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Brian Johnson, philosopher, founder and CEO, has spent the better part of the last 20 years studying ancient wisdom and the modern science that supports it. His new book, Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential, partners that wisdom with the practices that help people integrate it into their daily lives. 

Described as “more wisdom in less time,” Areté is a collection of 451 potentially life changing ideas, presented in easy-to-digest microchapters. The book mirrors Brian’s popular online app,, a self-development platform that helps us become the heroes we are meant to be.

In this episode, Brian Johnson speaks with Sean Fargo about what it means to be a hero, and why Areté is the culmination of his life’s work. 

This podcast is brought to you by the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program. Learn more about this unique, online, self-paced certification program at

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • Why it’s urgent we become our own heroes
  • What Areté means and why it’s relevant today
  • How the 7 objectives framework helps us 
  • Why intrinsic motivators are the true key to happiness
  • What it means to have antifragile confidence
  • How to activate your own heroic superpower
  • Why love is the hero’s primary virtue

Show Notes:

The urgent need for more wisdom in less time

We are the heroes we’ve been waiting for, and we cannot wait any longer. Brian describes his new book Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential as intense, and for good reason. Dividing the book into 451 microchapters was intentional, as 451 Fahrenheit is the temperature required to ignite a fire. It is an activation energy point.  

“I literally had Joseph Campbell's admonition from Sri Ramakrishna in mind, ‘Do not approach enlightenment unless you approach enlightenment like a man or woman approaches a pond whose hair is on fire.’ We need to show up with a grounded, but an intensity. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, the challenges we face culturally I think are historically significant, and it’s time for us to step up and be our best selves. We’re the hero we’ve been waiting for and I think that takes a certain level of grounded intensity and activation of that divine potential within each of us. And for me, to use the Eastern idea, it’s a bodhisattvic vow, to be your best self in service to something bigger than yourself.” 

Areté as a guiding principle for life optimization

Although he has studied hundreds of philosophies, Stoicism is Brian’s preferred flavor of wisdom. According to Brian, if asked ‘How can I live a good, noble life?’ the ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, would have replied with one word: Areté. Brian translates Areté as virtue or excellence, but it also has a deeper meaning.

“The way I like to frame it up is, if you are capable of being this - drawing a line at my eye height - and you’re actually being this - a foot below that- and there’s a gap between who you could have been in the moment, your most enlightened self or however you want to frame it up, and who you actually were, it’s in that gap in which regret, anxiety and disillusionment exist. If you can close that gap, there's no room for that negative stuff. In that moment you feel a deep sense of what the Greeks would call eudaimonia, good soul. You can call it whatever you want, joy, bliss, rapture, enlightenment. In the moment in which you’ve expressed the best version of yourself, I would say you are heroic, but the way you do that is you live with Areté.” 

Categorizing wisdom into 7 primary objectives 

Areté is organized into seven primary objectives, distilled from over 600 books and discourses including the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Dao de Jing, The Analects of Confucius, and others. Brian and his team created the 7 objectives framework to help people relate to this wisdom in a common sense manner that centers on practice and allows for idiosyncratic expression of these truths. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of is people of all faith traditions seeing us as a vehicle and a means through which they can be their best selves. But the 7 objectives were just how I, and our team, tried to map it out so it logically cohered and it built on itself and made sense and allowed you to move from theory, to practice to mastery.” 

The first objective of Areté: Know the ultimate game

Areté’s first objective, to know the ultimate game, speaks to what the wisdom traditions point to as the foundation of all our suffering, our mistaken belief about what actually leads to happiness. We live in a culture that has us thinking that wealth, fame or physical youth and beauty are the answer. Both ancient wisdom and modern science, however, point to intrinsic motivators such as being a good person or making a positive impact on the world as the true path to happiness. 

“That in itself is life changing for a lot of people because they realize, ‘Oh shoot, David Brook’s Second Mountain. I got to the top of my first mountain, I achieved all the external success metrics and I’m not happy. Why is that?’ Because you can't measure your happiness on Instagram followers and square footage in your house and initials after your name. You gotta focus on the intrinsic stuff.” 

The second objective: Forge antifragile confidence

Many of us have been taught that if we find life challenging, difficult or painful, there must be something wrong with us. Yet ancient wisdom tells us that life on earth is never without challenge. Further, at our core, we are not flawed, but ever powerful. Brian adapted the phrase “antifragile confidence” to reflect the unshakable sense of non-egoic pride that arises when we practice meeting our experience as the best version of ourselves. 

“Antifragile confidence is a phrase I adapted from my coach Phil Stutz. The basic idea is you gotta know who you are at your best, what practices you engage in, from mindfulness, meditation, self-compassion, and eating, moving, sleeping, breathing - these very basic fundamentals that lead to a good life - you need to know what those are, we call it your protocol. And then you need to do it consistently, especially on the days you don’t feel like it. [...] That’s how you cultivate antifragile, not fragile or resilient, you get stronger the more you get hit, and confidence. Etymologically, confidence means intense trust. And you can only build intense trust in any relationship if you do what you say you will do.”

The seventh objective: Activate your superpower

The invitation to activate your superpower is a playful way to say that you’re the hero you’ve been waiting for. Brian calls this superpower “soul force.” The concept is rooted in Gandhi's call for satyagraha, or “firmness in a good cause.” If each of us took personal responsibility for activating our soul force, together, we would be the change that changes the world.  

“All those heroes on my wall, all of your favorite heroes, all of our favorite heroes have one thing in common, a sense of palpable moral charisma or soul force, and that’s what we all have latent within us. When we all live in integrity with our own idiosyncratic truths, we have this ineffable power, that moral charisma, the soul force that Gandhi and MLK believed was how you change the world and so do I. So my entire life’s work is that. Activating your soul force such that we can each, together, be the change and change the world together.” 

Love as the hero’s ultimate virtue

In addition to the 7 objectives, Areté presents a list of virtues. These are the virtues of the hero, the bodhisattva, the protector, all words for the one who takes personal responsibility for caring for all others.

“The idea is four cardinal virtues, wisdom, discipline, love and courage, and then modern science has five virtues that they’ve discovered are most highly correlated with your well-being and flourishing which include open gratitude, curiosity, zest and love again. So love is twice. The hero’s secret weapon is love.”

Additional Resources:

Brian Johnson

About Brian Johnson:

Brian Johnson is the Founder & CEO of Heroic Public Benefit Corporation and the author of Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential. Part philosopher, the CEO is committed to helping create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051. 

Bryan has raised over $25 million, made crowdfunding history, and built and sold two social platforms. His social training platform,, integrates ancient wisdom, modern science, and world-class, scientifically proven behavioral design tools to help people show up as the best, most Heroic version of themselves.

He has helped millions of people from around the world, trained over 10,000 Heroic Coaches from more than 115 countries and has created a protocol that research shows changes lives. 

Brian lives outside of Austin, Texas, with his wife, Alexandra, and their two kids.

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