Areté Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Areté is the ultimate guide to personal development, providing 451 short ideas across 7 disciplines, combined from ancient philosophy, modern science, and the world’s best books, in order to help you become the hero of your own story and achieve your full potential.

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Areté Summary // Areté Book Summary (Brian Johnson)

When I first got into book summaries, I discovered a man named Brian Johnson. He had a website called Optimize.me, and he, too, published book summaries, which he called Philosopher’s Notes. Each note was a PDF with a few pages, offering a highly distilled version of a book with just the right level of detail.

In 2021, he turned Optimize into Heroic, a public benefit corporation, and raised millions via crowdfunding to build a world-class coaching and self-development program. Brian’s goal is to ensure 51% of the human race will flourish by the year 2051 — he even tattooed the goal onto his body!

Another word Brian got a tattoo of is “Areté.” Ancient Greek Stoics would use it to describe what it means to live virtuously, with excellence. To him, it means “being your best self, moment to moment to moment.” For Brian, that includes both being a practitioner and a philosopher, and that’s why his Philosopher’s Notes are also the backbone of his first book: Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.

Here are 3 lessons from this 1,000-page tome to help you unlock your potential:

  1. The “Big 3” to optimize for Areté are energy, work, and love.
  2. Keep practicing the fundamentals even after you succeed.
  3. If you maintain your habits, your “Soul Force” will carry you through the tough times.

Let’s learn how to live with Areté!

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Lesson 1: Optimizing your energy, work, and love will get you 80% of the way to Areté.

451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper bursts into flames. That’s why Johnson’s book comes in 451 short chapters — each one adds 1º to our potential-thermostat, until we ignite! While the book covers 7 areas, from theory to confidence to productivity advice, discipline, consistency, and perseverance, “The Big 3” is the most distinct one.

Having pored over self-help books since he was a teenager, Johnson eventually combined multiple ideas from Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, and Sigmund Freud to arrive at a manageable formula for fulfilling his potential: energy, work, and love.

  1. Energy comes from the Greek words “en ergon,” which means “in work,” and without it, we can’t do our jobs nor show up for the people we love.
  2. Work is about the high-quality results we produce, which rests on two factors, according to Cal Newport’s Deep Work: time spent and intensity of focus.
  3. Love is a growing force of kindness that starts with and inside us, then ripples out to family, friends, and even strangers.

To begin optimizing the Big 3, start with some simple questions, Brian suggests: “What’s the #1 thing you already know you could be doing to dial in your Energy?[…] What’s the #1 thing you already know you could STOP doing that would most powerfully boost your Energy?”

For your work, you can block time and distractions, but also treat yourself kindly when you fail. “Needs work” is a better criticism than “This is useless.” And love can start with simple hand gestures, as Brian makes with his children, like squeezing each other’s hand or pulling out a few rock’n’roll salutes you “found” in your pocket.

The road to Areté is a long journey. Start small, but start with the Big 3.

Lesson 2: Never forget the fundamentals, even long after you’ve leveled up.

In Raise Your Game, high-performance basketball coach Alan Stein tells the story of when he shadowed the late Kobe Bryant. His first shock came when Bryant said he’d work out at 4, to which Stein replied they already had something else scheduled that afternoon. “I know,” Bryant said. “I work out at 4 AM.”

Having peeled himself out of bed at this ungodly hour, Stein found Bryant already drenched in sweat at 4 AM. For 45 minutes, he watched the world’s best basketball player do the most basic drills. Ball-handling. Footwork. Offensive moves. Bryant did it all. “Granted, he did everything with surgical precision and superhero intensity,” Stein writes, “but the stuff he was doing was so simple. I couldn’t believe it.”

Of course, when he asked Bryant why he bothered, the latter’s answer came with a smile: “Why do you think I’m the best player in the game? Because I never get bored with the basics.”

I’ve been a writer for a decade, but I still publish a short daily blog every day. It’s rarely perfect but always necessary. Success may come to those who work hard, but it only stays with those who continue to “dominate the fundamentals,” as Brian calls it when he relates Kobe’s story.

No matter how far you go in this life, please: Never forget the basics.

Lesson 3: When the going gets tough, your “Soul Force” will keep you going — as long as you stick to your routines.

Brian loves finding inspiration in language, and so did Mahatma Gandhi. When he opposed the British Empire, he dubbed his movement “satyagraha.” Combined from “sat” and “graha,” it blends “being” or “truth” with “polite insistence” or “force.”

The determination of our being. To Johnson, that’s our “Soul Force,” and it’s what Gandhi tapped into whenever the going got tough on his Salt March and other activities. In fact, “mahatma” means “great soul,” and Gandhi’s Soul Force might be one of the main reasons he carried that title.

How do you nurture and rely on your Soul Force? For example by sticking to your guns when the world turns against you, as Johnson illustrates with the story of Sean Casey, a Major League baseball batter and coach.

While playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Sean started the season with a .400 batting average, a really high standard. Then, he struck out 12 times in a row when called to the mat. When Casey called his coach and told him he was 0 for 12, his coach only asked if he was sticking to his protocols. “Yes! Of course. I’m doing exactly what we’ve talked about,” Casey said. His coach asked: “Then why are you calling me? Quit looking at the results and keep on dominating your protocol.”

As long as you’re sticking to the routines and habits you know are working, the world will always come back to you. Finding the patience and keeping your faith, that’s Soul Force, and that’s the one thing that will keep working even when everything else doesn’t.

Maintain your Soul Force, and perhaps one day, we’ll call you, too, “mahatma” — a great soul.

Areté Review

Areté is a positive, exciting, optimistic tour de force through the world of self-help. If you’re a beginner and want to catch up on many concepts quickly or want someone enthusiastic to guide you, Brian Johnson is your guy. The book also works well if you just randomly flick to a different chapter each day. Always the right dose of insight and motivation, this one is definitely a thumbs up!

Who would I recommend our Areté summary to?

The 17-year-old dancer who wants to be like the hero in her favorite movies, the 28-year-old new discoverer of self-help, and anyone who’d like a kindhearted kick in the butt from a spirited coach.

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!