“Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.” – Brian Tracy
“More Wisdom in Less Time.” – Brian Johnson
This article is slightly different from what I typically write. Rather than dive into a particular topic or idea, connecting a few of my favorite insights and teachings and exploring how to apply them in practice, I thought it was time to highlight one of my personal favorite resources and teachers. I’ve gotten so much value from him and his team that I realized I couldn’t not share, even though for a long time I’d wanted to create something similar. In many ways, it’s liberating to know how much I can help people, simply by directing them towards work that can have a tremendous impact.
Let’s dive into what this resource is, how I found it, and the strategies I use to get the most out of it.
So Many Things Learn and So Little Time To Learn Them
There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than right now.
With the invention and widespread adaptation of the internet, we’ve gained unprecedented access to knowledge, as well as increased levels of connectivity to people around the planet. Our ability to learn, explore, and create is no longer dictated by the particular family, town, or community we’re born into. While many places of the world remain isolated, we’re quickly moving towards complete connectivity. According to estimates by Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine and author (most recently) of The Inevitable, at current rates of technological adoption, 100% of the planet’s inhabitants will have access to the internet by 2025.1
We carry libraries in our pockets and can access almost the entire collective wisdom of our species in an instant. But, along with this limitless potential for reaching information, comes a sense of overwhelm about just how much there is to be known, and how limited our time is to do it. When this realization first struck me I realized that to have any hope of learning what I wanted to, I had to master the meta-skill of learning how to learn. I studied speed reading, memory optimization, and productivity at Iris Reading, took courses on Learning How to Learn (with Barbara Oakley), Becoming a Superlearner (with Jonathan Levi), and Accelerated Learning (with Tim Ferriss). Mind you, all of this happened several years after graduating from college.
I went from reading a few books in a year to almost a book and a half a week, keeping track of what I’d read and organizing what books were next. I took over 100 online courses from almost every platform available, and used tips from Tim Ferriss and Josh Kaufman to rapidly acquire new skills.
Still, the book list was growing faster than I could read, and I was discovering new courses faster than I could take them. Even as a world-class learner, I was too busy to read and study full time. As president John Adams wrote to his wife so many years ago, “I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough…the more one reads, the more one sees we have to read.”
Enter The Solution: Optimize w/ Brian Johnson
Years ago, several different close friends and mentors pointed me towards Brian Johnson’s Philosophers Notes and Optimal Living 101, and I could not be more grateful. His name may be familiar to long-time readers, as he’s made more than a fair share of appearances on this site.
Brian’s work has become my #1 resource to turn to, and one of the only incoming streams of information that I haven’t eliminated or reduced. Why? Here are some of the challenges I’ve faced in my continuing education, and how Brian has helped me solve them.
- I want to study many subjects deeply, not just a few. Solution: The notes cover all sorts of disciplines, including books I would never have read on my own. Psychology, personal growth, health, fitness, productivity, leadership, education, philosophy, spirituality, sociology…
- I want to learn from all of the experts, not just one. Solution: The Optimize program is all about channeling the wisdom of others – pulling out the big ideas from the best books, connecting them to other great books, and then taking the absolute best ideas from the lot and sharing them in master classes.
- I want to access material through several different modalities, including audio when on the move. Solution: Each book is broken down into a 6-page pdf, 20-minute mp3, and a 10-minute PNTV episode. The multiple delivery methods also allow me to touch material more than one time, allowing for both interleaving and distributed learning (the spacing out effect) – key strategies for retaining information.
- I want pre-made notes/transcripts/study guides, so that when I’m listening to audio and driving, or walking the dog, I don’t feel the need to stop and take notes, or re-listen later when I’m in front of a computer. Solution: Because I know the pdfs exist, I don’t worry about capturing every single insight or idea when I’m listening to the podcast or PNTV episode.
- Concise and effective use of time. Solution: The entire program is set up to optimize, including the way materials are presented. It’s the 80/20 of learning, continuously integrating the most efficient, research backed study techniques. It definitely lives up to its tagline of “more wisdom in less time.”
In the past 18 months, I’ve “only” read 105 books, but I’ve been able to study and learn from over 246 more with the help of Philosopher’s Notes and Brian’s Optimize membership. And, while I’ve spent over $1300 on digital and physical books during that time, at only $10 a month, the Optimize membership is also a great way to get more wisdom with less money.
I’m not able to read a book every single day, but I can find 15-20 minutes to study a Philosopher’s Note. I get the biggest ideas from some of the best books and end up with actionable insights to use throughout my day, and my life. Then, when I’m on the move and listening to the podcast, I get refreshers on notes I’ve already read, deeper dives and more information through interviews with the authors, and previews of notes I might not have gotten to yet.
“All the great teachers come back to the same basic principles again and again. Brian distils the best Big Ideas into fun, practical classes to help you optimize.”
How To Optimally Approach Optimize w/ Brian Johnson
Like many things, there’s no wrong way to do it as long as you’re doing it. That being said, here are a few of the ways I’m applying efficient learning strategies and productivity techniques to make the most out of more wisdom in less time.
1. Do it with a friend
Having others to talk about the ideas with creates a sense of accountability, and the regular communication can help develop closer relationships. In 2015, my brothers and I agreed to read a note every other day and to have a brief phone call to chat about our favorites every few weeks. In 2016, one of my closest friends and I have been reading one note every weekday, and texting each other with our favorite takeaways and how we are going to apply the insights.
The number one way to increase the amount of information we remember is to practice retrieving it – a.k.a. testing ourselves. After reading a note, I set it aside and ask myself what the big ideas were. What resonated with me? What were my most significant insights? Later in the day, I spend a few minutes writing the name of the note and as many of the big ideas as I can remember in my journal.
When listening to a podcast, as soon as an idea gets mentioned, try to remember (or guess) what the idea is about. When the podcast is over, spend a few minutes reflecting on the biggest insights – or better yet, sharing them with a friend.
3. Spaced-out and Mixed-up
These strategies are built into the program. Notes, podcasts, PNTV episodes, and interviews on the same book are released over time, which is more effective for learning. Additionally, both the notes and classes link to and build on each other, adding another degree of repetition. Connecting multiple ideas helps cement them in your mind, and continuously reviewing books and ideas even months or years laters creates stronger memories.
4. Plan and celebrate.
Decide ahead of time what notes you’re going to read in a given week, and when. I have a spreadsheet (similar to the bookshelf template), which helps me keep track of which notes I have or haven’t read. It also makes it easy to celebrate how many I’ve been able to study!
Let’s Optimize Together
I’m excited to continue optimizing with Brian, accelerating my ongoing education and helping me to integrate the wisdom of so many brilliant teachers in a cool, fun way. As Brian concludes at the end of every podcast, “You have a personal trainer; I’m kind of like your personal philosopher. Ancient wisdom + modern science + common sense + virtue + mastery + fun. That’s what our Optimize membership program is all about. We’d love to have you join us.”
- Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. [↩]