[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.9] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than a billion downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries. In this episode we discuss how your environment plays a tremendous role in shaping who you are. We look at how personality develops and what underscores it. Talk about how to engineer your own environment to make yourself more productive and effective. Examine how to battle self-sabotage, and much more with our guest, Benjamin Hardy.
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In our previous episode we took a journey into the inquiry known as The Work and uncovered the four-question framework that you can use to break down negative thoughts and limiting beliefs. We examined what happens when we argue with reality. Looked at the difference between being right and being free, explored the causes of suffering and much more with our guest, Byron Katie. If you want to radically transform the way you think about yourself and your thoughts, listen to that episode.
Now, for the show.
[0:02:47.8] MB: Today we have another exciting guest on the show, Benjamin Hardy. Ben is a Ph.D. candidate at Clemson University in industrial and organizational psychology and is currently the number one writer for medium.com with over 50 million page views recorded. He’s the author of the upcoming book; Willpower Doesn't Work, in his research writing has been featured in Psychology Today, Business Insider, The Huffington Post.
Ben, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:14.5] BH:: Thanks, Matt. Good to be here too, bro.
[0:03:16.2] MB: We’re excited to have you on the show today. I’d love to start out with a topic that I find really interesting, which is something you recently wrote about on Medium as well. How do you think about and define success? What does success mean to you?
[0:03:31.6] BH:: Success for me is — Well, I mean, so there's one idea that for me success is always involving growth. Ray Dalio talks a lot about how we’re happiest when we’re growing, and I agree with that. So, one component of success is that you never plateau. A lot of people when they become successful, success becomes like this curse, and then it leads to failure. So regardless of how “successful” you are, you get to always be a student and always be growing. I mean, I think that that's one part of it. Then I think living according to some value system that you believe in, or pursuing some cause that's kind of more of a Vikor Frankl thing where it’s like success is something that comes from pursuing a cause you believe in or serving other people who you love. So I think that those kind of things go hand in hand when you're seeking a cause in helping other people and you’re continually growing. I think that that's what I view as success.
[0:04:25.8] MB: In this Medium article you wrote a couple weeks ago you talked about the idea that success is not extrinsic. Can you can kind of share that notion explain what that means?
[0:04:35.7] BH:: Yeah. I mean, for me, obviously you can have all of the external sayings that people seek out, whether that's money, fame, prestige. Obviously, we have seen many people with those things that we don't consider successful. On the inside they are wreck. So I think that, obviously, those things are not bad. Having money and all those things can be great as long as you have some internal stability. So for me it's more about where is your security. There's a big difference between security and freedom and a lot of people’s security is on things that are external, whether that’d be a paycheck, whether that’d be people's opinions of them. For me, the security has to be on the inside, and when you have that, then you can use your environment or you can use accolades. You can use those things to move you forward or to achieve your causes, but ultimately your security is still on what's inside, where who you are as a person or what you value. So I think that that’s kind of what I'm talking about.
[0:05:33.0] MB: So if you're — Let’s say your self-worth or your security more broadly is rooted in what other people think about you, your achievements, etc., how do you transition or kind of relocate that to something that's internal or something that's kind of within your control?
[0:05:51.5] BH:: Yeah. So what you're describing is basically a dependent state. Like if your security is based on other people and you’re just kind of operating based on what you think other people want you to do or something like that, that's dependence. I think the goal is to go up to independence, which is to start to develop your own worldview, start to develop your own goals, beliefs, values, and start to live according to that, and that's kind of creating some sense of independence. Hopefully a lot of people can do that through high school and college, but obviously I think people are plagued with like high dependence throughout their life.
What I talk about in Willpower Doesn't Work is that independence itself shouldn't even be the goal. Even though that's the focus in Western culture where we live, the goal is to be super — Be your own thinker or have your own opinion and things like that, and I think that that actually limits people because you only have one filter, only one worldview that you're seeing through and obviously that one filter is pretty limited. So there’re a lot higher perspectives. In common speak we would call that interdependence. What psychologists would call the transforming self, where you are a lot more collaborative, where you're willing to learn from other people, you're curious, you're willing to have your worldview transformed, you're willing to reshape what you're seeking. So I think a lot of it is being a good learner, listening, working with other people, a few of those things.
[0:07:08.2] MB: That makes me think of, we had a listener submit a question this on episode that I think is really relevant to that, which is John from Massachusetts was curious how — For someone who struggles to, let's say, shape their own goals or kind of figure out what their goals even are or what they want their goals to be, how can they kind of take steps to start to form their own goals, sort of form their own opinions and beliefs?
[0:07:33.1] BH:: Yeah. I mean, I would be interested in how much time this person is spent actually having real-world experiences. Obviously, if they’re listening to this podcast they’re interested in personal growth. But what I find is that people who haven't actually gone out experience the world haven't done things, which what learning theorists would call having transformational learning experiences, where you see things where your worldview is disrupted, where you experience a lot of — Where your common beliefs or the assumptions you had growing up are questioned. I think that those types of things are really important for people to have, and that's what kind of triggered me on my path of growth. It wasn't until I left, where I was living and did like a humanitarian mission for a few years that I was able to likes see the world from a totally different perspective, engage in behaviors that I’ve never done. Read dozens of books. Took on different roles that I wasn't stuck in in high school and just began to like see things, read things, experience things, and then you can start to kind of formulate more powerful opinions on what you think is important, what you value, what you think you should dedicate your time towards. Until you have those type of experiences, you just kind of rely on what's been given to you rather than figuring out what you believe and see for yourself.
[0:08:44.7] MB: So having transformational learning experiences is one strategy. Have you found anything else to be helpful or beneficial in terms of kind of anchoring your own, let’s say, self-perception, etc., in things that are out, sort of independent or outside of being anchored to external results?
[0:09:02.5] BH:: I think that fitness regardless of a results is a really good place for a lot of people to start, because there's a lot of research at this point on kind of how fitness influences the brain and influences how you’re processing is mentally. It also influences your inner emotions, confidence, things like that. So I think starting to like run or push your body, changing how you eat, like those types of things are also really powerful things. Obviously, consuming lots of good stuff, starting to read books, whether that’d be about business, philosophy, biography, starting to study the history of the world. So, I mean, I think that those two things are really good; stretching your mind and pushing your body are really good places to start and they kind of start to open up different pathways of thinking.
[0:09:49.8] MB: I want to get more concretely now into some of the lessons from Willpower Doesn't Work and kind of the core ideas. One of the fundamental premises of that book is kind of the the idea or the power of your environment. What does that mean and why is environment and surroundings so powerful?
[0:10:06.7] BH:: Yeah. There's a quote from Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and he says, “If you do not create and control your environment, your environment creates and controls you.”
Basically, this is very opposite, or juxtaposed from what most Western people think. Most Western people are trained or conditioned to think that we’re very independent of our situation or our context, that who we are in one situation is who we are in a different situation and we really prize that. We say that it's being authentic to be your real self.
Really, what the psychological research shows, and if you really begin to think about it on a higher kind of more philosophical level as well, you begin to realize that who you are in one situation is very different from who you are in a different situation. So, like Harvard, the Harvard psychologist, Ellen Langer, she said that social psychologists argue that who a person is it any one time depends mostly on the context in which they find themselves. But what becomes powerful is when you realize you can create the environment you’re in. There's a lot of talk on what mindfulness is these days and, really, what it is from like a psychological science perspective, is mindfulness is awareness of your surroundings and how those surroundings are influencing you and how you're influencing those surroundings.
So what Ellen Langer says is the more mindful we’ve become, the more we realize we can create the environments we’re in. When you realize you can create your environment, you also believe in the possibility of change. So this perspective is powerful, because when you have a really individualistic perspective, when you disconnect yourself from your surroundings, you think that who you are is like a fixed entity, and that's what psychologists would call a fixed mindset. You believe that your personality is fixed, that who you are is who you’ll always be.
When you realize that who you are in one situation is different from who you are in a different situation, that we all have multiple personalities, that the relationship between us. Like, for example, the relationship between me and my wife determines who I am in that situation. There's a lot of meaning there. It's different than when I'm on a business trip or when I'm by myself.
So when you realize that who you are is totally influenced and shaped by your situation, then you take a lot more ownership of that situation and how it influences your thoughts, your behaviors. And now there's all sorts of research in fields like epigenetics that are showing that it's not necessarily your DNA that determines your genetic expression. The cellular level is more determined by the environments you’re in, the choices you make. Yeah, I mean, at all levels.
Situationally, relationships, all of those things are based on your environment. For me, it's powerful, because not only does it show that we’re more fluid, that we can actually be changed, that our environments aren't — I mean, that our personality isn’t fixed, but it's always changing and that it can change from one situation to another especially when you're purposely taking on new roles. But then you can make a lot bigger jumps in your self-improvement. Like, rather than just incrementally trying to improve something, like just kind of hacking away at some skill, you put yourself in situations that force you to operate at a higher level, and that's kind of why I think Jim Rohn said, “Don't surround yourself with people with low expectations. Surround yourself with a difficult crowd where the expectations for demands are high, because that's how you’ll grow.” Yeah, those are some thoughts.
[0:13:22.7] MB: I think that's really thing point that out sort of identities and personalities can be changed by manipulating our environment.
[0:13:31.1] BH:: Definitely. I mean, yeah. Our environment in a lot of ways shapes our personality. Like a lot of people that are unintentional about it. They fall into roles, that then they just like believed to be their intrinsic personality, when it's really just a role they’re playing out. Whether it's like being someone funny.
Dr. Gabor Mate, he's one of the best thinkers on addiction. He's developed this really cool perspective, and it really isn't even his own. It comes from other people, but he's got this great perspective on personality, that personality obviously is definitely not some intrinsic trait, but it's more an adaptation and it's an adaptation to situations or to just dealing with unresolved traumas. So like if a child goes through some hard experience, they have this need for belonging, and so they'll adapt their personality to keep that need for belonging. Kids and high school students do that all the time. In order to fit in with the crowd, they shape their behavior, they shape their language, they shape how they act and think to fit a situation so that they can belong.
So personality is not some fixed trait. It's an adaptation to situations. It's something that you use. The problem with Western culture is we think that personality is some fixed trait, that it doesn't change who you are when you’re born, it’s who you are when you die. We use personality tests to put ourselves in boxes. We don't realize that personality is something that's always developing, and that when you resolve internal conflicts, your personality will change. When you put yourself in these situations and then you're doing it intentionally, you can definitely alter your personality.
There's a really other good book from a medical doctor. The book is called The Body Keeps the Score. It's all about trauma, and it talks about how personality can become frozen or fixed. If someone goes through a traumatic experience, kind of like PTSD, where someone goes through some hard experience and then it becomes suppressed. It has a lot to do his memory.
So normal memories are very fluid. Let’s just say you have memories of yourself as a kid. Those memories are always being altered by new experiences that you're having. Memories are social and they’re contextual, which means that you can change them based on when you bring in new experiences. You go on a trip, you have new experiences that colors your worldview. It's kind of like the movie Inside Out. Your memories are always changing when you are calm and stuff like that. But traumatic memories, experiences that are hard, that you suppress, they get fixed and they're not contextual, they become isolated. So they freeze you in time. You stop growing in a certain area.
So we all have multiple personalities. There are certain areas of your life that you are very mature and your developing and there's other areas you’re like a three-year-old kid. When that side gets triggered, all the sudden you don't know how to cope, and that's where most people isolate themselves. They turned to self-destructive behaviors and they try to avoid it rather than dealing with it. There's a really cool quote, the idea that you're as sick as your secrets. So the things that you keep stock, the things that you keep isolated are the things that keep your personality frozen. But once you can kind of work your way through those traumatic experiences, your personality changes. It continues to develop. You continue to grow.
So the idea of a fixed personality is a really messed up concept, and I go into it a little bit in this book. It’s actually going to be the core concept of my next book. Yeah, personality should never be something that gets stuck. It should always be developed. We all have multiple personalities based on the situations we’re in and the roles we’re in, and personality should be something that you could actually tweak and transform as far as reinventing yourself in dramatic ways if you want to.
[0:16:59.6] MB: That's really, really fascinating. I love the example that if you think about the different facets of your life, in some areas you might be really developed and mature, in other areas you may still really have kind of the feelings and belief and emotional reactions of the child, and that might be a result of some past trauma that has kind of frozen you. You’re frozen your emotional development in the particular area of your life.
[0:17:22.2] BH:: For sure. Yeah. I think it's fascinating as well. It’s very uncommon perspective of personality in Western view.
[0:17:28.0] MB: Who were the doctors you mentioned that have written a little bit about that or talked about that?
[0:17:32.0] BH:: Dr. Gabor Mate, one of the best thinkers on addiction and trauma. Then the other one, let me look it up real quick. It's the guy who wrote The Body Keeps the Score. The Body Keeps the Score is finally starting to blow up. It’s a book that was written a few years ago and now it’s really starting to get some steam, Bessel van der Kolk, medical doctor. Body Keeps the Score. I would say the best book on trauma that’s around right now, and it's starting to finally get some steam. Yeah, it’s a really good book, mind-blowing book. Then anything written by Dr. Gabor Mate.
[0:18:02.8] MB: Awesome. Well we’ll make sure to include all those things in the show notes as well so listeners can check those resources out. Coming back to one of the points you made earlier that I think is really, really important to kind of underscore and reiterate is this idea that most people are completely unintentional in shaping their environment and they just sort of let their environment happen around them, and as a result that creates certain behavior patterns and activities and sort of modes of behavior in their lives. When in reality you can kind of step back, create a different environment, shape your environment in certain ways and literally change your behavior, and thus change the outcomes you get in your life simply by making those tweaks.
[0:18:42.4] BH:: Totally. Yeah. Charles Darwin, when he first presented his concepts on evolution, he talks about how there’s two types of evolution. One is kind of more of a natural or a random evolution that it generally happens out in nature, where animals or species of some type are just reacting to the changes that occur in the environment and. That creates a very unconscious and unplanned evolution.
Basically, traits are developed based on just reacting to environment. I would say that's how most people are. They just are reacting to the environment. Whereas, there is another type of evolution as well that Darwin talks about, and that's more of a — He would call it an unnatural evolution or its more of a preplanned evolution where you domesticate like an animal.
Let’s just say, for example, you want to develop horses that are really tall, or that run really fast, or you want to like make your cucumbers huge, whatever it is. Like you can reshape the situation, and it's really cool when you actually start to realize this, how it influences like agriculture and stuff. I have a friend who is recently on a mushroom farm, like not a hallucinogenic type of mushroom, but like this farm grew like dozens and dozens of different types of mushrooms and the only way to kind of shape these mushrooms in different ways is to alter like the soil and like the type of air and the type of sunlight.
So like in order to kind of create a preplanned type of evolution where you develop specific types of traits, you’ve got to shape the environmental factors to make it happen. That's kind of like the more kind of Darwinian perspective. Yeah, I would say that very few people are really intentional about the environments that are shaping them. Obviously, your environment is shaping you, but very few people shape the environment that shapes them.
So I think that the most kind of high-level conscious perspective is thinking what type of environments kind of shape you and how do you put yourself in that situation. So there're a couple quotes that kind of build on this idea. One is the historian, Will Durant. He was being questioned and stuff like this, and I present this idea in kind of one of the intro chapters of the book. But most people believe that history was shaped by heroes. What Will Durant said — And he's one of the most famous historians of all time. He's created one of the most authoritative perspectives on history, and he said it's not heroes that shape history. Its demanding situations that create heroes.
Then he says that the average person could have doubled their ability or more if their situation demanded of them. So basically we’re a product of our environment. We’re either rising up or falling down to the expectations of our situation. It's really cool, because — So there's an idea in psychology, it's called the Pygmalion Effect. Basically means that, yeah, you’re either rising up or falling down to the expectations of those around you.
So when you realize this, then you can kind of connect some different dots and you can start to think about — Like let’s just go into like the concept of flow. Flow is something that happens when they are situational factors that make flow. Flow happens when there is like immediate feedback, when there're consequences for failure, when there's difficulty, when there's newness. When these things are in place, you become highly engaged and you can be absorbed in what you're doing. Flow doesn't happen when you're kind of doing the same thing over and over or like when you're not being challenged, when there is low consequences for behavior, when you're constantly distracted when you're in and out.
If you think about most people's working environments, they're not set up for flow. Most people, they're not doing things they've never done before. They're not being highly challenged. They don’t have lots of responsibility. There's a low consequences for poor performance. There's not immediate feedback. So like most people — Then they’re like working on computers with multiple tabs. They open their smart phones next to them beeping and stuff like that. How could anyone get into flow in that type of situation? The idea that the average person, their abilities could be doubled or more if their situation demanded of them is really cool. Yeah, I kind of went on for a bit, but there're so many ways you can use this.
[0:22:51.3] MB: First, I just want to chime in as well. I'm a huge fan of Lessons From History. I don’t know if it’s Lessons From History or Lessons of History. I forget the exact title, but great sort of summary of Will and Ariel Durant's work, and then you can read it in an hour or two. It’s very short, simple read. That's basically like the eight or nine core lessons that he took away from writing volumes and volumes and volumes of work on the world’s histories.
What that makes me think of is this idea that how can we actually sort of create these high-stakes environments in our lives when we have all these Chrome tabs open and distractions? It seems very low stakes if I don't write this article, or publish this podcast or whatever. How do I create kind of that high-stakes environment or that place where I can double my ability?
[0:23:42.6] BH:: Yeah, for sure. So I think that there're actually two types of environments that are really important and you can't have one without the other. So like the idea of like — Let’s just use it in the realm of fitness. Really, easy thing is is, yes, rather than working at home, you could get a gym membership. Rather than just getting a gym membership, you can hire a personal trainer who you’re spending money.
Number one is kind of upping the investment. When you increase the level of investment in what you're doing, that immediately increases the commitment. If you're financially invested, for example, then there're some stakes involved. Yeah, it may not be enough to like get you to go, but if someone's waiting for you that you've hired, that you've paid, like you're more likely to do it. If you're paying someone to push you, then you’ve already created somewhat of external situations that are somewhat forced, pushing against you.
Obviously, you need your own intrinsic motivation as well, but intrinsic motivation can only do so much in an environment that's not kind of forcing you forward. That's one little thing. I mean, there're lots of others I can go into in a second, but there’s really other important type of environment.
There’s two types of environments I talked about the book, and I call them enriched environments. One is environments that are focused on this high demand, high stress. The second is environments focused on rest and recovery. Because in fitness, for example, you could push yourself intensely, but if you don't give yourself optimal rest and recovery, then it’s going to kind of be for nothing. You not can actually get huge gains. Almost all of the gains happen in high quality rest. The same is true with work and creativity. So there's a lot of research that says that only 16% of creative ideas happen when you're sitting at your desk. Most creative ideas are going to happen when you're outside of your work environment, when you're out in nature, you're in your car. You could even be in your shower, but like it's when you're out and about and you’re actually totally resting. When your mind is in a rested state, all of a sudden your mind can wander and it can take what you've worked on, and it can connect it with different things.
So you need to be focused when you're working, but then you need to go away and like let your mind rest. That's why there's a huge push for taking like off days, or doing mini-retirements, or going on sabbaticals.
There’s a really good TED Talk, all about the power of sabbaticals, and it's about this famous New York artist who closes his studio once every seven years, leaves for seven years, travels the world. He says it's during that time that he gets — And he's just not even working. He’s just resting. He's traveling the world. He’s having fun. He is relaxing. It's during that one year off that he gets all of these best ideas that fuels all of his work for the next several years.
I’ll just give a little bit more and then I’ll go into the practicality. Dan Sullivan, he's one of the founders of Strategic Coach, which is like considered by many to be the top entrepreneurial coaching program in the world, and he talks about how you need to have focus days and free days. So like days when you're focused, you’re totally on. You're working hard. That's a high pressure, high demand. Free days are where you’re totally off, where you’re not thinking about work at all. If you, let’s just say, get a text message about work and you look at it, then like you can't count it as a free day. So like you need to totally unplug, put your phone on airplane mode, go away, spend time with your kids or your family, or go do something fun or just unplug.
So I think you kind of need both of these environments, and I think for most people they need to actually optimize initially for the high rest, because that's actually harder in the beginning. Because most people are so plugged in, they’re so addicted to technology, and millennials are actually the worst, and I'm a millennial. But like there's so much, like prize and always being available. It's not a good thing. There's a lot of research in organizational psychology that brings up this concept called psychological detachment from work. Basically what it means is unless you fully detach from work, which means physically, emotionally, mentally and totally unplugged, you actually have a really hard time re-engaging and fully attaching the work when you jump back in. For most people, they’re never fully on or fully off. They’re always semi-on, semi-off, kind of in and out of consciousness, in and out of distraction, in and out of being present.
There’s a really powerful quote that brings all these together, and it’s basically wherever you are, that's we should be. So I think kind of step one to creating high stress in high demand environments is actually creating environments in situations where you can totally rest and recover, because that's where you’re going to get your clarity. Once you have clarity, once you've kind of stepped out of your routine environment and you’ve given yourself some space, you can actually make powerful decisions. You can kind of rethink your process, your approach, and then you can think about ways of how you can create more pressure, or demand, or challenge in your life, whether that's taking on bigger goals, whether that's giving yourself shorter timelines, whether that's creating some form of accountability in your life to other people when there's consequences, where there's feedback.
For me, when it comes to creating more demand or pressure in my life, I think about it in a few different ways. One is just being open to certain types of responsibility. Like, for example, my wife and I became foster parents of three kids. When we became foster parents of three kids, and that was like right when I started my Ph.D. program, we went from 0 to 3 kids with like intense emotional needs and stuff. That’s increasingly — That's like intentionally putting a ton of pressure on yourself.
But what's interesting is that we did that at the beginning of 2015. So from 2010 to 2015, I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't have the ability to do it. I just couldn't mentally get myself to start. But as soon as we became foster parents, which it's a paradox, because most people would think you have less time, that you would be overwhelmed and stuff. But that pressure from my situation actually was what gave me the clarity and the urgency to start writing.
Then I started writing intensely, because I had to. I saw that it’s like if I'm actually going to become a professional writer, if I've got these kids that are relying on me, I've got to start now. It was actually the — Obviously not everyone needs to be a foster parent to do that, but in kind of practical ways you could also just hire a mentor. Spend some money. Get invested and then hire someone, kind of like you would a personal trainer.
A lot of people probably in this audience know about Ryan holiday. He's written several best-selling books. He's one of the people I've hired multiple times to help me in different phases of my career. He helped me write my book proposal. I hired him. That put social pressure on me, but it also kind of — It kind of put me in a situation where like I was putting my money where my mouth was. I want to write a book. I hired someone I respected, and I was paying him. So he kind of expected that I would actually do something about it. Take what he was giving me and I turned that into a book proposal, which turned into a big book deal, which is book for Willpower Doesn’t Work. So I think that a lot of it's just investing in yourself, investing in environments, investing in relationships, and then taking on responsibility, whether that's in your personal or professional life.
[0:30:31.9] MB: I think that the point that recovery is kind of the starting point, and creating those spaces for recovery is really, really important. That’s something that, as you said, in today's world, especially — I'm a millennial also, and so many people of our kind of age cohort, especially, really don't take that time to fully disconnect, fully step away, and I think it's really vital. The research and the science demonstrate as well that that's when you are the most creative, that's when you kind of bring — When you come back from that, that's when you bring the most productive and kind of high input work to what you're doing.
There was a Harvard business review article that I read a couple weeks ago that talked about this, which we’ll throw into the show notes as well. I just think that that's a really, really critical point.
[0:31:17.8] BH:: Yeah. I would say they without that, you're not going to be able to actually get the most out of the high demand situations. It’s like if you’re never fully giving yourself enough time to rest, you’re not getting good sleep, it doesn't matter how much you go into the gym. Your workouts aren’t going to be that good. The same is true of work. If you’re not giving yourself — Like Sean White, for example. He talked a lot about how he stays so good at what he does. He just won Olympics after being — He's been doing this for so many years. He says, “How do I stay so good at this? It's because I spent a lot of time away from the sport.”
He pursues skateboarding and playing music and stuff. He gives himself tons of time away. So that like when he's there, he's fully present. Like 10,000 hours is not what leads to expertise. It's actually like iIt's an amount of time in flow. It’s in amount of time, like actually moving forward. There're people that spent a lot of time doing activities and make minimal progress. Then there's people who put a ton of — It’s kind of like it’s not the amount of — I think it’s hours you put into your — It’s not the amount of hours you put in. It’s what you put into your hours.
Yeah, I mean, I just think that's probably where people have to start, is actually reconnecting with themselves. Kind of to that person's question before, I think a lot of clarity comes when you actually can reconnect with yourself. You’re not fully plugged in, not sucked into what you're doing and you actually give yourself space you start to get clarity.
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Back to the show.
[0:34:14.4] MB: Another thing, kind of back on the idea of creating these stakes for ourselves. I feel like one of the challenges I have with trying to do that sometimes, and I try to implement many of these kind of hacks to up the stakes and create environments where I'm forcing myself to perform. I feel like sometimes there's almost like a mental like limiting belief or sort of a self-sabotaging sort of short circuit to that where I say, “Oh, I set these super ambitious goals,” and I almost in the back of my head think, “Oh, well there's no way that can happen anyway.” So then I almost am sabotaging the motivation. I don't know if you've ever encountered that or have any thoughts on that, but it’s something that I feel like I’m really curious to see kind of what your thoughts are on that.
[0:34:55.1] BH:: Yeah. I mean, think everyone experiences that all the time. If you say you want to make $1 million if you’ve never even made six figures. It's kind of hard to believe in that. For me, I mean, how I do it is that I really think situationally. It's like how do you put yourself in a situation where it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? How do you create the situation of the stakes so that you kind of have to make good on it?
For me — And it's very similar to what I've talked about before, but it's like you got to put the environmental components in. So there's a guy I kind of detail in the book. His name is John Burke. He's a 29-year-old pianist who was recently nominated for a Grammy. He's a really cool guy. He talks about how he always pursues bigger and bigger goals with his piano.
He's got a really cool process for doing this, and there's an idea in the book I call forcing function. So basically a forcing function is where you put some constraint in place where it forces you to operate how you want to. For some people, a forcing function would be literally investing money in a personal trainer. If you invest a lot in that, it kind of like you put the situation in place. But for John Burke, he does some really cool stuff.
So first off, he's got the philosophy and the worldview that he's never going to do the same thing twice. Like every album he tries to create or project he does, it's always a new and difficult challenge, and that's really how the Beatles operated as well. I talked about collaboration and how the Beatles were so innovative and they were always infusing totally unique, different types of things in their worldview. But for John Burke, whenever he decides he's going to do a project, and it may or may not be kind of believable for him in the moment how big it is, how difficult it is. As soon as he decides he wants to do something, he does a few things. He puts a few things in place.
Number one; he calls his sound engineer, where he records his albums and he gets on the guy’s schedule. It's like probably for three or six months in advance when he's going to come and record the album that he hasn't even like written a song for. He's just thought of the idea, and he pays the guy. He becomes like, schedule-wise, committed, but he also becomes financially committed that like in 3 to 6 months, and it's on the calendar, he's going to be there recording the album.
Then he looks at his calendar and he plugs in throughout his week, for the next several months, times when he's actually going to create, like create the album. He puts creation time in his schedule and then if things pop up, like gigs or things where like they would be very appealing, if stuff pops up on his calendar during those creation times he says he can't. He says he has an appointment, and that appointment is obviously with himself.
Then he creates social pressure, where he starts telling his fan that he's coming up with a new album. Says when it’s going to come out, etc. So like all these happens the day that he comes up with the idea or the plan. So, obviously, in the moment when he comes up with the idea, he could come up with a million reasons why he can't do it, why he can't create it, why he can't get there, but he puts all sorts of checks and balances in place to force himself forward. Why I think that this is so cool and I connect it with lots of ideas in the book is that, obviously, who you are right now is not the kind of person you need to be to achieve big goals. Otherwise you would have achieved those goals. I'm talking about big goals relative to whatever you want to pursue. If you were already that person, then those goals wouldn't feel big. They feel big to you right now because of your current behavior and your mindsets.
So what you want to do is you want to put things in place where you can weed those things or you can upgrade yourself towards that new goal, and that's basically what John Burke does. He puts all these pressure on himself and then he — So there’s this quote that pressure can bust a pipe or it can make a diamond. You know what I mean? So he puts his pressure on himself and then he starts creating, and it's the act of doing and creating that kind of evolves you.
In psychology, there's some really cool ideas. One is the idea of self-signaling. I've written about this a lot my articles and I’ve also written about in Willpower Doesn’t Work. But self-signaling is the idea that who you think you are is actually not a very stable perspective. You don't really know yourself very well as a person. None of us do. We judge and evaluate ourselves the same way we judge and evaluate other people. We do it based on behavior.
So if you change your behaviors or engage in different types or levels of behaviors, you start to alter your worldview about yourself. So what's cool about this, and it kind of goes with everything we're just talking about on personality. It's not your personality that creates your behavior. It’s your behavior that creates your personality.
For John Burke, for example, he starts taking on big goals. One of the things he does that I talk about in the book is that he writes songs that literally he can't play. He composes his own music and he writes it at skill levels above his physical ability to push the keys. Then he writes the songs. He's got this timeline. He’s socially told his fans it’s going to come out. He loves challenging himself. So he has to force himself to learn how to play music that's above his skill level that he himself writes. How does he do that? Well, he’s put all the things in place. He actually is composing or writing or doing things, because he put it in his schedule and because he gives himself the time to do, because he's pursuing this big goal, because there're all these social pressure that he put on himself, because he loves doing things that he’s never done before. He gets better and better and better and he does things he never done before, and that's how he grows into bigger goals. So I think that that's kind of just a good example of how you can apply what you're talking about here.
One other just quick thought is that kind of going on with the idea that your behavior can reshape your personality, and it's kind of a theme I've been saying a little bit here. But there's this quote from Dr. David Hawkins, and he's wrote two really, really good books. He’s actually written many good books, but he wrote Power Versus Force, and he also wrote a book called Letting Go. A lot of people who are kind of very high-level thinkers consider Letting Go to be one of the best personal development books of all time. I actually am in full agreement. I don't think I’ve ever read a more high-level self-improvement book.
You have to kind of get past some of the religious things if that kind of triggers you in negative ways. It does not negatively trigger me, but he's a medical doctor. He's brilliant. One of the things he says is that the — Or he says that the unconscious will only allow you to have what you believe you deserve. So if you look in your life, if you look at your environment, if you look at all around you, a lot of it is based on what you unconsciously believe you deserve. So if you are pursuing certain goals, it's because you believe you could have those things. So how do you shatter that subconscious belief system and upgrad it so that you can believe you can do and be more? For me, a lot of that has to do with two things; investing in yourself and investing in your environment or your relationships. Things like that.
So like when I make investments in myself — And even just talking about small ones. You know what I mean? Like buying my domain name or buying an online course that taught me how to write viral headline so that I could learn how to write. Like those type of investments — Or even hiring Ryan Holliday to help me write my book proposal, like when you watch yourself spend money on something you desire and something you want and believe in, and then you start kind of engaging in environments and around certain types of people. That changes your subconscious patterns. It upgrades your sense of what you can be, do and have.
So I think you’ve kind of always got to be putting yourself in new situations, be willing to invest in yourself, kicking in that upgrade and the psychology and then, like John Burke, creating conditions that make success happen.
[0:42:33.7] MB: I love the example of John Burke. That was a really concrete kind of way to contextualize a lot of the stuff you’ve been talking about. That’s great example. Especially kind of the kind of early on in the example, the notion of creating an appointment with yourself and holding yourself to it I think is a really cool strategy. So I think that was a really, really good example.
[0:42:53.1] BH:: Thanks, man.
[0:42:54.2] MB:. I'm curious, how do you — Maybe contextualizing this with another example from your own life. How did you kind of concretely implement these things and shape the environment that enabled you to become the top writer on Medium?
[0:43:09.1] BH:: Yeah. I mean, part one I already talked about. We became foster parents, which kind of really forced me to think hard about things. I had wanted to be a writer, for example, for five years before I started writing. As a foster parent, I knew my time was going to go fast. So that's what compelled me to start investing in myself. I bought a domain name, which was 800 bucks. Ton of money is a graduate student. $197 online course, which taught me how to write viral headlines. Then a lot of it, it’s just kind of doing some of the John Burke stuff. You know what I mean?
So there's a few ideas that I really love. One is when it comes to creative staff, quantity is the path to quality. You’ve got to pump a bunch of stuff out, and that's what I did initially. This was back in the spring of 2015, but over a period of a few months I wrote like 50, 60 articles and I was practicing what I was learning and studying and I was invested financially and my situation with my foster kids was demanding me to succeed, because my wife gave me an ultimatum basically, that she gave me basically a basically year to like really pursue this writing thing because I’ve been talking about it ever since she met me and I hadn't done anything about it. So now I’m like, “Okay. I’m going to really do this.” We spend 800 bucks on a domain name. I started spending some money on it and she’s like, “All right. You’ve got a year to try this.”
So there's a timeline, and then just pumping it out. So quantity is the path to quality, and also it's better to be prolific than perfect. For me, I've never dealt with the whole perfectionist’s mind. Like I often publish articles and I’ll get emails and stuff with people saying, “Dude, there's so many typos and stuff. What is your problem?” Obviously, I try to be professional, but it's better to be prolific than perfect.
So I pumped out a bunch of stuff. I practiced. I got some good training and then I just studied the craft. I'm a part of a lot of mastermind groups where people are teaching about how to be salesman and stuff like that. How to do really good marketing? I think that that stuff is really important. I have spent a lot of time learning marketing. But for me I really like Cal Newport's perspectives, that to be so good you can't be ignored. You know what I mean?
So for me I think if someone really takes advantage of mastering their craft where you develop rare and valuable skills, you become a craftsman, not a salesman. Because a lot of people they’ll spend like 10% of their time developing a product and 90% of the time figuring out how to sell it. For me it's like spend at least half of the time, at least half the time developing something amazing and then — Yeah, get really good at marketing or positioning it so that you can actually make an impact with it.
Yeah. I mean, what it looked like for me was writing a ton of articles, figuring out platforms where my work could be most spread. So kind of studying the different situations and environments. rather than creating my blog, I found out about platforms, like Medium.com, Quora, LinkedIn, places where there was already pre-existing audiences, places where there were already millions of people. Then just studying how to go viral on those things and then practicing like crazy. Writing a ton of stuff. Failing a lot. Quantity, quantity, quantity and then eventually hitting quality and eventually developing confidence. So that's what Cal Newport talks about as well. It's actually really relevant to psychological research.
A lot of people think that it's confidence to create success. It's actually success that creates confidence. So like once you’ve done something enough times and you start to make some small wins, like you become more confident in your ability. You start to develop those skills. It kind of breaks another notion as well. A lot of people think that it's inspiration that creates action, but it's actually action that allows inspiration to come. So I think if you just acting moving, it brings all these ideas together. It's like your behavior shaped your personality. Your successful behavior creates your confidence and your inspiration, and all of these things, thinking about how your situation is either forcing you forward or slowing you down. I mean, that’s kind of how I've applied it, and I've written a ton since then.
Then kind of at various stages — There's a book, really good idea. It's called What Got You Here Won't Get You There. It's by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. So there's another idea that basically every next level of your life will demand a different version of you. What got you to a certain place is not what's going to get you to the next level, and not getting so caught up in what worked in the past. That's why most people, their success creates failure, is because they keep doing what they thought worked, but to get to the next stage they actually need to do what’s different.
For me for a long time, what worked was I needed to write a bunch of articles and get better and better at writing viral content and learning how to turn that content or those views into email subscribers. But then when you jump into bigger and different games, you go from being a big fish to a small fish when you jump into a different pond. Then you kind of got to learn the new rules. Like for me, now I want to blow up in the book world, and that's very different than just writing tons of articles. It's a very different skillset to write good books than it is to write good articles. So just continually not getting stuck at one stage and continually figuring out the new rules of each stage that you're playing at.
[0:48:01.6] MB: That's awesome, man, and a great example. I think one of the key points from that is this idea that environment is not just sort of your physical environment. Though that can have an impact on your behavior, but it's kind of this broader term. It’s people, situations, etc., that you put yourself in and surround yourself with that can really shape who you ultimately become and the results that you achieve.
[0:48:25.6] BH:: 100%. Yeah. I mean, I think that that's where the new — I think that this is a concept that people are going to see more and more, as a lot of science is coming out in psychology, but also biology and stuff. It's finally becoming kind of brought to the cultural context, or kind of like the collective awareness of Western thinkers kind of my prediction. It's kind of a big prediction with this book, is that you’re going to see this more and more. People are going to be talking about environment a lot more and more. They’re going to be talking about surroundings and context and all these things and how they influence and shape thoughts, behavior, emotions. When you start to take control of these things, you can start to control your interstate.
Yeah, I think it’s profound stuff and I think that it's also more honest. A lot of people who are trying to improve themselves, they're lying to themselves if they don't actually make those changes out in the real world. Like, yeah, you can kind of live in your head and you can create vision and goals and all that stuff, but your environment is the world outside of you and unless you’re actually making changes out there, you’re not actually going to make any permanent changes inside your head.
So my challenge in this book is to put your money where your mouth is and actually change the world or at least the world around you so that you can live in congruence with the dreams and the values you have inside of you.
[0:49:37.4] MB: Yeah, I think that's another great point. You can only spend so much time in your head kind of setting your goals and visions, etc. But once you start to make those changes in the external environment, making commitments to people, hiring people, etc., that's when it really starts to become really concrete and real.
[0:49:53.6] BH:: Yup. That's when the commitment goes out.
[0:49:56.3] MB: One of the other topics that I'd love to just touch on really briefly that I know you've kind of talked about and written about in the past is the idea of kind of being proactive versus being reactive and how to live your life in a more proactive place.
[0:50:08.8] BH:: Yeah. So going back to the Darwin stuff, either you're reactively being influenced and shaped by your environment or you’re proactively shaping who you want to be, what's around you, who you’re around, what you’re doing. So I think that's just taking the initiative, making the choice, deciding what you want to do. A lot of it I think starts — There’s obviously the cliché concept of morning routines, but it's just a true principle. Like when wake up first in the morning, you either start reacting, whether that's to like your cellphone and news medias. You either start reacting or you proactively create space where you can think about who you want to be and then you can start acting in a place where you can actually be who you want to be and live out in the world. So I think it's just kind of living either consciously or unconsciously.
[0:50:56.0] MB: What is one piece of homework that you would give to listeners to kind of concretely implement or start implementing some of the ideas that we’ve talked about today?
[0:51:05.3] BH:: Yeah. I would say first things first. Actually begin examining your environment. Examine what surrounds you and what's created around you, because your external environments are pretty clear indicator of your internal mindset and viewpoints and belief systems and things like that. Then ask yourself; is this really what you want? Is this really what you value and believe in or is this kind of just something you've fallen into unconsciously?
It's really gave — There's that book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s actually really true. I mean, if you just — This kind of goes into essentialism as well, is just the idea that literally like remove a lot of the stuff that's in your environment that's nonessential, that that's not high-value to you. It's funny, but you literally can start your closet Throw a bunch of clothes that you devalue. Go into your kitchen and throw away the food that you really genuinely don't want to eat. Maybe make some phone calls to people who are — Relationships that haven't been serving you or them and kind of either try to re-evaluate the expectations or kind of — I'm not saying you have to cut off ties, but you need to be honest. That's kind of why the rubber meets the road is because you can't just leave in your head. You actually have to impact the lives of other people as well.
Then I would start investing money even if it's small amount in a certain goal or interest or skillset that you want, or relationship. Start investing even if it's just a few bucks. Start investing money in yourself in ways that will kind of change your environment, whether that's changing your skills or changing your proximity to people. Putting yourself around people you'd like to be mentored by, or learning from them.
[0:52:45.2] MB: Where can listeners find you and your writing and your book online?
[0:52:50.2] BH:: Yes, benjaminhardy.com. My challenge is definitely just go to Willpower Doesn't Work. You can find it on Amazon obviously. So just that book. All my writings on medium.com.
[0:53:01.2] MB: Well, Ben, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all these wisdom. Tons of resources, ideas and concepts. Really, really good insights. Thank you so much for coming here and sharing all these knowledge.
[0:53:11.1] BH:: Cool, Matt. It's been fun, man. Talk to you later.
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