How To Master Change: This One Idea Might Change Your Entire Life | Cal Newport

Transcription for the video titled "How To Master Change: This One Idea Might Change Your Entire Life | Cal Newport".


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Narrative of stability (00:00)

All right, so let's get into it a little bit. So we have master of change. Let's start with some motivating premise. So I want to talk about the narrative of stability. What is the narrative of stability? Why is it so popular in our culture? And why might that be a problem? Well, I first had the idea to really wrestle with the idea of change early on in the pandemic when every large publication was running stories about when we're going to get back to normal. And I remember thinking that I doubt we're ever going to get back to normal. And why is that even the goal to get back to normal? Like this was this enormous societal shift. And I started researching and realized that so much of our thinking on change traces itself back to this concept called homeostasis, which was developed in the mid-1800s. And it was a model to describe how the body responds to stressors. And homeostasis says that there is order and stability. Then there's some sort of disorder event. And then a healthy system gets back to stability, gets back to stability. And this was like the human body is what they were looking at as the example. That's right. Though this term then became more general, I suppose. Ecosystems could be homeostatic, mechanical systems. Google anything relating to change. I want to change my behavior. I want to quit smoking. I want to start exercising. I want to change a new job. And it's always about fighting your body's natural resistance to change. You're fighting your mind's natural resistance to change. And homeostasis was the guiding intellectual theory under change for 150 years. But more recently, researchers, again, starting in the biology, life sciences community, decided that while homeostasis represents change in a couple of very narrow examples, broadly speaking, that's not actually what healthy systems do. How interesting. After disorder, healthy systems return to stability, but that stability is always somewhere new. So they don't go back to where they were. They strive for stability somewhere new. So homeostasis in 1850, the original target, this was talking about the human body, I suppose, where you really do need to return to some sort of baseline because the states of heightened, I don't know, hormonal arousal or something like this, you couldn't be in that state all the time, you would have a stroke or a heart attack. But once they applied this term to other systems, that's where the mistake was. Actually, other systems don't return back to some sort of platonic baseline. So you're saying, so the human body might do that from a biochemical perspective, but other systems that aren't just a human body don't necessarily. That's right. And even the human body. So in very narrow examples, so the example of a fever. So you run it somewhere between 97.2 and 99 degrees. It's like the middle of the bell curve. And you have a fever and your temperature spikes to 101 and then it gets back to where it was. That is homeostatic regulation working. However, you train your muscles and you break down tissue. That tissue repairs and it gets back to stability, but it becomes stronger. That stability is somewhere new. You go through psychological therapy and you break down old patterns and your brain rewires, but it ends up somewhere new. So even within the human body and the human brain, allostasis turns out to be a much more accurate representative model of change in 99% of cases. Oh, interesting. So homeostasis was not just the body where it was accurate, but very specific systems in the body, like the core temperature. That's right. Yeah. Interesting. So the intellectual underpinnings of allostasis like homeostasis also come out of medicine. So the term was coined by a neuroscientist and it was kind of made its scientific debut in the late 80s and early 90s in many medical and scientific journals is a new way to conceptualize the brain. Because we used to think that the brain was more static and that when there was a change to the brain and it was disrupted, it had to go back to where it was. And now we know that the brain is constantly rewiring itself. The body, the immune system, it fights an illness, right? There's order, then there's this disorder event, an illness, and then it goes back to order, but that order's somewhere new with antibodies. Right, and I know too much to order, but that order is somewhere new with antibodies. Right. And I know too much about the immune system because of COVID. And my audience knows about the rabbit hole I went down. So don't get me started about CD4 versus CD8 T cell receptors. But yes, our immune system is different now than it was pre-COVID. It's different now than it was pre the last sickness we got from our kid, which was, you know, a week ago or something like that. Right. Yeah. So for the longest time, this is like the to your original question, we've done a good job unpacking it. The model of change was a system has stability at X. There's some kind of disorder event, a change, and then the system gets back to stability at X. But what the research now shows is that a healthy, fluid, thriving system has stability at x. There's some sort of change. That system after the change craves stability, but that stability is at y or z. It's always at somewhere new. Yeah, so there's different whatever minimas or maximums in this landscape of configurations that have stability. So you get dislodged from one because of some sort of disruptive event. You're probably now much closer to a different configuration. The nearest optimal stable configuration could be quite different. Exactly. And trying to go back to where you were often prolongs that distress instead of getting moving somewhere closer to where you now are. So how much when it comes to human psychology? so now we're thinking about how you or I might think about ourselves and our narrative when there's a change, how much then is our dislike as humans of change and our need to return back? How much of that is some sort of cultural imbibing of this notion that was out there in the ether? And how much of this is also just the way we're wired as humans that change represents, I don't know, danger and there's familiarity? What comes to play when it's our own psychology? Yeah, it's a great question, Cal. And I think that the majority of this is actually cultural. And there's some interesting research that we can lean on because when you look at cross-cultural studies of how people respond to change what you find is that in eastern cultures where homeostasis isn't a known concept people have much better relationships of change they don't resist it they don't deny it they don't get scared by it they actually embrace it something else that's really interesting is that homeostasis had us think of change as these acute events that happen to us. But when you step back and you think about it, all of life is change. Change is not an acute event. It is an ongoing process. Aging is change. Health is change. You think about an EKG, the last thing that you want to see is a straight line. That is literally death. So we're constantly undergoing these cycles of order, disorder, and reorder. And I think the biggest mindset flip that we can make to have a much better relationship with change is to stop thinking about it as something that happens to us and start thinking about it as an ongoing conversation that we're always a part of. That's interesting. The cross-cultural stuff is interesting too., that this is. So is it Western? Is it Western in general? Not just American, but sort of a Western culture thing. Exactly. I see. But is the fact that I haven't left the college campus since I turned 18 a sign that I'm just hopelessly resistant to change? I will be a student for I'm never going to leave school. That's it. I never want to change again. Yes. And what I would argue is that the college campus has changed quite a bit in the last 30 years. That's true. I tried to avoid change. And it came for you anyways. There's no escaping. Yeah. It came for me. It came for me anyways. Okay. That's very interesting. So you're saying there are changes that we're used to. We age, different things. We're used to it. My youngest kid, for example, today, I brought him to his last day of the preschool that all three of our kids went. So that's like eight years of having kids in this preschool. That's changed. And that's going to happen. Then they'll leave elementary school, and then they'll leave high school. But when it comes to certain types of events, we're just, for whatever reason, we categorize them as unacceptable or change is not a response. I guess what, like a job event, a health event, a I don't know what type of things, what sort of circumstances. But for whatever reason, there's a particular what is the band? I guess I should say, what is the band of changes, the categories of changes that at least in Western culture we tend to think of as unbearable? Yeah, I think that they tend to revolve around major life transitions. So relationships, jobs, health, those are probably the big categories. What's fascinating is that research shows that the average adult goes through 36 major life transitions. adult goes through 36 major life transitions. And again, we think of change as like this abnormal event, yet we're experiencing a big change every two years. And common examples are you get married, you get divorced, you start a job, you end a job, you change jobs, you retire, your kids start school, your kids leave school, you're an empty nester. You relocate your geography. You publish a book. You have a book flop. All of these things. And what's interesting, too, is that it's not just bad change that throws us for a loop. It's all change. There's research that shows that after positive events, people often experience a lot of stress. experience a lot of stress. Yeah. I, I, that I, I know from experience. Yeah. Something goes well, like, Oh my God. So I have to do these other things now, or these expectations, these expectations are higher. Um, so you talked about in, in the book you talked about early on, you went through a bunch of these all at once, right around the time you were conceiving the book with your professional situation, your geographic location, et cetera. Maybe we should set the stage with that because then we can use you as a case study once we get to the right way to think about change. Yeah. So that's right. When I was in the process of coming up with this idea for the book and writing the book, COVID, which was a change that just about everyone experienced collectively, though many of us experienced it differently. So there was the pandemic. My family moved from Northern California to Asheville, North Carolina, a big thriving West Coast city to a small mid-Atlantic mountain town. I was basically maybe told this too harsh, but a sport that had been a huge part of my identity running for the last 15 years. I was told I had a pretty serious condition in my calf that would probably be the end of my running career. And I would need major orthopedic surgery on my leg. Within the last five years, I had the birth of my first two children. within the last five years I had the birth of my first two children a very painful family estrangement happened in my family of origin and I had my first solo book that was published and did quite well which allowed me to stop doing all of my contract work that I had been doing as a coach so I started my own private community coaching practice. And this is all within five years. And if you take Theo, my oldest out of it, this is all within like two and a half years. Yeah. So you were thinking about exactly this topic, but was it chicken or egg? So was it all of this changes that got you thinking, how do we think about change?

Discussion On Change And Adaption

How do we think about change (11:40)

Why is this, you know, I need to think about this, I need to up my game, or was it serendipitous? You were thinking about change and then had a immediate opportunity to test out your theories. I mean, you know this as well as me, right? We write the books that we want to read ourselves. So I think that it's a little bit of both. And what really captured it for me is whether it's the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or The Economist or The Atlantic, just during COVID every week, I saw when are sports going to get back to normal? When is work going to get back to normal? When is family holidays going to get back to normal? And I'm thinking like never. And why should we want to get back to normal? Yeah. Well, let me ask you about that, because I don't know if this is an example. I think it's relevant to your theory, because it's something I noticed about exactly that phenomenon. And I don't know if you or I have talked about this before, but I've certainly brought it up before. I noticed during that period of COVID, there was this split. So there were the people that, when we get back to normal, when we get back to normal, and things weren't going back to normal right away. And that led to certain sort of maladaptive responses. So either that could lead to a retreat into substance abuse or into sort of weirdly like hardcore, everything is a microchip and a, you know, conspiracy, just trying to deal with that. There are certain groups I saw that really handled it well. And it was no big, big issue. And one group I saw that for whatever reason, this is gonna sound random, was Navy SEALs who have podcasts. There's a few different Navy SEALs either I know or I know of their podcasts. I'm thinking of like Mark Devine. I'm thinking of Jocko Willink, ex-Navy SEALs. And I remember listening to them in this period and they're very chill, but also very just accepting of the circumstances. Okay, this is different. Let's refactor. And I was wondering, maybe this was something that through that type of training, you get really used to the idea that whatever, you're on an op and all sorts of stuff is going to go wrong or not what you expected. Our whole training, if you're in the Special Forces, was, well, how do you adapt to the situation on the ground? You don't panic. You don't try to stop it. You're like, okay, let's just roll with it. Because I noticed that among that particular subset. I was like, wow, they're a good example for me because they were so chill. We don't know what's going to change. So what we're going to do is we're going to pivot our business here. We'll do this. No factor. They always say no factor. No factor. We do this. We'll change. We'll roll. So I don't know. Maybe what we're seeing there is an example of people just through happenstance of their particular profession or a little bit more comfortable with change. Let's say the rest of us who work on laptops for a living. Yeah. I mean, I don't listen to those podcasts too frequently, but I'd have to imagine that that is a highly adaptable environment to grow up in being an elite Navy SEAL. The writer in me, because I'm not a tough guy, elite Navy SEAL would say it's also like a beautiful metaphor because in the Navy, you're literally operating on water and water is fluid and water has the ability to flow around things instead of get stuck on them. So maybe it's just something about spending years and years on water where you don't have control and in a job where you have to be adaptable. And then something like COVID comes along and it's like, well, why shouldn't our generation have a big pandemic? Yeah. Yeah. And that seemed to be the big difference was whether your thought was this will go back to normal next week. It will. It has to. I'm just to get that news and the people that said, oh, this is a new configuration. How should we change? Or let's let's roll with the idea that this might take a long time or let's cover that option. You know, hey, this could be we don't know. There's a real pragmatism or a real realism. pragmatism or a real realism.

Cal talks about Grammarly and ZocDoc (15:27)

Let's take a brief break from our conversation with Brad to talk about one of the sponsors that makes this show possible. I'm talking about our longtime friends at Grammarly. And when it comes to writing, which again is one of the most important skills in the 21st century, being able to write clearly means you're able to convince people of things. It means you're able to think clearly. It means you're able to get people's attention. When it comes to writing, Grammarly there is to support you from beginning to end. Now, for over 10 years, Grammarly has been embracing artificial intelligence to help you make your writing better. artificial intelligence to help you make your writing better. They have now updated and improved this AI skills to a brand new level, harnessing the power of generative AI. The new Grammarly now can help you, for example, come up with ideas. You might say, give me 10 sample taglines for a video thumbnail I'm writing about this topic. It will give you ideas to get your thinking starting. You can say, okay, here's something I just wrote. Hey, Grammarly, rephrase this more concisely. And it will take what you wrote and it will clean it up and make it sharper. You can even have it do things like summarize text. You can say, okay, here is this big email that I just received. Can you summarize this sharper. You can even have it do things like summarize text. You can say, okay, here is a, this big email that I just received. Can you summarize this in a quick paragraph that I can put into the note-taking document I have? This is all, of course, in addition to the standard industry-leading ability that Grammarly has to make sure that your tone is good, your style is good, that you're not making grammatical mistakes, that your writing looks as clean as possible. So Grammarly really has become a super powered digital personal assistant to help your writing in whatever device you're using and whatever apps you're using on those devices to write, to help that writing be as effective as possible, to help you be as efficient as possible in putting that writing together. It really has become a pretty amazing tool. The best part is it is free to try. So you'll be amazed what you can do with Grammarly. Go to slash go to download the tool for free today. That's g-r-a-m-m-a-r-l-y dot com slash go. I also want to talk about our good friends at zocdoc zocdoc is a free app where you can find amazing doctors and book appointments online we're talking about booking appointments with thousands of top-rated patient review doctors and specialists you can filter specifically for the ones who take your insurance, are located near where you live, and can treat almost any condition you're searching for. Now, this is one of these tools that makes so much sense, it would be almost criminal for you not to use it. As you go through life, you will need doctors for various ailments that you might have. One of the harder, more annoying chores in modern life is finding a doctor. And until recently, this usually meant just asking people, hey, do you have a recommendation for a podiatrist? They say, I don't know, here's my guy. And then you call them and they don't take your insurance or they don't have appointments open until 2027. ZocDoc says, why don't we help you do this with an app? You say, here's the type of doctor I'm looking for. Here's where I live. Here's my insurance. It will say, great, here are all of the doctors nearby who take your insurance and are accepting new patients. Then you can look closer and say, okay, but are these good or not? Well, let me look at patient reviews of these doctors. Maybe this doctor, they say, you're going to have a long waiting time. This other one, they say, this doctor is great. Like, good. Let's book that doctor. And then often once you actually sign up with that doctor, ZocDoc can help you book those appointments to see the doctor online, get automatic reminders and text messages or emails, fill out paperwork online ahead of your appointment to make it all faster. ZocDoc is the tool for making medical care much more convenient. So if you've ever been sick or ever had anything wrong with you medically, you've got to be using ZocDoc. So go to slash deep and download the ZocDoc app for free and then find and book a top rated doctor today. That's Z-O-C-D-O-C dot com slash deep dot com dot com slash deep. If you can say it three times fast, I'll be impressed. But anyways, let's see how good that is by getting more towards the solution. So you have this phrase rugged flexibility. So let's talk about that. What makes up rugged flexibility as the proper response to change? Right. So rugged flexibility.

The immune system (20:10)

to change? Right. So rugged flexibility, you normally think of these two words, rugged and flexible, as opposites. So rugged is durable, potentially even rigid. Inflexible is loose, and it bends. And we like to think very this or that linear. when you combine these two terms you get something that is durable through its ability to bend interesting and that in a nutshell is rugged flexibility now you look at change on the grandest scale which is evolution like the ongoing dance of life. And when you think about species that persist and endure, they have two core qualities. The first quality is they have some kind of identity that makes them what they are, that they hold on to, that does not change. Because if that thing changed, they wouldn't, they would no longer be that species. They would evolve into something new. But outside of that core quality, they are so adaptable and flexible. So if they were just flexible and they didn't have the ruggedness, well, then they would become something completely unrecognizable. If they were just rugged and rigid and didn't have the flexibility, they'd be selected out. Right. So that's how species respond to change over time. It's like the finch's beak gets longer, but it's still a finch. Exactly. And you see this in organizational science. You see that the most successful companies, they have these core properties that make them what they are, yet they apply those properties and those qualities differently as the circumstances change. You see this in phenomenal athletes. Every athlete has to go through aging. The athletes that are really stubborn and don't try to change their style as they age, they play really poorly. They get evolutionarily selected out. They're like baseball pitchers. Yeah, but the athletes that are able to change how you pitch and to change your style of game, or a basketball player that used to be really physical and get to the basket, learning how to play outside more, yet there's still these trademark things that make them who they are. So they marry this ruggedness with flexibility. You got MJ's fading jump shot. Yeah. In the old 90s reference here. I mean, we could talk about 90s basketball forever, but there's so many examples. And then you think about high performers in knowledge work, and it's the same kind of thing. You have to be able to adapt and to be flexible in the midst of change. Now, I am equal parts philosophy and science when I write these books. So I'm going to say this is like kind of the Brad Stahlberg philosophy that's forming on change. So then I go to the literature and we say that homeostasis is rigid. It's all about getting back to normal. We know it doesn't work. I mentioned that the scientific community in the late 80s and early 90s switched to this model of change that they call allostasis. And what allostasis says is that, yes, living systems do crave stability, but that stability is a result of their being able to change. Allostasis literally comes from the Greek roots allo, which means variable, and stasis, which means stable. So you are stable through being variable. Peter Sterling, the scientist that coined this term, the term allostasis defines it as stability through change. And I think it's beautiful because it has a double meaning. Yes, you can be stable through change, and the way to be stable through change is to some extent by changing. So is it fair to say a disrupting event is going to change your configuration and it could change it? I'm trying to be overly scientific here. And it could put you into an unstable configuration that's not sustainable. And it hurts. Yeah. And it hurts. Emotionally, physically, socially, it's chaotic. Yeah. And you can't stop that from happening. If you are a species uh or whatever an entity that can change this gives you the ability to then move from that unstable configuration to a nearby stable configuration so that's is that a way of capturing you need the ability of change to have stability because if you can't change and you're just existing somewhere that's stable for now you're going to get knocked into something unstable anyways and you need change to move that's how you move, you're going to get knocked into something unstable anyways, and you need change to move. That's how you move from the unstable to something else stable. And it might be the nearest stable thing is not where you were before. 100%. When you were saying that, the visual that came to my mind is you could picture us as people, as organizations, even as societies, stable points were a group of marbles that are all tightly together. And then change happens. Small change, it's a little pebble. The marbles that are all tightly together and then change happens. Small change, it's a little pebble. The marbles kind of splay. Big change, it's like a rock and the marbles go everywhere. If you try to get the marbles exactly the same way they were before, you're going to run into all kinds of resistance and it probably will be a very long windy road to get there and you probably will never get back to where you were. Whereas if you look out at the future and you say, oh, it's not good to have these marbles everywhere, they should be close together, but the configuration is going to be different than it was before, that's allostasis in a nutshell. So when we're talking about humans, what are we looking for when we say stability? What's the actual good here that we're seeking? Oh, that's a great question. I think that the good here that we're seeking is an ability to have some valid prediction on what is going to happen next. So you think about in a world where it's true chaos and you have no idea what's going to happen next, navigating that world would be impossible. So we are prediction machines and we tend to feel good when we can predict what be impossible. So we are prediction machines. And we tend to feel good when we can predict what's next. That's why people like having routines, because it makes it somewhat easy to predict what's happening next. Now, rigidity becomes when you get so attached to those predictions that you can't go off course, even if there's a tornado coming or a hurricane or a monsoon or whatever weather metaphor you want to use. So stability is about having a sense of what's going to come next and being able to make that prediction so that you can live your life but when unforeseen circumstances come quickly change that prediction and not freak out in its midst interesting so we want to know we want some familiarity with what's going to come next that's interesting we're prediction is this why our pretty this is the most so to me this was the most interesting part intellectually of the book was learning about what consciousness actually is and how consciousness functions. And the brain is one big prediction machine. And when reality doesn't match our expectations, it throws us for a loop. So we have to be prediction machines. The metaphor, not the metaphor, the example I use in the book to make this clear is imagine if every time you're walking down the tarmac to get on a plane, your brain didn't predict that it was going to end in an airplane. Well, you never walked down the tarmac because you think, well, maybe I'm going to fall off a cliff. Maybe there's going to be snakes there. But because we know airports, we have a mental model for it. We can predict that when I step off this tarmac, I'm going to step onto an airplane. And we go through life making these predictions. that when I step off this tarmac, I'm going to step onto an airplane. And we go through life making these predictions. And to me, what change ultimately is, is it something that proves our prediction wrong? Right. So when we successfully predict something, it feels good. Or more importantly, when we fail to predict something, it sounds alarm bells, which is useful in the moment when the Asheville airport has a snake issue at the tarmac or whatever. But if you're constantly in that state, so if you constantly have alarm bells going off, that's unsustainable. You're exhausting your brain, which is why we crave stability means we crave a place where mainly our predictions are right. Yep. And to blow your mind for a second, I'm going to bring it back to where we started in biology. This is exactly what the immune system does. So the immune system, there's a pathogen. It makes a prediction based on something it's seen before, and system, there's a pathogen, it makes a prediction based on something it's seen before, and then it marshals a response to fight it. If the pathogen is new, it has no prediction for it. What happens? There's disorder, there's sickness. And if you're a strong, vibrant system, you build up immunity the next time it predicts right. What is an overreactive immune system? It's a disease, it's a disorder, and that is an immune system that never knows if there's snakes on the plane. So this is really a pretty universal principle. Yeah, that's very interesting. So then let's overlay a little bit of ethics on this or what have you. So we know just fundamentally the human brain putting aside any sort of values, the human brain wants predictability. It's stressful not to, we can't exist in that state and that's stability in some senses it's predictable now can we measure the desirability of different stable conditions by how much does it align with the things we actually care about so it's a challenge now become i want to find stability and among options that are stable i would like to find an option if possible that reflects the things i actually care about. Yeah. I think that this does switch to ethics and into psychology as well that would say that we are thriving when we are in a state of stability, not rigidity, but stability in a way that aligns with the things that we value in our lives. So would you say, I'm summarizing things, but one way I thinking about rugged flexibility is you're able with some proficiency to, when disrupted from a moment of stability by outside events, to relatively proficiently find your way to new stability that still connects to your values. Yeah, that's right. And you're able to say, this is the goal goal is to spend as much of your life as possible on these types of peaks in the landscape of configuration. So your values are the ruggedness. And then the flexibility is how you pursue those values based on changes around you in the environment. Oh, this is useful. Okay. So yeah, think about the ruggedness here is- Your values. Yeah. What you stand for. It's my family. It's my- Whatever it is, your intellect, your creativity, your health. Right. But the flexibility is how are you going to cultivate, nourish, spend time on those things in a world where everything is changing always, including you. You're going to get old. How you think about your family is going to change when your kids get old, when you get old, when your partner gets old. How you think about your health is going to change. Yeah. The other metaphor I like to use, because I just think I think in writing metaphors is that of a river. So a river is really, really fluid and there's water and there's this famous Heraclitus quote, you can't step into the same river twice, right? The river is this perennial representation of change, which I think is beautiful. But if a river didn't have any banks, representation of change, which I think is beautiful. But if a river didn't have any banks, it would just be water, chaotic water. And that is not beautiful. So what are the banks of the river? To me, those are like the rugged boundaries that are our core values. So I think of identity this way. I've got my core values and those are the rugged boundaries of Brad Stahlberg. But I need to be flexible enough to be like the water that flows in between those boundaries to move this way and that as things around me and within me change. a new stability. So like to make a concrete, let's say, you know, Georgetown starts listening to my podcast. What is this nonsense? All right, you're out of a job here. We don't want, we don't want you at a university before. Rugged flexibility would say, I would need to find a different professional configuration that still was stable and valued, you know, and would look different to what I was doing. But there's the fear of what if I'm not able to find something else? What if I was lucky to be on this mountain in the fitness landscape, but I don't have it in me to get back? How do you deal with the fear aspect? I mean, the first thing I'd say is, welcome to being a human. So there's nothing wrong with that. I demand nothing bad or unknown ever happening. Come on, Brad, this is not too hard. Yeah, so it's both sides of that coin. It's that shit's gonna happen, and you're gonna face fear. That's completely normal. So I think the first thing is normalizing both those things. That stuff's going to happen and not all changes are positive. And that it's completely normal to feel overwhelmed and to feel fear when you're in the midst of change. Now, what the research shows really clearly is trying to repress or suppress that fear or push it away never works. It just bubbles up and gets stronger and stronger. Stewing in that fear and falling into despair is also a really poor strategy. So taking small micro actions is the best way out of fear. Literally in our brain, what happens is the two networks, the network that's involved in a stress response and fear, and the network that's involved in moving towards a goal and taking productive actions, they operate on zero-sum systems. So they both can't be online at once. They call this the rage pathway, which then turns into the sadness pathway. This is fear, anxiety, and the seeking pathway, which is goal pursuit. And they fight for resources. So the best way out of fear is to start taking small actions to turn on your seeking pathway, which turns off your rage pathway. We also see this a ton in clinical situations. So the gold standard treatment for depression is behavioral activation, which literally is just start doing stuff. Because it's impossible for your brain to be in complete despair, I can't get out of bed, at the same time that your brain is functioning to help you do stuff. That's interesting. So you're saying the magnitude of, let's say, the goal-seeking behavior you're doing, it doesn't have to be these steps I'm taking right now are very likely going to get me back to the just as good of a job or like get rid of all of my, it'll solve all the problems because I lost my job. That's not the goal. The goal is just activating a different network because even if that network is activated with something small versus something big, the network is still going. And if that network is still going, the other more maladaptive network, the rage network, that network can't get going. That's very interesting. So you start with something positive without worrying too much about, is this the exact right step? Is this step on its own, one step away from solving all my problems? You just, that's not the goal. The goal is changing what part of your brain is actually turned on. Exactly. That is interesting. Okay, that's an interesting way of thinking about it. So the fear will happen and that's fine. We throw some acceptance commitment therapy at this. Yep. Okay. Yep. All right, I have fear. That sucks. This is how it feels. All right, what next? Maybe I can't get that job back or I can't get a job like that back, but I need to find something stable and something reflects my values. So I guess that's what we're going to do is start taking some steps towards that right now without dwelling on how you feel, without dwelling on the source of the feelings, man, I'm never going to get that Georgetown job back. And it's just never going to be the same. You start taking the actions. Yep. It's, well, here we are. This sucks, man. I feel like crap. I'm terrified. Of course I am. I'm entering a period of disorder and instability. And yet I can take all those feelings and thoughts along for the ride. And I can just start taking these small actions in the direction of my values and see what opens up. Now the other thing that can be really helpful in these circumstances is to borrow support. And that's like the really scientific way of saying lean into community or friends. In the initial allostatic model, when a system is overloaded with distress and disorganization, it often seeks to borrow support. So the way that you see this in the body is when one organ fails, oftentimes there has to be upregulation somewhere else in the body to make up for that. So when one person in a tribe fails, there has to be upregulation elsewhere in the tribe to make up for that failure while that person gets back to stability. So when you have instability in your own life, in one area of your life, two strategies are really helpful. One, lean into areas elsewhere in your life where things might be going well, just to get that brain out of despair mode. And then the second is lean into your community, lean into your friends for help and support. Oh, that's very interesting. Okay, so then, yeah. Well, I was just gonna say one more thing and we'll probably go there because I know offline we talked about this part of the book, but I think that this is so important too to how we think about our sense of self and our identity and how important it is to have multiple hats that we can wear. It doesn't mean we need to wear them all at the same time, but to have multiple hats that we can put on so that if I have a book that flops, which inevitably will happen if I read enough books, I can then lean into my role as a coach, my role as a parent, my role as an athlete. Or if my training at the gym goes to crap, I can then lean into my writing and my parenting. When my kids grow up and move out of the house, I can then lean into my writing and my parenting. When my kids grow up and move out of the house, I can then lean into my training. So it's having enough hats or, you know, you don't have to put all your eggs in one basket, but you should have a couple baskets that you can put your eggs into. Right. So this is what our common friend who we're actually coincidentally meeting, what, in like a half hour, Derek Thompson, has this term workism, which if I understand the definition properly is you get your full identity, let's say, out of your work. This is one of the hidden dangers of that is because what happens when your work goes bad? Exactly. You're not rugged or flexible. Yeah. It's like the stockbrokers in 1929. Exactly. So I talk about in the book diversifying your sense of self. So Dave Epstein wrote this wonderful book called Range. My guess is many of your listeners have read it. And it basically says it's really good to have range. Like this idea of specialization is an endpoint is good, but you want to start by exploring all kinds of different activities. What I argue is that that same thing applies to your identity. So forget activities. It's really good to think of yourself in different ways. Because when these big disorder events, these big changes happen in our lives that affect us perhaps in one or two domains, it's nice to have another domain that we can lean on while we reorganize elsewhere. about a lot is my dual focus coming up on writing and academia. And both of those are brutal mistresses from a professional perspective. And I really did take advantage of the ability to lean from one to the others. Coming up in academia is very stressful. There's periods where your research program is not working, paper's getting rejected. I would lean into the writing. And then there's peers, writing's very rejected, I would lean into the writing. And then there's peers. Writing's very stressful too, right? It's a competitive market. And there's time where your books aren't doing what you want them to do. And I could lean into, I'm a professor and I have, you know, this paper over here is going well or some such. And I talk about that a lot on the show. I didn't have the terminology that is really an advanced allostatic strategy that I was deploying. What about though developing, I'm just thinking out loud now, developing new domains? I wonder if that's part new domains of your identity. I mean, it seems in general, that's just a healthy exercise to make sure you have a diversity of identities. But is that also a part of change perhaps is I'm now at this stage of my life, maybe in response to a big change, I'm going to begin developing another hat to put on, another aspect of my identity. Exactly. Yep. And that's back to that stability somewhere new. So we like to have stable identities, right? When we don't have a stable narrative around a sense of self, we define that as psychosis. And that's like a really dangerous mental illness. So having no narrative or no cohesive sense of self is bad. Having way too rigid a sense of self, workism, I'm Cal Newport, all I do is write bestselling books, that makes you really fragile. So how do we have a good story, but also a story that's flexible and a story that we're continuing to write as we go? In these opportunities of disorder, when the chips are all over the table, we can bring them back together, maybe 90% of the way that they were before, but 10% has got to be different. So when we go back to your two years of tumultuous change, it was all compressed. What were some of these ideas we just discussed that played out well in your own response to all the change? So the first was to not try to get back to where I was in any of these domains. The second was not to compare my new reality to my old reality. And then the third was just get started and start taking these small actions in the new reality. And then I'd say the fourth was shifting identity. So my calf injury is probably the easiest to look at because it's the most extreme. I used to run marathons. I was pretty good and can't run anymore. And it's very sudden. It's, oh, by the way, you just learn you have... It was a chronic condition, but I was fighting through it. And then it was like, yeah, this has gotten to the point where you're not going to be able to run without your leg feeling like it's a balloon about to pop. Right. Because you probably thought at first we'll get past this. Like this is something I need to solve. So there's this one moment where a doctor says you're not gonna be running anymore. Yeah. And it's like the third doctor because I'm a runner. So I'm like, yeah, maybe that doctor is just wrong. So then it became very clear. I'm going to need this like this pretty significant surgery on my calf and I'm probably not going to be able to run again. And that sucked. But I zoomed out and I'm like, hold on, what's my real, like, what's my value here? And my value is health and athleticism. And running is just one way to do it. So I shifted to powerlifting, completely different sport, like couldn't be more different. And I sucked at it when I first started. I had to get a coach. I had to relearn the form. I had to retrain my muscle fibers. Everything about it was different, but I didn't sit there and dwell on the fact for too long. I dwelled on it for a little that I couldn't run. And I said, my actual value here is health and athleticism. And running was a very narrow way to get it. And maybe I over-identified with myself as a runner. So let me shift. Let me apply that value elsewhere. And then let me pursue an activity that my body will now allow me to do. Same thing with moving to Asheville. Asheville is lovely and it's very different than Oakland. So rather than try to recreate Oakland and Asheville and compare my Asheville friends to my Oakland friends and my Asheville coffee shops to my Oakland coffee shops, I said, all right, it's not going to be the same. It's not better necessarily. It's not worse necessarily. It's different. So let me start taking these small actions to rebuild stability here. And I think so often we latch onto the old or we try to get back to the old. And instead of saying like the faster we can say, this is what's happening. I feel disordered. I have to recreate stability and it's going to look different than it was before. Well, I remember when you first moved to Asheville, one of the things you did was try to find what is unique about this place that maybe we didn't have in Oakland that you could lean into. So in particular, these mountain trails and the ability to pretty close from your house to be in the woods and lean into that as opposed to having your favorite coffee shipped in, you know, FedEx hot from the place or whatever. I remember that about you. Like, well, this is what I couldn't do in Oakland I can do here. Let's do that every day. Yep, exactly. And at first, like, it was a little bit discombobulating. I mean, I left behind two really close friends. I left behind a huge intellectual community between Stanford and Berkeley. And for a while, I'm like, I hope this was the right move. And now it's turned out to definitely be the right move. Does it make you feel better? I won't mention, we won't mention any actual names, but a friend we have in common from Oakland has recently moved out of Oakland as well. So does that now make you feel better that, okay, other people. We'll have to talk offline. I don't know who you're talking about. Oh, I can, yeah, I can think about people. I'm not going to talk about online. I don't know who you're talking about. Yeah, I can... I'm not going to talk about online. Think about people we know in common in Oakland. They're not there anymore. See, maybe that's not rugged flexibility is trying to schadenfreude. Like, well, other people left too. So maybe it wasn't so... Trying to make the old point of stability bad. That's probably another maladapted response, right? Like, actually, that sucked. Like, that old job was terrible. Oakland was for the birds, you know. But then it's still living rent-free. Their baseball team is leaving. In your mind. And I want to be clear. Like, this gets back to good or bad change. You know, we wanted to move to Asheville. Like, this wasn't forced on us. This was a choice that we made. It was a good choice, and it was still hard. And I think that that's just how change works. Yeah. And you have a AA baseball affiliate while Oakland is losing. That's true. Their major league team. Go tourist. Again, we go to the back. I'm reading a book. Jesse, my listeners know this. You don't. Jesse gave me a book about the tourists, so I'm actually reading. Oh, really? I'm reading a book right now about Asheville and the tourists, and it makes Asheville seem very nice. Oh, Asheville's lovely. I mean, I think that if we could get the Newport clan down there for a long weekend, you might be moving to Asheville soon. Yeah, we could. We're going to create our own center of power down there. That's right. I think we went into this last time you're on the show about how we were going to start our own new new venture, new venture, a new world of writers. It was going to be really think we could. We going to be this year quickly. I really think we could. We were talking about this a little offline. There's just so much overlap, and there aren't too many people that are approaching these topics in the same way that we are. And we kind of informally team up. Not kind of. We do informally team up, and maybe one day I can convince you guys to come to Asheville, and we'll formally team up. That's what we need. We need a bookstore with podcast studios and offices above it. I already have the name, the Asheville Center for Deep Work and Sustainable Excellence. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? I like that. And we could concentrate. We could power lift. We could have good coffee. All the things. Alright, I think we are so that'll be my new stability when I get cancelled from Georgetown because of all the nonsense on this show and I'm raging and not sure what to do, that will be the new stability. I'll say the key is obviously the next stable peak is going to be moving to Nashville.

I'm here for it. Yeah. I like it. I like it. So let's just talk, whenever I have you here, I like to talk just generally because we're both people who write a lot about work and meaning. And as you mentioned, in a way that not a lot of other people do. So what's your current thoughts today? You're more online than I am. a lot about work and meaning. And as you mentioned, in a way that not a lot of other people do. So what's your current thoughts today? You're more online than I am. What are the trends? What are trends going on right now? I'll make this more specific. What's a trend going on right now in the discourse about, we talked about this offline, everyone, the word discourse, on work and meaning? What's a trend you like that you see going on? What's a trend you don't like? you like that you see going on what's the trends you don't like hmm a trend that I like on work and meaning that I see going on is who there aren't too many I think that the way that's meaningful by the way right that piece of the answer just to put a footnote on the the subtext here is maybe the online world is not having the best right moment when it comes to discussing work and meaning. It's maybe too short form. Yeah, I think it's just that. I think it's too short form. make $8 million and write threads all day versus screw work, down with the system, the anti-work Reddit thread, so on and so forth. And I think there's a vast chasm between those two polarities and the online discourse just isn't built for it. I do think that if there's one positive trend, I think that there's been some decent wrestling with the pros and cons of working from home. And I think there's a lot of clowns on both sides of the argument. But I think most serious people have agreed that it's really hard to say which one is better because there are big benefits and big negatives to each. Yeah, that's interesting. Right. Because at first it was like, work from home is great. Everyone should work from home. And then some people were like, you know, everyone has to be here FaceTime or else. It became a flex. Right. And now I think there's like a very real recognition among some people that it's a lot easier to form psychological safety and trust in person. It's a lot easier and simpler to organize in person, but your talent pool, depending on where you are, shrinks a lot. And it becomes a lot harder for people that also want to be a primary parent. So there's these very real trade-offs. And I think going from good or bad to trade-offs is generally a step in the right direction on that topic. And I've seen some of that online. I think that's a good point because I covered that quite a bit direction on that topic. And I've seen some of that online. I think that's a good, that's a good point because I covered that quite a bit back in the day. And I think you're exactly right. So I did a lot of New Yorker work on remote work and, and it did go through those shifts. At first it was a course because like health reasons. And then there was sort of the flex of like, we're going to be back. And then there was this weird moment where advocates of working from home said, let's attach this to all of these other political issues. The thought was like, why not? I mean, if we could somehow make it be whatever racist to not let us work from, from home or something like sometimes that works, but that didn't, right. Because it was, it was an uneasy fit, but then where it ended up is like what you're talking now is everyone is saying, yeah, this is a kind of complicated Yeah. And I think that the people that are navigating it through the best are really nonjudgmental about it because there is no morally right answer. And I don't think there's a right answer for performance. I think it depends on the industry. It depends on the stage of the company. And it oftentimes depends on the personalities of a leadership team. I think that's another great example of order, disorder, reorder somewhere new. So what ended up happening, I think, is that we had order, which was we all worked how we did. And then the pandemic came and then work was blown up, disorder. And people are working from home and there's no real norms around working from home. And not only are companies struggling, but people are struggling. Languishing, quiet quitting, I think, is in large part the result of the complete blurring of boundaries between work and life. Because everyone's working from home. The time and space marcations that we used to have have gone to crap because you can't go out and travel on the weekends. So that was like pure chaos. And now I think we're reorganizing with some hybrid model where work from home makes sense in some situations with certain constraints and return to work makes sense with certain constraints. Well, I'll tell you the solution. My current thought about what's going to work here, this is where I landed after writing whatever, however many articles I wrote about this is, here's my pitch. You tell me if you believe this or not. Remote work can work very well, but it requires new structures of work. It requires actually for it to work well and sustainably. It actually requires a restructuring of work in a way that actually is more consilient with remoteness. And so my argument for why there's this weird tension of both sides seem right, both sides seem wrong, is that we are correctly sensing there are huge advantages to a world of work where we don't all have to go to a building. We're also sensing simply taking what we did in the building and saying, let's just do that on Zoom, that's also terrible. And this is the source of this weird love-hate relationship people have when they remember that period of pure remote work. There's, man, I miss this. Man, I hated that. And it was both at the same time. And so one of the more persuasive interviews I did during that period, I interviewed an entrepreneur who works in this space. And he had this whole theory of there is a group of startups that just happened to be starting up and incubating during the early pandemic. So they had to be remote from day one because they were building themselves from scratch in this temporary remote environment. They're going to figure out completely different ways of structuring work and how we communicate and collaborate and how this works because they're remote from day one. They're not trying to adapt from something they were doing before. And his theory, his name was Chris Hurd. His theory because they're remote from day one. They're not trying to adapt from something they were doing before. And his theory, his name was Chris Hurd. His theory was they're going to have an advantage. The company used to figure this out. They're going to start doing better in their sector. So right now, these companies are quietly gathering up this accumulated advantage of having the lower overhead, of having the lower staffing costs, of having access to a bigger talent pool and doing it in a sustainable way. And his thought was eventually what's going to happen is these companies will get big, what they're doing will get noticed. Private equities, now we're getting technical here, private equity firms are going to start hiring away COOs from these companies to essentially inject that same new structure, remote-friendly structure of work into other businesses because other businesses can have an advantage if they're properly doing remote work. And so he had this- It's a brilliant theory. It's what private equity loves too, because it's like, how do you cut? Even if you don't cut one person, all you do is cut your real estate. And that's 10% of most big city companies, 30% of overhead. So then his theory was what you're going to see is, which I think is what's playing out, and I was talking to him in 2021, he's like, you're going to see a return back towards the office. It won't go to where we were in 2019, but it's going to be for a while, a steady trend of more and more in person, which we are seeing. Right. And then he said, that's going to stabilize for a while. And then once this cross-pollination of these ideas happens five years after the pandemic, we're talking 2026, we're talking 2027, you're going to start to see this big uptick in remote work, but it's not going to be just Zoom all day. It'll be a whole other structure of work of how we assign tasks of communication and something that really works in a natively remote environment. So I like that theory. I mean, I'm in an industry that's never going to be remote. I mean, I'm a teacher, but I, anyways, that's my theory. And I think it explains a lot of, but, but Hey, I figured this out online. I wrote about this online. And I think it explains a lot of, but hey, I figured this out online. I wrote about this online. So I think you're right. This was a good example of online discourse. So we're gonna take another quick break here from our conversation to talk about a sponsor that helps make this show possible. And that is our friends at Blinkist.

Cal talks about Blinkist and Express VPN (52:44)

Blinkist is a subscription service accessible via an app that gives you summaries of over 5,500 nonfiction books and podcasts. The way it works is simple. If you want to know more about a book, you find it on the Blinkist app and it will have a summary called a Blink that you can either read or listen to. Takes about 15 minutes to read or listen to. And you will get all of the big ideas from that book delivered right away. Now, both Jesse and I use Blinkist as a triage service for our reading life. Now, reading is important if you want to embrace the deep life. Blinkist will help you be a better reader. How do we do that? Well, when there's a book we're thinking about reading, we add it to our queue. We just write it down somewhere. Here's a queue of books we want to read. And when it comes time to buy a new book, instead of just grabbing a book off this list, this queue of books we're considering, we will first listen to or read the Blink. Jesse likes to read them. I like to listen to the Blinks, the short summaries while I'm doing other work. It gets the same result. We learned the big ideas from the book. Almost always knowing the main ideas of the book tells you, do I need to buy this or do I already know enough? And about half the time you say, you know what, this book wasn't what I thought, or it is, but I get the big ideas. Let's move on. And about half the time you say, oh yeah, this book I'm excited about. So it helps you be much more targeted and focused about which books you actually end up buying. So you're in the reading. You really should have a Blinkist subscription. I do want to mention there's also a cool offer going on right now. For a limited time, you can use what's called Blinkist Connect to share your premium account. So you will get two premium subscriptions for the price of one. You can share one with a friend who you think you will like this. I think that's a really cool feature. We also have a special pricing offer. Right now, Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. If you go to slash deep to start a seven-day free trial you will get 25 off a blinkist premium membership that's blinkist spelled b-l-i-n-k-i-s-t slash deep to get 25 off and a seven-day free trial that's slash deep and don't forget while you're there to use blinkist connect to share your premium account to get two premium subscriptions for the price of one. I also want to talk about our friends at ExpressVPN. Are you using a VPN? If you aren't, this is a problem. So here's what happens when you connect to the internet. People can see what websites or services you're interacting with. So if you're connecting to a wireless access point, let's say in a coffee shop somewhere, anyone nearby can read your packets off of the radio waves and say, who is Cal talking to? What website is he downloading information from? What service is he using? And what about if you're at home in the privacy of your own home? Your internet service provider, the person who connects you to the internet can see what websites is Cal going to, what services is he accessing, and they can sell that information. And they do to advertisers and marketers. A VPN gives you privacy. It helps you regain your privacy. Here's how it works. When you connect, instead of connecting straight to a website or straight to a service, you instead connect to a VPN server. You then create an encrypted channel of communication where you tell the VPN server, this is the website I really want to go to. This is the service I really want to use. And the VPN server does that on your behalf, encrypts the response, and sends it back to you. So now if I'm in the coffee shop trying to read your packets off the radio waves, what do I see? That you're talking to a VPN server. If I'm your internet service provider and I'm twisting my mustache and I'm rubbing my hands evilly like, oh, I'm going to sell all this information to marketers, what do I learn? Oh, you're just connecting to a VPN server. They gain no information about who you're actually talking to or what you're actually doing So you do need a VPN and if you're going to get a VPN, I suggest the one that I use which is Express VPN They have servers all around the world. So wherever you are, you're probably not far from a server So you can make a direct connection. They have a good bandwidth on these connections So it's very fast. And their software is seamless. You turn it on, whatever device you're using, and you use all of your apps and web browsers like normal, the VPN software takes care of all of this tunneling and encryption in the background. You don't even know it's on. So visit slash deep right now and get three extra months of their service for free. deep right now and get three extra months of their service for free. That's e-x-p-r-e-s-s-v-p-n dot com slash deep slash deep to learn more. Being spot on. In another like allostatic response to change where trying to go back to where we were, which is like everyone back in the office is kind of like resisting opportunities to move forward and to have stability somewhere new. And I think this mindset clearly applies there and like just taking these small steps, right?

Concept Of Master Of Change

Master of Change (57:50)

Like trying this one small thing, seeing how that works, adjusting as you go. I think the one other thing on this topic that I've seen already is how we think about hybrid work and whether that means one or two days in the office or one week a month or one week every two months or two days a month. I think that's going to be really important. And I could see larger companies work becoming more regional. So I think national is hard because then bringing people together is really expensive and you're asking people to travel across the country and connecting flights and time zones. But I think this regional model where maybe you are really good about organizing in person like two days a month and then it's just a three hour train ride or a one hour flight for most people. So New York to DC is a region. LA to San Francisco. Exactly. And I think that's where you can see places that used to just be in person now be like a hybrid model. Yeah. Well, this entrepreneur Chris Hurd, one of the models he had in mind would be one where you basically, yeah, you gather people semi-regularly, but not at a building you own. Not at a long-term lease that you're trying to maintain. It's a conference center at a hotel. And when those things are planned, when those things are not planned well, they're a total waste of money. And when those things are planned well, nothing is better for psychological safety and team building because you're having fun, you're getting to know the humans. And what's also nice about that is when the whole purpose of that, or at least the driving force is building teams, there's no pressure. You don't have to do the strategic plan because you're doing all that stuff remote. So when the whole purpose becomes, let's facilitate team building and camaraderie, you can actually do that really well. So that's the model that I think is going to happen. I'm biased because in all my working relationships, that's pretty much like the model that I have. Like I'll see people like you twice a year, we'll spend a day together, we'll have a great time. And like that, I feel like one of my close friends, we're really close, even though we're not together most of the time. Yeah, but if we didn't have the occasional, it does make a difference. Oh, for sure, because I know you. Yeah, yeah. I've been in your house. Like it really makes a difference, I think. So that's my take is it depends, but I think that that will end up in a creative middle. So the other thing I always like to ask you about, because you see more of this than I do because I'm bad at the internet. What is the current state of the sort of hustle culture, productivity bro world? Has that been changing at all in recent years, maybe in response to like the anti-work movement? Or is that still just here's my rented jet that I'm in front of? Now the main change being use chat GPT to make a million dollars a month. I mean, so what, tell me about that world because I don't understand that world. Has it changed recently? I think the way that it's changed is they've moved to become the best at rest and recovery. They're optimizing. They're outworking. I'm out resting you. I'm better at resting you. Someone told me that if I do a cold plunge, it's going to help me recover. So instead of doing a cold plunge quietly on my own and doing it and not telling anyone I'm recovering, I'm going to have a whole camera crew come to my house at 5.30 in the morning. I'm going to wake up my wife and kids because the dogs are going to bark when the camera crew's here. I'm going to video myself in the cold plunge. I'm going to flex as hard as I can and do nine takes for Instagram. They're for sure doing push-ups before. All of that. I learned we watched a documentary. And then, wait, let me finish. I'm going to post my recovery on social media so that this thing that's supposed to be for decompression recovery is now going to be judged and commented on by the world. And if it doesn't do well, I'll change my recovery until I find the fad that does do well. And they'll be watching every reaction in a state of stressful anxiety as well. Ironically, getting stressed out and anxious about their recovery. Right. And I've kind of been hard on cold plunges. And I talked about this on another podcast. I'm not anti-cold plunge. I'm anti-cold plunge. I'm anti-cold plunge culture. If you want to take a cold plunge, great. If you're going to take a cold plunge and then tell everyone that it makes you morally superior and that you're activating your brown fat thermogenesis and post 19 pictures of you cold plunging, that's A, bullshit. And B, save the nude pictures for yourself, man. So what was it before the switch to rest and recovery? Was all the focus in this world on what, like muscle growth or something? Or what was the trend? I think crypto. Crypto. Crypto was pretty big, right? Because it's this common cycle of like, you know, the facade of crushing it and underneath a lot of emptiness. And that can be psychological. But in the case of crypto, it was like, I guess it wasn't physical, it was digital. I got yelled at so much because I would occasionally do segments on the show about crypto. And I was not very kind about it because I taught a graduate seminar in the mathematics behind it and I understood it. And I said, this is not going to be what they're saying. And you would think that I was coming on and saying baseball and Christianity needs to be banned along with carbohydrates. I think they would applaud me banning carbohydrates. I will tell you this about crypto. I never understood the use case. Even the best use cases, people are like, well, you can transfer money and you could do it so quick. And I'm like, best use cases. People are like, well, you can transfer money and you could do it so quick. And I'm like, PayPal? And I'm sure there will be good use cases. Or banks can't trick you and steal your money because it's all... But I'm like, when's the last time a bank... A bank stole my money. Yeah. When's the last time they stole your money when you tried to do a real estate transaction? What's the problem that you're talking about? So I've talked to some really smart VCs who believe that crypto as a currency and solving all the world's problems was hype. But there are going to be specific uses for this underlying blockchain technology, potentially in electronic medical records, not hypey fields. It's a distributed database. But exactly. But they're going to be like B2B, not to the public, because like this, this, this whole use use case of transferring money and safer money, we already have a pretty good financial system. And we saw with crypto, well, what happens when you completely decentralize and deregulate? Everyone gets frauded. Yeah. And we can have very reliable ledgers. I can just put up an open source free SQL database in the Amazon cloud, which will do all of that. And yes, it's possible that I could be tricking you enough of hack the code or whatever. But it's not, they're replicating a function that already exists way less efficiently. But it does have a sort of techno libertarian philosophical appeal that technically speaking, this is entirely decentralized. So it took an existing function and put a different philosophy behind it, but it didn't actually give new functions. That's what's weird about our current techno moment with AI. And it's different than crypto, but the same in some ways. So there's two things going on. AI is very disruptive. So unlike crypto, it is very disruptive. I agree. But there is also the exact same YouTubers have gone all in on AI is either weeks away from launching the missiles or I'm never going to have to work again. Once I get my automated, my auto GPT agent set up using link chain is going to do all my jobs for me or whatever. And so it's this weird world where we have that same hyper layer of hype, but it's on type of something that actually is worthy of hype. It has more use cases than crypto, for sure. But it's not the right type of hype, right? So I'm dealing with a lot of this now as I cover AI, is I'm again dealing with the same YouTube crowd that gets very mad at me if I'm not- In either direction, probably. In either direction. Yeah, it's interesting. But unlike crypto, it is really disruptive, but it's very confusing because we have this disruptive thing. Then we have these huge groups that have built their identity on this has to be the biggest disruption. And so if anything, and you also have a whole community of people who've built their thing on, it's not going to be a big deal. It's a really confusing world. It definitely makes me want to be less online. Based on your wonderful New Yorker piece, my working theory on AI, and you think far more about this than me, so you could tell me if I'm wrong, is that AI will be extremely disruptive in areas where there is strong pattern recognition that are not complex, so things aren't changing, and there's a lot of precedent. So I think like first to third year associates at law firms, AI will eventually probably augment their job in really big ways. I'm not convinced that AI is going to churn out books like we write with novel knowledge. Now, what I am curious about, and maybe you could tell me this because I don't even have the thing on my phone. If I said, hey, AI, here's a manuscript for my book. Write it in the voice of George Saunders, Jenny O'Dell, and Cal Newport. Combine their voices to create something new and rewrite my manuscript. Could it do that? Well, and we should be careful not to open up the... The AI, sorry. Well, no, I'm saying not to open up the third wall or whatever, but we should admit to the audience, we are recording this interview somewhat comfortably in advance. That's true. Things could change. Yeah, and things are changing so fast that everything I'm saying here, if it feels like it's really out of sync with reality, because we are recording this a little bit in advance, but early summer when we are recording this, I would say that's not the way people think about AI for writing because that context window is too big. It can't deal with a 100,000-word manuscript. It can deal with a couple thousand words. But is it a yet situation? It's unclear. It's unclear. The performance seems to degrade as the token count in the context window gets larger. And that might be somewhat fundamental with large language models, which would make sense, right? I mean, it's a lot of text you're giving it. And there is an issue with AI, these text-based language models is we're kind of out of text to train them on. I mean, we're, we're training these on basically all the text, right? It's years of the internet. It's like all the books ever written. So it's not like we have a lot more training data and it's already right now taking 30,000 GPUs weeks of time to try to train these things. So it might just be fundamental. We're not going to have a huge window. But the way people are using it to write is more iterative. So it'll be like, well, give me an outline for a book that would. Yeah, but that's that. So my argument is you can't write a good book without doing the work of writing the outline yourself and getting it wrong nine times. Yeah, I agree with that. I think where this is all going to settle out, I think there will be, here's my, for the article I'm working on at the time that we're talking about this, the conclusion I'm coming to, so this will be out by the time this, uh, this interview is published. The conclusion I'm coming to is that at least in the professional world, the impact, my best guess is it'll be somewhat comparable to the internet. Yep. Which is huge. Which was big. And it did touch almost every office job, right? Yep. And let's say the internet plus networks in the office. It changed a lot of things. The actual interfaces you're dealing with were different. There's certain tools you're using a lot that didn't exist in 1994, like an email client. It didn't, however, have the effect, let's say, on knowledge work that we had with the rise of industrialization, where it reshaped the economy so that the countryside emptied out as people moved to the cities. Or let's say the labor optimization, industrialization happened more in the 60s, 70s, 80s with outsourcing, where whole cities kind of hollowed out as manufacturing went offshore and became more productive. And it created these crises that we're still dealing with today with the opioid crisis, with the populism crisis. It really restructured the country. The internet didn't do that in work, but it did change. It created some new jobs. It got rid of some jobs. Back to our allostasis and the marbles, what I'm hearing is that AI is going to take the marbles and disperse them. And they're going to come back together in potentially a very different way, but they're still going to be on the same table. Whereas industrialization, like knock the marbles off the table and then it took 45 years to build another table and then set them down on another table. Yeah, and there's still people left on the ground. Exactly. Yeah, no, I think that's exactly right. I mean, obviously going back to early in our conversation, the right thing to do here is just to see what Jocko Willink does with AI, because he's the Navy SEAL that is really good at adapting. So just whatever Jocko does, then that's my sage for all things AI. All right, well, we've gone far afield, but I always like when I have you here to shoot the breeze on online culture and what's going on. But Brad, it's always a pleasure. The book is Master of Change. You know, I haven't read the subtitle yet. Let me give everyone the subtitle. How to Excel When Everything is Changing, Including You. A subtitle I like, by the way. Yeah, that subtitle. It's a funny story because, you know, I know that you think about this a lot with your books. We really were struggling with the subtitle and I was on a call with my publishing team and one of the editors, my main editor, did a really good job. And she's just like, just forget about everything that we've talked about. Like if you were to go up to a friend and pitch them the book that the classic elevator pitch, what would it be? And I, it's not like I hadn't thought about this, but for whatever reason, I'm like, I would basically be like, look, dude, or look, you think that you are you, but you're always changing, yet you are you. So how do you think about yourself when everything's always changing, including you? That's what this book's going to help with. And then she's like, there you go. That's the subtitle. Someone write that down. I like it. I like it. So Masters of Change, the subtitle is, hey, dude, you're always changing. Well, it's not just, hey, dude. It could be, hey, sister. Then it says snap in parentheses. Yeah. Yeah. Now a little bit more refined. But yeah, I mean, that's the book. And I guess the you could be, as we talked about, applied broadly. It could be you as a person, but it could also be a family unit, an organization, or these big cultural changes. Excellent. So what else should people know about finding Brad Stolberg? If they want to know all things Brad, where should they look? Yeah, the best places are my website, which is just my name, And then I am on Instagram, probably more frequently than Twitter now. That was another topic that we didn't talk about, but Twitter changed quite a bit, and I changed where I am on the Internet along with that. But also in the spirit of this conversation, the best way to go deep on my most recent thinking is spare yourself the social media and the Internet and just read or listen to the book. Right, so you're saying we don't need to see your Instagram stories about your cold plunge. We can just go straight to the book. Right. So you're saying we don't need to see your Instagram stories about your cold plunge. We can just go straight to the book itself. There you go. Don't worry. I don't cold plunge, but just read the book. Stay off Instagram so you don't see everyone else's stories about their cold plunge. All right, Brad. Thanks for coming. All right, Cal. Let's go cold plunge together. All right. So there we have it. That was my conversation with Brad Stolberg. That was my conversation with Brad Stolberg. If you like that, please leave a review or subscribe to this podcast. That does really help us spread the word. And otherwise, that's all we have for today. So we will be back next week with a new episode of the podcast. And until then, as always, stay deep. Hey, it's Cal here. If you like this interview with Brad Stolberg, I think you'll also really like episode 253 when I interview Laura Vanderkam about making the most out of your time. Check this out. This is more about what they did with the time that was outside of work is what impacted how they felt about their schedule. Not that in order to do salsa dancing, they were working on average three hours less or something like this.

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