Here are 20 Big Ideas that I picked up and wrote down as I assisted my dude Brian Johnson in teaching his latest course, Optimal Living 101: How to Set Goals That Actually Make You Happy.

If you dig, he has weekly calls and monthly classes that cost next to nothing as part of his All-You-Can-Optimize Plan!

Big Ideas #1-10: The High Level Overview

1. Pick Goals That Will Actually Make You Happy. A lot of times we fall into the trap of going after the *external* markers of success. But we need to pay attention to what the scientists say: happiness precedes success! In other words, happy people succeed. So we need to logically figure out which goals will actually boost our happiness! Then we’re gonna let success become a byproduct. BAM!

2. What NOT to Do: Go After *Extrinsic* Goals. We need to understand that our society is backwards when it comes to goals. It tells us to chase fame, wealth, and hotness. But we scientifically know that if we’re going after those goals that we’ll be less physiologically stable (even if we’re succeeding!). *Intrinsic* goals are the ones that actually lead to happiness. So we want to pursue things like personal growth, making a contribution, and investing in deep social relationships.

3. #1 Key to Happiness is Cultivating Attention. We want to be able to put our attention where we want it. How can you start controlling your attention? Meditation! Not only does it change your attention, it changes your DNA and genetic code. And while we’re at it, let’s choose optimism! Anytime you’re faced with a challenge, just ask yourself: “What’s the most empowering way I can respond to this?”

4. Building Willpower. It out-predicts IQ by a factor of 2 in determining academic success. The good news is: when we build willpower in one area of our life, it helps ALL areas. The *great* news is: it’s super easy to boost our willpower. The most efficient way we can do this is by slowing down our breathing to 4-6 breaths per minute!

5. Exercise. The science is unequivocal that if we want happiness in our life, we *need* to exercise. If you think you’re too busy to exercise, that’s the perfect reason *to* exercise. We’ve gotta take time to sharpen our swords. And remember, Harvard positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar tells us that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant pill. That’s hard to swallow!

6. Put Virtues Into Action. The underpinning of the entire positive psychology movement is to put our strengths into action! A great way to do that? Take the Authentic Happiness Signature Strengths test and start using your top 5 strengths. A great way to be fulfilled? Use those strengths on a daily basis in *service* to something other than yourself!

7. The Happiness Archetype. We’ve gotta deal with ambivalence around our goals. Quick overview of the 4 archetypes:

  • Rat-Racer: Positive relationship to the future, but negative relationship to the present. (It’s all about being happy when we reach this, that, and the next goal.)
  • Hedonist: Negative relationship to the future, but positive relationship to the present. (It’s all about as much pleasure as possible right now.)
  • Nhialist: Negative relationship to the present and the future. (It’s all about how much life sucks).
  • Happy Person: Positive relationship to the present and to the future. (It’s all about setting meaningful/inspiring goals *and* enjoying the process of achieving them.)

8. Happiness Rituals. If you study great performers, they have a certain set of practices that they always engage in. What we wanna do is create a set of positive rituals which lead us to be happy consistently. Call these your happiness rituals, your fundamentals, or your Bissiplines.

9. Vertical Coherence. Think of the biggest and highest goal you have for your life. Then think about your next and most immediate goal. We want those two goals (and every goal in between) to be in alignment with each other. Make sense? A great way to get clear on your highest goal is…

10. The Ultimate Goal. Steven Covey tells us to begin with the end in mind. The gist: Think about being on your deathbed – what will you want to have done with your life? What would you like people to say about you? How would you want your loved ones to remember you? If you want to be remembered as a compassionate, generous, and loving person, what are you doing right now?

Another exercise that can help us get clear on our values is called The 5 Wishes exercise. Back to your deathbed – do you have any regrets? Is there anything you wish you had done? What 5 wishes would you have for your life? What would you regret if you didn’t do it?

Big Ideas #11-20: More Goal Goodness

11. Best Selves Diary. Imagine your ideal life 5 years from now. Basically, if every possible thing went as well as it could possibly go, what would your life look like? Write it down and journal about it. You’ve heard of the devil’s advocate, right? Well, we’re wanna call on our angel’s advocate! Science shows this help us boost our optimism!

12. Dynamic Tension. There’s a tension between your ideal reality and your current reality. We wanna create stretch goals that will help us stretch like a rubber band toward our ideal reality. Now, we don’t wanna make them too challenging, or we’ll snap, but we do want to feel into the dynamic tension and s-t-r-e-t-c-h!

13. Mental Contrasting. The science of goals is pretty clear. It says we wanna be confident that we can succeed but also expect to face challenges. So, visualize yourself succeeding, and then imagine *the steps* you’ll need to take (+ the challenges that you’ll have to overcome) in order to get there.  Let’s put this into play: Know the ideal outcome that you wanna achieve in 2013? Contrast that with your current reality.  Picture the challenges that’ll get in your way. We want to be *realistically* optimistic. Believe it will be challenging *and* that you can do it!

14. Roles and Goals. This is a simple yet Big Idea: Identify your primary roles in your life. For example: Brian’s primary roles are philosopher, CEO, dad, husband, and energized human being. What are *your* top 5 roles? Once we know those, we can set goals specific to each role.

15. S.M.A.R.T. Goals. We want to set specific, measurable, action-oriented, reasonable, time-oriented goals.

  • Specific: Get clear on who, what, where, why, when, etc…
  • Measurable: How will you know when you’ve achieved this goal?
  • Action-Oriented: What actions will you need to take to rock this?
  • Reasonable: Is this goal challenging but possible?
  • Time-Oriented: What is the time-frame in which you’ll achieve this?

16. Creative Production Goals. Most people spend their time thinking about the outcomes they want to achieve but not too much time on what they need to create in order to get there. Once we figure out our roles, we wanna set creative production goals. Here’s an example of some of Brian’s in his role of philosopher: become a better teacher by interviewing 100 world-class people, teach at least a class a week, and record 250 videos. Let the business outcome come as a byproduct of an obsession to service. So, how can *you* serve?

17. Highest Goal. Our highest goal is a simple one. Basically, from moment to moment, how can we express the highest version of ourselves?

18. Being VS Bling. Are you going after *bling* goals (like the extrinsic ones we talked about in #2) or are you focused on who you wanna be as a person (like we talked about in #10)? If you’re confused about what to do in 2013, make your goals about improving who you are!

19. Make the Material Bounty a Byproduct. That’s right. We wanna make the material rewards come as a byproduct of our commitment to rocking these ideas.

20. Growth Mindset. There are 2 different mindsets we can live from.

  • Fixed Mindset – Implies that people can’t change. In turn, we’re really hard on ourselves and everything we do is a measure of if we’re a “good enough” human being.
  • Growth mindset – Implies that we *can* change (which is true!). We know we’re gonna make mistakes and fall short yet we still go for it. The process becomes much more playful and life becomes an experiment.

Next steps!

  1. Head over to the Authentic Happiness site and take the test to find out what your signature strengths are. (This image will help you find the test.) Then, use these to help you align your 2013 goals with what already comes naturally to you. Scientists tell us that people who stick with their strengths are the happiest!
  2. When you’ve got some goals figured for the year ahead, let us know what they are in the comments!

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