joe. Plus, he enjoys spooning with his Goddess,Alexandra. In his past lives, Brian raised $8 million to finance the creation of eteamz + Zaadz after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA (where he studied Psychology + Business).

Brian teaches Optimal Living 101 at the Academy.

Favorite Courses at The Academy: Making It Happen + Refine Your Life

Favorite Quote: “I believe that a life of integrity is the most fundamental source of personal worth. I do not agree with the popular success literature that says that self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind set, of attitude—that you can psych yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.” — Stephen Covey”