November 25, 2022
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Joe and Brett discuss how to find deeper clarity in decision-making, whether in the office or on the edge of a cliff. Decisions are emotionally-driven, and we navigate them based on how we think we’ll feel when an outcome arrives. When we’re willing to feel any emotion, our decision-making becomes clear. Tune in to see how becoming more aware of our emotions and using guiding principles can help us quickly identify the next obvious step in any decision-making process.
Episode Intro: Hey, everyone. I am taking on some more coaching clients, and I have a few openings. If you want to integrate what we talked about in the podcast into your life and business, coaching is a good way to go deep. To learn more about working with me and to apply, hop over to artofaccomplishment.com/brett.
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.
Brett: Hey, Joe. How are you doing?
Joe: I’m good. How are you?
Brett: Doing well. I’ve been thinking that on the podcast I think I’ve mentioned a number of times how we first met, which was you had been doing a talk in San Francisco called How to Make Good Business Decisions. That was something that really caught my eye. I had ended up moving to the Bay Area from my life overseas doing air sports, base jumping and wing suiting, and I was on my own personal decision of how to make better decisions because there have been a lot of cost and consequence with not making great decisions in our community. That was a study I was really deeply in at the time, driving me down rabbit holes, neuroscience and consciousness in general. I just realized we have never actually done an episode on how to make decisions.
Joe: That tickles me to no end. That’s actually something I was thinking about when you said about decision making. What made me crack up at the beginning was the idea that we really haven’t done this. It is such an integral part of the work. I look forward to doing it. Let’s talk about decision making.
Brett: It is also one of the practical things that people desire. We talked a lot about how to feel your feelings, and people ask what the point is.
Joe: We should tie those two things in together. Let’s do that. We’ve talked about the thing many times on the podcast about how the emotional center is the decision-making part of our brain. If we remove it, it will take us half an hour to decide what color pen or whatever it is. You will maintain your intelligence, but you won’t be able to make any decisions. That’s the quintessential link. The quintessential link is that we make emotional decisions. We do not make intellectual decisions. What we are doing is we are using the intellect to help us try to understand how we will feel at the end of the decision. We use a SWOT analysis. It is not really what’s the best result. It is how we will feel at the end of it.
I think I’ve said this on the podcast before, which is if you took your SWOT analysis and some authority that you completely trusted looked at you and said if you just choose this, you will be happier or you will have a more satisfied life, the SWOT analysis just goes out the window.
Brett: For listeners who might not know what a SWOT analysis is, it is a term used in business, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Joe: If you have written a pro and con list to decide whether you are going to marry the person or to take the job.
Brett: Darwin had a very famous one of those on whether or not he should marry the person.
Joe: Tell me this story.
Brett: I guess Charles Darwin famously did that. He did a very intellectual pro and cons list about whether or not to marry his wife.
Joe: If somebody had said to Charles that they guaranteed him he would have a happier, better life than if you didn’t, that whole analysis goes out the window. That is the other clue. What we are really doing is just using the intellect to try to figure out how we will feel best. In that, there is an assumption that I will feel better if my wife is supportive, if the job makes me money, or if I am successful. Not only are we trying to figure out what’s going to make us feel the best or the way we think we want to feel, but in that are a whole bunch of assumptions that are often full of errors.
The intellect can also lead us into the wrong place, whereas the emotional experiences are a great way, if you are really aware of your emotions and you understand how they move, then decision making becomes a completely different thing than thinking you are making intellectual decisions when you are not ever.
Brett: Tying back to another thing you said, you told me once that the body lies as much as the mind, or you could say even the emotions do. This isn’t necessarily to say that our emotions are correct, and our mind is wrong. It is more just to say that we make decisions based on the emotions we anticipate we are going to feel based on the outcomes. That knowledge helps us be more aware of the full stack of what we are making decisions from, not necessarily to point to any particular part of our system as being more trustworthy as another part. Is that accurate?
Joe: Yes. There are a couple of things in that. The first one is clarity in decision making comes from being willing, able and welcoming all emotional experiences. What we know about neuroscience is we are more likely to make a decision or act as a way to avoid something bad than to feel something good. A lot of the time what that means is that our decision making, the intellect, is weighing the avoidance of something bad over the potential of feeling something good.
If you are happy to feel any emotion, good or bad, if you welcome any of these emotions, your decision making becomes very clear. If you can be in love with feeling fear, anger, excitement, exalted or exuberant, which everybody says they can, but notice that might not be the case. If you can feel all of those things happily, and you look forward to them, then your decision making gets a lot clearer. That’s part of it.
The second part of it is your emotional system is not always clear in itself in the fact that you might be feeling something because of a trauma that isn’t actually happening in this moment, or your mind might be telling you a certain emotion might mean something it doesn’t mean. A great example of this is anxiety and excitement. There is this great phrase. Excitement is just fear with breath, or anxiety is excitement without the breath. If you can breathe into a feeling of anxiety or fear, it can become excitement very quickly. What’s the right emotional experience there? Is it that you are not breathing? Is it that you are actually feeling excitement or fear? There can be a lot of confusion around that as well.
It is not that listening to your body will mean you will make all these great decisions. It is literally understanding how your emotions work, how your body works and how your intellect works in the decision-making process. That’s the beginning of learning to make great decisions.
Brett: That sounds like it also includes being aware of what our fears really are. An example in jumping would be you might have the healthy fear that points to the physical risk you are about to take, and you might also be feeling the fear of letting somebody down or some kind of threat to your identity. You might be registering that identity threat as a physical threat and feel the physical response of fear, and you wouldn’t realize you are weighing your decision towards something that is actually protecting an identity rather than protecting your life. That’s one of the core learnings from this work for me and through my life in air sports.
Joe: A lot of us are protecting our identity. That’s beautiful. A lot of us make bad business decisions and apparently bad jumping decisions in air sports based on something that’s actually not dangerous to us, but dangerous to our identity. I would say the thing is if you think you are making a decision, you are in fear. Period. I have made 500 choices today. I am unaware of those choices. They just happened. I am choosing to talk to you right now. I am choosing to have my computer in this configuration. I am choosing where to look. I am choosing what I am drinking and what words to say. They are all a choice. For semantics, I am going to call those choices. Decisions, that’s where you think you have a decision to make, and you are thinking about if you go left or right. Do I take the job? Do I not take the job? Do I buy the car or not?
If you are in a thing where a choice has become a decision and all of a sudden there is a lot of thought put into it and you are really putting some energy, that in itself is fear. Already you are operating in some fear.
Brett: I want to challenge that a little bit as a devil’s advocate. What makes it not that we could be operating out of desire? On one side of the coin, I can see we fear a negative outcome. On the other side of the coin, I can see we desire the best possible outcome. We might even desire to not have the thing we fear occur. How do we know whether fear or desire is actually primary there? Can it be both?
Joe: It can be both, but all I am saying is fear is involved. There is some place where fear is involved. There could be a ton of motivations, desire being one of them or the motivation to be right or to not be judged. There are a thousand motivations in there, but there is a fear There is a fear of getting it wrong. There is fear of consequences if you are making a decision instead of just having a choice that is in front of you. That’s a really important thing, just to notice there is fear involved in it. When there is fear involved in it, our ability to think becomes less clear, to learn dwindles, and to see more solutions because we become more binary in our thinking. All of that occurs because we are in fear. Once we are in that decision making, that’s what happens.
The short fix on that that a lot of people will use, and I will share here is that you just do the next most obvious thing. I will give you a story about this. When I was investing, which I called investing for philanthropy where we would put millions of dollars into some project, there is this moment when you ask yourself if you are going to do that, put this money in. When I saw that, I used to think that was a decision I have to make and make well. Through my time working in philanthropy, what I realized was that’s false. That’s not true. It’s never true. What’s true is you do the next most obvious thing. If I am thinking if I should put the money in or not, there is some fear. What is the fear I have to address? I don’t know if this person is going to be great. I will do some reference checks. Am I sending them money now or am I still trying to make a decision? I am still trying to make a decision. Maybe they are not serving. The next most obvious step is to call some of the people they are serving and make sure their product is as good or their service is as good as I thought it was. It was a constant looking. Anytime I thought I had to make a decision, what’s the next most obvious step? What’s the fear not being addressed here? What’s the next most obvious step?
Brett: What if the next most obvious step is fuck it, I will just jump? Or the next most obvious step is to go to the fridge and grab another beer. I guess this would be a matter of how well we have calibrated our emotions, where they direct us and how much we have felt, but I am also curious how you would distinguish between the obvious choices.
Joe: That’s awesome. Very specifically it means you are staying focused on the problem, and you are not speed bumping an emotional experience. What that means is that it is not that the next most obvious step is to ignore or to avoid nor to avoid again by jumping over an experience. I am just so tired of being in this not knowing that I am going to fucking just do something. That’s one level of avoidance, and the other level of avoidance is I am going to grab a beer. What you are doing is staying focused on it and you are not speed bumping any of the emotional experiences.
Brett: How do you prevent getting into analysis paralysis there? If the next most obvious choice is to check the charts, go back and check some other numbers, and then check your…
Joe: The next most obvious thing to do.
Brett: If you are looping.
Joe: If you are looping, you are not doing the next most obvious thing to do. Looping is checking the charts, which I would say isn’t doing. What’s the thing you have to do? What’s the next most obvious thing to do? That’s the critical piece. Those are great nuances you are pulling out. I would say that’s a short term, practical way if you are in a decision, here’s what you do. It is literally thinking that you have to make a decision. That means I am in fear. That means there is something I need to investigate. What is it that I have to do next? It is that analysis of seeing it. That means there is something here. What do I have to do to investigate and unravel that?
Brett: The next most obvious thing might be to take actions and follow the next most obvious actions, and it might be the next most obvious thing to do is to pause and do some yoga, take care of yourself. I guess if you were to do that and you get regulated to a point, it will naturally arise in you to start action on the problem again.
Joe: Yes. I am not saying you have to 24/7 the problem, but what’s the next step in the problem? If you need to take care of yourself in the meantime, that’s obvious. It is an amazing thing. This is a simple, little experiment you can do that is super fun. You are driving and you are thinking about where you are going to eat. All of a sudden, you are in the conversation with your girlfriend, fiancée, or your kids or with yourself. Then if you just say I am going to find out where I am going to end up and then all of a sudden you are at this place and you have a conversation. Boom, all of a sudden we are here. Oftentimes that’s the way life works where you can just say I think I have to make this decision, and I can look and find out.
That’s what used to happen with the philanthropy. I would say what’s the next most obvious thing, and then all of a sudden I would say let’s invest or I am out of here. A decision never felt like it got made. It was never like wow, I have made the decision. I am doing this or not doing this. I just looked up and thought I guess I didn’t invest there, or I guess I did. That’s how the world works. All of a sudden these big decision points evaporate and they just become the next most obvious thing. It is because you are addressing the fear directly instead of thinking that you can figure out the future by sitting and looking at charts or thinking it through.
Brett: We have talked a little bit about how emotions are a bit part of how we are making decisions, and they are generally fear driven. When we feel like we are in a decision, there is some kind of fear. Another way that relates to something I have experienced is that anytime that I find myself stressed in a decision, it also just means that I haven’t fully accepted the outcomes of all of the options or of the options I might take, which is a different way of saying what you are saying, I think.
Joe: What you are saying there is another nuance that’s really important. How most people think about decision making is here is a good decision. It is a decision where I avoided the consequences. I made the decision, avoided the consequences and got the reaction I wanted to get. I got the thing I wanted to get. A good decision in an investment is the investment went well. But my experience as a venture capitalist was my best investment was the one that I made not so good money in, and the worst investment was where I made the most money. I can’t tell you how many VCs have felt that same way. This was a great investment, but it didn’t make money. This was a shit show, but it made a ton of money.
Brett: You are speaking to some other intangible return than money that came from it.
Joe: Yes. The company was really well run, and they had a good team. It did something really cool in the world, but the market timing was off, whereas the other made a lot of money but it was all [unclear] in 17 other ways, caused headaches and took most of my time.
Brett: You are referring to a decision that based on the available information was a good decision and just didn’t work out, and the other ones you just happened to invest in. If you had had your druthers, you wouldn’t have done so, and it worked out. Especially with markets, companies and investing, there is a lot of stochasticity. A lot of decision making becomes about portfolio therapy. An example of that from jumping would be you could say you made a good decision because you survived the jump you just did. You could also survive a jump and say I made a bunch of terrible decisions because I don’t believe I could have done that 100 times and survived. If I plan on making 100 jumps, then that was a failure.
Joe: That’s exactly right. If I made the kind of decision that I made with a company that didn’t do so well 10 times, my portfolio would be freaking amazing. If I made 10 decisions with the one that did well, I would be bankrupt. That’s exactly the way to say it, beautifully said.
But one way people think about it is when they have to make a good decision, most people are thinking if the decision they are going to make is going to get them the result they want. That’s not how I see good decision making, and it also doesn’t lead to the best decisions or outcomes overall. What I would suggest is that when you are looking at how to make a good decision, the other way to look at what a good decision is that it feels really good inside of you. I could be happy with the consequences either way because I made a decision in a way that felt great. It felt like it is part of my authenticity, who I am.
When people ask to take the job or not to take the job, they are thinking which one is going to make them happy instead of what the decision is that would make them feel really good right now. Because we are in fear, we are thinking about it in a binary way. We are not seeing all of the alternatives. As soon as you say to yourself instead of trying to get the best or right outcome, I am going to change my focus to how it feels best in me and immediately the fear starts evaporating and new options get seen. It is not about taking the job or not taking the job. It becomes about asking for this and this, or I am going to make sure my relationship with this person is right before I take the job. I am going to make sure the resources that I need to be great at this job are going to be delivered for me before I take the job. How do I be in this decision that feels great right now? I think that’s a more fruitful way to make great decisions. It is not the outcome. It is how you are in the decision-making process.
Brett: I am seeing a really beautiful symmetry right now to the how relationships reveal us episode where you described if we are in a relationship where our role is to make the other one happy, then that’s hell. I am seeing that right here. If we are making decisions out of trying to make our future selves happy, you can’t predict that.
Joe: That’s great. The way I think I am making a great decision is if I am making it on principles. I think principled decisions are super critical. There are two reasons for them. One is if you are making a decision on principles, you are more likely to get the reality you are wanting. The other reason is because you make decisions a lot quicker. All of sudden decisions evaporate and they just become choices.
I could give you lots of stories about this, but I will give one principle I work off of, which is I don’t work with assholes. I just don’t do that. There have been times when there were large amounts of money I could have made if I could have just suffered this asshole for X period of time. It was really hard to say no to this big pile of money. At the same time, I have that principle. I will revisit them every once in a while and ask if this is true or right, the principles I live by. But if I live by those principles, then it turns out my life is the life I want it to be. All of my choices help me. If a principle doesn’t help me make decisions, it is not a true principle.
Brett: What’s another example?
Joe: Another example is I put connection first. If I have a decision to accept something or not, a job offer or a client, I connect. I will not make the decision unless I feel a sense of connection, so connection is first. If I am having a problem, the first thing I do is connect with the person. That’s a principle I live by. What does that do? In the long term, what that does is if I make enough decisions that way, it ends up that I don’t have assholes around me, which is fantastic, and I feel deeply connected with the people around, which is fantastic. The principles that you hold, if you hold them through all decisions, because a decision is one event. You can think about your decision like a portfolio, too. I have a portfolio of decisions and my job is to make most of them good decisions. If I am living principledly, I will do that. It might be hard in those moments, but finding those principles, living by them and making your decisions by them is the shortcut.
Brett: This ties back to what you said about feeling great about making the decision or making the decision that feels great in your decision now. I imagine if you make decisions from what you think your future feeling is going to be, then you are basically telling yourself that I am prioritizing my imaginary fantasy future over my present. You are going to end up living a life where your present is always organized to be sacrificed for some future.
Joe: Beautifully seen, that’s exactly right.
Brett: Beautifully seen because I have been there.
Joe: We all have. I remember this time when people talked about principled decision making and I thought what the fuck are you talking about. What do you mean? It just made no sense to me. What happened was I was working with somebody who worked exclusively on principled decision making, and it was over this deal, early in my venture capital career. He was making a decision and he basically just went through these five principles, this, this, this, this and this. It was to the board, and he said these are the principles. I saw him make a great decision really, really quickly. I saw him not lose his center in the process.
It was one of those things where the board calls and everybody is freaking out because something bad happened. This was a merger. Our big exit was about to go away. It was horrible, and everybody was freaking out. This guy said here are my principles on this. I remember one of the principles was you build a company to make the best company. You don’t build a company to sell it. That’s one of the principles he lived by. If they don’t want to buy the company, we don’t chase. If we chase, the best-case scenario is we get a lower price. If we are fine, the best-case scenario is they go oh shit and they come back. That would be great. In the meantime, we are just going to continue to build the best company we can. It was decided on principle. He had 5 principles, and he went through them. These are my principles. This is what I see work. He just did it. He never lost himself. It was absolutely the right decision for the company. We made a lot more money on that company.
When they came back to buy it, it was the same company that came back and paid a lot more money a year later. When I saw that, I knew what people were talking about when they say principled decisions. I am going to do something that feels like shit right now as far as my ego, my identity and short-term gain goes because I know these principles work. I am going to live by these principles, and they worked. If they didn’t, I don’t think it would have mattered to him at all except for maybe he would have looked at them long term and asked if his principles were wrong.
Brett: I guess if there is a principle of making the decision that feels good, that might conflict sometimes with the principles that draw us through our ego and the uncomfortable feelings of drawing boundaries, saying no, leaving money on the table, and firing somebody we like as a person, all of these decisions that can bring us through difficult feelings. There are a lot of times when our emotions might conflict with our principles and with our intellectual analysis, but it sounds like the difference between the intellectual analysis and the principles is that the principles have been consolidated over time and you have learned that it works. I don’t want to tell lies because I don’t want to have to remember 30 different truths for who I am talking to.
Joe: The distinction that I think is really important to make is I think about Mandela breaking stones in the quarry and being in jail for a long period of time. That wasn’t going to be comfortable, but it felt good. There is some aspect of him that felt true to himself, that felt like he was being himself in that process. The good I am speaking to is you feel good in the decision, meaning you are in yourself. You are empowered. You are saying this is who I am, not in an identification way but in a way of being present. I can be present in this decision making. I am not saying I am going to be comfortable. I am sure he was not comfortable, but I am sure he could be himself in that. That’s the distinction I am making.
Then being able to welcome all of your emotional states is to say I can happily feel the fear of losing this deal, the anguish of being stuck in this quarry, any of these experiences, which allows you to be in yourself and maintain who you are. Who you are is the principles as far as how you want to be in the world.
Brett: I want to tie this back to another thing. Maybe this is even just a principle or sort of a pillar of the work, which is we tend to invite what we fear. If we are acting on principles that bring us into our fear, how do we follow those principles into fearful places without inviting the thing we fear? For example, if I have a principle that leads me to want to approach a bunch of investors or some people I am attracted to at a bar and I also know that’s going to bring me into a situation I am afraid of and maybe I will stumble over my words and produce some kind of negative response and get rejection. I might be able to predict that that rejection is going to send me into an emotional spiral for several weeks. How do we follow principles into the fear without creating the conditions the fear invites?
Joe: It is the same principle, but it just works just a tweak different than how you are describing it. The things we fear we invite through the avoidance of the things we fear. I will give you a story. I was just having this conversation with my daughter last night at dinner. She has a new guy that she is dating, and she really likes him. She speaks to his last girlfriend or fling, and she gets this fear that he is playing her or isn’t into her as much as she is into him or some version of that. She very coolly decides to say I have this fear. What are you up to? What’s going on here? The guy says he totally wants her to be his girlfriend and he is totally committed. It worked out well for her.
In the conversation, as she is talking about it, I noticed she was defending him a little bit too much. I asked her what she was doing. Why do you need to defend him? What do you need to justify that he is not going to hurt you? What’s really going on there? She sat with it for a minute. She started crying. She said this is my own fear. This is me being scared that I am going to get hurt and I am trying to avoid getting hurt. She was tearing up, so beautiful. I told her I wanted to teach her something. In this particular case, it worked out well, but the reality is acting on that fear made it more likely that he was going to abandon you. You are more likely to come off needy, and she has broken up with a lot of guys who are needy. She knows that world. You are more likely to come off needy, which means somebody who is self-possessed isn’t going to be attracted to you. You also potentially could have pushed into something he wasn’t ready for. The other thing is that if you can leave him, be in that fear itself and learn to welcome it, then you are self-possessed and that’s a harder person to leave.
For her, it is the avoidance of that emotional experience that is recreating the fear. What living with principles does is it says I am going to go right towards that emotional experience. I am not going to avoid it. Just to give a couple more examples of this, in my twenties, I was really scared of being abandoned. I think we have talked about this on the podcast a couple of times. To avoid the experience of being abandoned, I would get angry at people, which would make it more likely for me to be abandoned. I would become avoidant, which made it more likely for me to be abandoned. It is really us trying not to feel the emotion, the thing that we fear, abandonment, being left, being rejected, being a loser, failing at our business that we are inviting back in. Living by principles forces us to feel the stuff that we don’t want to feel, feel the idea that this company that is going to hit bottom, we are going to lose our investment. We have to feel that shit and welcome it. It is the avoidance of that that makes us run towards them and ask them to please sign the deal. We will give you a discount.
Brett: It is also what makes us justify, prejustify and postjustify our decision with confirmation bias. One of the things I love about the story with your daughter is there was this hurt she was afraid to feel. The way she made the decision, she justified in her mind her partner to avoid feeling that feeling. That created the blind spot that would have had her fall into that feeling later on. This is just another really key thing about human decision making, the confirmation bias. Once we make a decision, because we don’t want to feel whatever consequence of having made the wrong decision or having the emotional experience we were trying to avoid, losing the money, the partner or the business, that’s the source of the fear that ends up constructing stories that blind us to reality. Feeling the underlying emotions is just the way through. We don’t need to construct a story anymore if we are okay with all of the feelings.
Joe: That’s the other way in which we re-create the reality we assume to be true or invite the fear. One way is we try to avoid the feeling in a way that immediately brings it towards us. Another way is we see the world and we prove this is the way the world is. That recreates that experience for us as well. A world leader who thinks the world is cutthroat and everybody is out to get me, and they are going to get me at some point, which is the leader who goes out and starts the war and verifies that everybody is out to get them. They start penalizing, punishing, containing, constraining and oppressing people so they are not destroyed. In that, they create a world where that is the actual reality, and they always get destroyed by it.
Brett: It would be nice if there were some examples of that on the world stage right now.
Joe: Maybe two huge examples are happening. One is currently happening, and one will happen in the next five years. That’s just how that works. This is the way we do it. If you live by principles and you say this is the reality I want to see and this is how I want to live so that I live really great about myself, then you create that reality. To do that, it forces you to feel all of these emotional experiences you don’t want to feel and become friends with them and welcome them. You can’t make that decision to not sell the company even though it was going to be a lot of money unless you are willing to feel the oh shitness of it, the fear of it.
Brett: Which brings up another principle, which could be I want to make the decision that leads to my deepest growth. You don’t necessarily know what that is, but you do know what you are avoiding. The more self-aware you become, you notice more what it is that you are avoiding. I can tell that I have definitely made decisions in the past that didn’t seem rational. I didn’t end up getting what I wanted. I didn’t end up feeling the way I wanted to feel. It is almost as if there was something unconscious, something deep in me that brought me into that place to feel the thing I was avoiding. I couldn’t tell if it was me that knew that or if it was some deep biological instinct to growth.
Joe: As a coach who has been through a lot of this stuff, I see that all of the time. I watch people, and they think they are doing one thing but nope. I have a client right now who isn’t working for a short period of time, just finished one big project. Typically really high-powered people, when they stop working, they go into this depression. It is really just exhaustion except for them beating themselves up over not doing anything. It becomes a depression. I am watching her do all of this recovery. I am watching her make all this growth with her family. I am watching her be with herself and be more honest with herself. She just thinks what I am doing. I should really go get a job. I am watching her do all of the groundwork to make the life she has always wanted and that she has been avoiding. I see that all of the time. I see people constantly make a series of decisions.
I will know when clients are going to make a move usually a month or two before because I see they are doing these things they can’t understand but their deep wisdom is leading them to it. I think it is something so beautiful when you can actually have faith in that. When you can say I don’t understand this decision, but I have faith that my wisdom is guiding me here.
Brett: That leads to a lot less stress and second guessing of ourselves.
Joe: I think the other part of good decision making is there is an act of surrender in it. There is an act of surrender to a decision. Since we can’t control the outcome, there is a place where that has to be surrendered. The outcome has to be surrendered. Learning that surrender is unbelievably freeing. It creates so much freedom and so much joy, to say this part is beyond me and this is what I can actually control. What I am going to control is how I am going to show up here and how I am going to be in the world.
Brett: That sounds like a wrap. I don’t know about you. That feels good to me.
Joe: I think we have more to talk about decision making at some point, but I think this is a good one to end with.
Brett: Thank you, Joe. I loved it.
Joe: What a pleasure. Thanks for bringing up this topic.
Brett: See you everybody.
Thanks for listening to the Art of Accomplishment. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and rate us on your podcast app. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions or comments. You can reach out to us, join our newsletter or join our courses at artofaccomplishment.com
March 18, 2022
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It’s scary if your boundary is sort of accepted and the person loves you and your boundary because then that means that the way that you have modeled the world in the past has to now change. That means you have to change.
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.
Brett: Welcome back to the show. Today we are going to try something a little bit different. We have been getting a lot of questions from the community on circle and direct messages about boundaries. Today my nesting partner, Alexa, is going to interview Joe with a number of questions that come up commonly around boundaries.
Alexa: Hi, Joe.
Joe: Hi, how are you, Alexa?
Alexa: I’m great.
Joe: Do we want to tell everybody who you are and what makes us have a podcast with you?
Joe: It would be good for me to know anyway.
Alexa: I’m Alexa Anderson. For about the last decade, I’ve been doing design research and strategy, helping my clients, mostly big corporate clients and teams of big corporations to ask better questions and make big decisions. Since the pandemic, I’ve been pivoting to doing coaching. Also, I’ve worked with you, Joe, and that’s been really amazing. I would consider myself to be part of a community of people who are doing this kind of work and trying to live into some of these ways of being a person in the world.
Joe: I’m glad you are here. I’m glad you will be asking questions. I understand that the questions are around boundaries today. What made you want to ask me questions around boundaries? What was the cause of it?
Alexa: I don’t feel like I chose this topic.
Joe: Let’s start there. Do you have a boundary around that? Did you want to talk about something else? What would your choice be?
Alexa: I do think this is an exciting topic. I do think the topic chose us or chose the podcast. I know that people from the last class really had some open questions about boundaries and had been hoping that you would do a podcast about boundaries.
Joe: Cool. We have done one, so this would be a follow up. That’s great. I think we have done one. Have we done one? Have you listened to one?
Alexa: I don’t remember there being one. I am pretty sure I have listened to all of them. I think boundaries come up sometimes in a lot of things you talk about, but I don’t think you have done a podcast all about boundaries before.
Joe: Fantastic. Let’s do it. I love it and I love the idea. It is something that has come out of a lot of you being a part of the group and you have seen the group wanting to do it and talk about it, and there being a lack of it in the work so far. I am really grateful that you are paying attention like that, and that you are letting it choose you and you are listening that way.
Alexa: Thanks, Joe.
Joe: Where do you want to start?
Alexa: I do think you have a really interesting definition of boundaries. I think it is a little bit different than how a lot of people think about it. Do you want to start by just telling us how you think about boundaries?
Joe: Boundaries that are super effective both for you and for the people you are with are effective because they are not part of the power dynamic. They are not part of a fear dynamic where somebody is trying to get control over another person. A boundary when used optimally increases your capacity to love somebody, the person who you are drawing the boundary with, and it empowers you so that you see that it is your own choice, and you get to make that choice.
The way I do that is if you think about a boundary that you want to draw with somebody, which does two things. One, when you think about saying it to them, it immediately allows you to love them more deeply.
Alexa: Just saying it.
Joe: Just saying it, no matter what their reaction is. Maybe their reaction is fuck you, and maybe their reaction is thank God you said that. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, when you say it, your capacity to love them has increased. Then the second thing a good boundary is it doesn’t tell them what to do, it tells them what you are going to do. It is never about controlling the other person.
This is one that comes up a lot for people who are dealing with any kind of abuse in their life. Often a really great boundary there is if you are going to yell at me, I am going to ask you to stop yelling at me. If you continue to yell at me, I am going to leave. Thirty minutes later, I will give you a call. If you are ready to talk again without yelling at me, I am happy to reengage. That would be an example of a boundary. It is not asking them to do anything any differently, but you are immediately able to love them more because you are not accepting some sort of behavior that’s belittling to you.
It is really hard to love something that can dominate you and that does dominate you. It is an incredibly difficult thing. If you think about boundaries and love, there is no iconic figure of love. There is no paragon of love that isn’t really strongly boundaried whether that’s a great mom or Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa. All of these people were incredibly boundaried. Boundaries are a part of what makes a loving relationship. It creates trust.
Alexa: I really like that definition, boundaries that make more room for love.
Joe: It can’t exist without it. I think the thing that makes that so hard for people to grab hold of is that love is often conflated with care taking. I know we did a podcast on care taking, but love is often conflated, meaning loving is conflated with being nice. Making sure the other person doesn’t get mad is what I actually think it is. If I love them, then they can’t be mad. Actually, compassion can really fucking piss people off. You can be very compassionate with somebody, and they can get really, really upset with that. That’s what makes it compassionate. It means you are willing to take their anger because it is what is right for them. It is not what makes it compassionate, but that is the harder compassion to have is to suffer for the compassion or apparently suffer for the compassion. It is not actually ever suffering, but it really feels like it when you are thinking about doing it.
Alexa: It strikes me there is this way you said that. The compassionate thing is you are willing to take their anger. I don’t disagree, but the way I would say it is something like, the compassionate thing is being willing to accept their anger.
Joe: Yeah, that’s a better way to say it. I would say most accurately probably is to love their anger. You might not take it, and you might tell them they need to leave but you can be in love with their anger. You are not avoiding it. Nice catch.
Alexa: Also, the other thing that’s coming up for me is I think that there is a really big mental change over that happens when people understand several of the building blocks you are referring to and then change from being a person who considers the right thing to do in a relationship to be making sure the other person isn’t mad kind of niceness to being the kind of person who is like the really compassionate thing to do here is to say what’s real for me even if that makes them upset.
Joe: Making them not upset would be things like walking on eggshells, care taking them, doing things for them that build resentment for you, bending what you want because they will be happier, etc. All that does in a relationship is continue to create resentment and a sense of obligation. Then in a sexual relationship, that resentment becomes very parental child. One is the caretaker, and then the sex dies. It is a horrible loop.
Everybody is in these horrible relationships, and they are like I have given everything I can give to this person, and they still don’t blah, blah, I’ve tried. I don’t know what I have to do to make her happy or him happy. It is like be yourself. The only thing people aren’t trying is just be yourself, be authentic, show up as you and don’t try to change them.
Alexa: I do think a trap people fall into is feeling like I authentically want them to be happy, though.
Joe: Right, that’s beautifully put. That’s trying to change somebody. In a relationship, the state that creates most freedom in my system is where I can love the person unconditionally. I don’t need them to be different than what they are. Obviously, that ebbs and flows at different levels of subtlety, and that’s why I am not defining a boundary as you have to do this because that’s changing them. It is just saying what you are going to do.
If you are not capable of loving somebody for who they are, then what that really means is you are incapable of loving that part of yourself. I really want them to be happy means I can’t love my own sadness. I really want them to be more faithful to me. There is some part of yourself that can’t love either your desires that are outside of the relationship or loving yourself in a way that you can get what you deserve. All of it is just this reflection. Anytime you want someone else to be different, it is a reflection of a way you can’t love yourself.
This is where it gets really confusing with boundaries is that people hear that and they go, oh, so if I love them, then I will accept that. No, you might not. You might be like I love you just the way you are. I understand you need to have sexual relations that don’t work for me, but they don’t work for me. If you are going to have sexual relationships in this way outside of our relationship, then I love you, but I am not in the relationship. That’s not the relationship I want. It’s not trying to change them. It’s just being clear about how you are going to respond and being authentic and truthful to yourself in that.
Alexa: That raises another question for me. Is it ever appropriate to try to change someone?
Joe: Appropriate assumes a right or wrong. It is incredibly ineffective. It doesn’t create happiness for anybody. Even in the work that I do where I am working with somebody where apparently I am creating transformation for people, I won’t do it unless there is a question. I won’t impose my ideas. If somebody wants help transforming their lives, great, help them. But to impose your idea, it is incredible hubris. It is incredible to think that I know what’s better for the person.
More specifically than that, every way that you want somebody else to change is really just a reflection of a way you don’t want to feel. They do that thing, and it makes me feel X. If every time somebody yelled at you you felt like a million bucks, you really wouldn’t care if they yelled at you. If every time somebody was late to dinner it made you feel loved and adored, you would be like cool, be late to dinner. What’s really happening is you are saying I don’t want to feel a certain way and you are making me feel it. You are holding them emotionally responsible, which is totally disempowering to yourself, and you are trying to control them, which is disempowering to them. It is just a horrible situation. Take responsibility for your own emotions, and the best way to do that is to say how I am going to respond.
Alexa: It sounds like you are mostly exploring this in terms of interpersonal relationships, like romantic relationships, but I imagine this comes up a lot in a work context. The traps seem similar. Somebody is feeling like they really need this job, but you really want them to be different if they are going to be on the team.
Joe: I will say if you look at the way the boundaries are held whether it is the way Martin Luther King held boundaries or a great CEO held boundaries or how you hold boundaries in a work context or in a love relationship, the principles are very much the same.
The thing about a work context is at some point there is this moment of control of I am going to fire you. I am going to let you go. That is really not what I am going to do. I am going to fire you is what I am going to do, but you are forcing somebody out of a situation. Usually when people are clear about their boundaries up front, there is no firing of anybody. They just leave. It is really clear.
We’ve talked about this, Brett and me. The last four or five people we have let go in our company, literally I go to have the talk with them to say this isn’t working and they say it is time for me to go. It is disturbingly the case. I had a client recently ask me if that is because I am too slow letting people go, and it made me think about that. It feels like it is the right time for me, and it feels like it is the right time for them. It is because I am constantly drawing these boundaries saying this is the expectation, and if this can’t happen, then this is what is going to occur, and this is what I am going to do to respond to it. I am very clear about my own wants, and I am very clear about expectations. It usually doesn’t come down to that.
The unique part of the work stuff is that you can eventually say you are fired or be fired. But the thing for the person who is having the boundary drawn is it is always about the fear of a consequence that prevents somebody from drawing the boundary. I can’t say that to my boss because they might fire me. I can’t say that to my lover because they might leave, which is basically I can’t be myself and be accepted here. That is really what you are saying, or I am scared.
The interesting thing about that reflection is it is usually based on their projection of the way the world works. A great example of this is I have a conversation with people a lot that goes something to the effect of I think I am going to quit my job, or I think I am going to break up. I will ask what’s wrong, and they will talk about it. I am like what if you were just yourself, let’s see what happens. Since you are going to quit or you are going to break up anyways, just assume it is already lost so why don’t you show up exactly how you want to be at work and see what happens? Literally eight of ten times they get promoted, get raises or their relationship turns out great. Twenty percent of the time they get fired. That’s really not what they wanted, but eighty percent of the time it was their projection of the world they were scared of, not actually the world.
For the twenty percent that have gotten fired, none of them are like oh shit, I got fired or I got broken up with. What they did instead was they realize this is how I want to be. That means this is the kind of company I want to work for. We are scared of the consequence, but whatever the consequence is, it is a direct path to the life where we are accepted and loved for who we are.
Alexa: I love that.
Joe: I like the way I said it. I don’t think I have ever said it that well.
Alexa: It just feels so good and so exciting for them to set boundaries.
Joe: Exactly, until you actually go to set them, then there is a really big scary moment often. For instance, the other thing that’s interesting about boundaries is they move. I think I have said this as an example. My dad was a drinker, and I started with the boundary with him of I am not going to be around you. Then it was I am not going to be around you when you are drinking, and then it was I am not going to be around when you are behaving in a certain way because of drinking. Those are my boundaries, and it was about me not being around him. Each one of them allowed me to love him better, but it was really important for me to have that really big strict boundary at the beginning of just I am not going to be around you because I needed to convince myself it was okay for me not to be around that person.
If there is an abusive relationship, whether it is emotional or physical, the first step is the person has to be convinced that they don’t deserve it and that it is not their fault. They are worthy of a deeper love, and that is what helps you draw the boundary, and that boundary is what confirms that. But that moment is really scary to actually draw the first time because you are still not sure if you deserve that love. You don’t know if the world is going to provide for you because your whole life it hasn’t. There is this great moment of fear when you are drawing especially important, big boundaries. There is this big moment of vulnerability because you are testing to see if the world is going to work the way your projections say it is going to work. If it doesn’t, then, man, your whole self-definition has to bend and be reshaped.
Alexa: It is actually scary either way. It is scary if your boundary is accepted and the person loves you in your boundary because then that means that the way that you have modeled the world in the past has to now change, and that means you have to change.
Joe: Yes, and it also means that you have to grieve the fact that you have been living under a cage that was never fucking there, and who you think you were and what you defined yourself as. Boundaries and apologies are some of the most effective change agents for healing transformation because they are direct tests about how you see the world.
Alexa: When your model of the world changes, so many things can change. It can feel really destabilizing even though it is growthful.
Joe: If your model of the world changes, inevitably your model of yourself and how you look at yourself changes.
Joe: Right before we did this, you said to me really there was just one question everybody was asking. Lots of people were asking questions about boundaries, but there was one question. What is the one question?
Alexa: It takes two forms. The question that rose to the top was what is the difference between a boundary and an ultimatum. The other one is how you know if you are setting good boundaries. They are basically the same thing.
Joe: Yeah, but it is nice they are reflected in two different ways. The second one I think we have answered pretty well. You are not asking them to change, and it increases your love. The not asking them to change can still feel like an ultimatum and it can still be a power over them, but not if it increases your capacity to love. The ultimatum part, when our boundaries sound like ultimatums, it means we are really scared. We are operating out of fear because we are trying to control the other person in one way or another. There is this subtlety of it, and I think you heard it in my first example of a boundary, which was: I will be gone for 30 minutes. I will call you then, and if you are able to not. What I am doing there is I am not abandoning the person.
Oftentimes if you are going to stick with “it increases your love and it is not what they are going to do” to just completely make sure you are not creating an ultimatum and you are not in a power struggle, you want to make sure there is no abandonment. This is a weird thing because abandonment doesn’t mean you are going to be there for them, but it does mean that they have a choice to get back into connection with you. The choice is don’t yell at me, and then we can be in connection. If you say I am done with your yelling, I am leaving. That’s a boundary. It is not going to increase your capacity to love them, and it can be very much power over situation. But if you leave that opening that says I will do business with you in the future if this, this and this happen, then there is a door open. There is a way for that to continue.
Sometimes it is really necessary to not give an opening for your own healing. For instance, if I saw somebody embezzle money from me, there wouldn’t be a response like, “When you can show that you are honest again, I will be open and reflective.” It is just that I don't want to do business with anybody who stole from me, and so that’s a choice I get to make, and I am going to make it. Is that an ultimatum? Absolutely, it is an ultimatum. It is not even an ultimatum. There is not even a choice. It is just leave or I am leaving.
I think that’s absolutely fine as well but notice in that case I am not trying to control them. I am just saying this isn’t a relationship I want to be a part of. The underlying principle is the same. I am still not trying to control another person. I might try to control them to get my money back from the embezzlement. But that’s not a boundary.
Alexa: I wonder. Are you saying boundaries are never a way to try to control someone or change someone?
Joe: Correct. That’s right. That’s a fool’s errand.
Alexa: I want to ask what makes it a fool’s errand.
Joe: The things we talked about before. The idea that it is not empowering to you, and it is not empowering to them. There is a great saying. Moving a mountain or changing a man, I would rather move a mountain. It is easier.
Alexa: There are some things that come up in life. I think a work context is a really good one. You are on a team with someone. You have a shared project, a shared resource of some kind. You are living together in a group house, maybe. You are both paying into the lease, and so leaving is very disruptive to both of your lives. How do you set boundaries in those kinds of situations that aren’t ultimatums?
Joe: Give me a specific example, and then we will see if we can come up with it.
Alexa: Let’s try a couple of iterations of this because I am not sure if I have come up with a good one. There was one that was on my mind earlier in this conversation. In a work context, if I am constantly triggered that you are defensive, like I can’t work with your defensiveness, and that’s about them, but at a certain point, if you have power to be like we can’t work on this team together.
Joe: In that context, there is first the VIEW conversation before any boundary is necessary, to just learn. I notice that when certain things happen, you get defensive. What does that mean for you? What’s triggering that? How do you see me in those moments? There are a whole bunch of conversations so you can start to understand the defensiveness.
I’ve seen CEOs do this with their executive team. It is like oh wow, you are being defensive. We’ve talked about that. I need you to leave the conversation until you can come back in a non-defensive way. We will make decisions without you. The thing about you needing to leave the conversation, you can do that at work, which is interesting.
But the non-work version of that is I don’t want to engage in a conversation with you, if this is a house, that’s defensive. I am totally happy to reengage with you when this conversation isn’t defensive at which point they will probably say I am not being defensive. That would be the typical response to that. Then you would say it feels very much like it is defensive to me right now, and I don’t want to engage in that. You don’t have to justify. You are not going to get into the court of law with a person because you get the choice to whether or not you are going to engage in a defensive conversation. That’s the choice you get to make.
Alexa: The other thing I love about what you are saying is I am realizing that probably any need, want could be expressed in terms of a boundary, but that’s just not usually the best tool for every kind of interaction.
Joe: It is usually the last case scenario tool, and it usually means there is some place that could use some healing in you, too. But sometimes the boundary is the best way to heal it, so it is an interesting paradox. It is usually some place where someone gets really triggered. If someone is defensive with me, for instance, I might ask about it. I might laugh at it. I might promote it. I might, with a big smile on my face, go absolutely not, that’s not true at all. If someone gets defensive, for the most part, I don’t really mind. I notice I get a little triggered when people are defensive if it shuts down a group because I notice that. When someone is defensive in a group, it shuts down the group, and that will actually get me a little bit more. But one on one, it doesn’t.
It is usually something in that if you can’t play with it, there is something in you that needs to be able to say I don’t have to be around defensive people. As soon as you know you don’t have to, then the boundary immediately changes.
Alexa: And becomes more nuanced?
Joe: With my dad, it was I am not going to be around you. Once I realized that I don’t have to be around his drinking, but I miss my dad and I would like to be around my dad, I am going to be around my dad, just not while he is drinking. Oh, I don’t mind if he is drinking as long as he is not being a prick. I had to learn I could not be around his drinking, and that’s why the boundary was such a huge tool.
Another example of this for me was earlier on when I was teaching and coaching, I felt like I held a little bit too much responsibility for other people, and so when people started to not trust the process, I would feel responsible to make sure they were taken care of. I had to draw the boundary of if you don’t trust the process, then I am not in the process with you anymore. That’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because the process doesn’t work if there is no trust. I’m happy to address the trust. I’m happy to have whatever conversation we need to have, but if there is no trust on your side, it would be as stupid as me continuing the process if I didn’t trust that you can transform. That would be ridiculous. The trust needs to be there.
I had to draw that boundary with several clients to get to the point where now that boundary gets drawn so early that it never seems to get to that point anymore. I see that there is no trust here. I don’t want to work like that. Then they will be like this is why I don’t trust you. Then we are talking about it. Before it was what I had to do to help them, which never worked.
Alexa: Interesting. That brings up another question I had. I don’t know if you want to go into this or not. It was from what you were saying earlier. I wondered if resentment is always a pointer to a boundary that’s not being drawn.
Joe: There are two ways to think about resentment. It is a real indicator you are trying to save other people. In the fear triangle, it is the savior holds a lot of the resentment and obligation, and what that really is is that you are trying to make your world that way you want it by saving other people and making sure other people are happy. There is a lot of resentment that gets built there, and so absolutely there is a boundary they are not drawing. The thing about a savior is a savior tries to make the other person happy instead of having the boundary of this is how I want to be around you.
To see every time you are resentful as a boundary that needs to be drawn can be a little bit dangerous because it uses the bazooka of the tools pretty early instead of just saying I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do the dishes every night, or I want to do the dishes together. I would love to do the dishes with you. There are so many places where resentment is just an indicator of what the wants are that you haven’t expressed, what the vision of the world you want to live in is that you haven’t expressed because you don’t think you can get it, which is, like you said, another way of saying it is a boundary, but it might not need to be a comblamo boundary. It can be: “What I really want is for us to enjoy doing the dishes together and have fun doing dishes together instead of why aren’t you doing the dishes, or if you don’t do the dishes, then I am not going to do the dishes.”.
There are so many solutions to the problem. On the dish thing, I always think about this particular example. There was a guy I know who lived with these friends and none of them wanted to do the dishes. It was all this hardship with the dishes. This was their solution to the problem after sitting down and everybody saying what they wanted. They went and got two huge Rubbermaid trash cans, and they filled them with water and a little bit of bleach. They went to the Goodwill and bought all the cheap dishes they could buy. Every time they were done with their dishes, they just put them in these two Rubbermaid trash cans outside with all of the bleach. Once a month, they would put soap in and wash it with a sprayer. They all did dishes once a month on the driveway. Kind of gross, but also awesome. There are that many solutions to the dish problem that is haunting half of the marriages in the United States. Instead, we sit there and try to fucking control each other. It is kind of silly.
Alexa: One thing that’s really coming up for me in this discussion because I am worried, or I should say triggered by what I see as the weaponization of the concept of boundaries.
Joe: Me, too.
Alexa: It happens a lot around the periphery, I guess, of these communities. It keeps coming up for me in this conversation. How can I talk about this? But that example is pointing at something that I think is going on with a lot of the weaponization of boundaries, which is somebody has decided that they know the way. I know how to fix the problem. I am having a problem. I know what the solution is, so I am going to say this is my boundary so that you do it the way I want you to do it. There is a little bit of a lack of ownership of what it is they want that if you could lead instead with what you want or what your need is, maybe there is a much larger solution space that’s possible.
Joe: Oftentimes what I notice in modern society is they will use safety as the thing. The boundary will be about safety. I don’t feel safe, and therefore, everybody has to change to make me feel safe. There is a way in which having people feel safe is really great and important, and it allows us all to thrive. There is a way in which life is inherently unsafe, and so if you need other people to make you feel safe, you will never feel safe. The only way you can feel safe is to learn how to create safety for yourself, and obviously, don’t go live in a war zone because it is unsafe. It is this interesting what seems like a paradox.
What I notice is with all of these things, let’s say safety, safety becomes a way to control others, and boundaries can become a way to control others. Oftentimes you will notice in those boundaries they are asking someone to be different. They are asking them to do a different behavior. The psychological reason behind that is the abused becomes the abuser, and you will see this everywhere. It seems like it is a natural evolution for people to move out of an abuse cycle. You will see it in countries that got deeply abused and then started abusing. You will see it in kids who were abused often abuse others or kids that are bullied at home bully at school. You will see this passing down of the abuse cycle.
What happens is as somebody is feeling disempowered, they think the way to get to empowerment is to control other people. They use, I would call it, topping from the bottom. They use their victimhood as a way to dominate other people. Empowerment is, as we have discussed early in these podcasts, being yourself despite the consequences. You never feel empowerment by having power because power can be taken away from you. There is no way you feel safe because you have enough power. I know billionaires who don’t feel safe. I know heads of state who don’t feel safe. Safety and empowerment is that internal, understanding that I am going to be truthful despite the consequences.
I think that’s where that stems from is that they are still in the power cycle. They are just trying to get the power instead of be powered over, but the solution is empowerment. That’s why something like Gandhi worked for the time that it was working, or Martin Luther King is because those movements were about empowerment. The movements weren’t about having power over somebody else.
When you see the movements are about wanting to have power over somebody else, that’s when one group of dictators gets replaced with another group of dictators, with a different philosophy and it is the same thing. One abuser gets replaced with another abuser inside of a relationship.
Alexa: Two different pathways are presenting themselves in my mind. One is if you find yourself on the receiving end or the giving end, if you find yourself in a dynamic where there is this topping from the bottom kind of use of safety or boundaries, how do you respond?
Joe: It is actually a really tricky one. In a context of coaching, I will say you seem pissed. Tell me all about it. I will elicit the anger that’s underneath it. If that doesn’t elicit the anger underneath it, I will call them out in such a way that shows that they are topping from the bottom, and then they really do get pissed. You will notice that anybody who is doing that kind of what I call the aggressive victim stance and you call them out on it, they get really pissed at you then. You get to see what’s really underneath it all, which is far more beautiful for me.
In a business context, in a non-coaching context, if I see that that’s what is happening, I will call it out. I will say something to the effect of I don’t want to be in a power dynamic with you, and I don’t agree to be your bully. I don’t agree to be the person who is oppressing you. I will just say it directly like that. I am not going to buy into a situation where you are not empowered and able to do what you want to do, and I am not able and empowered to do what I want to do. I am not interested in any relationship where we are trying to change each other.
Alexa: Which kind of sounds like a boundary.
Alexa: What happens to the dynamic?
Joe: Sometimes people get angry or leave, or we are not in interaction anymore. Sometimes people see the freedom in it, and a deep loyalty and trust is born because we are meeting each other as humans, not as objects to be controlled, not as ways to achieve power with each other. In teams, it is incredibly amazing. You will see teams where there is an idea that there is some power structure, and there is a control structure and there should be in an organization, meaning that some people need to be in control of certain decisions or make those decisions or nothing ever happens.
But if there are power dynamics where there is fear happening and people are trying to feel safe through having power over or influence over other people, you will just see that that’s a super dysfunctional team. They can get pretty functional, but they die quickly. It doesn’t last very long. You have to have a really good product, high margins and good patents to pull off a business like that.
Alexa: The thing I noticed you didn’t talk about was in an interpersonal, non-coaching relationship, a romantic relationship, a shared house.
Joe: I don’t tend to have relationships with people who like to top from the bottom in my personal world but let me just think. The last time that that happened, I eventually created separation. In that particular case, I talked about it, and they weren’t willing to see it. I think it is really hard for someone in the aggressive victim thing to see that that’s what happened because they are so defined as the victim. If they stop putting you in the oppressor role, it is really hard for them to see they might be the abuser in the situation or might be part of the abuse cycle in the situation.
Those abuses can be really subtle. Usually the aggressive victim shows up late all the time or says the little snarky comment in front of other folks, and refuses to change. We agreed this is how it is going to be, so I am never going to change on this topic. There are all sorts of little things that they do. They become incredibly indecisive so the other person can’t move freely. There are all sorts of things, but our society so much sees those people as the victim that needs to be saved, whereas the person who is yelling and doing that kind of thing or who is like come on, God damn it, they are the bad guy. There is a societal norm that makes one of them the bad guy and one of them the victim and the poor person who this is being done to.
I don’t usually interact with either bullies or victims very much in my personal life.
Alexa: I have a question that coming directly off of this sounds one way, and the other way it sounds is how we can somatically tell in ourselves whether we are having a good boundary or not. The way it sounds off of this topic is okay, so you find yourself in a situation where you are in that fear or where you have been using boundaries badly or you are tempted to use a boundary badly to control someone. What do you do?
Joe: There is a feeling of fear, and there is a feeling of expansion when the boundary creates deeper love. Somatically you will feel that love. You will feel that expansion. That’s how you know it, for your first question. Then the second question is play, experiment, do bad boundaries, and when you do them, say I am sorry. I was trying to control you. That’s not how I want to be with you. You are not going to get it perfect, so fuck it all, mess it up, screw up, blah, blah, blah and then apologize and let that apology be one without shame and that’s heartfelt. Then, it will be harder and harder for you to do bad boundaries.
Apologies are really useful that way. If you really give a heartfelt, non-shame-based apology, it is a great way to modify behavior. We are all going to mess up. We are all going to get scared and think we are trying to draw a boundary when we are trying to control somebody else. But it is amazing if you can say to somebody I noticed I was trying to control you, and that’s not what I want to do. It is not the relationship I want to be in with you, how much people want to hear that and how much trust that builds.
Alexa: I feel like boundaries can be really inspiring. Is there a story you know of somebody coming into their empowerment and setting a boundary having beautiful results?
Joe: I don’t have a story. I have infinite stories of this. I cannot tell you how many people this story has happened to, which is they are in a relationship. They have fully bought into the fact that they are in a relationship for somebody else’s emotional state. They are constantly thinking about what I did, what I need to learn to make this relationship better. Then they draw the boundary, and the relationship just immediately either ends or changes. Just immediately the relationship is done, and they are free of it.
I remember we had somebody here living on the property, and my relationship with that person was good. My wife’s relationship was not. It didn’t feel good that she couldn’t put my relationship with this person in damage or it didn’t like she had the right to ask. Literally the moment she did it, the person was off the property. I felt relief, and she felt relief. I am sure the person who left felt relief as well.
I can’t tell you how many times it has either gone that way, or the person who has been the abuser feels relief. I don’t want that relationship either. Just the other day I was talking to a client, and she was saying she had a good friend. I remembered the story from two years ago. It was this passive aggressive shitty friendship, but they had been friends for so long. At some point, the woman came to her and said she had been caretaking her, and she was not going to care take her anymore. She was going to be really honest and straightforward. There is a way in which you have been to me, and I don’t understand why or how you could be resentful of me, but I don’t want a relationship where we have resentment. I don’t want to be a part of that. Their relationship, just from that single conversation, completely transformed.
The woman who it was said to, she said I was angry at you, and I just couldn’t tell why. I didn’t know what was going on, but as soon as you said that to me, it just all dropped. I was resentful for the care taking, and you weren’t treating me like an equal. Now that we are, it is just wonderful. I can’t tell you how many people. That happens all the time. It really makes you question if the thing that is scary about the boundary is the freedom we get on the other side.
Alexa: The whole thing that came up for me that I don’t know how to handle was when I was living in this group house. There was some tension with me and another housemate. Then a different housemate than that was like I can’t have this kind of tension in my house. I need you to fix this or else I am going to leave. That was a boundary.
Joe: It was a boundary that wasn’t done out of love, but it was done without trying to control you, which is interesting.
Alexa: I find it really complicated, and what I was noticing during our talk is one of the things that was happening there is it was really constricted. I know that when I come at people with constriction around my wants, it doesn’t land well. I think that’s how the boundary and the whole thing of that’s just my boundary got used there.
Joe: Be that person for a minute. I will set up how I would potentially handle it. We will call you Joan.
Alexa: You are Alexa.
Joe: I am Alexa. I just got a lot more attractive.
Alexa: But also now your name is a trigger word for everybody. Can you turn down the music? Alexa, there is just so much tension in this household right now. It just makes me feel really unsafe. I can’t be planning a future with people who are going to have this much tension. I know you can fix it. I really need you to fix it or else I am going to leave. I can’t stay in this kind of a household.
Joe: Right? It is a fucking shit ton of tension, and it sucks. I don’t want it either. I don’t know if I know how to fix it. I really appreciate your confidence in me to be able to fix it. I would love any insight you have that would allow me to fix it and not feel like I am compromising who I am in the process.
Alexa: I already feel a difference from how I responded where I was also constricted. No, don’t put all this on me. It is not on me.
Joe: In that moment, their fear is their boundary wasn’t going to get respected, but they had to be firm, or they were going to be run over. That was their fear, and so as soon as I feel that fear in somebody, I can empathize with that fear, and I let them know that they are seen.
Alexa: That’s great. The other thing that was going on for me I am just noticing is [breathing sounds], judging myself in real time right now, feeling like that’s not fair. Tension happens. It is your own trauma, and it is your own story that’s causing it to feel unsafe to you. It is not my job to fix it for you.
Joe: That’s right. All of that is really true.
Alexa: I appreciate that, but I wish I could respond in a way like you. I really love how much faith you have in me. I can’t do that.
Joe: They are like I know you can fix it. That is faith in you. Maybe your authenticity in that moment needs to also say, “And I definitely don’t want to fix this tension to make you happy.” I do want to fix this tension, but I definitely don’t want to fix this tension to make you happy. I definitely want to feel like I have to keep you happy to get you stay because that would just be a crappy relationship. There would be so much resentment.
That’s the thing. You heard what I said, and something in you relaxed and then something was still like ahh. Listening to that ahh is the way you get to that next level of clarity. There is still something there. How do you say that in an undefended way of not trying to change them?
Alexa: Yeah, it is really good. To tie this back into the podcast recording we just did, at the very end, your examples of great boundaries, I was kind of surprised. It seems kind of scary. It was great. It ended that relationship. That person left. My experience of boundaries, especially through work with you, is things that are a lot more subtle.
Brett has a boundary with me. I need you to not stop me from base jumping. I am like okay.
Joe: I was going to ask that question in the beginning, your boundaries around base jumping. Immediately, he is asking you to do something.
Alexa: One that came out for me from that was I want to be supportive of you, and also I am not going to shut down my fear and my feelings to make you feel safe. Stating that boundary felt there is so much more openness here. I can be who I am and how I am, but it is not as scary. It is scary to say, but it is not as scary as your examples.
Joe: I gave extreme examples. That example is beautiful. I love that example. I hope to use it in the future.
Alexa: It felt to me a minute ago that there was something stitching all this together. It sounds to me that something that’s emerging for me from this conversation is that boundaries are actually scary for a lot of people, to set and to hear. Those boundaries that you are coming to an interaction with a lot of constriction have more potential, I think, for something kind of damaging because what ended up happening with my house is that I did shut down in this way. You coming at me like that makes me not want this relationship and not want this household to work. It did fall apart. They left.
Joe: That’s the love thing. That is the thing about it immediately puts me into more love no matter what their response is. That’s what that pointer is indicating. It is to drop the defense. If you draw a boundary as a way to defend yourself, you are in the fight. You are in the back and forth. You are in the fear triangle. You are in the power dynamic. It might be a really good pointer to put into it, which is the fear that I am not going to be able to hold my boundary. That really makes boundaries come out wonky as shit.
Alexa: You are absolutely right.
Joe: If you hundred percent knew I am not going to put up with this, I am not going to put up with this fighting, if you were hundred percent sure of it and you knew you deserved it, it would sound like hey guys, I don’t want to live like this. How do we fix it so I don’t have to and so I don’t have to leave because I really love being you guys otherwise?
Alexa: I really think there is something to that.
Joe: Which ties into the internal work.
Alexa: To feel empowered.
Joe: And to know you are worth it.
Alexa: It also seems like once you really feel empowered and you really trust yourself, you can state a boundary and it doesn’t land in anyone as a boundary.
Joe: Correct. You don’t want to say that to people because then they are going to have an excuse never to say their boundary, especially the people who have a hard time drawing the boundaries think they have to be perfect all the time to be valuable enough to have a boundary.
Alexa: I definitely see your point there.
Joe: You have got to practice it.
Alexa: There is still something there. The people who are saying something like that’s just my boundary, then that’s a pointer that there is something constricted there.
Joe: That they are scared. It is all fear. If you can see it all as fear, then everybody’s boundary and your own boundary is just sweetness. It is like everybody is scared. Just dealing recently with a high-level executive and there was this big fight in the company, I kept on coming back to it. Can you see everybody is scared? Scared, powerful people throwing big temper tantrums. As soon as you can see it, it is so easy to see through and navigate. That was good.
Thanks for listening to the Art of Accomplishment. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and rate us on your podcast app. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions or comments. You can reach out to us, join our newsletter or check out our courses at artofaccomplishment.com.
March 15, 2021
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If you look at all the bad habits that you’ve been trying to stop for a decade they all have one thing in common: They are all things you’re telling yourself you SHOULD stop doing. What if thinking you “should” is what keeps you stuck? And what if getting in touch with your wants, in a deep way, is the quickest way to get you unstuck?
The want is that very simple impulse that is moving us, that moves us to have a closer relationship with our loved ones. It is a constant pull that leads us all the way down the developmental line. If we allow it, it will take us all the way to freedom.
Hello and welcome back to The Art of Accomplishment where we explore how self-awareness can transform our businesses, relationships and lives. My name is Brett Kistler. I am an adventurer, entrepreneur and a self-exploration enthusiast. I am here with my co-host, Joe Hudson. Joe is a business coach who spent decades working with some of the world´s top executives and teams, developing a unique model of human patterns that underpin how we operate with ourselves, each other and the world.
A good entrypoint into this model is a mindset called VIEW, vulnerability, impartiality, empathy and wonder. Through understanding and cultivation, we learn to drop into VIEW with ease, deepening self-awareness and increasing our connection with the world around us.
To learn more about VIEW, this podcast, online courses and to join our community, visit artofaccomplishment.com
If you look at all of the bad habits you have been trying to stop for a decade, you will find they all have one thing in common. They are all things you are telling yourself you should stop doing. The same is likely true for the things you tell yourself you should be doing more of, finishing a project, going to the gym, calling your mom.
What if thinking you should is what keeps you stuck? What if getting in touch with your wants in a deep way is the quickest way to get unstuck? Let's get to the bottom of this.
Brett: Joe, I would think this is pretty obvious, but you usually have a unique definition of things. What exactly do you mean by should?
Joe: Should is really a mechanism of shame. It is. There's a saying that says that shame is the locks that keep the chains of bad habits in place. Should is like a really bad management technique. Energetically, it's oppressive. Intellectually, it's control-based. Emotionally, it's rigidity and neurologically, it's a threat. If you say to somebody, "You should really do that," there is a threat in that.
What's interesting is, that same energy really doesn't happen in certain cultures. When you see, particularly, more indigenous cultures that I've been a part of and seeing that whole should telling people thing just doesn't happen, at least energetically, it doesn't happen. When I mean energetically, I don't mean energetically in a spiritual new age way. I just literally mean the energy in which you are talking to the person.
That's what I think it is. You're right. They are the things that keep your bad habits in place. Shoulds are just really ineffective. I'll tell you the story where I learned this. I was like 26 years old and I decided I was going to be brutally honest with myself. I wrote down a list of everything about myself that I didn't want to admit to myself. Then I folded it away and I put it away and I found it like six months, maybe a year later. I went through the list and I was like, "How many of these things have changed?" Remarkably, most of them had. I was like, "Wow, that's amazing. I did nothing and they just changed," just the recognition of them changed, awareness changed them.
Then I looked through all the ones that hadn't changed and to a tee, each single one of them had a very heavy should attached to it. That's when I started to realize that this way of managing ourselves by telling ourselves we should do things is just really ineffective.
Brett: To keep it simple around the definition of should, we're talking about the moment that we tell ourselves that we should do something.
Joe: Well-- the voice in the head will tell you that you should do something and that's the most obvious thing, but there's also an energetic should that happens. It's almost a muscular response or a neurological response to something and it doesn't always have to have the verbal, "You should do this." You could just reach for the double flourless chocolate cake and you'll just feel that "er" inside of you and that is just a nonverbal should. I think it's really important to see it as both.
Brett: What's wrong with controlling ourselves in this way? If these shoulds are pointing us towards the things that we want or don't want to be doing, what's causing that to get in the way?
Joe: It's because you've put an extra layer on it. If you're just in the wants, it's an amazing fluid thing. Then when it gets into the shoulds, it creates the threat, like I said and a rigidity. As an example, if I try to control a two-year-old and I have that energy of like "rah", “You will do this, you should do this”. There's one of two responses that happen in any human. If I did it to you right now, "Hey, you should speak differently on this podcast." It immediately creates one of two things in you. Let's do it for the audience here. "You should be listening to this podcast better. You are not paying close enough attention."
If I'm treating you like that, there's one of two responses. One of those responses is going to be rebellion. There's just something innate that's like "er". No response. That's not a really effective way to create anything. It's just creating no’s. The other thing that it does is you're like, "Oh, you're right, I should." It's this submission. It's not surrender. It's submission. It's like, "I am weak and I will just do what you say." Then you've got a whole bunch of disempowered people and that doesn't really help much either. Especially if you're in a company, you want a company full of empowered people or you want a community full of empowered people, or you want yourself to feel empowered.
Every time you're using the should, what's happening is that you are either creating your own internal rebellion, which is why you haven't done the things you've been telling yourself you should do for decades, because you're rebelling against it. Or you're creating a disempowered situation inside yourself. You're creating more of a victim mentality to this voice in your head that's being abusive.
Brett: Interesting. What I notice about myself is, that when I think about not telling myself what I should do or shouldn't do anymore, there becomes this fear that I'll just become lazy or some couch potato and I just won't do the things that I should do as I use that word.
Joe: [chuckles] Totally, exactly.
Brett: What's your response to that? What happens if we stop doing the should, if we stop setting out a path for what we want from ourselves from a perspective of being conscious of the risks and the threats?
Joe: Great questions. This is that inherent goodness thing that we've spoken about before, which is basically-- the idea is that you are a lazy slob, piece of shit, just going to pick your ass and live off of other people unless you tell yourself you should do something. You know what I mean? Could you imagine if you thought about somebody else that way? Unless I tell Joe that he should do a podcast, he's just never going to fricking do it. I got to tell him he should do it. It's a nonsensical thing to really think like, "Here I am doing this podcast. Nobody told me I should do it. I wanted to do it."
If you think about kids from zero to eight years old, there's no internal should. They're doing all sorts, they're developing crazy amounts compared to any other time in life. They're learning all sorts of things. It's all just because they're following their wants. On one level, that's a really important thing to note. On the other hand, you actually may become a couch potato for a while, which sounds a little weird. The thing is, if you have been under threat for an extended period of time, there's going to be a need to relax. There's going to be a need to recover. If you're going cold turkey on your shoulds, you might actually just need to slow down for a bit. It's not going to be a couch potato.
The couch potato thing happens when you burn out and then you tell yourself you shouldn't be burning out. You should stop playing video games. You should stop laying on the couch. You should stop. You should stop. You should stop. Then you really will go into full couch potato mode. If the natural burnout happens with the should, then it looks like depression. There might be a time where you need some more rest, where you need to recover. You see this happen in schools all the time, when there's this thing called unlearning or un-schooling or something like that, where kids are taken out of the school that have burnt out. They take like five or six months and do very little. Then all of a sudden, they learn three or four times as quickly as they were in school. There's lots of studies on this.
You're basically saying, "If I don't put myself under threat of a should, if I don't tell myself that I'm bad if I don't, then I won't." It's just not my experience at all. My experience is that the people who are most generative in their life are people who want to do shit, not who feel like they should do.
Brett: It sounds like it takes time to shift paradigms of thinking. This reminds me a little bit of a thought experiment--
Joe: Hold on a second. That may be true. That may not be true. Don't assume that one though, at least for people listening. For me, turning off the shoulds in the voice in my head was very quick. It didn't take a tremendous amount of time. Once I really just understood, "Oh, this shit doesn't work." If you know that you have a screw gun and every time you use the screw gun it strips screws, you're pretty much not going to use that screw gun. It's not going to take a lot of time to figure that out. If you start telling yourself you should stop using shoulds, it could take years.
Brett: That makes sense. This reminds me of the thought experiment of having the voice in your head be a roommate. If you were to go to talk to somebody like a roommate or a friend and they were the person that's just going to tell you what you should do, versus the kind of person that helps you find what you want, then you might either stop going to that person, because it doesn't feel like you're really getting helped, or you might become dependent on them telling what you should do.
Joe: Most humans would just move out. Some of us are engineered or programmed to give up our own empowerment for a person like that. That's right. Most of us who had a boss who spoke to us like that should voice in our head, we would quit or we would be miserable. If that “should voice” in your head is really strong and really loud, there is a strong case that you're miserable, whether you see it or not.
Brett: As we release ourselves from the oppression of these shoulds and we start listening to what we want and trusting that our wants are inherently good and healthy for us-- let's get into the wants side of this then. How would you define wants?
Joe: The want is just that impulse that moves through you, that animates your actions. That is what the want is. The should is just this egoic layer on top of it that slows the whole thing down. Let me explain. You're sitting and you think to yourself, "I should exercise." What's actually happening is there's an impulse and a want to exercise and it shows up. Instead of just like, "Oh, cool," and doing 10 jumping jacks, you say to yourself, "I should go to the gym." Then that just destroys your chances of actually working out or at least very much lowers your chances of working out.
The want is just that very simple impulse that's moving us, that moves that eight-year-old, that five-year-old, that three-year-old. It moves the toddler to walk better. It moves the crawler to toddle. It moves us to speak. It moves us to have a closer relationship with our loved ones. It is a constant pull that leads us all the way down the developmental line. If we allow it, it'll take us all the way to awakenings and freedom.
Brett: What if I'm listening to my want and my want is to have a big piece of chocolate cake?
Joe: That's a really good question. There's one other piece that I think is really important to explain. The thing is that wants are somatically expansive. They're intellectually empowering. The want is very different, if you attach to it or if you don't attach to it. If you attach to, let’s say, having that girlfriend Jennifer, then you're in craving, which is different than want. The want is just that impulse. It's just that empowering expansive impulse. If you look at the cake and you're in that empowering expansive place, that's very different, than the way most people want a cake, what they think is wanting a cake, which either this struggle, "I want it, but I don't want it. I want it. I don't want it. I want it. I don't want it." That's not a clean want.
There's still some refinement that needs to go there or there's just that unconscious shoving the cake in their mouth and calling it a want. The want is something that feels very expansive. If you look at something like a chocolate cake and it feels very expansive to sit and eat that thing, then yes, follow the want. Because the thing about the wants in general is that you have to follow them to deepen into them. What that means is you want to follow the chocolate cake because you want to have this sense of pleasure. Great, have the sense of pleasure. Then you start finding out what the deeper sense pleasures are.
You follow that want home and you find out it has seven more beautiful siblings. If the want is clean, it doesn't matter if it's a short-term or a long-term-- healthy in your mind and your superego, it's far more about allowing that movement, so you can find the next step. You can't want to run unless you've wanted to learn how to walk. You have to actually get to the walking point to have an effective next level of want. That's how it works is that the wants move us. A toddler, they just want to walk and walk well. Maybe as a toddler, you want to run, but then you can want to play baseball and then you can want to play basketball and then you can want to play basketball really, really well.
It's the same thing with our wants. When we start really getting in touch with our wants, then they really transform. For example, the want is, “I want a million dollars” and there's some shame with that and so it's not a clear impulse. Then we're like, "What is that clear impulse?" It's like, "Oh, I want to be empowered."
Brett: That sounds very relevant to a career path as well. I heard a story recently from a friend who's a lawyer. Halfway through their first semester, they were like, "Okay, I'm not going to do this. I don't want to be a lawyer. This sucks." The experience was they were like, "These are all the things that I have to do to get to where this path is supposed to put me and it doesn't look fun at all." This person described that they simply stopped caring about what they were supposed to be doing and they started paying attention to what they actually wanted. They were like, "Actually, there's all things that I want to be doing that I could do if I was enabled with this law degree."
They started just making it theirs. They took all the classes they wanted, that nobody else was taking and ended up on some trends that they were ahead of their game on or ahead of the trend on as a result of following the way they wanted to be a lawyer and they ended up really loving their career.
Joe: That's exactly right. If you're doing your shoulds and you're basically following rigidity, you're following a tightness and you're going to have that kind of tight life. You're going to have a very rigid life. If you're following your wants, your life becomes much more expansive.
Brett: I liked what you had been saying about craving as well. It sounds like craving is distinct from wants. Craving is a want that you don't want. It feels like a want, but you really don't want it.
Joe: [laughs] Yes, there's a thing about the want. If you just take the want viscerally and you don't try to get there, you don't try to get to the end, if you just take the want viscerally, you can feel it. Let's do this for a second. If you close your eyes and you feel a really deep want inside of you, you have a deep one, not a superficial one, but a very deep one, maybe a want for a deeper form of intimacy or a want for a more expansive consciousness, or a want for more love in your life. You feel that want and you take it in and you don't worry about whether you can get it or not. You don't even think about how to get it. You just feel what it is to want.
Wanting is just a feeling like anger or sadness. Just allow that feeling in your system without trying to get to the goal. That experience is really pleasant. It's really quite lovely. To me, the way it works in my system is, it is one of the closest feelings to love, to allow a desire deeply inside of you. I think it's why so many of the the Sufi poets, they talk about desire in this way that they just love desire. This longing-- because that longing is so close to love. It's so close to that expansive acceptance of everything. That's what wanting is. “Now I got to get it. How do I get it? Why can't I get it?” That's craving and that's painful as shit.
Brett: This reminds me of a lot of different spiritual traditions that tell us that craving is a hindrance to freedom. For example, Buddhism's principle of non-attachment or Christianity's warnings about the desires of the flesh. Is that what they mean?
Joe: There's those spiritual traditions and then there's the tantric spiritual traditions. People think that they're at odds, but they're really not at odds at all. What's happening there is that people have been beaten out of their wants and so they start turning cravings into an excuse not to want to not allow themselves to want anymore. If you're really deeply closely looking into your own personal experience, the craving is the thing that they're talking about and the wanting, the desire that the Sufis are talking about, the tantric people are talking about, is, there are two different things that are happening inside of your system.
Brett: It's interesting. The exercise that we just did about the wanting-- for myself, I was thinking about having a healthy body and being fit and having strength. In feeling the wanting, I was imagining moving my body and having range of motion, flexibility and strength. The moment I started trying to figure out how I was going to get there, then all of a sudden it turned into "Oh, but I'd have to work out." Suddenly, the working out feels like a chore. The actual wanting of being healthy, the way that I was imagining that was actually working out, was the equivalent of moving and using my body.
Joe: Exactly. If you just stick with that as a daily practice, how do I want to be in my body right now? Thirty minutes of how do I want to be in my body right now would get you exactly where you want to be in your body. How much more appealing is that? I have to work out today or, “How do I want to be in my body for 30 minutes?” It seems like it's almost no different and it's like worlds and worlds apart.
Brett: Let's get this into the context of business and achievement. A tremendous amount of successful executives are deeply attached to winning and succeeding and it seems to be working well for them in many regards. How would you factor that into this?
Joe: There's people who tell themselves they should do stuff. Apparently they're pretty successful at it or they're deeply attached. They have a deep craving and they're successful at getting their cravings met. For me, it's pretty simple. There is the intention which is critical. I'm not suggesting to drop all intention in life. We have our intention, we have that want, we have the impulse and that's a really, really important thing. It gives us a north star. It gives us a heading that we move down. To hold that intention is absolutely completely important to getting stuff done in the world of accomplishing stuff in the world.
Being attached to succeeding is absolutely a fine way to succeed. It's not the most efficient way to succeed. It is not the most enjoyable way to succeed, but it is absolutely a fine way to succeed. You can really, really get attached to something. You can work at it and you can get there. In fact, it's really important to have some of that if you're going to get anywhere in life and that's the intention. You can have that intention without that craving, without that deep attachment. If you don't have it, you're lucky to get anywhere. That intention is really quite important.
If you're going to put attachment on top of that intention, on top of that want, then you are dragging. Then you are like throwing an anchor out and sailing across the ocean with your anchor out. It is not going to be the most effective. The real thing is that intention, like, "What is the context of it? What's the way that you make it most enjoyable?
Let me give you an example. If I look at every single CEO that I know who has been very, very successful, their intention wasn't to make money. They weren't attached to making money. What they were attached to was being the best or beating their competition, or reducing carbon in the world, or being the best at customer service. They had some intention, that was past this intention of just succeeding. Their attachment was beyond succeeding.
Because if you're just attached to the succeeding part, it's a lot more difficult. If succeeding is something that you have to do to get to the part that you're attached to, then it's easier. The attachment isn't the most efficient way to get to where you want to go, to have that strong attachment. It's definitely not the most enjoyable way to get to where you want to go, but the intention, absolutely critical. Does that make sense?
Brett: Yes, totally. It seems like having the intention versus having the attachment to success, the intention makes it easier to pivot. If your intention is to build a company or build a product that reduces carbon in the world, there are many ways to do that. You could start out with one idea of doing it and discover that there's different ways of doing it. One of them just isn't working in the market.
It seems like it would be easier to get out of the local optimum or maybe you just have to let go of what you are doing and start something new, which is just really common in any any business endeavor, this idea of pivoting and flowing with reality. If you're really attached to the particular success, then you might be more resistant to make changes, that seem in the short-term to lead away from your goal of success.
Joe: That's right. You have your intention out there. That's where you know which way you're going. We'll call that like the goal or the want. That intention is what's moving you in the direction. Then you can have different attitudes towards that goal, towards that want. The attitude could become a should, the attitude could be, "I'm scared of getting to the goal. I'm angry that I don't haven't gotten to the goal. I have absolute faith that I will be there." All of those ways are different attitudes towards having that goal.
You're not going to get there without the goal. The most efficient attitude to get to the goal is to be in the want of it, not the should of it. It is to be in the enjoyment of it, not the rigidity of it. That's the more efficient way to get there and to be beyond the goal itself. It's that the goal of succeeding is really just a necessary step to get to your deeper goal.
Brett: Give me some more examples of holding an intention without the should.
Joe: You're running a company and you have a revenue goal of $100 million. You can hold that as, "I should get to $100 million". You can hold that goal as, "I want to get to $100 million." You can hold that goal as, "I will get to $100 million." You can hold that goal as, "I can't wait until I get to $100 million." The way you hold that goal is going to affect how much energy you have. It's going to affect how rigid you are in it. It's going to affect your ability to be flexible.
Then the second level of it is choosing that goal as far as whether you're going to make that the easy goal or the long-term goal. Are you saying, "I want to get a $100 million, just to get a $100 million?" Are you saying, "I want to get a $100 million, so that I can build a spaceship to get to Mars"? Are you saying, "I want to get a $100 million, so I can beat the competition"? All of those things are important. It's not the intention or the goal. It is how you approach the goal, how you attach to the goal, the relationship you have with the goal. That's the important piece for efficiency and enjoyment.
Brett: Feeling like you should be doing this prescriptive path towards the goal is controlling yourself with threat, essentially.
Joe: Correct, that's right. It could work short-term, but it's definitely not going to work long-term.
Brett: What makes it that we don't see the inefficiency of our shoulds when we're in them? If it is the case that everything that we don't do in life that we want to do and everything that we do do that we want to stop doing is all locked in place by these shoulds, what makes it so opaque to us?
Joe: It's a shame situation. The way that you can look at it is even if you take it up a level for a second, what's the important thing about having the intention? What's the important thing about having the goal? It tells you what questions to ask. If I say to you, "You need to start a company and that company needs to sell widgets to 10 people," then you're going to ask questions to get to that goal. But if I say, "You need to sell widgets to a hundred million people, you're going to ask different questions." You're going to say, "Maybe I have to think about venture capital. Maybe I have to think about private equity. Maybe I have to think about distribution at that scale," that you're not going to have to think about it if you're selling 10 widgets.
The goal is important, because it very, very much helps us determine what questions to ask. That's why goals are so important, but what most people do is they put some shame into those goals, tell them they should reach the goals, not that they want to, not that they can, but that they should reach the goals and then all of a sudden those goals become a burden. They become like, "Oh, if I don't do that, I'm bad." That's what makes it hard for us to see the shoulds is, that it makes us think that we're bad. The should makes us think that we're bad and if we think that we're bad, it's very hard to see what actually motivates us.
It's the same thing like in wars. If two countries are warring with each other and that whole war has to depend on people thinking the other side is bad. If people look up and say, "You know what, they're just people. We're just people. We're just both trying to get along," the war's going to stop. To have that internal war of should means that you have to think you're bad and that's what makes it so hard to see through the should, to see through the war.
What's really strange about it is, that you can see it from a manager 10 miles away. You're sitting there and you see a manager like "You should, you should, you should." You're like, "Oh my God, that's not going to work." That's horribly ineffective. There's been hundreds of management books saying, "Don't do that because it doesn't fricking work," and psychological studies, but we'll do it to ourselves all fricking day long. We will recognize it outside, but we won't recognize it inside.
Brett: It's as if the moment we say we should be doing something, the structure of that should is to flatten all of our wants to go do that one thing, because we've prioritized it. If we are routinely doing that thing where we're suppressing our wants to do the thing we should do, then we can't hear or feel our wants anymore.
Joe: That's right. The wants, for many of us, are very scary. It's a very scary thing to have a want, because we were taught at a young age not to have wants. We don't have that want because mom won't be happy. You don't have that want because you won't be codependent with that. You don't have that want because blah, blah, blah. A lot of people are told to disassociate from their wants. They're not taught that their wants are amazingly beautiful things, that can guide them in their entire life.
Brett: Let's talk more about that. What makes wanting so vilified in our society?
Joe: My experience is, that there's a pain that we feel from being rejected in our wants. It's like a deep level of rejection. We're all kind of school kids that got deeply rejected when we asked someone out on a date and so we're hesitant to do it again. Because our wants are this deeply intimate thing, this very vulnerable thing. They are at the core of us. If they've been rejected, we don't want to feel that rejection again. I think that's the internal process.
Externally, if you have a whole bunch of people who are codependent or a whole bunch of people, who were told that they were selfish as kids, which really, if you're told that you were selfish as a kid, that really just means that you weren't doing what your mom and dad wanted you to do. If you were told that, then having somebody own their wants is very uncomfortable for you.
There's this external world that is uncomfortable with people owning their wants. There's also this external world of people who just can't wait for that person to be owning their wants some more. It's like rock and roll. Back in the day, rock and roll was there. There's these people who shut up and they're like, "I'm going to get whatever I want. I want to do this and do that." There was this group of people were like, "Yes." There was a group of people like, "Devil." That's how it works when you're really owning your wants, especially the earlier wants. The later wants start to refine and start to become more and more beautiful. Then it's a little bit less likely to happen.
We all start with the early wants and to own them gets a certain level of rejection, because other people would have to feel their own wants. The thing about wants in general is that it's our human nature to want. You can play this game with friends and after every sentence, just say what it is that you wanted to get out of that sentence. You will find a want in every single sentence that you speak. Right now, I want to have you guys understand what I'm saying. Right now, I want you to taste the deep pleasure of wanting. There's always this conscious want behind almost every sentence we have, it’s such a part of our human nature. We cannot get away from it. All we can do is own it or we can sublimate it. Should is just a way of sublimating it, which is why it doesn't work as effectively.
Brett: I'm going to say something right now because I want to participate in this podcast and feel relevant.
Joe: [laughs] I want to respond so that you know that I love you and I care for you.
Brett: I want to end the pregnant pause. [both laugh] A lot of what you were saying about the societal aspect is that it's uncomfortable for people to feel their wants. Part of what it is, is people have a problem seeing other people want what they want, because that makes them feel the pain of their own wants. The pain of our own wants seems to be linked to something we've discussed on some other episodes, the consequences of wanting, the potential consequence. If I want something, I might not get it, I might have to feel disappointment. I might be judged. I might break this cozy structure of this job that I'm in or this relationship that I'm in, because my wants feel incongruent with that.
Joe: The interesting thing about that in general is, that not getting our wants met is not actually as scary as the want or pop psychology would say that it is, because we all have a dozen wants that we haven't had met. It doesn't devastate us all the time. How many people listening to this podcast want to have $10 million more in the bank? it hasn't happened. Didn't devastate any of us. I think it's the exposure, the vulnerability of showing your want and having it rejected. That's the deeper scare.
Brett: Admitting that you want $10 million in the bank and people judging you for that, greedy.
Joe: Exactly. The amazing thing is when you totally own a want, oftentimes the want goes away almost immediately. I really want $10 million in the bank. If you fully feel that all the way and you're just like, "Oh, yes, $10 million," just feel that want. Oftentimes, it just starts shifting. It's just like, "Oh, what I want is security." Then it's like, "Oh, what I really want is to feel empowered in every situation." If you don't allow yourself to have the want, it can't move through you. It's just like, if you don't allow yourself to get angry, it can't move through you. If you don't allow yourself to get sad, it can't move through you. It's just another emotion that needs to move through you and is so pleasant when it does.
Brett: It sounds like on one level, you're saying that it is an impulse and on another level, you're saying it's an emotion. Can you get into that distinction a little bit more?
Joe: That's a great question. Let me feel inside for a moment and really see what the distinction is there. It seems like there's this impulse that moves. The way it's working in my system is, there's this impulse to move, to say these words, to be in front of my computer right now, to answer your question. There's this natural impulse. If that impulse meets any friction, then this emotional experience of wanting starts to occur. As this emotional experience of wanting starts to occur, that becomes the feeling. That's the feeling that's there.
If I fully feel the feeling, the friction starts to fade. There's the impulse side of the wanting and then there's also the emotional side of the wanting. It's what distinguishes, “I'm just going to walk to the bathroom right now” and there's no experience of wanting in that process, because there's no friction met. As soon as that impulse meets any level of friction, then there's this experience of wanting. If you fully feel that experience, it turns deeply into a loving expansive experience and then that friction starts to go away.
Brett: I want to hear one more story from you, a personal story relevant to how you arrived at all of this.
Joe: I'd be happy to share a story, Brett. It's a story of shoulds and wants. When I was earlier in my venture capital career, I had this idea that I really should be making money. It was foreign to me because it wasn't something that was really ever important to me before. It was a combination of a feeling of indebtedness to the investors and also doing a good job and being valuable, but the shoulds started appearing in my life at that point.
Then I was sitting in a hammock and I read this news at some point. I remember the time specifically. I read this news, that this company that was formed with almost no money sold for multi billions of dollars and it felt like just an absolute kick in my stomach, just like a whack in my stomach. I stopped and I went, "Oh, where did I feel that for the first time?" I traced it back, not intellectually, but like my entire body traced back that feeling to the first time I felt it. The first time I felt it was trying to please my father as a kid and it was like, "Oh," and it was not pleasable at that time. To please him, at least from my point of view, wasn't possible.
I saw that this whole money making activity had nothing to do with actually making money and the should behind it had nothing to do with it. It was this very early should that I had of I should be pleasing my father. That was a very ingrained should. It was at that moment that I was like, "Okay, hold on a second. This doesn't have anything to do with money and it's a should. What do I want? What I really want to do here?"
What I realized is, I just wanted to create great cultures for people. I want it to be a part of creating great cultures for people to work in. That changed everything. It changed my approach. It changed my ability to be effective. It just changed everything as soon as I just moved from the should that was driven by an early feeling to a want, which was very present and it was just very immediate. All of a sudden, everything started to open up and flourish in my life in a new way.
Brett: Wow, thank you. How do you want to end this?
Joe: I want to express a deep gratitude for everybody who's listening, who's dedicated to understanding themselves, who honors me by choosing to be here as part of this experience. My deepest want is a very deep bow to everybody who's listening and to say that I wouldn't be here without people who were bowing to me. I am grateful to be bowing to you. My deep hope is, that you will bow to the people who appear before you.
Brett: Joe, thank you for taking the time to help all of us build our culture internally and in our companies.
Joe: Thanks for doing the work, man.
Thanks for listening to The Art of Accomplishment podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW, or to take a course, visit: artofaccomplishment.com
February 13, 2021
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The premise of The Art of Accomplishment is simple: it is our heart’s capacity that determines our success and happiness in life. Emotional intelligence is the bottleneck to the change we want to see in ourselves and the world. Tapping into our heart’s potential opens up the possibility of fulfilling our greatest ambitions without sacrificing our sense of joy and authenticity.
We are taught early on that if we accomplish enough stuff we will have the life of our dreams, only to find it is a life that fails to make us happy and fulfill our hopes. In this 9-part series, you will discover that how you get things done is what makes your life far more fulfilling.
Not only because you will enjoy the process of an authentic life but because enjoyment and self-awareness are critical tools in making what you accomplish more meaningful and effortless.
The Art of Accomplishment podcast series accompanies the online course led by Joe Hudson. More more info, visit artofaccomplishment.com.
Power is control over other people and empowered means that you are not looking for control of others. You are just being you despite the consequences.
Hello and welcome back to The Art of Accomplishment. Where we explore how self-awareness can transform our businesses, relationships and lives.
My name is Brett Kistler, I am an adventurer, entrepreneur and a self-exploration enthusiast. I am here with my co-host, Joe Hudson. Joe is a business coach who spent decades working with some of the world's top executives and teams, developing a unique model of human patterns that underpin how we operate with ourselves, each other and the world.
A good entry point in this model is a mindset called VIEW, vulnerability, impartiality, empathy and wonder. Through understanding and cultivation, we learn to drop into VIEW with ease, deepening self-awareness and increasing our connection with the world around us.
To learn more about VIEW, this podcast, online courses and to join our community, visit artofaccomplishment.com
The accumulation of power seems like a good idea at first. Then we see how deeply insecure some billionaires and leaders of countries can be. What if no amount of power could ever make you feel safe? What if it was just another thing that could be taken away from you? What if being empowered is the key to the only security that truly sets you free?
Brett: Joe, what makes this distinction so important?
Joe: The empowered overpower distinction. I think there's a deep confusion in us as a people and internally between the two and that confusion is what creates the subjugation that we feel both in the relationship to ourselves and the relationship with the outside world. To clarify that confusion, to actually see that we are always a choice and that choice is always empowered, whether we want to admit it or not is a way to set us free from that subjugation.
Brett: Power is real. There are people who really do have power over us and there are situations in which we have limited control. That must be partially responsible for our situation.
Joe: Yes and no. The thing is, that we're all interdependent, everything is interdependent. It's like a gigantic machine if you will or a gigantic ecosystem. Who has the power, the ants or the mountain lion or the rabbits? If any of them go, the whole system changes. The whole system is dependent on all the other parts of the system. In that way, yes, there are things that have power over us. If you're a deer, deer ticks have power over you and mountain lions have power over you, but if you're a mountain lion, deer have power over you because if the deer disappear, you're screwed, you're not eating. There's a way of looking at it that says, "Oh, wow, everything that I'm interdependent on has power over me." You can look at it that way and it's absolutely true.
The other way to look at it is that, our choice is ours. We get to choose and we might not like the consequences. We don't always have control over the consequences. I think when we don't have control over the consequences, that's when the mind wants to say, "Oh, somebody has power over me." But there's nobody on this planet that isn't dependent on somebody else or something else.
Take the most powerful person in the world, if people stop buying their product or if people rebel against them or if the price of oil goes to $20 a barrel and all of a sudden, their money to control their society goes away. Everybody has something like that. It's something that I think about oftentimes when I'm thinking about CEOs and my experience in working with them is that they have more bosses than anybody. They have their key employees who they need to keep happy, their customers they need to keep happy, their shareholders they need to keep happy. They have Board of Directors they need to keep happy. There are so many people who they are dependent on or they need their approval or they need them to buy into their vision in some way.
There's nobody in this system that isn't dependent on other people. There's nobody in this system that isn't scared to change the system because of consequences. As one person is sitting there and saying, "Hey, if I stand up for myself, I'll lose my job." There's a CEO that says, "Hey, if I don't give my quarterly numbers, I'll lose my job. If I don't get to the quarterly numbers, I'll lose my job." There's a billionaire that's like, "Wow, if I don't keep on finding more oil, I'm going to lose my fortune."
There's something everywhere, everybody's got something. In that aspect, absolutely, everybody has somebody who has power over them. I think we often think about the people who diversified, like lots of customers or lots of people as more powerful, meaning that they're not dependent on one person. They're not dependent on one customer. They feel more powerful on our system but, everybody's dependent.
Brett: It sounds like what you're pointing at in terms of power, when something has power over us, it's setting the constraints of our environment. If we have power over someone else, we have the power to set the constraints for the system in some way, but that doesn't tell the whole story. There's what we do within the constraints and which constraints we buy into or don't.
Joe: That's it. Inside of the constraints, you're completely empowered. The way that you show up inside the constraints, the constraints have to adjust. Meaning, if you are scared of losing your job and you say, "Forget it, I'm going to show up the way that feels right for me and if I get fired, I get fired." You will change the system. There's no way for it not to change, even if you get fired. There's no way for the system not to change. There's no way that the way you interact with the system doesn't affect it.
Brett: Even the structure of a company or even the interpersonal relations in your team will change if you're not being the same cog in the ecosystem that was existing before.
Joe: That's right. You see this. Working with CEOs and working with billionaires, you see this all the time, that there's a whole bunch of things that they want to affect change on that they can't. They don't know how to or that nobody knows how to or it's just beyond their control. It's not like anybody in any situation doesn't have something that they're not able to affect the change on. There're billionaires that I know that if they could control everything, they would have more billions and there're billionaires I know, that if they could control everything, everybody would have social and economic equality but they can't, just like we can't, you can't, I can't, nobody can. As long as you need to control a situation to feel empowered, then you are subjugated.
Brett: That's not real empowerment.
Joe: That's right.
Brett: Where does this come from? Where does this yearning for power arise from if not empowerment?
Joe: Fear. If we're making the distinction between power and empowered and I think that even in our language, oftentimes, when someone says, "I feel powerful," they mean empowered. As far as the semantics we're going to use, that means empowered. Then some people are like, "I feel powerful, meaning I have control over you." People who want to feel powerful control over situations just fear. They are scared. On some level, we all are scared when we are looking to find power. Now, power might come to us and just because I have power doesn't mean I'm scared, but if I'm looking for it, then I'm scared.
Brett: How does achieving some sense of power actually satiate or affect that fear, or does it?
Joe: It doesn't. It's like any addiction. There's a short-term high that you get and then it's over. I remember when I was in one of my poorest times in my life when I had the least amount of resources and my attitude towards money and power was changing. I was driving in my car and I was thinking, "Oh, I don't have enough." As it turned out at that time, I knew several billionaires and I went through the list and I'm like, "Oh, they're driving around right now thinking they don't have enough either." Like, "Oh my God, I'm a billionaire." My situation, their situation is no different. They can affect some change in a way that I can't, but I can affect some change in the way that they can't.
Brett: I could imagine a situation where a billionaire even feels more powerless, because they realize they have all this money and they're actually not able to change the world. So they don't get to believe that money would solve that problem for them.
Joe: That's right. That's the thing is, one of the best investors I ever met said that if you see somebody who thinks that money is going to solve their problems, don't invest. They're dead right. Capitalization doesn't solve problems. It makes them bigger often.
Brett: You throw money at problems and you end up with bigger problems that require money to sustain.
Joe: Yes, that's right. It's like this illusion, once you have the power, then you got to worry about holding on to it. Another billionaire guy told me at one point, he said, “Everybody works, Joe. Everybody works.” If you have a billion dollars, you got to work to maintain it. Everybody works.
Brett: If you're going for social capital, you have the billion dollars. You still have to work to maintain social capital and connections.
Joe: Yes, or you've got $54 billion and you can't affect an election. One guy with maybe a billion dollars can beat another guy with 54 billion. Both of them can be beaten with somebody with less than a million. Power isn’t accumulated by more power. It makes it easier in some forms of power, but sometimes having large amounts of power actually make it harder to accumulate power.
Brett: In the current election cycle, trying to get elected as a billionaire takes you down a whole bunch of notches already.
Joe: Right, or being a really big shot investor with a lot of power. On some level, there's some benefits to it and on other levels, a lot of people follow you, which creates complications as far as liquidity and other things. It's the same thing with somebody who has the power of leadership in a small community. On one level, there's certain things that they can affect change around that other people can't and in another level, there are certain things they can't.
There's a certain balance that is struck in any leadership position and some things can be taken away from you more readily and some things you can't affect change on. It's something that I realized when I was in Boards of Directors. Sometimes in certain Boards of Directors, I had more power being off the board than I did being on the board. Being on the board, I was part of the dynamic and I couldn't help the leadership see through the dynamic. My capacity to help people see through the dynamic was more powerful than having a vote.
Brett: Everything unseen and behind the curtain kind of thing.
Joe: The way that I define power is, that power is the thing that can be taken away from you. Empowerment can't be taken away from you. Power is control over other people and empowered means that you're not looking for control of others. You're just being you despite the consequences. Power is looking to find safety. It's an expression of fear. Empowered is standing in the face of that fear and being truthful to yourself.
If you think about every story that we've ever heard, it's always the story of the person who goes against the consequences for their truth. This is what we long for in ourselves is that, “I'm going to be empowered in a way that I will do the right thing despite the consequences whether I'm saving somebody from a burning building or whether I'm risking my job to be authentic.” That's what empowered is.
Brett: Yes, burning building was a good example because, running into a burning building to save somebody, the fire has power over you. There's nothing anybody's going to do to change that, but you are going into the burning building to do your truth, to try to save somebody regardless of the consequences. You're willing to experience and feel the consequences of coming up against something with much greater power than you.
Joe: Yes, that's right. There's the material power, like money or gun or fire and then there's also just the power of influence over you or other people. What I noticed is that when people act empowered, eight times out of 10, maybe seven times out of 10, the consequence that they're scared of doesn't come to pass. Even though the moment before they take that action, they're pretty sure it's inevitable. If I'm saying I'm going to be true to my wife even though I might lose her, eight times out of 10, I'm not going to lose her. If I'm saying I'm going to be true to myself even if I might get fired, eight out of 10 times, I don't get fired.
If you're actually going into a burning building, I don't know what the odds are. It is not something that I have enough experience with. I will say, the other part of that is that even when you act empowered and things don't go the way you want them to go, they end up going the way you want them to go eventually. Meaning, yes, maybe your wife leaves you but eventually, you get in a relationship that works for you. Meaning that as you act empowered, as you act in your truth, the world that can handle your truth surrounds you and that becomes your reality bubble.
We're all in these echo chambers. If I believe one political thing, I'm going to be in an echo chamber of verification of that. If I believe something else, I'll be in an echo chamber that verifies that. It's how our consciousness works and if we're true to ourselves, we end up in an echo chamber that is true to ourselves.
Brett: It seems there's a difference between the actual constraints that our environment places on us and then the predictive constraints that we are simulating, that we are actually acting on, which are not exactly the real constraints of the environment. If we start operating in a way that doesn't fit the constraints of our immediate environment, we may end up losing a partnership, we may end up losing a job. If we stick with operating as though the world had the constraints that we want, eventually, we will only end up fitting into a system that fits those constraints.
Joe: That's right. You see this in great leadership. I would say that one of the ways that you know that you're empowered is that you're acting in a way as if your reality is already true, that your vision is already true. If you're a civil rights leader, you're acting as if you are already equal and free. You're being that example for everybody to follow and you're assuming that everybody will treat you that way. It starts bending the world into that way of treating you. If you feel like you're less than, then your civil rights movement by its nature will have more friction in it. More people will treat you as you're less than.
It’s the same with anything-- if you're acting as a leader of a CEO and you're like, “Of course, we're going to be successful,” and you’re acting like you're successful. When you're in the negotiations, you're acting like you're successful, then the world wants to bend towards that. It doesn't mean it bends towards it all the time, but it wants to bend towards that. That's what being a visionary is and that is, if you're empowered, then that visionary nature starts becoming more and more obvious to you. It just becomes something that starts happening.
Brett: That brings up an interesting subtlety, the idea of acting as though you're already successful. It seems like there could be ways of performing success that are not beneficial, but the actual belief that you are successful. How would you distinguish between those two things?
Joe: The way I would distinguish between those two things is, that there's a great story. It was an admiral in the Navy who got into a POW camp in Vietnam and he was asked who made it, who didn't make it? He said, “Well, who didn't make it was easy. That was the optimist.” The interviewer is like, “What do you mean optimist?” He said, “It means that they thought they were going to get out by Christmas or by the next season or whatever it was. They didn't make it, because when that came, that timetable came and left, they became defeated and they didn't make it.” He said, “Well, who did make it?” He said, “Well, that's clear, it's the people who thought that they would get out. The people who maintained that vision of their own freedom.”
Brett: In that sense, if we find ourselves performing successfulness and then, signs of failure come, then that can just completely break down and we'll actually just believe our failure and that'll be the end, whereas realizing that this business can entirely fail and I still feel empowered as the person who can be successful.
Joe: Correct and will be. It might be the next business. You see this all the time when people are transforming. When they're changing, they have this massive breakthrough and then they go, “Oh!” then, they feel disempowered because of the power of the pattern and they’re like, "How do I keep it? How do I keep this breakthrough?" As soon as you see that, as soon as you see somebody start wrestling with how do I keep it, you know that it's going to be in flux. You know that it's going to pendulate back and forth for a while.
But when the person sees it so clearly that they're like, "Of course, this is what's happening," then it's over. Even if it comes back a little bit, it's over. The whole process is quicker. If somebody has been getting angry a ton in their world and then all of a sudden they have this breakthrough of like, "Oh my gosh, it's not that I'm angry. It's that I'm hurt." They start crying and they see this new reality. They're like, "Yes." Of course, they don't need to hold on to it. Then you know that that change is going to be smooth and quick. If they are like, "Oh my God, I see it. How do I keep it?" Then you know that they're not fully empowered.
Brett: That's a belief that's fragile then and that they don't really have it.
Joe: Exactly. In that belief system, they still feel like this thing has power over them, this influence. What's interesting is, of course, it has power over you, of course and it's exactly that that you need to enter into. It's exactly that helplessness that helps us become empowered. What I mean by that specifically, because that can be incredibly confusing is, that going through the feeling of helplessness is what creates, oftentimes, that sense of empowerment.
Brett: Yes, that's important, because what you were just saying earlier is that the power itself or the seeking of power as a deep expression of fear and it seems like that would be the fear of feeling the helplessness, the fear of being helpless. If you just move through that helplessness, then you end up on the other side feeling empowered.
Joe: That's it. You just said it better than I could.
Brett: Is there anything else you want to add to the definition of empowered?
Joe: Yes. Empowered really is a feeling. It's a state. It's not a life condition. Meaning, you can be a billionaire and feel empowered and you can be in poverty and feel empowered. It's not really about how many resources you have. It's about your resourcefulness. It's knowing that you have the courage to do what's true for you.
The other thing about empoweredness is that you can't really love without it. If you look at all the people who we see as beacons of love, there is a deep sense of empowerment to them. If you close your eyes and you go inside and you feel what it is to be unconditionally loving and then you feel what it is to be unconditionally empowered, you'll notice that they're two sides of the same mountain and you can't get to the peak without both sides of the mountain.
Brett: I'm curious about what some of the different ways are that we allow ourselves to have power taking over us. What are some of the types of power? There can be economic power, there could be emotional power. I think a lot of this could allude to the victim-savior-bully stuff that we've discussed in some of the other episodes.
Joe: When we're in fear, which is often when we're seeking power over another person, we're often in a victim, savior or a bully role. That is a good sign that you're in the power over. You can have power over somebody by being a bully. That role we know really well. Our society agrees with that one. They're like, "Oh yes, that person's a bully. They want power over."
But you can get power over people as a victim too. I was watching a television show about magic and for whatever reason, they had this group of moms and they were all talking about guilt. They were all laughing and smiling over how guilt was a good way to control their kids. It's like, "Right, that is how people can control through the victim." Like, I'm so fragile that you can't tell me your truth. If there is somebody in your life that you can't tell your truth to because you're scared of hurting them, then you're being somebody who's controlling through victimhood.
It's the same way with a savior. You can control people by saving them. You see this in very wealthy families all the time. They maintain control over their children by making sure that their money is there to save them. Or the Al-Anon saving the alcoholic. It happens all the time. There's all sorts of ways in which we are trying to have power over people. They mostly fit in the three categories, which is victim, savior and bully.
Brett: The example with the rich people with the money doing the savior thing, I think there's many ways that that could apply to philanthropy as well.
Joe: Yes, absolutely.
Brett: Philanthropy can be done in a way that is entirely disempowering and that it can be done in a way that is empowering and I think a lot of that would come from the mindset of the people involved on all sides of it in the system.
Joe: That's right. When I did a lot of philanthropy with schools and with kids, I would stay away from working with anybody who was coming from a place of guilt, that they were doing it because they felt guilty because their philanthropy just didn't work. If they were trying to help people, I would also stay away from it. If they were working with people so that both they and the people they were there to serve were being helped, then those were effective.
Brett: What's an example of how that would work? Philanthropy failing, because it came from a place of guilt.
Joe: I was in Nicaragua at one point and there was a group of Canadians there that had brought a whole bunch of clothing for this village. They all felt really great about themselves. When I asked them why they did it, they were all like, "Oh, I just feel bad that we have so much and I want to spread it." There's nothing wrong with it, but it just isn't successful. I remember sitting with them and saying, "Hey, there's all these turtles here that are going extinct." All these people could be saving the turtles. What if they earned their clothing by helping the turtles? How does that change this whole system?
What it does change is, it makes people have an equal exchange and so they feel empowered. If somebody's just giving them stuff without an exchange, then it's actually quite disempowering because now you have power over them because they need you to give them stuff. In the '70s in Africa, you saw where food drops would happen. Then when the people who had the walkie talkies that helped the food drops happen went away, the native people tried to build fake walkie talkies and act like the person with the walkie talkies to get the food to drop.
It's like you're not teaching that person how to fish. You're giving them fish. When people act out of guilt, that's usually how it works, because they feel like they have to give. Good philanthropy is an exchange. It's not a gift. It's a recognition that you're getting as much from it as you're giving.
Brett: That segues to another interesting thing from earlier in the conversation about your empowerment is something that you have to give up. You choose to give up your empowerment. Let's talk a little more about that.
Joe: There's a choice that you make and every time that you feel like you've been disempowered or that someone has power over you and you can't be true to yourself, then what's actually happening is that you are choosing to avoid a potential bad consequence. That's a choice that you're making. You have to choose that for it to be the case.
Mandela had everything taken from him except his life. He was crushing rocks. He was beaten. It was not pretty for him and yet he stayed empowered. He continued to make choices and knew the choices that he was making despite the consequences.
Brett: How does that work in daily life? Like with a job or perhaps with a receiver of philanthropy, trying to become empowered, but finding that the moment they become empowered, they stop receiving gifts and so, it's easier not to.
Joe: Yes, it's really true. It's harder to raise money for something that's deeply empowered too, it's interesting that way. But then again, the people who truly feel empowered don't need to raise as much money. They have other ways of making things happen. Yes, it's a good question. How does it happen in daily life?
One of the ways that I work with my clients on this often that makes it really acute is-- and I mentioned it a bit in the beginning, but I'll use a different example. It's like a husband that's deeply unhappy in his marriage. I'll ask the question, what if you act exactly how you want to act and see if they leave you, see if the divorce occurs. That's an empowered act. It's like, "Oh, I'm not going to compromise my authenticity, my truth to keep your love. I'm not going to compromise my authenticity and my truth to keep the job. I'm not going to compromise my authenticity and my truth to avoid the conflict and that's when people feel disempowered is, when they don't make that choice. That's when people complain about somebody having power over them.
Brett: Right? Like believing that we're not going to be able to find another job, if we leave this job or believing we're never going to find another partner, if things don't work out with this one and we don't conform to this structure we're in.
Joe: Yes. Then that becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly when you're dealing with one-on-one relationships, but then when it comes to being in a company or being in a country or being part of a geopolitical system, it becomes a little bit harder to see, because the change that you're creating is just less palpable. It's because it's a numbers game and so it becomes harder for people to see in that way.
But that's an intellectual thing. On an emotional and a gut level, you feel it right away, you know it right away when you are acting empowered in those situations, say, "Oh, I'm going to be this way," and I see it all the time. It's like if you look at the people who are breaking the social norms in a way that is liberating for them, that are the front runners or the trailblazers, if you look at those folks, they are the ones who are not buying into the consequences.
Brett: It's contagious then like, if you're looking for a social change, it requires empowerment on a population level. It might feel from a disempowered place that if you're the only person who becomes empowered, you're just going to get steamrolled by the system. Yet, you look at examples like MLK and it's, one person was empowered enough to have like a halo around them, creating more empowerment.
Joe: Yes and he died. Right. There was somebody who had a gun and that's real power and it affected change. He had real power and it affected change. Both of the men who shot and the man who got shot in this particular case, both affected massive change in the world. The difference between the two is one felt empowered and one felt disempowered. The change that we affect when we feel disempowered usually doesn't serve ourselves or humanity.
Brett: Yes, that reminds me of the archetype of the rebel, somebody who feeling what they think is power, ends up destroying their life and others in the name of their truth. Whoever shot MLK felt like they were following their truth and you see this all the time. Let's talk about that.
Joe: Yes. It's really hard to see the difference sometimes, especially when you're in the middle of it and it's subtle until you see it and when you see it, it's clear. If you are in blame for another person or shame for yourself, then you are disempowered and you are trying to accumulate power. If you are not in blame or for others or shame for yourself, then that is empowered. That's the emotional way to know where you're at.
Brett: Or guilt I guess, guilt and shame can be distinguished as well a little bit.
Joe: Yes, guilt and shame. We'll put them together. Those are such-- semantically, that's a very interesting thing and it's very culturally based, but yes, guilt, shame, blame, all that stuff is a good indicator that you're disempowered.
Brett: Earlier we were talking about the drama triangle with the bully and the victim and the savior and how that's based in fear. Can you relate that to blame and shame?
Joe: Yes, so oftentimes, that fear is based on the sense of helplessness. That sense of helplessness is because we believe the story of blame and shame in our head. When you feel like someone else's making your life X, Y and Z way, then you're in blame and there's a helplessness and there's a fear that you will lose complete control and therefore, you need to have control over. Or, there's a shame, like, “I'm inherently bad.” There's no way out of that. It's a deep feeling of helplessness and we're scared of feeling that helplessness, so we then move into the drama triangle or the fear triangle. That's how it works. It's that helplessness is the feeling of that blame and shame felt all the way through, that we don't want to feel.
That's the amazing thing about feeling helplessness. Feeling helplessness doesn't make you more helpless. Feeling helpless makes you more capable. It's so counterintuitive, but if you do it, you know it, right, because so much of our decision-making process is based on trying to avoid an emotional state. The emotional state of helplessness is one of the ones underlying most of our avoidance.
Brett: What are some of the indicators for each of these particular roles? If all of them are fear state being set into place with blame and shame and we need to feel helplessness to get through them, what are some of the indicators for some of these particular roles of victim, bully and savior?
Joe: The reason I don't call the drama triangle very often and I'm more prone to call it the fear triangle is because, the victim, bully and savior correspond with fight, flight or freeze, which are the states of fear. Fight is pretty obviously bully. Right? It's like, when I'm scared, I fight. When I'm scared, I freeze, that's more victim. When I'm scared, I fly, that's savior and that's the harder one to understand. But what happens is, I run away from myself in my own experience and I try to fix you, so that I can feel safe. If I can make it so you don't get drunk, I'll feel safe. If I can make it, that you're happy, then I'll feel safe.
I'm running away from myself going into you to try to fix my issues and so, that's why I call it the fear triangle. There's a feeling for each one of them, right? It's kind of the indicator. The indicator is, if I am feeling all alone in it, that's the bully. If I feel obligation, that's the savior and if I feel stuck, that's the victim. In actuality, we'll feel all three of these things if you really slow it down for a minute and you'll notice that you'll feel all three of these things in a moment of fear.
My wife comes home, she's in a horrible mood and I feel helpless that now my mood is going to be screwed up and the house is going to be screwed up and the kids are going to be screwed like, “I can't do anything.” I might feel alone, like, "Oh, God, I can't. I'm the only one who has to fix this thing." Then I feel, "Oh my God, I got to do something for her so that she feels better and then I'm stuck with this thing." It's like all three of them can happen slowly or quickly. But there's one that usually we dominate in situations that are dominating us in situations. Most people tend towards fight, flight or freeze most of the time.
Brett: Yes, I personally tend towards the savior.
Joe: Yes, I have tended towards both savior and bully. Those are the two places I'll go depending on the circumstance. Yes and often in quick succession.
Brett: Let's talk a little bit more about how this works in companies and in teams.
Joe: It works in a number of ways. The first is, you see this happening all the time in companies and teams, that somebody is acting like the victim or some group is acting like the victim. Some are acting as the savior. There's different ways that they're trying to create control. The less empowered the team feels, the more drama and that's a great-- as soon as you walk into a team, if it's super political, it's just like everybody feels disempowered. You just know it. Where everybody feels empowered and they feel like they can affect change, there's so little politics that are going on. It's a great litmus test.
Brett: Right, because politics is a control mechanism.
Joe: Correct. Yes, it's that fear. Drama. That's the thing that you see in politics everywhere. I don't mean politics as in people running countries. I mean politics. It might be people running countries.
Brett: People being political.
Joe: Being political, right. It's a deep expression of fear and people trying to capture power. Exactly. It's because everybody feels helpless and feels like they're not actually able to affect change in a way that's meaningful.
Brett: How do you affect this kind of change in a company, whether you're leading the company or you're within the company or at the bottom of some ladder?
Joe: Yes. Well, this is the tricky bit, because as a leader of a company, you want your people to be empowered. You also, often out of fear, want to limit their capacity to affect change. I don't want the new mail clerk to decide what my initial public offering price is going to be. It's this constant balance of people feeling empowered. You wanting people to feel empowered and at the same time, a fear of having that power runaway or this lack of control. This is the balance and the subtle war that's happening oftentimes with leaders.
You'll hear it all the time because they'll say something like, "I wish everybody would act like the owner of the company." They mean that to a point, meaning they want everyone to take responsibility like that, but they don't want everybody to have all the benefits and they don't want everybody to have all the choice that they have. There's this very interesting balance that happens. What's happening in those companies is that the empowerment and the roles have gotten confused.
If everybody can feel empowered in their role and their role is defined and how decisions are made is defined, then people feeling deeply empowered is incredibly good for a company. As soon as those roles aren't defined well, as soon as people don't know what they have to do to be successful, then a whole bunch of empowered people just creates a lot of mess.
Brett: It sounds like there's a bit of a paradox here, where having well-defined roles and well-defined processes is structure and that could be something that people feel has power over them. Then also what you want is them to feel empowered to push back and change that structure or work fully within the structure and also perhaps challenge it. If you don't have structure like clear goals, criteria for success, loving accountability, transparency, then what happens there? There's a powerlessness in having no structure.
Joe: That's right. Yes, if there's no way to affect change or make decisions, then what you'll have is this crazy politics with people trying to get power so that they can feel safe. Yes, you want to have some sort of structure that allows itself to change and a structure that doesn't change without very specific things happening, so that people can feel safe that they know what to do, that they know what success means.
This doesn't matter if it's AA or Enron. In AA, there's a very particular structure that has to happen. There's 12 steps. There's the way that the meetings get run and that structure happens. It's important or people can't feel safe in those environments. In Uber, there's very particular structures in place. There's, "I'm going to rate you five stars or not," and there's another structure of making sure that drivers don't rip other people off by tracking them on maps. Those structures are really incredibly critical or people don't feel safe.
Will those structures need to change over time? Absolutely. But, you need the structure for people to feel safe and know what their roles are. Then you need to be able to make room for people to grow and change their roles. The Constitution of the United States does a pretty good job of it, too.
Brett: Yes, sets a structure.
Joe: Yes. That's the balance that you're constantly looking for is, “How I create the amount of structure that makes people feel safe but also gives them autonomy and gives them the capacity to feel as empowered as possible.”
Brett: Includes mechanisms for that structure itself to be updated to match reality.
Joe: Absolutely. Right, that's it. That's how looking at company-- and what you see typically is, the more transparency and the less structure that creates safety, the more elegant the structure is that creates safety, then the more successful the company. Taxi cabs becoming Uber is an example of this, less structure, less infrastructure, but it creates actually more safety.
It's the same thing that happened with GM and Toyota. Toyota became more decentralized than GM, which was at the time, the most centralized company. That decentralization, but still maintaining the structure, is what usually gives those companies a competitive advantage. The reason is, because it creates more empowerment with the employees.
Brett: It seems like this would also promote scalability for a company, because if you have 100 empowered decision-makers instead of three, then more decisions can be made and more information can be processed.
Joe: That's exactly right. Yes. You saw that there was a-- I can't remember, it was one of the Malcolm Gladwell books talked about, how in this war game that the Pentagon does, this small band of people beat the US Army, because their decision-making was happening at the bottom. There was some set of principles, some set of structure that they could all operate within. That's basically how you do it. It was in David and Goliath, was I think his book. You see that all the time and you see it in business books as well, like Reinventing Organizations, where the same principle is there.
Brett: Yes, another war game example, just war example, would be when Rommel first encountered US troops in Northern Africa. He was like, "Oh, these guys are totally green and completely disorganized. It'll be a cinch." Then, not long after, he was writing letters back to Germany like, "Wait, don't underestimate these people. You can cut off an entire unit from their command and somehow, they'll still figure out how to fight."
Joe: But this isn't just an external thing. This is an internal thing as well. When you become more empowered, you start operating on a set of principles and that set of principles, you're going to operate on whether it's comfortable or not. If I have a principle that basically says, "I am not going to work with assholes," and somebody says, "Here's a billion dollars to work with an asshole," I'm going to say, "No." It's a set of principles. I'm not going to operate any differently than that. If I have a set of principles and it's like, I'm going to be transparent with people and tell them my truth despite the consequences, that's my set of principles. I'm going to do it no matter what.
That's when all the drama in me starts disappearing. That's when I feel empowered is, I've given myself a structure that it doesn't change very readily. It takes some time to change that set of principles, but I'm going to operate in that way no matter what. That helps me feel deeply empowered, which is strange. It's like a set of criteria that I live by that actually makes me feel empowered.
Brett: Yes, as though this entire process of inquiry into values is to create a more and more consolidated, elegant structure by which we live our lives, so that we don't have to think about the complicated consequences and how the consequences are going to play out of, “What if I say this to my boss? Or speak my truth here or leave this job?” It's just, this is simply how I want to live and I'll accept the consequences if that's what it takes.
Joe: That's exactly right. Yes, that set of principles is what frees us. If you look around at the people who you just saw like, “Holy crap, they didn't have resources, but they were empowered and they changed the world.” That's something else they all have in common. They were living by a set of principles internally and externally. Not perfectly, obviously. We're humans. We are not made perfect, but it's generally how one lives their life. When you see somebody who's living by a set of principles, you'll also notice that they never are blaming other folks. They're never worried about somebody's power over them. They're addressing it.
Brett: That also will affect your opportunities as well. When I'm hiring, I'm much more interested in the resourcefulness and the ownership, the self-ownership of the person rather than the skills listed on their resume. People really detect that in any counterpart that they might work with.
Joe: That's right, I'd rather pick the right mentality than the right skillset, for sure. I obviously like to pick both when I can, but yes, that's right. This is what happens internally, like I said, as well as externally, the drama internally goes away when we feel empowered internally, when we don't feel that we will make the choice even if it's uncomfortable. Even if I have to feel helpless, I'm going to make that choice. Even if I have to-- I'm not going to have power over somebody else or try to have power over myself.
I will rather feel the discomfort of the fear and the helplessness. I'll rather enter into the shame. I would rather allow my own destruction as far as the destruction of my identity, my identity as one who's put upon or my identity as one who's valuable. I'd rather allow that to be destroyed, rather than move into fear and act from fear and try to have control over somebody. It's an internal and an external thing. When you figure it out internally, you have no choice but to act externally. If you feel like you are subjugated by something externally, then you also feel like you're subjugated by something internally.
Brett: That sounds like a great point to wrap this up on. Thank you very much, Joe.
Joe: Yes. Pleasure, Brett. Thank you very much.
Thanks for listening to The Art of Accomplishment podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW, or to take a course, visit: artofaccomplishment.com
Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, https://www.reinventingorganizations.com/
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants
September 2, 2022
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Brett and Joe address curiosities from listeners about how to approach relationships in a healthy way, riffing on the observation that we find ourselves attracted to the people who most perfectly hook into our triggers, traumas, and projections. Seeing this pattern as a feature rather than a bug, relationships become a vessel for deep healing and personal growth.
One of the main reasons I think we find ourselves attracted to certain people and we find ourselves married to certain people is that we have an instinctual way of finding the person who can trigger us the best.
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I’m Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.
Joe: Hey, Brett.
Brett: Hey, Joe.
Joe: Good to see you, man.
Brett: Good morning. We’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about relationships, and people are asking what they should do now. How do they tell if they are in the right relationship? How do they know when to dive in and when to pull back? How do they know whether or not they are coming from their feelings or from their trauma? We haven’t had an episode yet on relationships in particular.
Joe: Just to be clear, are we talking about romantic relationships? Are we talking about all relationships?
Brett: Let’s go into romantic relationships, but I think it applies to all relationships.
Joe: Most of it applies to close relationships, I would say. Maybe not acquaintances, but most of it will apply to the bosses we keep working for or the parents. Let’s keep it focused on the romantic.
Brett: I think one of the reasons for that is the context of these closest relationships, including the romantic relationships, involves a lot of spiritual growth, a lot of personal development, and a lot of our stuff comes up. It is a container in which we get to experience and recreate a lot of our patterns and work through them. The same isn’t necessarily true in a lot of work relationships. On some levels, it is, but to some extent, there is something special about the romantic relationship that more often comes up. People have very specific questions about it.
Joe: I would say more agreement is on that. It is true that there is more agreement. We can work on our stuff here today. I don’t need to be a professional. I can actually work on my stuff here. Let’s do it. Relationships, what’s a good starting question here?
Brett: A good place to start would be to lay out the framework of what a romantic relationship actually is, where it comes, what brings us into them, what attracts us to them, what kinds of relationships we are attracted to, and that’s a pretty fractal, multi question right there.
Joe: It is interesting. You said something earlier about if I am coming into this relationship out of a healthy thing or if I am coming into this relationship from trauma. I would say there that I don’t think that question is relevant, meaning that the people we are attracted to, that we find ourselves in relationships with are people who hook into our particular trauma, our particular projections, and our particular patterns perfectly. If we have a long-term relationship, you can pretty much be sure that those two patterns interlock perfectly. That’s one of the main reasons I think we find ourselves attracted to certain people and that we find ourselves married to certain people is that we have an instinctual way of finding the person who from one perspective can trigger us the best and another perspective I would say has the biggest opportunity for our mutual healing. That seems to be why people become attracted to one another is to solve that thing.
The other way I would put that is if you take a look at young children. Young children get taught what love is in a particular way. Love is associated with shame or love is associated with authoritarianism. Love is associated with money or love is associated with food. That creates certain patterns, certain ways in which they are trying to get the love, certain ways in which they are scared of getting the rejection. However that pattern gets created, that’s where you are going to find somebody in your romantic relationship that holds the other side of that pattern. That’s why you hear so many people talk about things like oh my gosh, my husband is so much like my father, or my husband is so much like my mother or my wife is so much like my father. Oftentimes we are recreating those patterns so they can be healed. At least, that’s the opportunity. The opportunity is you get to heal patterns if both people are willing to do the work.
Brett: I notice there is a way of seeing this as a feature or a bug. I just keep getting the same relationship. I just keep dating my mother or my father. There is something wrong with that and that means there is something wrong with me. What I see you also pointing to is there is an opportunity to heal these things and there is an opportunity to feel the feelings that haven’t been felt yet. This is perhaps one of the distinctions with a romantic relationship as far as consensus agreement versus a boss. At least in a romantic relationship, that’s the place where culturally we expect to be most accepted as we actually are. We tend to develop the most interdependence, which is not universally true.
Joe: Or co-dependence or dependence. I would question it, but this is a very different podcast. I would question the non consensuality of a job, but I think we are all responsible for our own decisions.
Brett: I mean the consensual reality of what people agree is the purpose of a romantic relationship versus what people tend to culturally agree is the purpose of a work relationship.
Joe: That’s a great question. I think a lot of people think that the agreement behind a relationship is that we are here to make each other happy. I think that’s terminal. I think that kills a relationship. My experience is that not only kills a relationship, but it also allows us to lose ourselves and others. It creates a tremendous amount of pain if we take responsibility for anybody’s happiness or give our responsibility for our own happiness to anybody and all of the subtle and not so subtle ways that that happens.
Particularly in societies where romantic love, that crushy feeling in the first three months where you have that feeling and you get that feeling of massive oxytocin, then you are like wait, being with that person makes me feel this way. Obviously, that goes away after about three to five months. Wait, what’s happening? Why aren’t they making me happy anymore? Everybody starts doing things to try to make the other person happy and has expectations. That’s where all the trauma shows up.
If you are actually in a relationship where both people are saying we are here primarily to use the relationship as a way to create our own freedom, to make ourselves happy, and to be kind and supportive to one another, then that’s going to be a relationship that’s going to be successful. Unfortunately, most relationships I think in our society consciously or subconsciously are more in the vein of I’m here to make them happier and they are here to make me happy. That’s my job in the relationship. They are not making me happy, so they need to change. There’s a lot of that, trying to get each other to change in a relationship, which is just brutal.
Brett: I wonder what it is like to go into a relationship with the agreement of relationships are meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy for a time so that we build attachment and connection, and then push our buttons.
Joe: That’s right.
Brett: When my buttons get pushed, that’s exactly what I am here for.
Joe: I am here to heal my own buttons, not yours. I am here for my own transformation, not for yours. You can see that metaphor play out completely in the sexual relationship, too, where if you are having a sexual relationship where it is all about pleasing the other person, it is going to be horrible sex. If it is all about pleasing yourself, that’s also going to be horrible sex. But you can’t exclude the fact that you are there for your pleasure; they are there for their pleasure. The only person responsible for your pleasure can be you. There is nobody else who can know what you need or what you want or how to be with you. You are the authority on that. It is the same with healing inside of a relationship.
Brett: And with growth. I’ve seen and experienced this before in my relationships where each partner feels like they are responsible for the other’s growth or in some manner guiding it or is more equipped to facilitate it. That just stifles things immediately.
Joe: That’s hell. That’s absolute hell. Tara and I definitely went through that phase. It was brutal and full of arrogance, hubris and distraction from your own shit, among a whole bunch of other things.
Brett: This comes back to in the process of getting into a relationship there is this possible having this consent or agreement that what relationships are for, this desire for each of us to use the relationship for our own freedom and growth, and part of that might even be not requiring the other person to have that same agreement. That’s just the way that you live individually. That’s the way you show up in relationships.
Joe: I would like that to be true. I don’t know if it is. I don’t know if I have ever really seen any relationship get through the bottoms unless both people have agreed to the fact that they are there for their personal growth. They might make it as far as they stay, but it is dead inside. They might be married for 50 years, but it is brutal, cold and unfulfilling. I don’t know of any relationship. I am just tracking right now. I can’t speak to any relationship that I have found that is healthy, rewarding and fulfilling and that changes with the multiple marriages we all go through over 20, 30 or 40 years that hasn’t had the agreement that it is not about changing the other person. It is about our own personal growth and how we be with ourselves, be better people. Better people is not right, but learn how to be more and more ourselves.
Brett: I think that brings up a common sticking point that can happen around this work. When somebody discovers a practice like this or discovers any kind of path that they are finding really helpful for their healing and for their growth, and then they start to feel like their partner is not on board with it, they think now I need you to agree that we are each in this for our own freedom. There can still be a trying to change them to make them the one that wants to use the relationship for their freedom and support each other in that.
Joe: Also hell. Absolutely. I see that all the time where people start discovering something in themselves, and I would see out of a deep love and care they want their partner to join them but also out of a desire to be happy. If they change, I will be happy. That’s the thing. If you think that your partner is going to do anything that makes you happy, if you have the fantasy if they become this, this and that, they will make me happy, that’s an absolute illusion. That’s now how it works.
It doesn’t mean that being with certain people would be more conducive to thriving than other people. It doesn’t mean you should be with the partner and just learn how to endure it all. I’m not saying that, but we are responsible for our own happiness. Nobody else can take control of that. Nobody else can provide that for us. The clearer that gets, the more likely you are, or I think it is a foregone conclusions, the more you will be in healthy relationships.
Brett: Let’s scroll back a little bit to the process of getting into a relationship from this framing, from this perspective of relationships are a path to my growth. I can use relationships to make myself happy at the same time that my partner is making themselves happy. We are both co-creators and co-conspirers of our own individual agency, autonomy and growth and developing a healthy interdependence and not codependence.
Knowing that we are attracted to relationships that are mirroring our own traumas in some sense or matching them, a lot of people have a question or a wondering about how I know if what I am getting into is healthy. If I can just assume the relationships I am getting to are based on my trauma patterns, how do I tell if that’s going to be healthy or if that’s just going to re-traumatize me or recreate the situation, reprove my belief system?
Joe: Let me back off of that question for a second so I can answer it more precisely. I have had the really lovely experience of several times being with people on their first date, either being in the booth next to them at a restaurant or just showing up and meeting people who might have interest in one another. If you are listening to it the right way, it is like a contract negotiation. They are giving each other pieces of information about each other. They are telling each other how they are going to act. In both cases where I got to experience this, from the outside I got to say I know exactly how that relationship is going to go. You can see the entire thing in the first couple moments, first date or two. There are all these subtle agreements being made, subconsciously or not fully consciously.
This is just to say whether we are conscious of it or not, we are that wise in it. We might not be knowing how we are handling it, our heart palpitations and our breath. We are not engineering it, but we are taking care of it. I have seen the same thing happen on every occasion I’ve gotten to see it where people are on their first date. There is this beautiful subconscious intelligence at work. That’s the first part of that that I think is really important.
The second part is if I am attracted to this person because of my trauma or if I am attracted to this person because it will be healing. Both. You are going to retraumatize yourself. Every marriage retraumatizes some of the things we learned in our early childhood, and every relationship has the chance to heal us from our traumas. Both are the case. The easiest thing to say is if you both agree that we are here to do the work, to find our own freedom, then you are going to get a lot more of the healing and a lot less of the retraumatizing. If there is no agreement like that and one person is in full blame mode, full change the other person, full defense mode, then you are going to get a lot more retraumatization. That’s just how it is.
I think it is a false pretext to ask if this is the right person for me that I am attracted to. The right thought process is I am attracted to this person. Therefore, they do have that kind of click. That have that think in them that attracts a part of me that needs to be healed. Are we going to do that or are we going to be unconscious in this relationship? I think that’s the way to tell the difference. Is the person willing to do the work?
Brett: Then there is the open question of if the lesson for me in this relationship is to let more love in, open up and let down my defenses or if it is to draw boundaries.
Joe: I don’t see the separation in those two things. Those are the same thing in my world.
Brett: I see that as a common question.
Joe: That’s a common question.
Brett: There is definitely something for me to learn in this relationship. Is the thing for me to learn to dive into it? Is the thing for me to learn to walk away from it? Because I am having feelings and I am trying to interpret them.
Joe: There is this age-old question in all spiritual growth. The way you are posing it right now is the relational version of that question, but the non-relational version of that question is if I am truly at peace, I should be able to live on top of a disco and be at peace. If I am truly at peace, why on earth would I love on top of a disco? Do I move or do I stay on top of the disco? That’s kind of the question. The thing that I disagreed with in the first phrasing and that I didn’t hear in the second phrasing was if I open my heart and stay open. The answer to that is always yes. The question of boundaries is if I need to draw a boundary so I can maintain that open heart and so I can maintain that unconditional love or if I need to look at my own experience to be able to maintain that unconditional love and that open heart. Even that is somewhat of a false dichotomy in the fact that oftentimes it is both.
The other part of it that is also a false dichotomy is thinking drawing the boundary is more about the other person. For instance, you have got a boyfriend and six months in the boyfriend lies to you. There are certain people who would be like I am done. We are finished. There is not even a question. There are other people who would put up with because of all of these other cool things, but two years down the line, they are tired of the lying. They ask if they should be good with the lying or if they should draw the boundary with the lying. The truth is drawing the boundary about the lying is really a version of learning that I don’t have to accept lying in my life. It is internal work more than it is external work. The external saying of it is just a way to affirm the internal realization that I don’t have to live with somebody lying to me. It doesn’t help me thrive and it doesn’t help them thrive.
In a way, it is all internal work. Sometimes it is drawing a boundary, and sometimes it is leaving. There is that false dichotomy between it being my problem or their problem. That’s the false dichotomy. It is always about you being responsible for your own happiness.
Brett: That speaks to the process of healing in a relationship, which leads to showing up in a different way and then to drawing boundaries and opening your heart. This leads to taking actions and taking on ways of being you have never had before and allowing your partner to do that, allowing your partner to change into something you’ve never seen them be before or seen anybody be before in a relationship with you. That’s a continuous process of feeling helplessness and grieving whatever a relationship was or what our identity was in a relationship.
I think that that also paradoxically is what keeps the relationship fresh and the spice going. There is the NRE, the new relationship energy, which is often considered to die off after a certain period of time. In my experience, it comes right back every time a relationship goes through a big move and a big healing process and becomes redefined, more accepting and more aware of more parts of both people.
Joe: Yeah. I think it is a more grounded version than new relationship energy every time is my experience, but it keeps it fresh and alive. That’s a beautiful way to say it. One of the reasons that relationships in particular we take so personally is because we suffer under the illusion that the other person’s actions or reactions are going to affect us more or with an inordinate amount of pressure so to speak, meaning if he quits his job, what does it mean for me? If she becomes a vegan, what does it mean to me? We are constantly monitoring the person’s change on the other side and how it is going to affect our life. More profoundly, we are monitoring what they are doing and how it is going to affect our identity.
Also, we are monitoring to see if they are going to hold us in place or not. Wow, you are going through something that makes it that you don’t want to care take me anymore, but then who the fuck is going to take care of me? I’ve created my whole system to create care takers. I’ve created a system where I feign helplessness, and I am weak and a victim. I find people who want to take care of me. If you stop taking care of me, then I am going to have to become empowered, but really I feel that care taking is love, so now I feel unloved. It goes like that. We get very scared by the other person’s growth typically, so we will exert a lot of pressure and get very angry over it or sad. We will use every tool in the toolbox to try to keep the person in a place where we feel safe.
Brett: It is interesting to see the pattern where often in a relationship somebody is afraid of being held back or of holding back, the same person is also doing the disempowering for themselves and the other or bidding for disempowerment.
Joe: That’s right. Totally. The other thing is all of these fights we get into in our relationships, you can break them down to pretty much the same basic thing. One person feels unseen or both people feel unseen in that moment or feel unheard or unseen, not grokked, not respected, some version of that. Then there is a desire to change the other person. That is quintessential part of all fights, and that somebody or both people have closed down their heart and decided not to be open. Every fight can be resolved with one and/or both people saying I am going to love unconditionally even in this situation. Here let me take the time to see you. Let me make sure I am seeing you correctly. Let me make sure I understand what you need to be respected and I am not going to try to change you anymore.
If you flip that switch in a fight, the fight goes away. It might take a while to go away. Most people, when they are in that fight, they do this. I am going to open my heart until they open their heart. I am not going to see them until I am seen. I am always the one who is seeing them.
Brett: I need a partner that does the work.
Joe: All that friction. It is like saying hey, I am going to be free until they are free. What the hell? That makes sense from this perspective. If I drop my needing to be seen, if I drop my closedness, if I lower the armor, that’s my freedom. I get that no matter if the person is yelling. I get that. My freedom might be to leave or to draw a boundary, but I get my freedom. Why would I care? This is that focus, the focus on self. Then they have to make their choice. They get to make that choice. That’s the fascinating piece. Every one of the fights, I have never seen a fight that isn’t basically about that in a relationship.
Brett: If you do find your freedom, you are giving your partner to love you in your freedom, which will do things for them as well.
Joe: Unless you have somebody with a severe psychological disorder, when you show up and you listen to them, you unconditionally love them and you hear them, they won’t continue to react the same way towards you. They will change. I feel seen. I feel safe. They will show up more loving. They will listen better. They will want to meet you there. It might take them 20 minutes, but they will want to.
Brett: Or even a few weeks or however much time it takes.
Brett: Another thing this points to about being in relationships where there is an agreement that each is in it for their own freedom and supportive of one another, there can then become a level of what that means or what the tools are. I see this be a common thing where somebody gets on to some path of what works for them. I’ve seen this happen with somebody who gets really into psychedelics and then the partner doesn’t. Somebody gets really into this work, into VIEW and Art of Accomplishment type work or somebody gets into whatever is out there, and then the other partner doesn’t necessarily agree that is their path. Then the argument is not about we are here for both of our freedom, but the argument is about what path to freedom actually is.
Joe: Then you are trying to change them. Tara went a completely separate way for a decade. I know I’ve talked on this thing about her making fun of my path. You don’t get to control that in another person. The best approach in that is to learn what their path is. What does happen sometimes is people say that’s not my path, but they are not doing any path. They are not doing any work. Therapy is not my path. That’s not my path. I’m just reading books and intellectualizing. That will be my path, but you are not seeing the growth. Then address that issue. Then the issue is I don’t see whatever you are doing being effective. I don’t see you living up to your side of the agreement, which is working on your own freedom.
I think that that’s more of the thing, but there is a subsection of this. Let’s take it out of transformation for a moment. It is like I am clear I want to be non-monogamous, and that’s what I need to do, or I am clear that I need to try to start a billion-dollar company. That’s what I need to do. The other person says I am clear I don’t want to be in a non-monogamous relationship, or I am clear that I don’t want you to have a boyfriend or I am clear that I don’t want to be the wife or husband of a multinational CEO. There is something in that which is really fascinating. I think the basic misnomer there and those are big ones. We can do small ones, too, which is I am clear I don’t want to do the dishes and I am clear I don’t want to live with someone who doesn’t do the dishes.
Brett: I am clear I want to wake up at 8 in the morning and mediate with my partner. I am clear the kids should have a certain schedule.
Joe: Exactly. In that one, one person compromises or both people compromise. I am going to use that word really specifically. To compromise means that I am going to neglect some aspect of myself to make you happy, and I highly recommend never doing that because that always builds up resentment. Now you are walking around the house saying I can show these three parts of myself but not these two parts of myself. I can’t say this thing.
I have got to walk on eggshells and all of this other weight and friction comes into the relationship rather than saying what we are going to do now is we are going to figure out a way you get your needs met and I get my needs met. We are going to be smart enough to do that. We are going to commit to doing that. If for whatever reason that can’t be done, which in my experience never can’t be done, then maybe the relationship is not right for us and let’s admit that. Let’s get there. But neither of us are sacrificing. We are both going to get our needs met, and we will find a way to do it.
There is always a way. We are going to get someone to come in and do the dishes, or we can do the dishes at 7 o’clock at night together. I would hate to say this, but we are using disposable and recyclable dishes and putting it all in the compost. There are a thousand solutions to every problem, and if you are not in a power struggle with the person, if you are not trying to get them to change, there is always a solution.
Brett: I think a part of that is seeing the other’s stated needs as not threats but as something that points to a deeper need because then you can climb down the ladder of apparent needs into what’s actually needed, which tends to become sort of the same thing, the need for safety, the need for autonomy, the need for connection.
Joe: Yeah, beautifully seen. That is why the job is to constantly keep an open heart. It is to not armor up and think you are under attack. It is to see that you can only really be attacked on something you are thinking is bad about yourself. I want you to get your needs met. Of course I do. I want my needs to get met and how we can do both. That is the open-hearted approach as compared to I will not do that. The crazy thing is I see this. No, I will not have a non-monogamous relationship. If you have that boundary, that’s fantastic. I love that boundary, but it is so much different than saying I really hear you are sexually unsatisfied in the marriage, and I want you to be sexually satisfied in the marriage. I am not okay with us having relationships outside or I am not okay with us not having relationships outside of the marriage as long as we are not connected, or whatever the boundary is. It is so much different than I won’t do that. I won’t do that is this armored and defensive thing than saying I can really acknowledge and see your needs, and I really want you to get your needs met, and by the way, this scares the fuck out of me because I think we are about to get a divorce because you have a need I am not going to be able to fulfill.
Brett: I hear a vulnerability of these are my needs and these are your needs. There is this openness that this might not actually be a match and we can’t both get them met at the same time, and there is an openheartedness to really looking for where that correspondence might be. Ultimately, once again, going back to that original principle of each of us is in it for our own freedom and in support of each other’s freedom, which means if I have a need, my need doesn’t need to become a control pattern upon you.
Joe: That’s it.
Brett: My need becomes something that I inquire into myself and vulnerably share my process. It is my responsibility to get that need met.
Joe: I think about relationships. If you think about it, standing upright and having your arms out in a cross, most poetry, most art is written about the arms of the relationship, the beginning and the end. We are talking right now about the body of the relationship, where most of the self-help books hang out. The thing about that body of the relationship, I will tell you a story. I was working with a client, and the client was saying she felt she was being attacked all of the time by her husband. I said who gives a shit. I remember her looking at me like what. I said yeah, so he is attacking you. If you are different than your authentic self because of an attack, they have won. He has won. The only thing you have to focus on is being authentic in the face of that attack because otherwise you are already out of yourself. You have already lost, so to speak. How do you want to be in the fact of this attack if it is true even, which is it most likely not true?
The way it works in relationships is someone thinks they have something to defend, and the other person sees that defense as an attack. They think they have something to defend. The first person sees that defense as an attack, and both people think they are defending themselves and both people feel attacked. That’s typically how it works.
Brett: Then they create an attack by doing something like not being their authentic self in the face of an attack, which then makes the other partner feel more disconnected and more abandoned.
Joe: That’s right. It is like great, they have attacked you. How do you want to be? I’ve never seen somebody deeply get in contact with that and think what I want to do is shut down. They might say they want to draw a boundary. They might say what I want is to say I don’t want to be treated like this. Please stop yelling at me. If you have to keep on yelling at me, then I am going to leave. I’m happy to come back when you are not yelling at me. There are lots of ways to handle it, but I’ve never heard anybody say authentically what I want to do is I want to shut down and attack. That will feel great. Being defensive feels freaking great. I want to be more defensive with my husband. I’ve never seen someone say the marriage I want is 55% more defensive. It is not what’s true for us. That’s the thing.
It reminds me of this other story I love. Tara and I saw a therapist years back, and he had this story, which I loved. He was working with a client, and the client went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, started to pee and missed the toilet. He noticed the first thought he had was god damn it, she moved the toilet. In that moment, he had this recognition that he was holding her responsible for everything. None of it is her job. He saw through this whole thing of him blaming his whole life on his wife. Do you want a life where you are blaming somebody else for your own happiness? No, nobody wants that, and yet here we are finding ourselves in this in the middle of a relationship. Just that acknowledgement that this isn’t the way we want to be with each other and this is the way we want to be with each other, that’s huge.
Brett: We have talked now about the beginning of the relationship and the kinds of agreements and consensual reality in a relationship for growth and freedom. We’ve talked a lot about the body, and now what if you do this work and you find this relationship has played its course? What we are actually looking for is something different or what I am looking for is something different. My partner left me and they are shutting down. I feel powerless. How do I stay connected to them while they are shutting down to me?
Joe: Before I get there, one of the things I will say about the middle of the relationship is one of the things to look for in a relationship is there are a lot of situations in which somebody thinks they want something and have so much craving for it that they are pushing it away. That can be jealousy. If you find yourself in a relationship where you have this strong desire for something and you keep on trying to get it and you can’t get it, then it is really great to acknowledge that you are actually pushing it away, which means subconsciously you are not ready for it, don’t want it, haven’t admitted what it is going to do to your identity, some version of that. I think that’s a really good, helpful hint for people who find themselves thinking I want this so badly and I can’t get it. To know that that energy is actually pushing that away from you, which means there is some way in which you haven’t fully accepted your desire for it and willingness to receive it.
Brett: That seems to apply across the board to cravings.
Joe: Yes, the deep cravings. The ending of the relationship is often the most productive time in a relationship if you are approaching it like this is a spiritual growth thing. The great story I have on this is the first time I experienced it. I had a friend who had the love of his life and had been in the longest relationship, which at the time was 11 months. He was a perennial bachelor until he was 40. He was in this situation, and at the time, he was overweight, drinking too much. His business was failing. He had this break up. He had lost himself quite a bit in the relationship and had this breakup.
We had this conversation about this being a great time if you can mourn it. He had this long drive he was doing. He was doing restoration work. He had this long drive across Arizona every week. He would cry and mourn the whole time there and back. Two months later it was cry and mourn for a couple of hours there and back. Six months later he wasn’t drinking too much. He was in shape. He was running a successful business. He got new contracts. His entire world had changed.
When I asked about him how that had worked. A couple of things he said that were exceptional. He said oh my god, I had no idea I could make sounds like that when I was mourning. I had no idea. The other thing was he said he started by mourning the relationship, but then I mourned everything that got me into the relationship, all the trauma, all of the patterns that got me into that relationship. I could mourn and move through them. That’s the opportunity at the end of a relationship. If you fully mourn it, you are not going to replicate the relationship. If you fully allow yourself to feel the sadness, the heartbreak and the heart, it will increase your capacity to love in the future. It will mandate a deeper, more connected form of love from the next relationship. You will be attracted to different people.
There is this huge opportunity in a breakup to allow that mourning to occur and to move through all of those difficult emotions, embrace them and love them. It is a gigantic opportunity rather than dismiss it. That includes the person breaking up and the person being broken up with or whatever.
Brett: Even the people around them, mourning the identity of the couple and the way they related to them. One of the things that seems to be a really common factor when I see people in my life after a breakup remain friends or be really close friends or even decide that they actually want to stay together but just in a completely different form of relationship, the factor there is they have actually grieved it fully. Those who have not done that are the ones who are continuing to hold the bitterness and get into another relationship just like it.
Joe: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly the pattern I see in the world. I think in the front end of breaking up with somebody is this moment of asking if you should break up with them or if you should stay with them. It’s that crazy moment that people have. My response to that is almost always the same, which is why don’t you just be fully who you are and if it ends, it ends. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It is the same thing I tell people who are thinking about quitting a job.
There are all these ways you have stopped being yourself in the relationship. Why don’t you just be yourself in the relationship? If it becomes a dumpster fire, it is a dumpster fire. You are done anyways. Seventy or 80% of the time the relationship heals just from that, just from people showing up and saying this is how I want to be. Love it or leave it, but I am not going to defend myself. I am just going to be me, and I hope you stay or you don’t. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. My job is just being me here and not being defensive about it. It is incredible how much that changes.
Brett: The inauthenticity is the source of a lot of the pain, all of the pain really.
Joe: That’s correct. Usually the person on the other side is more attracted, more excited, more eager to be involved after one to six months of pushing up against this isn’t what we agreed to, that kind of stuff. It is amazing how often that works.
If it doesn’t work then as far as keeping a relationship alive, it definitely works as far as teaching people how to be themselves in the next relationship. It works as far as creating a more amicable split-up.
Brett: The final piece I just need to mention here is it can be a journey to be fully authentic in a relationship and to hold somebody to being fully authentic in a relationship isn’t loving them as they are in their journey, and the same is true for yourself.
Joe: That’s right. I don’t think that journey ever ends. I hope it doesn’t. I hope I continue to find ways to be more authentic and more supportive of myself and others. That’s the other piece that I think is really critical. Anything that you can’t love about your partner, anything you want to change about your partner, the most useful thing to know about that stuff is that is something you can’t love about yourself. It is something that you have no flexibility in yourself. It is something you judge yourself for or would judge yourself for. My ability to be patient, loving and caring towards every aspect of Tara is a direct reflection of my capacity to be loving and patient with the aspects of myself. I think that’s a really important way to look at it. There is nothing that the other person has in them that you don’t have in you. There is no way to think I really love this but I can’t love it in myself or vice versa. That’s not how it works.
Brett: It is the people who love themselves who tend to also be the most attractive.
Joe: They create the healthiest relationships. I’ve never seen two people who just deeply love themselves and can accept themselves who are in a diabolically horrible, dysfunctional relationship. You can’t imagine it. The other thing to say about that is I think for some people that’s a little scary. I am going to love myself. There is some fear that doing that, then I will be non-ambitious or evil. There is a slew of things. Look around. See if you can find anybody who truly loves themselves and is evil or truly love themselves and is not ambitious. Self-care and all that stuff doesn’t go away with self-love.
Brett: I think this a great place to wrap it up.
Joe: That was good. I could see us having another podcast on relationships. I feel like we could delve in deeper. Do you know what would be cool? Maybe we do it with you and Alexa.
Brett: Yeah, I would love that.
Joe: That would be cool to have a three-way conversation. That would be fun.
Brett: Let’s do that next time.
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Joe coaches a course participant through an exploration of self-trust. Beginning with an intellectual question about conflicted inner parts, our guest embraces the underlying emotional experience and touches the essence of who she is.
"What's the ultimate thing that you're running from?"
"Some sort of spiral effect -- I've seen people I love spiral into depression or spiral into madness."
"There's an abyss in you that you're avoiding, and your fear is that if you go into that, you won't come out. So let's go."
What’s the ultimate thing you are running from? Some sort of spiral effect. I’ve seen people I love spiral into depression or spiral into madness. Let’s go. There’s an abyss in you that you are avoiding, and your fear is that if you go into that, you won’t come out. Let’s go.
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.
Welcome back, everyone. Today’s episode is a coaching session between Joe and somebody in our community who just completed the connection course and was really ripe and motivated for the work and to explore further. She reached out to us to offer to do a session on the podcast, and we really, really love it when people are this devoted to their growth and exploration. We really want to explore it. Without further ado, here is that session.
Joe: Wow, you wanted to come in person.
Person: I did. I wanted the in person feel. Zoom is a huge barrier for me for dropping in sometimes. I have a resistance. All of those other things I didn’t want to do before seem so enticing now.
Joe: That makes sense. R- is a friend.
Person: He is my partner.
Joe: How long have you guys been together?
Person: We thought last year was three years, and we went to our anniversary dinner looking at photos. There were none. This year is three years. It just feels like longer. COVID is a time accelerator.
Joe: Tara and I have been married for over 20 now.
Person: I’ve heard good things about her from Brett and Alexa.
Joe: She is amazing. What are we here for? What do you want to work on?
Person: When I scheduled this, I had a topic in mind that I had been working on with a coach and I had listened to VIEW. Now it is not alive for me anymore. In the last few days, I was trying to figure out another topic. I started to think about intuition. This morning I was meditating and a few seconds before my meditation ended, I had a thought that popped up intuitively. I thought I guess we are going with this. It is not fully formed. The idea is around emotional fluidity, about how labeling our emotions affects the ability for them to transform and change and how labeling emotions puts structure or identity on who we are and how that affects our transformation and change.
Joe: I’m happy to answer those questions, but I notice two things that are happening. First, that’s a really intellectual question and not personal to you. The second thing I notice is because you are here in person, there is actually something personal happening. Your emotional body is not having an intellectual conversation with me, but whatever just happened was intellectual. I am wondering if you have something else you want to work on.
Person: That’s good. I feel like I have been trying to find this perfect question for you, and I don’t really know what that is.
Joe: How about this? What’s the thing that if it shifted in your life would be the most profound, positive movement that you could conceive of?
Person: Being able to trust myself again.
Joe: That sounds like something to work on.
Person: I’ve been doing so much parts work, and now I am so aware of all of these contradictory parts of myself and trying to acknowledge and address them all with compassion. It’s just a mess in there. I see all things as holding truth at once, and there was this fluidity before I was more aware of all of these parts that just allowed me to come to conclusions and live in a flow state regardless of where that took me. Now, I feel not quite paralyzed but that there are so many things I am aware of. It is more consciously going into my choices. I have less confidence in what feels right for me.
Joe: I know what parts work is, but do you want to describe it a little bit because we will have people listening to this?
Person: Sure. Parts work, the way I have been doing is when you recognize yourself as being comprised of different parts that might be of different ages. For instance, there is the inner child, which a lot of people talk about, but there is also, for instance, a protector you have developed in the past as a way to come and make sure you are okay because you have been hurt in the past. You can also have a maternal part that nourishes you and cheers you on. You could have a paternal part that’s a bit more discerning. All of these parts are living inside of you at all times making decisions together, usually under the hood.
Right now, for me, they are less under the hood, and I am speaking to them all more directly. Decisions are taking much longer and becoming less clear.
Joe: What’s you?
Person: All of it is me.
Joe: What’s essentially you? If I took away the protector, would you still exist?
Person: I hear what you are saying. There is an awareness, an essence that’s me.
Joe: What does it think about you being made up of parts, the awareness? How does it react?
Person: Right now it feels it has been fun, meeting those parts. At the beginning, it was like a play, like a dance. There was almost like a pride in being attuned to these parts, these voices in my head that are constantly there. It felt like having more awareness of them would lead to making decisions that felt more in flow or at least with more conscious attention. Now I am not so sure anymore. I think there is a reason some things are left to the subconscious to be decided and filtered without the conscious knowledge. Imagine if breathing was something I had to think about all the time while at the same time thinking about my heart beating or moisturizing my eyes.
Joe: I like parts work. I think it is very useful. I will use it even sometimes. There is a construct that says there are these parts, a protector and inner child. What’s to make it like a different set of constructs? What happens if it is the one-year-old, two-year-old, three-year-old, four-year-old, five-year-old, six-year-old, seven-year-old? What happens if it is the tarot deck? The fool is talking to the queen, which is talking to the, whatever. What would happen then?
Person: This is the other thing that’s been alive for me lately is recognizing many framings are true at the same time. Now it is almost like a multiverse of contradictions.
Joe: The parts thing has brought up something that’s actually bigger it sounds like. Tell me if I am wrong here. It sounds like what’s happening is that you are starting to see that all of your thoughts are both false and true.
Person: There is validity to everything, but also a limitation to everything.
Joe: What’s the problem with that?
Person: It brings me back to something I’ve been dealing with for a while involving trust. How can I trust my intuition or how can I recognize intuition from fear or anxiety projections?
Joe: How do you not trust it?
Person: How do I not trust it? Because all of these other parts are now speaking up, I am asking which one of those things was true. What’s the difference between intuition and a reaction or projection from the past?
Joe: How did you just say that?
Person: What do you mean?
Joe: You just spoke. How did that happen?
Person: I guess I’ve developed a mental model for my experience since being born into this vessel.
Joe: It is happening right now. All of these parts exist. None of them are true. All of them have some truth, and here you are talking. How is that happening?
Person: I guess it will happen whether I want it to or not. It just is.
Joe: How do you not trust your intuition? If you are talking, you are trusting your intuition.
Person: That’s an interesting way to put it. What I am finding is that I’ll have some sort of gut reaction, and then another just as equally strong and sudden gut reaction will come and contradict it and then another one from a different angle.
Joe: How is that just not fear?
Person: That’s where I am left. Am I making decisions out of fear? Am I making decisions out of coming back into my power or feeling more in flow? How do I tell the difference?
Joe: How do you tell the difference?
Person: I don’t know. That was actually my original question. How do I tell the difference? Some people say it is how you feel in your body, and I’ve been doing this reading about it. I’ve been doing reading about it. Some people say if your body is tense, then it is fear and not intuition unless your intuition is about something scary.
Joe: I’ve got another one for you. If you think you are making a decision, you are in fear. You just made 100 decisions in the last five minutes with me, what to say, how to look at me, eye moisturizing, all decisions. They didn’t feel like decisions, but then there are these big decisions that come up or they feel big. As soon as you think there is a decision, you are in fear.
Person: How do I get out of that?
Joe: What would make you want to get out of fear?
Person: Okay. Where do I go from there?
Joe: First the question. What would make you want to get out of fear?
Person: I think I have this story that if I am in fear, I am not in fear because fear is something. Maybe it’s my resistance to fear that actually takes me out of the moment, but I feel less connected, less in the moment. For instance, if I have a thought.
Joe: How do you explain mountain climbers, base jumpers, all of those people who induce fear to get into flow? How does that work?
Person: I think because they are not resisting the fear. Maybe what I am recognizing talking to you right now is the thing that takes me out of flow is fear comes up. I resist the fear, and therefore, I dissociate from my current state.
Joe: What makes you want to resist fear?
Person: It’s scary.
Joe: What makes it scary? I know it’s an annoying question, but what is the actual problem with the sensation of fear?
Person: For me, I think it’s about attachment to outcomes. I am scared I am not going to have this thing that I now find myself yearning for and being attached to.
Joe: Now, it is a whole different thing. You have got all these parts. You are aware of all of this stuff, but what’s actually happening is you don’t know how to interpret them to get the response you want.
Person: Exactly. It is like being in a town hall and there is a lot of people standing up and shouting. I am at the front being like I hear you all. Now what?
Joe: Again, an annoying question, but what makes you want a result? If I was to say to you you get to determine all of your results or you get to determine how you are as a person, which would you choose?
Person: Probably how I am, yeah.
Joe: So then what makes you care about the results?
Person: That’s a great question. This is another thing. I have these attachments to outcomes, and I’ve been wanting to lean more into the want. If I find myself now scared, and I am like what if I don’t get X, Y or Z, I think what do I want out of this, leaning into the want.
Joe: I think it is great to be aware of what you want, but that doesn’t mean that you are attached to the outcome.
Person: No, I am still attached to the outcome. I think maybe I am trying to use leaning into the want as a way to maybe dissociate from how I attached I am to the outcome or to bypass it.
Joe: Without that attachment, it sounds like the fear is gone or it is not resisted, excuse me.
Joe: What’s the core? Right down into it, what’s the reason you care about the outcome? If you are going to be who you are going to be, and the outcome is going to do what it does, what makes you concerned?
Person: I recognize usually when these fears come up and these attachments come up, there is a fear of a loss of something that is a value of mine.
Joe: What do you mean a value?
Person: Fear of a loss of connection, or fear of a loss of authenticity or integrity.
Joe: But that’s all in how you are. I can be connected if somebody is spitting on me. I can be disconnected if everybody is loving me.
Person: That’s true. That’s a good reminder it doesn’t have to be a two-way street. I can feel connected to someone without them being connected to me.
Joe: Or my values or my integrity or any of that stuff.
Person: So much easier said than done.
Joe: That’s what I am trying to figure out. What makes that hard? What makes it hard to focus on how you want to be rather than the results?
Person: It’s interesting. A few folks in my life have been working with me on just saying the scariest thing or ask me what’s the scariest thing and then saying it to me and seeing how it lands in order to get past the fear. If I felt the fear all the way through, will that go away?
Joe: Again, what makes you want to have it go away?
Person: How can one live in a constant state of fear and still?
Joe: I don’t know. How do you do it?
Person: How do you do it?
Joe: You have been doing it. How does it work? If you are resisting the fear, it’s a constant state. If you are embracing the fear, then other things happen.
Person: It manifests in my life if you look at fight, flight, freeze or fawn, I am a flight. I will go somewhere else. I do something else. I will go and find, for instance, that value of connection, bi-directional connection, which is apparently how I’ve defined it, somewhere else.
Joe: Also, the flight happens into dissociation into the thought structure. That is also happening, and it sounds like the flight away from yourself into caretaking others.
Person: Totally. Leaving myself to be with someone else where I can feel of value in service in connection with them.
Joe: What’s the ultimate thing you are running from? What is it that doesn’t make that the thing you are focused on? Another way to ask that question is what you are actually running from on the deepest level.
Person: It feels like sitting with myself.
Joe: You meditate every day.
Person: I do.
Joe: How does that work?
Person: I meditate every day, and it feels really good to just relax into what is myself or the physical, somatic self. I love it.
Joe: When you said that, it was the first time your smile went away.
Person: I have my happiness filter that many of us have developed in this society.
Joe: It was the first time that that mask went away was when you were actually thinking about being
present in meditation.
Person: I feel like a sadness bubbling up, or there’s emotion behind the eyes. I don’t have a story for it.
Joe: Is that what you are running from?
Person: The sadness? It’s an interesting question. I feel like two years or a year ago.
Joe: What just happened?
Person: I’m intellectualizing. I’m in my head now dissociating from it.
Joe: I’m not saying anything you are doing is bad. I am just asking what happened. There was, there behind the eyes, and then I asked you an interesting question.
Person: A really deep well of sadness, and often lately I love it. I have fallen in love with wailing. It’s not crying. It’s wailing. It’s not even just sadness. It’s like anguish, and sometimes I get stuck. Maybe sometimes, like now, I think I am with Joe in his studio. I can’t cry. It’s not appropriate, so let’s go into something else. Let’s distract him by telling him he asked an interesting question.
Joe: I don’t know any place that’s more appropriate. When you wail, is it usually by yourself or with someone you really know?
Person: It is usually with someone I really know, a close friend or a partner, and there is some permissioning in the relational connection we have. Someone says I love your sadness, or it is okay to be down, or it is okay to cry. I am like yes, here it comes.
Joe: How do you feel that same way towards fear? You know what it is like now, the embrace of the emotional experience and how it transforms your life. What makes fear any different?
Person: I guess I can’t remember a time where anyone told me it is okay to be scared.
Joe: It is okay to be scared.
Person: It is okay to not know what to do.
Joe: It is okay to not know what to do. I will go even further. It is okay to be completely helpless. We all are.
Person: I was raised by immigrant Chinese parents who came from a really hard life to an equally, but different hard life here in the States. There is this pride around resiliency and being stoic and strong. I remember the first time I lost my job, I was so scared to tell my parents.
Joe: It’s happening. You are intellectualizing it a little bit. The story is great, and I know the listeners are thinking I want to hear that. Fuck them. The idea is if you will allow yourself to feel helpless, you will be less resilient.
Person: It feels that way, yeah. Lesser is a word that is floating around in my head. Just lesser in general.
Joe: I know this is a weird time to do it, but what’s happened to all of the parts? I just notice far more spaciousness in you now.
Person: My breath feels more like when I am meditating, and it feels like there is a sinking into this moment.
Joe: Where are all the parts when you are here?
Person: I don’t know. I am not sure.
Joe: How about what you are essentially?
Person: It feels more back in just awareness space.
Joe: With the emotional experience.
Person: With the emotional experience. There is a lot of sadness.
Joe: It’s almost like coming out of the closet. I have to admit to everybody I’ve been scared my whole life.
Person: I have to admit to everybody I’ve been scared my whole life of so many different things. It is like finding reasons to be scared, looking.
Joe: Yeah. That’s how you stay safe in a really hard-core environment like your parents grew up in, looking for what’s going to go wrong next.
Person: Yeah, because there is something. Change is the only constant, and if you are scared, then you assume that some change will be threatening.
Joe: There are actually more efficient ways to go about that, but that’s the way most people find to survive.
Person: Why is that? What makes that the way that most people adopt?
Joe: I don’t know for sure, but I think it is a neurological feature where we remember what goes bad more than we remember what’s going well. You are looking for what’s wrong more than you are looking for what’s right.
Person: Is it a biological thing where those monkeys that look for what’s right got eaten by a tiger?
Joe: Probably. I know neurologically they have proven that we look for what’s wrong more. Instead of everything is changing, there is opportunity, where is it? It is everything is changing. Oh, shit. What’s the next thing to come and fuck with me?
Person: Now I am like am I second guessing myself to go into a statement.
Joe: Yes, you just did. In that question, you did. Before that, you didn’t. The second guessing yourself.
Person: This is the second guessing because I am a glass half full type of person often, but now it is like what about this opportunity. Is that just from my ego? Is that from scarcity? Is that from greed? Is that from fear? I am second guessing my desire for this opportunity to see how that could reflect poorly on who I am.
Joe: Who is the authority?
Person: What would you rather have, the ability?
Joe: Who is the authority you are checking with?
Person: I want to say myself and probably those around me. These days a lot myself.
Joe: Then how is it a question? Is that greedy? Am I doing this opportunity because I am greedy? How can that be a question if the authority is you?
Person: It is checking in with myself. Am I motivated by greed? Am I motivated by scarcity? Then this story comes in of if I want to be someone motivated by scarcity. Being motivated by scarcity, what path does that lead me down? There are these layers of questions.
Joe: All of that is binary. All of that is fear. Binary in the fact that is like if it is okay to be motivated by scarcity 50% of the time or 20% of the time, 10% of the time, 5% of the time. Immediately there is binary thinking. I am either that or not that. What if you are all of that?
Person: I am all of that.
Joe: Then how can you second guess yourself? That’s a question. I am not trying to convince you not to.
Person: I think what happened is I have been hurt a few times in the past for wanting things or going after things, and now I’ve put myself in a box. A friend the other day saw me for the first time in a few months. He said where your fire is. You have lost your fire. I recognize I’ve been making myself small to feel safe. Who I was before with my wants and desires and going after them in the world ended in a place where I felt hurt.
Joe: What got hurt?
Person: What got hurt? The way I can explain it now is it felt like there was a reality schism where I thought I was in connection and could trust someone or some people.
Joe: That’s how it happened. I want to know what got hurt. I just watched you coming from your place of essence, and it didn’t seem like there was any hurt there. What is it that got hurt?
Person: Speaking from this tightness that’s somewhere between my chest and my throat right now, I got
hurt. I got hurt. Whatever that means. I got hurt.
Joe: What just happened when you said it? What happened in your system?
Person: It felt like a little bit of a fire kicked up. That’s the thing, and now the second guessing is like in what environment is my fire safe because what if it was my fire that got me hurt, my desires, my drive.
Joe: What if it is? What’s the problem with that? What’s the problem with getting hurt?
Person: That goes back to my fear of fear.
Joe: Let’s take it a little bit more slowly than that, which is you got hurt. You got hurt. We know that it is not the essential you that got hurt, but I like the anger that came with it. Yeah, you got hurt. Fuck them. That’s great. But the part of you that got hurt, there is this Buddhist saying that says, “Offer yourself up to annihilation so you can find out the part of yourself that can’t be annihilated.” What’s wrong with the hurt? What did it do besides clarify anything?
Person: What did it do beside clarify?
Joe: If you weren’t avoiding it, how did it do anything beside clarify who you are?
Person: If I weren’t avoiding it, that is what would happen if I weren’t avoiding it. I would be like great, that avenue is closed. Moving on, now I know which way not to go.
Joe: No, if you weren’t avoiding it, it would hurt.
Person: Say that again.
Joe: If you weren’t avoiding it, it would hurt. It would just hurt all the way through instead of to about two inches in. See what happens. Let the thing hurt. Someone broke your trust. Someone couldn’t accept you. Someone projected their bullshit on you.
Person: It is so hard to not take it personally.
Joe: It didn’t seem hard at all. It seems like taking it personally is much fucking harder. You took it personally.
Person: Yeah, I did and in so many ways.
Joe: That’s the whole thing about hurt. It clarifies all of the parts of you that are taking it personally.
Person: There is a worry that’s coming up that what it would mean to feel this all the way through. What would that mean for the clarity? What would I lose that’s in this?
Joe: You, that’s what you would lose. The thing you said got hurt, that’s what would be gone. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
Person: I’m scared the hurt will turn into anger.
Joe: I hope so.
Person: I’ve recently been told my anger is scary. I haven’t been angry for a while.
Joe: [makes disgusted sound]
Person: I thought there was a way around it. I thought I could find the root, the fear behind the anger and process it as sadness because sadness is safe for women in society. I’ve been like fuck yeah, I am going to cry all the fucking time.
Joe: If you are crying all the time, and it is not resolving, it is because there is another emotion there you aren’t feeling. There is this theory that’s like all of your anger is sadness or hurt or something like that. Bullshit. It’s true and it’s not true. It’s true in the fact that yes, underneath all of the anger is hurt, but it is also true that underneath all of the hurt is anger.
Person: I was so hell bent on proving to my coach I didn’t have anger that I found a neuroscience article about this, about how sadness counteracts anger and maybe it can be felt that way. She responded with what part of yourself needs to prove right now that you are not angry.
Joe: When you suppress your anger, you lose your fire. You lose your determination. You lose your clarity. That’s how it works, but you don’t have to get angry at people. You don’t have to start yelling at people.
Person: I think I am at a point where I know I have been making myself small and detaching from my fire because I know that when I feel it, I will take action and I will do things. Then, things will be different, and that goes back to the change is the only constant. Change is scary and threatening. What’s the next thing to be scared of? This box I have made for myself is familiar now.
Joe: How’s that working for you?
Joe: What makes you keep doing it?
Person: I don’t know if this is true for others, but there is this feeling that’s this is the hurt I know. This one is familiar, and there is a resistance to change even if I think it will be quote unquote better because this is just familiar.
Joe: Resist change. Right now, resist it. Change is happening. There is no doubt your hormonal has changed, your heart rate has changed, your emotional state has changed, so resist it.
Person: There is so much tension in my body trying to even conceptualize resisting it.
Joe: Don’t conceptualize it. Do it. Now start looking around to see if this change that’s happening is dangerous. That’s how you are living. Now do all of that. Keep doing it. You are resisting change. You are looking around now. Stick a smile on your face.
Person: That checks out. That’s most days.
Joe: If you feel it all in a moment, that’s what it is like. Now just feel the opposite of that. Don’t think. Just feel. You don’t need to be looking for anything. There’s no need for focus.
Person: There is a little voice that’s like if you stop running, you’ll die, or they’ll get you or whatever animal instinct. They have to keep going or else.
Joe: Great. Why resist that? That’s part of the change that’s happening right now. Right now there is more pleasure in your system than there was a second ago. How much of whatever is left is just resisting that pleasure? From this space of not resisting the change or all that stuff, what’s the fear? What’s the ultimate thing you are running from?
Person: Some sort of spiral effect. I’ve seen people I love spiral into depression or spiral into madness.
Joe: Let’s go. There’s an abyss in you that you are avoiding. Your fear is if you go into that, you won’t come out.
Person: I won’t come out.
Joe: Let's go. Can you find it?
Person: Oh yeah, it’s there.
Joe: Let’s see what it is like to step into the middle of it. I notice the resistance to change cropping up.
Person: It is like am I doing it right feeling.
Joe: That’s the resistance. This is just being open to the change, just the opposite feeling of that and into the abyss. You got quiet. You are making it the enemy again. Don’t make it the enemy.
Person: It is like all these programs want to run. This is a program that’s worked in the past and that would satisfy what you are asking me.
Joe: It doesn’t work. You are jumping in and finding the experience pleasurable.
Person: I’m not sure I know what I am looking for anymore then. Whatever I thought was the abyss was maybe something else.
Joe: What do you think it might have been?
Person: Just more sadness.
Joe: I don’t see you as sad right now.
Person: What do you see me as right now?
Joe: Irrelevant. I am saying it just so you can check with yourself. Is it really sadness, the abyss that you jumped in? Without resistance, what was it?
Person: Interesting. I think the sadness was the resistance to it.
Joe: What was it when you didn’t resist it. What is the thing that you are currently avoiding in this moment by thinking about it instead of being in it?
Person: It is no thing. There’s nothing.
Joe: What’s the experience of your body right now? Is this pleasure? Is this peace?
Person: Yeah, it is just sensation.
Joe: What if this is what you are avoiding? What if this is the scary thing?
Person: Peace? Huh.
Joe: There was this big scary abyss that was going to eat you alive, a dark spiral, but as soon as you went to non-resistance, there was peace. It makes sense you were resisting peace.
Person: It is funny. It is the thing I crave, and when I meditate.
Joe: Everything we crave, we push away.
Person: There is a subtle agenda for peace, but knowing if I orient toward peace, I won’t find it because it will be a lot then.
Joe: Everything we crave, we are pushing away at the same time.
Person: What makes us push away what we crave?
Joe: Craving is the pushing away. Your whole body relaxed when you were like huh. You got it.
Person: That’s funny. We’re funny.
Joe: Yes, we are. One of my favorite quotes is by Voltaire. He says God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
Person: It does feel like so much of what we do is try to wake ourselves up to go back to this peace, and we are trying to push the boundaries, to feel the things until we are maxed out and unable to feel all the things anymore.
Joe: Apparently what we were talking about is how you trust yourself. From here, how do you trust yourself? How does the question even make sense?
Person: Exactly. What is there to not trust?
Wow, yeah, what is there not to trust? I really love the arc from the intellectual question to the emotional experience to the essence of who we are. I really want to thank this guest for really going there today, bringing your vulnerability and for really showing up and asking for this. Lastly, I want to thank all of our guests for listening and I am really looking forward to the next one. Take care.
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