Activate Your Potential with Brian Johnson

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“I have my highs and my lows, but my highs are higher. My lows are higher. And I have a pretty good sense of what I did to go from there to here.”

— Brian Johnson

I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Johnson, the Founder & CEO of Heroic Public Benefit Corporation and the author of Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential. He’s 50% Philosopher + 50% CEO, and 101% committed to helping create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by 2051.

We discuss: 

  • The core of Areté and why reading ideas is not enough
  • Using social technology as a positive force
  • Recognizing the discomfort of longing for our best selves

The core of Areté and why reading ideas is not enough 

The core of Areté and why reading ideas is not enough 

Areté is a Greek word that, when directly translated into English, would mean virtue or excellence. However, in Greek, it means to be one's best self from moment to moment. 

“If there's a gap between who you're capable of being and who you're actually being, it's in that gap that regret, anxiety, disillusionment, and depression exist,” Brian says. “When you close that gap—when you live with Areté—you express the best version of yourself, you feel a deep sense of joy and meaning and purpose.”

The Greeks called that deep sense of purpose Eudaimonia, and that is a large part of what Brian aims to help others achieve through his book, community, and programs.

“We have a Heroic Coach Certification program that 10,000 people have gone through,” he says. “Sonja Lybomirsky, the great well-being researcher, researched our program. She said it's the most profound results she's seen in 35 years of research.”

Those results are directly tied to the seven-step process and 451 best practices in Brian’s book and throughout the program. These best practices are distilled from ancient wisdom and supported by modern science, designed to move people from theory into practice and help them step into their potential. 

“Operationalizing hope is a big part of my work. You’ve got to see a better future. You’ve got to believe you can create it, and you need to have a concrete plan and a willingness to evolve that plan,” Brian continues. 

Each of us are heroes in the making. We are the change the world needs. To meet that calling, we must reach for our highest potential.

One of the fastest ways to improve ourselves and our lives is by joining a community with high standards, and that is what The Heroic App was made for.

Using social technology as a positive force

Using social technology as a positive force

If you’re a parent or interested in the psychology of tech, you’ve likely seen or heard of the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and how social media hacks our brains and leverages attention economics. 

From rising self-harm and suicide rates in teens—specifically young girls and women—to loss of civility, the unintended consequences of social media continue to wreak havoc. 

Brian, armed with The Heroic App and mountains of research and proven results, aims to change that narrative and create a social network that uses the same brain sciences to activate someone’s potential instead of breeding insecurity and unrest. 

“Heroic, ultimately, is an answer to The Social Dilemma, using the absolute best of social and persuasive technology,” he explains. “We want the phone to be a cue, a trigger, a prompt to be your best, most virtuous self, via the social and training components that we're talking about.”

Technology is like fire. Fire isn’t good or bad, it’s neutral. The impact of that fire depends on what we do with it. Are we going to light a lantern to guide our way, or are we going to burn down the forest with a careless match? 

“We need to be mindful and make sure that we're using the technology rather than being used by that technology,” he continues.

That practice becomes much more manageable when we’re held accountable by a community just as dedicated to being their best selves as we are.

Recognizing the discomfort of longing for our best selves

Recognizing the discomfort of longing for our best selves

We’ve all seen at least one superhero film—the capes, the lasers, the soaring rescues, and dramatic explosions. The fantastical, larger-than-life depictions of what it means to be a hero. 

But underneath all those heroes is one simple idea: That one person can make a difference. We all have that call for adventure and impact inside us, whether we acknowledge it or not. 

“There is a gap between who you're capable of being and who you're actually being— you're gonna feel a certain level of angst, a certain level of despair even, and that's not a bad thing. That's a sign that you have capacities clamoring to be used,” Brian says, referencing Abraham Maslow, inventor of the Maslow Hierarchy of needs.

Being uncomfortable is a signal that something is missing, that we’re not doing what we’re meant to be doing. That type of discomfort is good. It means we have work to do.

The Heroic App and Brian’s book are designed to help us do that work and get results. 

“My life's work is: here's how to do the work in order to activate your heroic potential and your soul force,” he continues. 

Brian knows what it feels like to be in the depths of despair. He grew up with an alcoholic father who eventually drank himself to death—Brian jokes he lost the environmental and genetic lotteries. He can joke about it now, but 25 years ago, he wanted to end his own life. 

Those times are behind him now, and that is in no small part due to the same practices he teaches today.

“Your physiology is driving your psychology a lot more than you may think. How you eat, how you move your body, and how you sleep is affecting your psychology a lot. I encourage people to control the controllables,” he says.

Giving ourselves a solid foundation to build on only helps us in the pursuit of activating our potential. You can’t start an engine on an empty tank—give yourself the fuel you need and get to work.

A quick exercise for recognizing first steps

Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. In the upper left corner write “Do” and in the upper right corner write “Don’t.” 

Think of yourself at your best—the most enriching, fulfilling moments in your memory. What did you do? How were you eating? What were your routines like? Where were you?

Make your list of do’s based on what you remember, and then do the same for the don’ts—what were some times you weren’t at your best? What were you doing at those times? 

Take a good look at both lists, and you should have an idea of where to start.

Has there been a time you’ve glimpsed your potential? What have you done to develop your best self?

Be sure to check out Brian’s full episode for further insight into activating your potential and learn more at!