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Jon Levy

Episode 16: How to Live a Life of Adventure, with Jon Levy

Jon Levy is a behavior scientist best known for his work in influence, networking and adventure. He is founder of the Influencers Dinner and author of a new book called “The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.”

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How to live a life of adventure
  • What adventure is and why you don’t have to jump off a cliff to live an adventurous life
  • The first stage of adventure: establish (or putting the right elements in place so anything can happen)
  • Why your brain works better when you’re in a new situation
  • Why you need to work within limitations to have the best time
  • The second stage of adventure: push boundaries (crossing a social, physical, or emotional boundary)
  • The third stage of adventure: increase (maximizing the emotional value from the environment that you’re in)
  • The fourth stage of adventure: continue (deciding if you’re going to go somewhere else and where you’re going to go)
  • Why you need to make sure you end on a positive note
  • Jon’s next book
  • Perceived risk vs. actual peril

Ways to contact Jon:


Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera: Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business or your life. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems, such as a factory. Some are technological, like project management software, while others are psychological systems, such as checklists and organizational charts. Many of these systems will overlap in your business. Today’s guest, Jon Levy, is the author of the 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure. Jon is a behavior scientist best known for his work in influence, networking, and adventure. Welcome to System Execution, Jon.

Jon: Thanks so much for having me. This is going to be super fun.

Vera: Jon, I’m really excited to have you here. I was reviewing your book, the 2 AM Principle: The Science for Adventure. I understand you have a SIMPROCESS of 4 Ingredients to Create a Successful Adventure. So let’s talk about how to live a life of adventure.

Jon: Absolutely. The first thing I’d say is we should probably begin by understanding what an adventure is. People talk about living an adventurous life. They hear about these really intense experiences or activities. Some people might say, “Well, that’s just not for me.” That’s completely fine. You don’t need to go running with the bulls, or you don’t need to go base jumping or cliff diving to live an adventurous life. The key falls into three characteristics. One is, it has to be an experience that’s exciting or remarkable. The reason is that, as a species, we’ve passed down our knowledge for millennia based on an oral history. If something’s not remarkable, if it’s not worth remarking about or discussing, it’s not culturally significant.

The second is it possesses adversity and/or risk, preferably perceived risk. Now, the reason that that’s so important is that our bodies respond very similar to immediate, imminent threats, like I’m about to be bitten by a snake, as it does to looking off of a ledge that’s really high. We get that sense of exhilaration, and this feeling that there’s a challenge to overcome. That’s what’s critical, is that there has to be something that’s beyond the scope of our comfort.

Then the third characteristic is it brings about growth. The person you are at the end is distinct from the person who started. If you look at any great hero’s journey, then the hero is left changed from the experience. I started off with a definition and wanting to understand what adventure is, and then I said, “Okay, maybe you can systematize it and formulate it the way that, let’s say, Tim Ferriss did productivity. Can we make an adventure a very clear series of steps?” People said, “No. You know, adventures happen by random chance. It’s the serendipity that makes it exciting and fun. You can’t just systematize it.”

I kept looking, and going out, and trying out different things, and reading just tons and tons of scientific research on human behavior. I realized that there’s one thing that kept standing out, that there were always very specific things I did before I went out that led to have an exciting time. The first stage of an adventure, you actually put the right elements in place so that anything can happen. I call it establish. So what do we put in place? Well, Vera, let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to a terrible party, but because you were with the right people it was an absolute blast?

Vera: Absolutely.

Jon: Right? I don’t even know what happened there. The crowd might have been boring, but you were with some friends and you just turned it into a fun time. Maybe you started a game. Maybe you took over the music. Maybe one of your friend’s a bartender so they started pouring drinks for everybody. Whatever it is. It turns out that’s absolutely critical that you’re with the right people. The research behind it is pretty obvious. There are these two very famous researchers named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. They were curious about the obesity epidemic. They were curious if obesity is the type of epidemic that passes from person to person, like a cold, or if it was just a percentage of the population, let’s say like Alzheimer’s.

What they found was startling, that if you have a friend who’s obese, your chances of obesity increased by 45%. Your friends who don’t know that person, their chances increase by 25%. Their friends by 10%, and their friends by 5%. You have an effect four degrees out, and vice versa. By curating the people around you effectively, you optimize your chances of having an incredible time. That’s also true across business, social life, family, and so on. They found that this characteristic holds true regardless if you’re talking about smoking habits, voting habits, divorce rates, whatever it is. It actually spreads through the super organism we call social net. The second thing that you really want to consider before you go out is the location that you’re in.

Vera: Location as in where you’re going, or the location … Explain that.

Jon: Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. The ideal is that there’s an environment that you haven’t been to before. The reason is that our brains operate differently when exposed to something new or novel. We’re actually enticed to explore and understand it when we come in contact with something that’s unfamiliar.

Vera: If you’re not scared to death.

Jon: Yes. Well, there’s something actually called optimal anxiety theory, which states that our best, not when we are calm and collect, but rather when there’s just the right amount of discomfort, novelty, or anxiety let’s say.

Vera: Okay.

Jon: Anything below that, we’re bored. Anything above that, we’re so anxious that we’re unproductive.

Vera: Okay. That makes sense.

Jon: Yeah. For human beings in general, we found that there’s often this Goldilocks principle at play. That not enough of something and we don’t engage, too much of it and it’s devastating.

Vera: Ah, okay. That makes sense. Okay.

Jon: Then, the other thing is that when you’re establishing your adventure, you want to look at it kind of creating a game. You want a mission. Something that’s a goal that drives behavior forward, bonds the team, gets outsiders involved, and, contrary to popular belief, you actually want constraints. You want limitations on your action. The reasons are two-fold. One is if you have too many options, you suffer from the paradox of choice. You get overwhelmed by all the options that you can have, and it causes paralysis. Additionally, by adding constraints, you can make things more interesting.

If you’re going out for a night of cocktails with your friends, that’s one thing. If the rule is, or the constraint is, that you can’t pay for any of your own drinks, all the sudden you have to make it more interesting, or rather, you have to engage in the experience very differently which makes it more interesting. You can’t just show up to the bar, order a drink. Now you’re engaging with outsiders. You’re making friends. You’re maybe conducting bets to see who can win, and you can get them to pay for it. By making it more of a game, you can also reinvigorate environments that are incredibly familiar. Vera, where do you live?

Vera: Austin.

Jon: Austin. Well, Austin’s a really happening town. I mean, I love it. It’s a super cool environment with a lot of culture. Let’s say you live in a small town with three people. Not three people, sorry, three bars, and it’s the same activities every weekend. By adding a mission and constraints, all the sudden those familiar environments can be new again. It forces you to-

Vera: Yeah. I have a lot of friends that, in their 20s, would put on wigs at night, different color hair.

Jon: Oh, that’s great.

Vera: Yeah. Because it was just something that was different. The darkest brunette would go as a platinum blonde.

Jon: That’s super fun.

Vera: Yeah. It would completely change the type of people that would talk to her. She had me go to the same places all the time.

Jon: I love it.

Vera: Yeah.

Jon: I absolutely love it.

Vera: I think that’s a great example of what you’re talking about, kind of mixing it up or putting some constraints on there.

Jon: Yeah. Turn it into a game and have some fun with it. That’s the first stage on how to live a life of adventure, establish. You put the right elements in place. Stage two is push boundaries. You want to cross some kind of social, physical, or emotional boundary. As I mentioned earlier, an experience is only an adventure if you’ve grown from it. That requires you to go beyond your comfort zone to push those boundaries. That might mean hiking up a big mountain. It might mean talking your way into a nightclub. It might mean going and speaking to strangers even though it terrifies you. They key is that the person you are at the end is distinct from the person who started.

Stage three, increase. You want to maximize the emotional value from the environment that you’re in. What does that mean? Well, you’re now in this bar. You’ve talked your way in, or maybe you’ve spoken to some strangers, and you’ve built a larger group. How do you engage them further? You can use challenges to create competition. You can use intrigue to pull people in. You can entertain them through stories, or somebody has some skill like the ability to sing or play an instrument. There are all these options that you can rely on. Then, once you’ve gotten the most that you can out of the environment that you’re in, you have to choose if you’re going to continue or not, which is stage four.

During continue, you look at a series of characteristics to decide if you’re going to go somewhere else, and where you’re going to go. You have to consider things like the transportation, because the fact is that if you’re wearing heels, you can only go so far, or if people have been drinking. Unless you can get an Uber, which I think in Austin you can’t-

Vera: You cannot. You cannot.

Jon: Yes, which is amazing.

Vera: Don’t even go there.

Jon: Then, all these things have an effect. We generally have a limited attention span, so if we’re in a car for more than 15 minutes or so, it starts really dragging out the experience, unless where you’re going is highly remarkable and well worth the travel. The most important thing is that if you do continue, you loop back through the process. If you don’t continue, the key is to end with style. The reason is that we’re actually terrible at processing the duration of pleasure or pain as human being.

Vera, I don’t know if you’re married, but imagine, just for the sake of example, you’re on a date. It’s the most incredible date you’ve ever been on. You are so excited to be talking to this person and hanging out with them, and you’re three hours in. It’s perfection. You’re reaching this point where you’re about to lean in for the kiss. As you do, the person looks you in the eye and says the most awful thing you have ever heard in your life. You go home and your friend says, “Good date or bad date?” You say?

Vera: Bad date.

Jon: Yes. Three hours of perfection, three seconds of terrible, and all the sudden-

Vera: It’s-

Jon: The whole thing is terrible.

Vera: Exactly.

Jon: The reason is that, as human beings, we disproportionately value peaks and the end. The key of any great adventure is to make sure that you end on a positive note. You’ll remember it more fondly, and, especially if it’s late at night, you haven’t let it deteriorate into nothing, and you’re out till obnoxious hours and regretting it, being tired the next day. That’s the basic four stages. Establish, push boundaries, increase, continue. If you take the first letter of each one, it spells epic. My book is the 2 AM Principle because nothing good happens after 2 AM, except the most epic things in our life.

Vera: That’s really cool. Do you have a lot of people that send you notes telling you about their experiences?

Jon: Oh yeah. Everyday I get some crazy email about, “Yeah, so it really works.” At one point in the book, I drop myself off in Nice. I refuse to get a hotel, and either I was going to convince a stranger to put me up for the night or I sleep on the street. I don’t speak French. I’ve never been to Nice. The last train left. This whole crazy thing happens. I make friends with strangers. It was an amazing night. People have been inspired by that, so they’ve gone to Vegas with the same rules. Sometimes it’s successful, and sometimes it’s like, “Well, I promised I wouldn’t get a hotel room, so I slept on the carpet in the corner.”

Vera: Oh my Lord.

Jon: Yeah. It’s kind of funny, but it’s absolutely incredible seeing people embrace it. I hear stories about walking down the street, getting into a singalong with a homeless man. He came out for dinner. Just these incredibly wonderful stories that kind of give you both hope for people to connect and make friends. It’s wonderful seeing people embrace life at that level.

Vera: That is really awesome. Are you working on another book?

Jon: Yeah. My next book is probably going to be about the science of influencers, those people who have an ability to impact an industry either through their thought, leadership, position, or previous success.

Vera: Well that’s awesome. Jon, thank you so much for your insight for your epic system of adventure. How could our listeners get in touch with you if they wanted to reach out?

Jon: I’m super easy to get ahold of. I’m JonLevyTLB. That’s J-O-N-L-E, V as in Victor, Y as in yellow, T like Thomas, L like lion, B like boy. You can find me on JonLevyTLB.com. I’m @JonLevyTLB on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, anything you could imagine. It’s an easy, easy way to track me down. If anybody reaches out, I’m pretty good about getting back to everybody.

Vera: Awesome. I know I’m going to take your system and pretty much start to implement it within the next few days, without a doubt.

Jon: Awesome. One thing I do recommend is be really, really careful. There’s something called the winner effect that came across during my research. It works like this. If you have a win, your body floods with testosterone, which gives you an advantage for your next challenge. The problem is, if this keeps happening, you become overconfident. Animals in nature spend too much time in the open and get hunted, or they get into unnecessary fights and get killed. In my case, I was at running of the bulls, and I made it through the run. I was so pumped full of adrenaline and testosterone that I thought I was invincible. As a byproduct, I ended up going toe to toe with the bulls in the stadium. I got crushed and almost died.

Vera: Oh.

Jon: Yes. The key here is there’s a difference between perceived risk and peril. Especially if you don’t have that much experience, stick to perceived risks, like skydiving, bungee jumping, social interaction. Stuff that feels scary even though it’s perfectly safe.

Vera: That is a very good tip. I will absolutely keep that in mind.

Jon: Awesome. Vera, thank you so much for having me on. This has been a true pleasure.

Vera: Alright, awesome. Thank you so much. System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, the key is every successful business and life uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Thanks so much.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution on how to live a life of adventure to be enlightening. For free examples, case studies, eBooks, and more, be sure to visit SystemExecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at Vera@SystemExecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.




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