[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than a million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the self-help for smart people podcast network.
In this episode, we discussed how to build self-control and self-esteem. We look at what happens when you lose control and how to develop the strategies so that you can feel calm and collected in tough situations. We discussed the importance of having an allegiance to reality, share concrete strategies for building self-esteem, discuss the relationship between pain and fulfillment and share a strategy that will help you never get angry again, with our guest Dr. David Lieberman.
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In our previous episode, we discussed what happens when you mistake being busy for creating results. We took a hard look at time management, examined concrete strategies for carving out more time. We looked at the dangers power of defaults in shaping our behavior and how we can use them to our advantage. We examined how to have a healthy relationship with your inbox and much more with our guest, Jake Knapp. If you want to learn how to get more done in less time, listen to that episode.
Now for the show.
[0:02:54.0] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. David Lieberman. David is a New York Times bestselling author and expert in the fields of human behavior and interpersonal relationships. His most recent work, never get angry again dives into the science behind our emotions and how he can stay calm in any situation. His work has been featured on ABC, The Today Show, NPR and much more. David, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:18.6] DL: Thanks, Matt. My pleasure.
[0:03:19.6] MB: Well, we're very excited to have you on the show today. I'd love to start out with talking about what are some of the psychological underpinnings of anger. Why people get angry?
[0:03:31.9] DL: Excellent question. One of the reasons why the book has gotten so much attention is because, while you can look at a lot of different branches for anger, whether a person feels threatened, or attacked or frustrated, at the core of it is a feeling of vulnerability, which is why for example, in interpersonal relationships, a person is mocked, or scorned, ridiculed, embarrassed, feels ashamed, these types of things all have their core, their root, at feeling vulnerable.
Ultimately, it's that sensation that we are rejected, that we're not good enough, that were powerless over a situation, or over ability to connect to other people is what causes us to become angry. Now not everyone unleashes anger in the same way. I'm sure we know from our own relationships, some people are over with the anger, they express it very aggressively. Other people, more passive aggressively. They'll get back at you in little ways, other people will suppress it, others shut down; the different masks, or channels for anger. Make no mistake, when we feel powerless, unless we're able to acknowledge those feelings, they're going to manifest in an unhealthy way.
[0:04:40.0] MB: I think that's really interesting, because when you look at anger and you think of someone who's angry with an angry outburst, or whatever, the initial thought, or the way that I would think about it is that somebody who's angry doesn't seem like they're actually hurting, or feeling vulnerable. They seem almost the opposite. They seem very imposing and threatening.
[0:04:59.1] DL: That's right. That's right. See, when we become angry physiologically speaking, the brain releases a number of neurotransmitters and hormones, you've got adrenaline, something called cortisol, which is the stress hormone, also responsible for weight gain. There’s interesting connection there. It is the illusion of feeling in control. Rather than feel fear, the fight, or flight, or freeze response takes over and we become angry as a way to compensate for those feelings of vulnerability.
[0:05:29.0] MB: Tell me a little bit more about that. How does something like, so let's say self-esteem, or self-image play into someone's anger?
[0:05:37.6] DL: Excellent. In a nutshell, here's the psychology that is at the foundation of anger. That's like this. The degree to which a person generally loves themselves, real self-esteem, all right, it’s not to be confused with confidence, with the ego which is a false self. The degree to which a person really truly honestly love themselves recognizes that they are worthy of good things in life, treats other people with respect, themselves with respect on so on, that is the degree to which their ego is not engaged.
As our self-esteem erodes, as we like ourselves less, then the ego engages to compensate for those feelings of guilt, inferiority, shame, insecurity on so on. It's the ego that is a projection of what – how we want the world to see us, and its job is to protect us. The degree to which we don't like ourselves, is the degree to which we need other people to like ourselves, the degree to which we don't respect ourselves, is the degree to which we crave other people to respect us. That's a function of the self-esteem and ego. They're on a seesaw; one goes up, the other goes down.
The less I like me, the less I love me, that means my ego is engage. If my ego is engage, then I'm going to be more prone to being scared, because I'm vulnerable, I'm basing my self-worth on how I'm viewed by you. If you are mean to me, or you scorn me, or you ridicule me, you make fun of me on and so on, my ego is engaged and boom, the anger trigger is activated.
[0:07:09.9] MB: I think it's really interesting. I mean, just again, this idea that when people are angry, it's often coming from a place where they're scared, or hurt. They may not even recognize that at a conscious level, but they're not – in many ways it's not about you, it's often about them and their own personal issues.
[0:07:28.9] DL: That's right. That's right. Are you familiar with the book by John Sarno, Healing Back Pain?
[0:07:33.6] MB: No, I'm not.
[0:07:34.5] DL: Okay, so basically John Sarno wrote a book and he has a whole methodology about how to overcome different physiological symptoms and ailments, including back pain and he extended it to number of their areas. It talks about how anger is at the root. Even by doing nothing else, if you are able to look at the pain and recognize that it comes from suppressed anger, he's shown, it’s study, after study, after study how you were able to allow that pain, that physical pain to dissipate. In much the same way, if you go now to the root of anger and see that it's grounded in fear and if you see ultimately, “I'm getting upset at my spouse. I'm getting upset at my child, because I feel like I'm not in control. I feel vulnerable. I feel like they don't respect me.” You understand that the core of the anger is really fear, just by looking at it, it helps to dissolve.
[0:08:24.9] MB: How does the need for control play into when people get angry?
[0:08:30.7] DL: Excellent. The degree to which we have self-esteem, we spoke about that before is that the more I love me right, the more I respect me, the more I'm able to respect and love other people and the more I'm able to receive and accept their love. Just parenthetically, which is why people who have low self-esteem have very difficult relationships, because on one hand they desperately want you to be close to them.
However, they recognize at a very deep level that they don't feel lovable. Why would you love someone that's so unlovable? They push you away at the same time, they have a hard time giving love and respect, because you can only give what you've got. They feel very isolated.
To go to the core of your question, is that we all need to feel some sense of control, some degree of ability to maintain, some confidence in our future that we are safe, that we are secure. That's ultimately why we want control is to feel safe and secure. If I don't love me, it's very hard for me to feel loved by other people, loved by God, loved by my children, loved by anyone. I don't feel secure, but I desperately want to feel like I'm in charge, like I've got traction. Therefore, I'm going to seek to control, which is why people with low self-esteem are the most controlling people.
Again, not always overtly, you're not always going to see it coming, but they will control, control, control, because they need to be able to try to influence your behavior, to influence the circumstances, because they don't feel in control of themselves.
[0:10:08.6] MB: For somebody who feels like they don't have control of themselves, or feels they're losing control, how can they start to combat that, or take steps to alleviate that?
[0:10:21.1] DL: Good. In order to understand that, we take a step back and look at the deeper psychology. As we said, self-esteem means that I've got a sense of self-love, self-worth, and my ego is not engaged. The million-dollar question, which is your question is how do I gain self-esteem, right? How do I begin to feel that sense of worthiness?
Even though I may have been beaten up in childhood, either literally, or metaphorically, I might have had a rough run in life, a lot of challenges, the self-esteem begins when we begin to make better choices and exercise self-control. See, self-control is at the core of self-esteem. If I can't control my behavior and make good choices, I'm certainly not going to do things that are responsible. I'm going to either live for an image. I'm going to overindulge. I'm going to eat in excess, excess entertainment, extra sleep. Whatever it is, I'm going to over indulge in unhealthy ways rather than invest in myself.
By exercising self-control, I increase my ability to make better choices, which de-facto gives me self-esteem. As my self-esteem goes up, my ability to exert control over other people may need to do that, decreases.
[0:11:33.1] MB: How do we cultivate, or exercise self-control effectively?
[0:11:38.9] DL: Number one is this, no one wants to invest in anyone or anything that you don't care about. You've got the chicken and the egg. I don't love myself. You know what? I was told I was nothing growing up. I've got a lousy this, lousy this. You've got a person who's coming from a very broken place and it makes sense. Why would you put an energy, effort, attention into anyone, or anything that you don't love or respect?
The beginning, the beginning of this coming out from under the rock is simply to recognize that you're in pain. Mental health requires an allegiance to reality at all costs. There were people that will say, you know what? Just forget about it, just trudge forward, don't focus, etcetera. If a person feels broken, if they're suffering with low self-esteem, they feel angry, they don't feel in control, the number one thing to do is to acknowledge to respect the fact that they're in a place of pain. That is with self-compassion, not self-pity.
Meaning, you know what? It's rough for me right now. I'm not going to hide from it, or for myself, I'm not going to say it's not real, because that's not being genuine. Right now is a place of pain. I'm going to honor it, I'm going to respect it, and I'm going to have compassion for myself. That's number one, do not beat yourself up more. The rest of the world has already done it enough. Do not pretend it doesn't exist, because then you're moving from a place to illusion, which will make you less healthy.
Stay in reality. Say, “Okay, this is difficult, this is painful, but it's going to come from a place of self-compassion.” Then from that place where you acknowledge you’re in pain, with self-love, you begin to grow out of it. That happens as follows; number one is you want to put a plan into action. What makes it very difficult for us to connect with our sense of self is that we live in for so long driven by the ego. Meaning, I'm going to do this, because it won't press somebody else. I'm going to do this, because it'll gain me praise, your honor. We’ve cut off from our soul, from our real purpose, from our spiritual DNA, which our passion, which drives us.
We want to reconnect, so rather than push ourselves forward, we're almost pulled toward our destiny by our unique purpose. Number one is simply to acknowledge where you are with self-compassion. Number two is try to reconnect with who you are, what you're living for, why you want what you want. Ask yourself, “If I didn't have the problems I have, what kind of person would I be? What would I do? If I had a different childhood growing up, if I felt unconditionally loved?” Begin to expand the possibilities of who and what you can become, and just allow yourself to explore potentials that you may have shut the door on.
Once you do that and you begin to crystallize something that stirs your soul, then you begin to put a plan into action and say, “Okay, if I want to go from point A to point B, my first step is I'm going to knowledge I'm at point A, we already said that, right?” You go into ways, you can say, “I want to go to Omaha,” without the satellite finding out that you’re in New York. You have to see where you're at and then ask yourself, “What can I do to move myself in this direction?” Then you put goals into place, you put a plan of action to place and you begin to move slowly.
Simply the progress, the steps that you take of moving out of the darkness toward a passion, towards a goal, towards something that stirs your soul is invigorating in and of itself and it'll begin to fuel each step and each step and each step and you'll go further and further towards your objective.
[0:15:12.3] MB: There's a tremendous amount of stuff that I want to unpack from that. I mean, there's so many different things I want to get into. I definitely want to get into this idea of having an allegiance to reality, accepting reality, but before we get into that, you touched on this idea of expanding the possibilities of who and what you can become. You threw out a few questions to ask around doing that. Could you talk a little bit more about that and maybe share some of those questions in more detail in why they're so effective?
[0:15:39.0] DL: Sure, Matt. For so long, we have confined ourselves and defined ourselves by other people, and very often by the ego. Meaning, that if we make a choice because it merely looks good, we're selling ourselves out, we're selling ourselves short, we're doing something to win the praise of others, were twisting, contorting moving away from what we know is right and responsible, from what's good for us, in order to accommodate somebody else's, to win them over.
When you sell yourselves out, it chips away your self-esteem. We make a lot of these choices, whether it's the clothes we wear, or the car we buy, the person we date, the job we take, we don't realize the entire trajectory of our lives may very well be shaped by the ego. It's important to take a step back and just get off the crazy train and that, as I work with a lot of executives with the midlife crisis, which seems to be getting earlier and earlier for people today. I used to be in the 40s, then 30s and now sometimes it's in the 20s, because people can earn a lot of money and reach what they would consider the pinnacle of success at a very early age.
They realize they haven't found happiness when they've achieved all these objectives, because they weren't based on what they truly wanted, they were based on what they thought would win, the praise or approval of other people. The questions you want to begin to ask yourself is what would I do if I had all the money I needed? What would I do if I didn't have the problems that I have? What would I do if I felt unconditionally loved? What would I do if I felt that I couldn't fail?
Now, all of these questions are not suitable, or necessary for everyone, but you see what they do is they begin to chip away at the ego, chip away at the façade the things that the ego wants; it wants money, power, fame, control, right? It's all inauthentic. It's all an illusion, because real control is being able to rise above your nature and act responsibly and make good choices, gain self-esteem, and then you're able to pursue things that are drawing you based on your soul.
If you can’t exercise self-control, you don't invest in yourself, now you’re completely ego-driven and you could be driving very fast and furious, but in the wrong direction. You're waking up in the morning, putting in a 20-hour a day, 80-hour workweeks and then find yourself simply burnt out. Other people can put in 80 hours a week and they find themselves invigorated. The difference between those two is one, is living for the ego, the other for their soul. When you’re living for your soul, you're going to be reinvigorated. The more you do, the more energy and passion you have. When you're living simply for an image, you will eventually become drained and that's when you look around and you say, “You know what? I've got everything, but my life still stinks.”
[0:18:20.6] MB: So many different pieces to unpack from that and places to go. I want to before we forget about it, the conversation moved beyond it, I want to circle back to this idea of having as you put an allegiance to reality at all costs. Can you tell me more about that and explain why it's so important?
[0:18:37.2] DL: Sure. There's an old saying that neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics live in them and psychiatrists charge rent. We all have our neuroses, we all have our little stuff, but we know from our own experience that the more you engage in life, the more you're living life, the healthier and happier you are. The people that try to get out of stress, they don't want to deal with any issues, they become more and more neurotic, because in order to be grounded, you have to live in reality.
The beginning of mental health is when we face ourselves. We look in the mirror and ask ourselves if I want to be more authentic, where have I been inauthentic? Where I've been lying to myself? Where have I been trying to ignore a reality? Once again, that you know from your own life, if there's something difficult you have to do, you've been procrastinating about, whatever it is, by tackling it, by doing it, you feel great. By ignoring it, it doesn't go away, you end up compounding the problem and you feel less good about yourself.
Anytime, where whether it's a dental appointment you’ve been putting off, whether it's dealing with a certain responsibility, or obligation or facing a certain truth about ourselves, our past, our lives, or relationships, whenever you acknowledge it, accept it, if you can change it, or work on improving it, or changing it, then you begin to feel so empowered. That is when we become healthy.
The less healthy a person is, the less they want to do with reality. The less they want to do with reality, the less healthy they become. Ultimately, we've got with this call, I know you’re familiar with the pleasure of pain mechanism. We move towards pleasure and away from pain. The ability to face the pain, to face our legitimate responsibilities and obligations is ultimately what's going to bring us the greatest degree of pleasure.
If you ignore responsibilities and obligations, because they're painful and seek mere comfort, or you escape, or you want to be out of pain, you end up with suffering, and you move further and further away from mental health, further and further away from reality, further and further away from goals and healthy relationships.
[0:20:47.3] MB: What does the work look like for somebody who wants to do that heavy lifting of facing themselves and starting to acknowledge and accept the things that are really going on, concretely what does that actually look in terms of what you would be doing to do that?
[0:21:03.3] DL: Excellent. Number one, the foundation is always the same. That is to acknowledge that you know what? This stinks, this is painful, this is tough. Right now, I'm going to do something that's difficult. I also know that it's an investment in myself. Be honest with yourself. It's a hard conversation, it's a difficult conversation, but one that is so empowering, because you're facing reality, you're living in the swift current of life, you're not ignoring it. In reality, we find pleasure.
It's acknowledging that this is challenging, this is difficult, and then asking yourself where have I been inauthentic? Where have I been hiding in my relationships? Have I been blaming my spouse, because I haven't measured up? Have I been blaming my parents and selling myself on a narrative for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years for something that happened in the past? What story do I begin – have I've been telling myself time and again to keep me from acknowledging my responsibilities and accepting my obligations? That is the beginning of growth.
When we begin to ask ourselves, “Okay, fine. I'm going to stop blaming the rest of the world.” Yes, there may have been a number of factors that conspired and contributed to put me here right now, but what can I do to move forward? The research is clear. The beginning of mental health, a transformation in going from anxious and depressed, to feeling alive and invigorated, with more self-esteem and confidence is when we accept responsibility for what we can control.
There are plenty of things we can control. As long as you're in blame mode, you're not going to be in solution mode. Ask yourself, “What can I do to move my life in a more positive direction?” Have an honest question with yourself. What can I do in my relationships to be more authentic? How can I act with a greater degree of integrity? Do I respect me? What can I do to have a greater degree of respect for myself? Whether it's plucking in my shirt, whether it's losing weight, whether it's exercising, I want to begin to invest in me for tomorrow, and not simply look to escape for today.
As we begin to invest in ourselves and begin to improve and work on our relationships, on who we are emotionally, spiritually, financially, we begin to feel great, because we're taking control of our lives, and nothing is more empowering or invigorating than accepting responsibility for who we are and what we can become.
[0:23:28.5] MB: I love the idea of an increased acceptance of responsibility and exploring this relationship between blame and excuses and how that often feels more comfortable, feels easier and protects your ego, your identity, but actually ultimately makes you less successful and less happy.
[0:23:48.7] DL: Actually, you just summarized it better than I did in five minutes, you did in 60 seconds. Yeah, that's exactly right. We live in a culture that continues to foster the idea about victimhood and not accepting responsibility, because it's a group, a herd mentality that if I can blame the rest of the world, then I don't have to feel guilty, or feel ashamed for anything that I do.
Recuses me a responsibility, advocates me from any obligation, and I get to blame the rest of the world and opt out. The problem is you end up with suffering. There is no escape. The way to gain self-esteem is not by taking away responsibility, it's by accepting responsibility and by moving forward. While you're once again stuck in the victim mode, stuck in blame mode, you will never ever, ever move forward.
This doesn't mean that other people didn't make it tough for you, but the question you always want to ask yourself is, “Okay, fine. What now? Should I continue to blame my parents? Should I continue to blame my upbringing? Should I continue to blame everyone under the sun? Or will I take responsibility right now, make a decision and move myself forward?” Fewer things are more empowering than the power of a decision to say, “I am going to make a different choice.” You will make a different choice, you’ll have a different quality of life.
[0:25:16.4] MB: In many ways, I think it ties back to a lot of the work of Carol Dweck and the psychologists, the talk about the growth mindset and these kinds of things. If you live in a place where you're constantly blaming other people, you're constantly making excuses and you're constantly at odds with reality and with accepting the way things truly are, you're essentially trapping yourself in a cycle that repeats and creates more and more suffering.
[0:25:41.4] DL: That's right. That's right. Just to appreciate the psychological backdrop here, is that look, if you're in an argument with somebody, you're upset with somebody and maybe you are to blame, but you don't want to acknowledge it, or accept it, or you've got a responsibility you don't want to face, what the ego will do is it will minimize, justifies, rationalize, it has a whole a number of tools in its arsenal in order to keep us from feeling guilty, to keep us from feeling bad, because we didn't step up. There's only so much you can call the reality and distort it, until you begin to have a very poor relationship with reality and it no longer resembles the truth. That is mental illness.
When my impression of reality, my view of reality, my perspective doesn't reconcile, doesn't jive with the actual truth. That means then that I'm going to be living in la-la land. That is quite frankly drifting from neurosis to psychosis, when I'm not willing to accept the pain of my reality, so I’ll substitute my own reality. Once again, there's only so long you can pretend to live in a made-up world, before it comes crashing down on you.
[0:26:54.0] MB: I think it's also important and just reiterating this, that this isn't necessarily just you saying toughen up and deal with it. This is a conclusion that's supported by a huge body of scientific research.
[0:27:06.3] DL: Of course. This is much deeper than that. For sure, the research in positive psychology, the research with a number of great psychologists, whether it's Martin Seligman, whether it's Scott Peck, at the end of the day, they all boil down to the same thing. There is no pill you can take that will make you happy permanently. There is nothing you can do that will allow for you to fundamentally change the quality of your life, except if you make different choices. You ever hear, you know what’s fascinating? You ever hear the idea of something called a lottery curse?
[0:27:44.1] MB: I have heard of that. Yeah.
[0:27:45.3] DL: Right. Here's what research shows, that a person that wins a million dollars or more, after one year has a higher statistical rate of suicide, drunken-driving, divorce and even bankruptcy, because all the money did was give them more opportunities to make lousier choices, faster and easier than they could before.
The researchers replete with examples, that money, intelligence, even life experience don't have any bearing on a life satisfaction. Only the quality of our choices within the situation changes our happiness, which is why we know people that have handed everything under the sun, they have every single advantage going for them and they're miserable human beings.
We look at other people that have been through hell and back and they moved through life with a sense of confidence and invincibility and trust and courage, because they make different choices within that situation. Look, circumstances will come and go. Win a million dollars, you’d be in a good mood. Lose a million dollars, less good mood. Fundamentally, the studies are clear if you want to change the quality of your life, you have to change the quality of your choices. That is inescapable. There's no way to get around that.
[0:28:58.9] MB: That's a great way to frame it. I mean, that's in many ways the core thesis of our show is this, how do we help people improve their ability to make better decisions?
[0:29:08.8] DL: That's right. Look, motivational quotes, positive affirmations, these are all things that are helpful. End of the day, is the power of decision is the power to change your life. It is a decision, it is a decision that you make, whoever is listening, watching, understanding, getting this, you have to appreciate if you want to change your life you have to change your choices. Make a decision to change something and you will begin to move your life in a more positive direction.
Now change is scary. It's uncomfortable. It's uneasy, at times painful, which is why people don't do it. Knowing that that change is going to bring you more pleasure, if you're just able to hold on, just hang on, don't quit too soon, sometimes we are just one step away from the magic, but we quit too soon and we don't want to continue moving forward, because it's difficult. Take that extra step and you will find that the world, the universe will just open doors for you. It really is necessary to have a degree of persistence. If you look at the people who are successful, they're the ones that are able to just fall down, get back up, fall down and get back, up fall down and get back up, moving forward, moving forward, moving forward, and then at some point, something magical happens and that is you realize you're living a different quality of life, you're living the life that you're actually happy with.
[0:30:40.1] MB: Yeah. I mean, I think that's such a good example and really describes how important it is to focus on make high-quality decisions, be persistent, don't give up in the face of adversity and really to embrace discomfort and embrace painful experiences, because they're a core part of improving growing and ultimately creating meaning in your life.
[0:31:06.2] DL: That's right. That's right. I'd like to share one really great technique that I put in the book, because it helps us to overcome anger. It's very, very useful in allowing ourselves to be able to make a change much more quickly. It has to do with something called availability heuristics. Availability heuristics basically says, is that how we see ourselves, which means our self-concept is based not necessarily on the choices that we've made in the past, but rather how easily we can recall those choices, how available they are to memory.
Meaning that, if you want to let's say act more assertive, let's say you're somebody that has been very meek, very unable to assert yourself, and you swallow your anger, or swallow your feelings and so on. You'd say, “Okay, fine. I hear what Lieberman is saying. Make better choices, assert myself.” It's not me. I'm not that guy. I've been living my life for 20, 25, 30 years this way. I'm just not that personality.
Here is an amazing way to help overcome that very, very quickly and it works like this. All you have to do is mentally rehearse, visualize times that you've acted in a certain way, in our example, let's say assertive. It could be when you were seven, when you were nine, when you were 10, go ahead and string them together, instead of a 60-second movie trailer, where you go over each time, one after the other, after the other. Throughout the day, go ahead and play this trailer for yourself, 60 seconds in your mind, visualize it when you acted this way.
Then when you need to become more assertive, for example, instantly you're going to be able to engage what we call once again availability heuristics. You'll see yourself, your self-concept is going to come right to the surface and it makes it infinitely more easy to act in the way that you've just been rehearsing, seeing yourself as acting in.
[0:33:06.6] MB: Yeah, I think that's a great strategy. I mean, we love getting into heuristics and biases on the show, and using them to your advantage I think is always a great strategy. In many ways, that strategy also touches on another topic that we get into a lot, which is the power of visual memory, and how important it is to use these vivid visual memories, because they really can impact your perception of reality. They're much more memorable and they also as you're describing with the strategy, can shape your self-concept.
We essentially cherry-pick our own experiences and memories to shape whatever our beliefs of ourselves are, but you're saying essentially that you can proactively cherry-pick certain memories from your past to shape your behavior, to be what you want it to be.
[0:33:52.8] DL: That's right. Here's what the research finds is we know people that are really great wonderful individuals, and they have such a warped perception of themselves. You say, why do you think you're a loser, or why do you think you're not good at this? They'll go ahead and call from all their successes, the one or two or three times that they weren't successful. They have that perfect recall when it comes to things that they've messed up on, but they are completely not able to connect with the times that they've been successful.
Simply by bringing them to the surface and visualizing them, and there are a myriad of studies that I bring out and that are certainly out there on the power visualization, and the ability, because just parenthetically, the visual cortex is much larger than many other parts of the brain responsible for thoughts.
When you are visualizing something, you're engaging much more of the brain and it's easier to recall it, in much the same way that there's a great book called Moonwalking With Einstein, that talked about memory. It used and explain how visualization is so important. When a person begins to misuse their imagination by visualizing the worst-case scenarios, or the time things didn't work out, they're really stacking the odds against all of the logic, all the statistics, all the probability that could be successful, because they're visualizing the worst case, the times that they failed.
Really, by going back and rehearsing those times when you've been successful, it is so magnificent in just allowing you to act in accordance with how you see yourself. That's what the self-concept is. Self-concept pictures a rubber band. You're only going to stretch it so far without snapping back to its original position. With this technique, you literally move the rubber band. You don't have to stretch it, you move it. You now see yourself as a different person, and because we act in accordance with how we see ourselves, when you visualize, and by way, the studies also find it doesn't have to be actual events. It could be visualizing how you're going to act in that situation, it also allows you to engage a little bit of heuristics, see yourself as that person and then it makes it infinitely more easy to act in that way.
[0:36:07.1] MB: I want to circle back and dig in a little bit more. I think it’s been a really fruitful discussion. I think we've gotten a ton of strategies and really got into the meat of how we can take responsibility and accept reality as it is, and how that can help shift and – shift our self-concept, build self-esteem.
One of the building blocks and now that we touched on that I want to explore a little bit more is something you touched on, which is this idea of the relationship between comfort and meaning, and how they're opposed to one another.
[0:36:39.0] DL: That's right. If you ask most people, there’s a great rabbi, the name of rabbi Noah Weinberg, and he used to ask his class what is the opposite of pleasure? Then most people would say pain. He would explain the opposite of pleasure, it's not pain, it's comfort. Real pleasure is found in living life, engaging in life. It takes work, it takes effort to get through to it. Comfort is an escape from life.
We go for this low-hanging fruit of comfort, but here's the thing. What do we have that allows for us to move in the right direction? You've got pleasure in one hand and comfort in the other. Why would we want to choose pleasure over comfort? The answer is this, is because the more meaning something has, the more pleasure you can extract from it. Therefore, sitting on the couch and watching television, eating cheese doodles is very comfortable, but it has no meaning, so it has no real genuine pleasure. There's only so much, so long you can do that without going crazy.
It's a very low-level of existence. When you do something that's more meaningful, you're going to naturally extract more pleasure from it, because meaning is connected to pleasure. It's going to take work, it's going to take effort, it's going to take a lot of discomfort, but there is nothing you can achieve that's worthwhile. Ask any Olympic athlete, ask any successful businessperson, ask anyone in a successful marriage relationship, does it take work? Does it take effort? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes, because you get to the real pleasure.
People that settle for comfort, people that will trade this low-level of existence because they're unwilling to invest effort and to work in order to get to the pleasure, are going to find themselves not just miserable, but they're going to find themselves less happy and with more pain. In other words, there is no escape from life. Anyone that thinks I'm going to avoid the pain of putting in the effort to get to the pleasure, I'll just go ahead and escape. They end up with more pain, because they move into suffering. Suffering is a consequence of not accepting responsibility.
Is it easier to watch television than it is to go ahead and tell, do your taxes? Sure. Is it easier to go ahead and to drink and to do drugs, or to do whatever as an escape from life, rather than to go ahead and to get a job and to move forward? Yeah, but ultimately, the escapism comes crashing down. There is no permanent place you can escape to that life reality won't find you.
When you really understand that there is no escape, and the best way, the only way, the surest way, not just to be happy, but to enjoy an amazing degree of mental health and quality relationships, requires you to engage life, to live life. When you see that wave coming in the ocean, don't run the other way, dive through it. Have some trust that things are going to be good, and as you begin to move forward, you will find that your soul just reawakens and you are just invigorated with a great degree of passion and excitement for life.
[0:39:41.2] MB: I think that's a great explanation of that. In many ways, if you look at something that – I think, the idea of sitting on the couch and eating cheese puffs is a good middle ground, but those are the logical extreme of this pursue pleasure, or pursue comfort at any cost as the idea of somebody who's doing heroin, right? At the moment, while you're doing that, it feels incredible. Obviously the life of a heroin addict is one that is not very enviable.
[0:40:06.6] DL: That's right. That's right. There's an old slogan back in the 80s, if it feels good, do it. Nothing more insane than that. If you want to feel good, you do good. If you set out merely to feel good, you'll end up feeling lousy. Yes, there are things that are enjoyable, things that are pleasure, things that are fun and detaining, excursions, all these things in proper measure are great. Everyone needs to sharpen the saw as it were and to relax, to recharge. There's a big difference between giving yourself time off to re-energize and escaping from life, because you don't want to face the pain and responsibility.
[0:40:41.6] MB: We spent a lot of time digging into self-concept and self-esteem and how these all fit into a lot of the underpinnings of pain, suffering and manifest in many ways as anger. I want to circle back and touch back on anger a little bit. What would you say to somebody, or how do you think about the idea that anger can sometimes be a useful tool, or can sometimes be fuel to motivate you, or push you to achieve certain things, or to get through boundaries, or challenges?
[0:41:12.5] DL: Yes. Right. I've had more than a couple conversations about this with colleagues. When you say conversations, meaning debates, heated arguments. There are those that will definitely contend that there is a positive use for anger. Certainly, that's true. We see people who are sort of, “I'm going to show them. I'm not going to be pushed around. I'm going to go ahead and prove to the world that I can do this and so on.” Great. Fine.
However, you're much better off driving yourself being pulled by the pleasure and what you're doing and connecting to the joy and the innate meaning of what you're doing, rather than basing it on anger, which is ego-driven. Meaning, it's going to put you in a very precarious situation, because let's say those people that were not supportive and you were driving to prove them wrong, ended up saying, “You know what? Okay, you're a great guy. I can see that you could do it. Where does your drive go? It goes out the window.”
Moreover, the problem with using anger, or believing that you should keep in your tool belt is when you're in the heat of an argument with somebody and you haven't taken anger off the table, you're going to assume, because your perspective is narrowed and your ego is engaged. that now is a proper time to be angry/
While anger may be channeled in a healthy direction, 1% of the time, I'd much rather take it off the table and be right 99% the time, because no one ever walked away from a conversation and argument and said, “You know what? I wish I would have gotten angrier/ I would have been able to handle myself so much better.” No one ever walked away from a situation and said, “You know what? If I were angrier, I would have been able to whatever.” It clouds our ability to think clearly, to exercise good judgment. By the way, something we mentioned the beginning of the show is that when we become angry, one of the hormones that get released is something called cortisol, which is also called a stress hormone. Interesting, it interferes with the ability for the brain, the prefrontal cortex to process information. It literally makes us dumb.
When we become angry, we're literally blinded by your ability to see clearly and to act effectively. The answer to a very good question is can anger have productive uses? Sure. I would much rather take it off the table as an option and be right 99% of the time, then keep it on the table as an option, and use it as a fuel, or use it in a way that ends up causing me much more damage.
[0:43:42.3] MB: I think we explored in pretty good detail the longer term strategies for thinking about and dealing with anger. How would you think about, maybe some more short-term strategies in the interim? How do we deal with anger in the moment?
[0:43:57.6] DL: Excellent. First is this, when you become angry, just do what you can. In writing the book, I tried to stay away from things that – my style it’s I try to go outside the box and see what hasn't been covered. I wanted to stay away from the things that have been done so many times, but there's one thing I could not escape from that I put into the book, because it is indisputably effective. That is to breathe. When we become angry, breathing becomes shallow and our ability to think becomes clouded.
Taking deep breaths physiologically allows for us to feel more calm, the central nervous system is relaxed. It is a very effective thing to do. Having said that, the first thing to do is to say, “Okay, fine. I am angry right now. I am in pain.” Then try to find the connection with the fear. If once, I'm telling you I've worked with convicts with this. I've worked with hardcore people that have anger issues from the beginning they were born, and they have become transformed not because of anything magical I did, but because once you're able to really see the connection and that I'm angry at you, not because of what you did to me, but because I'm connecting it to a feeling of fear that I feel vulnerable, I feel unsafe.
Then when I go to the court and say, “Why do I feel unsafe?” You're able to walk yourself through these conversations, you become almost impervious to insult, or to offense. It's not because you don't care what other people think, but you realize that you're not in pain. It's not real pain. You feel like it's the fight-or-flight response, you feel it's actual danger. In much the same way, you see a bear in the woods and a fight-or-flight response is engaged. Once you realize that it's just a kid in a costume, it dissipates.
In much the same way, if you think it's a real danger, you feel vulnerable, you feel unsafe, you feel that you are emotionally threatened, that you're not loved or lovable, you're going to become angry. Once you realize that that's not the case, the fear dissipates. Having an honest conversation with yourself is invaluable. Certainly, visualization is fantastic.
One of the other things that we do is there's a great methodology where you bring your physiology into it. What you do is you take a deep breath, at the same time you relax your shoulders and you tilt your neck. There's a lot of psychology and physiology and research that goes into it. Tilting your neck is, what it does is it sends a subconscious message to your brain that you're safe, because when we feel threatened, we go into a aggressive posture. By moving into a open posture, physiologically speaking, taking a deep breath, it allows for you to trigger those times when you felt calm, you felt relaxed, felt you are not being threatened, and you're able to just instantly go into that state.
We find is that physiologically speaking, actually the author is Jill Bolte, who has done amazing research in this area and she explains that the feeling of anger, any type of negative emotion and about 90 seconds, physiologically speaking it moves through you. After that 90 seconds, you can either own it, or dismiss it. Even though your body may be reacting to a genuine threat, by walking through this protocol in about 90 seconds, you flush that physiology out of your system, and you can regain control over your emotional equilibrium right then in the moment.
Then soon you're going to find that the little things simply don't bother you, and less and less and less things bother you, there’s a saying in biology that neurons that fire together, wire together. Every time there's a stimulus and response, you strengthen those connections. We find as it takes no more than about three to four weeks to begin to reconfigure that connection. In the field of neuroplasticity, it shows just how quickly you can rewire your brain and set up an entire new neural network, that rather that's anger driven is able to remain calm.
The best part about this, Matt, it's not a calm that you force on yourself. You're not fighting an uphill battle. Your sense of, “Okay, fine but I'm doing these techniques. I’m calming myself down,” it's not even registering on the radar. It instantly is coming in as a non-threat, so you don't have to work, you don't need willpower, you don't the exercise self-control in order to calm yourself down. If your ego is not engaged, it's not going to grow.
You would simply remain unbothered. Just an amazing way to feel so much more empowered over your life, because you know that no matter what you face, you're not going to lose control of yourself. You're going to be able to maintain a sense of emotional equilibrium in that situation and then deal with it as healthy as you possibly can.
[0:48:46.6] MB: Very practical examples. Funnily enough, for listeners who want to dig in, we actually interviewed Jill Bolte Taylor, a couple weeks ago. She goes even more in-depth into the 90-second rule and how works.
David, I'm curious for listeners who want to concretely implement something we've talked about today, whether it's with anger management, or changing their self-concept and self-esteem, what would be one piece of homework that you would give listeners to take a first step to concretely implement the things we've talked about today?
[0:49:16.6] DL: Excellent. The best thing you can do is to sit down in a quiet space and look at the connection between your anger and fear. We find that there are pivotal points in our childhood that we felt insecure, we felt helpless, we felt vulnerable, and we responded in a certain way. If you're able to go back and say, “You know what? When I was in third grade, or I was in fifth grade, or so on, I felt very helpless, I felt alone, I felt so on, and then this is how I dealt with it.”
Then you see how that plays out in relationships today. I've worked with so many people who have, again hardened folks that have spent a life with in violence and have very, very difficult upbringings in childhood. When they're able to see that their response today is based on a corrupted conclusion of something that they're transposing and picking up and using the template from when they were a child and they felt helpless, and that's how they dealt with it then, when they see that connection, it almost magically dissolves.
Really just spending time on it and seeing that a response today doesn't have to be based on the response that we had when we were young. In the situation, when you're able to just slow it down and say, “I'm angry.” What is the fear? What is the underlying fear? Do I feel helpless? Do I feel unloved? Do I feel not respected? Do I feel rejected? Then ask yourself, “Why? Am I really in pain? How much power am I giving this person over my emotional health?” You begin to have an honest conversation with yourself, you begin to unwind from that automatic angry reaction and you regain control over yourself.
[0:50:55.0] MB: Where can listeners find you and your various books and works online?
[0:51:00.1] DL: Never Get Angry Again is at fine and probably not fine bookstores, they never looked in those, but that's on Amazon and everywhere. I'm on Instagram. I just started that actually, it’s dr_lieberman. Website, I think, I'm not really a technically savvy guy, but it's – I think it's drlieberman.com. I've got plenty of lectures online. If you just Google me, you'll see a number of talks on self-esteem, happiness relationships, overcoming conflict, obstacles, challenges, those types of things.
[0:51:29.7] MB: Well, David thank you so much for coming on the show sharing all these wisdom. We got really deep into some of the strategies in the science and I really appreciate you taking the time to explain all of these concepts and ideas to our listeners.
[0:51:41.6] DL: Matt, you are a super guy, an amazing talent. You've got a terrific show and I so appreciate the opportunity. Thanks so much.
[0:51:47.5] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you our listeners master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story, or just say hi, shoot me an e-mail. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s M-A-T-T@successpodcast.com. I’d love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener e-mail.
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