In this week’s podcast, Sonya sits down with the authors of Choose Growth, a workbook designed to guide readers through their commitment to growth and self-actualization. The book was created by psychologist and host of The Psychology Podcast Scott Barry Kaufman and positive medicine physician and researcher Jordyn Feingold. The workbook includes exercises grounded in positive psychology and the core principles of humanistic psychology.
Scott is a cognitive scientist and humanistic psychologist. He is a professor at Columbia University and the founder and director of the Center for Human Potential. Scott has authored a number of books, including Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization. He received his B.S. in psychology and human computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon, an M. Phil in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge, and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University.
Jordyn is a psychiatry resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with her BA and Master of Applied Positive Psychology. She is involved in research, curriculum development and advocacy work around clinician well-being. Her goal is to shift the focus of medicine from treatment to well-being.
In this week’s episode, Sonya sat down with Scott and Jordan to talk about what it means to choose growth, motivations, high quality connections and more.
“I think the ideal is to get your basic needs met, and your insecurities and your sense of self worth so foundationally self-evident, that you don’t need to pay attention to yourself. And, therefore, there’s this beautiful connection between self and world. There’s a really interesting paradox among those who are most needy of other people, they send that signal to others, and it creates a cycle where the other person is less likely to actually be receptive and open to you. So if you’re approaching a new social partner with a great neediness, and a great self focus, and social anxiety, the other person is going to pick up on that, and it’s gonna make them uncomfortable. It’s a tragedy because those are the ones who kind of need the most. However, I do think that this just serves as a metaphor for all of life. And I’m very zen Buddhist, as you’ll notice about everything, but the more that you can lead with not a deprivation of connection, but lead from below of B love, just to lead with a curiosity and a love for the being of someone separate from you without wanting anything from them, the more likely you are to make a beautiful connection with that person.“– Scott Barry Kaufman
- What it means to choose growth
- The importance of nurturing ourselves
- The sailboat metaphor
- Defining your own sailboat
- Being open to choosing growth
- What is deficiency motivation?
- High quality connections
- The value of small talk
- Healthy self-esteem
- Finding out your strengths
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Sonya Looney: Welcome to the show. I have to say, Scott, that I was a big Skype fan before the pandemic. And I know in your book that you used to be a Skype guy.
Scott Barry Kaufman: Oh, I still am. I still ask everyone if they’ll Skype with me.
Jordyn Feingold: I had to redownload Skype onto my computer, because Scott was like, no, no, no, really, let’s meet on Skype. I’m like, we can’t use a Zoom? He insisted that we use Skype. So I had to make fun of him a little bit in the book.
Sonya: Yeah, I was getting made fun of. So I just had to evolve. So I’m a Skype fan like you. I’m very honored to get to talk to both of you because I look at both of you as my mentors and my teachers kind of like Scott how you were talking about Abraham Maslow in transcend, this friend that you’ve never met, but fortunately, I get to meet you. So I’m going to start with, it’s probably an easy question for you guys, because of the book that you wrote. I’d love for both of you to answer this question to kick it off. And Jordan, you can start, what does it mean to choose growth to you?
Jordyn: Sure. So when I think about how I choose growth in my day to day life, it’s really differentiating between some of the choices that are made for us and the things that we cannot choose. We can’t choose the families we’re born into. We can’t choose our genes. We can’t choose a lot of the early life conditions that we were exposed to. And as we grow up and move through each day, and recognize where our agency lies, and that, in the workplace, I can’t choose will how other people are going to react are going to approach me I can’t choose even the patients that I get called to see on a daily basis, but I can choose the attitude that I bring to each interaction to see someone with kindness and to meet someone as their best self, so that they may feel that way a little bit more through our interaction. So it’s really differentiating between the things that we cannot choose and are outside of our control, the things that we can choose and how to lead with not necessarily the ideal version of ourselves, or the best version of ourselves, but really an A version of ourselves that we’re proud of, and that we are growing into.
Scott: I don’t know how anyone adds on to such a thing. But choosing growth to me, personally, means that I’m making decisions in the moment that will serve what I call the B self. And it’s a play on words where as you might think B self stands for best self. But no, it stands for being self. And I know that when I’m in pure being mode, I don’t have a lot of all my deep insecurities are not at the forefront of my consciousness. I don’t have a million projects that are dividing my attention in that moment, I’m focused. I feel outside of myself in some way. I feel a connection to the world or to people. And I think there’s all sorts of decisions we can make throughout the course of a day that can contribute to the probability that will be connected to our B self. And there’s lots of decisions we can make that can some of them pretty much guarantee that we won’t be connected to our B self. So that’s, that’s the best way I could add to Jordyn’s beautiful answer.
Sonya: Yeah, from what I heard, both of you say it was not necessarily an idealized version of yourself, but more like what you called the B self but like a realistic to all totality, this is who I am in service of others.
Scott: Yeah, well, self and world is so harmoniously connected, that the boundaries between service to self and service to others breaks down so that that sentence doesn’t even have any meaning.
Sonya: Something that I thought about when I read Transcend was that a lot of us have to go through a journey of, and I’m speaking for myself, of course, here too, is almost trying to prove yourself or trying to figure out yourself before you can be in service of others. And if that is a journey that everybody has to go through before they can say hey, now I can be in service to others. And I wanted to know what each of your thoughts is on that.
Jordyn: That’s such a good question. This comes up often when I teach or talk about self compassion, this idea that it can actually be easier to give love and kindness to others, when, relative to how it can feel to give that love inward. And I think that in order to really sustainably to give of ourselves to others, we do have to nurture the self simultaneously. I don’t know, on the other hand, I also think, and I struggle with this, as a psychiatrist, that when we are too self focused, it can actually really stunt and inhibit us in our ability to transcend and to make a contribution to the world around us. So I don’t necessarily think that it’s a prerequisite to really bolster ourselves so much so that we can give to others I think that these things happen in a beautiful equilibrium and they’re processes that reinforce one another.
Scott: I think the ideal is to get your basic needs met, and your insecurities and your sense of self worth so foundationally self-evident, that you don’t need to pay attention to yourself. And, therefore, there’s this beautiful connection between self and world. There’s a really interesting paradox among those who are most needy of other people, they send that signal to others, and it creates a cycle where the other person is less likely to actually be receptive and open to you. So if you’re approaching a new social partner with a great neediness, and a great self focus, and social anxiety, the other person is going to pick up on that, and it’s gonna make them uncomfortable. It’s a tragedy because those are the ones who kind of need the most. However, I do think that this just serves as a metaphor for all of life. And I’m very zen Buddhist, as you’ll notice about everything, but the more that you can lead with not a deprivation of connection, but lead from below of B love, just to lead with a curiosity and a love for the being of someone separate from you without wanting anything from them, the more likely you are to make a beautiful connection with that person.
Sonya: And I think that that really translates nicely into how you’ve almost restructured or added to Maslow’s work with your sailboat. And I mistakenly looked at that hierarchy of needs, the pyramid, and I use that and one of my very first talks, and I was so excited, and I had WiFi at the bottom, the funny meme that everybody puts out there and then I was so excited when I saw your sailboat and because it just made so much more sense. So can you talk about that metaphor, and what the different, I don’t want to call it levels, because they’re not levels, but the different areas of the sailboat.
Scott: The idea of the sailboat is that all these different parts have to work together, in order for the whole sailboat to be operating most smoothly. And to be prepared the most for the inevitable winds and waves and all sorts of things that life throws at you that its coming but you don’t know when it’s coming. So that’s one part of the metaphor why I think it’s better than a static pyramid that has been used; we need something a little bit more dynamic, that treats self actualization as a journey, nonlinear journey through the vast unknown of human existence and that has the boat which is so important for stability, but not for growth. Stability is good all by itself, but let’s not get it twisted. Stability is not growth, necessarily. So you need to open up that sail eventually if you want to move in your most value direction and be vulnerable to to what could happen once you open that sail. So those are the kind of main components of it – security, more stability and growth. And transcendence is the perspective of the seagull or the seabird that can kind of detach itself from the self for a second and view things from different, broader perspective.
Sonya: Yeah, I never thought of transcendence in that regard until you’re until I read your book there. I was thinking about how I finally had COVID, about a month, six weeks ago. And it was right after this really big mountain bike race. And I’d come back from having a baby. And I was back to where I was. And I worked super hard. And then I went off the precipice. And many people who have had anything hard happen in their lives, whether it’s COVID, or something else, you kind of get stuck in this negative rut. And I’d never really been in a really negative rut like that before where I was having a really hard time with all of the things that normally would make me feel good in my life. And it made me start thinking about the sailboat and how if you are in such a difficult place in your life, it might be really difficult to even consider some of these other factors and safety. I think that a lot of it that I was getting from your writing and your books was psychological safety was a big part of that, attachment and things like that. But what about people that don’t have their health? Or maybe they’re having mental unwellness to use your words, Scott? How do people start getting on the boat whenever they don’t have that foundation?
Jordyn: Yeah, it’s a really important question. And so physical health, mental health, when those are challenged, it can be very difficult to feel good when we’re so preoccupied with what’s wrong with us. When we look at the literature, and what it shows about the the ability to flourish in the positive psychology literature in the presence of a mental illness. Corey Keyes has an amazing construct that I think is really important to consider which it’s called the two continuum model. So he actually posits that the presence of mental well being and the absence of one’s mental well being, if that’s one continua, there is an orthogonal dimension that is, of course, interrelated, but not the same, which is the presence of mental illness and the absence of mental illness, such that we create a two by two table with presence of mental well being absence of mental well being or flourishing, presence of mental illness, absence of a mental illness, and you can end up in any of the four quadrants. So this is to say that someone can certainly have a diagnosable mental illness, they may experience depression, or anxiety, or even post traumatic stress disorder, other mental illnesses, and still have the capacity to have life satisfaction and well being and positive relationships and vitality, or someone who doesn’t have a mental illness may not have all those things and they could be in that lower quadrant where they’re on the lower aspect of both continua. Someone of course can have the absence of a mental illness and still have mental well being and then you can end up in the other quadrant where you can have a mental illness and I don’t know if I kept track of all the quadrants, but you can be positive or negative on both dimensions. And so while the presence of a mental illness can certainly challenge our ability to thrive, it doesn’t make it impossible to do that. And we can use other mechanisms and medications, of course, for those with mental illnesses they need some help or other interventions, transcranial magnetic stimulation, ECT, there is, of course, like interventions for the psychiatric population that are really acutely suffering. And I will say I’ve run groups with people who have recently recently attempted suicide and who are really struggling with their mental health to consider their sailboats and to consider what their sailboats look like and how crooked they are and off kilter and where they’re really struggling and use that to help them understand what opportunities, what are the low hanging fruit opportunities we have, and which ones feel a little less accessible to us right now. So I don’t think that it’s impossible to achieve really being in that pure being realm when we are suffering. It’s how we process and acknowledge what we are going through, how we meet ourselves with compassion, how we lean into those people in our lives who can help us and and to really just honor the full spectrum of the human experience. Not to suppress or deny those negative feelings but to welcome them in and let us experience them because this is life, and it’s one of the only inevitable parts of life is that there will be some low lows that we experience.
Sonya: I think that was really an informative and helpful answer because I think maybe I frame that as either or. And you’re like, no, your sailboat can be crooked. And I got these really good visuals whenever you started describing it that way.
Jordyn: Yeah, it’s amazing to see. We literally had the folks in the group draw their sailboats. So some folks had a really high level of purpose, and they knew what they were working towards, but for it, like you said, like, they just didn’t feel safe around themselves on a daily basis. They were worried about something they might do to harm themselves. And that is a really interesting place to be and to say, well, what can you do, maybe it’s recruiting someone else on your boat to be with you more of the time to keep you safe to get you to a place where you feel a little bit less afraid? So I don’t think it’s an either or, and I’m very inspired by the ability to use some of these interventions and some of the practices in the group with people who are deeply suffering with mental and physical health problems.
Sonya: I also wanted to ask about and maybe Scott, you can answer this one, there’s some people that are really cynical about growth. You wrote that article for The Atlantic about tragic optimism and there’s people out there with toxic positivity, but people can be very cynical about this, or they might see this workbook and be like, oh, I don’t need that, or I don’t want to do that. How can we help, we being the collective of people who are really interested in helping people, understand well being understand themselves better, how do we help them get to a place where that they are open to exploring these ideas?
Scott: I don’t know if its is right for everyone, at this time to dive into such a workbook. It’s not for everyone. I always believe that meeting people where they are is super, super important. Unless you’re taking my class at Columbia University, and I make it required that you read this book. And I do have students who are skeptical, and they go through it and inevitably, every single one, they start to transform in very subtle ways, and they start to be surprised by what it does to them to open up a bit more than they’re used to. And for a lot of people being vulnerable is a unique experience. And even just the act of trying to be vulnerable can transform a person, especially if they came from a family where it was discouraged. So I am not a believer in forcing people to be happy, forcing people to… the self actualization journey sometimes requires shutting down of the world, and shutting down and even maybe one’s own sail. Some people, what I’m hearing when they say, I don’t want to do that, is that they’re not they’re not ready to open the sail. Probably because they’re so focused on the holes in their boat. And if that’s the case, then who am I to force them to open a sail? So that’s my quick answer.
Sonya: So meeting people where they are. So I know that the Science of Living Well, of course, I’m sure that there’s a massive waitlist to get into that class.
Scott: It’s a popular class.
Sonya: So I want to talk about motivation a little bit. And something I heard you say at one point was, we could be motivated by a deficiency, or we can be motivated based on growth, and then there’s like a transcendence motivation. Can you talk about it’s a broad question, but can you talk about deficiency motivation and how that feels versus motivation coming from a growth standpoint?
Scott: Yeah, when you’re when you’re in the grips of deficiency motivation, everything in the world is is well, what can I do for you? How can people, things serve the purpose, the utility value of helping you become less deficient in those needs, and you can go right down the line if you’re chronically hungry, the smell of, I know that you’re vegan, so the smell of broccoli will really make your mouth water.
Sonya: That sulfurous smell, it’s so good.
Scott: I’m trying to be respectful of your life decision. But if you’re chronically lonely, you go to social events, and the opposite to every person you meet is, you view it through the lens of oh, that person, maybe they’ll make me feel less lonely. Even if subconsciously, it that’s still and then if you’re chronically feel a lack of respect, it can cause you sometimes to overshoot the target and to kind of demand respect from people, even when you haven’t learned it. And that’s a whole other topic I’m really fascinated with right now. But viewed from a compassionate perspective, that these are deficient needs, they’re causing us to psychologically view the world in that way. But it’s very, very different way of viewing the world than when you can enter the growth realm of humanity. It’s like replacing a cloudy lens with a clear lens on the world. And you can see the world and people for what they are, not their utility value for your deficiencies. And that’s a whole different world in which to perceive things. What do you want to add? I would love Jordyn to add here.
Jordyn: I just love any opportunity, I get to hear you, Scott talk about growth motivation. And moving a little bit away from this idea of growth mindset, which Scott talks about as it’s being very outcome oriented and achievement driven. Whereas growth motivation, and Scott, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what I’ve gleaned from many conversations with you, is really much more about getting into that state of being and pure being. And really asking the question about what the growth motivation is, it’s a different goal than necessarily growth mindset and I think it’s a really worthy one. We don’t have enough emphasis on just being without an outcome of some kind of high level achievement. Whereas being is really something we pursue just for its own sake, and then subsequently will enhance everything else that we do as a side effect.
Sonya: That was just such an amazing addition. Scott, go ahead. Sorry, I didn’t want to jump in.
Scott: Well, you have mindset coaches, right. Everyone talks about mindset, especially in sports psychology. But sometimes you can have the best mindset in the world applied to the worst goals for you. And then shall we be rewarding that? It’s almost like sometimes in that kind of culture, that kind of mindset slash grit culture, you can just reward the sweat without rewarding the direction. Does that make sense?
Sonya: Yeah, you’re speaking to the choir on this. I’m really interested in the idea of achievements because in our culture, so many people are trying to achieve something because they want to feel a certain way. And that’s kind of like that deficiency piece. And I’ve certainly been there. Like, if I could just get this, then I’m going to feel this way. And sort of asking myself, well, how do I want to feel? And what daily actions can I do that may not even be related to this outcome? Or I’m not even entitled to this outcome, but what daily things can I do that helped me feel, not even good, but just feel I’m pursuing something worthy of myself?
Scott: Absolutely. So you are a world champion?
Sonya: I have…I have a hard time…I’m working on. Yes.
Scott: It’s hard. If you’re not a colossal narcissist, I imagine it’s hard to go around, say, hey, I’m a world champion. You know, just saying that, you know, but it’s, it’s congratulations. I mean, that’s not easy. Congratulations. But I always wonder, where do you go from there, though? Once you reach that goal, you become world champion, what’s the next day? I actually am curious to hear from your perspective.
Sonya: Yeah. Well, that is that that exact thing happened is like okay, well, what’s next for me or let me celebrate this for a second and let me not undermine this accomplishment because it’s so much easier to be like, yes but, instead of yes and. It comes down to more, I think coming into this growth motivation of, well, how can I be in service of others? How can I use this thing that I have as a way to teach and help in any way that I possibly can. And that really spurred a lot of growth for me, because I asked myself, well, why am I doing this? What is the whole point of this? And for me, it is I really want to help people believe in themselves so that they can go after, not even the thing that’s going to make them feel good per se, but the thing that’s going to bring meaning when they’re sitting on in their rocking chair when they’re older, looking back at their life, saying, yeah, I went for that thing that I wanted to do. I know myself, and I figured out who I was through these challenges. So that’s my long answer.
Jordyn: It’s amazing to watch and behold that that is exactly what you’re doing. You’re living it.
Sonya: Thank you. So I’m going to talk about high quality connections because I think that this is something a lot of us are craving in our lives right now. One of you touched on loneliness, I think it was you, Scott. And we can be have so many acquaintances, we can have all these work colleagues, we can be amongst family, and we can still feel really lonely. So how do you define a high quality connection? And Jordyn, do you want to take that one?
Jordyn: Sure. So this idea of high quality connections comes from positive organizational scholarship and the business world. And the work of Jane Dutton and her colleagues at the University of Michigan, and we apply this to all connections in our lives. High quality connections are really that that positive connective tissue that is energizing between dyads to individuals, and there are a few qualities of a high quality connection that make it high quality. And, again, these were studied in the workplace, but I think it’s true of applying them in life. And the I think trust is a basic foundation. I think trusting is one of the qualities, I think Scott and I realized that it probably pervades all of them. Play is another one. Task enabling, which is really helping another person, setting someone else up for success. And respectful engagement is the fourth quality that that Jane and her colleagues observed and write about. And what’s so cool about high quality connections is they don’t take a long time. we can have these at the watercooler, we can have these on the street, we can have these with people we don’t know very well, we can have them with people we know very well. The idea is that both people walk away feeling more energized, they feel seen and they feel connected in a way that is sustaining and life giving.
Sonya: Does this also tie in with B love as well?
Scott: Not necessarily. I mean, it’s not the same construct. Because with B love, there’s a lot of situations where you don’t feel any connection with the person whatsoever. But you can maybe apply some of these principles that Jordyn is talking about, with a B love spirit to deepen a connection that isn’t natural. Because there’s some people you’re gonna come across, maybe you have completely opposite political beliefs, maybe there’s just like all sorts of chemistry clashes, when you meet someone that’s I don’t like this person. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been there, where we meet someone and we’re just like in our bones, we’re like, not my person. But the question is, where do you go from there? And I think B love can be brought in to as a motivating force to maybe bring in some of these principles, even though you don’t naturally feel it. Do you agree, Jordyn?
Jordyn: Yeah, I think B Love is a great way like what exactly what you’re saying B love is a great sort of orientation to apply when it’s hard to have a high quality connection with someone where you feel like that connective tissue is a little necrotic and not super lively. And the blood flow is just not flowing. I also think that when you can break down the components of the high quality connection, you can also directly target why you may have those icky feelings towards someone, like what about one of those four principles are missing, and maybe the pathway to cut right through it is to be a little bit more playful. So I think this conversation about the connections and the love, is an important point in our book and in Scott’s work more broadly where there, Scott in the sailboat metaphor really actually separates the needs for connection and the needs for love, the need for love being a higher order need than the need for connection. So while certainly when we think of love, we think about it as an emotion or something we feel for someone, and I think what’s different about the way we talk about love is that it’s really more of an orientation toward life. In very harkening to the humanistic psychologists Erich Fromm, and more recently, Sharon Salzberg with real love. And so it’s not just something we feel for someone or a defining characteristic of a high quality connection, but really an orientation to life itself.
Scott: Well, yeah, to everything in the kind of B realm is kind of like an orientation. When you’re when you’re in the B realm, your values and your purpose, it’s all an orientation, it’s all pointing in a direction. You’re not an aimless…you’re a vital being. To be a vital being is to know equally what you want and what you don’t want.
Sonya: Yeah, and I think that a lot of the questions, the practices in Choose Growth gets into that. And I think that there’s a lot of a lot of us, and I put myself in this category sometimes, too, is that we’ll read all of these amazing things, and oh, yeah, this makes great sense. And I’m so interested in this, but then we don’t practice it in real life. We don’t answer the hard questions, and we don’t do it with others. I guess a follow up question I could have with that is, how can people get out of contemplation, and reading and thinking about doing it to actually answering these questions and really doing the work on themselves, but also with others? Because this is an also an opportunity for deepening a high quality connection whenever you can answer some of these questions with somebody.
Scott: Yeah, it takes a leap of faith, or you have to kind of jump into the stream of life, sometimes, and just like, know that things will emerge that you didn’t expect. And that’s the difference between the need for connection and the need for exploration, where you can have social exploration, or you can have social belonging, and then sometimes you can have both. Sometimes both come together, but not always, not always. When you’re desperate for social belonging, it can really blind you to all the beautiful things that could emerge if you were in the social exploration mode, just an example in the social realm. So you gotta jump in and will lead with a spirit of curiosity and exploration, and adventure spirit. I don’t have to tell you about any venture spirit, I was researching you.
Jordyn: In a very practical sense, to like, how do we actually go from like reading the thing to doing the thing and knowing the thing to acting on it? I mean, it’s so funny, my sister in law was like, I’m reading your book, I love it, except I’m reading it before bed and inspiring me to do all these things. And then I go to sleep. And it’s just keeping me awake with ideas. So if listeners are hearing this, and they’re compelled by the ideas, read our book in the morning, let it start your day, get inspired by these ideas and then in a very concrete way, think about how might I actually answer one of these questions today? Or how might I go start a big talk conversation, for example, which is one of the practices for enhancing high quality connection. So even just very practically, when we are introducing this material, and when we are thinking about this can sort of mediate our ability to actually act on it.
Sonya: I actually had a question about the big talk versus the small talk, because sometimes people might not be ready to jump into big talk. And then depending on the personality, like myself, I might be more prone to jumping into big talk with somebody who’s not really ready to have that type of conversation with me. So how do you know when it’s appropriate to have big talk versus small talk?
Jordyn: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I see Scott really pondering this.
Scott: My friend and colleague, Tara Well, I want to plug her for a second, she was recently on The Daily Show, and there was a whole segment on the vastly underrated value of small talk. And it was kind of a different perspective than Jordyn and I presented in our book and leave it to me to just bring up my friend’s perspective, who actually clashes a little bit with my own perspective, but who I want to shine a spotlight on. Because I think so many of us hate small talk, right? We built it up to be such a terrible thing. But, sometimes you gotta start somewhere. And, and to be able to cultivate the art of small talk as a skill is like a super valuable social skill in your arsenal. I think I’m actually pretty good at small talk, to be honest, like with waiters and would go into Starbucks, and the girl at Starbucks, I’m like, hey, girl, how you doing today? I feel like I’m kind of good at that. And, it doesn’t always lead to big talk. But to be able to cultivate those skills with anyone, I think, is there a super valuable skill that they could open the portal for big talk if you have a different mindset about about the value of small talk? I don’t know if I answered your question at all. I thought about that segment. And I thought that Tara did a great job, even though they were they were making fun of her, The Daily Show, that’s what they do. It’s comedy. And I thought she handled it was such grace and composure, you know?
Jordyn: I’ll have to check that out. I’m very curious about that. And I think we’re not necessarily suggesting that everyone go out and only have these big talk conversations, I think. I think I agree there is a huge value in small talk, I think the that some people feel that they’re not good at big talk or small talk that they’re just rusty conversationalists. And, in the practice, we do know from research that these deeper questions are what builds closeness. So when people are feeling maybe a little rusty, or maybe they’re feeling like they’re one of those folks who has a lot of people that they’re around, but they don’t really necessarily know the people in their lives. Or we could also acknowledge that we have some friends who we just like to have fun with and go to the movies with and hang out with and shoot the shit. And then there are other people who we really yearn to get close to and those are intimate romantic partners. There are things that ideally I think we would be speaking about with people who are really in the innermost circle and the inner workings of our being. So I think big talk, we provide some questions and just, we want people to experiment, we want people to go out and see what works for them, to answer that question for themselves. When is it time for big talk, and when is it time for small talk? This is all about exploring, and these little experiments that we can actually go out and test our own hypotheses.
Sonya: I’m a little bit more focused, I’m realizing, in this podcast on the lower levels of the boat, the floating portion that has to crash into the waves and not necessarily on the sail as much. But I think something that I really want to bring up is self esteem because a lot of people listening to this podcast are athletes, whether they’re recreational love to go for a run or ride on the weekend, all the way to Olympic athletes who are listening. And I think competitive athletes, especially, struggle with self esteem, and there’s a lot of conditional self esteem that that people will have. And it can be very challenging whenever you’re thinking that you have to prove yourself all the time. Can you define what a healthy self esteem is?
Scott: The healthy self esteem comprises two components. So I’m gonna have sales mode. The first component is sense of self worth, not do you feel like you’re better than others, but do you feel like you’re enough? Do you lead with a sort of a basic assumption default, that as you enter the world, you are enough for any situation, you don’t have to prove your worth to enter into a social conversation with someone because you know you’re worth the conversation. Not that you’re better than the person but they are worth it. And then the second component is self competence. Do you feel like you can be the owner of your own life? Are you the driver of your life and your life story? Or is everyone else around you creating the narrative of who you are? Do you have any say at all in terms of what goals you want to accomplish? And can you accomplish those goals? Do you feel competent, that you’re moving in the direction of where you really truly want to go. So I think that comprises a real healthy self esteem, which is a whole different universe from an unhealthy self esteem, which is a real insecure way of regulating the need to feel good about yourself through inauthentic means, like wearing all gold.
Sonya: You can’t see my gold tooth in here?
Scott: That’s funny. I’m trying to think of examples where you puff yourself up so much in an narcissistic way to, to existentially avoid the reality that maybe you might not be superior to everyone else. And you can’t even bear the thought that you’re not superior everyone else. So that’s a very different world.
Sonya: Jordyn, do you add anything to that?
Jordyn: I think what’s hard, and I imagine at the highest levels of competition, this is a huge challenge is that one inevitably not going to feel masterful all the time, because we’ve gotten to a degree where there’s such a high level of performance, that if we’re comparing ourselves to the person running next to us, or it’s like, we’re setting ourselves up to fail at that because we’re in such an incredible pool of amazingly talented people. And I think our knee jerk reaction as human beings, instead of marveling and being inspired by the talent of others, we immediately default to that deprivation mode of what am I lacking, that I am not that person. What do they have, that I don’t have? Or we could compare ourselves to our own performance, which works when we are improving, but can be really scary when we feel like we’re slipping or are losing that A game and we become really hyper focused on what we’ve lost. And what the reality of it is, is that most professional sports, we’re not meant to get better and better and better as the body ages. And we get older, there’s wear and tear on our bodies, we’re simply not designed for a constant steady state of improvement. So it’s kind of like the human psychology doesn’t necessarily match the physiology and it sets us up for failure. So in the book, one of the things we talk about is, when the need for self esteem is not being healthfully regulated, and we don’t feel especially competent or masterful or self efficacious, we can meet ourselves with some self compassion, which is there for us no matter, sort of, how well we’re objectively doing in the world. And that’s treating ourselves like we treat a friend and bringing a little bit of self kindness, mindful distance and common humanity to our situation.
Sonya: I’m so glad that you brought up competition, because that’s something that, I’ve been riding my bike for almost 20 years, so this is something I’ve thought about a lot. This competition, is are you better than this person today? Or are you better in terms of faster or more skillful on the day, not a better human, but are you better than somebody or not? And that can be a really toxic environment, if you aren’t able to almost separate yourself from trying to achieve an outcome, instead of coming to the start line is, hey, this is a great opportunity for me to celebrate the work that I’ve done, and to maybe learn something new today, and to just give it my all and see what happens and to be inspired by people around me who can bring me up to help me be even better than maybe I thought I could be instead of everybody’s here threatening me. They’re going to take what’s mine. And that comes almost back to like a fixed mindset of maybe you won’t even sign up for a race. Or maybe you’ll look on the start list and not sign up because there’s people there that you think will beat you.
Scott: I saw Steve Magness was on your podcast recently. He’s a friend of mine, and I love his perspective on all this, and I probably can’t say it better than he can. But you can do the hard things while leading with a sort of being of warmth, and I want to articulate what I’m trying to say because this is something that’s important to me, you know, because I see a certain grit culture, where the flavor of grit, that kind of way of being is that the only thing that matters is the grit itself, not the way of being upon in which the grit is enacted. And to me the way of being matters. You can come at it from a place of equanimity, which is a Buddhist phrase that has to do with being able to withstand life, being resilient, but being resilient with a sense of openness and warmth and love. And there’s other ways of accomplishing grit where you step over everyone else, your only goal is to reach your goal, and in the end, that’s a different way of being. And so I like to kind of built in to these concepts, the way of being that I think is most conducive to even accomplishing your goals. And this is a Steve Magness’s point is like, we often don’t realize that if we focused less on dominating others, we actually would be more successful in mastering our craft and reaching the goals we really do have for ourself. Maybe some of us our singular goal is to just dominate it, and crush everyone. But I think there’s a lot of there’s a lot of wisdom there, too, to what’s a lot of what Steve says, and I was so excited to see that he was on your podcast.
Sonya: Yeah, I love both his and Brad Silver’s work, and yeah, they’re acquaintances, and just I’m really inspired by them. And people should definitely check them out if you haven’t yet. I think coming back to this deprivation point of view of, if you are just trying to crush everybody, it’s probably coming from a deprivation point of view, and that you’re trying to fill a need, or fill a hole that just because if I have to be better than somebody so that I can feel good about myself. And I think more broadly, more globally, like trying to be better than somebody all the time, doesn’t make the pie bigger, it doesn’t make the world a better place by just always trying to be better, because you push everybody down to get yourself higher. And that is never, in my opinion, that’s not really a good place to be.
Jordyn: It’s like even even goals that, like in a race, it is sort of inherently or at least at its surface, it is zero sum. There is a winner, and there are people who are not winning. And this this comes up for doctors all the time with a set number of residency slots and the constant need for competition even the way some… So it applies in any situation where there’s like a certain number of winners and a certain number of “losers” that feels zero sum, like I have to put someone down to push myself up. And I think whether or not a goal is actually objectively sort of zero sum, if we can think about it as being nonzero sum, as my success is going to fuel the inspiration of the person in the next race, or if we can train together, even though we may be competitors, it’s going to up both of our game. If we can reconceptualize our goals as being nonzero sum, and use grit with…the way I teach this is gritty otherishness. I love grit when it is applied specifically toward goals that uplift other people, not just ourselves. So Scott, I think we actually came to this conclusion and like in sort of different words, but the very similar conclusion.
Scott: Oh, yeah. Well, there are a number aspects of grit, that I’ve had a lot of delightful conversations with Angela Duckworth about because our offices were right next door to each other at Penn. So we formed a friendship and we would walk home together after work and debate and discuss these things. Sometimes I used to call it organic grit. So that’s another problem I have with a lot of the grit thing is like grit in a sort of like duty way is not the best kind of grit for self actualization. Organic grit, we want to grit like motivate people from within, not from without, especially in the school system. So when I talk to teachers, I often talk about how can we have more organic grit with the students where we inspire them first and then the grit comes as a result, as opposed to mandating they have grit first before they even give a shit about what they’re applying the grit for. That’s another thing, that’s a separate issue than the otherness issue, which I love.
Sonya: Can I add a yes and as well? I hope I don’t totally lose my train of thought here because I’m just hanging on every word that you do are saying, oh my gosh, now I’m losing it. I’m just give me a second. Let’s see where probably it’s gonna come back and even grit yes. And let’s talk about strengths. So strength I read this book in I think was 2010 called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. And it totally changed my world because I’d never heard of the field of positive psychology. And it brought to light all of these things that I had never heard of. All of a sudden, I figured out how I was able to accomplish some of the things that I was doing in the way that I was doing it. Because people would ask me like, well, how do you how do you stay so positive? Or how do you stay optimistic? Or how are you getting through these things, and I would be like, I don’t really know, I have to figure this out. And through that book, I found the via strength survey. And I know that you guys talk about this a lot in in Choose Growth, and both in your book, and something that I’ve found really interesting, so first of all, people should find out what their strengths are, if they don’t already through that survey, but in your book, you talked about the strengths, and what happens if they are out of whack, essentially. So I wanted to bring that up, because everybody thinks, oh, strengths are amazing, but strengths aren’t always amazing when they’re out of whack. So Jordyn, do you want to start?
Jordyn: Totally. So you can think about this as you can totally over build certain muscles and be imbalanced and just use the bicep in every practice, it’s not the appropriate use of the bicep, even if that’s your strongest, most proud muscle. So the idea is that we all have these character strengths. And with a few pathological exceptions, we all have the 24 strengths that they classified in the VIA strength survey. And this is one model of strengths that I subscribe to and love, there are other models out there. But so the there are 24 strengths that VIA has inventoried. And the idea is that so we have all of them. There are context specific strengths. So we use different strengths in different in work and at home and across different domains of our life. Strengths can change and transform over time. And the idea is that we have some top signature strengths that aren’t that modifiable. So for me, love has been in my top three strengths every single time, all 17 times I’ve taken the via survey. And perspective is usually another one that’s up there. And then maybe like my number three and four change throughout, but so there are ones that are really our signature strengths. And there’s a golden mean of an amount of strength that we want to give to a situation. So Scott, definitely humor is one of your top strengths. Is that one of your one of your signatures?
Scott: Number one. Yeah.
Jordyn: So Scott’s really funny. Yeah, there are probably times in Scott’s life where it’s not appropriate to just slap humor on. And so the idea is that we can’t just indiscriminately apply our strengths in every situation of life. But we have to use some practical wisdom as to mindfully using our strengths. And this is really like the past couple of years of strengths practice and research is the mindful use of strains, which Ryan Niemiec, who is very high up at VIA and is amazing, talks about. This is one of his recent books, The Mindfulness Based Strengths Practice. So I think people should definitely find out what their strengths are, learn the language of strengths, because once I appreciated what these human strengths are, like, appreciation of beauty and excellence, bravery, perspective, curiosity, when I started to really get the language down, I start to notice these in other people. And when you can spot a strength in someone, it can be a very powerful driver of a high quality connection and a way to really help someone feel seen and validated.
Sonya: I didn’t even get a chance to ask you about positive medicine. We have just a couple of minutes.
Scott: You should get Jordyn back on your podcast solo.
Sonya: Yeah, we’re definitely going to do it. I’ll save that story for another day as to my extra interest in that. But yeah, I don’t want to keep you guys longer. I could talk to you all day. And I wish that I could be on a walk home with one of you to keep picking your brain and batting around ideas.
Scott: Maybe someday we’ll go for a ride cycling together.
Sonya:So and we’re gonna do it. For sure.
Scott: What do you say, Jordan?
Jordyn: Well, I learned how to ride a bike. Last couple of years. I was telling Sonya before we started that we are we are a bit of kindred spirits. We’re sort of meeting and kindling.
Sonya: The fire starting to twinkle a little bit. And real quick, I remembered my “yes and” and it was about redefining and we don’t have time to talk about it today. But it’s about redefining the framework of what success and winning means in our culture because a lot of times it is based on a grade or an accolade or something like that. And I don’t think that that’s always healthy. So that was just what it was.
Jordyn: It’s a great segue into a little preview of what’s coming next from this book, Choose Growth, which is what Scott’s next baby is self actualization coaching. And really redefining some of the metrics that we coach on top away from certain very concrete “winning success accomplishment “toward being an equanimity.
Sonya: Well, where can everybody find you? They need to find you just period. So where can people find you?
Scott: Scottbarrykaufman.com. I put everything up there, all links and every possible request you may want from me, including dating, I’m single at the moment. So putting that into the universe as well. So yeah, you can reach out to me at Scottbarrykaufman.com. Anyone for any reason.
Jordyn: And you can find me on all of the social media @JordynFeingold is a pretty reliable way to get in touch.
Sonya: Well, thank you so much for the work that you both have done. You both have been a huge inspiration for me. And there’s a ripple effect of that for sure. And I’m so honored that I get to talk to you and just be a part of this. So thanks so much.
Scott: Thank you, Sonya, so much for having us on.
Jordyn: Thanks so much, Sonya. It’s a pleasure.