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Dr. Adam Grant (00:00)
Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast, where we discuss science and science-based tools for everyday life. I'm Andrew Huberman, and I'm a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. My guest today is Dr. Adam Grant. Adam Grant is a professor of organizational psychology at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. He has authored five best-selling books and most recently has authored a new book entitled Hidden Potential. He received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University and his doctorate from the University of Michigan. Today, we discuss peer-reviewed studies and tools based on the data from those studies that can enable people to meet their goals and overcome significant challenges, including how to overcome procrastination, as well as how to see around or through blind spots, as well as how to overcome sticking points in motivation and creativity. We also discuss the research on and practical tools related to the underpinnings of performance in any endeavor, including how to increase one's confidence and how to have a persistent growth mindset. By the end of today's episode, it will be clear to you that Dr. Adam Grant has an absolutely spectacular depth and breadth of knowledge. And that knowledge is both practical, it is based on peer-reviewed research, and he conveys those tools with the utmost clarity and generosity. Indeed, by the end of today's episode, you will have more than a dozen new tools never discussed before on the Huberman Lab podcast that you can apply in your academic endeavors, in athletic endeavors, in creative endeavors, in fact, in any area of life. Before we begin, I'd like to emphasize that this podcast is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford.
Sponsors: Eight Sleep, Levels & Waking Up (01:37)
It is, however, part of my desire and effort to bring zero cost to consumer information about science and science-related tools to the general public. In keeping with that theme, I'd like to thank the sponsors of today's podcast. Our first sponsor is 8sleep. 8sleep makes smart mattress covers with cooling, heating, and sleep tracking capacity. I've spoken many times before on this podcast about the fact that getting a great night's sleep really is the foundation of mental health, physical health, and performance. One of the key things to getting a great night's sleep is to make sure that the temperature of your sleeping environment is correct. And that's because in order to fall and stay deeply asleep, your body temperature actually has to drop by about one to three degrees. And in order to wake up feeling refreshed and energized, your body temperature actually has to increase by about one to three degrees. With Eight Sleep, you can program the temperature of your sleeping environment in the beginning, middle, and end of your night. It has a number of other features like tracking the amount of rapid eye movement and slow wave sleep that you get, things that are essential to really dialing in the perfect night's sleep for you. I've been sleeping on an Eight Sleep mattress cover for well over two years now, and it has greatly improved my sleep. I fall asleep far more quickly. I wake up far less often in the middle of the night, and I wake up feeling far more refreshed than I ever did prior to using an Eight Sleep mattress cover. If you'd like to try Eight Sleep, go to eightsleep.com slash Huberman. Now through November 30th, as a special holiday discount, Eight Sleep is offering $500 off their bundles with a pod cover. Eight Sleep currently ships in the USA, Canada, the UK, select countries in the EU and Australia. Again, that's eightsleep.com slash Huberman. Today's episode is also brought to us by Levels. Levels is a program that lets you see how different foods affect your health by giving you real-time feedback on your diet using a continuous glucose monitor. One of the most important factors in your immediate and long-term health is your blood sugar or blood glucose regulation. With levels, you can see how different foods and food combinations, exercise, and sleep patterns impact your blood glucose levels. It's very easy to use. You just put the monitor on the back of your arm, and then you take your phone and you scan it over that monitor now and again, and it downloads the data about your blood sugar levels in the preceding hours. Using Levels has allowed me to learn a tremendous amount about what works best for me in terms of nutrition, exercise, work schedules, and sleep. So if you're interested in learning more about Levels and trying a continuous glucose monitor, you can go to levels.link slash Huberman. Levels has launched a new CGM sensor that is smaller and has even better tracking than the previous version. Right now, they're also offering an additional two free months of membership. Again, that's levels.link slash Huberman to try the new sensor and two free months of membership. Today's episode is also brought to us by Waking Up. Waking Up is a meditation app that includes hundreds of meditation programs, mindfulness trainings, yoga nidra sessions, and NSDR, non-sleep deep rest protocols. I started using the Waking Up app a few years ago because even though I've been doing regular meditation since my teens, and I started doing yoga nidra about a decade ago, my dad mentioned to me that he had found an app, turned out to be the Waking Up app, which could teach you meditations of different durations and that had a lot of different types of meditations to place the brain and body into different states and that he liked it very much. So I gave the Waking Up app a try and I too found it to be extremely useful because sometimes I only have a few minutes to meditate, other times I have longer to meditate. And indeed, I love the fact that I can explore different types of meditation to bring about different levels of understanding about consciousness, but also to place my brain and body into lots of different kinds of states, depending on which meditation I do. I also love that the waking up app has lots of different types of yoga nidra sessions. For those of you who don't know, yoga nidra is a process of lying very still, but keeping an active mind. It's very different than most meditations. And there's excellent scientific data to show that yoga nidra and something similar to it, called non-sleep deep rest or NSDR, can greatly restore levels of cognitive and physical energy, even with just a short 10-minute session. If you'd like to try the Waking Up app, you can go to wakingup.com slash Huberman and access a free 30 day trial. Again, that's wakingup.com slash Huberman to access a free 30 day trial. And now for my discussion with Dr. Adam Grant.
Procrastination & Emotion; Curiosity (05:56)
Adam, welcome. Excited to be here. Very excited to have you here. Your career, both public facing and academic career have covered an enormous range of topics. So we have a lot to cover. 06.00 Look who's talking. 06.01 And anytime two professors sit down or even one professor says we have a lot to cover, I think everyone listening braces themselves like, oh no, but these topics, I assure everyone are of the utmost interest and you cover them in such both fabulous detail and you make it very clear. So I'm really looking forward to this. I'd like to start off by talking about something that I'm obsessed by and I know a lot of people are obsessed with and struggle with. And I know you also have a recent publication on this topic, which is procrastination. I am a bit of a procrastinator, but a different way of stating that is that I love deadlines. I learned in college that I love, love, love deadlines because it seems to harness my focus and my attention. I like just enough, I guess you call it anxiety or autonomic arousal for the neuroscience or physiology oriented folks, for me just brings about a total elimination of all of the distractors. And it seems to both slow and accelerate my perception of time. And it seems to bring out my best to have deadlines. But I would prefer to not have to procrastinate in order to self-impose deadlines. I prefer that other people impose those deadlines, in fact. So what do we know about procrastination? Why do some people complete things well in advance? Why do other people procrastinate? Is it that they're seeking deadlines, as I believe I am? And interestingly, and sort of alluding to this recent paper, viewers, what is the relationship between procrastination and creativity? I feel like we should just deal with all that later. Let's put it off. No. Good one. By the way, there's extra credit for science funds on here. Nicely done. One of the best articles on procrastination ever written was titled, At Last, My Article on Procrastination. Fantastic. I love it. Yeah, it just made me smile. So I think the basic question, I think, to start with is why do we procrastinate? And I thought I was immune, actually, when I came into this topic. I was the person who annoyed my college roommates by finishing my thesis a couple months early. I found out there was a term for me. I'm a pre-crastinator. So the focus and the pressure that you get from a deadline, I get that the moment the project starts and sometimes months or years in advance. And so I was really proud of finishing everything early. And then I discovered there are things that I procrastinate on too, which was a little bit disappointing. Are you willing to share what some of those were? I am. So I procrastinate on anything that's administrative. I'm right there with you. If you want to get time on my calendar? It could take me weeks to respond. You ask me a question about social science, I will be back to you in a minute. I procrastinate on grading. Takes me forever. I basically put off a whole bunch of tasks that I thought had nothing in common. It turns out that I procrastinate when I'm bored. Boredom is, I guess it's probably my most hated emotion. And so I will do anything to avoid a boring task. And I think this goes to why people procrastinate, which is a lot of people think it's laziness or you're not disciplined enough. But actually the research on this is really clear that you're not avoiding work when you procrastinate. In fact, a lot of our procrastination is focused on doing things that involve a lot of energy. You've seen people probably clean their entire houses when they're putting off a task. So it's not that you're being lazy. It's that you're avoiding negative emotions that a task starts up. So for me, it's boredom. For a lot of people, it's fear or anxiety. I don't know if I can pull this off. I have an extreme case of imposter syndrome in this role. The challenge in front of me is too daunting. For some people, it's confusion. I haven't figured it out yet. And so I can't work on this because I feel like I'm stuck. So what's, I guess, the big question for you then, Andrew, is what's the emotion that causes you to procrastinate? You know, it's hard for me to identify the stick here. I think of it more as the carrot that comes with deadlines. And again, I don't consider myself a procrastinator per se. I just really love deadlines. And procrastination is a terrific way to simulate the deadline. So for me... So you wait, so you delay starting or finishing a task in order to have a sense of time pressure. That's right. It builds a certain amount of internal arousal in me to know, okay, I've got 72 hours to complete something and it's now game time. I like the game time before the game time. Before a podcast, I'll put in anywhere from several days to weeks or even months in preparation. So it's really elastic depending on the topic. But when it came to exams in school or if it comes to writing deadlines, I consider the shipping of the product or the presentation of the live event that I happen to be doing as the second game or event. The first event is the pressure and the excitement of getting into the groove of doing focused work. Because for me, that's such a drug. I mean, it feels like having all the systems of my brain and body oriented towards one specific thing is just sheer bliss for me. So it sounds like then you're actually not a chronic procrastinator. Thank you. That's never been the way I viewed myself, but now I'll take that. It's a strategy for you. It is a strategy. That's right. And I was fairly wayward youth, barely finished high school, et cetera. So by the time I got serious about school, which was my second year of university, when deadlines were presented, like there's an exam, there's a midterm exam on a given date, that was exciting to me. That was exciting. It was like, okay, that's the big thing. That's my opportunity to prove myself to myself, because I was really coming from behind. And then the opportunity to, or I should say that the feeling of dropping into that groove, like this is the exciting part, is the preparation. And likewise with podcasting, for our solo podcast, I love the research as much as I love presenting the material. Maybe more. Maybe more. Right? Likewise for university lectures or for traveling and giving seminars as a traditional academic. I'm sure you're familiar with that, right? Of course. Preparation is where where you realize it's almost like, I think of it as somebody like a miner in a mine and just finding a gem. And of course, then there are all the thoughts of what you can do with that later. And you're going to show people it has a certain value to the world, et cetera. But it's the searching and finding those gems that is like, even as I talk about it, I feel like my body's going to float out of the chair a little bit. I have the same experience. It's the, it's the sort of the unleashed curiosity and then the rush of discovery. And by the time you're teaching it or explaining it, like, but I already know this. Like, I'm not learning anything anymore. And, yes, I'm excited to share it, and I hope it's helpful to other people. So, you know, I think as you talk about what your process looks like, I don't even think what you do qualifies as procrastination technically. It's getting better and better. I mean, seriously, if you think about how procrastination is defined, it's delaying despite an expected cost. And you don't think there's a cost. You actually see a benefit. That's right. And I've tried starting things. That's not procrastination. That's just delay. Yeah, I've tried starting things earlier. I've tried starting things. That's not procrastination. That's just delay. Yeah, I've tried starting things earlier. And I should say that my process often begins much earlier than the physical process. Like if I was being observed in an experiment, be okay, you know, Andrew's finally sitting down to write this book chapter or, you know, finally sitting down to research some papers for an episode. But I'm thinking about it all the time. Yeah. Much to the dismay of people in my life. You know, but I'm thinking about it all the time. I mean, much to the dismay of people in my life. I'm constantly thinking about these things. I mean, walking to take out the recycle, I'll have ideas and then I'll write them down.
Creativity & Procrastination; Motivation (14:06)
I constantly am writing things down, voice memos into my phone. I have a method of capture where I basically try and just grab everything and then filter out what's useful. Do you have a process like that for gleaning ideas? A little bit. I do now. So when Ji-Hye Shin and I started this research on procrastination, she had come to me. She was a very creative doctoral student. And she said, I have my best ideas when I'm procrastinating. And it was one of those moments where I didn't believe her, but I thought it was an interesting enough idea that it was worth exploring. And I said, show me. Let's get some data. Let's see if we can test this. And she ended up gathering data in a Korean company where she surveyed people on how often they procrastinate and then got their supervisors to rate their creativity. And sure enough, found that people who procrastinate sometimes were rated as more creative than people who rarely do, like me, the pre-crastinators. And I remember asking her, what about the chronic procrastinators? And she's like, I don't know. They never filled out my survey. Yeah. As I recall from that paper, there's inverted U-shaped function with procrastination on the vertical axis and creativity on the horizontal axis. Flipped. Flipped, sorry. Okay, so explain to me then the relationship between procrastination and creativity. Yeah, so basically the peak of creativity is in the middle of procrastination. Ah, okay, got it. And yeah, there's an upside down U curve there. And so then I thought this was fascinating. So then we go into the lab to say, can we replicate this? Can we control it in an experiment? And the hardest part of that was, how do you randomly assign people to procrastinate? To my knowledge, never been done before. We eventually figured out that we could give people a bunch of tasks to do and then tempt them with highly entertaining YouTube videos that were placed on their screen. We put different numbers of YouTube videos there so that if there's only one, you're not tempted to procrastinate much. If there are four, you're probably going to get sucked into a little bit of a YouTube spiral. If there are eight, you might be putting off the task that's much less exciting than watching Jimmy Kimmel's mean tweets, for example. And this was done in a fairly naturalistic environment for these folks? Yeah, people are on a computer. They're asked to solve some creative problems that look pretty similar to what you might do in your job, and then we're going to score your creativity later. And it turned out that the people who were tempted to procrastinate moderately ended up generating the most creative ideas. So why is that? There are a couple things that happen, and you have to look at both sides of the curve. So why is that? There are a couple of things that happen and you have to look at both sides of the curve. So what's wrong with the procrastinators and also what happens to the extreme procrastinators? And in both cases, what happens is you end up with a little bit of tunnel vision. So when I dive right into a task, I'm stuck with my first ideas and I don't wait long enough to incubate and get my best ideas. I'm less likely to reframe the problem. I'm less likely to access remote knowledge because I'm just diving right in. And meanwhile, the chronic procrastinators end up in the same boat because they don't get started until the last minute. And so they have to rush ahead with the easiest idea to implement as opposed to really developing the most novel idea. And meanwhile, the people in the middle who are starting to feel that pressure of, like, wow, I kind of spun my wheels for 10 minutes watching a bunch of YouTube videos. I'm running out of time for this task. They still have enough time to work on the ideas that were active in the back of their minds, and that gives them a shot at more novel ideas. So I've tried to adopt this, to answer your question, I've tried to adopt this as my process now to say, I will still dive into a project ahead of schedule, but I will not commit to an idea until I've let it incubate for a few weeks and I'm working on other things. Whereas an earlier version of me, like when I'd sit down to write a book, as soon as I had the book idea, I would start writing on day one. Now I have the idea, I file it away and I give myself at least a month before I began drafting. And I think it feels less productive, but it's far more creative. What are your thoughts about some of what you described being an unconscious way of seeding the mind and the unconscious with an idea? So for instance, let's take a school academic scenario where students get an assignment and the assignment is contained within a folder and it just says assignment. Okay. And it's due on a particular date and it says due on that particular date and they're given the folder, but they have no sense of what the assignment is. You can imagine one category of procrastinator that will take that thing and put it down and avoid looking at it entirely versus another category of procrastinator that will flip it open and take a look at, okay, this is going to be an essay on, I don't know, something about economic theory in the late 1700s. Close it and then procrastinate. There is an idea which I, frankly, I subscribe to a little bit because we recently did this series on mental health, not mental illness, but mental health with Dr. Paul Conti, where he talked extensively about the unconscious and how the unconscious mind is always working with ideas, things that we are concerned about, performance, these sorts of things, even if we're not aware of them. What are your thoughts about the creativity that's seeded by slight procrastination being related to actually knowing what you're procrastinating on specifically? I think it turns out to be, I don't want to say essential, but critical. So one of the things we found is in order for moderate procrastination to fuel creativity, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the thing you're procrastinating on. Interesting. And so what happens is if you're bored, for example, by the topic, you're not going to open the folder. You're not going to start thinking about it at all. It's not going to begin. You're not going to do any subconscious processing. You're not going to have any unexpected connections between this topic and something else you've learned about or been curious about. If you're interested in the problem, then when you put it off, you're much more likely to still keep it active in the back of your mind. And that's when you begin to see, I imagine you could explain the biology of this. I imagine, for example, there are probably more neural networks that are connecting. You probably get access to ideas that previously would have been sort of separate nodes. And so I think that you want to know what the topic is. You don't want to just see the blank assignment. But you also have to find a reason that this is exciting to you. Otherwise, you're going to avoid it as opposed to letting it percolate. That brings us to the topic of intrinsic motivation. And I'd like to link that up with the topic of performance.
Intrinsic Motivation & Curiosity (20:48)
So when I was in university, there were many topics that I was excited to learn about, some more than others, of course. But occasionally I'd be in a class or I'd get an assignment that frankly I had minimal interest in. Never zero, but minimal interest. And as a way of dealing with that, I embarked on a process of literally lying to myself and just telling myself, okay, I'm super interested in reading this and I'm going to force myself to be interested in reading it. And lo and behold, I would start falling in love with certain things. Maybe it was even the arrival of a word that I didn't recognize. And then I would go look it up and I knew I was studying for the GRE at that time. So I filed that away. I still have my notebooks of all the vocabulary words that I learned in the course of my university courses that frankly made the verbal portion of the GRE pretty easy, which if you ever try and study for that at the end, it's pretty tough to commit all those new words to memory and context. So I could find little hooks and through those hooks, I could kind of ratchet my way into a larger interest. And then lo and behold, I'm really interested in Greek mythology, or I actually like that one at first, but I didn't have to trick myself. But, you know, maybe we could spend a little bit of time talking about what is true intrinsic motivation? Is it always reflexive? Can we make ourselves intrinsically motivated about a given topic or scenario or group of people. And then let's talk about how intrinsic motivation links to performance, because there's a rich literature on this, as I recall. And I remember, you know, the Stanford study of rewarding kids for things that were already intrinsically motivated to do. Maybe we could touch on that a little bit and remind people who haven't heard about it. But I'm fascinated by this topic because I feel like so much of life is about doing things that initially we don't feel that excited to do. 05.10 Yeah. 05.10 And yet succeeding in life, you know, until you can afford to offload your administrative work to somebody else, which hopefully by now you have. 05.10 Find a way to get it done. 05.10 Right. This is fundamental to being a functional human being, frankly. 05.10 Not just successful in air quotes, but functional. We got to do stuff that we don't enjoy doing. Yeah. So I think we can talk about a couple of different ways to nurture intrinsic motivation. We can think about how the task itself is designed. We can think about reward systems. And then we can think about also the things we say to ourselves and others, which I hope are not lies, but rather persuasive attempts. Let's start on that one, actually. I don't know a lot of people who are that good at deliberate self-deception. Well, I like to think it was only around a particular set of goal-motivated pursuits. But at that time, for me, also survival. As I mentioned, I didn't do well in high school. I really wanted to perform well in university. I didn't do well in high school. I really wanted to perform well in university, but I knew that working just for the grade wasn't going to carry me. It felt catabolic. And I don't know, maybe at that age, I was still in the window of heightened neuroplasticity. We know it never closes, but I think I also fell in love with the process of learning how to do what I just described. Yeah. So I think for most people, the best the process of learning how to do what I just described. Yeah. So I think for most people, the best method of self-persuasion is actually to convince somebody else. So I'm thinking of Elliot Aronson's classic research on cognitive dissonance where he would ask you to go and tell somebody else a task you hated is really interesting. And if he paid you a lot to do it, you still hated the task because you had a justification. Like, I got 20 bucks to, you know, to kind of fib a little bit about this task. You know, the task is bad, but I did it for the payment. When he paid you $1 to go and tell somebody that you loved a task that you didn't, you ended up liking it more. Wow. And maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but maybe you should tell me why I shouldn't be surprised. Because I hope people got what you just said very clearly. If they didn't, if you don't like doing something, going and reporting to somebody else how great that thing is, so lying about it to somebody else is one way to increase the degree to which you like or enjoy that behavior or topic. And if you're paid $20 to go lie to somebody in the positive direction, so against your true belief, it's less effective in shifting your underlying affect about that thing, your emotions, than if you're paid less. Correct? Yeah, exactly. Now, I think obviously in the experiment, lying was an easy way to show the effect. But in real life, I think the way that you want to apply this is to say, all right, I've got to find something about this task that's interesting to me. And then in the process of explaining it to somebody else, I'm going to convince myself because I'm hearing the argument from somebody I already like and trust. And I've also chosen the reasons that I find compelling as opposed to hearing somebody else's reasons. And so I think this goes to the point that you were making, which is if you're trying to find a hook to make a topic intriguing, you've got to figure out, okay, what is it that would make this fascinating to me? And in a lot of cases, what you're looking for is a curiosity gap. I think social scientists like to talk about curiosity as an itch that you have to scratch. So there's something you want to know and you don't know it yet. So I would say, I tell my students often, take your least favorite class and find a mystery or a puzzle, something that you just do not know the answer to. Actually, I've talked with our kids about this. What really happened to King Tut? Do you know? Can you get to the bottom of that? And all of a sudden, you're like, I wonder. I need to Google it, and then I need to see if Wikipedia has credible information on this. And the more you learn about that, the more intriguing it becomes. And I think that's the beginning of the process of finding intrinsic motivation. I see. So inherent in your answer is the idea that there's something wired into our neural circuits and therefore psychology that curiosity as a verb, the act of being curious and seeking information where, well, and I should say I define curiosity and hopefully you'll disagree with me or agree either way. It doesn't matter as long as we can get a bit deeper understanding. I define curiosity as a desire to find something out where you are not attached to a particular outcome. Yes. Is that right? Yeah. In psychology, it's typically defined as just wanting to know. And that means you're driven by the question, not a particular answer, which is exactly what you're driving at. Okay, great. So, and I think it was Dorothy Parker that said, the cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. As there shouldn't be a cure for curiosity. Right. So, and by the way, folks, we don't know what neural circuits subserve curiosity in the brain. It's got to be a distributed network. There's no brain area for curiosity, but it's got to be linked up with the reward systems of dopamine, et cetera, in some way, because when one discovers something new that satisfies some curiosity, that's clearly there's an internal reward there. Okay, let me back up.
Tool: Tasks & Sense of Purpose (27:59)
So if your child or an adult is dreading working, exploring a topic or going about an assignment of any kind, you will give them a question that they then need to resolve. What if the assignment is like rake the leaves off the front lawn? Do you say, you know, count the leaves? Or I mean, how does one get past the sort of procrastination and generate some intrinsic motivation for things that one dreads where it's unlikely that they're going to discover some knowledge that's exceedingly useful for future? You always start with, okay, what's the first experiment I can run? Find the most interesting-looking leaf for your favorite leaf, and then that lasts for about two minutes. And, okay, now what? We still have a lot of leaves there. I think not all tasks can be made intrinsically motivating to everyone. When intrinsic motivation is difficult to find, what you want to substitute with is a sense of purpose. Maybe a better way to say that is when the process is not interesting to you, you need to find a meaningful outcome. So there's some research on the boring but important effect where kids who have a purpose for learning, this goes through high school, and think, you know, this is not just interesting to me, but I'm going to be able to use this knowledge to help other people one day. They're more persistent in their studying. They end up getting better grades. And so I think intrinsic motivation is often driven by curiosity about the how. A sense of purpose comes from really thinking hard about the why. Why does this matter? And so I'd say with the raking leaves, let's try to connect that task to something else that you care about. Are you going to pleasantly surprise your parents when they get home? Are you going to have a place to play soccer that you didn't before? And I think then the process of getting to that, I guess what I'd say is if you're trying to motivate yourself, it's a little bit harder than if you're trying to motivate somebody else on this. If I was going to motivate somebody else, I would take a page out of the motivational interviewing playbook where I would say, okay, Andrew, actually, let's play this out for a second. So you're going to rake a pile of leaves. It's a two-hour task. Zero to ten, how excited are you about that? A three. Three? Really? I'm surprised. I thought you were going to say zero or one. Why is it not lower? I like any sort of physical activity because it allows me to move, and I just like moving my body. There we go. Okay. So you just identified a potential source of purpose for that activity. And I don't have a vested interest in convincing you to do this task. I am genuinely curious about what would motivate you to want to do it. And as you start to articulate it, boom, self-persuasion kicks in. Love it. I'm going to start using these approaches. Try it at your own risk. As we all know, quality nutrition influences, of course, our physical health, but also our mental health and our cognitive functioning, our memory, our ability to learn new things and to focus.
Sponsor: AG1 (30:52)
And we know that one of the most important features of high quality nutrition is making sure that we get enough vitamins and minerals from high quality unprocessed or minimally processed sources as well as enough probiotics and prebiotics and fiber to support basically all the cellular functions in our body, including the gut microbiome. Now, I, like most everybody, try to get optimal nutrition from whole foods, ideally mostly from minimally processed or non-processed foods. However, one of the challenges that I and so many other people face is getting enough servings of high quality fruits and vegetables per day, as well as fiber and probiotics that often accompany those fruits and vegetables. That's why way back in 2012, long before I ever had a podcast, I started drinking AG1. And so I'm delighted that AG1 is sponsoring the Huberman Lab podcast. The reason I started taking AG1 and the reason I still drink AG1 once or twice a day is that it provides all of my foundational nutritional needs. That is, it provides insurance that I get the proper amounts of those vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fiber to ensure optimal mental health, physical health, and performance. If you'd like to try AG1, you can go to drinkag1.com slash Huberman to claim a special offer. They're giving away five free travel packs plus a year supply of vitamin D3K2. Again, that's drinkag1.com slash Huberman to claim that special offer. I have a question about extrinsic motivation. So if we grow up being incentivized by extrinsic things, you know, you'll get your allowance.
Extrinsic Rewards, Choice; Social Media (32:34)
If you blank, you can spend the money that you make and, you know, on your paper route, You can spend the money that you make on your paper route, doing the things you really want to do. Is there any value in those kinds of learning-based incentives for kids and for adults? Because, I mean, that's the real world as well. I know plenty of people. I have family members that only work for a paycheck. And they're pretty okay because they like spending their paycheck. Probably more than – I'm not intrinsically attached to money. I mean, I certainly have needs in life, but I don't enjoy spending money for the sake of spending it or for gaining more possessions. But I know people that do, and I certainly don't judge. Are they somehow existing in a diminished landscape of happiness? Because they seem pretty happy to me. But they seem to have also worked out this relationship. They do certain things to get the extrinsic rewards and they really enjoy what they can do with those extrinsic rewards. So there's a huge body of evidence on what are the effects of extrinsic rewards on motivation and performance. And I think the latest conclusions, if you look at the latest meta-analyses, so huge study of studies trying to accumulate what's the average effect of adding a financial incentive to a task that wasn't incentivized before or to a job where you were paid salary and now we're going to give you incentive compensation. There is a boost. So in general, people are more productive when they're incentivized for their output. But these incentives are better for motivating quantity than quality. So you see people get more done, but they're not necessarily more careful or more thorough. Are they less careful and less thorough? No. Actually, they're still positive effects on average. They're just weaker. And of course, you could then start to say, well, how do I incentivize being fast and careful? But I think where we do have to be really cautious is there's an undermining effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. And you were alluding to this earlier, dating back to the early 70s, where we know that if we take an interesting task and then we pay you for it, you might conclude that you're only doing it for the outcome and you lose interest in the task. So the classic demonstration, Mark Leper and colleagues is kids playing video games and they're playing them because they're fun. And then you start to add in an incentive. And then when the incentive is taken away, they don't want to play anymore because the meaning of the task has changed. And now I'm doing it because I want to get something out of it as opposed to I love the process. I think that that phenomenon does not have to exist. So we know, for example, at work, if managers, as long as they give people autonomy, they don't present the rewards in a controlling way. So instead of saying, you know, Andrew, in order to earn this, you need to do the following work. If they say, hey, look, I'd really love it if you would deliver the following, and in order to make that worth your while, I'm offering this incentive, people react very differently when they have a sense of choice and control. So I think that's, I guess, the starting point. In the presence of autonomy, I don't think there's a major downside of extrinsic rewards. I think you also have to be careful that, yeah, I guess that you're not over-justifying the task. In other words, you're not swamping people's intrinsic reason for doing it, but you're adding a reason to try it. So actually, if we go to a different domain for a second, so look at kids who don't want to eat their vegetables. Extrinsic incentives are very effective to get kids to try vegetables for the first time. But then the hope is that they discover a vegetable or two that they don't mind, and then they find reasons to keep doing it. And I think that's how I want a lot of rewards to work. I don't think that rewards should be carrots that we dangle to try to control people's behavior. I think they should be symbols of how much we appreciate and value a particular behavior. And if you frame them that way, it's a lot easier for people to say, yeah, you know what? That reward is something that I really want, but I'm not only doing the task for that reward. Yeah. You basically answered the question I was going to ask, which is, and at risk of sounding new agey, but we are sitting in California. I could imagine that when one is focused on the extrinsic rewards, so a physical task or a cognitive task for an extrinsic reward. If I'm focusing on the extrinsic reward, I'm also, air quotes again, not present, right? I'm thinking about the outcome. I'm not thinking about process. And I think there's, perhaps you can flesh out some of what this is exactly, but I think there's a fairly extensive data to support the idea that when we are physically and mentally present to the task that we're going to perform better. And presumably our intrinsic liking of that task or performing that task increases as well. Is that true? Yeah, I think so. So if we want to break down the mechanisms for why intrinsic motivation is useful for performance, one you touched on earlier, it's focus of attention. It's much easier to find flow when you're intrinsically motivated. You get into that state of deep absorption where time melts away. So you mentioned sort of either speeding up or slowing down your sense of time. You forget where you are. Sometimes you even lose track of your identity, and you're just merged into the task. And so that concentration is helpful. There's also a greater persistence effect, that when you enjoy what you're just merged into the task. And so that concentration is helpful. There's also a greater persistence effect that when you enjoy what you're doing, you're less likely to give up in the face of obstacles. You're more likely to think about it when you're not doing the task and come up with great ideas. And so I think there's a working harder, there's a working longer, there's a working smarter, and there's also a thinking more clearly effect. working longer, there's a working smarter, and there's also a thinking more clearly effect. This is a brief but related tangent. One of the things that I've found incredibly difficult in recent years is that most of my life, really since I was a small kid, I was forging for things. And then I used to give lectures on Monday in class if they let me until they eventually stopped me about the stuff I was reading about all weekend. So got an early start in the professorial front. But now if I'm reading something and I discover what I think is a really valuable piece of information or a tool or a protocol, I'm like, wow, this is really cool. These findings are oh, so cool. There's a problem, which is that now I have an opportunity to cast that out to the world through social media. We all do. This could be – Wait, I'm sorry. You're on social media? From time to time. You're all over my feed. You and I both do our own social media, by the way, which I really appreciate. I think one can always detect if someone else is handling someone's social media. So yes, I'm on social media and I love that I have the opportunity to both send out ideas and information and also receive feedback. I really love the comment section and always encourage comments. I learn from it, frankly. Love is a strong word. I learn from it, you know, and you and I were weaned in the academic culture where, frankly, the kind of hazing that one receives in academic culture is very different than the kind of hazing that one receives on social media. But let's just say that if you come up through academia, you develop a pretty thick skin. I agree. I do have to say, though, that there was a part of me that was really surprised when I started posting on social that I love constructive criticism. I was unprepared for the number of people who will knee-jerk criticize a study without even looking at whether the methods are rigorous. I'm like, come on, if I posted this, surely it's at least worth considering the possibility that there's strong evidence behind it. Right. Well, that's where a brief, I won't call it a retort, but a response of, you know, clearly you should read the study further because I think you'll be satisfied with the answer or something. I don't know. But I agree. It can be a little bit harsh in there sometimes. But, you know, the social media channels are, I think, you know, they have – it's a double-edged blade. They obviously have their issues, but it can be a wonderful opportunity to share information and share it quickly. The problem is that it takes me out of what I was doing initially, which was learning, searching for those gems with which to share later. And I think there's a broader landscape to consider this where people, for instance, are – I was at the beach yesterday. It was just absolutely spectacular day at the beach, especially for this time of year. And everyone was taking pictures of that experience on their phone and probably sharing that experience either on social media or with friends. This is very different than taking a photograph and not seeing that photograph until later or not sending it out. And so there are now near infinite number of circumstances where we are taken out of the rewarding experience. I should rephrase that. We are taking ourselves out of the rewarding experience and focusing on a different rewarding experience that I think by definition is an extrinsic reward. So we are taking ourselves out of our intrinsically rewarding experiences and activating these extrinsic rewards. And do you think in any way that's undermining our experience of things that we really enjoy? Again, not to demonize social media or these channels, but I've personally found it difficult to refrain from sharing this knowledge that I'm so excited to share, but I deliberately delay. And there's a lot, I have a deep list of folders full of things that I want to post, but I'm just doing it, you know, systematically over time because I really fight the temptation to do this, mostly because I want to continue to enjoy this learning process and this seeking process so much. Yeah, I feel the same, the same. I feel torn. I think, I think it was E.B. White who said, I arise in the morning torn between the desire to enjoy the world and the desire to improve the world, and this makes it difficult to plan the day.
Tool: “Quiet Time” Protocol, Chronotypes (42:24)
And I feel that every day. I think, I mean, I felt it this morning. I was like, okay, it's time to leave to come to the Huberman podcast. I'm like, wait, but I didn't hit my minimum sunlight viewing. So what do I do? Do I show up on time for you or do I meet your criteria? The explanation I was getting my morning sunlight and therefore I'm X number of minutes or even hours late would have been completely fine. I figured as much. Yes, absolutely. That's a built-in acceptable excuse with you. I think everybody experiences a version of this and it's definitely gotten worse with social media and with smartphones. One of the most startling data points for me was Gloria Mark first put this on my radar. Before COVID, the average person was checking email 72 times a day. How do you ever concentrate for more than a couple minutes if you're self-interrupting that often? You can't. Brigitte Schulte has a great term for this. She calls it time confetti. And she says, we're taking these meaningful blocks of time and we're slicing them up into these tiny little dots of confetti. And not only can we not accomplish anything, we're also eroding our own sense of joy because it's really hard to enjoy the 30-second blip of time that you get on a task. And I think we know a lot more about the existence of these problems than how to solve them. But one thing we do know is blocking out uninterrupted time is meaningful. There's a great Leslie Perlow experiment where she takes engineers and she sets a quiet time policy. No interruptions Tuesday, Thursday, Friday before noon. 65% above average productivity. Could you repeat the protocol again? Yeah. So quiet time, there are a couple iterations of it, but I think the most effective one was Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, no meetings, no interruptions, no Slack, no emails before noon. And during those periods of no interruptions, one could tend to whatever their primary purpose is at work. Yeah. So for me, it might be podcasting. Obviously, I don't have my phone in here. I never do. But it doesn't mean no interaction with anyone else. It just means focusing on the major task. The task, exactly. And you come in with a clear sense of priority and purpose. And I don't think there's anything magical about Tuesday, Thursday, Friday before noon. It's just the idea of setting a boundary and collectively committing to it that seems to be important. And I think, you know, when I think about this, I'd be really curious about your take on chronotypes here. Because I think one thing I've learned in the last couple of years is that if you're a morning person, you do your best analytical and creative thinking in the morning. And so the quiet time block would work very well for me as a morning person. If you're a night owl, you probably want that block in the late afternoon. And I was encouraged, there was some evidence during COVID that people have their best meetings right after lunch, that they're something like 30% less likely to multitask in an after lunch meeting. And I guess you could probably unpack the food coma, getting re-energized by other people. But it's led me to wonder if we should all be protecting the first few hours and the last few hours of the day for deep work, and then doing our core meetings and interactions and kind of off-task activities in the middle. What do you think about that as a sequence? Yeah. Well, I have a lot of questions about this for you, but I love that sequence. It certainly fits with my natural rhythms. I think there's ample evidence to support the fact that provided one is sleeping well at night and is on a more or less a standard schedule. When I say standard, I mean going to bed somewhere between let's say 9.30 and 11.30 PM, waking up sometime between let's say 6 AM and 8 AM, let's say 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., maybe 5.30 or 7.30, something like that. So not highly unusual night owl or super early bird. For people that are following that sort of schedule, the first, let's just say from zero to eight hours after waking, there tends to be a fairly robust increase in all the catecholamines, so dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, which generally, okay, generally speaking, lead to increases in alertness, attention, and focus that are great for analytic work, great for implementation of strategies that you already understand, and you need to churn through a lot of stuff. And of course, there's a big increase in the morning, especially if you view morning sunlight, a healthy increase, I should say, in cortisol. Cortisol is not bad, folks. You want cortisol, but you want that peak early in the day, we know that. Okay, so for most people, it seems, at least my understanding is that that period of time, zero to eight hours after waking or so, is best devoted to the quote-unquote most critical tasks. But one of the common problems is that people take that ability to implement a known strategy and they start battering back all the emails. By the way, talking to coworkers is great and it's often required, but the question is whether or not it's productive conversation or whether or not it's productive conversation or whether or not it's just conversation. And we tend to have a lot of energy early in the day. And I'm obsessed with the idea of neural energy as opposed to just caloric energy. So there we're talking about neural energy. And then post-lunch, so really, as we get to the sort of nine to 17 hours after waking, there is a dip in autonomic arousal that during the middle of the day, that post-perendial dip, those are post-lunch sleepiness, that can be partially offset by delaying your morning caffeine a bit if you have the afternoon crash. But it's interesting that you know that more productive meetings and less task switching and distraction occurred in meetings set after lunch, because that makes me think that perhaps being a little bit less alert is going to lend itself to more focus. And indeed, that's the sort of optimal state, relaxed, but focused. You know, you're not sleepy, but you also don't have so much intrinsic energy that you're, you know, tending to a bunch of things, because I think a lot of people do feel that way, you know, and I'm drinking, you know, double espresso right now, late mid morning, late morning. And, you know, I can sit still, but I think certain Zoom meetings, how do I say this? I don't want to offend any of my colleagues. I mean, they are boring enough. They are not content rich enough to grab all my attention. And nowadays, of course, there are multiple screens. Typically, I've got two phones and a computer and you have to really spend some work to flip over those phones while I'm on a Zoom and things like that. So maybe it's maybe the reduction in autonomic arousal that supports what you just described, but I don't know. My thinking, or my understanding rather, was that creative work and kind of brainstorming was best accomplished in the late afternoon.
Tool: Creativity: Mornings, Movement, Stillness (49:20)
I've noticed when lecturing, I'd be curious what your experience is in university lectures when I held courses in the evening. I used to like to hold my courses 5 to 7 p.m. or even 7 to 9.30 p.m. when I was teaching undergraduates, that people were much looser and more relaxed. And I always thought that might have something to do with an increase in GABA transmission that's known to happen late in late evening, that people are just kind of more relaxed and less social anxiety. They've been around people for much of the day. I send back more reflections than answers. I don't have any firm neuroscience explanations for what you described, but there are some emerging theories about how that might work. And it has this zero to nine hours, phase one, nine to 17 hours, phase two. And then, of course, from 17 to 24 hours, I'll call it phase three, you should be asleep. Yeah. Ideally. Well, I think there's a confound in your teaching experience, which is undergrads often sleep in until, what, noon, or they might be up until 4 a.m. Or at least 10 a.m. seems to be a typical rise time for the undergrad. So a morning class might be too early for them to be fully awake. But there's some brand new evidence that, at least on creativity at work, I read a series of, I think it was three studies recently, showing that early birds actually did do more creative work in the morning. And in part, I think, again, I don't think any neuroscientist has touched the mechanisms on this yet, but in terms of the psychological processes, early on, there seems to be a benefit of the energy level. And some of that energy leads to more divergent thinking. And later, if you leads to more divergent thinking. And later, if you're a morning person, you might lose the ability to diverge quite as much. And so you end up in a more conventional space of thought. Does that track at all with your understanding of how it might play out in the brain? My understanding is it would be individual, but there is something to these liminal states between sleep and waking. So maybe we can wrap a convenient bow around what I said and what you just said, which is that we know that in the transition states into and out of sleep, and it doesn't necessarily have to be within the first half hour in and out of sleep, that there seems to be more divergent thinking, or at least activation of neural networks that are not as constrained as one observes when they're in a sheer task and strategy implementation mode. Right? I mean, I think- 05.50 Is that similar to the shower effect? 05.50 The shower effect. So people have ideas in the shower or while running or while falling asleep, or my best ideas always come within the first hour after waking. That's why I carry a notebook around. And much to the dismay of people in my life, oftentimes I don't want to hear or talk to anyone first thing in the morning. This is problematic and I had to make adjustments. We'll talk about adjustments between productivity and control and family interactions. This is something I know you've worked on and written about. But those liminal states are interesting. And I'd love your thoughts on this. I've had several guests on this podcast talk about their creative process, namely Rick Rubin. He's famous for his work in music producing, also has a great podcast, Tetragrammaton, as well as Carl Deisseroth, a colleague of mine, who's really in the 0.0001% of super talented bioengineers, neuroscientists, who also happens to be a full-time clinical psychiatrist and has five children. Okay. And I asked them about their creative process, because both of them are very creative. Carl's process involves the following. Late at night for him, but it could really be any time of day, deliberately making his body as still as possible and forcing himself to think in complete sentences. Rick's creative process, although it includes a lot of different things, has a lot to do with also getting very still, lying down. Okay. Other folks that I've spoken to, academics and artists, have referred to getting their body into motion, but quieting their mind. So these are two opposite processes. In one case, the body is still, but the mind is deliberately very active. In the other scenario, the body is very active, but they're making their mind sort of in free association. Not still, but they're not deliberately thinking about any one thing. Fascinating. And I'm obsessed with this. Maybe you and I could work on this. I'm due for a sabbatical. Maybe we could figure this out because I think- I've never seen anyone study this before. Right. Because the nervous system, no, the nervous system, I'm not aware of anyone that's done it formally either. The nervous system, of course, is a brain-body phenomenon. And so what happens when we sort of cut off the deliberate operations of brain or body? And it doesn't seem to matter whether or not it's brain or body as long as one is deliberately shut off. And so anyway, I'd love your thoughts on this. I don't consider myself like an ultra-creative or creative type to any great degree. Me neither. That's why I've been studying it. Right, but I'm fascinated by these deliberate tactics that highly creative people have undertaken in order to bring about ideas. I certainly have some of my best ideas when I'm running and I'll just be running along like, my goodness, I wasn't even thinking. Now I need to write this down, okay, and then continue. I tried the Diceroth approach and the Rubin approach. I actually just spent a week with Rick overseas. And indeed, he spends a lot of time just still thinking. And it's a very hard practice to get consistent with. I wonder if there are individual differences here on which needs to be stable or steady. I wonder if there are individual differences here on which needs to be stable or steady. I'm thinking about a huge part of creativity is overriding your default instincts. And if you're somebody whose default is to have your mind constantly going, then quieting would probably shift your train of thought to something more original or unconventional. The opposite might be true. If you have a naturally quiet mind, I would imagine you need to sort of jolt yourself out of that with lots of access to free-ranging thoughts. And so it would be interesting actually to study whether we can predict what you should still based on your personality. Yeah, and maybe what we could do with that study, I think we have a collaboration brewing. You know, there's a joke, you know, two scientists walk into a room and what comes out is a collaboration. So I'd want to put people in a scanner. It's hard to get people treadmilling in a scanner because of movement artifact, and just look at resting network activation and compare that to resting network activation when people are completely still and forcing themselves to think in deliberate senses, and then look at the overlap in that Venn diagram. That's what's of interest to me. They may be completely different brain states. They might actually have more similarity than differences. I wonder then if you can tie that to differences in the quality and quantity of output. So I would imagine that one of the benefits of either kind of movement is that you end up increasing the volume of ideas, which we know is good for variety and ultimately increases the probability that you stumble onto something new. But then I think the being still part is probably better for the filtering process. I think one of the hardest parts of creativity is actually judging your own ideas. Most creative people have your own ideas. Most creative people have many terrible ideas. In fact, the most creative people have the most horrible ideas because they just have a lot of ideas. And I think that maybe there's a way in which quieting either your body or your mind allows you to gain some distance from the idea and see whether it's boneheaded or promising. I'd like to take a quick break and thank our sponsor, InsideTracker. InsideTracker is a personalized nutrition platform that analyzes data from your blood and DNA to help you better understand your body and help you reach your health goals.
Sponsor: InsideTracker (57:05)
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Tools: Ideas & Filtering, Feedback & Opinions, Advice (58:14)
Along those lines, when one is trying to gauge the quality of their ideas, how do you cope with or how does one cope with not placing a judge on that that causes some false negatives where you're wiping out great ideas? Because, you know, Rick Rubin talks a lot about, you know, don't give the audience what they want. They don't know what they want. They haven't seen it yet. If it's a truly creative idea, they haven't seen it. And but of course, we all have to develop our own sense of taste. So, well, how does this process work for you? I mean, you've written about and worked on a tremendous range of topics and always, you know, I must say with such rigor and such clarity of communication about those topics. Yeah, it's absolutely true. I mean, like 100%. So we say around here, no weak sauce. You know? That's a great phrase. There's no weak sauce in your game. It's incredible. So when do you get your ideas and how do you filter those ideas? I feel like the when could be anytime. I think the, I mean, you've clearly experienced this too. For me, the best thing about hosting a podcast is I have an excuse to learn about anything I want from almost anyone I want, and I get to call that part of my job. And so I feel like, you know, that having that built in mechanism for learning means ideas could come at any moment. The filtering process for me is, it's evolved over the last few years. What I do now is if I'm, let's say I'm starting a new book. I'll write a draft of the first chapter, and I send it to five to eight people whose judgment I trust. And by design, some of those people are in my field. They're deep-seated in organizational psychology. Others are very far outside but curious about the topics I'm interested in. And I ask them for a zero to 10 score. This is something I learned to do as a springboard diver, where I would take off and I'm doing a few flips or twists. And I think my dive is good, but I can't see it because I'm hurling in midair and everything's a blur. And so I have to rely on my coach to tell me if it was any good. I feel like creative work is the same way. You're too close to it to know how the audience is going to react to it. And yes, you don't want to create it just for the audience, but at the end of the day, you want it to be interesting or useful to them. So I asked for the zero to 10 and no one ever says 10. And then I use that as a calibration mechanism. So if everybody is in the seven or eight range, I know that I'm onto something promising and now I need to refine it. If I get a bunch of twos, threes, three and a halves, I either need to rethink the idea or dramatically rewrite how I'm positioning it. And I think one of the mistakes a lot of people make is they know they need feedback on their ideas. They go to one or two people and they start to feel a little bit defensive or threatened and their ego gets involved and then they don't ask for any more. What they don't realize is it's actually less painful if you get more feedback. Because when eight different people critique your work, you start to realize that a few of the comments that sort of bruise you a little bit were just idiosyncratic and no one else cared about those issues. But then five people had the same problem. That is not taste. That is a quality issue. And I've got to focus on that. And so it really helps to filter what are the revisions I need to make? What are the problems and complaints I need to pay attention to versus what can I ignore? Because maybe this product was not for that person. I'm recalling when I was a postdoc, I had a manuscript fully prepared. And I worked in a laboratory where I didn't work on the same thing as my postdoc advisor. He was very gracious in letting me be the outlier. And he said, well, I don't know anything about this topic. So before you submit it to this fairly prestigious, very frankly, very prestigious journal, I'll be honest, you should probably go down the hall and hand it to so-and-so. I don't want to mention who it was because I'm still in the same department. And I gave it to him, this individual, and he looked at it and he said, yeah, you know, it looks interesting, but I don't think there's going to be a whole lot of interest in this. It's just like not. I was like, no way. Like this, I think this is really cool. But I was pretty dismayed. So I was like, oh gosh, so what do I do? So I went back to my advisor and thankfully, he's a bit of an iconoclast and he said, that's the best feedback you could have gotten. Definitely submit it to that particular journal. And I must say that paper got accepted faster than any other paper. I've never had an experience like that. I mean, it required some revisions. I remember thinking like, wow, what an unusual response to after having instructed me to go ask a more senior colleague, right? He was at that time, assistant professor. And then to get the essentially negative response and then to take that as like, you should definitely send it out. It really taught me a lesson that sometimes one needs to invert their action according to the negative feedback they get. Not always, but that was an N of one. Okay. So it's not, it shouldn't be extrapolated to too many circumstances, but basically led me to not seek out feedback prior to submission of things terribly often. I check information obviously prior to podcasts. I check the validity of the information in podcasts and papers. It made me realize that people's opinions can be highly idiosyncratic and in some cases outright wrong. Really, the opinion of the journal is what mattered most in terms of getting it accepted or not. So how do you, you said give it to the greatest number of people, but if it's anything like comments on social media, there's a salience to negative comments. So how should we filter positive versus negative feedback? Well, there's a meta-analysis here. This is Kluger and Denise looking at a hundred years of feedback research. And they found that what drives the utility of feedback is not whether it's positive or negative. It's whether it focuses on the task or on the self. So if I tell you that your work is terrible, you're going to get defensive. If I tell you that your work is great, you're going to get complacent. If I tell you, here's the specific thing that I liked about your work, you're going to try to learn to repeat that. And if I tell you, here's the thing I didn't like, you're going to try to see if you can fix it. So I actually think we should worry less about whether the feedback is encouraging or discouraging, and more about how do I make sure that I get input that's going to allow me to learn from my strengths and also overcome my weaknesses? And actually, one of the things I've learned recently is there's some, I would say, a growing body of evidence at this point that asking for feedback is not the best way to get people to help you. Because when you ask for feedback, you end up getting two groups of people. You get cheerleaders and you get critics. And cheerleaders are basically applauding your best self. Critics are attacking your worst self. What you want is a coach, which is somebody who helps you become a better version of yourself. And the way you get people to coach you is not to say, give me feedback, because they will then look at the past and tell you what you screwed up or what you did right. What you want is to say, can you give me advice for next time? And then they look at the future and they'll give you either a note on something to repeat or something to correct. And this is such a subtle shift, but it can make a big difference. Andrew, one of the things I've, I guess I found myself applying this to a lot is after giving speeches, I used to get off stage and say, I'd love some feedback. And you get back a bunch of, oh, you know, I really enjoyed that. Thanks. What do I do with that information? I'm trying to learn how to get better. And when I shift the question to say, what's the one thing I could do better next time? It's like, oh, don't open with a joke. The audience couldn't tell you were joking. Frequently, it's give me a little bit more of a through line. You focused a lot on, you know, a bunch of interesting points, but I lost the connective tissue. And those actionable suggestions are much more likely to come when you just ask for a tip as opposed to an evaluation. Oh, that's so good. I'm going to just pause for a second. I've never taken a pause. I've taken occasional pause, to be honest, but they're very rare, Occasional pause, to be honest, but they're very rare, as the audience knows. Oh, that's just gazillion dollar advice. Because I think that everyone has an ego. We all want to perform well. We'd like to perform better over time. And negative feedback hurts. And it can hurt a little or a lot, depending on how defensive we are. feedback hurts and it can hurt a little or a lot depending on how defensive we are. But a tool like you just described to remove some of that defensive armor that we all have and actually let the information in in a way that's constructive is really great. What you described, I think, is a way to create constructive criticism, but the constructive part is really coming from within as opposed to saying, I'd like some constructive criticism, but the constructive part is really coming from within, as opposed to saying, I'd like some constructive criticism and then hoping that the criticism is actually constructive. So you're taking control over the process in a healthy way, in a benevolent way. That's the goal. And I think the big question that comes up for a lot of people at this point is, okay, so I get somebody to give me advice, but it might still stink.
Tool: Constructive Criticism, “Second Score”; Verbs (01:07:15)
How do I get better at taking it constructively? And I think probably my favorite technique on this, I learned from Sheila Keen, she calls it the second score. And the idea is that when somebody gives you a piece of criticism, that's your first score. So let's say, you know, they, like I, in my, in my world, they gave me a three and a half and I want to know how I can do better next time. How do I get myself to focus on that? What I do is say I want to get a 10 for how well I took the three and a half, and that's the second score. I want to evaluate myself on how well I took the first score. I think about this almost every day. Actually, can I tell you a quick story? When I was right out of my doctorate, I got asked to teach a motivation class for Air Force generals and colonels. I was 25, I think, 25, 26. You know, they're all twice my age. They've got thousands of flying hours. They've got billion dollar budgets. They've got, well, you know this community well. Their nicknames are Striker and Sand Dune. And I was extremely intimidated. So I walked in there, and I thought I had to impress them. And I started talking about my credentials and all my research experience. And the feedback at the end of the four-hour session was brutal. I remember reading the feedback forums, and one person had written, more knowledge in the audience than on the podium. I was like, true. I can't argue with that. And then another wrote, I gained nothing from this session, but I trust the instructor gained useful insight. And that was devastating. I was like, can I, I would really like to transform into an actual bear and hibernate for the next four months and then maybe I'll come out of a really like to transform into an actual bear and hibernate for the next four months, and then maybe I'll come out of a hole ready to hear this. I didn't have that option. I had committed to teach a second session a week later. So all I could do was figure out how am I going to hear this feedback and really take it seriously. And I guess I applied a version of the second score, and I said, all right, there's some generals that are going to come back and see me again. And I've got to prove to them that I was open to feedback. And one of the things I heard loud and clear was that they valued humility and I had led with too much confidence, which was just insecurity masked. And so I thought, okay, how do I change the equation? And walked in, looked at the room and I said, I know what you're all thinking right now. What could I possibly learn from a professor who's 12 years old? Dead silence. I'm like, oh, no. This is going to go horribly wrong. And then one of the guys in the audience jumps in and he's like, oh, that's ridiculous. You got to be at least 13. Everybody started laughing. It broke the ice. And I think what I was trying to do was to take myself off the pedestal and say, look, I heard your feedback. You told me that you didn't think I had anything to teach you. And I've got to acknowledge that right up front and be open to the fact that that's true. And so I want to come in here and learn from you. And I want to see if I can curate a conversation where we all end up learning. And the feedback was night and day different. Afterward, one person wrote, although junior inexperienced, the professor dealt with the evidence in an interesting way. I was like, all right, I'll take it. And there's something really powerful about saying, look, I can't change the fact that they hated my session. What I can do is convince them that I was motivated to learn from their criticism. I love this concept of the second score. And thank you for sharing that story. I think, you know, very often we hear about people like you who, if people didn't catch the math in there, you were a PhD by age 25. And as far as I know, the youngest tenured professor at Penn at 28. So these are outrageously impressive metrics of accomplishment. But for you to share a story about less than optimal performance and how you adjusted to it and the incorporation of the second score that you're referring to, I think is really appreciated because I think that as much as we hear, you know, oh, you know, Jordan, you know, took many more, you know, free throws and everyone just thinks about all the ones he made. You know, people think about all the ones he made. That's the way the game works. That's the way the mind works, I should say. So it's, I appreciate that you've fleshed it out with a personal example. I too would want to turn into a bear and disappear, but I would, but I think that it's fleshed it out with a personal example. I too would want to turn into a bear and disappear, but I think that it's really impressive what you did. And it makes me think that the second score of getting a 10 at bringing the three and a half up, as it were, is really about turning a score into a verb process. Over and over again, as I do this podcast and as I've taught in the classroom, what I keep coming back to is this idea that we should be focusing more on verbs and less on nouns. We love to name things and categorize them, but when we start living life through a lot of verb processes, so instead of being fit, we think about that, or running as a thing, we really think about just running. It becomes less daunting and we accomplish far more. But the idea that, you know, and this has, there are mathematical models of this, I'm sure, but where you're basically talking about, you know, like an integral, right? As opposed to just some value, right? You're talking about the slope of the line, right? So you're a three and a half, how are you going to get to a 10? Gosh, that's a huge gap. And you're dealing with being back on your heels psychologically from getting all this, you know, battering feedback from these, you know, these highly accomplished individuals, all these accomplishments, and, you know, literally wearing them presumably on their body for you to see. And it's really about creating, it's about taking control of the slope of that line from the three onward. And it's really a forward-looking perspective. So I don't think we're being unduly psychological here or analytic. I mean, I think it's really about taking a moment state and a noun and turning it into a verb. Yeah, I think that's right. I'm reminded of the great philosopher Homer Simpson, who said that verbing weirds language. So it's harder to talk about this stuff in verbs. I swear I didn't steal it from the Simpsons, but if it came from Homer Simpson, I'm all for it. Small brain, but given the size of his brain and people have seen the image, fairly robust knowledge. No, I think you're onto something. I think verbs are active and we're drawn to them. I think a lot of times people review their past work and they end up shaming an earlier version of themselves and they wallow in rumination. And what we want to try to do in that situation, which is easier said than done, is to say, all right, the purpose of getting feedback or advice is not to shame my past self, it's to educate my future self, which I think is very connected to a lot of the work on growth mindset that you've been talking about. And there's been a firestorm of controversy around can we teach growth mindset in schools lately? And I think what that has underscored for me is, look, you can't expect someone to listen to one podcast episode or go through one workshop and magically believe that they're capable of learning anything at any moment. through one workshop and magically believe that they're capable of learning anything at any moment. This is something we have to actively work on on a daily basis. And part of doing that, exactly as you said, is thinking about this loop and saying, all right, the person that I'm competing with is my past self, and I wanna get a little bit better today than I was yesterday. Yeah, I think along the lines of growth mindset, obviously we both know Carol Dweck and respect her tremendously.
Tools & Techniques
Tool: Growth Mindsets, Scaffolding; Job Innovation (01:14:40)
And I realize there is some controversy now around how readily one can work, that is, growth mindset is combined with a knowledge, just a basic and true understanding that stress and the feelings of anxiety and tension that can actually be performance enhancing. When those two things are combined, I think this is the work of David Yeager and colleagues at UT Austin, that indeed growth mindset becomes more visible in our mindsets and performance. And are there other aspects to growth mindset and other mindsets that are now being woven into that framework that can be helpful? Because I know, gosh, if ever there was a great name for an area of psychology growth mindset, it tells you everything you want, everything you need, and everything you sort of need to know in just the name. But we all find it difficult to implement. I'm just telling myself I'm not as good as something as I could be yet. It sounds great, but in moments of, you know, receiving feedback that's harsh, sometimes it's hard to access. Yeah, it is. I think so the latest, there's a McNamara et al. meta-analysis, and then I think sort of that camp versus the Carroll and David camp have very different views on how big the effects are. But I think one thing they seem to agree on is growth mindset is more important in circumstances where people are more likely to need it. So if you think about for example kids who are impoverished or marginalized communities, you know the message that you actually you know that you you are capable of you know of evolving your skills to the point that something you're bad at today you could be good at next year is really important when you've never heard that before and when you don't have a single person believing in you. I think where we're often missing the boat is we think, all right, I'm going to instill this idea in a person's head and my work is done. And we know that the context around you really matters. So actually Carol's done some research showing that growth mindset is more likely to have an impact when your classroom culture also and your teacher has the belief that kids are capable of learning and growing, that your starting ability is not fixed in any subject. And I think we probably for all of us as individuals, what that means is we need to think about the micro environment that we put ourselves in. I think, you know, the, I guess one of the things I've been thinking a lot about lately is scaffolding and the idea that, you know, when you're trying to improve at something, you don't need a permanent teacher necessarily. You don't need one mentor, you know, guiding you for nine years. What you need is somebody who can give you the temporary support that allows you to scale to a new height, just like a scaffold would on a building. you know, guiding you for nine years. What you need is somebody who can give you the temporary support that allows you to scale to a new height, just like a scaffold would on a building. And in learning theory, basically the idea behind scaffolding is we're going to initially give you the support you need to solve a problem. And then we're going to slowly remove the support so that you learn to do it on your own. And I think that those kinds of scaffolds are often missing. So we instill the growth mindset, like I've got this belief in my head, but I don't know what I need to do to put that belief into action. And that's where I guess that to me is, we have to go beyond mindset. We have to think about how do we put people in a context that allows them to put their beliefs into practice. You were asking me, what else do we need to support growth mindset and make it effective, right? Yeah. I mean, we know people learn what growth mindset is. It's the idea that you're not as good at something yet. Okay, terrific, but it's very hard to implement in real time. There are, I have to presume, additional tools that one can bolster the growth mindset with, make it more accessible and benefit from it. Yes. So, Justin Berg and Amy Resnetsky and I studied this, actually. We were looking at growth mindset at work. And Justin's – well, he's at Stanford. I don't know if you've met him yet. I have not. But big place. Yes, I figured as much. He'll be on the list soon. He's a brilliant creativity researcher. And Amy just joined us at Wharton and has fundamentally changed the way that I think about ideas in the way that she studied how we can shape our context and just done path-breaking work there. We were interested in growth mindset and we designed an intervention where people could learn growth mindset at work. We taught them to think about how their skills were malleable, how they could stretch their knowledge into new areas. And we found that teaching them that was not enough to boost their happiness or their performance. What we needed to also do was give them a growth mindset not just about themselves, but also about their jobs. In other words, to teach them that your job is a set of flexible building blocks, that you've got a whole bunch of tasks that make up your job. Some of those are things to do, others might be interactions that you need to have. If you break down your job into all these tasks, you might have some tasks that you want to accentuate and make a bigger part of your job, others that you want to try to subtract, others that you might swap with a colleague. A lot of people, it turns out, think their jobs are fixed by their job descriptions, but in fact you have a ton of opportunity to say, wait a minute, there's a strength I have, but I'm not using it right now. Is there a way we can bring that into my work? And so in these couple experiments we did, when we randomly assigned people to learn both that their jobs were malleable and that their skills were malleable, they got a sustainable boost to their happiness that lasted at least six months. There was no cost to their performance, meaning you could redesign your own job to be more enjoyable without a drop in the effectiveness of your contributions to your workplace. And I think what I came away from that research realizing is it's not enough to just say, well, I can get better. I can improve. Because very often you feel like your environment is limited. I'm like, great. Yeah, I can grow, but I'm stuck in a dead-end job. And so what we need to do there is open up the opportunity for people to innovate on their own job description. And then the growth mindset can begin to have an impact. I love it. It sounds a bit like adding a S to growth mindset. So it's not growth mindset, it's growth mindsets. Because earlier you mentioned that in the classroom environment, if the teacher adopts a growth mindset as well as the students, well, then you have a culture of growth mindset. So it's the interconnectedness of this and the context in which the individual's growth mindset exists. Do I have that right? Well put. Yeah, we ended up calling it dual mindset. But I think making it a plural is good because it's not... I have this image of you put a person in a cage and then tell them they're capable of growing. They're still stuck in a cage. And so we need to give them a chance to bust through those walls. Super important. I hate to take us back to an earlier topic, but there's something that I meant to ask you that I didn't, and I'm absolutely needing to ask you, which is your recent work or recent-ish work, it was a few years back now, and you're so prolific that I have to call it a few years back.
Tools: Task Sequencing & Intrinsic Motivation; Tapering & Frame of Reference (01:21:50)
The relationship between intrinsic motivation and performance on other tasks. Oh, yeah. Yeah, and the reason I ask this is several fold. I did two episodes of the podcast on ADHD. And one of the things that I learned in talking to experts on ADHD, people with ADHD, as well as looking at some of the novel treatments, everything from behavioral to prescription drug, to even nutrition-based, was that kids and adults with clinically diagnosed ADHD are actually terrific at paying attention to things that they really enjoy or that they're super interested in. So clearly they have the capacity. It's just that they have deficits, if you will, in attending to things that are less exciting to them, less intriguing to them. So if I recall correctly, you have a publication that explored the relationship between intrinsic motivation and performance in other stuff. And one of the major conclusions was that having a deep, deep interest in one thing might not be the best condition for performing well at other less interesting tasks. Could you tell us about that study? What motivated you to carry out that study and what some of the major takeaways were? Yeah, definitely. You summarized it really well. I think the original impetus, so this was another project with Jihei Shin and Jihei came to me wanting to study intrinsic motivation. And we were talking about what do we know about intrinsic motivation and what are the gaps in our knowledge? And one thing that has always bothered me is when psychologists study something that sounds positive and they only study the benefits of it. I'm like, there's no such thing as an unmitigated good, right? All sort of enjoyable experiences have costs. All unpleasant experiences can have benefits. We need to fill out this two by two of good thing, bad thing, good outcome, bad outcome. And so my challenge to her was, can you show me the dark side of intrinsic motivation? And she came back and she said, what if there's a cost of loving a task, leading you to hate a task that you don't like even more than you did before? I was like, oh, that's an interesting idea. It tracks with the basic psychology of contrast effects, where if you eat something delicious, then your least favorite food tastes a little bit worse afterward. And so I said, let's study this. So she ended up getting data from people at work. And then we also designed an experiment. And sure enough, the more passionate you are on task one, the more your performance suffers if task two is really boring. And I guess what this did for me is it made me think differently about task sequencing. I used to wake up in the morning and do my most interesting task first. And then the grading was hell. And what I do now is I start with a moderately interesting task. It's a little bit of a warm-up for me. And then I have now is I start with a moderately interesting task. It's a little bit of a warmup for me. And then I have an exciting one to look forward to. And if I do have a task that's boring, but important, I think the performance is going to suffer less. Interesting. I normally don't ask about morning routines and how one structures their day, because it's highly individual. I completely agree. Yeah. And it depends on whether or not people have kids and their pets and other, but I'll just share with you a brief anecdote. I have a friend who's a very accomplished musician and has been for several decades now. And he told me that he has a practice of, after he gets off stage and he's like stadium, stadium sellout level musician, has been for a long time and shows no signs of stopping, just incredible, but a very down to earth person. And he said, one of the first things he does when he gets off stage is to go do some menial task. I thought there's no way that's true, but I've known his wife since college. And she verified that statement. I was like, what sorts of menial tasks are you talking about? He's like, oh, like cleaning up some of the cans and things that are there, maybe even cleaning a toilet at a venue. And I thought, no chance, but it turns out to be true. And I said, what's this about? Is this about humility? He said, well, maybe a little bit, but he said it actually makes it a lot easier for him to return home and deal with the kind of little things that just are out of scale with the experiences that he just had. He's tapering, in a way. Okay. I think. Yeah. Yeah. First of all, I was so struck by the fact that he had created this process for himself so long ago. And he's also somebody who's, you know, he's maintained, he's like been in the same marriage for an extremely long time. He's extremely happy in that and his family. I mean, it's one of these people that seems to thrive in all domains of life. And I'm certain that he struggles in some domain of life because everybody does. But it sounds to me like a very unusual practice, but it seems to kind of relate to this, that, you know, he has this thing that he loves doing, playing music and performing in particular. And he's just, you know and he's just 0.01% at doing that. But then just bring himself back down to earth because so much of life, and especially family life, is dealing with the schmutz and the inconvenience of everyday life. 05.10 Yeah. It actually sounds like what he's doing is he's resetting his frame of reference to say, if I go right home, then the contrast between this high-octane experience I'm having and sort of muddling through everyday life is going to be extreme. If I do something really small, then family time is going to seem a lot bigger. Yeah. So I realize I'm taking a bit of a leap from your study on intrinsic motivation and low performance in other domains. But, you know, to me, cleaning up, cleaning a toilet is, you know, it's boring for all the wrong reasons, right? As you say. You do not want that to be an exciting task. And listen, I mean, if I had to do it for a living, I would, right? And I would try and do as well as possible. But, right? And I would try and do as well as possible. But, right. So, well, I found that study to be particularly interesting because I think that these days we glorify high performance, even quote-unquote peak performance, something we can talk about. And we forget that, yes, oftentimes people who are ultra- high performers can afford to pay other people to do all the other stuff. But I have to say, in knowing some ultra high performers and in knowing some people in the billionaire bracket, you know, there's a high incidence of mental health issues, frankly, and lack of satisfaction with life that maybe even comes from not having to do anything besides the things that you find most intrinsically rewarding. We all think that, oh, if I could, I would spend all day doing the things that I find most intrinsically rewarding. But maybe there's something about this push-pull. We know the brain works in push-pull with almost everything, that having some experiences each day that are kind of like, ugh, this thing again, do you think that heightens our level of satisfaction for the things we really enjoy? I would be surprised if it didn't. I think contrast effects are very powerful. And we know, I mean, there's half a century of research on happiness suggesting that the comparisons we make are what matter. I think Tim Urban probably put it best when he said, happiness is reality minus expectations. And if you only have enjoyable experiences, your expectations are rising into perpetuity. So it doesn't matter how good your reality is. You wanted it to be better and better. I think one of the things that mundane experiences manage to do for us, or maybe a better way to say it is, I think one of the benefits of mundane experiences is they keep our expectations on the ground and allow us to be pleasantly surprised by a task that was more interesting than we expected, even though we didn't love it. more interesting than we expected, even though we didn't love it.
Tools: Momentum, Confidence & Domains; Negative Thought Spirals (01:30:03)
What are your thoughts on what I call momentum, which is when I have an experience that I particularly like, like if we record a podcast and I'm really excited to get it out into the world, or if I have some experience that I'm left, you know, very excited by at the end, that oftentimes the energy, again, I'm obsessed with this concept of neural energy, the energy that I glean from that experience seems to have carryover into other things. Like, you know, I'm going to be much more excited to just go across the street and get a cup of coffee. It feels like a bigger thing than it normally would. And I would think that one could kind of ride the wake of a prior accomplishment, even a small accomplishment each day, and make the, you know, tidying up or doing things that one would normally find more boring, less boring. Is that true? The way you're describing contrast effects makes it seem like it's more of a cliff, like that thing was great and now this thing. But I also can kind of ride high on something that happened two, three days ago, maybe even two, three months ago. So feeling good equates to feeling good, or feeling good accentuates the bad stuff. This is the tension between contrast and spillover. And you can see both under different conditions. I think this is a brand new sort of, I don't think anybody's reconciled those two perspectives yet, but my hunch from having worked on the contrast part of it is we found that it was only extreme intrinsic motivation that had the performance cost on other tasks. So if you're enjoying something, if you like it, that will give you a lift for other tasks. It's where this is the best thing you've ever done, and now other things suck by comparison. That's where we start to see you run into a problem. I also wonder if there's a domain switching effect here. I think you're alluding to this. I read some research that just came out this year showing that one of the benefits, one of the surprising benefits of morning workouts is you actually have more confidence in your job because you get that small win. I accomplished something this morning, And that gives you a sense of efficacy that you can carry over into the start of your workday. Not to suggest that everyone should work out in the morning because I'm with you. I think everybody should both work and work out at a time that works for them. But I think there's something to be said for something went really well in one realm of my life. And that boosts my belief in my capability to tackle challenges in a different realm. What about in the opposite direction? You were a competitive diver. I have to presume that there were days when you had lousy dives. It must have been that one day. It felt like every day. been that one day. 31.01 Adam Boffa, Jr.: I don't know. 31.01 Peter Van Doren, MD, I felt like every day. 31.02 Trevor Burrus, Jr.: And then you leave, you shower up, dry off, head into the rest of your day. And how do we segment away from the negative thought spirals of like something went really poorly? And now you're off into the domain of life where you can do, you know how to do the things that you're required to do, but maybe there's some challenge and some learning involved. How do we cut moats between negative experiences? I think, I mean, the Ted Lasso strategy is ideal. Become a goldfish, 10-second memory, and then you don't even recall the practice you had earlier today. I think that I don't know anybody who can do that consistently. And I think the more disappointing the experience is, the more you tend to dwell on it. I think when you talk about segmenting negative experiences, I think probably the research that I've liked best on this, and I just want to make sure I capture this clearly. Basically, so research on emotion regulation says there are two strategies that tend to be effective. One is distraction, the other is reframing. So distraction is, you know, find something else that will consume your attention that's unrelated to the thing that you just bombed at and the hope is that, you know, that that fades into the background. Reframing is a lot of what you were talking about a few minutes ago, which is, okay, let me focus not on the level of my performance but the slope. My diving coach, Eric Best, has a really great set of questions that he asks. And I remember I had finished practice. I'm like, this is a terrible day. I just feel like I'm worthless as a diver, and now diving was a big part of my identity. I'm going to let my team down. Now I'm a bad teammate too. My coach is wasting his time, and now he could have been training somebody much better. Why am I doing this? And Eric would ask, did you make yourself better today? And even if it was a bad practice, there is something that improved. Yes. Okay. And sometimes the answer feels like no. And then he would ask, did you make someone else better today? Like, yeah, I gave a little tip to a teammate. You know, I made a joke that, you know, that made everybody laugh. And he was like, great, then it wasn't a bad day. And I think this is an example of what good reframing And he was like, great, then it wasn't a bad day. And I think this is an example of what good reframing looks like to say, okay, the goal wasn't to be great. It was to be better. The goal wasn't necessarily just to make myself better. It was also to make other people better. And I think those are the kinds of questions that seem to segment pretty well. I love that feedback because I think we all get stuck in those thought spirals. And again, not to demonize smartphones because they are wonderful tools, but I have to remember the time, I'm 48 years old, as of tomorrow, and I have to remember a time in which negative stuff was probably happening in the background, but I didn't hear about it because no one was texting it to me. So I'd find out at the end of the day when I still had time to do other things in the meantime. That said, I would also get negative experiences early in the day and then carry them throughout the entire day when nowadays you can get a positive text message that says, okay, it wasn't so bad or something like that. But I do think as it's probably becoming apparent about I do think, as is probably becoming apparent about, these channels of communication are either boons or disruptions to our positive psychology. It's clear that we're just like being bombarded all the time. So just as a practical question, what is your relationship to your phone?
Tool: Phone & “To Don’t” List; Writing Ideas (01:36:16)
Do you set boundaries around your phone use or the types of communications and activities that you engage with on your phone? I do. So I think everyone I know has a to-do list. I also have a to-don't list. And on my to-don't list includes I don't scroll on social media and I don't pick up my phone past 9 p.m. And those two habits are enormously helpful, particularly the not scrolling. I pick up my phone when I have something to post or when I want to see what the comments are and then see if there's something interesting to learn or somebody that I want to respond to. And that becomes a really healthy boundary because I don't get stuck in one of these rabbit holes where all of a sudden two hours have gone by and I feel like I wasted my time. Where do you post or keep your to-do and your to-don't list? Do you keep them on your phone? No, it's a Word document on my computer. Okay. So you're still at the computer screen quite a bit each day? Yeah. Okay. I feel like that's where most of my good thinking and writing happens. Yeah, I carry a small notebook around with me now and write things down. I was just curious. where most of my good thinking and writing happens. Yeah. I carry a small notebook around with me now and write things down. I was just curious. Like one of these? Yeah. Well, like one of those. Yeah. Yeah. I try not to take notes on my phone ever. Right. Yeah. It can be problematic for me, especially with voice recognition now, because you just, it's hard to go back to that in a systematic way for me, but I'm a big believer in these things that, but for those listening and not watching but I'm a big believer in these things that, but for those listening and not watching, I'm holding up a pen. So it's like pencils work too. You've probably read some of the research also showing that you have a better memory for information when you take notes by hand than by keyboard. I didn't know that, but I'm very, very gratified to hear that. So the, and I suppose if you don't have a pen and you don't have a pencil handy, then you know, blood always works. Just kidding. I'm just kidding. Don't make yourself or anyone else bleed just to get an idea down. But it is amazing how sometimes we will have ideas while running, walking, showering, out and about, and then later try and recall those ideas. And if we don't write them down, they're gone. The great Joe Strummer from The Clash talked about the critical importance of carrying around a small notebook such as you did, because he said that the ideas fall down like rain. And if you catch them, they're there. But if you miss them, they truly won't be there later. And there's something kind of eerie about that. Like, why wouldn't we be able to remember these potential gems of ideas? All right. The geysering up of the mind. We had a guest on this podcast for a series, Dr. Paul Conti, psychiatrist, and he talked extensively about the unconscious mind. I mentioned this a little earlier, but one of the things that really stuck with me is he said, you know, everyone thinks that the prefrontal cortex and the frontal cortex is the supercomputer of the human brain. Sets context, planning, strategy, switching, et cetera, et cetera. Certainly it's valuable real estate to our intellect and all our abilities. But he said, you know, the real supercomputer is the unconscious mind. However, that unconscious mind that lives below the surface of our awareness is also what drives a lot of our unconscious defenses. So our so-called blind spots, so projection, projective identification, you know, I mean, these have, these can be both good or bad. They can serve us well or poorly and so on and so forth. But implied in this notion of the unconscious and blind spots is that we can't become aware of things unless we either do dedicated work to become aware of them, or even better would be dedicated work where we are asking other people to say, hey, listen, you have a blind spot and it is blank, blank, and blank. So tell us about the role of blind spots, maybe even some positive aspects of having blind spots, but more importantly, what we can do to fill in those blind spots and perhaps also explain how they can limit us.
Tool: Bias Blindspot, Reflected Best-Self Portrait (01:39:54)
And if you have any examples from the research where people overcoming their blind spots has benefited them, that would be amazing. Yeah. Wow, there's a lot there. Well, let me start by saying I think a lot of people think about blind spots in terms of heuristics and biases. So you think about confirmation bias, you think about the classic Kahneman-Tversky work that ended up winning Danny a Nobel Prize on the way in which our intuitive judgments often get anchored in the way we've done things before. Or we focus on the information that's salient and available to us and overlook, you know, less obvious information. I've come to think that the mother of all biases is what I think of as the I'm not biased bias. It's technically called the bias blind spot in Emily Pronin and colleagues' research. But the idea is that I think I'm more objective than other people. And you may have flaws in your thinking, Andrew, but me, I see things clearly and rationally. And I think that this is a really dangerous meta bias. Because the moment you believe you're not biased, you are incapable of seeing any of your biases. So in some of the research on the bias blind spot, you see that people who score high in cognitive ability tests, so high IQ, are actually more likely to fall victim to the I'm not biased bias because they've been reinforced for a lifetime that they're really smart and they're good at thinking. Oh, goodness. This explains some, we don't talk about current events on this podcast much, but this explains some current events of people that were told their entire careers that they are perfect or near perfect. And circumstances eventually came to, you know, slam them hard into the concrete on that one. Or in some cases it hasn't happened yet, but we watch them hurtling toward earth. So I worry a lot about that. So I think the beginning of, you know, of seeing any blind spot is recognizing that we all have blind spots as part of being human. I think that the brighter side of that is that we're not just blind to weaknesses, we're also blind to our strengths. So Jane Dutton and Laura Morgan Roberts and colleagues did some research on the reflected best self portrait. This is one of my favorite exercises to do in the classroom, but also to do in workplaces. Sometimes even people end up doing it with their kids at home. The idea is that you do have strengths that you're not that aware of. They may be things that come naturally to you that you don't even realize are hard for other people. They may be things that are struggles for you. And so you think it's hard to do, and therefore I'm bad at it. But other people watch you do it and realize you're actually quite good at it. So you need other people to hold up a mirror to see what these invisible strengths are. So the way the Reflected Best Self exercise works is you're asked to contact 10 to 20 people who know you well in different walks of life. It might be a family member, a couple of friends, some colleagues. And then you ask them to tell a story about a time when you were at your best. And you collect these stories. It's the most exciting week of email you will ever get. 20 notes, let me tell you how great you are. But what's key, this goes back to our discussion of feedback earlier, is they're really specific about a moment when you were at your best. And then your job is to collect all the stories and do the pattern recognition exercise and ask what are the common themes that I've seen through these stories? And it's a really powerful and vivid way of getting a sense of what are those strengths. And it's not surprising that in some of the research when people go through this process, they end up with much more clarity, not only about what they're good at and where their potential lies, but also how do I, like what do those situations have in common where I was able to use my strengths and how do I get myself in those situations more often? How do I create those situations more often? I'll give you a personal example on this. So I got a bunch of feedback that I was good at helping other people see their strengths. And I thought, okay, I don't feel like I have enough opportunities to use that strength in my daily life. So what am I going to do about this? And I ended up flipping the exercise upside down. And I picked a hundred people who really mattered to me. And I wrote a story to each of them about a time when they were at their best. And there's no reason I can't, I can't make this part of my day. It was probably one of the best weeks of my life. It was better than getting the stories, was giving them. And I got these notes back from people saying, I didn't realize, I don't even remember that thing that happened. But I think for me it was an example of saying, okay, I've always enjoyed trying to bring out the best in others. I don't feel like at the time I was a first-year doctoral student. I didn't feel like I had anything to contribute to others. I'm trying to learn how to understand this field and do a worthwhile study and write a paper. I'm not teaching yet. I have no value to add. And getting this feedback, like, oh, you're somebody who helps other people see their potential. I'm like, all right, let me take some people that I already recognize really amazing things in, and let me just tell them that. And it took me about a week to write the 100 emails. And I can't think of a week I've spent better. Wow. It's so interesting that you flipped the process on its head a bit, or a lot, and that ended up being the reward. Do you think you learned anything about, given that it was early in your academic career, do you think you learned anything about your particular talent or desire to do what you do now?
Helping Others, Synthesizing Information (01:45:36)
I mean, so much of what you described seems to map well to what you do now. I mean, you could be, if you were to choose or have chosen just not just, but a laboratory scientist doing experiments. You're clearly still doing that with tremendous productivity, but you've also decided to tell the world about the information that you're gathering and the work of a lot of other people as well. I guess I feel a kinship here because we both do this. It's much more interesting to cite other people's work than talk about what you already know. It is, indeed. And it's fun to be able to weave one's understanding of the process into what are other people doing and know how hard it is to do really good experiments and be able to spot really good experiments. But did you learn in that early stage of your career that, like, I think I want to do this later? Because what you do now is it maps pretty well onto what you just described. I don't think it was, it wasn't crystallized at the time, but it was definitely one of those seeds that was planted that must have grown. Because I remember right after I got tenure, a wonderful colleague of mine asked if I would write a book with him. And I was so flattered. And I went in to talk to my undergrad research lab later that day. And I mentioned offhand, hey, I got this invite, I'm going to write this book. And they freaked out. Like, no, you cannot write somebody else's book. You have to write about your ideas first. Like, if you're going to write a book, write your own book. And I was very resistant because I love other people's ideas. I was like, no, I feel like what I do best, I think it was Boyer who wrote about the scholarship of discovery versus the scholarship of integration. And I never felt like I was a eureka, you know, blindingly, you know, original insight person. I felt like what I was good at was synthesizing ideas and, you know, kind of taking a bunch of, a bunch of pieces of cloth and sewing them into a quilt and allowing people to see the big picture in a way they hadn't before. And I felt like I could do that with a colleague who was already a successful author. And my students basically held me hostage. And they said, you've been doing this research for over a decade now, and you have a responsibility to share that outside your classroom. And it reminded me of that experience of saying, okay, there's something I see in other people. I want to share it with them. And maybe I could do that on a broader scale. So, yeah, I think there were definitely dots that connected there. When I was a master's student at Berkeley, there was a guy who's now moved to Michigan State, Mark Breedlove, who I hope to host on the podcast, actually does really interesting work on the biology of sexual differentiation. And- Mark, I think that's an invite if you're listening. Yeah, right. And he, it is indeed. And he said to me, he said, review articles, provided they are written by people who are credentialed in a given field, are cited at, you know, 100x any one particular paper. Now, at the time, I wasn't interested in impact factors. In fact, I've never paid any attention to impact factors. Their importance varies in different countries. And in the US, they play some role, more so in Europe. But I could care less about impact factor, frankly, because those metrics aren't what's going to carry you through the difficulty of designing and carrying out a hard experiment. You have to be intrinsically curious about the answer, right? You know this and I know this. But he basically said something that really supports your point, which is that ultimately the ability to synthesize information can feel really good. And he started talking about the feeling that he got from doing that. He's also a tremendous bench scientist as well. In any event, I'm so glad that you flipped that exercise on its head because now the world gets to benefit from you doing that for us all the time, because I realize now that much of what you do is to help people identify and erase their blind spots by, and I love your social media channels. And I noted on Instagram and I do scroll, but I scroll through and to your channel too. You know, you'll put up in short form content that really highlights the key importance of people embarking on strategies that they wouldn't reflexively take. I see that over and over again. It's like, we think that the best leaders do blank, but actually the research says they do exactly the opposite. And you have a vast kit of those. So along those lines, you know, what are some of the most common blind spots that you observe and that people could benefit from understanding and doing contrary action around as it relates to, let's say, interpersonal relations in the workplace or at home? And maybe we could seed this with a finding that you've also written about, which is that, you know, Maybe we could seed this with a finding that you've also written about, which is that people who have and exert a lot of proficiency and even control in their professional life will sometimes bring that to their relationship life, and that doesn't work.
Blind Spots & Hypothesis Testing
Modes of Thinking, Blind Spots & Assumptions (01:50:24)
The idea that being in charge and being confident is a great set of attributes, but it can really fail us in other domains. Can we weave that in with blind spots? Yeah, we can. So I think that, so one of the things I found over the past few years is that, and this was inspired by a Phil Tetlock framework, a lot of us spend a lot of our time thinking like preachers, prosecutors, or politicians. Preachers, prosecutors, politicians. Yeah, so you can think about these as three mental modes that even if you've never worked in any of these careers, you will watch your thinking colored by at least one of them more often than you would like. So in preacher mode, you're basically proselytizing your own views. And, I mean, Andrew, in some situations I think of you as a highly effective professional debunker of preachers of certain kinds of snake oil when it comes to health and biology. Sometimes you take that too far and people might accuse you of being a prosecutor, where you're attacking other people's views. And then the third mode, politician mode, is basically you don't even bother to listen to people unless they already agree with your views. What I think is interesting is these modes of thinking are adaptive in certain roles. So preachers make great salespeople. They're often visionary leaders. Prosecutors are often highly effective scientists. We excel at criticizing other people's work and finding what's wrong with it. Politicians are great at currying favor. They do a lot of lobbying. They win approval. The problem is that all of these modes stop you from questioning your own assumptions and beliefs. So I'll tell you, my biggest vice is prosecutor mode. I've been called a logic bully. My wife had to explain to me that was not a compliment. Oh, my goodness. I mean, I know you've experienced this too. If I feel confident that there's strong evidence that somebody is wrong, I believe it's my moral responsibility to correct them. And that never goes well. Amazing. I won't reflect on my own experience. I'll just say yes and yes. I won't reflect on my own experience. I'll just say yes and yes. Right. The logic word ninja mode is one that I think we're trained in as academics. We are. And that, and, you know, or if you're a lawyer or, you know, or many other professions as well. And I think it holds value and it can be very effective in certain domains, but less effective in certain domains, but less effective in other domains. Yes. And I think part of the problem is, you know, when I actually, whether you're preaching, prosecuting or politicking, excuse me, or politicking, you look like you're not open because you've already, in all cases, you think you're right and other people are wrong. And so that makes it really hard for other people to reason with you, to disagree thoughtfully with you. So my favorite alternative, and this is at the heart of what you do for a living and for fun, is thinking like a scientist. And when I say thinking like a scientist, I do not mean that you need to buy a microscope or invest in a telescope. What I mean is, as you model so effectively, a good scientist has the humility to know what they don't know and the curiosity to constantly seek out new knowledge. There have been multiple experiments showing that when people are taught to think like scientists, their judgment improves and so do their decisions. And I think a lot of that stems from when you go into scientist mode, you realize that all of your opinions are just hypotheses waiting to be tested. All of your decisions are experiments. And so you're like, well, I'm not trying to prove that I'm right. I'm trying to find out if I might be wrong. And then if I find out I am wrong, it's easier to pivot. And instead of being really invested in being right, I can try to get it right. And I think in some ways, that's the meta message that I'm trying to communicate to people with my work is assumptions are meant to be pressure tested. They're meant to be questioned and challenged. If you're not open to rethinking your views, then you basically turn thinking into a religion. I don't know about you, but I prefer to base my views on good data as opposed to blind faith. I think that's been a huge part of your contribution in the last three or so years to public discourses. You've helped people think more scientifically and talk more scientifically about their daily habits and behaviors. And I guess my big question is, how do we help people do that more often, even in domains where they don't have access to scientific knowledge and they don't read journals? First of all, thanks for the kind words of feedback. I think my goal is always to identify who's coming to the podcast for health tools and protocols and hopefully teach them some science and scientific thinking. And for those that are coming to the podcast for science and scientific thinking, hopefully they get some health tools and protocols also. But because I fell in love with science for the exact reason that you're describing, which is that I grew up in a family that was very divided politically along religious lines, along essentially every line of like what foods to eat, what was healthy, what wasn't. And the only way I could reconcile these very frankly polarized views was to embark on the scientific method, pose a hypothesis, and then try and disprove one's hypothesis. And some things get through the filter and it's a constant learning. So I should just ask when you teach people how to be a scientist in order to try and overcome some of their blind spots and be better thinkers, better, meaning it serves themselves and the people around them better.
Thinking Like a Scientist: Hypothesis-Testing & Discourse, Social Media (01:56:10)
Is that teaching them what a hypothesis is? That a hypothesis is not a question, it's sort of a, you wager on an idea with the understanding that you very well could be wrong, and then you try and disprove that idea. Is that sort of the crux of what in these experiments is you're describing as teaching people how to be scientists? Like if they just do that, then they're going to benefit. I think that's at the very heart of the lens, is I want to just double click on the idea of disproving your hypothesis. Most people live in a land of confirmation bias where they're basically just looking for support for their preexisting beliefs. That's right. They're click foraging. We all do this, by the way. I'm not criticizing here. We all will have an idea, and then we will click forage online to support the idea that we disagree with them, they disagree with us. Ah, here's somebody I agree with and that agrees with me. I think, and do you think this has roots in our, you know, in the neural circuit underpinnings of just wanting to have affiliation, that affiliation feels good. Yeah. Having people that are like us, knowing that we're kind of protected in that. Yeah, I think that's a big part of it. I think one of the reasons that we encase ourselves in echo chambers and hide in filter bubbles is there's a strong evolutionary pressure to avoid social exclusion. And so, you know, it's not just the, you know, being drawn to affiliation. It's also, I really want, I'm afraid of being excommunicated from my group. And if I challenge the orthodoxy of the community that I belong to, I might be an outcast. And I don't think, I don't think every day people think through that logic, but I think there's a, there'sseated, visceral tendency to avoid that. And, you know, I think when we think about teaching people to see their blind spots more clearly, a lot of that is recognizing it's hard to do that on your own. Because by definition, your blind spots are invisible to you, and so this is why other people's input is so important. invisible to you. And so this is why other people's input is so important. And I think, you know, I'm, I know this makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but I think everybody on social media should follow people that they disagree with, but not just for the sake of it. You want people who reach different conclusions from you, but where you respect the integrity of their thought process. Those are the people who really stretch your thinking. And I think that's what we were trained to do. Um, it's what I was trained to do as a social scientist is to listen to the ideas that made me think hard, not just the ones that made me feel good, and to surround myself with people who challenged my thought process, not just the ones who validated my conclusions. And I think a lot of people hear that message and they're like, no, but I don't want to let that awful perspective into my world. I'm like, no, you want to be more nuanced in saying, who are the people where before I knew what their answer was, I would be impressed with the depth and the thoroughness of their reflection and their analysis. I should be following those people and learning from them regardless of the hypotheses that they generate and the results that they share. I'm so glad that you mentioned the importance of following people that you disagree with. I think one thing that we have to highlight, and I'm hoping will maybe even emerge from this conversation, is that follows are not endorsements. And this is actually a real problem. I mean, there are academics who have lost their jobs, not necessarily for following certain accounts, but for commenting on certain comment threads, maybe even a like is a slightly different category because it's, as the name suggests, it's a like, it sounds like, and it's thought of as a vote of approval of what's there. But when one's options are just, you know, a heart, a follow or no heart, no follow. You know, I was a big fan of the thumbs up, thumbs down. I kind of like the thumbs up, thumbs down, because at least you have an option to dissent without getting into online comment battles and things of that sort. But listen, I've had people ask me, why do you follow so-and-so? Because followers are also seen as a sign of support because you're adding followers and presumably in the algorithm raising prominence to a channel. But I'm right there with you. I follow lots of accounts of people who I fundamentally disagree with, but I'm trying to learn. And I'm also trying to understand what their capture points are, like why people find them so intriguing. Anyway, I'm a learner. I'm a forager like you. I'm in the same boat. And every once in a while, I think it's stunning to me. I don't know if you've ever looked at your Instagram statistics, but a colleague of mine actually showed me. I was like, I didn't realize you could look at the effect of each post on follows and unfollows. Oh, I didn't realize that. And, you know, I think my typical ratio might be two or three to one for a post. So, you know, I'm gaining two or three followers to every one that I lose. The idea that I could post anything that would cause someone to unfollow me, like if I said something interesting enough that you thought I was worth following, how could one post change your mind about that? I think you're too focused on what I think and maybe not paying attention to how I think was my first reaction to that. And then my second thought was, well, maybe what's happening here is people show up and they don't realize the foundation of evidence behind the total body of work. And so one post strikes them wrong and they think this person is not credible or they think that this person has lost sight of what rigorous science is. rigorous science is. I wonder if you've had that experience too of, I think I make the mistake of taking for granted that anybody who followed me knows that if I post something, I think it's worth thinking about and it's been carefully studied. And I didn't have a dog in the fight. I read this research and said, this cleared the bar, not only of an academic journal, but I read the methods and I found them sound enough that we ought to be discussing this idea. Have you had that experience and said, this cleared the bar, not only of an academic journal, but I read the methods and I found them sound enough that we ought to be discussing this idea. Have you had that experience too? I certainly have. And I should say that, you know, I was weaned in an academic culture, three separate mentors, very different styles, all of whom were excellent mentors, but all of whom taught me that, you know, there are phenomenal papers where every bit of information in the paper and indeed how it's written from start to finish is just watertight and incredible. And there are other papers that are less watertight, but occasionally there will be papers where one data point in a figure is intriguing enough to consider following that scent trail in your own work. Even if the rest of the paper is kind of eh, I mean, one data point. Now, that doesn't mean taking one data point and casting it out to millions of people on social media as an actionable item is valid. That's certainly not what I'm saying. But what I do realize, and I'm realizing again now after what you just said, is that indeed people don't know the context in which, like what filters are we working with before we bring things forward? And I think that, you know, my belief is that if it's grounded firmly in the scientific method, that that's the best starting place. We were talking about that earlier. And I also understand that scientists differ tremendously in how they look at even the same data in the same paper. So there is no governing body that says, okay, this paper means blank. The authors have their interpretation. The students have their interpretation. In fact, the course I used to teach to undergraduates, which grew into a very large course, we would learn to ask four questions. What's the question that the authors were asking? Sometimes a sub-question. What methods did they use? What did they find? And then what did they conclude? And does it relate back to the original question? And that simple breaking out of four questions of studies is essentially what I do for all studies. But I have my way of doing it, and it's going to differ from the way that other people do it. Social media, I think what's interesting is that But I have my way of doing it and it's going to differ from the way that other people do it. Social media, I think what's interesting is that I think there's always going to be a core following of a given person, like your followers, that they're going to trust, you know, not necessarily across the board, but there's a general acceptance of ideas coming through. I think that on social media, it's hard to strike a balance between setting the whole context and the actionable takeaways. I get criticized a lot for not being concise enough and I agree, but I also get criticized for putting things, taking things out of context. So- 06.00 It's such a tightrope walk. 06.00 It's a tightrope walk and it's always going to be a tightrope walk. And so I'm going to just, you know, keep going and I know you will too. And listen, there's some kids out there, it's surely not going to be one that are going to take our jobs eventually. And listen, there's some kids out there, surely not going to be, that are going to take our jobs eventually. And we'll find a way to do it much better. Who knows, through AI or something like that. Might be robots. I feel like this is an appropriate place to ask about something else, since we're talking about sort of perception of others and gleaning information, overcoming blind spots.
Tool: Authenticity, Sincerity & Etiquette, “Snapshot” & Online Presence (02:05:15)
It's something that you've written about some years ago now, I guess it would be almost eight years ago now, about authenticity. You know, the word authenticity is such a- Mind field. It's such a mind field. I was going to say it has such a positive gravitational pull, like, oh, they're really authentic as opposed to, what's the opposite of authentic? Fake, right? But I think we could all learn to draw some lines between authenticity and oversharing, right? How do we gauge authenticity? And we can refer people to that article you wrote some years ago. I think you may have written it differently to be written today, but you talked in that article about somebody who essentially decided to tell everyone that he worked with all the things that he was interested in doing with them, relating to them, and it did not serve him well. So that's authenticity. Or them. Right. And so then there's this notion of benevolent deception in order to preserve relationship. And importantly, it brought about a word that we don't hear about very often, but that I rather like, which is etiquette. So for social media, by the way, I apply classroom rules. I'll tolerate any comment in the comment section, but not the sort of comment that I wouldn't tolerate in a classroom. If you start insulting other – you can insult me. But if you want to insult other people, I'm not going to tolerate that. So that's where I draw the line, classroom rules. There's an etiquette. And I think that etiquette is important. So how do we balance authenticity with etiquette and also with preserving one's public life or private life, right? Authenticity at home seems important. or private life, right? Authenticity at home seems important. You could be your complete self at home, except when you want to physically hit your sister or brother because they ate your ice cream. That's not the right kind of authenticity. No, no, it isn't. I think, well, I think it's such a rich and complicated topic. I think, first thing is, I don't want people to be disingenuous ever. But I have a real problem with people saying as an excuse for disrespectful behavior, well, I was just being myself. I think David Sedaris said, yes, but yourself is an asshole. So good. So good. And I think what people forget is that we all have multiple selves, right? I mean, you've known this your whole career. We all have multiple identities. We also could think about yourself as your thoughts, your emotions, your values, your personality. So which facet of yourself are you trying to be true to? your personality. So which facet of yourself are you trying to be true to? I would argue that authenticity without boundaries is careless. Authenticity without empathy is selfish. And part of being authentic is caring about other people's values. That should be one of your values. So what that means concretely is I don't think we should worry about being authentic to what we're thinking and feeling in any given moment. I think what we want to ask is what I'm about to do or say consistent with my principles. And sometimes that means you will be false to your personality in order to be true to your values. Sometimes that means you will feel like you're not honoring your thought or your emotion in the moment. But you're doing that with a broader view toward who is the person that I want to be. There was a cultural critic, Lionel Trilling, who wrote about the idea of sincerity as opposed to authenticity. And I really like this distinction. He said, when you try to think about being authentic, you're trying to bring the inside out. And to your point, Andrew, that's not always appropriate or effective. He said, sincerity is a little bit more about bringing the outside in. So pay attention to the person you claim to be and then try to become that person. And that was a little bit of an aha moment for me. I realized there are all these people who say, well, you should walk your talk. And I think that's good advice. I might even go a step further and say, maybe you should only talk it if you're already walking it. Maybe. Maybe that would help us avoid hypocrisy. But I think the fundamental message here is that we all could be authentic to one part of ourselves and inauthentic to another part. And I think the most important part is to ask, what do I stand for? And if what I'm about to communicate is not consistent with that, then maybe, maybe I could self-censor. Such great advice. And I suppose one has to wonder about the role of emotional states. I think there are career-ending mistakes that people make in a moment, especially online nowadays. And by the way, this is not just for people who are already established in their career. I've heard stories, and there seem to be more and more of these in the news of, for instance, you know, videos of things that people said some years earlier, getting them ejected from college. A guest on Lex Friedman's podcast who works in the securities world said that one of the lessons that he teaches his kids is to not film themselves doing bad things. And, of course, also not to do bad things. But in general, to just not film themselves doing anything because of his understanding of the risk of doing that. And we don't want to create a paranoia, but gosh, I mean, who you are when you're 14 is a very different person than who you are when you're 27 and when you're 50. So I hope so. So, you know, and so, yeah, I think, you know, balancing authenticity across the lifespan, and we're expecting young minds to do this, and clearly older minds can't do it either. I mean, this is a pretty well-known case of a chair of a major – the major psychiatry department. We won't name the university, but basically lost his job for a single tweet. He just was not being thoughtful. In fact, he was being really, like, numb to other people and lost his job. And I think he – I don't know him. And it was obvious why he lost it. I don't think it was debatable. But, gosh, you think about somebody who's a chair of psychiatry, which means they're a psychiatrist, which means they're trained to think about thinking. And there you go. It's amazing how common this is. And I think one of the things that's fascinating to me is, I guess this goes back to something we were talking about a moment ago, but I think that when we communicate, we have access to the sum total of all of our thoughts and everything we've ever said that we can remember. the sum total of all of our thoughts and everything we've ever, ever said that we can remember. And we forget that other people only have a snapshot. And so one of the questions I like to ask is if this was the only post that somebody saw of mine, would I be proud of it? Would it communicate who I am and who I aspire to be? Oh, that's so good. If the answer is no, maybe I should pause before I put that out there. That is excellent advice. If it were the only post, like your one and only representing you, oh, fantastic. Now, that could be paralyzing. If you're a perfectionist, you'll never post. But I think for somebody who's posting regularly, it's a good filter to just ask, am I being thoughtful enough? So good. I won't add anything to that. Just say, I'll just say so, so good. Let's talk about potential.
Realizing Potential: Motivation, Opportunity & Process (02:12:49)
I was in junior high school and I remember having a social studies teacher who she just would go on and on about potential. She had a special program after school. You could get involved, potential, potential, potential. And we hear about this, you know, we have untapped potential. You hear we're only operating at 40% of our abilities. You know, people will say that. The implication is that we have reservoirs of potential that we're just not accessing because we're not doing the right things, thinking the right things. I know you've now researched this topic extensively. You have a new book on this topic. Tell us about potential. Like, do we all have huge reservoirs of potential that we are not accessing? And, of course, I and everyone else wants to know how can we access those. But maybe you could also tell us some of the myths around potential. And tell us about potential. Such a sticky topic for all the right reasons. Thank you. It's one of those things where you've had this experience, I'm sure, many times where you start thinking and talking about a topic and you realize it's been your whole life, but you didn't see it until then. And I feel that way about potential. I think that I've been passionate about helping people achieve their potential as long as I can remember. I think every goal I've ever set has been about stretching my potential in one way or another, or at least realizing it. And what I've become so struck by as I've studied this topic is we all have hidden potential, but we don't know how to unlock it. So why do we often underestimate our own potential? We judge ourselves by our starting abilities. And this is more common for people with fixed mindsets, but even people with growth mindsets. You try a new skill, it doesn't go well, and you think, this is not for me. I'm not cut out for this. And then it gets worse when other people also, you know, you're not just underestimating yourself. You're also being underestimated by others. Other people watch you and say, yeah, you don't have the, you know, you're not a prodigy. You're not a natural. You don't have the talent that it takes. And I think the big myth there is that raw talent is the most important driver of how high people climb. It's not. Motivation and opportunity matter more than raw ability for growth. Motivation and opportunity matter more than raw ability for growth. Motivation and opportunity. Yeah. Obviously, everybody starts at a different point. But how close you come to your potential is much more about the character skills you cultivate to improve and improving over time. And then whether you're in a situation where you have access to the knowledge that you need and the tools you need to keep growing. And so a concrete example of this for me is when I started diving, I was way too late. I picked it up as a teenager. A lot of the elite divers in the world start by five. 05.00 S1 45.00 Goodness. 05.00 And actually, in China, they're handpicked for body type and sent to a version of diving boarding school where they don't even teach kids how to swim. They tie a rope around them so that they can just pull them back after they hit the water in the deep end. What part of their body do they tie a rope around? I think it's their waist. So they're diving with a rope so that when they get in the water, they're not wasting any energy. They're just being dragged through the water and out. That's my understanding of it. Wow. But brisbane, oh, they have to walk, they have to climb. Yeah. Okay, so there are a bunch of other things they have to do. Yeah, but the swimming apparently is very secondary. Anyway, so I started really late, and I lacked most of the things that you would want as a diver. I couldn't touch my toes without bending my knees. My teammates called me Frankenstein because I was so stiff when I walked. So lacking the flexibility, I have no rhythm. My coach brought a metronome to practice one day, and I couldn't even keep the beat. So, you know, you think about diving as a sport of grace, nope. And then I also couldn't jump jump and I couldn't twist either. And it's like you're missing the explosive power. You don't have the athleticism. And I think if I had just looked at those abilities, I had no business being a diver. And in fact, no business being an athlete. I'd already been cut from the middle school basketball team three times. I didn't make the high school soccer team. Those were the two sports I had poured a decade into. This is going nowhere. Eric, just the most incredible coach I could ever imagine. He said to me on the first day of practice, he said, you know, yes, you're missing all these things. But I believe if you pour yourself into this sport, that you could be a state finalist by the time you finish high school. And he saw more potential in me than I saw in myself, and that just lit a fire under me. And, you know, what that translated into is a lot of the behaviors that you and I both studied, you know, setting specific difficult goals for I want to learn these dives that seem out of reach. For, you know, I want to increase my score over the next three meets by 10 points. For I want to learn how to, you know, all my limitations notwithstanding, one thing that I can master that I have total control over is how clean I go into the water. I can get a rip entry so that there's no splash, and that's the most important part of a dive. I can get a rip entry so that there's no splash, and that's the most important part of a dive. And one of the greatest compliments I ever got as a diver was I came out of a meet in – it was a couple years in. I think I was maybe a junior in high school. And one of the judges turned to Eric and said, all he can do is rip. And Eric said, so? I was like, yes! It's awesome. It's almost like saying all he can do is win, you know? Yeah, it was a great backhanded compliment. But Eric was like, listen, he made the dive. It has a degree of difficulty. Maybe he didn't jump as high as he wanted. Maybe his tuck wasn't as tight as he wanted. But at the end of the day, that dive disappeared straight up and down into the water. You can't not give that a seven. And that ended up serving me really well. And so I think the broader lesson here for me was Eric said to me, actually last year, I never thought about this. He said, I never got close to even qualifying for Olympic trials. I did not have the talent to be that good, but I got way better than I ever expected. And Eric said to me, he said, looking back, he said, you got further with less talent than any diver I've ever coached. And that was so meaningful to me. And what it reminded me was my proudest accomplishments were not in the areas where I started out with the most talent. They were in the areas where I had overcome the most obstacles. And I think that to me is really what drives people around potential is to say it's not performance that's motivating. It's a sense of progress. I love that story. And I couldn't agree more. I mean, I think, Lord knows my favorite topic in science is the course I performed, at least after my freshman year, which was abysmal, leased well in the phase when I was doing well. What class was it? Neural development. I now teach neural development. I'm sorry, what? Neural development. How bad were you at it at first? Okay, well, I have to put it in context. My high school and freshman year of college were abysmal, right? I had basically no place being there. I can only thank my high school girlfriend for being so wonderful that I followed her off to college and ended up there. Left after my freshman year, came back. And then at that point, it was like a step function. I worked out of fear and excitement and love of the material. I was a straight A student thereafter. But in my senior year, excuse me, I took a course in neural development, which was extremely challenging. And I got a B plus. And that B plus still gets me, you know, but it's a topic that I love the most. It's what I did my graduate thesis on. It's what I teach at Stanford among other topics. And I like to think now I have, I guess, humility side considerable mastery over the material, but it's because I didn't do as well as I would have liked. And I applied myself so much. And I think that it just didn't come naturally to me. And then eventually over time you kind of get it or you get it. So it's, but it's still my favorite topic because it was that friction point, right? It's the ratcheting through. And there's something, I don't know, that's just so intrinsically satisfying to me. I used to watch my bulldog, Mastiff Costello, like chewing on a bone or when he was on a brick, because, you know, he had a kind of a Homer Simpson brain about his object choice to chew on. And he just looked like he was in just total bliss. It was like this effort combined with some intrinsic pleasure of the process. And so I think that when one is ratcheting through something that's hard, it feels so good that it's almost better than the outcome. Like it is better than the outcome. Like it is better than the outcome. I think it is. And, you know, it's fascinating because this is why I'm always bothered by people saying play to your strengths. Because if you do that, you will gravitate toward the things that come naturally to you. And you're going to miss out on the, very often the skill that was hard for you to learn, to your point, is one that you end up with greater mastery over because you had to put in the extra effort and you end up deriving more satisfaction out of the fact that this was really tough and I figured it out. Implicit in your story, and maybe partially explicit in some parts, when I was looking at the character skills that help people realize their potential and really fuel unexpected growth.
Skills to Realize Potential, Perfectionism (02:21:53)
I ended up finding three that I think are under-discussed and well-supported by science. I think that basically if you want to reach your potential or achieve more than you think you're capable of, we're looking at becoming a creature of discomfort and embracing things that are unpleasant or awkward for you. That would be the first thing. The second is being a sponge and soaking up new information and also filtering out what might not be useful. And then the third is being an imperfectionist, which is knowing when to aim for excellence and when to settle for good. And I hear all of those themes in your story. That was obviously uncomfortable. You got to be plus, you don't want to do any more neural development. Not at all. It was so frustrating and so exciting to me at the same time. And then I went, everything I did in the five or seven years that followed was all about learning more about this topic because it wasn't about performing well or proving myself. I just, I love the material so much more because of how challenging it was. And I'm grateful to you, Ben Reese, the professor at UC Santa Barbara, incredible neuroanatomist and teacher of neural development and laboratory scientist, because I think had I gotten an A, I don't know that I would have fallen in love with it in the same way. Isn't that weird? You wouldn't have had to work at it to discover what was fun about it, I imagine. No, absolutely. And it's still one of my favorite topics to teach and learn about. So you mentioned discomfort being a sponge slash filter, if I got that right. And an imperfectionist. Yeah, tell me more about the imperfectionist piece, because I feel like I've had students in my lab and I've known people in other domains of life that they're absolutely paranoid about shipping something out for the world to see it. And of course, like no one wants to put stuff out into the world that isn't right, and God forbid could be wrong, or that's going to embarrass us. So you can understand why people are perfectionists, but I never really understood the extreme perfectionists. Like, how do they ever do anything? And are they happy people? Because I can't imagine that they are. No, I mean, this is, so Thomas Curran, I think is the world's leading psychologist studying perfectionism. And if you look at his meta-analyses, perfectionism is a recipe for burnout and depression and anxiety because you're constantly comparing yourself to an ideal that's unachievable. Perfectionists do get better grades in school slightly, but they don't do any better at work than their peers because I think in school you have a predictable outcome. You have a general sense of what's going to be on a test and if you study hard enough you can come closer to the A+. Whereas at work performance is much more nebulous. And so what happens to perfectionists a lot of times is they end up optimizing the things that are predictable and controllable and then you know sort of missing the forest and the trees. And I think the, you know, the, the antidotes, um, as far as I know, really have to do with calibration. So, you know, I talked earlier about, um, how I like to ask for a zero to 10 to find out, you know, am I in the ballpark or not? Well, one of my biggest liabilities as a diver was I was never satisfied with my score. And one day Eric said to me, you know, you hear Olympic judges talk about or commentators talk about the perfect 10. That's a misnomer. If you look at the diving rule book, a 10 is for excellence, not for perfection. There's no such thing as a flawless dive. I can look at dives that have gotten straight 10s and point out 19 things that were wrong with them, but they were excellent. And so then we had to define the standards of excellence. So what I have as a recovering perfectionist, somebody who just beat myself up constantly, in fact, I got, we did paper plate awards on my swim team. And one year I was given the, if only award. And there's a little cartoon of me and it says, if only I had pointed my left pinky toe, I would have gotten an eight and a half instead of an eight. And that was like the story of my diving career. And I did not want to be that person anymore. And so one of the things I've learned to do is to, when I start anything, you know, if I sit down to write a book, I'm aiming for a nine. And the reason for that is I'm going to pour a couple years of, you know, my work life into this topic. You know, hopefully a lot of people are going to read it. And I want to make sure it's truly the best work I can produce. Social media posts, I'm okay with a seven. If I'm only shooting for a nine, I'm not going to post very often. Because your nine, your ceiling for nine, or your threshold for nine is so exceedingly high. And I want it to keep getting higher over time. So my idea of a nine today is much more challenging than it was 10 years ago. And I think this is what people probably don't do enough, especially if you're an extreme perfectionist, is they don't realize, okay, let me figure out how important this task is. And then for this task, a six is sufficient so that then I can pour my energy into pulling the seven and a half toward a nine where it really matters. And inevitably, if you don't do that, what you will do is you will get a bunch of nines on things that are completely trivial. I went to a high school where we had a couple of kids get perfect on the SAT. They would have a big, like, centerfold list of all the early admissions to all the fancy Ivy League schools. Definitely was not on that list. I don't even know if I, yeah, I don't even know if I was anywhere near that list. Probably not. And some of them have gone on to have terrific lives and seem pretty happy. And I know a number of them and I'm in contact with them. And I think for some of them that performed exceedingly well on standardized tests early on, I hear a bit more dismay in their current life. Not all, but is there, I have to imagine there are data on sort of early high performance being a seed for challenges later on.
Tool: Early Success & Performance Cycle, “Failure Budget” (02:27:52)
Obviously, you don't want the opposite. What I guess they refer to now is a complete failure to launch, people not meeting the milestones towards being self-sufficient adults. But what are some of the dangers of success when thinking about realizing one's larger potential? Oh, that's such an interesting question. I think the data on this go both ways. Some early success is a motivator. It builds the kind of momentum you were talking about earlier. There's goal setting researchers like Locke and Latham have talked about the high performance cycle where you hit a goal and then that builds your confidence and then you set a more ambitious goal and then you reach it and there's this upward spiral over time. But there's also a mountain of evidence that achieving your goals can make you complacent. And sometimes it's called the fat cat syndrome where you end up resting on your laurels. And then there are also competency traps where you get good at something and then you keep doing it the way you've always done it and you don't realize the world has changed around you. I'm allergic to the idea of best practices. The moment you call a practice best, you've created an illusion that you're done. And the moment, think about pre-COVID, a lot of companies had really what they thought were effective models for collaboration. And all of a sudden, their best practices are not feasible because everybody's working remotely. And they've got to throw that out the window and look for better practices for an evolved world. So I think those are the things I worry about most with early success. I think that one of the things I would love to see more people do when it comes to reaching potential is to figure out what does my failure budget look like? So I'll tell you my experience on this. It started, I wrote a first book, gave a TED talk, and pretty soon felt like I was spending 80% of my time saying things I already knew. And I was getting typecast. I'm like, I'm not learning and growing, but I'm also not, I don't feel like I'm contributing new knowledge to the world. What am I going to do about that? And 2018 rolls around and I'm like, you know what this, I'm going to start a podcast and that will be my, you know, my learning mechanism. And I didn't know if it was going to work. I didn't know how the medium would work for me. I didn't know if people were going to want to listen to my voice. I certainly don't. Maybe Morgan Freeman likes the sound of his own voice. I like listening to your podcast. Thank you. I also enjoy listening to yours. But I think everybody hates the sound of their voice. I just wasn't sure for a lot of reasons whether it was going to work. And then I thought about it and I realized, well, all of the pivotal moments in my career have come from taking a risk. And I thought that I needed to build the confidence in order to do it. And I was reflecting on goal setting research as one does, realized, you know, like the confidence is going to come through doing it. And so let me try it. And I guess what I took away was if I don't, if I never fail, it means I'm not challenging myself. I'm not embracing discomfort. I'm not being enough of an imperfectionist. So I said, I actually set a goal that I would start at least one project every year that didn't succeed. And let's be clear, I'm not aiming for failure. What I'm doing is creating an acceptable zone of failure to know that that's going to motivate some risk-taking and some experimentation and hopefully some growth. And I know it's hard for a lot of people to do this in their lives, especially if you have a super demanding boss. But I think we're all better off from a growth and potential standpoint. If you succeed on 90% of your projects, that should be a hugely successful year. If you succeed on 100%, I think you're aiming too low. What are some of the projects that you are currently spinning in the back of your mind that would be fun, but if you're willing to share, that for you still strike a little bit of an anxiety chord, like, oh no, like, are you, I don't know, are you a musician?
Future & Potential
Future Projects, Complex Issues & Challenging Ideas (02:31:56)
05.00 Not at all. Can't carry a tune. Can't keep a beat. 05.00 Are you thinking about becoming a musician or exploring playing music? I mean, the reason I ask it that way is how far into your discomfort zone do you reach in order to challenge yourself? Because I think that everyone needs to have thresholds. There are a lot of things that, yeah, I wish I could play a musical instrument, frankly, but I'm not that motivated to do it. Mostly because I enjoy hearing other people play music so much that I'm perfectly happy. I'm sated. Yeah, there's also enough good music out there you don't have create it. There's definitely a lot of great music. Yeah. So I think there's a micro and a macro version of this. So on the micro side, in the past year, I did this work-life podcast for five years where I was taking the core of my organizational psychology work and trying to take on a topic and make it interesting and useful to people. And then realizing I was feeling constrained just to take on a topic and make it interesting and useful to people. And then realizing I was feeling constrained just to focus on work. And as a psychologist, there's lots of other things I want to take on. And so we expanded into the second show, Rethinking. And I have some experiments I'm tempted to try, but I've been really hesitant to do them. So did you watch wrestling growing up ever? Professional wrestling? I did watch a little bit of it. And then for whatever reason, in the last year, my good friend Rick Rubin, who's, he's not obsessed, but he is a real devotee. He's a fan of professional wrestling. He had me watch some WWE, but even AEW, he was explaining that it's basically physical drama. He's explaining why it's so intriguing to him and so informative to him. And then I'm a big fan of a certain genre of music. And Lars Fredriksson from Rancid is a huge wrestling fan. So now I've got multiple people that I've come into contact with who are like telling me all this stuff about wrestling. So wrestling seems to be cropping up more and more. All right, so I don't know the first thing about wrestling. I think I caught it a few times as a kid. Likewise, it was Hulk Hogan and a few others passed across the screen. Macho man. Yeah. But the thing that I remember was loving the tag team matches where somebody would get overpowered and then they pull in somebody to help. I think it would be so interesting if there was a podcast where you take issues that people fundamentally disagree on and you start a debate and then somebody can tag in if they want to challenge an argument. And so instead of concentrating on the particular guests, you basically have a problem you're trying to get to the roots of and you're going to have all these people jump in and hopefully build toward a more insightful perspective on it. I have no idea if this is going to work. I'd really love to try it. And this is the first time I've spoken out loud about it because I'm like, I don't know that I want to see that crash and burn. And yet, why not? Like, what's the risk? I think it's so cool. It'd be fun, right? Yeah. What topics are you thinking about covering? Because I can think of some pretty controversial topics, but I want to know what the ones you're thinking about. Well, I mean, I literally just, I mean, I'm thinking out loud here, but one that I think on the controversial front that could be really rich is to think about policies for trans athletes in sports. That's a controversial topic. Hugely controversial, but also I've talked to some experts on this. I've talked to some trans athletes and the people who are deep in this do not know what they think the policy should be. And so I think actually hearing them talk and, you know, understanding the complexity of those issues and then, you know, maybe hammering out what's a policy you'd propose for schools? What would you want for, you know, for Olympic events? I just think that would be fascinating. And I'd love to, I'd love to moderate that discussion. Goodness. Maybe I wouldn't. I wouldn't. I don't want to wait into that one. I'm glad that would be fascinating. And I'd love to moderate that discussion. Oh, my goodness. Maybe I wouldn't. I wouldn't. I don't want to wade into that one. I'm glad you would. I wouldn't. That seems like one of the most barbed wire topics one could ever embark on, which is exactly why I'm going to put in my vote. You absolutely should do this podcast. I think it's an amazing idea. Actually, folks, put in the comments section on YouTube whether or not Adam should do this podcast and that topic in particular. I think it would be amazing because one thing that I keep coming back to in my own mind is that a lot of the controversies out there stem from the fact that we very often have individuals pitted against individuals. And there's so much lost in that. And I think about science science and going back to the scientific method where we have subfields pitted against subfields when you talk about a field, like there was huge controversy over the structure of DNA and it wasn't one individual against another. What you had are small groups, different camps, and there was some partial overlap. There's also, you know, if you read the double helix, there was also a lot of complicated behavior. Yeah. People entering romantic relationships just to glean information from the other side, you know, human beings not at their finest. But in any event, small panels arguing, competing, teams competing, I think is far more interesting and informative than individuals, you know, butting heads. I think so too. And I think, you know, another one that I think would be really interesting. I mean, I'm like, people always say great minds think alike. No, great minds challenge each other to think differently. And we just don't do enough of that. So I've been thinking a lot politically, like what if we brought together a bunch of people who are not ideologues, but are really interested in pragmatic policy solutions to rewrite the constitution if we were gonna build one today? You'd like to tackle big stuff. I just- No, I love it. I love it. It's a compliment. It's a compliment. I mean, what are the odds that- Like I said earlier, no weak sauce. No weak sauce. Like you just, you go right for it. I mean, these I mean, what are the odds? Like I said earlier, no weak sauce, no weak sauce. Like you just, you go right for it. I mean, listen, these are the issues that people are really activated by because these are really core issues. They get down to the autonomic nervous system. They're in the hypothalamus, as we say. But I don't think they should be. Like I look at these topics and think, I just want to get it right. I don't have a vested interest in what the they should be. Like, I look at these topics and think, I just want to get it right. I don't have a vested interest in what the model should be. I just know that even the wisest people of 250 years ago were not prepared to anticipate the world we live in today. And we ought to be constantly, I don't know, I don't think you should live in a world where you affirm your beliefs. I think the only way you learn is by continually evolving your beliefs. And so I guess I'm trying to figure out more ways to catalyze that around issues people care about. But I don't care about the issues. I care about the stretching of thinking and improving the way that the world works. Well, I'll tell you, if you decide to do this podcast with a tag team format, I love that you gleaned it from watching wrestling a couple of times around these very controversial issues. I promise you that will be one of the most popular and important podcasts on the planet Earth. It might be podcasts on other planets. I hear that there are galaxies far, far away. They may have podcasts too, may have had them for much longer than we have, but that's a winner. Well, maybe I'll try it as a little experiment on the rethinking feed and see if it's an unmitigated disaster. Well, you know where my vote lies. I appreciate that. So to go back to your question for a second, on the macro side, I've always thought it would be fun to try to write a sci-fi novel. And the question I'm wrestling with right now is, is that a good use of my time? There are great sci-fi writers out there. There aren't that many social scientists communicating about the topics that I do. And it feels like it might be, I don't know, this is, it might be too much of a diversion. Then again, according to your words, you had no talent in diving, but you exceeded all performance metrics by a considerable amount through motivation and opportunity. Did I get that right? I vote yes. I haven't read much sci-fi. Maybe I need to read more sci-fi. Are you a fan of sci-fi? I love sci-fi. It's one of my favorite ways to imagine a better world and also prevent a worse one from emerging. But I don't know, there's a part of me that thinks, all right, there's a, there's Rute Bernstein and colleagues did this, do you know this research on Nobel Prize winning scientists and what differentiates them from their peers?
Artistic Hobbies, Magicians (02:40:10)
No, but being the son of a physicist and having been surrounded by, just by circumstance, a number of Nobel Prize winners when I was a kid, young kid, I'm very curious to know what this research says. I mean, there are many themes you could glean from it, but the thing that really jumped out at me is the Nobel Prize winners are more likely to have artistic hobbies. Hmm. Feynman certainly did. Yep. I mean, there's a long list of them, but if you break it down in the data, it was they're twice as likely as their peers to play a musical instrument. They're seven times as likely to draw or paint. They're 12 times as likely to do poetry or fiction, creative writing. And get this, 22 times as likely as their peers, 22 to dance, act, or yes, perform as magicians. As a former magician, I was very excited about this right now. Well, I wasn't going to ask about magic, but let's talk about it. I was on vacation with, every year I take my sister to New York for her birthday and my birthday because our birthdays are close together. And we went and saw a magician mentalist by the name of Ossie Wind. Ossie, I think is the correct pronunciation. Who just like the last time I saw him, absolutely blew my mind. There's no way, it's not magic. Of course, I know it's not magic, but my understanding is that there are some things that he and other great mentalists and magicians do where they are not absolutely certain of the outcome. They're playing. It's probabilistic. And so there's a risk and a thrill for them, too, and that they're also creating memories and erasing memories. And that's something that I may host Asi on the podcast because he's very effective at creating memories and erasing memories. That's a lot of what he does. And he has tactics to do that. In any event, I wasn't going to ask about magic, but I know that you were a professional magician at one point in your life, and that you did this presumably because you enjoy doing it, but getting beyond the sort of pull the rabbit out of the hat or pick it or identify the card that the person picked out of the shuffled stack, what is it and what was it about magic that intrigues you? Does it inform anything about the work that you do now? It does. Yeah. I think when I started, I was 12 and it was just fun. And I was looking for a way to entertain other people and entertain myself in the process. And then it became a challenge. Can I learn this new skill and can I master this trick? I think the nerdiest thing I did in college was I started a magic club with David Kwong, who is a stellar magician and a cruciverbalist, as he calls it. Cruciverbalist. He does magic crossword puzzles, essentially, that I can't do it justice. You have to see it. It's unreal. And I watched him for our first performance together and realized one of us is going to make it as a magician and it's not me. He's outstanding. Anyway, the way it figures in my work now is I think so much of good science communication is misdirection. And it's the same skill I use as a magician. If I told you that the card you picked was about to disappear from the deck and appear on the window, you would not be nearly as intrigued as if it happened by surprise. And I think the same is true when we communicate knowledge. I think it's actually why so many of my posts, you flagged this earlier, so many of my posts start with, this thing is not what you think, it's actually this other thing. I think that, you know, challenging conventional wisdom, questioning assumptions is what surprises people and then leads them to think, either I have something to learn or, oh, no, I've got to put up a shield because my beliefs are being challenged or attacked. And I think the art form of magic was always about creating a surprise that would delight people, as opposed to leading people to feel like they were tricked or duped or manipulated. And so I think the challenge for me is to say, okay, I want to figure out what do we know from behavioral science, mostly focusing on psychology, because that's my core expertise. What do we know that's actually different from most intuition? And then how do I explain that in a way that surprises people but leads them to say, oh, that's so interesting, as opposed to that's wrong and then want to fight about it? It's almost as if you give them the experience of what you're trying to teach them so that the, oh, that's wrong, can't be the available response. Yes. Because in magic, you know, it's, everyone knows it's magic, just like with professional wrestling folks, by the way. There's some prior understanding of what's going to happen. Maybe they go off script. But I think that's actually, I think, part of the interest in professional wrestling for those that are extreme fans of professional wrestling is that they almost want to wonder about whether or not some of it is not in the plan. It's a suspension of reality that they seem to enjoy, right? Because if you know something's fake or – well, we should be – I should be more careful about my language. Or, well, we should, we should be, I should be more careful about my language. In, with magic, like when I went to see Ossie, I mean, I don't think it's actual magic, but he's able to give the illusion of magic. The real illusion is that it's magic, right? It's not the illusion of making the card hop to somewhere else in the room. And he is phenomenal. And I highly recommend people go see his show if they get the opportunity. But the, I think they're doing a documentary about him now, actually. There'll be some Netflix stuff as well. But it's the illusion that magic exists that's so exciting.
Science Communication, Interest & Self-Relevance (02:45:55)
So with science communication, I always aim for four things. I don't always achieve them, and I think you do as well, if I may, that a topic be interesting, clear, ideally actionable, but not always. And the quadfecta is when it's also surprising. So interesting, clear, actionable, and surprising sort of is the ultimate if there's sort of a, like a, oh, I didn't realize that. But it's hard to find data points that satisfy all four criteria. And the surprising is the least important by far. I assume table stakes is it's rigorous. Oh, well, okay. Sitting underneath all four of those points are that it's actual science, right? Someone didn't just say it, right? It's not conjecture or theory. So that means that there's data to support it and that the data were collected with the appropriate amount of rigor, right? So there's a reservoir of stuff that sits underneath that as a foundation. Yes. So given the baseline of rigor, how do I find what's interesting, clear, actionable, and hopefully surprising? Although I would, okay, I would make a case. There's a classic article that Murray Davis wrote, one of my all-time favorites. He was a sociologist who wrote a paper called That's Interesting. And he opened the paper by saying, ideas live not because they're true, but because they're interesting, which decimated one of my core beliefs. I thought it was accuracy that drove people's beliefs. And he said, no, ideas live because they're interesting. And then he goes to build an index of the interesting to explain when people are intrigued. And his case is that most of interest is surprise. And he breaks down all the ways that you can turn conventional wisdom upside down. You can say that something you thought was bad was actually good or vice versa. You can argue that something you thought was homogeneous is actually heterogeneous. You could argue that something you thought was individual was actually a collective phenomenon or vice versa. And he's got this wonderful breakdown of all the ways of being interesting. And he's the one who made the distinction between ideas that challenge weakly held assumptions, intriguing you, and strongly held assumptions, you know, sort of offending you. But I think from Davis's view, and I think he's right, a huge amount of interest is surprise. And so, but I don't think it's the only driver of interest. So I might take your criteria and say, okay, we start with rigor. We want to go to interest, clarity, and actionability. How do we get to interest? Let's build a submodel of the factors that drive interest. And surprise might have the biggest beta weight in the regression equation. But what else drives interest? I have a couple hypotheses. I want to hear yours. But what else drives interest? I have a couple hypotheses. I want to hear yours. You've been doing this actively and highly effectively. Beyond surprise, what else interests people in your content? Anything that draws on self-reflection for them. Boom. I think we all have an innate desire to better understand ourselves, why we work the way we do, why we don't work as well as we would like to in certain domains. And cast understanding on our experiences of others too, like, oh, now it makes sense. I'm going back to the Conti episodes, but we did several of them. So I think it's appropriate to learn from him that narcissism is envy. It represents a extreme deficiency in the pleasure that people, narcissists can have an extreme pleasure drive, but they always feel like they have far less than they would like to have and that others have far more of it because they don't have that same yearning for it, right? And so that narcissism at its core is deep envy. That to me was like, wow, you know, and to realize that and to now understand that all this discussion that you hear out there about narcissists, everyone calling other people narcissists, that there are genuine narcissists out there and what they really suffer from is an extreme deficit in pleasure and they're constantly envious of others. It reframed everything I thought about narcissists, about them being overbearing, which they can be and often are, et cetera, et cetera. So I think it's also anything that leads to like, oh, I can navigate narcissists better with that. Well, I mean, that checks all your boxes. It's very surprising because it's not the way we normally understand narcissism. But I think you hit on, for me, what's the maybe even, it's at least as important as surprise, maybe more so is self-relevance. And it doesn't have to be actionable, right? It has to, in a lot of cases, just help you understand or make sense of something that's been puzzling or that's, you know, sort of, I think I'm almost always surprised when I say something from, you know, here's a synthesis of research. Here's a meta-analysis. and I think it's kind of obvious, and people get excited about it because it gave them language to describe something they had felt but they didn't know how to articulate or talk about. And I think that, I mean, I think this is why most of the most popular TED Talks are about human behavior, because people are interested in people. And if you learn something about you or about others, you don't have to immediately do anything with that to find it intriguing and even useful because it enriched your worldview. A recent guest on this podcast, we haven't aired it yet, but maybe it'll be out by the time this airs, was with Lisa Feldman Barrett. She's a psychologist. Psychologist turned neuroscientist. Right, studies emotion. Emotion, of course. Yeah, and she described how in certain cultures, there's a language for subcategories of emotions. Emotional granularity. Right, so, you know, she described a word in Japanese, I don't recall what the word was, that describes the feeling of sadness that one has after getting a particularly bad haircut. Something that I don't think you or I are familiar with, but I'm familiar with from my experience of romantic partners being like really unhappy about their haircut. And you're like, you're sad, but by having a specific word for a specific experience, people feel less alone and the feeling passes more quickly in time. And then she gave some other examples from German and from Scandinavian languages and so forth. And I find this so interesting. It's like the moment people hear that they are not alone in an experience, there's nothing actionable about it, but it creates a cognitive shift thereafter in which they suffer less or may feel more connected to others. I mean, I think it's really a beautiful example of exactly what you're referring to. Like when we learn about something and we identify with it, it's powerful. It's very powerful. And I think psychologists often say, name it to tame it.
Languishing, Descriptive Language & Emotions (02:52:16)
Affect labeling is one of the most effective emotion regulation strategies. And when we talked about distraction and reframing earlier, I should have said there's a third strategy, which is literally just to describe what you're feeling. It seems to allow people then to reason with and process whatever they're feeling as opposed to allowing the feeling to control them. And I probably got the clearest sense of this in 2021. I read a New York Times article on languishing, the feeling of meh or blah. And I have never had anything, any article I wrote resonate like this. And it just, all the posts that tagged me were just like, it me, it me, it us. And it was like these one and two word reactions. And I don't think it was the content that mattered to people. It was just having the term. All of a sudden people realized, this was originally Corey Keyes' research that I was referencing. It had been a light bulb for me to say, if you think about the spectrum of well-being, this is related to your mental illness versus mental health distinction. Those are two extremes of the continuum. And on one end, we have depression and burnout. On another end, we have well-being and flourishing. Languishing lives right in the middle. As Corey describes it, it's the absence of well-being. So you're not depressed. You still have hope. You're not burned out. You still have energy. But you're not at peak functioning. have hope. You're not burned out. You still have energy. But you're not at peak functioning. You're missing a sense of purpose. You feel like you're stagnating and you're empty. And, you know, there was something about just saying the word languishing that led people to realize, yeah, that's a thing. And of course, we're languishing. We're standing still in the middle of a global experiment that no one opted into, which violates all rules of consent by science last time I checked. But I think that that's something that probably is underrepresented when we're trained to communicate as scientists, to say one of the most valuable things we do is we give people language to talk about things. And I think that's a massive part of your impact is, this is one of the big things I've learned from you, Andrews. I used to be a little bit dismissive of cognitive neuroscience in particular. I thought understanding the brain has not taught me that much about the mind. Like being able to, you know, trace, let's take a simple example. Like when I read Joe Ledoux's research, being able to trace, you know, certain amygdala responses, you know, as the root of how people deal with fight or flight and threat. I'm like, I don't know that that helped me that much. Like if I could just describe fight or flight, do I need the amygdala? And you've convinced me I was wrong about that because when people have, when they understand the neurological substrates of their thoughts, feelings, and actions, they believe them more. They're like, oh, like there is a mechanism for this. It's being produced inside my head. And even though I can't see it, it's there and it can be studied with the tools of science. I think that's a really big deal. And I really regret the fact that I didn't spend more time on cognitive neuroscience because I think I'd be a better psychologist today. Well, again, thanks for the kind words. I think that a fortunate evolution in our fields, or even field, if I may, over the last 10 years is that whereas neuroscience itself even needs to be subdivided into neuroanatomy and the neurophysiology, it's lumped into all neuroscience, but it now includes psychology, computational neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience. It's all, you know, I think what I consider us, you know, we have different perspectives and different training, obviously, but doing a lot of the same things, just using different dissection tools and different language-based tools. And listen, what you've done, I wouldn't even say masterfully, I mean, just with like extreme virtuosity is to wrap your hands around such an enormous literature related to psychology. I mean, the human mind and behavior and thought processes and emotions and potential and so many topics and to extract the most valuable gems from that literature and communicate them in a way that anyone can understand. And it's an extreme gift to be able to do that. And it's clear it's working because like you mentioned this article on languishing, which we will provide a reference to or a link to in our caption, because I want to go read that now. I mean, I'm always struck by this feeling of like, am I, I'm not tired, but you know, like I've got tons to do, but like, why do I just want to like sit here for a while? And I'm like, maybe I need to sit here, but then you get into all the like the, well, okay, but you know, I need to, there's a lot to do. There's a lot of get up and go. I don't want to waste my life. And yeah, rest is good too. But I think languishing is something that like, I definitely can resonate with that. So when I had a bulldog, it felt a lot easier to do because he was always languishing. But do you ever just languish or are you busy enough that you just feel like you're always a forward center of mass? I think everybody languishes. I think it's part of the human condition. And I think it might even be evolutionarily adaptive because I remember another sort of mind-altering idea. I remember reading Randy Nessie's argument that mild depression could be evolutionarily functional. Obviously, clinical depression is debilitating in a lot of ways, but low-grade sadness, Lincoln's melancholy, we know one of the things it can do is broaden your field of vision. For many people, sadness is a signal that something is not working, and it can motivate problem solving. It can, in some cases, open access to new perspectives. Unfortunately, those potential benefits of sadness are often overridden by the motivational costs and also the fact that you now spend all this time regulating your sadness and wondering why you're sad, right? And so it's hard to harness. But I had a similar thought about languishing from this perspective to say that, you know, maybe moments of languishing open us up to change. When we get stuck, sometimes we realize you have to move backward in order to make progress. Sometimes you have to unlearn things that you thought you knew in order to keep growing. A friend of mine said, he read my languishing piece and he's like, you're not the languishing type. I'm like, okay, maybe everybody's baseline is different. I think one of the things I'm really lucky to have is high reserves of energy. But for me, languishing is I felt like I did nothing today. And in a typical day, if I'm writing a book, I should be able to write a thousand words I'm proud of. And I don't like a single word that I produced. Or I sat at my blinking cursor, like staring at the computer screen. I should be able to write a thousand words I'm proud of, and I don't like a single word that I produced. Or I sat at my blinking cursor, like staring at the computer screen, and for the umpteenth time wondered, like, did they call it a cursor because of all the writers who've cursed it? And then I end up, like, Googling, what are the Latin roots of the word cursor? Where did this come from? And, like, that is not a good use of time. That's, like, that's not forward mass. That's like, I'm spinning. So, yeah, I think everybody languishes. And I aspire to do it less often, but not never. Love it. What does cursor, what is the root of cursor? People will look it up. Put, hey folks, put it in the comments on YouTube. I did, I did look it up. Oh, good. Okay, you'll tell us now. No, I feel like there's a footnote in hidden potential. And I did look it up. Oh, good. Okay. You'll tell us now. No, I feel like there's a footnote in Hidden Potential and I'm trying to remember. It comes from Kurei Rei, I think. And the cursor originally came... Nope, I don't want to do it. I'm going to skip it. I don't remember. Captured it. Your hippocampus is smart enough to have discarded that information. That's not useful. And you have more important things to do. Forgive me for asking the question. Folks put it in the comments on YouTube. So good.
Tool: Nurture Potential in Children, “Coach Effect” (03:00:09)
I have one more question about potential. You have children, correct? 3. And a lot of our listeners either are children or have children. And even for those that don't have children, I'm curious curious with the vast array of knowledge that you now have about potential and the fact that kids are these incredible sponges, right? I mean, they certainly experience discomfort. We know that. They are sponges. We absolutely know that. Sometimes they're filters. We try and teach them to be filters. And hopefully they are imperfectionists. Maybe there are kids that are just perfectionists by default, but I have to imagine that they aren't because standards come about when we become aware of other people's performance, right? What sorts of messages do you recommend parents give their kids? And what sorts of messages are you actually implementing that perhaps are different than you were prior to researching and writing your book on potential? Oh, interesting. Well, the first thing I should say is Becky Kennedy, Dr. Becky, is my favorite source of insight on parenting. And she's changed the way I think of the way I think about a lot of what I do with our kids but my wife Allison is her instincts about effective parenting are so sophisticated I feel like every day I learned something from watching her communicate with our kids and so I came in thinking all right I write this book about potential I'm not gonna write this book about potential. I'm not going to do a parenting chapter because I want everything to be relevant to parents. And sure enough, there's a chapter that had nothing to do with parenting where I was like, oh, actually I'm reading this research and there was a moment where I did something well and I didn't even mean to do it. And this is something that I think everyone probably underutilizes. Actually, that's an overstatement. I think a lot of people don't appreciate the importance of this approach to parenting, and I am trying to do it more often. So quick story, and then I'll back up into the principles. So I was getting ready to give my first TED Talk a number of years ago. Extremely nervous. I'm a shy introvert. I was for a long time afraid of public speaking. I remember in college literally shaking to raise my hand, being that nervous. And now I'm supposed to get in the red circle. Not my idea of comfort zone. And I happened to mention to our oldest daughter that I was nervous, and I asked her for advice on what I should do. And she said, I think at the time, let's see, she must have been, she was seven maybe? I think seven, maybe six. Anyway, she said, look for a smiling face in the audience. So it was one of those moments where I'm like, oh, that's such a good idea. Why didn't I think of that? Yes, I can do that. I know people who are going to be in the audience. So I asked a couple of friends to sit in the front rows. And I locked eyes with a couple of them, and my nerves went down a little bit. I locked eyes with a couple of them, and my nerves went down a little bit. So a couple weeks later, Joanna's getting ready to be in a school play, and she's also shy and introverted, and she's nervous, and she asks us for advice. And instead of telling her what to do, I said, well, what did you suggest to me a few weeks ago? And she remembered, and she said, look for a smiling face. And it was one of the most moving moments of my life. Like Allison and I got to the play and she looked at us and she beamed. And I think what I learned from that experience was kids need to feel that they matter. And most of us think about mattering as, you know, showing kids that they're unconditionally loved and giving them the support they need. But we forget that part of feeling that you matter is feeling that you make a difference. So as a kid, feeling like you have something to contribute. As a parent asking my daughter for advice, that boosted her confidence. And I think that this is, I've come to call this the coach effect. It's one of my favorite recent findings in psychology that when you're struggling with something, your instinct is to go to somebody else for advice and say, I need guidance. The problem is that keeps you in a passive frame of mind. It makes you feel like you're dependent on others. What you're better off doing is finding somebody else with a similar challenge and giving them advice. And what that does is it shows you that you have something to give. It boosts your efficacy. The research on this by Lauren Eskris-Winkler and colleagues is fascinating. So people who give advice instead of receiving it, randomly assigned, end up more motivated and more confident. And I think this is something every parent could do, right? Whatever challenge you think your kid is going to face, find a version of it that you're grappling with and seek their guidance on it. And when they run into that same challenge, they will have confidence that they can begin to figure it out on their own. And you can be a coach in that process, as opposed to just telling them what to do, which they may feel like is not relevant, or they may resist because they don't want to be told what to do by a parent. So that is my favorite parenting lesson from hidden potential. I love that. And I love your statement that, you know, kids like adults want to matter. You know, we hear, you know, make them feel important, but so often that's tied to performance metrics. And those performance metrics are the very things that are making them nervous or that are creating anxiety. I love it. Are you taking additional kids for adoption? Because I'm raising, I'm raising, I'm raising my hand. I think there'd be a lot more developmental psychologists in the world if, uh, if we chose our careers later. Super interesting topic. And by the way, I'm very much looking forward to reading your book, uh, hidden potential. Um, clearly I have a lot to resolve around that issue because I still hear Miss Rolfe in middle school just telling me how much potential we have and that I wasn't accessing mine. Oh, no, it's like a voice in the back of my head all the time. And even though I feel very happy with many aspects of my life, there are a lot of things that I want to do that I haven't done. aspects of my life that there are a lot of things that I want to do that I haven't done. And I think it's through, you know, limited, what do they call it? Limiting self-beliefs or things of that sort. Self-limiting beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs. There you go. I can't even say the phrase. Yeah, I do think all your fans are like, yeah, that Andrew Huberman really hasn't, he hasn't really tapped his potential at all. He's squandering it all. Well, keep in mind, I've lived in a fairly narrow trench of pursuit. At 19, I got into this and I've been doing this, researching and teaching and doing research. It's pretty much all I've done for almost heading to 30 years. And you too, you've been in this game for a long time. And it's where we like to play. But what I've learned from you today, in addition to many other things, is that realizing our potential has so much to do with, you know, reaching outside. We hear about our comfort zone, but it's also reaching into our like deeper wishes and thoughts. And I keep coming back to this idea of the tag team podcast and the origins of that in your mind. It's like I never would have expected that, but it also reveals something that sounds kind of like intrinsic to you. Like you, maybe you like to see things play out the way you think they should be played out as opposed to the, what's clearly a intractable battle of loggerheads these days. Yes. That is, that's a core value. Like, I think that, I can't imagine an unsolvable problem. Oh, I love that. And I want your, I want your brain. Listen, Adam, I want to thank you, first of all, for taking the time today to come talk to us, certainly not just about your book, but we covered an enormous range of topics. I mean, you talked to us about procrastination, which is sort of the third rail of life for so many people, creativity, intrinsic, extrinsic motivation, and blind spots, authenticity, and so much more. But also I want to thank you for being such an active teacher on social media in the classroom. You still run a research program. You're doing TED Talks. You're writing multiple books. You're absolute phenom in terms of the amount of information that you're doing TED talks, you're writing multiple books, you know, you're absolute phenom in terms of the amount of information that you're putting out into the world. And I must say, I always, always, always learn from your posts, your podcasts, your books, like there are certain people in the world, they're exceedingly rare, but you're one of them that when they open their mouth, people learn and they learn valuable knowledge. And it's a, it's a incredible thing, um, to be on the receiving end. And so I just want to say, uh, on behalf of myself and everyone else, thank you ever so much for what you do and, um, please keep going. Well, thank you. That, that means a lot to me considering the source. Cause I, I, the sentiments are mutual. Uh, I think every time I, whether it's reading one of your posts or seeing one of your reels, my overwhelming thought is that as a master teacher, and if I had been lucky enough to take one of your classes, I might have gone more of the neuroscience direction and then failed. But it would have been interesting to learn more about at minimum. And I just have tremendous admiration for your commitment to making science interesting, clear, and useful to people. Thank you. I consider us on the same team in that regard. And I probably will tap you about a potential collaboration. It'd be so much fun to work together. Meanwhile, again, thank you for everything you're doing. And like I said, just keep going and please come back again. I feel like there are a thousand other topics we could talk about and that we should. Honored, we'll try not to make you regret that. Thank you.
Conclusion & Feedback
Zero-Cost Support, Spotify & Apple Reviews, Sponsors, YouTube Feedback, Momentous, Social Media, Neural Network Newsletter (03:10:16)
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