Dr. Sasha Heinz is a developmental psychologist turned mindset coach. She has her own private coaching practice grounded in psychological science. Dr. Heinz teaches the tools to change lives for good, develop mental fitness and transcend stress, anxiety, and self-criticism. She teaches her clients the science of unstuck.
She was one of the first 33 people in history to receive a degree in Positive Psychology. She received her BA from Harvard, Master’s in Applied Psychology from University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Columbia.
In this week’s podcast, Sonya and Dr. Heinz talk positive psychology, self-help, sitting with negative emotions, coaching vs. therapy and more.
“That feeling of overcoming, of enduring something challenging, difficult. Emerging from a difficult period of your life in a new way and feeling like, ‘I’m a different person because I experienced this’ and my life is psychologically richer. I understand myself more. I have more empathy for other human beings. I found a new gear, an inner gear, that I didn’t even know I had.”– Dr. Sasha Heinz
- The danger with self-help
- Self distancing
- PERMA model
- How to sit in your negative emotions
- Psychologically rich
- Coaching v therapy
- The STEAR map tool
- Learn more about Dr. Sasha Heinz
- Check out my Substack about high-performance mindset
- Sign up for my weekly newsletter!
Sonya Looney: Okay, let’s get into today’s episode with Dr. Sasha Heinz. Dr. Heinz, welcome to the show.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Hi, so good to be here.
Sonya: I’m really excited about this conversation because it’s basically everything that I love thinking about and talking about about and that I spend all of my spare time learning about.
Dr. Heinz: Me too. By the way, you’re such a badass. I was just saying that I live in the mountains, in the mountain town, so I have much respect for how hard mountain biking is. Not easy.
Sonya: Have you hopped on a bike yet?
Dr. Heinz: Not in many years. For being an athlete, I’m fairly clumsy, so the whole bike feet clipped in situation tends to go very wrong. So I tried to avoid the bike, and then the first time I ever went mountain biking, which was now, like, 20 years ago, my then boyfriend, now husband, took me on a trail and didn’t tell me that on the down, like, as we were going down, that it’s probably a good idea for me to ride up not in the saddle, not on the seat, so I could not walk. I was so sore. I remember being like, this is terrible, why does anyone like to do this? But yes, now I see it. When people are going down the hill, I’m like, all right, they’re standing up on their pedals. That makes sense.
Sonya: That’s too bad. But also kind of funny at the same time.
Dr. Heinz: I mean, yeah. So I don’t know bikes, and I’m not friends, but I play ice hockey, I ski. I do other things in this mountain town, but not biking for me.
Sonya: So I was looking at your educational history, and I thought it was very impressive. Can you tell us about your history?
Dr. Heinz: Yeah, I mean, I think we’ll probably get into this, but I was a world class achievement junkie and really set my sights on going to Harvard. That was the big brass ring for me. And I’m embarrassed to admit, but probably in middle school was really when I started thinking, like, that’s where I want to go to school, and was just laser focused on that’s where I want to go and what I want to do. And I ended up getting in early action. And once I got in, I had this sort of total unraveling let down. I’m like, I don’t even know what I want to study, who I am, what I care about. Just felt so lost. And that feeling of I had this goal that was structuring and ordering my life, and then once it was achieved, I felt completely out to sea. Anyhow I ended up I went to Harvard undergrad. It was not my most successful academic experience. And then I vowed never to go back to school after I left. I was like, I am done. I will never go back to school again. But lucky me, because I ended up working with a coach in my early twenties. I worked with a woman who was a life coach, which was so new back then. I think it was like 2001, maybe ’02, really early on in the years where life coach was just like, who even knew what that was? And I loved working with her. I think having been an athlete as a kid and working on my mental fitness, like, not just sort of healing work, but actually really working with someone to make me more resilient, enhancing, more of the development enhancing work than the sort of healing work which felt so exciting to do and felt fun. So I loved working with her. And I started reading books by Marty Seligman and other psychologists. And so that was how I got introduced to the field of positive psychology. And back when there were list serves. And she sent me an email, my coach at the time, who is now a dear friend and colleague, but she sent me an email that said, Marty Seligman is launching this positive psychology program and Masters in Positive Psychology at UPenn. It was the first year, it was 2005. And on a lark, I just applied and got in and that was that. So I vowed never to go back to school, but I did, and I went back to school for a long time after that. I went to Penn and then I went to Columbia to get my PhD in Developmental Psych. So that ended up being quite a long trajectory, but I absolutely loved it.
Sonya: Yeah, I found the field of Positive Psychology in 2010. And it was a book by Marty Seligman. And I thought, this is so awesome because in my racing, a lot of times people would ask me, how do you do the things that you do? Because I tend to go after the hardest races in the world, and how do you maintain a smile on your face? Or how do you keep going? And I was asking myself, well, how do I do that? And that’s how I fell, kind of stumbled upon that. And ever since I’ve just been obsessed with it. And I have my Masters in Electrical Engineering, but now I’m kind of wishing I had done a different path. But we all have to take our paths to get to where we’re going. And ultimately, I think that a lot of times people think about education, and education is important, but there is a lot of space to do your own education and to learn about things where you can take it into your own life, even if you don’t have a PhD in it.
Dr. Heinz: Oh my gosh. I mean, never more than now. I think that the world has given everyone an opportunity to geek out and learn more about stuff that they are interested in. There’s just so much available, whether that’s master classes, courses, amazing books, podcasts, there’s just endless amount of stuff to learn, I think that actually can be its own trap. I call it procrasti-learning with my clients. Sometimes I’m like wrapping their knuckles about their procrastinate, learning to create, not just consume.
Sonya: Yeah, I totally can understand that. And sometimes I’ll fall into that trap as well. But I wanted to ask you about the field of self help because it’s really interesting. You can procrasti-learn all day long, you can listen to podcasts, read books, like, learn all of these things, but never actually practice them in your own life or even be able to help other people with these things, but never actually look in the mirror and work on that stuff yourself. And sometimes I find that some of the self help could be like, I’m trying to become the perfect person, instead of I’m trying to just understand myself. So in your work, how do you help people work through having a better relationship with self help?
Dr. Heinz: I think this is honestly the central question of my career. I loved this idea from Positive Psychology, and I want to clarify. Positive psychology is not happy-ology. It is not suggesting that we should just be happy. It’s a subfield in the larger field of psychology that is focused on health, well being, optimal human functioning, and the causes and correlates of well being. It’s so important to understand that it’s just a part of a larger field. It was really conceived to address the imbalance in the field of psychology that we really focus primarily on disease, disorder and dysfunction, as opposed to what makes life worth living and how do we actually grow and develop and mature over time to live a good life. To feel that at the end of our days we get to look back on our life and think, yeah, that was meaningful and I have wonderful relationships and so much joy. And I’m proud of myself and really trying to understand this other side of the spectrum, which at the time, and this is in the early…, there really was a gross imbalance in the research that was being produced at the time. So that’s changed a bit, but the balance is still not equal. Nonetheless, yeah, this is what you’re saying about self help, this is the central question of my career. I think that if you want to do the work of developing and enhancing oneself and becoming more cognitively and psychologically and emotionally mature, your development doesn’t stop at 25. When you hit your physical maturation, you don’t necessarily hit your cognitive and psychological maturation. So that continues throughout the whole lifespan. So the fact that there is no formal structure to do this work of growth and development for me was so frustrating. So I created a community called Mind your Mind. That’s exactly what we do. It’s sort of like mental fitness for women. It’s a mind gym, a personal development gym for women with the same concept of you have to get involved in the doing. I use this analogy all the time with my clients because I once was a tennis player and I was on the court all the time. I will tell you, once I had some sessions with Jim Loehr. He’s like famed sports psychologist, which was interesting, but I used to play tennis pretty seriously. And the idea that you can practice your forehand or your backhand or your backhand slice without actually getting on the court and hitting a million balls is crazy. No one would do that. You wouldn’t read a book and then decide that you’re going to be an amazing tennis player. It’s not going to happen. We’ve all agreed that the way to learn a new sport is to get on the court or to get on the ski slopes or to get on a mountain bike and practice it and stink and fall and get back up and try it again. Right? And so there is a practice that’s involved with it. It’s not just theory, it’s a practice. You have to go practice it. There is a doing and in self help, we have our stacks of self help books on our bedside table that we never engage in the exercises with. We don’t engage with them with other human beings. So we’re not actually learning in community and the hard things that it’s suggesting that we go do, we’re like hard pass. Let me move on to the next chapter. So this is why I feel so strongly we need to be doing this work in community, and we actually have to be doing it.
Sonya: I like that you said doing it in community, and I think that that can be really challenging for people because it requires you to be vulnerable in front of a group, especially if you’re doing group coaching or even doing something in a community.
Dr. Heinz: It does feel a little daunting at first. You think, oh, my gosh, I’m on the island of misfit toys all by myself. Nobody has these crazy thoughts that I do. Nobody struggles with the anxiety or the doubt or the self criticism that I do. This is uniquely my problem. But the beautiful thing about creating a community and doing this work within a community is that you so quickly see, oh I’m not alone. Isn’t that interesting? The three people that just got coached that I was witnessed to their coaching, they all have variations on the theme that I have in my head and the skill that you’re practicing by doing that, by watching someone else get coached, you are practicing as the observer that self distancing, distancing from a narrative, recognizing it as a narrative, as separate from the human being. So if you, Sonya, were getting coached, I would be able to see, oh, there’s Sonya, and then there’s a story that she has about her competencies or about her doubt or about what’s possible for her, what’s not possible for her. And I can see them as two separate things. There’s you and then there’s the story that you’re telling. And when we’re embedded in our own story, we see it all as one. We can’t see beyond the story that we have. It’s like the lens that we see through and we have a hard time distancing ourselves. So in coaching and watching other people get coached, you’re actually practicing that skill of distancing, of distancing and you’re doing it with other people. But in watching other people, you begin to self distance too, because they’re thinking, well, that kind of sounds like my story. Kind of sounds like the thoughts that I have. Maybe there’s me and then there’s my thoughts about myself. And they are two separate things. Right. So you’re practicing that, which is a psychological skill.
Sonya: I had Ethan Cross on this podcast and he does a lot of emotional regulation research, I think in Michigan. And self distancing in regards to self talk is one of those really important things that I learned from him.
Dr. Heinz: Yeah, I mean, there’s so much cool research on and it sounds really dopey and weird to talk to yourself in the third person, but it’s enormously effective. So just in using your own name and talking to yourself the way that you would speak to a friend. You can downshift your nervous system and help regulate your nervous system just the way you would if you were having a bad day and you were feeling worked up about something and a friend gave you a loving word or made you calm down or helped you kind of find your bearings. It works in the same way.
Sonya: So I wanted to talk to you about achievement and happiness and the happiness horizon. And a lot of times people say I’ll be happy when I achieve something, whether it be like weight loss or they win a race or they finish a race or they buy a house or they get married. They think that this thing in the future they’re working towards is going to make them happy. And you sort of alluded to that in the beginning of this conversation of, okay, if I go to Harvard and get my bachelors, then I’ll be happy. So how can people be aware that, number one, that they’re doing this? And then where does that feeling of, oh, like, I feel fulfilled come from? Because it’s not coming from the achievement that’s coming in the future.
Dr. Heinz: Yeah. And interestingly, this is a great question because in Seligman’s model of his theory of well being, there are five components of wellbeing, and achievement is one of them. So it’s positive emotions, engagement, meaning, relationships, and achievement. So achievement is there. And I will say I think achievement is the most controversial of the five. I do think that achievement uniquely contributes to our wellbeing, but I think we need to be very nuanced about what we mean by achievement. It was added to the model last, actually. It was like in our class. One of my colleagues who ended up at Stanford challenged him and he ended up included the A in the PERMA model. But I think that there is a real dark side to the A in PERMA or achievement in this theory of well being, which is just a goal in and of itself, first of all, is not necessarily good. There are a lot of goals that are set that do enormous damage and evil in the world, and there are the fulfillment of goals. So we need to dialogue and have a conversation about this because it matters. Like this idea in self help with goal setting is good as a blanket statement is not accurate. We can set goals that are wonderful for humanity and for ourselves, and we can set goals that are detrimental to our wellbeing and also harm other humans and harm the planet. So I think we have to be very careful about the kind of goals that we’re setting. And I also think we need to be thoughtful for us personally is like, is it an intrinsically or extrinsically motivated goal? Why are we setting this goal? Why does it matter to us and really understanding that. I mean, we adapt – tonic adaptation. One of the biases of our brain, one of the lovely heuristics or rules of our brain is that we adapt. We adapt to the good. We adapt to the bad. It’s great that we do this. It’s what makes being a mother in the first year of being a mom and you’re like doing things you can’t imagine you would ever do. I’ve spent my whole day up to my elbows in feces and cleaning, and you’re just such a mess. And you think about your life six months prior to that. It’s unrecognizable. You couldn’t have anticipated, you couldn’t prepare for what you’d have to face in those early months, especially with your first kid. It’s just like, what complete upending of your world, but you adapt to it all of a sudden, like the blow out that you’re like, I’ll never be able to handle that. You’re like, I got this right. Not such a big deal. So we adapt to the good, the bad and the ugly, but we also adapt to the things that we think are going to make life amazing. So for an athlete, it might be a particular achievement or making a certain team or running at a certain pace or whatever it is. Once I grab that brass ring, I will just feel worthy and valuable and awesome and amazing. And then you get there and it doesn’t feel extraordinary at all. It just feels the new normal.
Sonya: In 2015, there’s a racing of mountain biking called 24 hours racing. So you race your bike for 24 hours. And I became world champion that year in that discipline. And when I did it, it was like, weird. I was like, well, now what am I supposed to do. And it wasn’t something that it was my lifelong dream, even, that I was working towards. And I can’t even imagine Olympians and people like this in sports, where they achieve this lifelong dream, and then they just feel so empty. So that’s why one of the reasons I’ve been really interested in wellbeing and fulfillment and what it means to thrive, and I like this, the PERMA model. Can you talk more about that? Because I think that that helps add context to achievement and to what are the things that make us feel good in our lives? And those aren’t the things necessarily that make us feel happy in the moment either.
Dr. Heinz: Absolutely. I think that it really helps to give people a more full bodied the understanding of what we’re talking about when we’re talking about wellbeing, what does that actually mean? We can reduce it to just a handful of components that contribute to our wellbeing. One of them is positive emotions. So just feeling good emotions – interest, awe, curiosity, joy, amusement, and so on – those are positive emotions. And interestingly, Barbara Frederickson’s research, I mean, she’s such a brilliant, she’s such a brilliant psychologist and researcher, but she’s been so groundbreaking on the topic of positive emotions. And we know she calls love the master positive emotion. And from her perspective, the definition of what is love? Well, from her perspective, love is a shared positive emotion. So it really, truly love is everywhere. We get to experience love. Like, this is an act of love. You and I are both geeking out about a topic we both enjoy. We’re both fully in the E, which is engagement in the state of flow. And so we get to engage in this, like, share this shared positive emotion. And our mirror neurons are matching each other right now. If we had electrodes on our head and we were analyzing that, that’s what we would see. So well, being really a piece of that is feeling good is positive emotion, but it’s not all of it. And I think that’s really important for people to understand. It’s not just, hey, good vibes only. No, that’s not at all.
Sonya: I actually hate it when it says only, like, good vibes, yes, but you also need all the other range of life experiences and emotions to feel those good vibes.
Dr. Heinz: Exactly. So then if we sort of move on to the other things would be engagement, which is being in flow. The irony of being in flow is that you’re actually really not conscious of any feeling. If you’re really in flow as an athlete, you’re so in the zone, you’re not aware that you feel good. You’re not aware you feel anything.
Sonya: It’s like no mind.
Dr. Heinz: Yes, it’s a transcendent state. We call it a peak human experience because it really is transcendent. You almost lose your sense of self in that state of flow. That’s why it feels amazing in retrospect, you look back and like that was awesome. But in the moment you’ve merged with the thing that you’re doing, you don’t end in the object of your activity begins. You become one with your tennis racket or you become one with your bike. Right? So that is the E and the model is engagement. So interestingly, engagement was the number one protective factor for people during COVID. The more you got flow and engagement, the higher your wellbeing. And that was controlling for in a study that was done it was actually done in Wuhan, but it was controlling for optimistic disposition and also mindfulness practices. So above and beyond those two factors was the degree to which you were in flow.
Sonya: Was that a study that was published?
Dr. Heinz: It was published in 2020. I’ll send it to you.
Sonya: Yeah, I’d love to see it.
Dr. Heinz: To see that afterwards. So that’s PE. And then we have the R is relationships. You cannot be well truly in any sense without positive relationships in your life. We are social animals. That’s just the way that human beings are. We co regulate we have attachment systems. We coregulate more efficiently with other human beings. Positive relationships with other people is absolutely cornerstone to our wellbeing. I would be hard pressed to find someone who self reports as having very high satisfaction with life that doesn’t have an abundance of high quality relationships.
Sonya: Yeah, I actually wanted to ask about that because I think that that’s probably something that a lot of people are lacking or even I hate putting people in a box, but people that are very driven it’s like the obsessive passion piece where they just can’t even spend time in their relationships and they just… I’m guilty of doing this myself. I’ll stop seeing my friends, I’ll stop talking to my family because I get so obsessed with a topic or preparation for something that the “our” part tends to suffer and then I find that I don’t feel as good. So something that I’ve been working on actually is making my relationships almost a top priority as much as I can. And I found that I feel a lot better in my life whenever I do that because I’m kind of rambling here. But a lot of us look online for relationships and there’s nothing wrong with having online relationships. But if most of your relationships are online, the chances are that they aren’t going to have a depth to them or an intimacy to them that you might want in person. So it can be lonely. You can have tons and tons of acquaintances, you could have millions of followers but you could also still be really lonely at the same time.
Dr. Heinz: Absolutely. Yeah, I think very well said, that’s right. I think that interestingly, there’s a whole body of literature on obsessive passion and that the more obsessive the passion is, the inverse correlation with wellbeing. So it’s related to decrease in wellbeing, which isn’t surprising. Right. The obsession is sort of a passion that takes over one’s life as opposed to it being life affirming and a creative to your life if it detracts from it because you become myopically focused.
Sonya: On it yeah so if someone finds that they are sort of sucked into this myopic focus and they have a really difficult time breaking that like maybe they say well. I don’t want to spend time with my friends because I need to keep working at this thing and it’s too scary. I can’t take my foot off the gas. Like how can somebody start wrestling with that?
Dr. Heinz: I mean, that’s a big question I think to unravel but for most people I would say it’s really about understanding what’s the psychological threat to take that tight grip off the handlebars or whatever, steering wheel. What feels so scary about not achieving a certain level or not being as obsessive about it? What feels so compulsive? There’s an aspect of it that becomes compulsive in nature which is not actually contributing to wellbeing at all and normally when we get into that space of compulsive behavior there’s always something that seems to be at threat so if we let go of our tight grip then something feels scary to us. It’s something that feels important to us is going to be threatened and that could be our sense of identity, our sense of status. So maybe you’re an elite athlete and your identity has gotten so wrapped up in being the best that you just now become a compulsive thing and you just don’t know how to get off the treadmill. It could be that. It could be a sense of autonomy like if I’m not the way you feel control in your life. It could be feeling that maybe a relationship is going to be threatened so perhaps you’re in a community that you really love and if you aren’t elite or you don’t do races or participate at the level that they do, you won’t be accepted in a particular community. These are sort of what typically tend to be psychological threats, another one being certainty. So if I’m not training to the letter exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, et cetera, et cetera, with this kind of obsessive myopic focus, then the outcome of whatever the next race is or whatever feels may be uncertain like that that’s the way that you kind of manage that sense of anxiety. So there’s definitely a lot of layers. It could be many different things but that is not the fun inner work of being a human being just to understand yourself better. To know and to explore with self inquiry and to get to know yourself like why do I do what I do? Why does this feel, why have I lost my choice, sense of choice? Like why do I feel compelled that I no longer have agency in this area? I have to do this no matter what. It’s not a choice, it’s a compulsion. That’s a really rich area to explore. And I would say to anyone listening, if you are brave enough to go explore those issues, you will no doubt uncover your next level of growth and development.
Sonya: Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of good points that you made there and a lot of questions people can ask themselves with some of the ideas and reasons why people can become so focused. But you can also use curiosity. And that’s one of those positive emotions that you’re talking about thinking, why am I like this? And then maybe it doesn’t feel quite as scary to approach that because you’re getting a positive emotion from curiosity.
Dr. Heinz: Exactly. It’s always best to start with curiosity.
Sonya: But does it always feel good to be curious? Because what if you’re asking yourself questions about things that you’re afraid to uncover and then you’re not getting a positive emotion from that.
Dr. Heinz: Yeah, but here’s the thing is that I love the analogy of athletics because I just think that there is something that every athlete understands, that there is just no workout that doesn’t include some pain point. There’s no growth at all that doesn’t include some suffering on some level. If you want to become better at anything athletically, you have to pay to play. Like it’s how it works. Nobody gets to…That’s part of the club. Right? Isn’t that part of the world that you inhabit where only someone who does what you do knows what you go through to do it? So I think that same in our inner world. It’s the same thing in the breakthrough. It can be a dark night. You can go through that sort of dark and isolating place, but in the emergence of that is like you’ve now broken through to something really beautiful and a whole new level of understanding of oneself and developmental maturity.
Sonya: Yeah, I think that a lot of times we’ve been taught or we tend to block out negative emotions or even anger, which can be I don’t know if that’s positive or negative emotion, but we just don’t want to feel those things. And a lot of times that can be really harmful to you, and you can miss out a lot in your life if you don’t experience those negative. I don’t even like using the word negative, but those maybe like heavier emotions or those that just don’t feel as good. So what advice do you have for people who do struggle to feel pain or just these challenging feelings that they try to block out?
Dr. Heinz: I speak as a fellow, let’s avoid the uncomfortable emotions, thank you very much. I don’t recommend avoiding it because you get yourself into a corner in your life. At some point you’ll hit a wall with that there’s no way out but through. But I think normalizing emotions and emotions both on either end of the spectrum, the ones that maybe feel easier or that are more welcome, and the ones that are more unwelcome, they’re biochemical waves. They’re like the weather. They pass. I think the scariest thing for when we’re in a spell where we’re feeling a difficult emotion is the feeling that it will never go away. I will always feel like. This grief I’m feeling will never go away. This anxiety and feeling will never go away, that it will persist. And I think one of the things that makes engaging in a difficult workout easier psychologically is that there’s a degree of guarantee, certainty, that the discomfort that you will feel, that you invariably will feel, will end. You know, it will end. When the bike rides over, it won’t hurt so much. Or when you’ve climbed to the peak. The hard part is over, so to speak. So maybe that gives you a little bit more of a sense of control. And I think with emotional waves, people feel a little bit less certainty of like, oh my gosh, this thing is just never going to stop. This shame, like a wave of shame, the worst feeling in the world. So horrible. It does not feel good. Crawl under wherever you are. You just want to crawl under something. It doesn’t feel awesome, but it ends. It doesn’t last forever. It’s a biochemical wave. It hits a crescendo and then it sort of begins to recede, if we’re not resisting it so hard and just letting it wash over us. So the more skillful we become in being able to engage with our emotions is allowing them to be present, being present with them without so much resistance, the less intimidating they become, the less scary they become. We just increase our tolerance to be able to just withstand them and just be able to be present with them.
Sonya: And I think there’s a rumination piece. It creates this lingering effect of some of these emotions, and you feel the emotion, but then you keep thinking about it and keep making stories about it, and then it becomes this thing that isn’t just 90 seconds long. It becomes the thing that goes on and on and on in our mind.
Dr. Heinz: Absolutely right. That is where I’m my world, like, doing mind work is so important because every single time you retell that same story, you’re just reactivating that same emotional loop over and over again. And that’s what feels so intimidating. But we actually have so much autonomy when it comes to our minds. We really do. The tail is wagging the dog for most of us, but we really can develop the skill set to be the dog wagon, the tail.
Sonya: So we have the M and the A left.
Dr. Heinz: Yeah. Right. And actually, this leads us what we’re talking about with relationships leads to the M, which is meaning, purpose, living a meaningful life, living a purposeful life. So essential to living a good life is feeling that what we do on this planet matters, and it doesn’t just matter to us. It matters to other humans that our presence here in some way impacts somebody else in some positive way. Feeling connected to that larger web of humanity is deeply important to our wellbeing, which I think is such a beautiful thing. So being in touch and often the things that feel most meaningful to us are often the things that were most painful or they can be most painful.
Sonya: Yeah, that’s something I do some keynote speaking. And that’s something that I often say is think of the thing that you’re most proud of in your life. That’s often something that you had to work really hard for and there is stress and challenge. And it wasn’t this happy thing that you did. It’s like you had to go all in on something and it was painful. But you’re so proud of that at the end.
Dr. Heinz: Yes. Right. Exactly. That feeling of overcoming, of enduring something challenging, difficult, emerging from a difficult period of your life in a new way and feeling like I’m a different person because I experienced this and my life is psychologically richer. I understand myself more. I have more empathy for other human beings. I found a new gear, an inner gear that I didn’t even know I had.
Sonya: I like the term psychologically rich life. That’s something that I’ve been learning more about. Can you elaborate more on that?
Dr. Heinz: I’m not sure who exactly I’m like who coined this. I think it’s a Japanese researcher, but in any case, who writes a lot on positive psychology. But the concept is just really looking at instead of talking about wellbeing, happiness, but it’s really looking at what’s a good life and it’s looking at wellbeing from this eudaimonic perspective. It’s not just about feeling good, but it’s about living a life that feels that is abundant in meaning and relationships and all the things that make life worth living. That there’s sort of the full symphony. It’s not just two notes, two little cheerful notes. That’s not an interesting piece of work. Right? If we’re going to go listen to a great piece of music, we want the full experience. We want the highs and the lows and the flats and we want to hear it all together in harmony. But there’s depth to it. And I think that is this idea of what does it mean to live a life that’s beyond just the sort of surface level of good vibes and everything feeling pleasant all the time? Because a life that feels pleasant all the time isn’t actually that pleasant.
Sonya: Some of this conversation reminds me of some of the work that Scott Barry Kaufman has done and then also some of the writing that Arthur Brooks has done. And I’m just throwing those names out there for people who want to take this a step further so they can continue on their path if they’re listening to this.
Dr. Heinz: Yeah, I was just listening to something that I’m actually so excited he’s coming out to I live in Sun Valley, Idaho, and he’s coming out here to give a talk in a few weeks and I’m going with my mom. I’m dragging my mom and dad to it, so I’m so excited.
Sonya: I wish I could go.
Dr. Heinz: He’s really interesting. Yeah. I don’t know. I’m not so well versed in Arthur Brooks, but I know I was listening to something and he was talking about it from more of a theological perspective of St. Thomas Aquinas and suma theological and more from sort of like what are the idols that lead us down the wrong path? But the psychological literature really backs up almost exactly the same thing, which is fame, wealth, image, those are things that are going to… they’re extrinsically motivated. This brings us to the A, right. The achievement. Those are the goals. If we set goals that are extrinsically motivated, it’s going to diminish our wellbeing. And there’s a really robust body of literature on this. So there’s nothing new under the sun. We’re using the scientific method now to explore some of these questions. But great theologians and philosophers and spiritual teachers have been asking the same questions for thousands of years.
Sonya: Kind sounds like the A should be almost like mastery and even mastery of self.
Dr. Heinz: Yes, exactly right. I mean, I think that’s really what Seligman means with achievement. That it’s sort of like it’s achievement, but couched in self acceptance. That it’s achievement coming from a place of what turns you on, what makes you come alive, like what’s really leaning into what would be possible for me from an expansive place. Not what must I prove to earn my worthiness, to hustle for my worthiness, which I think so many high achievers are doing.
Sonya: Yeah, it’s something that I wrestle with all the time and just even having the awareness around it, I find it very helpful.
Dr. Heinz: Definitely. And again, this is why this work is there’s so much nuance here because to say, like, oh, all achievement is excellent, it’s like, not necessarily. And everyone’s journey is so different. There’s a lesson, there’s a different lesson in it for everyone. But I think that’s also sort of what makes this so exciting is for one person saying not training so hard is the work. For someone else, it’s actually getting themselves to train, right? How do we know which is which? We have to understand the person and we have to understand their web of meaning and what they’ve been doing and why and what their story is like. There’s sort of universal truths. That’s the science of this. We’re always looking for what’s generally true. We’re looking for the laws of human behavior and understanding them. And there are but the art of what I do and what anyone is in the healing world of doing inner work with human beings is our growth and development is, like, there’s the science of it, but the art of it is the individual story. Right? And, like, how do those two things interplay? And that’s where the juiciness is always.
Sonya: I wanted to ask you because you have your PhD in developmental psychology, but you’re also a life coach, is that correct? And the crossover point, that’s something that in my health coaching program, there’s a health coaching program I did at Vanderbilt, and that is something that we have to define in our practices. What’s the difference between coaching and therapy? So for you, you’re a coach, but you also have a PhD in psychology. So how do you separate the two? Or do you separate the two whenever you’re working with people?
Dr. Heinz: It’s a really good question, and it’s increasingly a conundrum, right? Like, where do we draw a line? Is there a line? It’s a good question. For me, I would draw the line in terms of my work is I really focus on growth, development, and enhancement and really working with someone on who’s their future self and walking out towards their future self. The walking piece is important that there’s an action to be taken, that they’re taking action toward that vision of what they’re holding as a possibility for themselves. And I really don’t engage in at all… I have other experts that will speak to things that would fall in my mind under the auspices of anything that is disease, disorder, dysfunction, anything that feels clinical to somebody or even, frankly, trauma. And by the way, these two things work in tandem. I think having a great psychotherapist and having a great coach can work so well together. They’re different modalities. It’s like I’m borrowing this wonderful phrase from George Vaillant, who’s also adult developmental psychologist, and Robert Keegan is the other sort of giant in the field. And talking with George Valley, and I was asking him, what are your thoughts about your theory? And Robert Keegan, how do they work together? And he was like, we’re looking at the same sky. We’re just describing the clouds in a different way. And I sort of feel like the work of therapy and coaching can be in some way described in the same way. It’s like my tools are different, my approach is different. My boundaries of sort of where I go and where I don’t go are different than a trained psychotherapist. And I think that those are really important lines to understand. Where is there someone who when you can identify, sometimes I think some of my job is identifying, like, hey, this is something that maybe you want to explore in a deeper way with someone who this is their specific skill set to work with you on this topic.
Sonya: You alluded to some skills that you work on with clients in group coaching and maybe even individuals. We have a few minutes left can you pick your favorite tool and tell us about it?
Dr. Heinz: My favorite tool is just very simply using a sort of derivative of a CBT model, making it linear. I call it the stear map. It’s a hominem, so it sounds like what it means, but it’s spelled incorrectly. So S-T-E-A-R. But it’s just a tool to use for self distancing, to be able to take what’s in your brain and look at it on paper to become more skillful in managing your mind, which, by the way, every human being needs to become more skillful in managing their mind. It’s just not something for people that think they have broken brains. This is for everyone. There is no class that we get on learning to manage this wild thing that we have on our shoulders. It’s completely ludicrous to me that we don’t take it more seriously. Like, how do we actually wrangle this thing in? One of my favorite ways is using STEAR map is just sort of taking this linear, writing down what’s the specific situation, just the facts, just like as if you’re Walter Cronkite reporting the news, I finished a race at x time, or whatever the thing is. And then that external situation, that specific situation activates a thought. What’s the thought? There may be will be a number of ways you can just pick one. You pop it in like, what’s the thought that that specific situation activates? The thought that you’re thinking will then generate an emotion. Our thoughts create emotions. Emotions are physical sensations plus a cognitive interpretation. So we can have physical sensations, but we have to decide what that thing is. There’s a cognitive aspect to our emotions. So our thoughts then create our emotions. And then the emotion that we’re feeling is what tells our body what to do. So our emotions then create our actions. So you can look like, okay, I have this bot. We created this emotion. The action I took from that emotion was this. And then what would those actions what was the result, the R that I created from those actions? It’s just a very simple way of taking this sort of very messy stuff that’s happening in our brain and in a reductive way, putting it in something more linear and looking at it. And often what you will see is that there is a bi directional relationship between the result and the thought. That your thought kind of you create the result with your thought, and then the result that you get often reinforces the thought. It sort of proves it through. So you create this, what we call confirmation bias, which is how we get into loops and do the same thing over and over again. And this kind of like, why do we do this again? That’s why. So it’s just a way of taking what’s in your brain and just putting it on paper and looking at it, and you can get really skillful and playful with this tool, and then you can really play around with it. Like, okay, if I wanted to create this result, let’s work our way backwards. What might the thought and emotion be that would generate the action to create this result that I’m trying to accomplish? So it’s also a way of sort of reverse engineering. What might it look like if I was to create a different result? What might I need to think and feel to create a different result that.
Sonya: It sounds like that could be something really cool to combine with Jud Brewer’s habit loop. Are you familiar with him?
Dr. Heinz: No.
Sonya: You should check him out. I think you’d really like it. His latest book is called Unwinding Anxiety, and he has another book called The Craving Mind. But basically he has a lab, and he works at Brown University and they study behavior change and the Q trigger reward loop. But he says anxiety is actually a habit loop. So you can map out your anxiety is a habit loop. And it sounds like you could also fit that into this year map tool to develop more insight from that.
Dr. Heinz: Definitely. Anxiety is a really interesting one because it’s normally something where we’re anticipating some unpleasant, something that we don’t…so it’s like we’re feeling anxiety in advance of that thing that we think is going to happen. So it’s a protective, like a crust over our emotions in this funny way. By the way, for those of you that are like, I don’t like feeling bad feelings, no thanks. I guarantee you struggle with anxiety. Guarantee you. Because if you’re afraid of feeling any of disappointment, sadness, grief, disappointment, shame, vulnerability, if you’re like no thank you to those emotions, you are just signing up for tons of anxiety because the dread of the fear of feeling that I’m going to anticipate I’m going to one day I might feel disappointed or I might feel embarrassed or I might feel shame, that’s what’s activating all the anxiety.
Sonya: There’s so much we could just talk all day. I like geeking out about all this stuff.
Dr. Heinz: It’s really the best. I just want to elevate this conversation, which is exactly what you’re doing, which I love so much, about becoming more skillful at living and managing our own humanness. And I think that it’s gotten sort of like relegated to this pejorative, cheesy, like self help, guru, blah, blah, blah. But the reality is this is deeply important. What’s more important than understanding what makes life worth living or what a good life is or growing and developing and maturing as an adult? Nothing is more important than this. It’s like the health of our kids is deeply connected to our own growth and development, the health of our world, the health of our communities, and so on and so forth. So to me, this is the central conversation.
Sonya: Yes. I think it’s scary because people might have to shift what their North Star is when they realize that maybe that North Star isn’t contributing to a life where they feel more well being or they feel more fulfilled, or when they’re at the end of their life like you talked about at the very beginning. Am I proud of the life that I lived?
Dr. Heinz: Yeah, but I think, it is a daunting thing. We think, oh my gosh, if I actually pull the veil back and start actually looking at this and getting curious about myself, what am I going to find? And that feels daunting and scary. But the reality is that there’s just so much richness on the other side of it, of developing into a more mature developmental stage. There’s developmental stages in adulthood just as there are in childhood. So you’re not going to have the same brain, the same mind that is concerned about the things that you’re concerned about today. If you’re engaged in this process of growth and development, you won’t have the same mind in ten years. You’ll see the world differently. The lens through which you see things absolutely changes. You have these Copernican perspective shifts over time.
Sonya: I’ll bring in Arthur Brooks. I’m still working on his book From Strength to Strength, but he talks about crystallized intelligence and that happens as you get a lot older. And that’s different from the type of intelligence you have when you’re younger.
Dr. Heinz: Definitely. And wisdom is not correlated with age. So we just don’t magically become wiser as we age. Sorry guys. No. We have to engage with ourselves and we have to actually ask ourselves these very tough questions of like, okay, in my twenties I thought achievement was everything and I needed to grab these brass rings and if I achieved these things then everything would be amazing. But then I did enough. Everything was amazing. But what does that mean? Well, the wise person is going to start asking questions, as opposed to, well, I’m just going to keep going. I’m just going to keep on this achievement treadmill until I fall off. So the more we’re engaging with ourselves and asking questions of like, why doesn’t this feel awesome? I’m succeeding in the eyes of the world. Everyone’s telling me that I’m doing great, but it doesn’t feel good to me. Isn’t that interesting? And there are a lot of brilliant therapists, sports psychologists, psychotherapists coaches that I think can just be wonderful partners and allies in this work of digging into our inner world and our own adult development.
Sonya: I think that’s a really great place to wrap this up. Where can people find you if they want more?
Dr. Heinz: I hang out on Instagram. My handle is D-R-S-A-S-H-A-H-E-I-N-Z. So Dr. Sasha Heinz and then also my website drsashaheinz.com. I’m so excited because right now it’s just an alumni community. But in October, starting October 1, we’re opening up Mind your mind. Like mind gym for women, to everyone. So we’ll be launching that as a larger community in October. And I’m really excited about this because I think your question about coach versus I have so much reverence for my colleagues that are therapists and the work that they do. And I think my work as a coach really is the work of practice. It’s really getting people in the arena, in the gym, practicing. It getting more skillful, learning the tools. That really is my mission.
Sonya: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and for sharing all this great knowledge. And I’m excited for all of the listeners to take their next steps.
Dr. Heinz: It was so much fun to have this conversation. Thank you.