No Excuses Episode 61: Zack Arnold on How to Optimize Yourself

In this episode, we listen to Zack Arnold, award-winning Hollywood film and television editor, American Ninja Warrior, and creator of the Optimize Yourself program and podcast. He discusses his experiences with Tough Mudder and Spartan, what optimizing yourself truly means, the power of mindset, and so much more.

Connect with Zack on Social:

-Podcast: The Optimize Yourself Podcast
-Instagram: @optimizeyourslf

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TM: What does “optimizing yourself” mean?

Z: It all starts with a chapter that I read in this little tiny pamphlet of a book that was about martial arts. I studied martial arts in middle school, high school, and in college, and I was really into the mindset, the philosophy, and Eastern religions, and it was one of my very many obsessions for years. It’s not something I get into so much anymore, but it very much formed who I am as a person and the lens through which I view the world. There was this one chapter that was about a very, very simple riddle. The riddle is, and it’s going to be a little a little difficult for somebody that’s reading this to think about it, but just imagine I have a piece of paper. And on that piece of paper, I draw a single line on it. So it’s really simple. A piece of paper, draw a line on it with a pen or pencil doesn’t matter. Now, what you have to do is make that line shorter. But you can’t cut the paper, you can’t rip the paper, you can’t fold the paper, you can’t draw through it, you can erase it, nothing. So how do you make this line that’s on the paper shorter?

The logo [on Zack’s website] is the answer. It’s so crazy to me, I give away the answer, it’s right in front of people, and they still don’t figure it out. If this is the shorter line, the way you make it shorter is by drawing a longer one next to it. Now this is a shorter line, right? It’s all about perspective and the lesson that that teaches is that the way that we are conditioned and driven in our culture is that it’s all about competition. It’s all about me versus the rest of the world or me versus my competitor, whatever it might be. Obviously, in sports, you can say, well, that is the case. But it really isn’t. I really feel that the competition is in yourself. 

There’s a saying that I picked up separate from Spartan Race, and I’m so glad that Spartan and Tough Mudder have combined, so I don’t have to feel guilty saying Spartan Races now. But there’s a saying that I heard during a Spartan Race, but I had been using yours before that, which is that you need to run your own race. So essentially, this logo personifies that riddle, which is that you want to focus on making your own line longer, not focus on making other people’s lives shorter, and really discovering what is my true potential. One of the most common questions that people ask me about why I do Tough Mudder, or why in the world I decided to do Ninja Warrior. All logic and reason point to these are probably not the best decisions for you. The reason being is that when I started doing Tough Mudder, and started doing Spartan Races, and especially when I decided to dive into Ninja Warrior, what I learned is that I have spent my entire life convincing myself, I can’t do things. All of a sudden, I try those things, even though they are petrifying, and they’re so scary at first, but then you do them and you might not do them well, but you still do them. The thought that I could not get out of my mind was, what else have I been telling myself that I can’t do my whole life? Clearly, I’m full of shit and I need to stop listening to myself. So, the Optimize Yourself program is all about how do I dig through the psychology and the mindsets and everything that I’ve been through so I can realize why it is that I am here. My potential is different from your potential, is different from somebody else’s potential. So when I go to a Ninja Warrior event, I go there and I’m number one, one of the oldest people there, if not the oldest one, like I went to an event recently, and I’m like, I feel like a chaperone on a middle school field trip right now. But my potential is different than those kids’ potential. Same thing with a Tough Mudder. If I were to go to a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, and I’m in the elite heat, which I made the mistake of signing up for one, and thought, oh my god, what have I gotten myself into. But the point is, as long as I’m running my own race, it’s about discovering my potential, not trying to make my potential more than somebody else’s. So it’s having the tools and resources to help people discover that in whatever realm makes sense. So for me, I cover a lot about time management, productivity, and basic fitness as it relates specifically to people that do sedentary jobs in front of computers. I’m not like a licensed or certified personal trainer, I don’t build fitness programs, but if you’re somebody like me that has spent all of their waking life, right here stuck in front of a monitor, I have a lot of ways to stay healthy and active and creative and I teach those kinds of things. Then, over the last few years by not just popular demand, but just incessant nonstop demand, have now been building an entire wing of the program that has specifically to do with career development and outreach and building relationships and networking and finding mentorship because one of the things that I’ve learned through my own journey that I now share with people is that if you want to achieve something really, really difficult, you’re never going to be able to do it on your own. The fastest path to getting really good at something is finding somebody else that’s already really good at it, and you become their new best friend and you sew yourself to them at the hip. But that takes networking skills and outreach skills, so that’s another area that I’ve been developing to help anybody that wants to achieve any difficult goal in their life.