Matt: Today we have another awesome guest on the show, James Swanwick. James is an Australian-American entrepreneur, former Sports Center anchor on ESPN, and the host of the James Swanwick Show podcast. He is the creator of the 30-day no alcohol challenge, which helps people reduce or quit alcohol, and creator of blue-blocking glasses Swannies, which improve your sleep. Forbes magazine voted him one of the top 25 networking experts. James has interviewed celebrities, including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. James, welcome to The Science of Success.
James: Matt, so awesome to be here! Let’s do it!
Matt: Well, we’re very excited to have you on the show. So, for listeners who may not be familiar with you, can you kind of start out and tell us a little bit about you and your story?
James: Yeah. Well, I am Australian. I’m from Brisbane, Australia, and I moved to the U.S. in 2003, so I’ve been here about 16 years now. I started off as a newspaper journalist, started off right out of high school when I was 17, did that for six years, moved over to London, became a sports reporter for Sky Sports, did something really stupid and fell in love with a British woman who broke my heart, Matt. That was pretty awful. So, I was so heartbroken I said, “I’ve got to get out of this country.” So, I said, “You know what? I’m just going to go to America.” I got on a plane, I flew into Los Angeles Airport, didn’t really know if I was going to go left or right out of the airport, ended up living in a hostel for 90 days, the Hermosa Beach Hostel, and then started interviewing movie stars. I just phoned Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Fox, and said, “Hey, I want to interview movie stars. How do I do it?” One of the movie studios called me back, was Sony Pictures, and said, “Yeah, I’ll tell you how to do it.” And then two weeks later, I was interviewing Jack Nicholson in the Armitage Hotel in Beverley Hills. He was promoting that Adam Sandler movie Anger Management. And then two weeks later I interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger for Terminator 3, and then I built a whole business around it. Lost a lot of money in 2008, 2009 when the financial crisis hit, quit alcohol in 2010, and now I create these blue light blocking glasses which help people sleep as well as, you know, the 30-day no alcohol challenge, which helps people reduce or quit alcohol. That’s pretty much my story, yeah.
Matt: Very exciting. Well, you obviously have a very diverse background. One of the things, as you mentioned, with Swannies is you’re an expert in sleep and how to help people get better sleep. I feel like sleep’s often very misunderstood. What do you typically see are some of the common reasons that people don’t get a good night’s sleep?
James: Well, the main reason today, in 2016, as we’re recording this, is the overuse of electronics. So, we have people sitting in bed at nighttime with the lights off checking their Instagram or their email or their Facebook, or they’re sitting at nighttime watching a TV show or they’re on their computer working late at night. Now, every single electronic display... Well, not every single one, but most of them, they admit this blue light, and blue light is why you can see the screen on your computer, why you can see the screen on your iPhone, or whatever smartphone you have. The problem is that that blue light at nighttime suppresses your body’s creation of the hormone melatonin, and melatonin is what we humans need to be able to prepare for sleep, fall asleep, and go into that deep, restorative sleep. So, the biggest problem I see today is there’s too much night at night. We’re looking at car lights, street lights, kitchen lights, bedside table lamps, and then we’re looking at our smartphone and our computer and our iPads and our TV screens, and that is harming our ability to sleep well.
Matt: And I think I’m definitely guilty of that. I look at my smartphone before I go to sleep pretty much every night, just kind of sitting in bed, whether it’s checking Instagram or whatever it might be. I’m curious. Melatonin’s obviously a critical part of getting a good night’s sleep. Can you talk a little bit about why that is the case?
James: Yeah. Well, melatonin is basically your body’s natural hormone which makes you sleepy, and then it enables you to get into that deep restorative sleep. So, if you think back to cavemen days, back before we invented the lightbulb, so think about it. When the sun goes down, what would happen? The cavemen would start to get sleepy. They’d sit around a fire and then they’d go to sleep. But now, as soon as we invented that lightbulb 100 or so years ago, all of a sudden now we’re sitting in this night light all the time, which is suppressing our melatonin. So, naturally, our body wants to go to sleep when the sun goes down, but, in today’s modern world, we’re sitting in light for four, five hours, and it’s just preventing our body from naturally creating melatonin. Now, you may still be able to fall asleep quickly even looking at an electronic device or being out in light or underneath your kitchen light, but unfortunately, your body takes 90 minutes to start producing melatonin, which means you need to trick your body and your brain into thinking that it’s nighttime, which is why if you were a pair of blue light-blocking glasses like the ones that I’ve created, or you use f.lux, the app on your computer, or you just don’t look at your electronics 90 minutes before you go to sleep and you don’t sit underneath these fluorescent lights, then your body can start creating melatonin, you start to get sleepy, you go into that deep REM restorative sleep, you spend longer in that REM sleep, and then that way you wake up feeling refreshed and energized and clear-headed.
Matt: So, have you ever taken melatonin supplements or do you know if those are effective or not?
James: You know what? I have. I have a good friend of mine called Ben Greenfield, who’s one of America’s top personal trainers and health experts, and he told me that melatonin, like taking a whole bunch of melatonin, isn’t actually the best thing for you. You’re actually better off taking more magnesium than you are melatonin. So, I always bow to his good judgment on that. I can tell you this. When my sleep was not great, I tried everything. I mean, I was trying Xanax and Valium, all these prescription pills, and yes, it knocks you out and you go to sleep, but the side effects of those things are just awful. So, to answer your question, a little bit of melatonin is fine, but melatonin supplements in actual fact are not as effective than if you just take a supplement with a little bit of melatonin in it. So, too much can actually have an adverse effect.
Matt: Very interesting. I was just curious about that because I’ve seen before sleep strips and that sort of thing that are made out of melatonin. You put them on your tongue and you’re supposed to fall asleep. So, I’m curious. How many hours a night do you sleep?
James: I always get between, at the least amount, seven hours, and most of the nighttime it’s about eight, eight and a half hours. So, everyone is different, they say generally speaking if everyone gets eight hours of quality sleep, you’re going to be healthy, or that’s as healthy as you can be. You know, I met Arnold Schwarzenegger at his home about four weeks ago in Los Angeles, and I was talking to him about his sleep. He only sleeps six hours a night. He said that he goes to sleep at ten p.m. every night and he wakes up at four a.m. every morning, goes and does a workout, comes back, rides his bike, and then he starts the day, and then he says that he has a little 15-minute powernap at mid-afternoon. So, some people only need six hours. He says, “You know what? I only need six hours. That’s good enough for me.” I’m like, “Okay. That’s good enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger, that’s fine.” But, for the most part, eight hours is what our bodies need to repair itself, and for me, it’s anywhere between seven and eight and a half hours.
Matt: I’m always curious about that, because I feel like there’s sort of an ongoing debate between people who say you’re more effective if you spend the time and get high-quality sleep versus the people who say, you know, sleep is for the weak and you can sleep when you’re dead and I’m going to sleep for four or five hours a night.
James: Well, look. Everyone is different, and people who say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” probably don’t realize that they’re actually causing a lot of damage to themselves for the most part, generally speaking. Like I said, it’s important to really always use the disclaimer that everybody is different. You should sleep as much as your body needs. Some people need ten hours. Some people can get by just on six hours. But if someone’s all bravado and showing off and going, “Yeah, I only need four hours sleep a night. I’m so clever,” well, I would question that. I would look at what is that costing you. Like, you might be having four hours sleep a night and thinking that you’re okay, but your body is not. It’s possible that your body is not able to restore itself. Because what is sleep, Matt? I’ll tell you what sleep is. It’s your body restoring itself. It means you’ve used up glucose in your brain throughout the day, you’re thinking, you’re working. You need to sleep to repair and build back up those glucose levels in your brain. You go to the gym, you’re walking, you’re exercising, you’re lifting weights. Well, what is sleep? Sleep is where your body restores the broken muscles, or it replenishes your body from the exercise or the exertion that you put it through. So, the duration of time, the longer that you can sleep and the longer that it’s deep REM sleep, as opposed to just broken sleep, the more your body’s going to be able to repair itself.
Matt: And, you know, I’m definitely in the camp as well. I try to get seven or eight at least hours of sleep a night, and there’s a lot of research as well, kind of on the cognitive side, in terms of the negative impact of lack of sleep and the long-term importance to things like creativity, memory function, et cetera, when you don’t get enough sleep.
James: Yeah. I mean, you think about it. If your sleep isn’t great and you wake up feeling tired and irritable, then maybe you snap at your kids or your friends or your boss or your colleagues, and maybe because you snap at your friends and your colleagues, then your relationships are suffering. And when your relationships are suffering, you find refuge in food or alcohol. And when you find refuge in food and alcohol to make yourself feel better, you start to put on a few more pounds. And when you start to put on a few more pounds, your self-confidence goes. And when your self-confidence goes, you start to stay up a little bit later, eating crappy food, trying to make things work, and then you don’t sleep as well, because now you’re stressed. And because you don’t sleep as well, you wake up feeling tired and lethargic the next day. So, people don’t really understand how critical sleep is. If you’re waking up feeling tired, irritable, lethargic, maybe it’s because you’ve been using your electronics too much at nighttime, maybe it’s because you’re stressed, that just has this spin-off effect that can just perpetuate over time. And I’ll tell you the main thing...well, not the main thing, but one of the things that it does do to you, a lack of sleep. It really harms your looks. You get so much better looking when you sleep. In fact, they did this study that said people who don’t get enough sleep have 45% more wrinkles in their face from people who slept perfectly. They did a study in the U.K. And what is your skin? Your skin is your outward nervous system, right? So, whatever’s going on inside your body, you wear on your skin. So, if you’ve got wrinkles, you’ve got bags under your eyes, you know, a lot of times it’s just to do with poor quality of sleep.
Matt: So, aside from Swannies or some sort of blue-blocking glasses, what are some of the other things that you’ve seen that can help people get better sleep?
James: Yeah, well, definitely getting morning sunshine. Like, the first thing when you wake up in the morning, go outside and get some sunlight. And the reason for this is it sets your circadian rhythm to the right time. So, your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock, and your internal body clock wants to know when it’s daytime, just like it wants to know when it’s nighttime. So, if you can get up when you wake up and go outside and just get sunlight on your skin, get it on your face, the receptors in your skin is going to tell your internal body clock, “Guess what? It’s daytime.” Now, why is this important? Because that way, it then knows in about 12 hours’ time that it’s going to be nighttime, because your body knows how much sunlight there is, how much nighttime it should have. So, even though it sounds peculiar, it’s like, well, you want to sleep better? Make sure you get out in the sun early first thing in the morning. It’s absolutely what you should do. So, what I like to do now is... I live in a two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood, just a block north of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and I have a little balcony out the front of my apartment. So, when I wake up in the morning, even though I might be like, eh, just slow to get up, I deliberately go outside onto my balcony for just two minutes and I just stand there in the sun, and creating that habit of just getting two minutes in the sun is making sure my circadian rhythm, my internal body clock, knows that it’s morning, so then fast-forward to ten p.m. at night, my body knows that it’s time to start shutting down. My body knows that it’s time to start getting sleepy, because I gave it sunlight first thing in the morning.
Matt: So, for listeners that may not be familiar with what the circadian rhythm is, can you just explain that concept briefly?
James: Yeah. Circadian rhythm really is just your internal body clock. It’s just like your body knowing that it’s daytime and your body knowing that it’s nighttime. So, when you expose your body to sunlight in the morning, your circadian rhythm is saying, “Okay, I got it. It’s daytime. Right. Time to start raising my cortisol levels. It’s time to start getting energetic. It’s time to start being awake. It’s time to start moving.” And then at nighttime, when the sun goes down, when the sun literally sets and all of a sudden it’s dark, and maybe the moon comes up, your internal body clock is noticing that. Your internal body clock is going, “Oh, okay. There’s no sunlight. Right. It’s nighttime. Therefore, it’s time for me to start producing melatonin,” which we talked about. “It’s time for me to start getting sleepy. It’s time for me to get ready to restore itself from all the things that I’ve been doing during the daylight hours.” So, your circadian rhythm is simply your internal body clock that knows whether it’s daytime or whether it’s nighttime.
Matt: Got it. So, changing gears a little bit away from sleep, I’d love to dig into the 30-day no alcohol challenge. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
James: Yeah. Well, I was always just a social drinker. I used to drink a few beers during the week and on the weekends I might have a glass of wine with some beers and maybe a gin and tonic. Sometimes I got drunk. Sometimes I went a little crazy, but never anything troublesome. I was never an alcoholic. I was just a good, solid social drinker. But I got tired of waking up every morning...not every morning, but on the mornings after I was drinking, I got tired of feeling tired and lethargic. So, I remember in 2010 I was in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest festival, and I woke up with a hangover, and I’d only had a couple of gin and tonics the night before, but I just had this splitting headache. And I went into an IHOP, an International House of Pancakes, to have a hangover breakfast, and I’m sitting there, I’m about to eat these pancakes, and I’m looking around at all these people eating pancakes with whipped cream, and I was just like, ugh, I feel like death here. This is not good. So, I said to myself, James, enough. Just take a 30-day break. See if you can go 30 days without drinking and let’s see what happens. And so, I did. I went 30 days without drinking. I lost 13 pounds of fat. I lost my beer belly. My skin got better. My wrinkles disappeared. I slept better. I got more productive. I started attracting a hire caliber of person into my life. And I felt so good that I went, you know what? I’ll just see if I can keep going. And I did. I haven’t drunk since 2010.
Matt: That’s amazing. That’s really, really cool. You know, I think the reality is, if you really think about it, alcohol is essentially poison, right? And you’re just taking real small doses of poison to kind of trick your nervous system into feeling more relaxed or loose or whatever the feeling is that you’re looking for.
James: Yeah. I mean, it’s a poison. It’s a toxin. And here’s the thing. It takes seven to ten days for the poison to leave your system. So, you have a glass of wine tonight or you have a beer tonight, the toxins from that drink are still going to be in your system a week to ten days from now. So, imagine how that’s just holding you back. And look, I want to be really clear. I’m not telling people to quit alcohol forever. I mean, I designed and created this program called “30-Day No Alcohol Challenge”, and it’s really designed to just have people quit for 30 days. Because what happens is that after 30 days, people realize. They go, oh my God. All this drinking, it’s costing me a lot of money, it’s costing me my sleep, it’s costing me my looks, it’s costing me lost opportunities. And when people do that and they go through my 30-Day No Alcohol Challenge program and they come out the other side, a lot of them will go back to drinking, but they’ll do it at a far reduced rate than compared to when they began, and a lot of people also just stay quit, just like I did. They just never go back, because all of a sudden they’re feeling energized and clearheaded and productive, and if they were single beforehand, all of a sudden these amazing partners start walking into their lives. Why? Because people who don’t drink or who drink very little and drinking isn’t a necessity for them tend to be more health conscious, tend to be more happy...tend to be happier, I should say, tend to be more open, tend to smile more. And so, like attracts like, right? You start attracting those types of people into your life. So, yeah, when I created the 30-Day No Alcohol Challenge, it wasn’t to say alcohol is the devil, don’t drink it ever again. It was, let’s just quit drinking for 30 days, re-explore our relationship with alcohol, see how we feel, and then from there, drink at whatever rate you want or quite drinking entirely.
Matt: So, I’m sure a lot of people listening to this would think that either they can’t for social reasons or they wouldn’t be able to have fun if they quit drinking. What do you say to somebody who’s thinking that?
James: Yeah. Well, it’s the most asked question I get from who are thinking about drinking. In fact, I just finished writing a book called 30-Day No Alcohol Challenge and dedicated a whole chapter to it. Most people think, oh my God, I’m going to be a social recluse if I don’t drink alcohol, but what I teach in my book and in the program is how to socialize without alcohol and still have fun, still have the most fun of anyone. So, what I attempted to do is, before I go out and I’m not drinking, I’ll just say to myself, I’ll make a commitment: “James, I’m going to have the most fun tonight. I’m going to meet the most people. I’m going to be the most engaged. I’m going to be genuinely interested in everyone that I speak to. When people challenge me about not drinking and people say, ‘Go on, just have one,’ I’m going to laugh and joke. I’m going to make a joke like, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to get drunk on this soda water tonight,’ and I do it with a cheeky little grin. Or, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna get drunk on this water tonight! I’m going to dance on the tables! I’m going to crazy!’ Or, ‘Nah, I’m not drinking tonight. I’m too strong in mind.’“ And I just say it with a grin. I say it in a cheeky manner. And when I do that, nobody cares. Like, nobody cares that I’m not drinking. Some people may still go, “Go on, just have one, just have one,” but I just smile and I just say, “No, I’m okay. I’m just going to get drunk on this water.” Or, “No, I’m good. I’m good. I’m going to go crazy. I’m already drunk. I’m already drunk on this soda water I’m drinking. Ha ha ha ha ha.” Just make a little joke about it. And when you do that, people just leave you alone. People don’t care. So, commit to having the most fun, be genuinely interested in other people, dance, laugh, joke, do all those things, and do it while sitting on water, ice, and a piece of lime.
Matt: You know, I don’t think I quite did exactly sort of the 30-day no alcohol challenge, but I have sort of paused my drinking for several-week periods a couple of different times, and one of the tricks that I’ve always used is whenever I’m out with people and they complain or try to make comments about, “Oh, you know, you’re being lame, you’re not drinking,” whatever it is, typically what I’ll say is, “Whatever energy level... If you ever call me out and say that my energy level isn’t the highest energy level person here, I’ll immediately ramp up to whatever that energy level is.”
James: I like that. That’s good. So, you’ve almost, like, got accountability from a friend of years.
Matt: Exactly, yeah. And I basically say, that’s sort of my stop gap in the sense of, you know, if anybody calls me out, I’m happy to jump up, dance around, get crazy if... You know, whatever the energy level of the top person there is, I’ll match that energy level or exceed it. That’s my commitment if I’m not drinking.
James: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love that. That’s great. I mean, I do a lot of those videos on my Snapchat. I have a Snapchat and thousands of people around the world follow me, and when I’m out and about with friends or socializing, I’m always taking videos of me having fun without drinking, and just the fact that I’ve got people watching holds me accountable, almost. I mean, I’m never tempted to drink, it’s just I want to... It holds me accountable to making sure I’m having the most fun of anyone in my group, and some of them may be drinking. So, I like your strategy. It’s great. It’s got accountability and it’s like a fun little challenge, and then it just kind of wakes you up out of whatever mental slumber you may be in during your night out.
Matt: Definitely. You know, the other thing that... Are you familiar with a term called “social skydiving”? Have you ever heard of that?
James: No, I haven’t. Tell me about it.
Matt: So, I think I talked about this in a previous episode of the show where we talked about embracing discomfort, but basically, social skydiving is the concept of, in any social context... It’s sort of pulled from this sort of pick-up artist community or whatever, that whole world, but it’s the idea that basically, when you’re out or when you’re in an uncomfortable situation or a situation where you don’t really know anybody, you basically pick the most intimidating looking group of people, and you immediately walk into their conversation with nothing, no plan of what you’re going to do other than just saying, like, “Hey, what’s up?” And you just keep doing that over and over again, and it’s very scary to do it the first couple times, but you realize pretty quickly that you don’t have to have a plan, you don’t have to come in and be cool or whatever it is. You can kind of just learn how to interact with people and push yourself out of your comfort zone and the fear that you’re not going to be able to talk to people.
James: Yeah, I love that. That’s awesome. Social skydiving. So, yeah, if someone’s listening right now and they know that they want to reduce alcohol because it costs a lot of money or they’re tired or they’re lethargic or they’re carrying a few extra pounds or you feel like you rely on alcohol as a social crutch, do what Matt’s suggesting there. Do the social skydiving. Just go out one night, don’t drink, commit to not drinking, commit to only drinking water or soda water, and then just go and put yourself in groups of people in social situations and see what happens. A lot of times, you feel like there’s going to be some kind of awkwardness happening, but it actually isn’t. It’s like, you go in there and you say, “Hey, I’m James. How you doing?” And people go, “Oh, hi. I’m Steve,” and blah blah blah. And you go, “What’s your story?” And then people start having a conversation and then, before you know it, you’re off on different conversational tangents, you’re making new friends, people respect you because you’re the one who opened the conversation first. Yeah, it’s cool. I mean, Forbes magazine put me in the top 25 networkers, which was very nice of them, in 2015, and part of that reason was because I’ve taught so many people how to just walk into any social situation and just engage people right away and be the most popular person in the group or in the room. But I’ve never heard social skydiving before. I like it, Matt. Thank you for introducing me to that phrase.
Matt: Definitely, and for listeners who are curious, I read probably a year or two ago a really good blog post about the concept, so I’ll throw that in the show notes. And I’m curious. I’d love to drill down on the idea of engaging people in any social situation. You said you’ve taught a lot of people how to do that. What are some of the tips or secrets that you teach people?
James: Well, I’ll tell you what not to do. Don’t say when you meet someone, “Oh, what do you do?” It’s just such a boring, dull question, and it implies that you don’t really care about who the person is. You really only care about what they do for a living so you can see whether they can help you or not. A far better question is, “Tell me your story. What’s your story?” Because that’s such an open-ended question, because then the person that you’ve asked the question to might say, “Oh, yeah, you know, I just moved here from such-and-such and it’s awesome,” or, “Yeah, I’m friends with John who’s event this is,” and blah blah blah. And asking that question shows the person that you’re asking the question to that you’re actually genuinely interested in them as a person, rather than what they do for a living. So, what I like to do is I’ll go into any group and I’ll be like, “Hey, I’m James. How you doing? Oh, yeah, nice to meet you. Yeah. What’s your story? Tell me what you’re passionate about right now. What’s going on your world right now?” They’re great questions, and they spark interest in conversations. And not only do they spark interest in conversations, but the person who is interested in other people makes other people super interested in them. So, you want to walk into a room and be the most popular person, have everyone going, “Who’s that guy? I want to hang out with that guy,” be genuinely interested in the people that you talk to. I don’t mean be interested because you heard a podcast with James Swanwick on Matt’s podcast at one time and he said, “Oh, be interested.” No, I said be genuinely interested, which means be curious about people. If someone starts to tell you about their life, listen. Find commonality with which you can talk to them about. If someone says, “I’m going skydiving this weekend,” then you can say to them, “Oh, I remember when I went skydiving. It was great,” or, “I could never do that. I really admiring you for jumping out of a plane and skydiving,” or, “Tell me more.” I tell you what, the best thing that you can say to anyone, really, is, “Wow. You’re really interesting. Tell me more.” Who wouldn’t love to hear that? But the only way that you can deliver that phrase is if you’re genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, and that person can see and feel you being genuinely interested.
Matt: And I think there’s a bunch of research about the field of rapport building and communication where they actually discover basically that the most effective way, or one of the most effective ways, to build rapport with someone is to ask them questions about themselves, and that actually makes them like you more.
James: Absolutely. People’s favorite topic is themselves, so invite them to talk about themselves. And don’t be doing it just because that’s what the studies say. Do it and listen intently and find curiosity and find enjoyment in listening to people talk about themselves, because people are interesting and fascinating if you just ask them enough questions. You might be on a bus and you might look at people on the bus and just go, “I don’t want to know those people.” Maybe you don’t like the look of someone. Maybe someone just doesn’t look like your type of person. Strike up a conversation with that person anyway and ask them questions. I bet that you find something fascinating and interesting about them.
Matt: So, shifting directions a little bit, I’m curious... I’ve heard that you read a book a day. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
James: Yeah. I learned how to speed read. I learned how to read an entire book in anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, I can do it. Most of the time it’s an hour because I like to take my time. [Chuckles] Some people are probably thinking, wow, that’s crazy! But I actually... I’ll tell you how I do it verbally, but if you want to just watch a longer version of it, on my YouTube channel—which is just my name, James Swanwick—if you type in “how I read a book a day”, there’s actually a lengthier, 51-minute video where I actually show people reading an entire book. But, yeah, what I do is I buy books all the time now. I look at... I read the back of the book. I read the chapters. I scan... I skim through the book for five minutes initially, and I’m looking at the first sentence of each of the paragraphs. I’m getting an idea in my head what the main point of the books...the book is, and then I’ll go back again and then I’ll go through and sort of systematically take my time a little bit more. So, I’m not reading every single word of the book. I’m just picking up two or three main lessons from the book, because studies have shown that seven days after people read a book, they’ve only retained 10% of what the book taught. So, with that in mind, I’m not going to spend a month reading a book when I can spend one hour reading a book. I’m just going to retain what I can. I’m going to write it down. I’m going to get the lesson or the main lessons from the book, and I’m going to go and use it in my own life. So, I have a bookshelf here. I don’t have a television in my apartment. My living room faces a bookshelf and I have a bookshelf filled with books, and so when I sit down on the living room sofa at the end of a day, my mind...my eyes see the books. I go and pick up a book and I can read, you know, a book in 15 minutes to an hour.
Matt: I think that’s a really important point. And if anybody listening thinks back about a book you’ve read, typically you can...you know, even longer than a week past, right, you sort of have maybe at most four or five core concepts that you sort of pulled away from that book that were the really big takeaways.
James: Less. I’d reckon one or two.
Matt: Yeah, exactly, you know what I’m saying? Best case scenario. And so the reality is, instead of... What you’re saying is basically instead of spending all that time to only harvest the two to three key things you’re actually going to remember, just short-circuit that process and only pull those things out to begin with.
James: I mean, it’s so true. And what I do now is I underline key parts of the book with a pen. A lot of people are like, oh, don’t damage the book! I’m like, well, what’s the point of the book in the first place? It’s to, like...to get knowledge from it. So, underline key points, and then when I finish a book, towards the back, in the back...you know, within the back part, I’ll just write out the three main notes that I got. So, I’m showing this to Matt now on the video as we’re recording this. You can see my notes. I’ve got a book here called Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth. So, I read that book in an hour. There you go! That’s cool! So, you’ve got some great notes, too, Matt. And I read that book in an hour, and at the end I’ve written down the three main lessons that I got from it, and here... I’ll just read them to you. Number one: to be radically honest. Number one: reveal the facts. Two: honestly express current feelings and thoughts. Three: expose your fiction. That’s all I gotta know! That’s all I gotta know from the entire book, which is basically be honest as much as you can, and when you’re going to be radically honest and have awkward conversations with people, step one: reveal the facts; step two: honestly express your feelings and thoughts; and step three: expose the fiction. So, that’s a... That is a 275-page book. I didn’t need to read every single damn word of the book to understand that to tell...understand how to tell the truth. So, I just skimmed through it. I took my time in certain chapters. I took the main points in my head. And I’ll tell you: Just because I jumped on this call with you, Matt, I had a conversation with one of my staff who helps me with 30-day no alcohol challenge and with my Swannies glasses. And I had a very, very honest conversation with him, where I...I didn’t fire him, but I...I certainly left him in no uncertain terms that his performance needs to be...to be better. And it was an awkward conversation, but because I had expressed to him that I was doing it for part of this radical honesty thing and I asked the same for him in return, it was a wonderfully professional conversation, and now we have a strategy and a plan to move forward. So, again, I didn’t need to read every single word of the book. I just needed to, like, read it in 15 minutes to an hour, got the main point, and now I’m utilizing it in my life.
Matt: I’m also a huge fan of taking notes within a book and I very deeply underline and put notes in the margins and create my own index and all kinds of stuff, and I showed you that a second ago on the video of one of the books I have that has a bunch of notes in it. And listeners actually email in all the time asking, you know, “How do you store all this knowledge? How do you read all these books and pull information from them?” I’m curious. If you’re reading a book a day or four or five books a week, whatever it might be, how do you actually retain and utilize all of that knowledge on an ongoing basis.
James: Well, like I said, I write down the three main points in the back of the book, and then I actually have a whole week scheduled in my calendar, one week out of every month, I go back and look at books that I’ve already read and I read over it again. So, for example, I’m looking at my bookshelf now. I have a book by Oprah Winfrey that she wrote called What I Know for Sure. Now, I don’t remember the three things that I wrote in the back of the book, but I remember one of them, and one of those things is never say a bad word about anyone else. Like, avoid saying bad things about other people. And I remembered that because I wrote it in the back of the book and because one week every month I go back and I quickly read the back of those books to retain the information. So, there’s another book there, Tony Robbins, Money: Master the Game, which came out about two years ago. It’s a big, thick, huge book. And that book actually took me an entire afternoon to read. It was a little bit more specific, but I did read it in about three or four hours. I’m looking at it right now. Let me tell you something. The main thing that I got out of that book that I wrote in the back of the book when I first read it was, “Get a fiduciary.” A fiduciary is an independent account, someone who can give you financial advice without them taking a commission or without them pushing certain financial products on you. Guess what? I have a fiduciary. I have a fiduciary in Omaha, Nebraska. His name is Patrick, and he helps me with my wealth management. I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had read Tony Robbins’ book, Money: Master the Game. I didn’t even know what the word “fiduciary” meant when I read it. So, that’s an example of you read a book, you write notes, or one or two or three notes inside the back page, you go back one week out of every month and you just look at the back pages or look at your notes of all the books that you’ve done, and it reminds you, it refreshes you, it keeps you on track.
Matt: I think that’s a great tool, is to basically have sort of scheduled time where you specifically are going back and reviewing whether it’s book notes or, really, any sort of critical piece of information that you’ve studied in the past.
Matt: And that’s something that... Personally, I create a lot of sort of like almost my own version of CliffsNotes or whatever whenever I read a book. It’s more lengthy than the three-word...the three kind of idea summary, but probably that’s a bad thing because it’s harder for me to go back and review them, and oftentimes I feel like I want to do that, but don’t schedule the time. So, I think I’m going to start trying to just concretely schedule review time, and that’s a good takeaway personally, for me, from that advice.
James: Yeah. I mean, I’m looking at my calendar now—I have Google Calendar—and I have...on the first of every month I have “financial life overview”. So, every...on the first day or two of every month, I do a complete analysis of my finances. And then I have this week here where it’s like “review books”. Here it is here. It’s on the 22nd. It says, “Review previously read book week.” [Chuckles] It’s right there. So, it’s big and I’ve set the settings in my Google Calendar for it to pop up monthly. “Review previously read book week” is exactly what I call it. So, yeah. And then when you do that, it just keeps reminding you. It keeps reinforcing it. It keeps pushing. Because the danger is people are like, oh, yeah, I read a lot of books. I go to a lot of seminars. I go to a lot of conferences. And that’s great, but knowledge isn’t power; applied knowledge is power, which means you actually have to take action based on knowledge that you’re getting. So, the way that I do it is I write down the main point—one or two points, or three points—of a book; I go back, I review it every three or four weeks; and then I take action.
Matt: So, just to clarify, when you say you sort of have the 22nd as the review book week...
Matt: ...how much time within those...within that week are you spending reviewing books, like, on a given day?
James: So, it can be as little as seven minutes. I like to do this thing called “four by seven”. So, when I wake up in the morning, I’ll do seven minutes reading a book or reviewing previously read books; I’ll do seven minutes writing in my five-minute journal about things that I’m grateful four; I’ll do seven minutes just freestyle writing in a diary that I have about my goals; and then the other seven minutes might be meditation. I might put on the Calm app—C-A-L-M—and just do seven minutes of meditation. That takes 30 minutes. I mean, it takes 28 minutes, but, like, taking a little break in between each seven-minute block, you know, makes it come out to about 30. And if you do that consistently every day, that is a lot better than if you, like, only once a month are you reading books or only once a month are you meditating. Just I try to make it so easy, like, so manageable that I can do it as a habit, and when I do that, everything just progresses. So, to answer your initial question, seven minutes sometimes is all I’ll need to just review three or four books because I’ve got my notes in the back of the book. Like, let’s do... We’ll do another example right now — Radical Honesty. Okay, let’s time me. Ready? Put the stopwatch on and tell me how long this takes for me to review this book. Ready?
Matt: All right. Timing you.
James: Go! All right. Let me look at the back. Number one: Reveal the facts. Two: Honestly express current feelings and thoughts. Three: Exposing the fiction. Okay. When am I having an awkward conversation this week? All right, I’ve gotta have a conversation with John about that, so when I do that I’m going to tell him the facts. All right. Then I’m going to tell him what I feel and what my thoughts are around those facts, and then I’m going to, three, expose the fiction. Okay. Great. So, reveal the facts, express current feelings and thoughts, and expose the fiction. Okay, cool. I’ll use that in my conversation with John later this week. Awesome. Okay. Let’s grab another book. What book we got here? Oh, look! It’s James’ 30-day no alcohol challenge book! Awesome! Let’s have a look at this. And then I’ll just do the same thing. I’ll go back over the books and I’ll just keep doing it. I’m looking at another book here called Wealth Warrior by Steve Chandler. I’ve got notes in the back of that book, so I might go back there and go, oh, look. When I read that book six months ago when I was on the plane from New York to Los Angeles, I wrote in there such and such. Did I implement that? Oh, I didn’t. Okay, I gotta implement that. And so forth. Rinse and repeat.
Matt: So, I think it was, like, just over 30 seconds that it took you to review that, for vigilant listeners that were curious, unless I mistimed it, but...
James: There you go. So, that’s all it takes. Like, that’s all it takes. And now I’ve got a... Like I said, before I jumped on this interview call, I had that awkward conversation, but it wasn’t...it was awkward and professional at the same time because I’d read the book Radical Honesty; because I’d reviewed my notes beforehand; because I knew how to have the conversation which didn’t make my staff member feel threatened or upset. It was done in a way that I learned how to do it from a book.
Matt: Fair enough. So, for people who are listening in, what are some additional resources kind of aside from the stuff we’ve talked about so far that you might recommend digging into or checking out, whether it’s books or websites or whatever it might be?
James: Yeah, well, I like... I’m not really one for meditation, but I do force myself... I use the word “force” in a liberal kind of way. I like Calm — C-A-L-M. You download that app and you can choose, like, a two-minute meditation. Even a two-minute meditation for people with ADD like me is actually enough to really calm your mind down and stay focused and get clear, and you can do that a few times during the day. I really like to do that. The other thing is just a little habit hack that I have. So I stay consistent with my exercise, what I do is I get my exercise clothes ready the night before and then I’ll lay them out on the floor right where I get out of bed each morning, so when I wake up in the morning I see the exercise clothes, I have the visual cue, I’ll put the clothes on; therefore, it’s very easy for me to then continue walking out the door and go to the gym and do some exercise. What most people do is, unfortunately, they go to bed not having prepared their clothes and they say, oh, I’m going to go to the gym in the morning! Then they wake up and they’re like, eh, it’s too much of a pain to try and find my shorts and get my shoes together and all that kind of stuff, and they don’t...they don’t go. It’s just, oh, I’ll go to the gym tomorrow. So, little things like that where you make it super easy, and even like me with having a bookshelf where my TV would ordinarily be makes me pick up books rather than watch television. Little things like that can really be a huge help to transforming your life and improving your productivity.
Matt: So, what would one piece of homework be that you would give somebody listening to this episode?
James: If sleep is important to you, which it should be, I would definitely download the free app. It’s called f.lux — F-period-L-U-X. Download that onto your computer screen, and what that does is that it reduces the brightness level of your computer screen as the sun goes down. And as it moves into the nighttime, it just reduces the brightness level. Now, that helps a lot. If you have an iPhone and you’ve downloaded the latest software update, use... it’s called Nigh Shift. It’s the Night Shift feature and it’s the same thing. Towards, you know, like seven, eight, nine, ten o’clock at night, it starts to reduce the brightness levels so you’re not exposing yourself to as much blue light. Having said that, neither of those two things help you block out the blue light from your kitchen light or your TV screen or your bedside table, so if you... I would definitely recommend getting a pair of blue light-blocking glasses. You don’t have to get mine. I have a brand that I created called Swannies. I would definitely wear your Swannies about an hour before you go to sleep so you’re blocking the blue light from your cell phone; you’re blocking the blue light from your overhead lights; you’re blocking the blue light from the traffic and the street lights. And if you do that, you’re going to create more melatonin; you’re going to get sleepier; your sleep will likely improve. Just on that sleep thing: If you do want to... I did write a book called 7 Ways to Sleep Better, and if you want to just get that book and read up a little bit more on that, and you’re in the U.S. and you’re listening to this, if you text the number 44222 right now and put in the word “sleeptips”—one word—I’ll text you back details on where you can get that free book, which is just called 7 Ways to Sleep Better. It only really works if you’re in the U.S., by the way. If you’re outside of the U.S., just go to swanniesglasses.com—S-W-A-N-N-I-E-Sglasses.com—and you can get the free book, 7 Ways to Sleep Better, there.
Matt: Awesome. Well, James, thank you very much for being on the Science of Success and I’m sure the listeners are really going to get a lot out of this interview and have some great tips to be able to improve their sleep.
James: You’re welcome, Matt. Thank you for having me. And just a reminder: If you want to send me a message or ask me any more questions about sleep, then you can just find me at jamesswanwick.com, or even just send me a direct snap on my Snapchat or Instagram, which is just my name, @jamesswanwick.