A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking with Stephan Spencer, the host and founder of the Get Yourself Optimized podcast, on a variety of topics. Stephan is deeply interested in biohacking, self-development, and lifestyle design, and we discussed his interest in optimization, what he’s learned from studying Kabbalah, and how attending one of Tony Robbins’ live events and walking on hot coals gave him the courage to completely transform his life. We also talked about his soulmate and the love of his life, Orion, and the amazing story of how they met, before ending the conversation discussing technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and consciousness.

Stephan on his interest in optimization

Kelly Noel Zeva: Optimization is something you’ve been interested in a long time, not only with SEO, but with human health and wellness, the mind, and productivity. Where did that interest in optimization really start for you?

Stephan Spencer: I’ve been interested in reverse-engineering things, hacking, for a long time, and it’s been a theme running through my life. For example, when I was in college, I scrounged a satellite dish and because it was very expensive to watch satellite TV, so I got a free 10-foot satellite dish and a receiver for it from the junkyard and installed it myself. And I learned how to do it from an FAQ on Usenet explaining how to do it. This was before the World Wide Web.

Then I started down the path of building websites when I was in graduate school, wanted to learn how to market on the internet. I was pursuing my PhD in Chemistry and decided to leave school to start an agency to build websites and do marketing for clients. And then, more recently, I’ve launched two podcasts: Get Yourself Optimized and Marketing Speak.

So, it sounds like your interest in optimization is really tied to your desire to understand how things work.

Yeah. Not just understand them, but improve their performance.

Then SEO was just that next step of evolution after you had already been optimizing several other things.

Well, it was obviously the next step once I started building websites. Even before Google, search engines were ranking pages, and I knew I could do things to improve the rankings, and I wanted to figure that out. Be more in control of my clients’ destiny than just, “Okay, it ranks.” So, I started playing around, reverse-engineering how search engines ranked pages, and then Google came along, and I was a really big fan of Google, and I wanted to focus my energy around that and business concepts.

But at the same time I was looking to improve myself, and add systems to the business, into my life, delegating. And I had implemented GTD, Getting Things Done by David Allen, too.

Stephan Spencer on Kabbalah

So, David Allen and Getting Things Done, it sounds like that’s been pretty impactful. Has that been the most impactful system you’ve implemented in your business and in your life?

The system that has impacted my business and my life the most has been Kabbalah, actually.

Oh, really. Can you tell me a little more about that?

I’ve been taking Kabbalah classes for a couple years now, and it’s almost like a niche within self-help. Before there was 7 Habits, before there was GTD, before there was Tony Robbins, any of that, there was Kabbalah. The ancient wisdom is actually very practical. It’s so incredibly valuable. I use it every day. How I show up in the world is completely different.

I’ll give you an example. There’s a concept in Kabbalah called truth without mercy. And I’m pretty judgmental, I can admit. I’m much better than I was, but your negative aspect in Kabbalah is referred to as your tikkun. The word means to repair, basically, soul correction. What are you here to correct in your soul, to get to the next level?

So, anyway, truth without mercy is about judging somebody else. When we’re in a place of judgment, we’re not loving. You’re either in a place of judgment or a place of love, you can’t be both at the same time. If you’re judging something that a family member is going to do, like “that’s not a smart thing,” it’s not coming from a place of love.

I judge, that’s part of my tikkun. What makes judgment worse is when you impart your truth, or even the truth, on others without showing mercy. Someone wronged you, so you cut them out of your life. That’s showing no mercy. When you come from a place of truth without mercy, you create destruction. That’s the bottom line in this particular lesson. And that will be for any relationship, whether it’s with your partner, your best friend, your coworker, your boss. So it’s important to be conscious of it, to be more merciful.

So this is one small example from this huge library of incredible wisdom of Kabbalah. It’s made me better at SEO, a better speaker, father, business owner, and human.

This concept of truth without mercy, it sounds like the goal is to, as we say, walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. How has that affected your management style over the past 2-3 years?

Well, I display more compassion rather than firing someone on the spot just because they screwed up, and I recognize the difficult position they might be in. I’m more understanding if they have issues with their childcare or if they don’t have 100% focus at work. I’m more conscious and intentional in the conversations that I have whether it’s with a staff member or with a client or a vendor. I ask myself, how can I reveal light in this situation?

Stephan on his life reboot in 2009

In addition to Kabbalah, you mentioned a number of other influences. And one of the things you mention on your website is that your experience at Tony Robbins’ live event was really transformational for you. Can you share a little bit about that transition that you went through in 2009 when you first met Tony?

I didn’t meet Tony in person at that event in 2009; there were thousands and thousands of people there. But that event really set me on a fully different path.

At the time, I was getting a lot of feathers, signs, to change my life. The universe sends you feathers, and the feathers are a light tap on your shoulder like “you should call this person.” You know, do this thing. And if you ignore the feathers, the universe will start sending you bricks. And if you ignore the bricks, then you get a semi truck, and that really hurts. And I was at the semi truck stage.

In 2008 and 2009, I was going through a divorce, and I was really unhappy. I was living without purpose. I felt depressed, unresourceful, and I just wanted to withdraw. And that was not good for me, obviously. Three different friends told me within a couple weeks of each other, and they didn’t know each other, but they all told me, “You should go to this Tony Robbins event.” And I said, “Tony who? Sure, sure, yeah.”

But three different people who don’t know each other telling me to go to this particular event all within the span of a couple weeks? I guess it’s a sign. And it was a life-changing experience.

The first night of the event was the fire walk where you walk across 2,000-degree hot coals with your bare feet. And I did that without burning. And so I thought, if I can do that, what else is possible?

I was too afraid to go get Lasik. I was paralyzed by fear in so many different ways. My thought process was, “I don’t really like wearing glasses, and I’ve been wearing glasses forever, so I wish I didn’t have to. But I don’t have to, I could go get Lasik. But surgery on my eyes, oh no. I mean, I don’t like getting blood drawn, so that’s just out of the question.” But I had just walked on 2,000-degree hot coals, so surely I could go get Lasik.

Then two months after that, I went in for a hair transplant. I was balding and I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t willing to do anything about it; it actually required courage. But after this Tony Robbins’ event, I went ahead and did it. I did it on New Year’s Eve, and it was the worst New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had. But I got it done, and it changed my life. I look younger, and it completely changed how I felt, how I looked, how I showed up in the world, my lifestyle.

My presence was completely different, and people didn’t recognize me after my hair grew in and I changed my diet and was hitting the gym and stuff. I showed up at conferences where I’d always been, where I’d been a speaker for many years, and people wouldn’t recognize me. I’d be listening to people’s conversations when we were networking between sessions, and no one knew who I was, but I knew every single one of them. Then I’d say something, and they would say, “Oh my God! You’re Stephan Spencer!” It was kind of fun.

Stephan Spencer on his spiritual awakening and on Orion

So it sounds like this experience with Tony Robbins was incredibly empowering and it inspired you to take control of your own life in a more focused way.

Yeah, it was a catalyst for a complete life reboot. And I ended up joined Tony’s Platinum Partnership program not even a year later, which is a super high-end program. It’s $130,000+ per year when you add in all the trip costs, so it’s an investment. But I had just sold my business, so I had the ability to do that.

There’s always another level. You get some big transformation or success, whether it’s in your business, your productivity, your relationships, whatever it is, there’s always another level. And then there’s another level. And after that, there’s another level. So, that’s what I keep focusing on… what’s the next level like?

In 2009, I had my big transformation and breakthrough where I looked 15 years younger, but I was wanting more. So, in 2012 on one of the Platinum Partnerships, I had a spiritual awakening. We were in India with this monk that Tony had flown in from near Chennai, and the monk touched me on my head and gave me a deeksha, a “Oneness blessing,” and I felt all this peace and connection to the Creator. And I had been agnostic my whole life prior to this.

So that was a big shift for me. But I felt so, so connected to the entire fabric of creation and to God, the Creator, and I remember walking outside right after that. All the green that I saw was so brilliant, technicolor green, it was like a cartoon, and I just knew my life was going to be different. I was a different person. It was like I was plugged into the power supply.

I started getting all these miracles, just one after another. It just defies logic. And then there was what came out of the next Tony Robbins event I attended. It was called Date with Destiny, just a few months later, and that’s where I was introduced to my soulmate.

To Orion.

To Orion. It was at the very, very end of the event. We had just finished at 1:00AM or 2:00AM in the morning, and a mutual friend introduced us, and I knew within 10 minutes that she was the one. And I said, “I love you” to her 18 hours after we met, and then I proposed to her nine days after we met in a hot air balloon. She said, “Not yet,” by the way. She didn’t say no, but she didn’t say yes, either. So I re-proposed to her nine months later. She was starting to wonder, I think, by that point, “Will he propose? I sure hope so.”

The story of how you met sounds kind of in line with our cultural conception of fairytale romance, minus the wishfulness. It sounds like you had a really profound connection, and you both recognized that.

The timing wove together in such a beautiful way and there was such serendipity, synchronicity, whatever you want to call it. I had had that spiritual awakening a few months earlier where I was connected to the Creator, and I was experiencing miracles. Just 12 hours before we met, I was working on a poster board as part of a process at Date with Destiny. I was supposed to have done it two days earlier, but I was behind and started working on the poster board that morning in my hotel room, and part of that exercise was declaring your “relationship vision.”

I wasn’t in a relationship at the time, and I wrote out this beautiful vision of not just who I was looking for or who my soulmate would be but also what I would bring to the relationship, who I was going to be for her and what the relationship was going to be like. And after I wrote that, I connected, and it was like plugging in, and I plugged in and I asked for her to show up right away. And I used those words, “right away.”

It was something I asked for. I didn’t say, “In the next 5-10 years I want to meet this person.” Because then you just pushed that out 5-10 years. Why did you do that? You can ask for it right away, so I asked for it right away. And then I met her a couple hours later, and I knew she was the one within 10 minutes of meeting because of another spiritual connection.

Tony has this beautiful deeksha “Oneness blessing” process on the last night of Date with Destiny. That’s the same process I had experienced two months earlier in India. But this time I was giving deekshas because I had learned how to give the “Oneness blessing” when I was on that India trip and had received the deeksha, the one that awakened me. So now I was able to give deekshas and Orion, who I had just met, told me that she was disappointed that she didn’t get touched.

A lot of people are at the event; there’s thousands and thousands and thousands of people, so some people won’t actually get a deeksha. There’s just not enough blessing-givers and coordination to make sure that everyone gets one. And she didn’t get one. So I offered to give her one. We were sitting there in the lobby, and I put my hands on her head and gave her a deeksha, and it was probably not a smooth operator sort of thing to do, right? I was actually working with Neil Strauss, who wrote The Game, and I was in his secret society. So I knew a lot of techniques to pick up women, and this was not one of them. And tearing up as you’re giving her a deeksha or saying “I love you” 18 hours later was not one, either. So I was just breaking all the rules. And I just remember thinking, “I don’t care; she’s the one.”

How did I know she was the one? When you give a blessing, the deeksha, you pray for that person, and the more that you want them to get divine grace from the Creator, the more you want it to flow through you to that person, the more it will happen, the more it flows, the more impactful the deeksha will be. So I prayed so hard as if she was my soulmate. It was like, “Oh my God, she’s my soulmate.”

So because you prayed so hard, your intention was so strong, the clarity just came to you in that moment.

Yeah. And actually, a friend took photos of us that night. She took photos of us talking to each other in the lobby, and we looked like we were old souls who had been married for years, and there was another one where I was giving her a deeksha. So yeah, very cool.

On your website, you kind of allude to the impact of your relationship and hearing the story is really profound, so thank you for sharing that.

Yeah, of course.

One of the things you mention too is that Orion inspires you and challenges you every day. Can you give an example of that, how your relationship has grown and blossomed since the deeksha?

Oh, yeah, all the time. That’s constant. We’re in multiple masterminds together, we go to a lot of conferences together. We’ll take different classes together, Kabbalah, for example. We’ll do all that together. Because if one person is into personal development and the other person isn’t, the one person who isn’t will quickly fall behind, and isn’t vibrating at the same frequency.

Because we met at a personal development seminar and at the very end, all the masks had been shed, and we were just showing our souls to each other. We didn’t have all the positioning, all the bravado, all that extra stuff, and that really set the foundation for our relationship, that we continue to grow and develop together as a couple and it’s not just going to be her doing her thing, me doing mine.

She also challenges me. She just challenged me right before I got on this call. I was having a call with a client, and she wrote a note on a Post-It that said, “Charge what you’re worth.” Apparently, I was being too much of a pushover. The client wanted services for less than I was offering, and it was an existing client, but they were trying to push a little too hard. Orion was giving me some coaching before I was even off the call. We’ve got each other’s back.

Stephan on integrity and being true to your word

It sounds like she was helping you stay in your power.

She helps me to be a man who does what he says he’s going to do. Because I didn’t used to be a man who did what he said he was going to do. I still don’t hit it out of the park all the time, but I’m much better than I used to be just a few years ago.

So staying true to your word, like following through on commitments that you’ve made, that sort of thing?

That’s part of it, but being true to your word is so much more than not lying or following through with specific commitments. What is a lie, for example? Many people think of a lie as a bold-faced untruth, but what if you just quietly say nothing and don’t correct somebody’s misinterpretation of something? Like, “Well, I didn’t commit to that or say that was the case.” But you knew it would be interpreted a certain way, and you didn’t correct it. That’s a lie.

So, according to my standards, what is integrity, what is truth, what is a lie? Anytime somebody could misconstrue a situation, or expect something and you’re just not going to do it, you need to step up and say the truth. That’s part of being a man who does what he says he’s going to do.

According to Landmark Education, which is based on Werner Erhard’s teachings, taking responsibility is so much more than your obligation, your duty. It’s not about blame, it’s not about credit. Who’s to blame here? That’s a very low form of taking responsibility. Responsibility according to Werner Erhard is being the cause in the matter. If you’re not going to do it, who will? If not now, when? Sure, it’s not your job. But if not you, who? If not now, when?

I learned this in a workshop from a really great coach and at this workshop he talked about responsibility and being cause in the matter. And it finally clicked and it finally dawned on me when I was on a break and I went to the bathroom and the soap dispensers were out of soap. Previous versions of Stephan would have just left the soap dispensers and would have said…

There’s no soap.

“There’s no soap.” So I wouldn’t have used soap to wash my hands and I would have returned to the room and just continued with the workshop. But I had this new insight about responsibility and being cause in the matter, and I realized, “Wow, if I don’t let a maintenance person know this, how many other people are going to be in the same situation and be unable to wash their hands? Of course I need to do this.”

There’s an expression that goes, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” If that’s the kind of person you are in that instance, that’s the kind of person that you are in other instances. Or you see in a viral video that 15, 20 people walk past some homeless person foaming at the mouth. And it’s really shocking, and finally someone stops, and the person would have died otherwise. It’s all one and the same. Just different amplitudes.

Stephan on technology, distractibility, and AI

This seems to go back to just being present, too. That seems to be a piece of this.

Sure. And that is something that is so hard for people these days because these devices that we carry in our pockets are designed to distract us and to addict us to the dopamine hit we get every time we click or swipe. We’re junkies. We’re all junkies with no ability to focus. Even if you just have a cell phone on a table while you’re talking with somebody, it will lower the quality of conversation. Studies have shown this. Even if you don’t look at the phone, you don’t touch the phone, it’s just there, the conversation is much less.

That goes back to your interview on Get Yourself Optimized with Chris Bailey where the conversation turned to how as humans we’re drawn to novelty and threat, and there’s a third one. And you gave the example of our phones, which seems to be the nexus or the cornerstone of our current problem with attention and focus. But there are so many other examples of technology that draw us in in a similar way, I think.

Yeah. It’s designed by attention engineers, the same kind of folks who work at casinos to make sure that we spend all of our money and never leave the casino, so we have no idea what time it is. We’re in a time warp; it could be night or day, and we have no idea. No windows, and the ceilings and floors are visually busy, so we’ll look straight ahead at the slot machines. And the sounds the slot machines make… it’s all engineered to get maximum amounts of dopamine.

In a digital version, not just on our phones, but basically every media platform, a lot of major websites and apps that we use on a daily basis are also designed in the same way. It’s hard to get real work done.

Like deep work. In 2016, I spoke with Cal Newport on this topic, and we discussed deep work extensively, including strategies to get more deep work done in your life. The enemy of deep work is shallow work. It’s like majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. It’s a really great episode, definitely worth listening to.

So, basically deep work is where we actually make progress on work that’s important to us. And shallow work… email is probably the quintessential example, checking email 10-15 times per day.

Yeah, email, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, all of it. Whatsapp, Messenger. It’s all very shallow work. Eventually all of our jobs will be replaced by robots, essentially. It’s just a question of when. Robots and AI will start replacing the shallow work in our jobs much sooner.

For example, if I’m a social media marketer, if I go in and post on Instagram and I choose which hashtags to use and the right filters, that’s pretty shallow work. That job is so going to be replaced by robots.

As far as the timeline, do you think 5-10 years is realistic?

Oh, less than five years.

Less than five years?

Oh, for sure. Because we don’t think about how everything in terms of technology is exponential. Our brains are wired to think linearly. We look at the horizon. Intellectually we know we’re on a globe, but how often do you think about that? That you’re on a sphere. You look at the horizon and your brain extrapolates a straight line. But the horizon doesn’t even exist; it’s a construct. It’s a mental model, it’s not real.

And when you think about what life is like 10 years from now, you’re going to extrapolate linearly looking back at the previous 10 years to predict what will happen in the next 10. But technology is advancing at an exponential rate. It’s the law of accelerating returns, Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law. The price/performance of computing power is doubling every 12-18 months, and the power of computing is also following an exponential curve, so there’s this huge hockey stick curve that we’re seeing with advances in technology.

So the last 100 years of technological advances at today’s rate of change would happen in the next 20 years. But because it’s continuing to advance and accelerate, that amount of technological change will happen in the next 12 years. That’s according to Ray Kurzweil.

100 years ago, in 1919, the big innovation of the year was the toaster. It didn’t exist in 1918; it was groundbreaking. What’s happened in the last 100 years, it’s mind-boggling. That someone today would be walking down the street with something in their ear that’s glowing, that they could be talking to someone else, not themselves, and that the person they’re talking to could be halfway around the world. That would have been crazy in 1919, total science fiction.

And 12 years from now, we’ll be experiencing a Star Trek episode level of science fiction. That’s crazy. But that’s where we’re headed. So, yeah, five years from now, it’ll be a completely different world.

That’s almost a little overwhelming, just thinking about that. So, AI will be posting to social within the next five years.

I’m basing this on other predictions I heard from Ray Kurzweil; he’s the best futurist in the world. He wrote The Singularity is Near, The Age of Intelligent Machines, and The Age of Spiritual Machines. He’s a chief researcher at Google now. He predicts that we will have human-level intelligence AI within 10 years. Human-level intelligence.

So then what would humans do at that point?

Well, human-level intelligence isn’t that impressive, really. There are plenty of humans here who could still do things like painting, composing symphonies. But what happens after that because of the Law of Accelerating Returns is that seven years later AIs will be thousands of times smarter than us. What are we going to do in 2037 when we are thousands of times dumber than our AIs? We’re certainly not going to be employed doing anything.

Maybe we’ll be eradicated because we’re such a pestilence on this planet. It will be a very different world than what we have experienced to date.

Stephan on shifting our consciousness

Sure, and that also brings up the question of not just intelligence, but consciousness. As far as science is concerned, it’s a very nebulous place, like what is consciousness? Is it spiritual? We haven’t reached an answer on that. So, I wonder if that somehow fits into this conversation on AI. One, do AIs have consciousness? And two, as humans, will our mind and energy at that point then be focused on expanding consciousness?

In order for us to survive as the human race, elevating our consciousness is critical. Otherwise, we’ll force the hand of the super-intelligent AIs to stop us. This planet cannot support us at the rate of destruction we’re doling out on Mother Nature. Something’s going to give, and I hope it’s a consciousness shift. In Oneness, they teach that a global consciousness shift is imminent, that there will be a mass awakening of people. And it’s coming fast; we need it soon.

That brings up another question. You started Get Yourself Optimized in 2015 and you’ve been to self-development seminars and were involved in Tony Robbins’ Platinum Partnership starting in 2010. And we’re talking about how this huge consciousness shift is imminent. What trends have you noticed in the past 5-8 years that would support that? Have there been any trends? What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s about how we show up in the world. Each of us can change the world by changing ourselves. We can’t change anyone but ourselves. However, when we change, it changes “the field” around us. That in turn affects everyone around us. Our closest family and friends can’t help but be changed from being around us. So if enough of us just focus on changing ourselves, that will cause a tipping point for this global consciousness shift, this awakening, this mass awakening. I think it will happen from just enough of us saying, “I’m going to focus on changing myself, not anybody else, just me.” Because that’s all you can do.

In Kabbalah, they teach that all free will lives in the moment where we choose to restrict rather than react. When you reacting, you’re in robotic consciousness, you’re on autopilot, and you’re asleep at the wheel. It’s really low-level consciousness. When you make the decision to be restrict your reactive nature, that’s where the most light is revealed, that’s where free will lives, and you can have a completely different destiny. It’s almost like you’re changing versions of yourself for somebody with a way cooler life. Like, oh, I can have this way cooler life? It’s pretty cool. So, focus on being the best person you can be, and that’s how it starts. That’s the catalyst.

That’s how it all starts the shift. So, kind of like you were saying earlier, about being the cause in the matter and how focusing on changing the way you show up in those moments makes a big difference. It’s probably a pretty similar logic here.

Yeah, I would think so. I mentioned earlier that I attended Tony Robbins events. I invited each of my children to attend with me, and they did, and it was really powerful, but it faded, it faded quickly. They weren’t motivated to keep going along that path. Only my eldest daughter attended a second event with me, Date with Destiny, about eight years ago. None of them really followed through with what they learned form tony. It didn’t really stick.

There was benefit in going, for sure, but going to a Tony Robbins event, going to a motivational or inspirational seminar, is not going to change anything. It’s their responsibility to change themselves. But what you can do is just be the best person you can be.

So, it wasn’t about my kids going to these Tony Robbins events, it was about me being the best person I could be and changing my behaviors and attributes that I wanted to implement from these seminars, conferences, masterminds. That changes the field. That changes how I show up in the world to them. That can change them, and it did and it has, and it’s been incredible. And it’s been so much better than getting them to go to the seminars. They don’t need the seminars because I’m a different person, and they can’t help but be a different person when they’re around me. I am modeling how I want them to be in the world.

Wow, thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned, and your journey. This has been such an illuminating conversation. How can our readers learn more about what you do and begin optimizing their own lives?

The first place I’d suggest is the Get Yourself Optimized podcast, which is www.getyourselfoptimized.com. I’m also working on a self-help book, so that will hopefully be released in the next year or so. But in the meantime, the podcast is a great starting point and there’s some helpful blog posts on my website, StephanSpencer.com, personal and professional development-related, including SEO and online marketing and building your business.

Well, thank you so much for your time. This has been a wonderful conversation, and I’ve learned a lot, and I’m sure our readers will, too.

Thank you, it was a pleasure.