[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.6] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performers tick with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode, we ask can and should we set aside our emotions to make decisions in huge high-stakes environments. We look at how to channel and listen to your emotions to make even better decisions. We talk about learning from negative emotions. How historical echoes in our life create repeated behavior patterns and much more with Denise Shull.
The Science of Success continues to grow with more than 800,000 downloads, listeners in over 100 countries, hitting number one in New and Noteworthy, and more. I get listener comments and emails all the time asking me, “Matt, how do you organize and remember all this incredible information?” A lot of our listeners are curious about how I keep track of all the incredible knowledge I get from reading hundreds of books, interviewing amazing experts, listening to awesome podcast, and more.
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In our previous episode, we looked at how Toyota turned the worst automobile factory in America into the best without changing any personnel. We discussed the paradox of choice, paralysis by analysis, and the danger of having too many choices. The vital importance of a multidisciplinary viewpoint to truly understand reality, we ask if there are any quick fixes for wisdom and much more with Dr. Barry Schwartz. If you want to get the keys to living a successful life, listen to that episode.
Lastly, if you want to get all the incredible information, links, transcripts, everything we talked about in this episode and much more, be sure to check out our show notes. Just go to scienceofsuccess.co, hit the show notes button at the top.
[0:02:43.6] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Denise Shull. Denise is a decision coach performance architect and founder of the ReThink Group. She utilizes psychological science to solve the issues of mental mistakes, confidence crisis and slumps in Olympic athletes and Wall Street traders.
Her book; Market Mind Games has been described as the best of its genre and the Rosetta Stone of trading psychology. She’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, The New York Times, and consulted on the Showtime drama series Billions as one of the inspirations for Maggie Siff’s character; Wendy Rhoades.
Denise, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:19.6] DS: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
[0:03:21.4] MB: We’re very excited to have you on today. For listeners who may not be familiar with you and some of your work, tell us a little bit about your story and how you got started and sort of what your work looks like today.
[0:03:32.8] DS: Well, I used to sell computers for IBM in my 20s and I was like, “Oh my gosh! If I’m 40 and doing this, I’m going to not be happy,” let’s just put it that way. I was very interested in psychology, went to the University of Chicago where they have this really cool design your own master’s program, and studied basically neuroscience of emotion and neuroscience of unconscious thought, like what’s going on in there that we don’t’ really know about.
Then I played volleyball with four traders and they’d wanted me to be a trader. Basically, I ditched the Ph.D. and became a trader. I was trading, managing a trading desk. I thought I was going to be doing that forever, and that master’s degree was like this cool little thing that cost a lot of money but went nowhere.
Then someone wanted to publish it 10 years after it was written. I was like, “Oh my gosh! It’s neuroscience. If you publish it as it is, you’ll sound archaic because you will be. Let’s update it.” What a group of scientists had shown, they’re all at UoC now, was that you had to have emotion to make a decision. All of the trading psychology, in Wall Street psychology, was take the emotion out if it. I was like, “Hmm, if you took the emotion out of it, literally, you couldn’t actually make the decision. This is a problem. We need to figure this out.”
I basically started talking about it and, honestly, people started to asking me to talk and someone asked me to write a magazine article, and I’d really wanted to be journalist at one point, so I was like, “Oh, cool. I’ll get an article published.”
Then I think it took on a life of its own because it resonated with people. People felt as if they were supposed to set the emotion aside and they found they couldn’t, but they kind of were ashamed of that and didn’t want to tell anymore, particularly traders. When I came along and started saying, “No. No. No. You have to have emotion to make a decision, and that’s what the science said.” Basically, were relieved and more people wanted to hear about it. Here we are 12 years later or whatever it is, with more people wanting to hear about it.
[0:05:30.9] MB: One of the core things that you just mentioned is the idea that often times this sort of commonsense advice or that thin you hear repeatedly in high-stakes environments like trading is that we should try to set aside our emotions and be rational, but the research doesn’t necessarily support that conclusion. Is that correct?
[0:05:50.1] DS: Yes, that is totally correct. In fact, there are lots of different researchers who come to the conclusion that the only way to be truly rational is to incorporate your emotion. Consciously incorporate your emotion into the decision. That if you understand what the emotion is about, what the meaning is, which parts of it don’t have to do with the decision you’re facing or the performance you’re facing, because there’s always a mix of what’s here and now and what’s not here and now. If you try to set it all aside, that just all gets jumbled and it affects you in the worst possible way at the worst possible moment.
[0:06:29.4] MB: Tell me more about it. Expand on that concept that how do we consciously incorporate our emotions into our decision making and how does that make us more rational?
[0:06:39.0] DS: Well, the first thing people have to do is actually just accept that feeling emotion, thought, and your physical being are one integrated system. The best analogy I can come up with a car. You need all the parts to have the car go forward and start and stop when you push the brakes. It doesn’t work without all of them for the most part. It’s a continuum from what’s called affect, which is just — The best way to understand affect is the difference between before and after you have coffee, or before and after you have a cocktail. That’s the difference in your affect, kind of your general mood outlook.
Then that morphs into what we think of more as feelings, where your intuition unconscious pattern recognition is. Then extreme forms of affect and feeling are what we know as emotion. When you have this spike of an experience that’s intense and is driving you to do something. The trick is to change your viewpoint of that experience and start to look at that experience as information of the information about the here and now and information about what got you to the here and now.
As you do that, start to pull that spaghetti ball apart. Particularly, all negative emotions have like a kernel of meaning and a kernel that can help you. Because, basically, the whole world been miss-taught emotion and certainly miss-taught negative emotion at this point in time, people never get to the valuable kernel, or let’s say rarely get to the valuable kernel.
What happens is your psyche in trying to get like a piece of information to you that’s it's important that can protect you and help you and you try to set aside, it’s sort of the volume turns up. The irony of trying to set the emotion aside and particularly trying to set the negative emotion aside is that either the volume turns up so it gets more intense, or it gets diverted and convoluted into other situations including your help.
Step one is just changing the viewpoint. People are really afraid of emotion and they’re certainly really afraid of negative emotion. Men more than women, legitimately, because men are taught from conception probably, do not have their feelings. Obviously, it’s not quite true, but practically.
It's an attitude, and what happens is as people start to say, “Okay, my emotions aren’t something to be overcome, set-aside. They aren’t old from earlier in creation or evolution. They actually have value to me.” Once you change the attitude, then you're able to have and hold those feelings and as you’re able to do that actually and be very conscious about that, you really have much more control over how you choose to behave or act.
I think I’ll let you ask me another person, because who knows whether I’m — What road I’m going down.
[0:09:55.9] MB: No. I think that makes a lot of sense, and it's something that we dig into a lot on the show and something that fascinates me, which is this kind of core idea that we should focus on finding the valuable — As you said, the valuable kernel of information that our emotions are trying to send to us.
How do we actually sort of practically do that? How do we listen more to our emotions and how do we change our orientation around the way we feel about negative emotions instead of trying to push them down or fight them or avoid them? How do we actually learn from them?
[0:10:30.8] DS: Yeah. Step one, once you change your attitude. So it’s really step two. Let’s just take fear and anxiety. Research shows that being able to granular or differentiate between levels of nervousness, anxiety, fear, helps you handle it.
One of the first things I do with actually my hedge funds and traders and, now, with the Olympic athletes, is get them to come up with their own spectrum, so on one level it’s — One edge of the spectrum is panic and the other is overconfidence, and choose their words, like doubt, concern, worry, anxiety, fear, terror, and actually think about the words and even look them up in the Thesaurus, even though we all know what these words mean.
There are some piece of psychological event, energy, and this is not understood yet. Where using better language and getting the word right and even being able to use the words in different languages somehow helps us process the feeling better. Everybody's got anxiety in some level about a performance, about a decision, about their job, about their trade, about whatever. Whatever anyone’s doing, if you didn’t have a level of anxiety, you’d never do the preparation.
Then depending on how you’ve learned to handle it, that anxiety can be more or less in the most important or most intense situations. In those really stressful situations, the more you can accurately say to yourself, “Okay, I'm really worried my boss is going to do blah-blah,” or, “I'm terrified. I'm going to fall,” if you’re a snowboarder. In trade, “Oh my gosh! I'm freaked out that I'm going to lose money.”
The more you can say that to yourself, own it, connect head to stomach, own it and hold it right there with the right word that describes the level, the irony is that feeling contracts. There's something about that acknowledgment with language that seems right to you, that helps you connect head to gut, and then it's like your psyche has said, “Okay, I got the message through. I know that you know, Matt, that need to be a little concerned about this, so you need to go check X, Y and Z,” or whatever it is, that you need to be prepared. I’ve got the message through you, so I, as the anxiety or concern in your head, can now go back to sleep because you’ve got it. I know you’ve got it because you’ve acknowledged this feeling that I'm trying to serve up to you that was meant to remind you that you need to double check your preparation or whatever the situation is. I'm using double check your preparation is covering snowboarding pertaining to dealing with one's boss to, “And I’m big on television,” to whatever. The clue starts with actually changed attitude, getting comfortable with the words particularly around the spectrum of fear and anxiety.
[0:13:48.0] MB: Concretely, what is this sort of connecting your head to your gut look like? Is it journaling? Is it therapy? Isn't talking to yourself?
For somebody who’s listening to this that’s struggling, what would the sort of concrete actions that you would prescribe to them be as a starting point to really let those feelings be acknowledged and kind of let them bubble up and be understood?
[0:14:12.7] DS: Well, for people who are comfortable doing it, which isn’t what you asked me, you can do it just talking to yourself in your head. A lot of my clients who’ve been working with me, I’ve got them to the stage where they can do it in their head or some of the snowboarders I’m working with who need to do it in their head because they’re in the starting day. That process of getting to that point, in an ideal world, you’ve got someone to talk to about it. It's really hard to find someone who can tolerate listening to someone's anxiety, because we listen to someone else talk about they’re nervous and we want to make them not nervous as supposed to give them the feeling that it's okay to have that feeling.
What that leaves us with is journaling and someone being really gentle and kind to themselves and allowing themselves to have all of their feelings, because then on another level they are really just a feeling and they don't necessarily speak to exact reality. The journaling mechanism, if someone could get comfortable writing on a piece of paper or typing into a computer exactly how they feel without any judgment. That's a clue. Whether it's the journal judging you — There’s a process where people edit just when they go to write or whether the coach, mentor, therapist that you’re talking to will judge you in some way. What you want is a feeling that whatever feeling you have is okay and that step one is just to be able to look, observe that feeling, get more information about describing it.
In a practical level, you don’t have to pay for a therapist, have a coach if you can learn to use writing as a way to be that accepting other person for yourself.
[0:16:07.3] MB: How do we get rid of the judgment?
[0:16:12.9] DS: Yeah, that's the question, isn’t it? I want to say, “Hey, it’s just you and yourself and you’re allowed to have all your feelings, and your feelings are meant to help you. What’s the point judging yourself?” It's just a piece of paper and you’re just trying to understand what your feelings are trying to tell you what that message is about. Is it relevant to the thing I’ve got to face today? Or does it tell me something that I need to look into in general, or something I need to understand about myself general? It's just research.
I can tell you from my vantage point everyone has all kinds of feelings, sand everyone doubts themselves on some level. It's just part of the human condition. Now, I've worked with people who have hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars and a lot of people might look at them and think they don't have anything to be worried about, and they’re no different than the next human being. Everybody has levels of concern and worry because it is a driver — Understood in a pure form, it is a driver of what makes us better.
In most cases, it doesn't exist in a pure form because no one has learned to understand this way, so it’s been mishandled. So then it's gotten exaggerated. One [inaudible 0:17:47.5] history with fear and anxiety comes to bear at any given situation, and that's like the untangling part that you can certainly start to do in a journal. It helps to have someone to talk through it with back to the value of language that's I think not yet explained in neuroscience.
Let me say, don't judge yourself. Of course, I know it’s way easier said than done, but I’ll still say it. There’s no reason to judge yourself. All your feelings are okay. It doesn’t matter they are. They’re just feelings. If you understand them, you don't have to automatically act on them.
[0:18:24.7] MB: This makes me think about — And you touched on something earlier that I do want to get back to which is the kind of integrated physical system of the body and how it's all kind of one whole. Before we touch on that, this makes me think about something else you’ve talked about which are these ideas of we have almost these historical echoes that create repeated behavior patterns. I don't know if those would be the same thing as limiting beliefs or sort of related to limiting beliefs. I'd love to dig in to that concept.
[0:18:53.1] DS: Yeah, they’re very similar to limiting beliefs. That master’s thesis actually was entitled The Neurobiology of the Theory of Freud's Repetition Compulsion, or Freud’s theory of the repetition compulsion. You’d think I know the name of my master’s thesis.
In any event, Freud identified this phenomenon in human beings where we get ourselves in repetitive circumstances. We marry one person, get divorced, get married again, completely different person have the same exact feeling and the same exact documents. We got from one job with certain kind of difficulties with our colleagues, our bosses. We go a different job, different people, same thing.
He identified this back in 1800s, and I saw it in my friends, and I saw it somewhat in myself. I was like, “Why is this? There has to be some sort of unconscious template in there where we’re making choices and we’re behaving in certain ways that cause situation A to be exactly like situation B 5, 8, 10-year, or 20 years later, whatever, 30, 40 years later even though the ingredients are completely different.
I’ve studied that. I wrote about it and how templates for relationships start, again, from conception, not from birth. How there’s something called a critical period in birds where if a bird doesn’t lean its song at a certain point, it never learns it, and so I suggested that there were critical periods for all kinds of things.
The critical periods for who we are and how we relate in the world happen to us very early. That becomes what is generally known as limiting beliefs. Freud called it the compulsion to repeat. I originally called it echoes in my work. I turned back to fractals, which I’ll come back to in a second.
What I discovered when I started working with traders is that they would take the market and the prices moving at the market, and the market would function like their boss, or their spouse. They like a war shack plot, they would impute meaning to the way the market personal meaning to where the market was behaving, and then they would react.
A lot of people react to the market as an authority figure and maybe would rebel and get bigger in a market position that they were losing money in. Like as a way of rebellion. Once I started to realize that people were taking their life stories and their viewpoint of themselves and I think what you would refer to as limiting beliefs, and making the market their partner in there. It’s like, obviously the market is not — The market doesn’t care anything about any one particular person.
As I started to write about it in my book, I actually realized there's a concept called — Well, there’s a thing known as fractal geometry, so like broccoli or trees are the perfect example of fractals, meaning what one stalk of broccoli, when you look at it, really looks the same as the whole head of broccoli, or one branch of a tree really looks the same as a whole tree and it's just a matter of scale. I started thinking, “You know what? I think human beings effectively that are psychology is fractal,” and so we have the snippets of experience in our first 5, 10, 15 years.
Then we don't know are like buried in there, but they are the DNA or the pattern for the tree or the broccoli in our head. We experience them as our self-concept as limiting beliefs. We’re acting out of those. What we can do the kind of unravel is untangle and connect those feelings to situations that might have occurred in our family. I could start telling a list of situations that might have occurred in our families, but we all know what those are.
My opinion is that it is literally a neurological phenomenon that gets set up some sort of critical period thing and how a human develops in terms of who we are and where we fit in the world. Unless we look at it, it just stays that way. The mechanism for getting us to look at it is feelings that we have that make us unhappy in adult situations. We could try to set those feelings aside or we could say, “Okay, these set of feelings makes me unhappy. Oh, by the way, it’s the exact same thing that’s happened last time with a different boss. How do I figure out which part of that is me just bring this fractal echo experience that was given to me are set up for me, for let’s just say, because I was like third oldest boy in the family and my two older brothers picked on me? I might more incline to think that my boss is picking on me, when he's really not.”
Until you start to realize, “Wait a minute, my feelings don't match the situation, but my feelings do match situations I’ve experienced while growing up.” That gives you the awareness to start to be able to pull that apart and then react in the present with the factors in the present as supposed to what you just called limiting beliefs, but I think are coming from earlier experiences in the form of fractals or echoes is something that people relate to, because it feels like an echo. It’s feels like this is happening again. I’ve heard this story before. I’ve seen this movie before.
[0:24:41.4] MB: The kind of method or intervention to resolve that, is that the same kind of methodology? Is it things like journaling? How do we start to unravel and reconnect those feelings and sort of repair those fractals from our past so that they don't repeat themselves?
[0:25:00.3] DS: What I did for traders in my book was send people through a series of exercises, because the clue is — The way to do — and it is helpful to have someone help you do it, I mean, admittedly. Having said that, if someone keeps track of the experiences they’re having in their adult life that are making them unhappy, i.e. I’m using unhappy for frustrated, afraid. Keeps track of those and writes down the circumstances and their feelings, and completely separately from that tries to come up with five memories from growing up, that could be from when you were three or when your eight or when you were 10 or when you're 15, and write about those and write about what you remember what happened and then write about how it fell then compared the two. Virtually, if you’ve done that exercise accurately without judging yourself on either front, the what's going on here and now and what happened back then when you got kicked out of third grade of whatever, you’ll find matches.
It feels now like it felt that. People are mostly astounded by that, and a lot of people don't want to do that sort of historical work. My attitude towards that is like if it solves a repetitive frustration difficulty in the here and now, why not? To me, it seems like a gift, not a problem.
The short version is if you can figure out what's happening to you repetitively now and you can separately like not try and book for it, write about memories from difficult situations growing up and how you would've felt bad. That's a clue. To think how you did feel, but then also ask yourself how would I have felt, and the reason for that is to get past that kind of filter of, “Oh, it didn’t really bothered me. It was no big deal,” which is what people tend to say.
Think about, “Okay if that happened to someone else, how might they have felt?” Then if you’re trying to make the difficult feelings easier and just more acceptable and like — What’s the word I’m looking for? It's hard sometimes to admit that you’ve felt this, that or the other thing when you were 10 years old. It’s harder in a way than admitting it now, because the way kinds get through things, by the way, also, is like to not feel stuff and to put things in boxes and to be tough. Then those things get put in boxes and never get dealt with. I think the repetitions are opportunities to reorganize things that you couldn’t deal with as a kid when you didn't have any control over what was happening to you and you really kind of had to set something in a box in order to function and cope since you were at the mercy of the adults around you.
Now, you can unwrap those boxes and then deal with that stuff and then have it affect you much less in your real life, and if it affects you less, even any amount less, you’re able to perform at a higher level.
[0:28:18.7] MB: I think that’s a great point. Especially the idea of asking how would someone else have felt about that, or how would I have felt about that. I think it helps short-circuit almost the denial of, “Oh, that didn't really hurt me that badly. That didn't really affect me that badly.”
I definitely can see that in myself where sometimes I’ll think about struggles someone’s had or something they’ve gone through and feel like, “Wow! I really feel bad for them,” or whatever. Then I think, “I’ve experienced that too,” and I definitely didn’t feel any sympathy for myself and I definitely didn’t give myself the opportunity to feel that pain and really be present to it, and I kind of tried to bury it under the rug.
I think I love those questions and ways to frame it outside of yourself in some ways so that you can escape that defense mechanism.
[0:29:07.5] DS: Yeah. That works all the time, by the time. Always saying how would someone else — I use that with my clients sometimes. They can't remember how they feel or they don't how they feel in a certain situation. Then I'll say, “What is your brother think about that, or what is your wife think about that, or what is your boss think about that?”
People oftentimes will — Or how did your brother feel about? How did your wife feel about that? How did your boss feel about that? How does your husband feel about that? People will actually say their own feelings. They’ll project their own feelings on to that other person. You can do that for yourself. Just by thinking about situations growing up, like “Well, how did my sister feel about that?” or exactly the reasons you said.
[0:29:49.0] MB: This goes into another concept that you’ve talked about which I want to understand better, which is the concept of creating behavior through expected feelings. Can you tell me a little bit about what that is and how we can do that?
[0:30:04.1] DS: The mechanism we usually use to change behavior is some form of discipline; don’t eat that, work harder, think like this. What works better is if we — Let’s just say just working out. Like, “Okay, I don’t feel like working out today.” “Well, I should workout. I know it’s good for me to workout. I promise myself I’d workout. I’m trying to be disciplined.” You think, “What will I feel like if I do workout? What will I feel like if I worked out consistently?” If you exchange the current feeling for the future feeling, it's easier to do the thing that you want versus using an intellectual thought-base directive.
With traders, that market is really provocative and traders do things they don’t want to do all the time, get into trades. They didn’t mean to make their trade sides way bigger. Getting them to think about how they’re going to feel tonight, tomorrow, the end of the week, the end of the month, helps them avoid reacting to the provocation of the market. It’s really just taking — If feelings are essentially the foundation of our consciousness and the foundation of our motivation and thoughts really are layered on top, working with feelings that the feeling level is more like working with the actual gasoline you put in the car as supposed to working with oil per se.
It’s got more leverage to imagine how something will make you feel in the future and that you want that feeling as supposed to you're supposed to do something. Because you’re supposed to do something, so that’s a thought, like fighting against a current feeling, and you want equal weapon so to speak. You want feeling against feeling as supposed to thought against feeling. Most people think it’s the opposite, like discipline yourself, think yourself. It works to a degree. When it works, that’s fine, but you really — I get people all the time in the trading world. The reason people come to me is they’ve tried every sort of psychology method and they still have this one thing they can’t solve, it’s because they’re just trying to use their heads to solve it.
If they try to use future feelings, imagine how it will feel if they do or don't do this, then that’s got some torque. That’s got some power with it.
[0:32:37.3] MB: Essentially, if we have some sort of activity that we know we should be doing or something we need to be doing but our current state is preventing us, “Oh, I don't feel like doing XYZ.” We want to project forward and say, “How will I feel if I have done that or if I’ve achieved that or if I’ve worked out every day for the last week,” and use that sort of future feeling of of positivenessto to fight back against the current feeling of, “I don’t want to do that.”
[0:33:06.1] DS: Yes. Step one is actually really truly admitting you don’t want to. The same with the fear, like letting yourself, “Okay, I really don't feel like doing this right now.” “Okay, I really don’t I feel like doing this right now, but if I did it, how would I feel if I did it?” Would that feeling be worth behaving in a way than my current feeling? Because the first, they’re really admitting it and connecting to it in and of itself can dissipate it. Like, “Okay, I really don't feel like it.” “Yeah, yeah, but I should.”
What I’m saying is naming the current feeling actually can change the current feeling enough that the thought might make a difference. Then if the thought doesn’t make a difference, saying, “Okay, yeah. But if I did it, how would feel afterwards and how will I feel if I — in the future, if I continue doing this?” I hope that makes sense.
[0:34:02.4] MB: No. I think it does make sense. I’d like to go back to something you touched on much earlier in the conversation which is the idea of the mind, the body, everything as an integrated system, and specifically around the notion of the inaccuracy of the model of the triune brain. Can you talk about that?
[0:34:21.6] DS: Yeah, it’s not a triune brain. I don’t mean to sound flip it. It’s really really common. In fact, it’s particularly common on Wall Street and in finance. It’s something called behavioral finance. People talk about all these decision mistakes we make then they talk about this triune brain that’s supposedly is and basically our thinking in analytics is the most developed, feeling an emotion in the middle and the stuff that keeps us alive, near to our brainstem and that it’s supposedly develop that way.
It's hard for me to say anything, but like no neuroscientist at the cutting edge of neuroscience believes that anymore. Children that have nothing but brainstem have been shown to have feelings; laughter, sadness, just this sort of one extreme example. Now, not only is the triune brain essentially been disproven. The idea that you have one part of your brain, like the amygdala, dealing with fear, that's not looking so lively either anymore, and that different instances of thought, our feeling, our recruiting, all sorts of different neurons and synapses across the whole brain depending on the situation and depending on the person’s history.
There’s actually a new book called How Emotions are Made by a woman named Lisa Feldman Barrett, who she is an academic. She wrote it as a popular book. It’s still fairly dense, but she lays out hundreds of studies supporting the inaccuracy of both the triune brain and the we have certain circuits for certain emotions and even certain facial expressions for certain emotions and shows it might and really convincingly that, again, this system is more like a car and it’s recruiting all of these different pieces of functionality. That’s not like a car, and that a brain might recruit different neurons and synapses for a certain experience on one day than it does from another.
Now, there’s probably a reason for that whether there’s something slightly different about the experience that then recruits at a different part of the brain. The point being happiness, sadness, fear, don’t look the same in every brain all the time, even though you still hear that. There was an article in the New York Times saying that Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s still definitely the conventional wisdom, that we have a three-part brain and there are certain parts of the brain dedicated to certain feelings
I think the evidence is really convincing that neither one of those are true. The good news is it means that we have a lot of literally neurological possibility to work with our brains in ways that allow us to get different results.
[0:37:12.2] MB: For listeners who may not be as familiar with it. Briefly, just describe what is the conventional model of the triune brain, sort of the three components and what each of their functions are.
[0:37:23.1] DS: You have this frontal cortex that does your thinking and analysis, and that’s the most developed part. That’s the parts you’re supposed to be using. That’s one part. You have this kind of middle part that's feelings and emotions that supposedly we needed back when we were hunting and gathering. Then you have the deepest, oldest part, which is in the back of your of head, which is keeping your heart beating and your lungs breathing and your stomach digesting.
In that model, people tend to think that this theoretically developed thinking analytical part should be able to manage override the earlier two parts, and its more advanced and you should be relying mostly on it. If that's not the model, and all three parts are working together in concert all the time, you can't be expecting that supposedly thinking analytical part to be overriding the extensible earlier, more primitively developed parks. That makes sense?
[0:38:35.0] MB: That definitely makes sense. I just wanted to describe what that model was for people who may not be familiar —
[0:38:39.3] DS: Yeah, I get it.
[0:38:41.1] MB: Zooming out a little bit, but still staying on the kind of the notion of an integrated physical system, tell me about the importance that you’ve seen. I know you coach and deal with some high performers at the highest levels, hedge fund managers, Olympic athletes. What have you seen about the importance of supporting the physical system itself, the body, sleep habits, exercise, et cetera, as a component of mental performance?
[0:39:07.3] DS: Sometimes I hate to say it because, honestly, if someone gets enough sleep and not physical movement —I don’t mean too much, by the way. Then it makes such a difference in a person's mood outlook or what we would call affect attitude, like an optimism.
The right amount — Obviously, it’s not an algebraic formula, but with a good amount of physical activity and definitely a lot of sleep, your attitude toward something, your ability to perceive risk is so much more optimal than without it.
For example, when a regular client who I’ve been working with who’s doing well, calls me up for a regular coaching session and says, “I blew it yesterday. I like add it to a loser.” One of the first things I ask is, “Okay, were your kids up at 3 AM?” We’re you up looking at the London markets at 3 AM?” Some large percentage of the time they end up saying, “Yes.”
Sleep is starting to be, as I’m sure you know, much more respected and revered. There was an article in the New York Times yesterday about it being the new status symbol, but there’s still an awful lot of pressure to survive on not enough sleep and just life in general and households with kids and dogs and cats and whatnot, tended to keep people from getting enough sleep.
That physical basis of — That’s what we are, right? We’re physical creatures operating in these bodies that are, again, a bit like cars. We need to change the oil, and sleep is a bit like that.
[0:41:03.1] MB: Looking at all these different high-performers that you work with, what are some of the habits that you either recommend to cultivate the peak performance or see repeatedly again and again from peak performers. I know they may be some things we've already touched on, but I'm curious what are the commonalities you see between the elite level performers that you work with.
[0:41:23.6] MB: Dedication to getting better, like putting in the work and the preparation regardless of what it takes. It's not about just a raw gifts. It's about taking the situation and the thing you want to accomplish and breaking down all of the different pieces that cause you to — Would contribute to you achieving the goal and being accurate about that. People have a tendency, by the way, to over focus on one piece of it, but it's the understanding of the whole situation and the competition being a direct or a very important aspect of that.
What is your competition doing and what do you need do to perform at the level of — At least at, if not, obviously above your competition. That dimension, whether that's in athletics or in markets, helps a lot. Then within that deconstruction of all of the aspects, a solid understanding of the competition is self-awareness and is becoming more aware of one's own baseline level of affect feeling and emotion and the meanings of those feelings and emotions and when they spike, understanding what that's about and how to take the energy, negative feelings, particularly in the realm of frustration which could go to anger and figuring out how to use that to help you continue to prepare within that whole deconstruction of everything that you’ve looked at that will get you where you want to be.
People who do that, whether it's in athletics or in the markets and you could call it a very holistic view. A lot of people do all of the pieces, but the social emotional awareness. They don’t really analyze what they’re competing against and they certainly don't get as emotionally self-aware as they could, and both of those are real levers.
[0:43:39.8] MB: On the flipside, what are some of the biggest mistakes that you see high performers make?
[0:43:45.5] DS: It’s always just trying to set their emotion aside, to use that thinking analytical part of the brain to set the feeling aside without a doubt, because everyone thinks that’s what they’re supposed to do. In certain situations, the thing to do is say, “Okay, I can’t focus on this feeling now, but it doesn’t mean I have to never focus on it. Maybe I need to put it in this box over here, this envelope over here to be dealt with tonight or tomorrow or next week.”
The general conscious, setting feelings much in the side; and unconscious, setting them aside through like over-activity, being overscheduled or overtraining for that matter, not allowing yourself to have a minute of downtime to recognize the feeling and emotion dimension and the feedback to pulling it apart, untangling it. In one word, I could say over-activity.
[0:44:45.3] MB: The ideas the over-activity robs us the ability to truly listen to our emotions and do the work necessary, to remap those and get the leverage that you can get out of a truly deep understanding and being kind of in harmony with your emotions.
[0:45:04.7] DS: Yeah, you never give yourself — You’re constantly distracted. You never give yourself time. Like with market people, they’re always analyzing the market. With athletes, they’re always working out. There’s this whole other dimension that it feels like you’re not doing something. You’re potentially doing the most important thing to give yourself time and space to be more self-aware.
[0:45:30.7] MB: What is one piece of homework that you would give to somebody listening to this conversation to concretely implement some of the ideas and concepts we’ve talked about today?
[0:45:41.1] DS: Resolve to allow yourself to have all of your feelings, even what seem like the worst ones and learn to put a word to that to be able to say, “I feel really frustrated. I feel furious.” Then say, “About what? What's that really about?”
If you just resolve to allow yourself to know all your feelings without judgment and then take the step of trying to understand what the kernel is, that has something ramifications for over-activity and health performance, and your order in yourself. You’re saying that you and your feelings and your experience means something and they matter, and they do, and everyone can do that for themselves. It will be hard for some people, but it can take a step in that direction for sure.
[0:46:45.7] MB: For listeners who want to learn , where can people find you and your work online?
[0:46:51.8] DS: My company is called The ReThink Group. The website is therethinkgroup.com. I have a blog. I haven’t had much time to keep up with that lately. I have also done some writing over the years on Psychology Today. If one were to Google me in Psychology Today, fine. It’s over things, but still completely relevant there.
If you're in the market, Market Mind Games, it’s a pretty good book. You can. I have had people read Market Mind Games and apply it to their lives outside of that market. I think those are good places.
[0:47:29.5] MB: Denise, this has been a fascinating conversation and I feel like we’ve really gotten to go deep into how to think about our emotions, how to better uncover some of our emotions and how they may be holding us back. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom today.
[0:47:44.8] DS: Thank you for having me.
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