At the turn of the year it's a fresh start for everyone. New Year's resolutions are common, but unfortunately, both research and practice show is that resolutions don't work. They don't actually lead to real and lasting change. But there is something that will work, without fail, every single time: Dedication to one, powerful, keystone habit.
As a life coach, I'm in the business of supporting people through the change process. I know from experience that it takes much more than a desire to make positive changes happen in your life. It certainly takes more than motivation, which always ebbs and flows. It even takes more than a plan.
A habit is a behavior or activity that you routinely do over and over again. So much so, that you begin to do it unconsciously. A powerful habit becomes so ingrained in you that it feels hard-wired — the way you cover your mouth when you cough, put on your right sock first, or answer the phone. You don't actually think about it at all.
It is also true that the arc, even the outcomes of our entire lives are built on the habits that we engage in every day — most of which are almost entirely subconscious. Think about it: Your life, as it is today, is simply the outcome of everything that you've done up until this point. A few macro-decisions have the potential impact our life to a significant degree, like who you marry, the job you take, moving to a new town.
But even then, the actual outcomes you experience in any of these scenarios have much less to do with the circumstances themselves, and more about what your daily “micro-habits” entail. Plenty of people get into Ivy League schools, and don't have the personal habits required to be successful. So they flunk out. Pretty much any relationship has the potential to be a good one or a bad one, depending on how people are in the habit of treating each other day-to-day. All success or failure is determined by your habitual behaviors.
When you think about the changes that you might want to make in your life, and resolve to “save money” or “lose weight” or “have a better relationship” or “expand your social circle” or “keep my house clean” — all of those are fantastic hopes. But they will remain hopes until you understand and learn how to utilize the habits that are creating your current reality, and swap them out for the ones that will allow you to create the life you want — hour by hour, day by day, and year by year.
What is a Keystone Habit?
A keystone habit is a very special habit. It's one, powerful habit that “touches” many other aspects of your life. If you find a single, great keystone habit, it can begin working it's magic on everything from the way you feel, to the way you think, to how much energy you have, to how easy it feels to do other healthy things (and interestingly, harder to engage in the bad habits you might be prone to).
Let's be real: If you think about ALL the habits you might need to change in order to achieve your goals, it can feel discouraging. It can be overwhelming to sit down and take stock of the all things in your life that aren't working, and all of the personal habits you'd have to change in order to create the kind of results you want. Even just having one goal of losing ten pounds requires a number of small daily habits to make that happen: tracking food, consciously choosing healthy lower calorie options, saying no to junk and sweets, minding portion size, getting yourself to exercise, being mindful of cravings and impulsivity, and having a plan to deal with special situations like holidays or outings.
It's probably exhausting just to read that one paragraph! When you tack on other personal goals / resolutions of things you aspire to, like saving money, having a better relationship, being more productive at work, etc, it's even worse. That's because when you start breaking down all the small action steps that achievement in those areas would entail, it's enough to make you want to eat ALL the donuts, isn't it?
I want you to be successful at creating the change you desire in this new year. So for that reason, today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is all about how to find and lovingly cultivate one solid keystone habit that will carry you forward. I'll also be discussing how to make that new habit stick, so that this new year turns into a string of successes for you.
Specifically we're discussing:
How to find your keystone habit
How keystone habits work to effect change in many areas of your life
Habit loops, and how to make them work for you
Habit stacking, and how to cluster winning habits into a life-changing force
How long it takes to form a habit
How long does it take to break a bad habit? Why it may be easier than you think.
Some tips and tricks to help you stay on track with a new habit
How to avoid some common pitfalls that could knock your new keystone habit off course
All that, and more, on this episode.
I hope that this info helps you as you craft your path for this new year, and that it brings you only good things.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
Keystone Habits: The Key to Changing Everything
by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Nothing to Hide” byAllah-Las
How to Read People
Do you ever wonder how people really feel? Even if they’re saying something different? Learning how to read people can lead to greater happiness at work, in your love life, and improve your emotional intelligence. How can you tell what someone is truly feeling? Luckily, you have a window into their soul: their face.
Believe it or not, every thought and feeling that we have flashes across our face before we’re even aware of it. Most people learn, at an early age, how to put their “masks” back on quickly when unintended expressions slip through. But if you know how to read someone, you can still understand them — sometimes even better than they understand themselves.
Why are faces such a source of truth? Your face is the only place in your entire body where your muscles are attached directly to your skin. Fleeting feelings, stray thoughts, and even subconscious core beliefs will all reveal themselves through our facial expressions. The art of reading people is not just decoding body language, it’s learning how to decode facial expressions too.
Today’s podcast will help you learn how! My guest is author and researcher Dr. Dan Hill. Dr. Hill is the author of nine books, including “Emotionomics,” and a pioneer in the use of facial coding. Besides having spoken to audiences in over 25 countries, Dan has had media appearances ranging from ABC's Good Morning, America, to NBC's The Today Show, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ESPN, and was also a regular guest on PBS’s Mental Engineering show. His advice has also been featured in The New York Times.
And today, he’s here to share his insights about reading people with you.
Listen to this episode to learn…
The science behind understanding emotions
The importance of understanding others in building relationships and connecting with others.
How to decipher emotions using facial coding — the beginning of knowing how to read people.
How to hone your emotional intelligence.
Tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or listen right here. Show notes are below, and you’ll find a full transcript at the bottom of this post. Follow-up questions or comments for myself or Dr. Hill? Join the conversation in the comments section!
In our interview, Dr. Hill explained that 95 percent of our mental activity is not fully conscious. Because most of our brain activity is not known to us, it debunks the paradigm that we are in total control of the thoughts and emotions that pass through our heads. He added that our faces provide a wealth of information to other people, and that we’re constantly taking in data based on what we see in the faces of others.
These revelations are simultaneously humbling and liberating — they confirm that we don't need to pretend to be someone we aren't. “We are who we are, and accept it. Try to learn from it. Don't just give in to it necessarily,” Dan says. You might have emotional blind spots, but gaining awareness of them will help you learn how to read people better.
The Art of Reading People
Charles Darwin found that the face is the only human body part where the muscles attach directly to the skin. Interestingly, human beings have more facial muscles than any other species. While some triggers might differ based on cultural context, there are also some universalities. Dr. Hill observed these similarities in his travels around the world.
Dr. Paul Ekman conducted a study where he showed photographs to people in New Guinea and had them identify the emotions in their subjects. But emotions aren't that simple. There exist 23 expressions that reveal our seven basic emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and contempt. But photos can't capture the nuances of all of them. When it comes to the art of reading people, Dr. Hill says, “It’s simple, but it’s not that simple. Because to be that simple would be ridiculous.”
Out of the seven basic emotions, six are core emotions that serve as our fundamental emotional building blocks. So emotional intelligence has three steps:
Perceiving emotions in oneself and others
Understanding the emotions
Putting them together and managing the emotions
Emotional intelligence and understanding how to read people starts with perception. Often, we get so caught up in our own inner experiences, and fail to pick up on other people's emotions. Facial coding offers us a window into the emotional experiences of others so that we can understand how they’re feeling and respond appropriately.
Reading People: The Connection Between Words and Emotions
Reading people doesn't stop when you're able to surmise what a person is thinking or feeling. To understand why they're feeling specific emotions, it helps to ask questions and find behavioral patterns. Understanding facial expressions is not the end; it's merely a tool for reading people and connecting to what they're feeling. It can also help address what Dr. Hill calls the “feel gap,” or the chasm that opens up between ourselves and others when we feel one thing but say another. By becoming aware of it, we can better connect with people and help ourselves and others in becoming emotionally healthy.
In his research, Dr. Hill places the link between what people say and what they’re feeling into four possible categories:
What is said is what is felt.
What is said has some distance from what is felt.
What is said is not what is felt.
What is said is in complete contrast with what is felt.
Out of all the categories, the first one is the least common, according to Dr. Hill’s research. Understandably, some words don’t match up with emotions. We all work to get along with others and avoid conflicts, after all. Essentially, our motivations are to feel good about ourselves. We want to attract others romantically, platonically, and professionally, and sometimes that means “smoothing things over” by not expressing exactly how we feel.
How to Tell When Someone is Lying
In a cover story from National Geographic, Dr. Hill remembers that 40 percent of all people tell five lies per day. These aren't white lies either; they're deceptions with substance, with real consequences. Dan dislikes the implications of that statistic, but says, “…mostly I try to be intrigued by it and say, ‘How can I do better? How can I understand this? How can I accept my fundamental humanity and accept that of the people I'm talking to?” For more on this topic, check out “Being Honest With Yourself.”
Communication Tip: Don’t Confront Directly (h3)
When you learn how to read people by picking up on facial cues, you’ll begin to observe contradictions between what people say and what they seem to feel. Think carefully about what you do with this information, as approaching it head-on with the person might not be helpful. The person you're talking to might feel embarrassed when you point it out. They might be actively trying to hide it, or they may not even be aware of the contradiction.
On this point, Dr. Hill quotes Emily Dickinson: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant, lest everyone go blind.” It's best not to directly “call out” the person, or to push them to explore that emotion along with you. It's much better to let them connect the dots themselves, rather than tellingthem directly that their stated feelings don’t seem to match up with their expressions, which might seem like an attempt to tell them what they’re feeling.
People usually remember things tied to emotions. For example, when you hear something that hurts you, it sticks with you for a long time. Whether in personal or professional relationships, it's vital to understand how to read people's emotions, because there are real, long-lasting stakes.
When you know how to read people, you can pick up cues that could make or break relationships. For example, decoding a smirk of contempt can help people in the business industry know if they are respected. For married couples, a smirk of contempt can be an early warning sign that the relationship is in trouble.
These underlying emotions, when undetected and unaddressed, can even create financial headaches — contempt destroys respect and trust, which can erode business relationships over time. Ultimately, decoding those emotions leads you to be honest with yourself while forging stronger connections with others.
When coaching a CEO, Dr. Hill encourages vulnerability. It can sometimes feel risky, but the result is better relationships between leaders and employees.
While there are many success stories about the benefits of learning how to read people, decoding emotions isn't a sure-fire thing. As Dr. Hill states, “You don’t make a hit every time, and you do have to live with that.” Part of emotional intelligence is not beating yourself or the other party up when feelings get messy or difficult to decipher.
When we’re trying to read people, it’s easy to project our own feelings onto others, a habit that impedes understanding and can be corrosive to relationships. Dr. Hill suggests two paths to avoiding emotional projection.
First, ask yourself, “Am I making assumptions about other people’s behaviors?” Asking this question helps you avoid assumptions about someone else’s feelings.
Second, be open to new information. Even if someone has a habit of slipping into a particular emotional state, it does more harm than good to assume that an emotion or expression is a person's default and that it’s what is always going on under the surface. To break free from this habit, work on cultivating empathy and curiosity about others.
Controlling Your Own Facial Expressions
Dr. Hill says he doesn't consciously shift his facial expressions when he's talking to people. Once he entered this field, he decided he wouldn't review his tapes to preserve his emotional authenticity and avoid manipulation. Dan sees facial coding as a tool for reading people, and he wants to use it faithfully. He was also interested in restoring humanity to the business world and encouraging better treatment for employees, clients, and colleagues.
The Emotional Advantage
Cultivating emotional intelligence is more than an interesting hobby. It gives us real-world advantages at work, in romantic relationships, in friendships, and even with baristas or grocery store clerks. These little advantages add up to an improved quality of life, which Dr. Hill says, based on research, can actually be quantified as an overall six percent advantage. No kidding!
If six percent doesn’t sound like much, consider that sports stars like Serena Williams are only a percentage point or two better than other top competitors. When it makes the difference between winning and losing, six percent becomes a pretty meaningful advantage.
Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence isn't fixed; it’s a skill that we can improve over time, in part by learning how to read people. Being intelligent is fantastic, but unless IQ is paired with some EQ, it’s hard to leverage those smarts to make positive changes in the world.
While earning his Ph.D., Dr. Hill took a teaching course. He didn’t like that the course focused purely on IQ without any regard for EQ. It didn't teach him how to connect with students on an emotional level, a skill that would make any teacher far more effective than simply being smart.
As the teaching example illustrates, “soft skills” like the ability to read people often get ahead at work and beyond.
Resourcesfor How to Read People:
Get Dr. Dan Hill’s books, “Famous Faces Decoded” and “Blah, Blah, Blah” on his website.
The music in this episode is Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las from their album “Worship the Sun.” You can support them and their work by visiting their website.
Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.
Enjoy the Podcast?
Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about emotional intelligence? How do you think these insights can help you get better at reading other people and understanding yourself? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.
[Intro song: Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. That’s Alla-Las with the song, “Nothing to Hide”. I thought this was a perfect setup for our topic today because on today's show, we're talking about how to read people, so that you can understand with accuracy how others are really feeling, sometimes even before they know it themselves. This is a huge component of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is something that we have talked about numerous times on the show and the importance of it, the ability to be able to understand yourself, understand others, and then manage relationships with others and yourself accordingly, based on this awareness. I think many of our other episodes on the subject of emotional intelligence have really talked about your ability to understand and manage yourself.
Today's show is really all about how specifically, do we understand other people by using, what they're showing us about how they feel on their faces, in order to be able to decode their emotional experience accurately. Knowing how to do this gives you a huge advantage in any situation involving other humans, be it your personal relationships, your interactions with your partner, and even on the job. So I'm so excited that we're exploring this topic together today. My guest on today's show is a true expert on this subject.
On this episode of the podcast, I'm so thrilled to be speaking to Dr. Dan Hill, who is the author of nine books, including “Emotionomics”, and most recently, a book called “Blah, Blah, Blah: A Snarky Guide to Office Lingo”. He is an expert on – wait for it – understanding people's emotions by looking at their faces, among other things. He's done an enormous amount of research around the emotional impact of faces, the way we respond to art and photography. I'm so interested to get his insight into particularly his research into emotional intelligence and how you can use his ideas and what he's learned to help you be more confident and effective in all of your interpersonal relationships. I'm so pleased to be speaking with you today, Dan. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely. Lisa, I'm so looking forward to it. I think it'll be a great conversation.
A Cosmic Joke
Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. Well, Dan, we have much to discuss. I mean, you do so many different things. You're an author. You're a researcher. You're a speaker. But why don't you if it's okay, let's just spend a couple of minutes and talk about, you know, how am I so interested to know like how you got interested in this field of study? And just tell us a little bit about your research?
Dan Hill: Sure. Well, I often joke that as a cosmic joke itself, that I would be an emotions expert, because I'm Scandinavian. And Scandinavians are not necessarily famous for being outgoing or emotional
Dr. Lisa: You do have a reputation.
Dan Hill: Yes, Gary Keillor, with his Prairie Home Companion show once said the joke about the Norwegian American man who loved his wife so dearly that he very nearly told her so. And I happen to be half Norwegian. The other cosmic joke here is that I have a PhD in English. Yet my specialty is not in that field. It's arguably in psychology, and it certainly in nonverbals, so we will converse in verbals. But yes, I rely a lot on what I learned about people from their facial expressions.
The way I got into this was someone I was working for a consulting firm, looking at the customer experience, trying to write a book for the company president. And he had me in contact with someone at IBM, who one day changed my life, sent over an article from a Cornell University publication called American demographics, talking about the breakthroughs in brain science, and how much we are intuitive, sensory emotional decision-makers with a killer statistic that the conservative estimation is that 95% of our mental activity is not fully conscious. which is actually probably about 98-99%.
That's what the science is kind of at these days.
Dr. Lisa: That’s so interesting.
A Scientific Approach to Emotions
Dan Hill: So I read the article, and yes, I had the same reaction. So interesting. My hands started trembling. I mean, literally started trembling, I went, “This is so cool”. I have no idea whether I can make a living at this. But it would be shameful if I didn't pursue it, because it's so striking. And so revolutionary, and the business world's not awake to the importance of emotions, and they're denying it. And I just have to go here, I decided to leave my job within five minutes of reading the article. That is an absolutely true story.
Dr. Lisa: Wow. That’s like psychologically being struck by lightning kind of experience? That is remarkable.
Dan Hill: That exactly what it was. I mean, I was transfixed with excitement. I mean, it just, I couldn't believe it. I mean, it just happened.
Dr. Lisa: That is so cool. I mean, I think, so many people long for that kind of experience where this is why I'm here – that passion, that purpose, and how amazing that you had that. And we're open to it.
Dan Hill: Well, and then the journey had to start. So then I had to stay open, because then the question was, okay, so emotions are really valid. I mean, of course they are. But then the question was, well, how am I going to research this or capture metrics, because my father was in charge of 3M post-it notes production, sales and marketing.
I grew up in a household where the word innovation, being a tagline for 3M was bandied about just a little bit, shall we say, but knowing that would be my higher target market audience, someone I would have to sell into is like, Oh, my God, I'm gonna have to have science, I'm going to have a methodology, I'm going to have to have metrics. I can't show up and say emotions matter. They're going to call that “woowoo” and soft. And so what, and everything else under the sun.
That started the hunt. And the great thing is, I had a second bolt of lightning, a second Eureka. Because first, a friend blew me up, and was actually a favor. I spent half a year almost developing a methodology, sent it to my friend, Joe Rich — great name for a business person, by the way- and Joe said, “This is great stuff”. And I said, “well, Joe, there's a ‘but’ in your voice, I can detect it. We’re friends, I know”. He said, “Well, actually there is.” “So what's the problem?” He said, “The problem is if you follow these traditional methods, you're going to ask people to think their feelings. And guess what? They feel them.” I had to start over. That's how I came to facial coding, because I said, “Oh, my God, what is it going to be, a very lost month? I don't have much money. I gotta start earning some if at all possible here.”
At the University of California, San Diego, UCSD, they had a lot of PhDs and social sciences in town and psychology, all of that, and a great section on neurobiology. And I started checking out books. One day, I came across the fact that Charles Darwin, the Charles Darwin, came to realize that in your face, you best reflect and communicate your emotions. I read that about 10:45 in the morning, I can picture to this day, just like a picture where I read that fax from the IBM guy.
I can picture the very seat in the coffee house in San Diego where I was sitting when I came across that statement in one of the books I checked out from the library. I went, “Oh, I was an art history minor in college, I lived in Italy, as a boy, I had to read nonverbals my mom was an interior designer, I can do this, this fits, and this is exciting. I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life.” And I knew that just as instantaneously, as when I read the article where I decided to quit. So two of them within half a year. I mean, it's a blessing.
Dr. Lisa: Getting these sort of messages and just like the right information at the right time. And so the first message was most of our brainpower is not fully conscious. And then the second message was people understand and process so much from other people's faces. Those were the kind of the two messages and then taking those together.
Dan Hill: So the first one blew up the paradigm. Because the real paradigm we've lived with basically is really outmoded. It's Rene Descartes saying “I think therefore I am”. Yeah, I mean that that's obsolete as can be, but we still live by it very often. And so it's The Big Lie we tell ourselves. And then the second revelation to your point was, here's a tool.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, that's so fast. And I'm so glad you're talking about this. Because I know I personally do this too. I think we all fall into that belief that we’re fully in command of what's going on in our heads and we're making sort of like thoughtful decisions that is not even remotely true. It's so humbling to be like, “No, actually, that is not what is driving your bus most of the time.”
Dan Hill: It is humbling. But I also think it's really liberating, as though we don't have to pretend to be something we aren't. Because we're not Mr. Spock, from Star Trek, we are Homer Simpson. And you know, and Maggie and everybody else in the family, it’s just, we are who we are, and accept it, try to learn from it. Don't just give in to it, necessarily. But yes, there are tremendous blind spots, and it's going to help you with other people. Because if you think they're rational players, you're off base and the vagaries of their behavior, and how you're going to connect with them most effectively. We'll certainly have a better shot if you're grounded correctly, which is to say, I'm around a lot of other people's blind spots and biases, too.
Dan Hill’s Discoveries
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Good reminder. And, and your research and where you started to go is this idea that our faces and other people's faces are kind of a window into what is really going on, if I'm understanding correctly, and I'd love to hear more about how that path unfolded. And if you could take our listeners into just, you know how, I mean, I am a card carrying nerd. And so I'm always interested in how you did the research, because I think it's super cool. But, of course, and again, you've written nine books on the topic. So there's so much to share. But it's, you know, some overviews, I guess, of some of the main themes that your research uncovered.
23 Facial Expressions and 7 Basic Emotions
Dan Hill: Sure, there's a lot to unpack there, but I'll try my pieces. And if I miss something, you can, you can redirect me back to what I missed. I guess the first thing I would go to is, obviously, Charles Darwin, not available for a conversation after I came across this revelation. But you know, I'm a researcher with a PhD. So I like to verify through multiple sources, and then I like to get to the most credible sources, or resources to draw on as possible.
First of all, Darwin's work, essentially arguing that the face is the only place in the body where the muscles attach right to the skin. We have more facial muscles than any other species on the planet. There's 44 sets of muscles, so there's a real richness of data there. It can also be argued that it's universal, that the display rules vary. Certainly, what could be the triggers, you know, can vary by cultural context. But there is a universality and I believe that because my company has done research for more than half the world's top 100 brands. We've done research in I think about 35 countries, I've spoken in more than 25, I have traveled to more than 80, myself. So you know, I have seen it across the world.
Now. There is someone, Lisa Barrett, who are used against that, but it's because Dr. Paul Ekman was kind of the expert in the field made — it was an early kind of rookie mistakes, I guess I would call it. So he went out to verify this. And he showed some photographs to people in the highlands of New Guinea, and tried to identify if they could pick out what the expression is. And she picks on that and says, Well, yeah, we tried to replicate this, in India and Africa. And it didn't work.
My point is, of course, it didn't work and Paul Ekman never should’ve done it. In the first case, because we have 23 expressions that reveal our emotions. Let's just take anger, for instance, there are nine different ways you can show anger in the face. Some of those expressions just show anger. But some of the other expressions potentially based on Dr. Ekman’s research itself, indicates that it might go to more than one emotion, maybe two, maybe three, you can't possibly hold up a photograph that's going to be — is this anger, because you're not going to probably show all nine emotions or expressions for it. Plus, some of those expressions will also reveal another emotion.
It's simple, but it's not that simple. Because to be that simple, would be ridiculous. You know, when we'd all had to the Botox Center and the plastic surgeon, you know, to try to hide what we're revealing on our faces, potentially, if we did have something to hide. But the real point of that research is that there are these 23 expressions, and they cover seven emotions.
The seven emotions are happiness, and surprise, and anger and fear, sadness, disgust, and contempt. Six of those most psychologists I think, would agree that there will be called basically core emotions or, the real fundamental building blocks. And that really sets up the proposition because emotional intelligence really has three steps to it.
In essence, I perceive what's going on for myself and others. Unless you got a mirror- its not going to be so good for that. But it could be, we will have seen your expressions, you can go back and look at your own photographs and video. But it gets you started by perception, then the question is, Do I understand these emotions? Or what do they actually mean? What's their significance? What may trigger them? What does it lead to in terms of behavior? And the third one is putting it all together and managing the emotions.
You can't do the last one, of course, without the first two. And the game really starts with the perception. And that's why I love facial coding, because it gives you the chance to capture data and get a sense of what's going on for other people. Because one of the problems we have otherwise is we caught up in our own silo. And we do need to get outside of that to be effective.
Dr. Lisa: Yes, your silo meaning like so caught up in our own inner experience. Sometimes we don't fully recognize what's going on.
Dan Hill: Or to quote my favorite New Yorker cartoon is I have more than once from the stage and so on. Two women are talking to each other one says to the other, “But enough about me, what do you think about me?” Yeah, that’s the silo.
The Feel Gap
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Okay, that's so interesting. And so that there are the 23 different facial expressions that are tied into variations of those, those basic emotions. And then it ties into emotional intelligence, because you're saying that when you can kind of clue into people's faces and understand what they are really potentially thinking, or feeling that you can have more insight psychologically and kind of know what's happening. And that, I'm guessing, it also might sometimes be different than what people are saying out loud, or perhaps, if we're going to get really deep, perhaps even different than what they are consciously aware of?
Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely. So, I mean, I'd make one small correction, what you said, which was, you said, what they're thinking and feeling. I can get a reasonable surmise, and nothing's infallible, and I'm not fallible as a facial coder, but you're looking for a leg up, you know, an opportunity to be better. So I can know, I think reasonably well, what they're feeling, whether they're aware of it or not, whether they're going to admit to it or not. How they're thinking, or why they're feeling that feeling- I can only get through probably through asking questions, trying to look for behavioral patterns that link up to this. So the detective work is not over yet. But yes, it gives you that chance to get to more end.
You mentioned the idea that might be a distance between what they say, and how they feel. And indeed, in my research, I get very quickly settled on the term, the say “feel gap”. They say one thing, but they feel another. What we've found in our work, and I think could be true in your personal relationships as well, we actually found four categories. One is- what they said and how they felt matched up. That's the least common of the categories.
Dr. Lisa: That's so interesting.
Dan Hill: There's also, the lineup was some connection, but you know, some distance. Another one is that they say something, they don't feel it at all, you know, there's no muscle activity. They're just saying it, it's lip service. And the last one is the say-feel gap, where indeed, there is essentially a complete breakdown between what they say, and what I believe they're actually feeling on their face. Because yeah, we try to get along with other people that mean, it's understandable. We don't want to fight all day long have conflicts. And so essentially, our motivations in life are to feel good about ourselves, and to attract allies, whether it's romantically, in terms of our career, and so forth.
Neither one of those has to line up necessarily with being honest. And that being honest, might get us into trouble. The National Geographic had a cover story just a few years ago, about you know, called I think it was, “Why We Lie?” And of course, we went into all the reasons why we would lie, but what I remember is the statistic — 40% of us apparently, tell, on average, five lies a day and we're not talking about little white lies, but lies of some substance, some consequence. 40% of us five or more a day, and I went, “Okay, that's a lot.” But if it's good research, it could make some sense.
Yeah, we don't know what's going on. We do lie to ourselves, perhaps most of all. And it's probably why you know, life is a little messy. But I guess my approach is to be intrigued by it. Most days, there are days I despair about it. But mostly I try to be intrigued by and say how can I do better? How can I understand this? How can I accept my fundamental humanity and accept that of the people I'm talking to.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that is sobering. And I'm, I'm sure we have people listening to this right now who, you know, might have trust issues and relationships. I mean, that's a thing. And that's very scary to consider that, humans routinely are saying things that are not fully true.
I like your point that sometimes that is a conscious deception that is motivated by you know, a desire for self-esteem or to manage relationships. But the other times, it is not fully conscious that even though people are saying something that isn't true in a moment, they may not be aware of that, they're lying to themselves.
Dan Hill: Yeah. And maybe the lie is altruistic. In some sense, you know, benign.
Dr. Lisa: “Your baby is so pretty.
Dan Hill: Yeah, I think what really disturbed me in a relationship is when it's for malicious intent. And it's a pattern, pronounced pattern with real consequences. I mean, that's kind of a trifecta of poison, that one would be well advised to escape if possible.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Definitely. And so I guess what I'm curious to hear more about, so much of our brainpower is, you know, focused on people's faces. And there's such a wealth of this, I mean, kind of reading through the lines here, it seems like, if you become very skilled at kind of decoding people's emotions from their faces, you have a huge advantage and understanding what's really going on.
I'm curious to know that if somebody wanted to develop their skills in this area, to be able to read people more effectively, you know, not just to maybe see problems potentially coming down the line, but I think also just to develop their own emotional intelligence skills, like how do I become better able to reading people and understanding how they're feeling? And I'm curious to know what you would see as being like the sort of arc of that growth process for lack of a better term, like if somebody wanted to develop their skills in that area? What do you think works?
Dan Hill: Well, I decided at this point in my life, I just published it just a couple, three years ago, I released a book called, “Famous Faces Decoded: A Guide to Reading Others”. And the reason I did that is because, I lived a couple times here in passing to Dr. Paul Ekman, so he's considered the modern expert on facial coding. Although in addition to Darwin, I could even go back as far as Leonardo Da Vinci.
If you look at his notebooks, they include drawings of faces because he was interested in their, you know, the muscularity and how the muscles moves and which emotions they showed. And I really think it's a big reason why Mona Lisa is such an intriguing painting, because it was informed by his interest in science, just like Michelangelo was contemporary was actually doing likewise, but more focused on the body. So one gave us Mona Lisa, one gave us the statue, David, because they had different areas of interest, so to speak, even they were parallel interests.
Dr. Ekman, simply picked up the baton and ran with it and figured out with a colleague of the School of Medicine in San Francisco, you know, these expressions. His manual was like 500 pages. So when I got it, I read through. I was a good student. And I think based on my art history, interests, and even frankly, the fact that I fell in love with Rembrandt at age seven, because my mom took me to the Rights Museum in Amsterdam, and Rembrandt is greater portraiture work.
I think I had some real built-in advantages. And that time in Italy, where we moved for my dad's career, and I didn't know the language at first and went to Italian first grade, and the fishing village, waited all day for the math unit. But Italians have a lot of body language. And you know, that kind of gave me away. And so I had some advantages.
What I'm doing is, is making it simpler for people. So my book is much more accessible than the 500-page manual, definitely shorter, but gives you the secret sauce. So I think the book is really kind of operating on three levels.
One is I said, for some people, you know, maybe learning isn't so easy or attractive. I'll make it real fun, because I'll give them celebrities. I'll give them celebrity examples where they can follow along, but learn something new about these celebrities, in terms of their life stories, little tidbits. And that's kind of the setup piece. And they're celebrities who are Americans and for the last, you know, a couple of generations, and the celebrities were actually did something with their career. They're not just famous for being famous. You know, by and large, they actually did something.
That's kind of the first layer of the cake. And then the next layer was really to try to explain the emotions because that's step number two of EQ. Emotional Intelligence is understanding what the emotions are. And so most emotions really have and there's not necessarily a negative emotion or positive emotions, they both have, all have upsides and downsides. But just understand what are the possible triggers and ramifications for behavior because emotions have a storyline and let me ground this for people by one example, disgust.
With disgust, some really obvious things that might happen to do is your nose wrinkles, or your upper lip curls, it's almost as if nature is very literally saying, it stinks, my nose curl or wrinkles, it tastes bad, my nose, my mouth kind of lifts up and away from the offending taste. Think about the evolutionary advantage of this. You pick a fruit off the tree, you are at the watering hole, you know, we're talking 1000s of years ago, and, of course of evolution and civilization. Well, Disgust can give you or reinforces for this feeling, “Oh my God, that's a bad idea.” This fruit is rotten, that water is toxic, it's polluted, I shouldn't drink it, I shouldn't eat this. And you back off, because that's the storyline of disgust essentially, is something's toxic, poisonous, bad for you. And I'm out of here.
So that that's the, kind of the understanding. So the second tier of the book or of the cake, as it were, is, you know, what do these emotions mean. And then I have diagrams and photographs to explain how you reveal those emotions. So I actually deliver all three of those things. And I think I've tried to make the book as successful as I can without, you know, making it too dummy down that it's not actually accurate, or useful to somebody. And, you know, did all that in a couple 100 pages with fun examples, as opposed to a 500 page manual. And I think that's, I'm not just saying this, because I wrote it. I really think that's probably the most helpful thing out there in this specialty.
Dr. Lisa: I mean, yes. And so again, this is “Famous Faces Decoded”, I will be ordering this immediately after our conversation ends sir, by the way, because it sounds so fascinating. But I could totally see how you would really have to, like, see examples that you present in your book to be able to kind of put it together and know what to look for.
Dan Hill: Yeah, we're visual creatures. And yeah, there's no way you're gonna learn facial coding, without visuals. So I have plenty in there.
Confronting Others About Their Facial Codings
Dr. Lisa: Got it. Okay. But now, I have another question for you. So. So say, it sounds like such a huge, useful thing to do is to really put time and energy into getting more clear around facial expressions and what they mean so that you're better able to read people.
I'm just sort of putting myself in the mind of like a client that I meet by be talking to as a therapist or a coach who does that, and is in tune and is picking up on some of these subtle facial cues, you know, maybe from a work colleague or a boss, or maybe even their partner, asks what do I do with that, like, I know that somebody is maybe having this feeling.
As you said, just so insightfully if human was before, is that, that humans have a tendency to conceal. Their faces say one thing, but that if you ask them or try respond to that, they may or may not be willing to engage with you on that level and say, “Yes, I am actually feeling XYZ.” Like, it's easy for people to blow things off. And I think that that feels frustrating sometimes for people who know, on some level, but can't like engage with it directly. Do you know what I mean?
Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely. It comes up all the time. I mean, my advice when asked a question or came in as part of a discussion is to say, you're right, I mean, it's, you bring it up directly to them and say, there's a contradiction here. They're gonna feel embarrassed, they may not even be aware of it, they're gonna deny and shut you down. It's very unlikely that that's a good approach, how helpful approach to moving things forward.
I said to cite the poet Emily Dickinson who said, tell the truth, but tell it slant lest everyone go blind. To take things on, you know, head on probably just doesn't work. It's got to be done on a slant. And so you know, if I see something I might say, well, that's interesting. And we just play that out a little bit. So I'm training separation from the comment that I think is obviously not quite on the up and up, and just try to let them talk it through and maybe they realize themselves, you know, that's not all of what the answer is here, that's a little more complicated, or may even though work themselves out and say, you know, what I said a moment ago isn't quite accurate.
If they can get there themselves, and you don't have to push them, you might pull them a little bit or invite them to get there. That's a whole lot better. Or just say, I'm a little bit confused. You know, I, I kind of thought it was this, see, I'm trying to get these softening words in, no, I'm confused, you're taking agency on yourself. You're not making a declarative statement. Just ways that soften the path and see if you can keep them in the conversation, then maybe the revelation will come, the connecting of the dots, and it'll be a far nicer landing. That's what happens, as opposed to “you bloody liar.” That's not likely to go down well.
Dr. Lisa: No, I get it. That's just so helpful that, you know, it's a full frontal like very direct, I think maybe “you're feeling a little bit differently” will shut people down, they will feel attacked or defensive. And so what you're saying is that the advantage here is that if you, you have information, and then you can sort of move into a interpersonal stance, where you're helping them talk, cultivating emotional safety, and giving them you know, opportunities to sort of talk through with you because the other thing here, just based on what you were saying previously, is that they literally may not be consciously aware, in a moment of what their faces are telling you as the observer.
Dan Hill: Yeah. And I'm speaking from experience, I can tell you more than once I said to someone, you know, back in the day, you said something the other day, and you know, it kind of hurt my feelings. And I can't tell you how many times they deny they said it. And I have a pretty good memory. And you know, you do remember things, particularly when it's emotionally laden for you. But that's really how memory works in a lot of ways that it's something significant, and emotional, and you hold on to it.
Maybe it wasn't significant for them, because there was just this little jibe they made. But it was for the person who received it and felt hurt very significant. So I have a hard time imagining that I was really wrong about them saying those things. But boy, they didn’t own up. And if they didn't own up that we couldn't have the conversation. Because if I was crazy for having imagined that they could have possibly said such a thing, even when I'm quite certain they did. So that's how it gets to be so difficult.
Een when I tried to circle back indirectly, sometimes and say, “Have we ever discussed this topic before”, and then see if it came back, even, that's not always been helpful, because the mind in a lot of ways, like a paper shredder, we just, we just dump stuff as fast as we can. I mean, you would know these statistics, the brain is 3% of our body mass, and consumes 20% of our calories.
It's all about metabolic costs, as the psychologist would say, we're trying to preserve mental energy, and not use up more than we have to because, you know, if the brain suddenly took 100% of our calories, well, then we can't even walk or breathe, or do anything else. So we're awfully determined to try to keep it to 20.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, so kind of shredding things that the brain doesn't perceive as being significant, even if it was highly significant to another person. And I think, you know, going back to one of the first things that you said is that we're all kind of stuck in our silos of, you know, being very aware of how we, well sometimes, you know, we're, we're caught up in our own inner experience and that if when you said to your friend, “Hey, that hurt my feelings.”
Now, like, “What are you talking about?” Like, they just experienced it so differently, it's very difficult to have that empathy for the validity of somebody else's experience when it is so different from how you experienced the same situation.
Dan Hill: It's one thing with friends it's another thing I mean, I can think of at least one instance where it was a boss. And now you got power dynamics in there because you know, one needs the job, and they're in charge of your career. And you really can't push very far there at all. And yet, you know, just like in a romantic situation or with one's parents or children you know, these are real stakes. These are serious stakes and yet you're kind of on this uneven and very flawed playing field you know, and the balls not rolling evenly.
Self- Awareness and Understanding Others
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well and that's a such a good reminder right there because I know that I'm so like in my practice we really have two specialties. We do Like couples counseling, relational coaching kinds of things, and then it's and it seems like it would be different, but it's really not the other sort of post of our practice is around career development and professional growth.
I think that the link there is really in emotional intelligence and being able to understand yourself and manage relationships in both of those domains. But because of that, I know that we have a lot of people who may be listening to this podcast, who are in leadership positions, and who are very interested to develop their skills as a leader.
I'm just so glad that we're talking about this for their benefit, because what you're suggesting is that someone who is in a leadership position needs to become extremely careful to make sure that they are accurately reading the people that work for them or that they work with, because due to that power dynamic, the person in those sort of, you know, perhaps the employee position, may not feel able or even be able to bring up their feelings.
Dan Hill: And that's in a particular relationship, even in general, I mean, most statistics would suggest that no more than 10 to 20% of employees in a company feel like they can speak truth to power, or be very candid or transparent. And to go back to your example.
I mentioned my father was an executive, but I was a Director- Executive Communications for a Fortune 200 company, which meant that I was helping him prepare for his speeches, whether it was to shareholders, to employees, to the press, potentially, to nonprofit groups. I've done executive coaching, using facial coding and EQ for those same purposes. So yeah, that's another situation where the stakes are high. Because you know, these can be large audiences. There's moneyed interests involved here. Do you predict the stock price and you handle the press conference well, when there's a crisis or a scandal, some people do that well, I'd say a lot, don't do it terribly well. Because, you know, executives are used to being in charge and power.
One of the things that they can default to is anger, because now you're challenging my control, because I'm on the hot seat. And you're asking me to make an apology. I mean, the analogy I often make is, at least if you're like me, it's so much harder to back the car up than it is to go forward. I'm always afraid when I'm backing up that I'm going to hear that terrible crunch, where I hit the back bumper or worse of another car going forward. I don't, you know, it's the other driver’s mess. I don't really expect I'm going to cause a fender bender. You know, I can see more clearly that way.
Then, the combination of the rearview mirror and trying to turn around and look over my shoulder, which always leaves me feeling like, God, there must be a blind spot there somewhere. Some sliver of my vision field that I'm missing and haven't helped me if you know, it goes wrong.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. So you're saying to use this self-awareness and understanding of others to try to prevent problems as opposed to going back and then trying to fix them?
Dan Hill: Well, I'll give you an example. So we were talking about disgust and the poisoned waterhole earlier. It has a sister emotion or a male brother emotion whatever you want to say here. It would be contempt. Because, you know, it's also an aversive kind of backing off emotion in some ways. But contempt is really complicated because it's a smirk at the corner of the mouth. When we say Mona Lisa smile, she actually also smirks, although there's even more there than just the smirk. But there's a vast difference between a smirk and a smile.
In business, I sometimes say its profitability is the definition of that gap. Because contempt, a smirk means I don't trust you. I don't respect you. And it applies to both aspects of your practice, by the way, because, as you would know, with Dr. Gottman, John Gottman at the Love Lab of the University of Washington, Seattle, with 30 minutes of facial coding and 90% accuracy rate, if the couple will stay married.
Contempt is the most reliable indicator it will fail. But I also call it the, not just the emotion of divorce, but also of bankruptcy. Because now you have caused the target market not to trust you. And if trust is the emotion of business, I'm now in the wrong place. Because you know, I'm backing off from you, and I don't trust you, and I don't respect you. And therefore anything you say to me might seem like it's a lie. And you've created, you know, real problems.
I was once doing some executive coaching for a CEO and in the annual employee meetings, he was pretty given to contempt. But I'd said, you know, if you're trying to solicit their input, and feel like you're together with them, and that's what you're trying to convey, then contempt makes it feel like you're above them and removed from them. And it's kind of contrary to your goals. And that led to a really good conversation, it turns out, because he was a good person, and actually a psychology major as an undergraduate.
He appreciated the power of psychology and said, “No, it's not that at all. In fact, I do respect them. It's that I'm uncomfortable sometimes in the trappings of being a CEO. Sometimes I feel like I have to say things, feel things, to the shareholders, to the press.” He said, “I know the story's more complicated. We're not always without our blemishes.
Obviously, we're fallible like anyone else. And yet, I'm kind of told this line that I'm supposed to walk, and the things I'm supposed to say.” So he said, “to be really honest with you, Dan, I feel at times a little bit of contempt for myself, because I feel like I'm playing a role. And I'm not authentic.” And I said, “you know, if you told your employees that they would, they would understand you better, relate to you better.
It really be that kind of shining moment of truth that could really make them root for you as a leader.” And as you know, we met at a couple other occasions afterwards, down the road where he had got into some public speaking, and he did shift. And I'm not saying this, because I'm trying to Frankenstein people into someone they aren't or weren't or don't want to be. But I think it really actually reflected who he genuinely was. But he felt that trapped in a role.
Dr. Lisa: Well, how wonderful though, that you were able to kind of like see that in him and get him to talk about it in an authentic way with you and to be able to provide coaching. I'm thinking of the work of Brene Brown right now, like the power of vulnerability.
Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to be able to say, I'm not comfortable with this, because I think so often, you know, we feel like we need to, like a project this image that we have it all together. But you're saying and what your research, it sounds like that it sort of seeps through anyway, even if you're trying to, like maintain this facade. And that, and that the real way of creating those connections is to just be honest, well, I also heard you say that sometimes being direct is not always the best course of action
Dan Hill: Well, in this case, I try to reach my audience and the way I really framed it initially, because I didn't know what reception I would get was to say, you know, I think these are your goals, because I said, I've been a Director of Executive Communications. And I know, this is what you'd be trying to achieve, is to motivate, galvanize, engage your employees, so they, you have more productivity, that's the business goal. I said, so the business goal is being harmed by the communications goal. And even not the words, but the nonverbals. So really, I just laid out that contradiction first.
I kind of sat back in the woods and waited to see, you know, how the bear responded when they found the meat, you know, and the campsite. And, you know, all respect to him. He took it on. He said, yeah, that is a problem, that he admitted what he admitted to me, which is, you know, allowing for vulnerability, wanting authenticity, revealing what his value system was, he didn't have to do that for me. I, you know, I'm just a consultant, and not his wife. I'm not on the board of directors, he didn't have to do those things.
But he did do them. And it allowed him to grow, in my opinion, and the results we saw, and it's a real nice success story, without ever, you know, exactly putting him under the gun. I mean, I know the person who was his chief of staff was like, all nervous, you know, what are you going to tell him? You know, what did you see?
They were on pins and needles and I said, “I'm a good diplomat, you know, I'm a constructive person here. I'm not out to flame anybody diss anybody, destroy anybody's ego or career. That's not what this is about. So if you'll allow me the latitude, I need to do my work. I think I can ensure that you know, I will take it forward to the extent that, you know, the CEO is willing to take it forward. But I won't impinge.”
Dr. Lisa: Wow, yeah, that masterfully so I'm thinking of like the Montessori kind of philosophy right now like you creating a prepared environment and then it allows the student or the participant to engage and clearly this person was motivated toward growth and took the opportunity that you provided, but how lovely it must have felt good for you.
Dan Hill: It certainly did. I mean, I'm still here to talk about it today. So it was years ago, but it stuck with me. And I was really happy for the occasion. And you know, and then you just have to accept that. Sometimes it may not work that way. I mean, you know, I'm not the biggest baseball fan in the world, and I know the World Series is starting.
The truth of the matter is, you know, a great hitter, maybe gets the 300, and very few do, that means they're not getting to first base or beyond most times. So you just don't, you don't make a hit every time. And you do have to live with that. That's part of emotional intelligence actually, is not beating yourself or the other party up. Or the fact that not every time is, is that kind of success story, it just, sometimes it is what it is for now. It doesn’t mean it couldn't change later, they may even sleep on it, and come back. But you can't assume that everything's going to suddenly make the doors swing open, and the world looks different. It just doesn't tend to work that way necessarily.
The Power of Projection
Dr. Lisa: Well, good, good reminders, such interesting stories. And I know, I know, we probably don't have a ton of time left, but I have two other questions for you, if I may. And so one of them — and I hope that this is okay to ask.
As we've been sitting here talking, one of the things that I have been thinking about in that, you know, the facial decoding and reading other people is also the power of projection, and, how you are what you've observed about that, even potentially, in our research, and so I'm sure that you understand this well, but for the benefit of our listeners, so that the idea of of projection is that, particularly when it comes to how we interpret other humans is largely based on many of our early life experiences, attachment styles, and back in the day.
Like Sigmund Freud, and those guys would practice actually a form of therapy called psychoanalysis where the therapist was a blank canvas, they did not offer thoughts or, you know, they would just be that person sitting behind you scribbling notes in the chair and and that the person in therapy would sort of free associate for an hour, five days a week, and in doing so, would start to project all of these ideas and interpretations and personalities and thoughts and feelings on their therapist like so they would imagine that the therapist was angry with them, or hostile to them or in love with them. I mean, like could be all kinds of things.
But the idea of projection is also very real, that we tend to see in other people many times what we do experience in ourselves. And I'm curious what your research has uncovered about the interplay there, or how to even like, manage some of that. Does that make sense?
Dan Hill: Sure. Well, I think the way I approach that, at least, is kind of two levels. One is I'm in the moment, and am I projecting assumptions about why they're behaving this way? Why they thought this, why they feel that and I try to be really gingerly about that, because you don't know.
It is a wonderful comment from Bekenstein, no, it’s Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said, “Out of the twisted timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Dr. Lisa: No what was ever made?
Dan Hill: No straight thing was ever made. There's warps in the wood. There are knots. You just, you know, and I use that quote, sometimes to just remind myself do not project, do not assume. You know, because you can't know I have some glimmerings of what's their feeling. I can restate the question, go back with a topic. They may feel more than one emotion.
What's the interplay of those emotions? What's the sequence of the emotions even? Do they go from sadness to anger? Do they feel this is a really common one, someone could be afraid, then they get angry because they are uncomfortable being afraid. Or they're a guy and they want to mask the fear with anger? Because they think you know, men don't feel afraid, which of course is absurd. Naturally they do. So yeah, the blend that sequence of emotions, whether it comes back in another situation, so I see a recurring pattern. There's so many things there that I think you are alert to or need to recognize you can't jump in and make the assumptions.
On the other hand, for me, at least, I admit, it's a little tempting, not in the short term, but over time to say, Ah, is that kind of a signature expression of theirs? Because George Orwell, the writer said by the age of 50, a man has the face he deserves. We do have muscle memory. We do have patterns as human beings. We're very habitual creatures after all. And so it can be tempting to think I've got to make it really simple. I've got a hothead, they're rarely given to anger, I have a sad sack and they struggle with sadness.
Whatever the case may be, I've got a nervous Nellie, they're always afraid. But those are stereotypes, of course. And it's very unlikely that they fit the one budge bucket. And then the question is, if that is true, you know, what cost? You know, is it me? Is it a boss? Is that a primary relationship, including from earlier in their life? Yeah, you'd hope that it creates empathy, and the curiosity to understand the person as opposed to a judgment and potentially put down or a verdict.
I think I do well, in terms of trying to stay away from the put down. But it is tempting for me as an analyst, to just try to see if I think I can get there and unlock the clue on somebody. And so yeah, I don't want to say it's a parlor game or something. But when I watch people on TV being interviewed, having been on national TV myself, do I get tempted to try to kind of figure out this person, it's like, a 60 minutes episode, I got 20 minutes with them. Yeah, that's enough time, they're like, Oh, let's see if I can, you know, come away with a real sense of who this person is. So you know, that's fun. But you still have to be aware of the stakes and the risk availability.
Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, and you're so clearly like approaching this with a, like scientists mind, like, of I have a hypothesis, but I don't want to assume and I think I'm also reading through the lines here that your own self-awareness of those habitual patterns, because I'm just thinking to myself, like, over the years, one of the things that I have learned about myself, is it because it can be very tempting to like do mind-reading, and particularly in relationships, you know, people can run into trouble when they're like, I know how you feel.
What we're talking about is, you know, taking a more scientific approach, and really like looking at people's faces and trying to read their emotions to get that accurate information. But like, one of the things that I've learned is that, you know, it's easy for me to assume that people are upset with me, somebody is mad at me, or doesn't think well of me. Not to blame parents, but me, I had a kind of a critical dad. And so that was often true in childhood.
So now I sort of even have to like talk through that, like, you don't know that, you know, and just kind of like back away from that idea. But, I think, I think that self-awareness, just even just knowing that you have a tendency to make, like kind of key assumptions, could be helpful in staying in that reality-based place that you're talking about is like the taking more scientific approach of uncoding people's faces and understanding them.
Dan Hill: Yeah. Well, I think I can relate to what you just said. I think my father is a very smart and honorable person.
Dr. Lisa: Yes. I love my dad.
Dan Hill: Yeah. But in, in my case, I would say my dad was, could be given to a little bit of condescension, since he was smart and industrious. And so I'm particularly adept at picking up smirks and you're sensitive to them. And who's to say, you know, I don't know myself, but who's to say that the nine books that I've fathered, and all this work that I've done is in some way to try to gain the respect I don’t get in childhood easily. It could be, you know, yeah, I couldn't prove it in a court of law. But, you know, if I was on trial, I would have to confess that there was a distinct possibility that that's at least a part of the explanation
Dr. Lisa: Was your dad, the Norwegian one?
Dan Hill: Yes.
Dr. Lisa: Okay. My dad, Belgian. I'm a first-generation Belgian American, and I think there is something to that, Dan, I really do. Yeah, I really do. Well, then, so the other question that I had for you. So there's one side of this, I'm imagining, which is really learning how to understand what other people are showing through their faces.
I'm so curious to know about the other side, because I would imagine that people might want to use this knowledge to manage their own facial expressions in such a way that they are being careful about what they're kind of communicating to others. I'm curious to know if and maybe we could talk about your clients but I'm also curious about you. Have you noticed yourself kind of consciously shifting what you are doing with your face when you're talking to people?
Dan Hill: The answer is absolutely no, because I decided almost immediately once I got into this that I was not going to go back and look at my videotape, my TV appearances from my speech. at conferences, I didn't want to put myself in a fishbowl.
I wanted to highlight authenticity. The reason I became a facial coder is because I liked it is that an objective tool, or at least I can say quasi-objective, since there's probably nothing that's truly, utterly objective in the world. But to try to faithfully use the tool with the researcher, Dr. Ekman to try to get a lens on what's happening, it could be to make companies more efficient. But honestly, my interest in business had almost entirely to do now with, you know, bottom-line profitability. I do, like I do like to have, you know, efforts that are fruitful, as opposed to stupid and wasteful.
I was interested in restoring humanity to business, and getting recognized that whether it's your customers or your employees, your colleagues, that why don't you treat them better. I mean, I've been to enough office politics, you know, it's probably why I wrote the “Blah, Blah, Blah” book, like, I'm thinking of office, politics, and bullies, and all those head games that go on. But I know I never wanted to look at myself, but I do know, because I just, I can't avoid it sometimes.
I gave a speech once where it was the chairman of Nokia, Nokia kind of imploded. It was the chairman of Nokia and the CFO of Nokia, and then me, three of us on the stage back to back to back 15,000 People in the hall in Barcelona. The screens behind me were like I was born out with a YouTube concert. I mean, they were, I think, I'd guess roughly 52 screens, each of them 50 feet high, and 100 feet wide, behind me. So could I avoid seeing myself? Not so much.
I do know at least one thing, but I don't harbor it or belabor it, I can be given to showing a lot of surprise. And I guess, therefore some fear on my face, because those two emotions are quite similar. And I think there's an explanation for it in part, which is, I wasn't always that aware of human nature growing up.
I was pretty isolated as a boy, in Italy, you know, the boys I did play with were older than me. And so when you got a big age gap, at that point, it's a little difficult. They didn’t definitely want to hang with a younger boy. The one boy who was my age was, you know, not very athletic, and maybe not as lively, even intellectually, so he wasn't a companion, I was seeking out. Especially I spent a lot of time going on long walks along the Italian Riviera, up in the hills in the olive orchards on my own.
I read copiously and read a lot of books as a kid. So I think to this very day, there are times where human nature just shocks me, baffles me, leaves me bewildered because I expect higher standard, I expect more thoughtfulness, more sensitivity, more owning up to something that actually happens. And so I seem to be potentially always in a state of being “Oh, really?”
But at least I guess the upside of that is that also indicates that I'm willing to be very curious, and continue to learn, which is true. So just like every emotion has an upside and a downside. That can be the two coins, or sides of the coin in this case. So I know that much about myself. I do think that in the progress of understanding emotions, I probably made by and large and adjustment to being more calm.
When you run a company as I have, it's a lot of stress. And you either buckle under it, or you learn to cope with it better. And I think I got, yeah, I'm not perfect, but I think my ability to cope with snafus and stress and things that come up is vastly improved. And I think one of the motivations I have to be a tennis player, and I'm almost exactly at this very close within half a year of being the same age as John McEnroe.
We're both lefties. Now am I as good as John, not even close. But I did watch John's career and at some point, I started feeling embarrassed for John because he was a great champion. But he was out of control. He got tossed from tournaments, he got fined, he undercut himself. He's a great commentator now for the US Open. I mean, he just, you know, really cuts through and has some insightful things. And he really knows the game and you never know he's going to quite say. So it's really exciting to listen to him.
But there was a point in his career. I was like, No, John, you know, you're maybe when you're 23 and you haven't matured. I can cut you some slack. But now you're a 32-year-old player. And you're still getting into these kinds of shenanigans. Yeah, it's wrong. It's embarrassing.
Dr. Lisa: Just for the benefit of some of our some of our younger listeners. So John McEnroe was a very famous tennis player back in the day who was legendary for like freaking out on the tennis court like, straight up tantrums, like throwing his racket, like stomping off, like all kinds of things.
Dan Hill: Once in the tournament in Sweden in a year where he went like, I think at three and four, he lost four matches in the entire year. In a match that I think he went on to lose, maybe didn't, but anyway went berserk yelling at the ref and everybody else, he whacked a tennis ball at one point into the stands and barely avoided hitting, I think it was the king of Sweden, in the face, with the tennis ball. So he's the number one player in the world for several years, you know, a legend in the sport. Did he reach his full potential? I don't think he did.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, and so there's certainly a benefit to being able to control your own emotions. But I also just, I want to recognize what you said. Because when I asked you, you know, if you've used this information to kind of, I mean, I can't, this is a terrible word, but it's the right word to almost like, manipulate how other people see you, I heard you say that you made deliberately a conscious choice to use these superpowers, so to speak, for the purpose of good and just like sitting with you and talking with you, Dan, you seem just like a very genuine, ethical, like, just good.
I don't know that you and we don't know each other that well. But that's the energy that you give. And I'm just, I'm so glad that you are sort of the steward of this information, these things that you've learned about it? Because I would imagine as you're teaching them to others, it's for the purpose of helping them be more effective and more empathetic in relationships, as opposed to using the information.
Dan Hill: Yeah, be that's yeah, that's all true. And if I just close my eyes for a moment, there's we're talking, which is a sign of sadness, because, there are, of course, people who use it for other reasons. Just to pick up on one, the Chinese government, there's a very large company. All the companies in Silicon Valley are basically at work automating facial coding, they're not very accurate so far, but they're at work doing this.
But so true for a Chinese company, worth billions tied into the Chinese government and using this to monitor the Uighurs. Rather, it's how you say it, the Uighurs in northwest China, who are Muslim. So it's being used as a tool of oppression in that case, because it's monitoring their emotions and behavior and trying to indoctrinate them. So this can have very large stakes. But yes, I am trying to be benign, beneficent, positive, ethical, and my use of the tool, whether involves myself or others. That's, you know, that's my purpose. But I'm aware that it could be used for other reasons.
EQ: Emotional Quotient
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, but that I mean, my takeaway is just how much good it can do to to be more aware of the needs and rights and feelings of the people around you, so that you can have closer and more connected relationships with them. And really, like more emotional intimacy is like my big takeaway is that when you become good at understanding how other people are feeling, by that you can open the door for those really emotionally intimate moments like the ones that you discussed, you know, with, with your coaching clients and other situations.
Dan Hill: Yeah, I mean, it's all about EQ. And I wrote the book, you know, “Famous Faces Decoded.” I was lucky that I talked to him about an endorsement from John Mayer, who's one of the three founders of EQ movement. The other two are both at Yale University, and he's up in New Hampshire. And he pointed out gives you probably there's a lot of inflated claims as to what EQ could do for you, he said, but it's a very solid like 6% advantage.
I went well, because I know being a tennis player, and having been on Tennis Channel twice with Mary Carillo, interviewing me that the greatest players in the world are Roger Federer, or Serena Williams, on average, even when they're number one in the world, they were in 53% of their points, on average. That's it. So the margin to winning you lose, even when you're the very best in the world is not very large. So 6% advantage, you might go. That's not much. That's a lot. That's an awful lot. And it's the separation between EQ and IQ. IQ is relatively fixed. That's my understanding of it. EQ isn't fixed. It can grow, it can embellish. And they should work together as opposed to just EQ being silent now give you maybe one last instance here as we're wrapping up.
So I'm at Rutgers. I'm getting my PhD, and I'm going to be teaching courses now in my case. I'd already taught both at Brown University Of course, and for two years full time at a state university before I came back for the PhD so I was versed as a teacher but my fellow classmates were not. The truth of matters, the students at, you know, even at Rutgers, they pay a good amount of money for the tuition. The chorus is the time and the money, and yet, you're gonna put me in a classroom. And maybe I know the content, and maybe I got the IQ part down.
But do I know how to teach? Do I know how to interact with the students? There wasn't one second that I can think of that we spent on EQ skills, even though that particular course was supposed to be a training course, to prepare us to be, you know, in the classroom, as teachers. It's kind of absurd. And if you look at where the economy is headed, skill sets will evaporate.
Technology is such that, you know, things get overturned immediately. So I know your podcast, one of the words in the title, and we didn't talk nearly enough about love, and relationships. But if you want to just end it for a moment on success, success is going to depend a lot on soft skills going forward. Yeah, I think your ethics, your flexibility, agility, you know, all those things that get poo pooed sometimes, because those are permanent, and they can be built on and your so-called hard skills, those are actually the soft ones.
They may be the erased skills, the invisible skills, the obsolete skills. So what was wrong about how we got prepared for the classroom at Rutgers is a problem that all sorts of classrooms are making, and all sorts of companies are making universities, colleges, businesses, organizations in general, should never underestimate the importance of EQ.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, what a powerful message that culturally, we've been kind of over-prioritizing intellectual informational IQ type of knowledge. And what I'm hearing you say, is that the robots are coming for us all and all of the informational things, that's the part that we like, can't come things change so fast. But the soft skills, the compassion, emotional intelligence, flexibility, those are the things that are going to endure. And so that to your point, that it's really worth if you're going to invest in anything to be successful in, professionally and relationally, it's to really develop your skills in that area, because that's what matters.
Dan Hill: Yeah, I mean, if he just follows the progression, I mean, yeah, machinery, you know, started to step in and take over and do as well, what our backs could do, and our arms and our legs, lifting and making things work. And now we work in conjunction with them, but they do the bulk of it. The same thing is going to happen with the IQ side, we can supplement the robots, we can fill in, collaborate, but the robots are going to be better at some point, maybe even now, at times in that area.
Probably the one thing we can hold on to best actually is our hearts and our creativity and ingenuity, and ability to collaborate. And that's why this is also important. And facial coding can help you because it's right in the moment. It's what's happening. And you can pivot it and respond and utilize it. And that’s the opportunity. I think it's a real sweet spot where people could be and believe me the same they can help in your personal relationships, too. So anyway, we'll leave it at that.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, what a beautiful idea for us to glide to a halt. And, and a beautiful segue for me to remind everybody where they can find your books, if they like me are going to be. I, as soon as we hang up, I'm going to be getting all of these books that you mentioned from Amazon, because I really want to learn about this. But the one is “Famous Faces Decoded” to learn how to understand facial expressions, and another, what the most recent book is “Blah, Blah, Blah: A Snarky Guide to Office Lingo.”
If you want to get a handle on how to manage some office politics, and I mean, again, you've written nine books and so there's all kinds of information and guidance that you offer. But you can find all of it on Dan's website, which is sensorylogic.com Access to his books and you have a podcast as well.
Dan Hill: I do. It's called Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight. It's on the New Books Network. It's the largest book review site in the world gets about 1,000,007 downloads a month, not just me, but for everybody who's on it, and set up by a former Harvard Russian studies professor who is best I understand it had tenure, but walked away because he didn't think it was interesting enough anymore.
He was going through the motions too much and wanted a different way to bring knowledge to people in the world. So you can check that out of the new books network, Dan Hill's EQ spotlight, and you're right there are the books the ones you've already mentioned, other business books, and even a book called Art, a book on democracy and political leaders getting all the US presidents that I've facially coded. So I can't say I've covered everything under the waterfront but I hit a number of topics over time.
Dr. Lisa: Definitely an authority. But thank you so much for just coming and, and sharing your wisdom with us today. This has been a fascinating conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with you. So thank you for doing this with me.
Dan Hill: Absolutely, thanks for the good conversation.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Urgent Blowout” by Brandy
Emotional flooding is impacting communication in your relationships — whether or not you’re consciously aware of it. Have you ever wondered why you lose it sometimes, and say things you regret later? Or why you get to a certain point with people where you just cannot talk anymore, and shut down or withdraw? These are both examples of emotional flooding: Lashing out and shutting down are two sides of the same coin.
Anytime we tangle with someone, we become physiologically elevated. Whether or not you’re aware of it, your body is dumping stress hormones out into your bloodstream that increase your heart rate, narrow your perspective, and energize your body to effectively fight, flee, or freeze.
This biologically-based, completely normal reaction does strange things to your brain: It makes the “human” part stop working very well. Your compassionate, self-aware, rational, and well-spoken self gets hijacked by your entirely emotional mid-brain. That part of you gives no craps about consequences, is not particularly rational or articulate, and is here to win or die trying.
Emotional Flooding in Relationships
If you’re in a knife fight, that’s a good thing. But if it’s happening when you and your partner are trying to decide between pizza or burritos… that’s not going to bode well for your relationship. Unless! Unless you’re aware that emotional flooding is happening inside you (or your partner), and you know how to effectively manage it so that it doesn’t damage your relationship.
Everyone gets flooded emotionally, and that’s okay. The trick is to recognize when it’s happening and help everybody calm back down before things get nasty. How? That, my friend, is what we’re talking about on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.
With me is my dear friend and colleague, Lisa Jordan. Lisa is a therapist and a level two Gottman-certified marriage counselor at Growing Self. Listen to this episode to hear her insights about flooding psychology. She delves into what it means to be emotionally flooded and how it can impact relationships and discusses different manifestations of emotional flooding to help you see it coming. Her advice in keeping our emotions from overflowing will be helpful for every couple out there, and I hope you listen!
Listen to “Emotional Flooding” To…
Learn what emotional flooding is about.
Recognize when you're becoming emotionally flooded.
Find out the science behind being emotionally overwhelmed.
Understand the secret gift behind the “perpetual problems” in most relationships.
Discover ways of becoming emotionally healthy with your partner.
Realize the importance of self-compassion and emotional safety in a relationship.
Challenge yourself in creating a healthy space for yourself and your partner.
You can listen to this podcast episode on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts (don’t forget to subscribe!), or right here on the page. If you’re more of a reader, show notes and a full transcript are below. For more on the subject, be sure to check out this article about emotional flooding from Lisa!
Thanks for joining us today,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Many do not realize that they areemotionally flooded. When people get involved in a conflict, each escalation contributes to a state of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional flooding is a mix of the biology and chemistry happening in the brain when stress transitions into conflict. It is a physiological activation that occurs in a fight. It escalates rapidly, which disables you from thinking rationally and communicating with your partner.
Emotional flooding can make small things feel so big. We tend to say and do things haphazardly when in a state of overwhelm. Words can become like knives thrown to assert dominance in an argument. The sad thing about this is that we may not even remember why there was a conflict in the first place. We continue to fight since we feel threatened by our partner. However, as everything intensifies, we don't notice the rift that slowly develops in the relationship. Over time, being in constant emotional flood leads to irreparable damage to trust and emotional safety. Emotional flooding can cause relationships to seriously go downhill.
Draining The Emotional Flood
When two people in a conflict are both emotionally flooded, both lose the capacity to back down. The self-awareness to know when you are emotionally flooded will help you get on top of things and understand the situation. Recognizing emotional flooding can even help couples recover faster from the aftermath of the conflict. Additionally, having the heart toapologize is also key to keeping a long-standing, healthy relationship.
Taking breaks is essential for de-escalating emotions. Physical checks (e.g., heart pounding, shortness of breath, rising blood pressure) can help you to recognize if it's a good time to rest and drain the flood. Taking a break is not just time off. It's “bringing yourself back to a place of calm.”
Instead of being busy planning on your rebuttal, take the time to listen to your partner. Think first: “Is there anything that you can acknowledge for your partner that they have a legitimate point about?”
Spending your time listening, focusing, and being with them is a way to both stop and even prevent both of you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
Fight or Flight Response In Marriage
Our limbic system has been with us for millions of years. It has accompanied us as an adaptive tool responsible for the fight or flight response: We needed it to survive. But now, in modern times, we rarely have situations that require us to fight or flee. The brain, however, still makes use of our survival instincts. The rational part of the brain can still go offline, leaving us overwhelmed. The brain translates the things our partner says or does as something dangerous, which shuts down our rationality and leads to emotional flooding.
Impacts Of Emotional Flooding
In Lisa’s marriage counseling sessions, she’s had numerous couples share their experiences with her – with many of them having stories of emotional flooding. Many of the couples she's worked with had conflicts that lasted days. These continued to a point where they no longer communicated with each other. Lisa shares, “In my experience, when couples are escalated and they're having conflict, they may be yelling, [and] they may be saying hurtful things. They move away from each other. And both feel abandoned, but maybe for different reasons.”Couples find it difficult to finish arguments because there’s not enough safety for them to stay. However, it is vital in a relationship to address conflicts right away. These moments are when self-awareness is critical. We should assess if we are becoming overwhelmed and if we need to take a break. But we also need to be responsible enough to come back to an argument – all calm and collected. Leaving a conflict hanging can make your partner feel abandoned and invalidated.Continuously keeping conflicts unresolved may also make them think that their partner can't or won't meet their expectations and needs.
The Perpetual Problem
Even great relationships have problems and conflicts. It’s all about the attitude, trust, and commitment to the relationship that make it work. Younger couples may attach themselves to a fairytale version of what a relationship is. And experiencing it, with all its realities, can make them feel disappointed. They start losing confidence as conflicts arise, which can easily lead to being emotionally flooded.
However, disagreements will happen in a relationship — it's normal. Lisa even goes on to say that “69% of our disagreements are perpetual”. It can be lifestyle issues like one of you being a messy person while the other one is a neat person. Since things like this are hard to change, we’ll just have to be accepting.
Lisa advises, “If we know that the two-thirds of what we go through in life are the problems of just being in relation with other people, we might as well focus our attention on that 1/3 of problems that are actually solvable. Creating some space around the rest of the stuff, making it more workable, or negotiating how we want to deal with things.”
Build Up Your Relationship With Yourself
One of the most significant steps in having a healthy marriage is to have a healthy relationship with yourself. By being kind to yourself and developing that self-compassion, you can create a kind of emotional safety inside of you. When you feel emotionally safe by yourself, you become less reactive and more understanding. You become a person who can transmit emotional safety and compassion to your partner as well.
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[Intro Song: Urgent Blowout by Brandy]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Today, we're talking about a very important concept when it comes to relationships. But one that is not well understood by many people. That is emotional flooding and what it does to us. I tell you what, when I have worked with couples in counseling, who really get what emotional flooding is and the impact that can have on communication, so many things changed for them. This is a very important thing to understand, and that is what we're doing on today's episode of the podcast.
I am so pleased to be talking today with my colleague, Lisa Jordan. Lisa is a couple's counselor on our team, who has a lot of training in this area. She has a ton of expertise in helping couples identify different areas of communication that are problematic and improving them, and in particular, around emotional flooding. I'm so excited to talk with her about this today and to get her to share her great advice with you. Lisa, thank you.
Lisa Jordan: Oh, thank you so much for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here.
How Hidden Emotional Flooding Is
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, I really wanted to talk with you about this. Because lately, I have been doing episodes on these. I almost think of them as like hidden rocks or obstacles. Have you ever had that experience like you're in a stream or something, and there's this stone that you don't see and that's the one that you slip on or that you bump your shin on? There are these things that happen in relationships that are kind of like that. There are these things that you don't see coming.
I think a lot of people don't understand in the moment what is happening and the major significance of these things. Recently, I recorded an episode around invalidation and how very easy it is to respond to your partner in a way that makes them feel really bad. You don't mean to, and it can really damage trust and emotional safety over time. I think that emotional flooding is really one of those. People just don't even know that it's there and it is ruining their relationship nonetheless.
Lisa Jordan: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I do think that the emotional flooding, that whole term, and that idea, is something that people wouldn't initially think about. They just consider that they're in conflict. They don't necessarily understand how it's part of the dance that they're doing. Each person is doing something that pushes it further and further along until all of a sudden, it's something that it wasn't in the beginning.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Chairs are getting thrown out, people are screeching off in their cars very dramatically. I know. All kinds of different places.
What Emotional Flooding Is
Dr. Lisa: To orient our listeners, because emotional flooding, I think, it is such a weird and in some ways, clinical term, emotional flooding. Let's just start with the basics. What does emotional flooding mean? What is emotional flooding?
Lisa Jordan: When I talk about emotional flooding, what I mean is that when people are engaged in something that will eventually be conflictual, it starts at a point where the emotions are not particularly involved. With each escalation, blood pressure’s going up; the heart starts pounding. That escalated state where we move into that fight, flight, or freeze, creates something that's very different.
Whenever I'm working with a couple and they say, “We got to this place where some very mean things were said, and our feelings got hurt,” I know that we're talking about emotional flooding. Because when you're not in that state, you're not even in a position to be saying and doing the things that ultimately happen when you're elevated like that. Emotional flooding is when you think about the biology and the chemistry. It's where all that science comes in.
Most people have heard of fight, flight. Everyone is a little bit stressed right now. So I think we're all living from time to time in fight, flight, freeze. But that's where the emotional flooding comes from. If you never are able to discharge that excess stress, and then, you move into something that's conflict with your partner, it escalates very quickly so that you're no longer using the rational, more well-thought-out part of your brain and thinking about the things that you and I are always trying to teach in couples communication, which is to talk to each other with kindness and respect.
“Talk to me as though I love you, and you love me.” Those kinds of qualities have gone completely out the door. Emotional flooding is when that is gone and you don't even know who you are fighting with in that moment. It's not the same loving person that you knew when things were feeling calm.
The Importance of Self-Awareness When Being Flooded
Dr. Lisa: Oh, my God. Yeah. Can everybody relate to this? I can relate to this. I've had that experience. What you're describing is this physiological activation that happens to us in conflict. It's this fight or flight thing. Our rational, thinking brains just go out the window and we can say and do things that are shocking, even to us.
Lisa Jordan: Yes. I think everyone has been there. Everyone has gone there. I consider in my 30-year marriage that I have a nice, good relationship. We rarely go there. Of course, we've gone there. That's why I know what it feels like to be emotionally flooded, like sitting in that moment where you're just sure that your partner is doing something that's just making it worse and worse and worse.
If you could take away that, what's called the sympathetic nervous system, right, the one that's escalating. If you could calm that down, you would be able to let in some other possibilities, which is, “Maybe they're really not trying to do this. Maybe I'm actually not hearing this correctly. Maybe I'm not understanding well what's going on.” But when two people are emotionally flooded, neither one has the capacity to back down. That's why it's so important to become self-aware if you are emotionally flooded. Because if one or the other partner isn't getting on top of that, nobody's going to be the wise voice to bring you back down again.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and it's so hard to do. Let's just get real for a second. We are both marriage counselors. We have both been married for a long time, overall, good relationships. Matt and I have done so much work over the years, and it's been very positive. But I will still, from time to time, have these moments where I just lose it. There's this other part of my brain like, “I'm a marriage counselor. I know all of these things.”
There's a little part of my brain that’s like, “Don't say that. Don't do that. You're doing it.” But even in those moments, even though I have all of this information, there's this other part of your mind that is just like, “Yes, I don't care and I'm mad right now. I'm going to tell you all about it. I'm going to be mean and say all these things.” It's like, you can't help yourself. Yeah, no, it really is.
Lisa Jordan: I think it's actually a good thing because when it happens, I recognize in myself how easy it is to go there if just a couple things aren't going well. We're all that close. Maybe you and I, maybe we recover a teeny bit faster just because we're recognizing it. I don't know. But we can go there just as much as anybody, and I think it's just about having those tools.
I will say that that optimism, that confidence that comes from long-term relationships is “Wow, we have been through this and we've weathered this, so this is very familiar. Then, we can laugh about it.” I think also having that really strong muscle to apologize. I can apologize a lot better now than I could when I was married for a year or two, and I was sure that I was right about everything. The longer I stay married, the less right I am about everything, which has been really healthy.
Dr. Lisa: I really love it.
Lisa Jordan: To be less certain about your rightness and things is tremendously healing in a relationship.
Changes in the Brain During Mental Flooding, When Your Mind is Overwhelmed
Dr. Lisa: I couldn't agree more. I think of it as healthy humility, and I can so relate. I agree. I think I'm much better than I used to be, too. I think that self-awareness that you're describing and understanding when you are starting to get elevated is hugely helpful. I do want to talk about those strategies because I don't want to leave people with this idea that this is going to happen no matter what. It really does get better. But it's so easy, so easy to fall into.
Going back to one of your points, because I think this is important to talk about more, is what actually changes in our brains and in our internal process. I remember once being at a training… Did I ever tell you that Matt and I, for a while, were foster parents? Did I ever tell you that? Yeah, we did it. We did it for a few years. It was an incredible experience. I remember being at this one training, which was so good, where the trainers were explaining these concepts.
I, having been to counseling school, had learned about it in a different way. But they talked about this in such an, I think, accessible way because they were trying to educate foster parents about what happens, particularly with traumatized children who can really have big responses. I know that this is audio, but right now, I am holding up my closed fist. If you can imagine my fingers are facing Lisa, and my thumb is closed in my hand.
What they talked about is that our lids get flipped. I just lifted up my fingers. What they were trying to illustrate is that there's actually this part of your brain, I believe, it is the amygdala. Fact check me on that. When we become in this super fight or flight space, the amygdala becomes where you're operating from, which is the seat of emotion.
This other part of your brain, the neocortex, which is usually the part of you that is in control, it is the part of us that thinks rationally. It is the part of us that processes language. It is the part of us that is the most human part of us in some ways. It has compassion for other people. That part goes offline. It's like you're totally operating from your lizard brain, basically in that moment, and wanna kill everybody.
Lisa Jordan: That's exactly right. Because we have those different parts, that whole limbic system that's there, the survival piece of us that for millions and millions of years has been there, when we had to flee from the saber-toothed tiger, we needed to have that fight/flight response, or we wouldn't survive. It's adaptive.
Now, in modern times, we rarely have situations where we have to flee. But our brains are still doing it. They're still going there. As you say, the prefrontal cortex, that part that is developed that is rational, it really goes offline, and we're left with overwhelm. When that flooding happens, our brains are searching for the danger. The danger, unfortunately, gets interpreted as being, sometimes, what my partner is saying, or doing, or not feeling safe in the relationship at that moment.
Gottman Flooding and Shutting Down When Overwhelmed
Lisa Jordan: I think one thing that I didn't mention about flooding is that it's not always looking like escalating conflict. We have people who dissociate, who become so shut down that they can't speak at all. That also is escalating for the partner who wants to fight more. It's not just that there's escalation and both people are name-calling and becoming hurt, it's that one person is starting to shut down, and the other partner is thinking, “You're doing that on purpose. You're abandoning me.” That is a very triggering thing as well.
You're right. It's chemistry. It's biology. We've got all this operating at the same time. Based on what one's reaction is, when you go out of that resilient zone, up above it, you may get panic attacks, or anxiety, or extreme anger. If you get bumped out, down the other way, for some people, that looks more like depression, or dissociation, or not really being able to engage at all in conversation. People are shut down in different ways.
Dr. Lisa: That's interesting. I think, if I'm remembering correctly, you would probably have a lot of insight into this because I know that you're a Gottman-certified couples counselor. For our listeners who may not be familiar with their work, the Gottmans have done just an enormous amount of research into relationships and healthy relationships versus the kinds of behaviors or ways of communicating in relationships that are known to create issues.
Can you speak a little bit… I believe that they did some research around the impact of emotional flooding in those relationships, and particularly, in the piece of shutting down that some people really, when they start to experience this internal flooding, just stop interacting. Can you talk more about that and what you've seen happen with that and your couples?
Lisa Jordan: Yeah, so it's not unusual that when a client, partner, and a couple is talking about what happens to them when there's a lot of conflict, is that they will say, “I get to the point where I can't talk anymore, and I go away. I don't come back for three, four days.” They're just not speaking to their partner for days. They don't know how to reconnect. They get lost in finding their way back.
I think what the Gottmans did so well and gave us all these tools to help couples with, is how to find your way back without using the strategy that you have because it's the only one you've got and using something else so that you don't have to suffer. Because the relationships are suffering so much from that kind of shutdown or moving away from each other.
In my experience, when couples are escalated, and they're having conflict, they may be yelling. They may be saying hurtful things. They move away from each other. Both feel abandoned but maybe for different reasons. One, because there's just not enough safety in the relationship to stay present. They have to check out. The other, because their partner walks out of the room and won't stay to, as they say, finish the argument. But worse, what does that mean to finish the argument?
The Gottmans talked about having a blood pressure cuff so that you could be tracking your own blood pressure if you became aware of the fact that though that was the way that you became overwhelmed, and we know if your heart rate is going up and your blood pressure is raising and your tone of voice, the volume of your voice is going up, is that you're getting overwhelmed.
That's for someone who moves in that direction, that kind of fight direction, is to be self-aware, and then, take responsibility for taking a break, or saying like, “Okay, I'm getting overwhelmed. I know this is when we get into some trouble. So I'm going to take an hour off and I will come back to you.” You don't get to just walk away, and then, it's all over. You have to come back at a certain time or else your partner still feels abandoned. But it's then their responsibility to go away and do self-care, self-soothing.
I know you're talking about tools and tips and what can we help people to do. That's specifically what they need to do is to each take care of themselves in whatever ways are appropriate to help them soothe themselves so that they can come back together when that prefrontal cortex and the cortex is online and functioning, and they're back in what we think of as more of their adult self, the self that loves the partner and wants to make amends and reconnect and create that safety again.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Just a quick aside, you've used the word safety a couple of times in this conversation. What I hear when you say that, we're talking about emotional safety right now and the kind of conflict that comes when people are upset with each other that we can all relate to. Physical safety is a different animal, so just wanted to make that super clear.
Because if you are actually literally unsafe in your relationship, I always advise to go over to a really great website. There's a resource. It's called thehotline.org. All one word, thehotline.org. It's completely free. You can connect with local resources, safe houses, domestic-violence counselors, even in your area. If somebody is actually in danger, please take care of yourself. Lisa and I are talking about that emotional safety, which is very common.
How to Diffuse Physiological Arousal in Emotional Flooding
Dr. Lisa: Just as you're talking, I think so many people can relate to this experience. I think it's so interesting to consider that some people, when emotional flooding happens, they become escalated. They get yell-y. They say mean things, and other people really withdraw into themselves. But what is fascinating is just what you brought up about the Gottmans actually making people wear blood pressure cuffs.
Because what it implies is that people don't actually recognize how physiologically elevated they are becoming without that data, like, “Oh, my blood pressure is 140 over 90 right now.” Is that what they're doing with that? That the people needed to see that? Because they didn't know it was happening? Tell me more about that.
Lisa Jordan: I think that's a reflection of how we're not as self-aware as we may hope we are.
Dr. Lisa: How dare you?
Lisa Jordan: It's just that we can get there. We can go there so quickly without self-awareness, and maybe this slows down the process enough that someone is really forced to be conscious of what's happening in their body. So many people are living in their cognitive self, the thinking brain so much of the time that the physiological piece that felt sense being back in your body. We know that for people who've had traumas that they leave their body very quickly, right? So they're out of there very fast.
I think that the idea of a blood pressure cuff is great. I think just the suggestion of it might be enough for people to check in with themselves. “Is my heart pounding? Is my breathing short? What am I feeling?” To just really check back in with your body. What's happening in your body right now? So that, ideally, people don't have to go out and buy the blood pressure cuff. But it's enough of a suggestion to sort of say, “Hey, we're, where are you at right now, physically?” Because that's gonna have a lot to do with what comes out of your mouth next.
Dr. Lisa: Totally. That is such a great suggestion. When I even reflect back on my evolution over the years, I think that that is the biggest difference compared to when I was probably in my 20s. There would be an external circumstance that would make me feel angry or upset, and then, I would react to it and not have that self-awareness in the middle. Now, as an older person, I think what I can do is say, “I am getting really elevated, and I'm probably not in a good place to have a productive conversation right now.”
I'm having that internal conversation with myself. I stop trusting the ideas that I'm having. I stop trusting that “Oh, I should say this” like there’s psychological distance. But not with a blood pressure cuff. Maybe I should be like, “What are you doing?” Can I throw the blood pressure cuff at him? If I get..? No, okay.
Lisa Jordan: Instead of the blood pressure cuff, what I think is like a half step in that direction is to start paying attention to what the internal narrative is. As you say, when we tell people to take a break, if you take a break, and you're planning your rebuttal, you're not actually doing any self-soothing. What are you doing? You’re trying to bring yourself back to a place of calm.
You are committing to your partner, “That's what I'm going to go off and do. I'm going to go watch something funny on YouTube, or I'm going to read a good book. But I am not going to plan my rebuttal for what I say to you.”
When you're used to having frequent or perpetual disagreements, and we all have them in marriage, you start to become a little bit more wise about not always defending your position because you know what the other person's position is, and you can kind of slow yourself down. I think for younger couples, as they are discovering that they have perpetual problems, they don't know that that's going to stick around.
They think that they can fight their way through it. Teally, it's to agree that these things are going to be there. We can create a much healthier relationship with those issues. We can do it in a way that's very self-aware. Hopefully, it makes these escalations kind of diminish. That gives people confidence that it won't always be so hard.
Dealing with Perpetual Problems
Dr. Lisa: Wow. Okay, so you're talking about something so profound right now. I want to make sure that our listeners because we sort of shifted into this other really important idea that's come out of Gottman research, which is the idea that all couples, the happiest, healthiest, strongest, most brilliant couples in the universe, have perpetual problems. You can talk about it better than I can. What is a perpetual problem?
Lisa Jordan: Those are just the things that we all have in relationships. We don't think of that as what's wrong with the relationship. It's that if you're in a relationship with another human being — the Gottmans are so good at this — 69% of our disagreements are perpetual. That just runs along the lines of, “Maybe I'm a very neat person, and my partner is very messy, and we're never going to be different people. So we're always going to have that on the back burner, whether or not that's entering into our issues. We can do things about that, accepting that that may be a perpetual piece of what we're dealing with.”
Also, have a little bit of a sense of humor around it. It's not that it works 100%. But that if we know that 2/3 of what we go through in life are the problems of just being in relation with other people, we might as well focus our attention on that 1/3 of problems that are actually solvable and create some space around the rest of the stuff and make it more workable or negotiate for how we want to deal with things.
I tend to be very focused on the financial piece and making sure our bills are paid. All of those things that I've learned throughout the years that if I'm better at it, and I don't mind it, why don't I just do that, right? It has created such peace of mind in my household. That's what I recommend to other people is if there's something that you're good at, and you don't mind doing it, go ahead and take it because you don't have to make everything 50/50 out of this sense of obligation that we're demonstrating that everything is split down the middle.
Accepting Reality and Your Partner
Dr. Lisa: Going to war, trying to make your partner be like you and be good at doing bills and things. This is so funny. I did a podcast episode recently that spoke about this. I think the title was How to Appreciate The Partner That You Have. It was on this topic of how do we just accept the humanity of our partners for who and what they are and learn how to appreciate it, as opposed to being angry with them for not being different.
This is so significant. Because if 69% of all the conflict that couples have is due to these unsolvable problems, just knowing that, helps you put down the battleax and look at it differently. I just was so struck by what you said when you were like, “So many young couples think they can fight their way through that.” Would you say more about what you see happening with people who just haven't understood what's going on in the way that you see just by virtue of your wisdom and perspective?
Lisa Jordan: Yeah, I think that we all are products of our environment, our early environment. We only know what we witnessed, what we learned. Maybe we got a few extra bits and pieces from extended family members or our best friends, hanging out in their households. But by and large, we're limited by what we've seen. We tend to employ the practices for good or otherwise of our parents and what was modeled for us. If those resources aren't really good, or if they left something to be desired, we're still operating that way.
I find that with younger couples or couples, it's not an age thing, maybe couples who have been married a shorter period of time, there's kind of that honeymoon period. Then, there's a real disappointment. There's a real drop-off in that expectation that we fall in love, and we live happily ever after. We love a good fairy tale in this country. That's just not fair to people because that's not what real life looks like.
Great relationships have problems and conflict. It has so much more to do with attitude and trust in the commitment that we have in relationships. I think that early, young couples or couples who have not been together as long may start to lose some of their confidence as they see some of the conflict escalating around things that feel like they are problems that have to be solved. It can be really a relief and very freeing to understand that all couples have disagreements and problems.
It's more about the process of working through and partnering and deciding how you want to navigate, than the content itself. If you can accept that it's always going to be there, and you have a greater sense of optimism about how you navigate things, that can be really uplifting and very positive for couples who are becoming a little bit hopeless or even questioning, “Is this the right person? Did I marry the wrong person?”
Dr. Lisa: That's what messes people up is this idea that like, “Oh, if I were with a different person, or if I was in the right ‘relationship,’ this wouldn't be happening.” I love what you're saying, Lisa. This is just so positive. I don't even think of them as problems anymore. I think of them as differences. Potentially complementary strengths, even, when I'm feeling very generous, but yeah, it's just they're these differences. This isn't a bug. It's a feature. How do we move into acceptance and finding workarounds so that we can enjoy the positive parts of each other?
The Myth About Fight or Flight in a Relationship
Dr. Lisa: I could totally see how this ties back into what you were saying about that emotional flooding. Because before you've done that work, I think, you can interpret those differences as attacks, or being disrespected, or something very negative connotations. Is that part of what you see that makes people go into that space of elevation, that physiological flooding that is associated with danger? Is that what this is?
Lisa Jordan: Yeah, I think that that's right. That's maybe the unspoken belief that we have to fight our way through this. I can't back down, or I can't deescalate, or I'm actually not going to get my needs met, or I'm not going to have my voice heard. The way through it is, and again, this ties back to whatever you might have seen in your household growing up, is if you saw parents who fought.
As a young child, you believe that your parents are perfect, and they're showing you perfect examples of love and what love looks like. That must be what we do to work through our differences. I think what we're there to do is to help people see, as you say, that there's a totally different way of approaching it and perceiving it. I love the idea that you described about differences because that absolutely is such a healthy way to embody what it means to be in a partnership is let's look for the positives.
These are the very things that you fell in love with. Because these things that we sometimes get annoyed with and find ourselves in couples coaching and counseling to talk about are the very things that attracted people in the first place. Most people become aware of that when they start talking about, “Oh, yeah, really. I really love that about them.” There's no hard and fast rule about something being a problem as much as how is it playing out in our relationship and what do we want to do with this?
Dr. Lisa: I think that's a real goal that we can all work towards in our relationships. What you're describing is like that golden place that I think really healthy long-term couples do finally arrive into, or there's a space of understanding and acceptance and even appreciation for those differences. Even though our ‘perpetual conflict’ maybe is still there, it's no longer a problem because it's just who they are. I'm not going to take that personally.
There's this real shift into this more unconditional love space. But that takes time and effort to create. Along the way, emotional flooding can be a real problem for many couples, when they're going into that big emotional reaction where they're feeling disrespected, or hurt, or frustrated, or rejected even by their partners. So it's really important to have a toolset to be able to cope with those moments while you're still working on these bigger relational goals, I guess I should say.
Self-Soothing After Self-Awareness
Dr. Lisa: I know that we have talked about a couple of tools that you recommend, when you're working with couples in counseling, and one, I think the first one that I heard was self-awareness, with or without the blood pressure cuff, but to be able to say, “Okay, I am starting to get elevated now,” or to say, “I feel like I'm so upset that I can't participate in this conversation, and I'm withdrawing now.” Have that self-awareness.
I also heard you start to talk about self-soothing would be the next step. Once you have that self-awareness, now it is time to self-soothe. You also brought up something I thought that was so insightful, which is that many times in a conflict or after the conflict, even if we're taking a break, we are, even if we're like doing self-care behaviors, like taking a shower or going on a walk or petting your cat or whatever, we are still ruminating about what I said, what they said, and how I was right, and how they were wrong, and here's what I'm gonna say to them.
I think that's… Because anybody, you can always take a shower, right? Do you have any insight for what to do with that cognitive component to help people really step away from…? Because that's what emotional flooding is about, is the story, right? What do you do with couples that go there?
Lisa Jordan: You're right. The piece that continues on where the flooding that perpetuates there is when we carry it forward with our own ruminating. You could take that and be far removed from the argument or the conflict and still be perseverating and really bringing that back over and over and over again, and even working yourself up and becoming more fixed in your position. Doing things to challenge that, this is very popular right now.
But mindfulness and meditation, can't be understated how powerful this can be. Because it's available. Mindfulness, in particular, using your five senses, getting out of your head, out of your thoughts and into your body, is an instantaneous and immediate way to just at least disconnect the circuit that's ramping you up. “What do I see in front of me? What do I hear? What do I smell, taste, touch?” All of that is neutral, right?
If I'm looking out the window, or I'm in the shower, and I feel this nice, warm water flowing, and I can get into this sense of what that feels like in my body, I am literally putting a break on that stress, all that cortisol, that hormone that makes us feel so bad, and putting some space in there so that you can calm down, and you will, because we're built to do that. We're built to calm back down again if we only can get out of our own way and allow ourselves to do that. I think that that's something that you can do. That's that self-care outside of a disagreement.
How to Avoid Being Overwhelmed by Emotions
Lisa Jordan: But while you're with your partner, if you notice in the beginning that you're becoming engaged, it's to really use this reflective listening that we teach couples. Because if I'm fully occupied with listening to you, I'm not busy defending or planning my next thought. What I'm doing is devoting myself 100%, empathically, to understanding how you feel and what your position is.
That doesn't mean that I agree with you. But if I'm spending all of my attention and time and focus to really hear you, I'm not escalating an argument. I am being with you. We want people to be able to do that long before they're becoming emotionally flooded. Because if they're there, you're not going to get emotionally flooded. It's kind of a prevention routine as well.
Dr. Lisa: That's beautiful. I think that's really the beauty of what you do, Lisa, that couples counseling and relationship coaching. Because you are, I think, having experiences with couples with you, because you, your presence, you're just like this warm, comforting person. I think that that can really be the benefit of doing couples work is that you are, at first, keeping people emotionally safe with each other so that they can practice doing that.
Like, “Okay, I'm just gonna listen to you right now.” Because when they're at home in their living room, it goes immediately into that rebuttal mode. It turns into a fight. But you're slowing it down, and helping people listen, and being able to practice doing that so that it is possible to do that before that emotional flooding place happens because it's so hard to have empathy for other people when you get to that rage-y place.
Lisa Jordan: Absolutely. It's the last place we are once we're in that heightened state. You can’t access it then. Then, it's all about self-soothing and doing things, splashing cold water on your face, or taking a warm shower. Actually, temperature changes tend to pull people out of that.
Dr. Lisa: Interesting, temperature changes.
Lisa Jordan: Bumping yourself back into that zone where you're not escalated, or where you're not dissociating, or highly anxious, or rageful is about doing something physically to bump you back in. We know like singing, dancing, gargling, there's all these things that have to do with the vagus nerve. That vagus nerve is what's connected to that fight, flight, freeze. Doing things to jostle your way back out, physiologically, can help be a reset.
Dr. Lisa: That's amazing. That is such a good tip just to almost shift. Although it's so funny. As you're talking, I'm imagining in my mind, like, have you ever seen the videos of the Scandinavians jumping into the frozen water? Then, going into the sauna? I'm like, maybe that's what…
Lisa Jordan: I don't think I'd survive that one. But that sounds like a really good one for those hardy types.
Dr. Lisa: My heart would stop. But yeah, though, for other people. For other people.
Understanding Those Who Shut Down When Overwhelmed
Dr. Lisa: Now, would you say that this works best for people who go into that elevated place? Because there's also people that are shutting down. I don't know about you, but I've seen that be just as problematic is that when people go into that withdrawal? Because they think especially when their partner doesn't realize that they are actually emotionally flooding? Because from the outside, they just look like they're sitting in a chair? Like they don't… Have you seen that?
Lisa Jordan: Yes. Exactly. That can create a lot of conflict in couples. Because as you said, it looks to the outside as though it could be gaslighting, that term that we sometimes use, that “This person, my partner, is doing this to me on purpose. They're just shutting down, and they're ignoring me. They're not going to talk to me. They're not going to listen.” What we know is that people can get into that frame of mind where they no longer have words.
They really are so overwhelmed that they cannot respond anymore. Being able to understand that that is emotional flooding as well. It just looks very different from the kind of emotional flooding that might cause someone to be rageful, or yelling, or crying. That is a very real thing. People can become so emotionally shut down or dissociate because this could be very frightening for them or just extremely uncomfortable. That's where they go, when things get emotionally flooded, is that they go offline and in that direction.
Dr. Lisa: Go offline. Wow, I think I've heard it said that that can be more common for men than women. Has that been your experience? Or have you seen it differently?
Lisa Jordan: I think it is more common for men because we do live in a culture that tends to give women a much fuller range of emotional language and expression. We kind of welcome them. We don't give men the same permission or freedom to become really good at expressing themselves verbally or emotionally. I think they can get backed into a corner, feeling like they have nowhere to go, and the words leave them. Then, the partners who are observing that will feel abandoned. So yes, I do think that happens for men a lot.
Dr. Lisa: I'm just thinking of that really classic, pursue-withdraw cycle that we talk about a lot in the context of Emotionally Focused Therapy. What often happens systemically in those moments is that if one person is withdrawing and becoming less responsive, then the other person goes into attack mode. I can just see how this would make that so much worse for somebody who's feeling overwhelmed to begin with. That's impossible at that point.
Lisa Jordan: Yeah, there's such misunderstanding taking place, and there's really nowhere to go. That's when a lot of those hurt feelings get developed. But when you hear couples talking about that, that's typically where they've gone, which is it's gone really deep, emotionally, and we need to do a little repair work around what has happened.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, my goodness. I'm so glad that we're talking about this, Lisa. Because I could just imagine somebody hopefully hearing this and maybe understanding in a new way, what is going on for their partner in those moments, is to develop that empathy of “Oh, he's not ignoring me. He's like, so overwhelmed, he can't talk, and I need to stop.”
Lisa Jordan: That's the first lesson I think that we teach is, “Hey, if you're going there, and you're getting that place, turn to your partner and say, ‘I'm getting overwhelmed. I really need a break. I promise I will come back.’” Right? Because that's the only risk is that you'll go away and never bring up the issue again, and it's forgotten. To say, “I need an hour to just really calm myself down. I will come back, and we're going to discuss this some more.” We want people to develop those resources, that skill to do that before they're completely overwhelmed and always shut down. To ask for what they need.
Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Flooding
Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful advice. I know that we've been talking for a while, and you're just such a joy to talk to, I could literally talk to you all day, and I wanna be respectful of your time. What are some other strategies or ideas that you have found to be important when working with your couples over the years that you might share with our listeners, so they have additional takeaways?
Lisa Jordan: I think what tends to work really well, in my experience with couples, is to see if there is a little bit of a window that we can open for questioning one's own absolute beliefs. Right? If you can, even when couples are very polarized in their beliefs about something, if you can allow yourself to think about the situation that you're in and believe for a moment that it might not be true, the way you're seeing it, that it might not be 100% accurate, that gives you this potential for softening around something that may feel completely intractable. Right?
To work with someone around the belief that “Maybe, I'm not 100% right.” Even if you're 98% right, what's that 2% look like? Is there anything that you can acknowledge for your partner that they have a legitimate point about that immediately makes the partner feel at least heard? They have a foot in the door for negotiating. Then, to kind of take that the next step further, which is, how does it feel to think that maybe there's some rightness on both sides? Right?
I think when couples are really entrenched, it's to work to try to create a little bit more gray area. To lessen the black and white viewing of what a problem is like and what the situation is, just to enable people to question their own beliefs. Because I think it's the things that we don't question or the things that we are not aware of that are the biggest problems in relationships. Being able to tolerate the thought that “My subjective view is not necessarily the whole truth,” gives us somewhere to go.
Dr. Lisa: It makes perfect sense. It's hard. It's hard to do this. But to be able to almost question some of your core beliefs, and maybe don't believe everything that you think, and open the door for empathy, and trying to understand someone else's perspective, that's really that heart of being able to validate the other person's point of view, and just calming everybody back down and creating safety where listening and understanding can happen again. Because it's like the opposite of emotional flooding.
Lisa Jordan: Even having that kind of ability to have that relationship with yourself, right? I also work with individuals, and people are so hard on themselves. If you can sit with the things that you do, from that vantage point of, “Why am I doing this,” there's probably a good reason why you're doing the things you're doing. Instead of just completely tearing yourself apart and beating yourself up for what your habits are, what you've done in the past, is to sort of look at that and say, how has that been a help?
How has that been adaptive? How did that help you survive? How did that help you stay in this relationship? You may choose not to engage in that anymore. But there's something about that that helped you to get by, and so helping people to just feel more comfortable in themselves for showing up and bringing up whatever is coming up, I think that's part of the job that we do is to help people accept themselves and appreciate all the parts for being there for a reason.
Dr. Lisa: That's so beautiful that by working on yourself, and developing that self-compassion, and creating emotional safety inside of yourself, that you can become less emotionally reactive and more emotionally safe and compassionate with your partner too.
What a beautiful idea for us to glide to a halt on today. I love it. This has been just such a great conversation. Thank you so much for just sharing not just your perspective, but your story and also so many good strategies. I hope that some of our listeners were taking notes because there's some actionable stuff I didn't know about, like changing your temperature. I mean, that's just for singing, gargling. I’m gonna try that.
Lisa Jordan: Yeah, give it a try. Well, thank you. This has been so wonderful.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being here.
To my listeners, if you would like to learn more about Lisa or her practice and also read some of the wonderful articles that you have on our blog at growingself.com. You have so much wisdom to share, and thank you again for coming on today's show. But there's more Lisa for everyone at growingself.com if people come and read more. A wonderful idea. So thank you.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Gaga” by Julian St. Nightmare
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
What you believe about yourself holds so much power. But it's easy to get tricked into believing the devil inside — your self-limiting beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs are so dangerous because they often masquerade as “truth.” But buying into them only creates pain, and damages your self-esteem, your career, and your relationships. On this episode of the podcast, I'm teaching you how to identify your limiting beliefs and overcome them.
The Devil Inside — Self-Limiting Beliefs
As a Denver therapist and online life coach, I work with clients to overcome their limiting beliefs and tap into new and healthier beliefs that support the lifestyle they actually want to live. And I know that this work isn’t easy. Our beliefs hold so much power. Beyond our external circumstances, which we sometimes have no control over, what we think and believe can dictate the paths we take. We have so much freedom and control over our choices, and we can make decisions that will help us grow and thrive in every area of our lives.
However, we may forget the power we hold because of the insidious little devil inside us: telling us that something’s impossible by virtue of us not being good enough. Alternatively, we may have these personal rules that govern our everyday lives. While functional, they may not really be serving our highest good. It’s time to reexamine these self-limiting beliefs and open yourself up to the possibilities outside of the space you’ve boxed yourself into.
In this episode, we’ll be unpacking self-limiting beliefs and their effects on our lives. We’ll start by highlighting why it’s important to be aware of these oftentimes unconscious beliefs. Then, we’ll give several examples of self-limiting beliefs. Finally, we’ll map out the steps to identify, examine, and shift these beliefs so that you can live a happy and fulfilling life.
If you want to learn how you can grow and affect positive change in your life, then tune in to this episode!
In This Episode: Self-Limiting Beliefs, You Will…
Discover the power of your thoughts and beliefs and how they contribute to positive change and growth.
Uncover the reasons why your thoughts and beliefs can hold you back.
Learn what self-limiting beliefs are and how they impact your self-esteem.
Understand that self-limiting beliefs can be challenged and shifted.
Why It’s Important to Be Aware of Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
While external circumstances in our lives can prove challenging to our journey towards personal growth and positive change, we often struggle more with the subconscious limiting beliefs we hold. These devils inside of us bombard us with a toxic inner narrative. They tell us that we’re not good enough, why something won’t work, or why we can’t do something.
Although these self-limiting beliefs don’t have a basis in truth, they can still hold you back. They keep us from thriving and growing into what we were meant to be. Because of these self-critical thoughts, we can think that there is no path forward. Now, don’t be discouraged. It may take work, but you are entirely capable of recognizing and challenging your limiting beliefs. Once you shift your limiting beliefs or incorporate new beliefs, you’ll find that there actually is a path forward.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
Can you think back over your life and pinpoint a time where you could have done something that you were genuinely interested in and might have always wanted to do – but you didn’t? Chances are, a big part of why you didn’t take the chance is because you mentally set yourself on fire. You identified many reasons why that amazing opportunity wouldn’t work out for you… and that caused paralysis. This negative stream of self-talk and self-criticism held you back from even trying.
However, the “could-haves” aren’t even the worst of it: limiting beliefs can even burrow themselves into our day-to-day lives. They come in the form of expectations of how we should be and how we compare ourselves to others. The narrative can look a lot like the following:
I need to be perfect.
I need to have friends, success, and certain personality traits.
I didn’t get the results I wanted; therefore, I’m a failure.
Here, we can see that self-limiting beliefs are tied to self-esteem. At the core of low self-esteem are these highly negative self-limiting beliefs about who you are and how that compares to what those self-limiting beliefs tell you you should be. Can you relate? We’ve all experienced self-limiting beliefs holding us back from time to time. It’s time to change that.
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
In essence, self-limiting beliefs tell you that you’re not good enough now and that you can be better. This may sound like a positive thing. But don’t be fooled. Beating yourself up and criticizing yourself isn’t helping you. It’s actually limiting your growth.
Instead of being overly self-critical, try creating a space for emotional safety through self-compassion. This can look like:
Supporting yourself in difficult moments.
Having compassionate understanding for why you do the things you do.
Honoring your feelings, needs, and rights.
As you learn to hold space for emotional safety, you also foster a growth mindset. You learn how to love yourself even if you sometimes experience non-ideal outcomes.
The Power of Belief
Aside from impeding our growth, self-limiting beliefs also impact how we connect with others. If you feel as if you’re not worthy of love, you can end up being hyper-vigilant in your relationships. You may also tend to reject others before they can reject you. After all, you believe that they’ll do so eventually.
We’re all vulnerable to self-limiting beliefs. We all have these rules about what should happen and what needs to happen. Andonce you have set an idea of what’s possible and what’s not, it’s difficult to veer away from those beliefs. That’s why it’s important to build relationships with others that can help you see things more clearly. As friends, family, and coworkers challenge your beliefs, you may begin to realize that your “truths” aren’t necessarily the same truth for others. It's also for this reason that life coaching is valuable – working with a really good life coach can provide you impeccable insight into your self-limiting beliefs and what you can do to overcome them. At some point, we need to have a mirror held up to us so that we can take a look. This mirror allows us to rethink our beliefs and challenge the belief’s truthfulness.
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
The first step to overcoming limiting beliefs is being aware of their existence.
Step two is understanding the self-limiting belief’s function. These self-limiting beliefs may seem ridiculous as you examine them. However, if you want to overcome your limiting beliefs, it won’t do you any good to dismiss them or get mad at them. Acknowledging that these beliefs have a function and uncovering what that role may be can help you overcome them. Oftentimes, these self-limiting beliefs serve a protective function.
Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs
Say someone gives you advice about something you’ve been complaining about. You may be inclined to argue or become indignant. Instead of insisting on your idea, take the feedback in and think about your reaction to others’ advice. Your reaction may be because you have a limiting core belief that was put in the spotlight. Others may see the possibilities that you either don’t see or that you feel is impossible.
Another indication that you have a limiting belief is when a thought or idea leads to:
When we are in this space, we actively think about the impossibilities or the negative outcomes that may come about. A common example of this is saying that you don’t have time to exercise regularly because of your circumstances. However, we all have 1440 minutes in a day to do as we wish, and when you realize that the choices you make and what you prioritize play a role in your circumstances, you can start to make real, lasting change.
The dynamic then shifts from “I can’t” to “I am making different choices.” At the end of this reflection, you may still choose not to exercise. What’s important here is the choice. You bring back power and personal responsibility to yourself.
Finally, any idea that makes you feel bad about yourself is a powerful core belief that leads to an emotional spiral. If you understand the driver of this negative internal dialogue, you can create space for a kinder, more helpful one.
It’s important to note that it takes hard work to unpack your core beliefs, figure out their functions, and find a way to shift them. This is where a good therapist or coach can help support you traverse paths that were previously blocked.
Resources for Self-Limiting Beliefs
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[Intro music: Gaga by Julian St. Nightmare]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That is Julian St. Nightmare with Gaga, kinda reminds me of old Bauhaus, but better. I like it. I love to do a Halloween-themed episode every year, not just because it gives me an excuse to resurrect old gothy music or new gothy music. But because, I don't know this time of year, it's just like an invitation for you and I to dive in to some deeper, even darker, aspects of the human psyche together.
Today, we're talking about something incredibly important for all of us, which is the devil inside. Yes, friends, self-limiting beliefs, and the havoc they can wreak on our lives, and how to manage them successfully so that they are no longer obstacles in your way. That's what we're doing together on today's episode of the podcast. I'm so excited to talk about this because unchallenged self-limiting beliefs are a major problem for a lot of people. So my hope is that by the end of today's show, you'll get some clarity, perhaps even some insight into your own self-limiting beliefs and also some strategies for how to work with them.
If this is your first time listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm so glad you're here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, which is a group practice with all kinds of extremely cool people. We have so much fun together. We do marriage counseling, relationship coaching, individual therapy, life coaching, and career coaching. Hence, Love, Happiness and Success.
Every week I'm here in your ear, talking about hopefully helpful ideas and tips and strategies that can help you, support you rather, I should say, on the path of creating love, happiness, and success in your life. So I always want to talk about you and what is important to you. If you have questions for me or topic ideas for the show, please get in touch. You can track me down at growingself.com, on Instagram at drlisamariebobby. You can even send an old-fashioned email. You can even call us on the phone. Heck, we do answer the phone. So get in touch, let me know what's going on and what you'd like to hear about on the podcast. And thank you for being here today.
Why It’s Important to Be Aware of Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
Let's dive into this juicy topic of self-limiting beliefs. First of all, we need to talk about why it is so important to be aware of your self-limiting beliefs. I've been a therapist for a long time, a coach, I have also been a human, and like seeing this at work in my own life, and what I have seen time and time again, is that the number one biggest obstacle for people that they really struggle to overcome on their path of personal growth or positive change or improving their relationship or pivoting in their career are not their external circumstances.
Although things going on in our lives can be objectively challenging and very real, a much bigger issue for most people are the beliefs that they carry in the sight of themselves about who they are, and what is possible for them. And if the beliefs they're carrying are negative, or pessimistic, or tell themselves that they can't do it, or it isn't going to work if they try, or these are all the reasons why it's not gonna work out, they will never experiment. They won't take risks. They won't try to create positive change because they don't believe it's possible. Because of that, they remain very, very stuck in these old ways of being that are no longer serving them and also can feel like they are just surrounded by obstacles just hemmed in by a fence on all sides, not because they always are in reality, but because their self-limiting beliefs tell them they are. So that is what they experience.
A lot of the work that I find myself doing with clients over and over and over again is helping them identify these self-limiting beliefs. Just even knowing that they're there is work because they feel true, right? These ideas that we're all carrying around like the world and us they just, they feel like the truth. But so to realize them, and then also learn how to understand them, and then work with them a little bit differently. It is challenging work. But when people are able to set aside or kind of shift some of those beliefs or incorporate new beliefs, all of a sudden, things that felt so hard, feel much easier than when it had felt like there's walls and obstacles all around you. All of a sudden, there's a path forward. And it's really amazing to watch that happen.
That is my hope for you because the alternative is just so awful. If we do not believe that we can create better outcomes, or if we have all of the list of reasons why things won't work, we don't try. Instead, we just feel paralyzed. We feel stuck. Things feel hard. There is no path forward. And again, not because there is truly, literally no path forward but because of that devil inside, the story, we're telling ourselves and the self-limiting beliefs that go unchallenged. So it's a very real issue. And if you're on the path of growth, it has to be dealt with, sooner or later. We all carry these things.
I'm glad we're here together today. I wanted to subtitle this episode, “the devil inside” because that is often, not like you're actually possessed by a demon, but that's kind of what it feels like when people first start becoming aware of self-limiting beliefs and this internal dialogue in their mind. Sometimes, I've had clients who are almost horrified when they're able to really understand the way that they have been talking to themselves, this inner narrative is quite toxic. It's mean to them. It's telling them about all of the reasons why things won't work, or why they're not good enough, or that they can't trust people, or bad things always happen. And it really can be very damaging.
Again, it's a beautiful thing when people can understand what is happening because it is often subconscious. It is unconscious. Again, if we don't fully understand when something is happening, we do not have any opportunity to change it because you don't know it's there. It makes you feel bad. It influences your behaviors, but it's like this invisible force in our lives. Understanding what our filter is, what our personal narrative is, what that voice is, is really like three-quarters of the battle.
On the bright side, it is a battle that is winnable, not sure if that's a word, but you can be victorious over self-limiting ideas and beliefs and self-criticism when you are able to shift into a more supportive relationship with yourself and very intentionally create a more helpful and supportive inner narrative, a more personal narrative that has hope, an inner dialogue that is more positive or more helpful, but again, like more compassionate towards you.
I don't want to lead you to believe that the opposite of self-limiting beliefs or difficult inner critic is swapping that out with a bunch of positive thoughts because that's not always helpful. What is always helpful is having a different kind of relationship with yourself, a relationship that's based on honesty, but also authenticity, and compassion, and compassionate support, but also reality-based support. We have to start being a little bit skeptical of our thoughts to make this happen.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
Let’s go into this a little bit more deeply. What are limiting beliefs? What does this look like in someone's life? I think that it can be helpful to think about… I think it's easier to see in other people sometimes than it is in ourselves. An example, and you might know somebody like this in your own life, but I know a person, mid-career creative type who had an opportunity to take a year away from their full-time job and focus entirely on their art. It's amazing. Maybe they could start a new business or do some freelance artwork. They actually had been doing some freelance design work that they had already had some success with. So, not outside the realm of possibility, but really this opportunity to live this, lifetime dream of living as an artist, and just being able to make art every day. That's like the holy grail for a lot of creatives. Right?
They were given this opportunity and lined everything up, financially. They would be okay, objectively. Everything was alright, and they finally had time and space to pursue their art and just see what happened. And then, mentally, basically set themselves on fire, just torturing themselves with these self-limiting beliefs around, “I can't do this. I'm not talented enough. I don't have the right skills. This is a super competitive industry. There are so many people just like me. They're probably more talented than I am. I'm mediocre.”
Also, telling themselves stories about how difficult it is to get this kind of freelance work: “I'll be rejected. Oh, these people don't want to hear from me. They have hundreds of pitches all the time. I'm just another person bothering them.” But also going into: “I ruined my life. What did I do by taking this time off? This was terrible. My former coworkers are going to hate me. What was I thinking that I could even do this? I just ruined my career for nothing.”
It's really bad, just this monologue of just really negative self-limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, self-criticism to the point where it paralyzed this person. They had this really cool opportunity to live the dream, but so bound up by what they are telling themselves about the situation, that not only can they not do any creative work, but it's just totally stuck of like, “Should I go back to my job? Should I try?” Just feeling so bad, not even being able to try to take some time and see what might be possible. I mean, it's just awful.
I think on some level, we can all relate to that, maybe not in such a clear and dramatic example, but moments in our own lives when we've had chances or looking back could have done something, and we didn't. That’s often why is because of what we were telling ourselves about this situation. It is very inhibiting. It creates paralysis. We don't take action when we have that going on.
Self-limiting ideas can show up in a lot of other ways. Certainly, when we have opportunities to try things or take chances, that's when self-limiting ideas can be activated, but even day-to-day, around our expectations for who we should be and how we compare to others. It's often some variation of this quite subconscious, but the narrative is, “I need to be perfect. I need to not make mistakes. I need to have all of these friends, or successes, or things going on in my life, or personality, just like, all of these things.” And any kind of anything, almost, can be interpreted as a failure or not quite good enough. “Somebody else is doing it better. I didn't get the results that I wanted; therefore, I suck.”
When you go into the core of self-esteem, which we have talked about on other podcasts, you can go back in my feed and look at look for some of the self-esteem-related podcasts that I've put together for you. But really, that is at the core of low self-esteem are these highly negative self-limiting beliefs about who you are and how that compares to what those self-limiting beliefs tell you you should be. And it's so tricky. This is what really messes people up is that in these situations, self-limiting beliefs that tell you that you should be different, you should be better, you should be more, you should be… At the core of it, the message is, “Cuz you're not good enough the way you are now.” Right? But they're sort of this frenemy.
You have this voice in your head that's telling you that you should be better or that you could be better. It’s like this weird mean-girl thing because it almost sounds good. It sounds like somebody is encouraging you to be better, to grow, to work on self-improvement, to attain these personal goals, right? It's easy to get tricked into believing that it's helpful to you, that it's motivating you in some ways. Sometimes, that is also one of the very sneaky, self-limiting beliefs that people are carrying without even realizing it is this idea that “Me beating myself up and criticizing myself is actually helping me. If I stop doing that, I'll stop moving forward. I won't be motivated. I won't even try if I stopped screaming at myself on the inside. I have to do this or otherwise, I will definitely be a failure.” It's like having this “friend” that’s super mean to you. But it's like your only friend. And somehow you've gotten tricked into believing that it's here to help you.
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
I am here to tell you that it isn't helping you. It is actually impairing growth. Because being self-critical, it's like having this bully, this abusive thing that lives in your mind. It's always putting you down. It's beating you up for not making mistakes or making mistakes. It tells you that you're wrong when you're too vulnerable. It tells you that you're wrong when you're not vulnerable enough. Anything you try, it's wrong. Other people are better than you. You don't know what you're doing. It's never gonna work out. If you've ever listened to other podcasts of mine, you'll know that this kind of internal hostility is essentially the opposite of what is necessary for growth, which is emotional safety.
Growth is fertilized, it is cultivated through the opposite of self-criticism, which is self-compassion, and being able to support yourself in difficult moments, and understand compassionately why you do the things that you do, and honor your feelings, and your needs, and your rights. That kind of internal emotional safety fosters a growth mindset that allows you to try things, and take chances, and get up and dust yourself off, and say, “Okay, what did I learn from that? I'm going to try this again.” It’s like having this internal supportive coach, or a parent, or a real friend that is able to love you, and care about you, and encourage you, even if you make mistakes along the way.
It's the voice that reminds you that that is actually how people learn, is by trying things and putting yourself out there. “What happened when I did this, and what can I learn? How do I support my growth, instead of beating myself up and feeling terrible every time I put my little head out and try something different, or feeling like I should already know this? Therefore, I'm not going to read a book or listen to a podcast. Because what's wrong with me that I don't know how to do this already, everybody else knows how to do this?” It's really just not helpful.
If growth, I'd like you to imagine it's like this little, little leaf unfurling itself in the sun, right? It has roots in fertile soil. It requires warmth, and sunlight, and support, and hope. This kind of inner hatred, this mean-girl self-limiting belief thing is exactly the opposite of that. It's like walking up to that little leaf and just spraying it with bleach, or round up, or some kind of toxic, whatever horrible chemical kills plants. That’s the internal effect of really negative self-limiting beliefs on growth. It impedes growth. Because of that, that is why our self-limiting beliefs make it really impossible to move forward or to grow while they're active.
Because when you have this list of really powerful, unchallenged, or subconscious, self-limiting beliefs, you will, A, feel like you're incapable of doing anything anyway. So what's the point? Or you will talk yourself out of everything. You will have all of these reasons why things won't work. “Oh, I tried that before that didn't work. I can't do that. It's going to be futile to try. Or it isn't going to end well. Or these are all the rules I have in my head about what needs to be happening for X, Y, Z to happen.”
Sometimes, you might have non-ideal outcomes. That is a thing. When you have self-limiting beliefs, you will never find out what might have happened because you already know that it won't work. “Why bother trying? I'm not good enough. I can't do that.” And so these beliefs will just create so many obstacles, and hurdles, and rules, and complications, and things just feel so darn hard that people give up. They just feel so painted into a corner. “I guess this is my life.” Even though they want more, it's this inner experience that is just truly, truly limiting.
The Power of Belief
The other piece here, though, that's important is that these kinds of ideas do not just make us feel badly about ourselves or destroy our ability to grow or create change. They also impact our relationships. When we have self-limiting beliefs, they are terrible for relationships because these beliefs will tell us that we are not worthy or lovable, which can make us feel very anxious about whether or not we're being loved and hyper-vigilant about what our partner is doing or not doing and what that means about us and their relationship with us. Or it can make us do other kinds of weird things, like reject other people before they reject us because they're going to. We've all seen that play out in people's lives.
These self-fulfilling beliefs about ourselves, and what to expect in relationships can really become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We either wind up getting super reactive and strangling relationships to death, or we reject people and are so self-protective and avoidant that we don't even give people a chance. More on the subject, if you'd like to cruise back and listen to a podcast that I did a while ago about trust issues, and what to do with trust issues and relationships. It's a lot about that. In that podcast, though, I'm talking about the outcome of these self-limiting beliefs. Sometimes, to be fair, people have had legitimately traumatizing life experiences, or past experiences in relationships were really hurtful. So, that is definitely a thing that needs to be to be worked through.
Many times though, these early experiences have become these beliefs about what I can expect from humans. And what is true about me that we can carry with us for many, many years into the future, and unexamined, unexplored, unchallenged. So we then act as if these things are true, these things that we are telling ourselves, the things that we believe are true, with sometimes devastating consequences to our relationships. So it's very important to examine our self-limiting beliefs in the context of our relationships in order to be able to ferret some of this out, especially if your goal is to have healthy relationships.
I also just want to add, I'm going to out myself here, but we are all vulnerable to self-limiting beliefs. We all carry them. I am not talking about other people's self-limiting beliefs, right now. I am talking about your self-limiting beliefs. I'm talking about my self-limiting beliefs because we literally all have them. It was so interesting. I participate in a coaching group. I love coaching. I can't get enough of it. But I thought I'd do a group coaching thing for people who have businesses like me. In this one group event, we all… There's like five or six of us we’re sitting in a circle, a virtual circle. This was by Zoom but still was a circle. We took turns talking about a business issue, like a stressor or a pain point that we were having.
We talk about the issue, and then everybody had the opportunity to get feedback from the group. This is a group of really, quite successful business people, people who really had a lot of good ideas and good guidance. And it was so interesting. Because every single person, I was one of the last ones, but I watched every single person talk about a problem they were facing, and the things they tried, and all these things that didn't work. And then, the group gave feedback. Every single person was like, “Yeah, but here's why that won't work.” Or, “Well, but with our system, here's what we do.” It was so interesting because they were all getting really good advice. And I just sat there watching this process.
It was like every person actively repelling really good advice. And I realized, it was because they were clinging to these ideas about the way things should be, ideas about what was possible, and what was not possible. They had already pre-decided the outcomes of trying different things and had all these reasons why they didn't work. It was just fascinating.
For one person, it was like, “Well, this is what we look for in an employee.” After, he'd been spending quite a bit of time telling us about the struggles that he was having hiring people, by the way. “So this is what we're looking for.” And so, ideas about maybe different kinds of people, or different personality traits, or different characteristics. He's like, “No, these are the kinds of people that work well in our business,” after he had just told us that it wasn't working well in his business. So, over and over again, and it was, for all of them, rules around, “This is what it should look like. I already know what it should look like. And so this is what I've been trying to do. It's not working. But this is how it should work according to my, my rules.” Right? These self-limiting ideas.
Then the group, made its way around to me, and I told them all about my most stressful business situation, and they gave me advice. And I couldn't even help myself. I was giving them all the reasons why that wouldn't work in my situation. “No, my business is different. Let me tell you why.” I was like, “Ah, dang.” Could all of a sudden see it. It's like, “I, too, had all these rules that I was carrying in me about what should be happening and what needed to happen.” They were this kind, intelligent group was trying to pry these self-limiting beliefs away from me, and I could feel myself clinging to them, even though I, on some level, knew what was happening. But thankfully, after that group, which was so interesting, I was able to take some time and journal and be like, “Yeah, they're right.” But having those ideas challenged is difficult, but it's important. And that's the way it is, right?
We all have these ideas that are just so deeply ingrained. They are baked in, and they feel so true that we can't even see them. We're like little fishes swimming around in tanks full of water that we have no idea is even there because it's the water that we swim in, right? It just feels like the truth. We're so close to these ideas that we cannot even tell that they are our truth, our specific, unique truth that is not actually true for a lot of other people. Other people can look at us and see that we're doing something that is not in our best interests. But we're just wrapped around these ideas. We’re intertwined with them without even realizing it. This is the power of self-limiting beliefs. I just wanted to share that because this, again, is true for everyone. We all have them. I wanted to come clean about mine, just so we can all be authentic.
Let's talk about this, then. Because the problem with self-limiting beliefs is that we cannot see them very easily ourselves. Figuring out how to ferret them out, like coaxing a little animal out of the cave. Who are you? That's, again, a lot of the work. I think that that is one of the benefits of doing a group experience where you have people challenging you or having relationships with people who love you enough to be honest with you.
Also, what can be very helpful about sometimes being in therapy, or I think, more commonly, life coaching with people like me, who have a more active approach, I don't think it's super helpful to just sit there and free associate to somebody who agrees with everything that you say because you don't get that feedback. You have to have a relationship with a therapist or a coach who cares about you enough and is active enough to challenge you and say, “Really?” Not like a checked-out one who just lets you go on and on, but a good therapist, a good coach will challenge you, and sometimes, that feels uncomfortable.
I have been in that situation. I'm like, “What do you mean I'm not 100% right about everything? How dare you?” So I know, I know. But at some point, it's like we have to have this mirror held up to us so that we can take a look and really see what we are telling ourselves about particular situations, what we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and then have the opportunity just to think through whether or not these things are actually, factually true. I do this all the time with clients, just to help them gain that self-awareness around the beliefs that they're holding on to because you have to know they're there.
Let's talk about examples of self-limiting core beliefs. And here's some examples of things that I have heard people say to me with absolute sincerity and straight faces. I have said some of these things, and I'm sure that you have, too. Things like, “I don't have enough time. I can't possibly do that.” Or “I cannot advance in my career unless I go back to school and get this very expensive degree. Impossible. There's no other way.” “There aren't opportunities for me to fill in the blank, meet someone, get a job, buy a house, whatever it is, in the town that I live in. Impossible. It cannot be done.” “All the good partners are taken.” Does that one resonate with any of you out there? “All the good ones are already gone. I can't trust anyone.” There's another good one.
Here's one that can sneakily mess people up: “If I find the perfect person, then I will not have a disappointing relationship.” Or “If I had the perfect job, I wouldn't feel this way anymore.” Or “If I lived in this different place, then I would have all these different results. Everything that is not happening the way that I want it to is because of these circumstances. And if I change these circumstances, which I can't, because let me tell you all the reasons why. But if I could, then everything would be different for me. I would feel happier.”
If you think back to the Love Your Body podcast I did a while ago with my colleague, Stephanie, we talked a lot about that really insidious, self-limiting belief that a lot of people carry around, “I will be happy when I am a certain weight, or a certain clothing size, or when I look a certain way, or when this thing happens in my life, or when I have a partner or what. Whatever it is, then I will be happy. But until that happens, I cannot be happy.” These are really difficult beliefs to get out. And they can be big beliefs, like the ones that I shared. They can also be small beliefs that are just creating garden variety annoyances, but enough of them that it can start to feel stifling.
I've talked to people, “I can't cook if all of the dishes aren't done and put away, and my kitchen is perfectly clean. Therefore, I never cook. Therefore, I eat microwaved burritos pretty much every day of the week.” It's like the beliefs that are attached to why they can or can't do things like the rules. Really, really interesting. It may be worth if you wanted to, pausing me for a second and just taking a second to scribble down any thoughts that have just popped up to you, as I've been sharing some of my self-limiting beliefs or some of the things that I've had people say. There are many, many more. We can come up with hundreds of them if we had the time. But if any come to mind, just make a note.
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
Sometimes, many times, again, it's not that easy to be aware of them. And that is the first step in overcoming self-limiting beliefs is that you do have to be aware of them. Step one is, “I am aware of you. I see you, self-limiting belief.” Then, that's step two, is understanding their function. And that can be really interesting because oftentimes, these self-limiting beliefs, they seem like they're just ridiculous when we look at them, when we can get them out in the open in the cold light of day. It's like, “That is not true.”
Do not underestimate the power of a self-limiting belief because they are often very, very functional. They are serving a purpose in your life that you don't even know about yet. And that takes some exploration in order to figure out too, and not try to shut them down with some positive pep talk. But let's say, “Okay, let's get to know you. Why are you here? How do you make sense? Where did you come from?” Like really having a relationship with it. Because that is actually like the first step in practicing having a different kind of relationship with yourself is not being mad at yourself for having self-limiting beliefs, not being mad at that belief.
It's like just this much more compassionate like, “Okay, I see you. I know you're there. How do you make sense?” It's just like this totally different way of approaching yourself and just having respect for the fact that they have been serving a purpose. Oftentimes, they're very protective, to be completely honest with you. So we have to do some of that work.
Once it is making sense, then it becomes much more easy to shift into a different way of being with yourself, one that is potentially more open, more reality-based, and more empowering, moving towards that self-compassionate growth mindset that really helps you feel comfortable enough to take risks or take chances and helps you grow and develop instead of beating yourself up for it. Also, I think that really helps make you feel much more secure in relationships, which then, when you have a secure relationship that is reinforced that you are having secure relationships, and that tends to build on itself, too.
Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs
So let's talk first, just a little bit about that step one. How do you know they’re there? Because it is really like luring a wild animal out of a game. So here are just a few tips to help you, like the rustle in the bushes. Like, “Oh, there's a self-limiting belief over there.” Because again, they can be so, so easy to miss. But first of all, and this is one for me that I'm like, “Okay, self-limiting belief just got poked.” If you find yourself arguing with or getting defensive with someone who you haven't just been complaining to about something, and they have given you advice, or “What about this? Or try to approach it this way?” And you're like, “No, that won't work. Here are all the reasons why that won't work.”
They have just poked you in a self-limiting belief of some kind. They see possibilities for you that either you can't see or that feel impossible for you. Because why? And this is the work of figuring out what that is like, asking yourself, “What is the reason that I am so passionately convinced that this won't work?” And I'm not saying that you have to take everybody else's advice. Maybe it's bad advice. Maybe it actually won't work. But if this is a pattern for you, this is just evidence that it may be a self-limiting belief at the core.
For me, like my business group, I shared that my problem, this pain point was just a super slow progress on this huge project that we've been working on internally that has taken the better part of a year. This has just been a monster. And I've been frustrated with it. Some of the feedback I got from my coaching group was around, maybe my standards are too high. Maybe I am trying to do too much. Maybe I'm not delegating enough, and so, took that in. But I was like, “No, it has to be really good. And let me tell you why it really, really actually needs to be really good. And let me tell you why we're doing it this way. Because these are all the reasons why this makes sense.”
What I had so much trouble taking in was this idea that they were trying to share with me that maybe it's not bad to have high standards. I am a recovering perfectionist. So believe it or not, I am attached to my high standards. But that, maybe all of these negative outcomes that I had been envisioning, if it wasn't really good, if it wasn't perfect, maybe those weren't all realistic fears. And maybe there actually was a way to do this a little bit faster, or to do it in stages, or to kind of prioritize more important parts of the work just to get this out there, and then go back and continue working on it over time in an organized way.
That's what I needed to journal through because I have this core idea, this self-limiting belief that things really do have to be like to some, very, very high standard, and that it's actually not okay for me to be slack about things or not do my very best. This would always happen to me in school. I would over-study. I would over-prepare. I would work too hard on papers. And then, I finally had to be like, “No, I am a B student. It is perfectly acceptable to get a B. I can get a B and be just fine. Lots of people get Bs.” And it helped me actually step back enough that not only did I feel less stressed out, and I got more done, I did what I thought was B-level work on my papers, and I still got A's.
That was the thing that I had to be reminded of by this group is that when I feel like I'm doing 80, or 90% of a good job, it is actually a good job. But my core belief tells me that it is not good enough. And that makes me do extra stuff and get obsessive about things that maybe I don't need to be doing. So that is what I needed to hear. But the initial reaction to that was a lot of like, “No, you don't understand. Let me tell you.”
If you notice that happening inside of you, I would just like you to note it, and then just spend some time being like, “What ideas am I so passionately defending right now? And are those actually true? What would it mean if they weren't true, if I could actually get this project out the door much more easily than I have been telling myself is possible?” Or like the artist that I was telling you about, like, if she were to tell you about the struggles that she has, and you are to say, “You know what, this is a great opportunity. Use this time. Build up your portfolio. See about getting representation. Do some networking. Get listed on some freelancer sites,” like this is all very reasonable advice, right?
But I imagine that she would say, “No, that will never work because I don't know some of these new digital design programs. And that is what they're looking for. So I am never going to get one of these jobs. So I have to go back to school and get a second master's degree in graphic design. And that's going to cost 10s and 1000s of dollars and several years. So thanks for the advice, but no.” That's what she would say. When we really unpack this and look at like, okay, so, the core belief is that the way you are operating now isn't good enough, and you need to do extensive additional education to make anything happen, this person has been quite successful without any of that, and many people in her field have been quite successful without those things. So it's possible that success is in the realm of possibility, right? Possible possibilities.
Let's just take a look about function for a second. Because if that were true, if she could actually just start making her art, and putting herself out there, and seeing what would happen, that would be incredibly vulnerable. I think me overdoing things is also managing my anxiety about not quite being good enough, right? If I put something major out the door that I feel is like 80 or 90% good enough, I have all this anxiety about, “Oh, it's not good enough.” So, me, like, “No, it has to be better,” I am protecting myself in those moments. I am obstructing all possible progress, but I am making myself feel better.
There's an emotional function for these things. It's often around vulnerability, anxiety. There's this very protective function to a lot of our self-limiting internal beliefs. So that's one thing to pay attention to, like, “Who are you fighting with and why?” So there's that.
Another indication that you have a powerful self-limiting belief in your life is any thought or idea that leads to inhibition, paralysis, inaction, feeling trapped, feeling like you can't move forward. Because when we feel that way, when we're not trying things, or we feel like we can't make a decision, when we crack that open, there are often all these reasons why, why I can’t, why this won't work. When we are in that space of paralysis and inaction, we're often actively talking ourselves out of doing things or narrating to ourselves all of the negative outcomes or all the reasons why it won't work.
Here's an example that I think, again, we can all relate to, the not taking action category of, “I can't exercise regularly because I don't have enough time. I can't do it. I'm too busy. Cannot do it. So I don't. I would like to, but it's impossible just by virtue of my circumstances.” So we are not taking positive action. And this is a simple example. But who hasn't said that to themselves, right? But when we look at what that's doing for us, and we also look at a more reality-based idea, which is, here's a new one, that when I actually first heard this idea, it was like, “Oh, my God, I felt struck by lightning, actually.”
Because the idea is, the truth is that you and me and everybody else on this entire planet, including the most insanely productive, disruptive people in the history of the world, like Elon Musk, writers, musicians, inspirational leaders, everyone has, ready? 1440 minutes a day to do with as they will. We all have exactly the same number of minutes allotted to us on a day. And the only difference is that we are making different choices about how we spend that time. Sometimes, we are in circumstances that have been shaped by choices that we made a while ago that are now impacting how we are spending our time. But 1440 minutes are all of ours.
I read somewhere that Vladimir Putin, who I am guessing is a fairly productive person, for better or for worse, spends something like three hours a day exercising, like every day. So, how you choose to spend that time may be different. But what would change for you if you just begin challenging that idea of “I don't have enough time,” with this new idea, which is actually, “I have exactly as much time as literally everyone else in the world, including Vlad, and I am prioritizing spending my time doing other things besides exercising.” When you do that, it's an interesting dynamic. Because the power totally shifts when you change that language from, “I can't,” to, “I am making different choices. And here are the reasons why.”
You could still totally decide not to exercise. “I would actually rather not exercise. I do not feel like exercising. I don't enjoy exercising. I don't want to. I would rather do something different.” But when we shift away from that self-limiting idea that tells us we cannot, “It is literally impossible, you cannot do that,” into a new idea, “You could if you wanted to.” All of a sudden, the spotlight of personal responsibility is back on ‘lil old us. And that is anxiety-provoking because you're like, “Crap, I guess I could exercise if I wanted to. And I don't want to. So, what does that mean about me?” So again, that's the function of all these rules and limitations, right? It's protecting ourselves in some way from the reality of our own freedom, which is not always comfortable. It isn’t. Empowering, but not comfortable. So that's a big one.
Lastly, one other ringer that you have just stumbled upon a really strong, juicy self-limiting core belief that is doing all kinds of things in your life is pretty much any idea that makes you feel really bad about yourself. If you were just listening to what I was describing above, around: “Yeah, I actually don't want to exercise.” If, for you, that turned into this, “Oh my god, I'm not exercising. I could be. I should be. I have as much time as anybody else. What's wrong with me that I'm not doing that? Other people exercise. And clearly, they are superior humans because I'm not doing that. I should make it a priority. I'm terrible.”
If it turns into that for you, that is a really powerful core belief of, I think, the worst kind, these self-limiting core beliefs that tell us about who we are and that who we are is not as worthy, or capable, or able to do things. That's the worst. Because when it turns into calling yourself names, and, “I'm a failure. I'm miserable. I have no motivation. I have no willpower, and I never will.” It just turns into this spiral of just bad feelings. Can you down the drain of just, there's so much to unpack here.
One thing that I work with my clients around a lot is identifying these kinds of thoughts that lead to this emotional spiral that just makes people feel like collapsing, right, when you're in the grips of that internal dialogue, just laying on the floor. To understand really consciously the inner narrative that is driving that, then they have the opportunity to intentionally and deliberately learn how to treat themselves with more kindness, like more of a friend. It takes energy.
To actively create a more helpful internal dialogue, which is, “Maybe there are reasons why I am not exercising. Part of me believes that I want to and that I should but, I know, from listening to Dr. Lisa's podcasts that we have many different parts of ourselves, and there are such things as overt goals that we are aware of. And there are also covert goals that we are not aware of, and just maybe, I have actually been achieving a covert goal through not exercising, which is actually the fact that I feel tired. I feel like I need to rest, sometimes. I feel like I just need to stop and just rest. Maybe I actually do need to be compassionate with myself for my need for nurturing, and quiet time, and rest. Maybe that's valid. Maybe there's a different relationship that I can have with that need, where maybe some of these things can coexist. Maybe I can get that rest, and comfort, and nurturing, and relaxation and just feeling calm for once, and also find a way to take care of my body, which needs me to move around a little bit sometimes.”
Again, there is so, so much to unpack here. This is a huge topic. These ideas go very deep. Sometimes, highly entrenched, self-limiting beliefs can have roots in our earliest childhood experiences. And sometimes not. Sometimes, they are actually much easier to change than you would think they are once you know that they're there, and you have some new skills and strategies for working with them differently, and managing them differently.
Just want to challenge one core belief that may be may be percolating inside of you, which is that, “Okay, now I have listened to this podcast, and I should be able to know how to do this from this day forward.” I would just like to say very, very authentically, that that is not how this works. People can and do often spend quite a bit of time in therapy and life coaching unpacking this, developing the self-awareness, these core beliefs, figuring out their functions, figuring out how to deal with them differently, and it's not easy work.
It is very, very valuable work. Because once you really identify those and figure out what to do with them a little bit differently, so many things can open up for you. I've seen people really just feel like they break free from paralysis. They see it, doors that are open to them that they literally did not see before, or if they did see would never have dared walk through. And they can really begin to try things and start learning and growing, and as a result, have new experiences that confirm these new ideas and prove against those old core beliefs that they had been harboring.
So once you get these juices flowing and start growing again, it's very common to have all kinds of new evidence that support the new, more reality-based, more compassionate ideas. Because when you try things, you'll find that is often the case is that things actually do work out, and they're not as hard as you thought they would be. And you can do so many things.
We're going to glide to a halt, park this conversation. Thank you for staying with me, and I hope that these ideas were helpful to you. I hope that they gave you some direction and maybe even some things to continue thinking about or journaling about until we meet again next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Until then, here's more Nightmare St. Julian. I like these guys.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Darkest Days” by Fake Names
UNDERSTANDING MIND-BODY CONNECTION: Therapy is fantastic for helping you understand yourself and life coaching helps you achieve your goals, but if you’re on a path of personal growth it’s important to view your mental, emotional, and physical wellness holistically. For example, have you ever considered how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect your body? Conversely, have you ever observed how your physical health can sometimes impact how you're feeling, or even the way you think?
Most people are under the impression that physical and mental well-being are separate things to handle. However, your body and mind are interconnected like cogs in a well-oiled machine — they inform and influence each other. When we’re feeling anxious, our breathing and heart rate speeds up, and our muscles get tense. On the other hand, when we're down with a cold, we tend to feel hopeless, helpless, and pessimistic. These effects show a mind-body connection.
In this episode, we'll define the mind-body connection, how it works, and why it's important. By understanding the mind-body connection, you can make remarkable changes to increase your overall wellness.
If you want to know how to take control of your life and sustain a sound mind and body, then tune in to this episode!
In This Mind-Body Connection Podcast Episode, You Will…
Understand the mind-body connection and its importance.
Find out why what you eat affects your mental well-being.
Discover how your thoughts and emotions can affect your physical health.
Uncover what happens to your body when you’re thinking negative thoughts.
Identify how stress affects your mental and emotional health.
Learn things you can do to bounce back when you are feeling low and stressed out.
Find out actionable ways to achieve physical and mental wellness.
Figure out when you can help yourself feel better through changing your diet or behaviors, or whether cognitive-behavioral therapy or coaching can help.
Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that this episode helps you get clarity and understanding around the way that your mind, emotions, and body all interconnect, and how to use this self-awareness to help yourself stay well and balanced.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Mind-Body Connection: Show Notes & Episode Highlights
What Is the Mind-Body Connection?
How do your mind, body, and mood affect each other?
As we expand our understanding of the human mind, we start to realize how much our emotions and feelings affect our bodies and vice-versa.
An example of the mind-body connection is that as we approach the winter months, many people experience winter blues. As our bodies react to the cold and lack of sunlight, we may feel exceedingly melancholy. We're also less likely to exercise and get much-needed vitamin D, which in turn, can contribute to how we feel.
You have more control over what you think and feel emotionally and physically than you think. When you figure out how the mind-body connection works, you can expect remarkable results that will surprise you in many ways.
The Mind-Body Problem
While mental-oriented strategies you get from therapy are helpful,they do not always translate to dramatic changes.
I learned this lesson about ten years ago when I had a client who was dealing with anxiety. We had been working together to address this problem and had tried different methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, mindfulness skills training, and self-care activities. However, nothing seemed to work until he went camping.
He felt less stressed and more organized. He was also able to practice mindfulness — he even went so far as to assume that he was cured. After a while, he went back to feeling bad.
It was then that he shared how he goes through a six-pack of Diet Coke a day. And so, I thought about having a little experiment. He swapped out Diet Coke for something decaf and not artificially sweetened. The week after the experiment, he came back feeling better.
There is a physical component to our experiences. It’s easy to spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to resolve what we think are mental health issues through talk therapy. However, my experience taught me that the way people think and feel have multifaceted causes. Unless we address the underlying issues in a person’s lifestyle that may be contributing to not feeling well mentally and emotionally, therapy may not be effective.
At present, I ask questions about the physical stuff that we can experiment on, especially when working with a new client who has mood symptoms. These changes have the possibility of creating a dramatic impact on their mood.
Conversely, a person's very real physical symptoms can sometimes be due to the following:
What the person is feeling emotionally
What they are thinking
What they have previously experienced
Unless these people do deep work in therapy to think differently, manage their emotions, or resolve their historical trauma, the physical symptoms may not disappear.
Improving Mind-Body Wellness
The solution to making ourselves feel better can, therefore, be different than what we think it is.
Whenever you are feeling low, tired, or stressed out, try out these simple tips in my shortlist:
Consider having a physical check-up
Assess your vitamin levels
Take care of your gut health
These tips can help you feel better — research shows that what you put into your body can boost your mood. For example, depressed mice had their intestinal flora altered. Just this simple change in their gut health made these mice happier!
Body Health and Mind
Note that if you are dealing with physical symptoms, it’s best to consult your doctor. However, if these symptoms come with anxiety, depression, and other related chronic illnesses, you may also consider talking to your therapist.
Now, you may go to your therapist because you think you have ADHD or depression. These conditions are real and valid. However, what you experience may sometimes point to other factors. For example, the medication in an asthma inhaler can create ADHD-like symptoms. Meanwhile, when you feel sick or are injured, your body’s natural response is to keep you in the house. You’ll feel tired, hopeless, and helpless. Are you starting to see the ties to your mind-body connection?
How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health
Evolutionary adaptation has taught our bodies to be aware of threats around us. When we feel anxious, our bodies interpret this to mean that a threat is approaching. However, the older, emotional part of our brains cannot differentiate between real and perceived danger. So, when we feel anxious, our bodies let out a stress response.
Furthermore, an interesting study shows that the bodies of people who worry more and experience more stress heal less quickly than those who don't. People who have traumatic childhood experiences also have several long-term health conditions. Our experiences, thoughts, and feelings do indeed change how the systems in our bodies work.
Healthy Mind and Body
Over the years, I have discovered there are three things that have a huge impact on someone mentally and physically. These are:
For me, sleep plays the biggest role in this equation. When you lack sleep, you go through physiological changes in your body that increase depressive and anxious thoughts.
Another thing you must consider is exercise. People usually work out to feel healthy, but some do it to change the way they look. I think we must veer away from this kind of thinking — love our body, regardless of its shape.
Another problem is that some people cut back on working out because they are too tired or busy. However, getting into 20 or 30 minutes of brisk physical activity a day can have significant beneficial effects. You’ll be more relaxed, have more energy, and improve the kind of thoughts you are having.
Lastly, as much as sleep and moving your body are important, what you eat and drink are also big factors in your overall health. You can consult your doctor to see whether you are getting good nutrition, drinking enough water, and taking the proper medicine to help aid in your mind-body connection.
Sound Mind in a Sound Body
Do not underestimate the power of the mind in changing the way you feel. The way we think creates our emotional reaction to everything. Nothing means anything until you decide what it means. And when you have control over how you're going to interpret whatever is happening in your life, you automatically have enormous control over the way you feel.
Figuring out what’s in your mind is easier said than done. I suggest you try cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral coaching.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to understand:
How am I thinking?
What are my core beliefs?
What am I telling myself?
How do I intentionally shift that to feel better?
Meanwhile, cognitive-behavioral coaching is best for people who don’t have any mental health diagnosis and just want to improve their mind-body connection. This is not focused on symptom reduction but on helping you figure out the different elements that influence what you are thinking and how you are feeling. It allows you to assess:
How you are thinking and feeling,
How your mood state impacts your thoughts,
What happens to your physical process when you’re thinking and feeling.
Subscribe to our website and other platforms to get updates on our latest episodes.
Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about the mind-body connection? How do you think these insights can help you take care of your physical and mental health better? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness and success.
[Intro music: Darkest Days by Fake Names]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: We are heading into the winter season, which can be a really hard time of year for a lot of people, particularly when it comes to the way you feel physically and emotionally.
I know that you're listening to this podcast because you care about love, happiness, and success, right? If your goal is to feel happy, healthy, energized, to have good relationships, and feel generally content with your life, we need to talk about something very important and that is your mind-body connection.
I know that that term has gotten kind of a bad rap over the years as being in the realm of questionable holistic healer people, no opinions there, but it is also very, very true that there is an undeniable relationship between the way you think and your physical wellness and the way you feel emotionally. That all impacts the way you behave. And they also all impact each other.
The way you think impacts the way you behave. The way you behave impacts the way you think and feel. There's this very real interplay that is not understood well by many people, and then to make things even more exciting, there is a very real relationship between your physical health and what's going on inside your body and the way that you feel day-to-day in terms of your mood. Likewise, the way that you feel emotionally can have very, very real physical impacts on the way your body functions, so there is a lot here to talk about.
Today, we are talking about mind-body connection and more importantly, how you can use the understanding that hopefully, you achieve through this podcast today to create actual, substantial, positive changes in the way you feel and as well as your physical wellness. We have much to discuss on today's episode, and I'm so glad you're here to join me.
If this is your first time listening to the show, welcome. I am Lisa Marie Bobby, I'm the founder and Clinical Director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background, I'm a licensed psychologist, I'm also a licensed marriage and family therapist and I am a board-certified life coach, and I draw from all of those different realms to bring you hopefully helpful information every single week to support your quest for love, happiness, and success, and this show is all about you.
If you have questions or topics that you would like to hear more about, don't ever hesitate to get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can track me down onInstagram: @drlisamariebobby or heck, you can even call us on the phone. We do that too so growingself.com if you ever want to get in touch. Hey, special thanks also to my regular listeners. I was on iTunes the other day and I noticed that there were a lot of really nice new comments about the show, so thank you so much for leaving those and for reviewing the show not just to make me feel good, although I like that too. When you rate and review the show, it helps other people find this information more easily. You are supporting other people in their journey of love, happiness, and success, so thank you for reviewing it and for sharing these episodes to people in your life who could benefit from the same information that you receive so thank you.
What Is the Mind-Body Connection?
Okay, so let's dive into our topic today: the mind-body connection, why this is so fundamentally important, and how you can change the way this whole thing works. You have so much control over the way that you think and the way you feel emotionally and physically that you might not realize. When you can figure out some of these mechanics almost, it's a bunch of gear cogs working together, it can really create remarkable results but in surprising ways, surprising ways that you might not expect.
Again, it's essential that we're talking about this now. I'm recording this podcast as we are lighting into October, and this time of year, seasonal affective disorder is a very real thing for people in the northern hemisphere especially. I think there are a number of different reasons for this but not the least of which is that our physical body changes when it's cold. We might not go out to exercise the same way, we might not get enough sunlight which can impact your vitamin D levels. This can have a surprisingly profound impact on not just your emotional state, but the way that you think. I really wanted to give you some ideas and actionable resources to kind of arm you going into this so that you can feel good all winter long.
The Mind-Body Connection Problem
I also wanted to share that the information that you might hear on this podcast today could be a little bit different than that which you may hear other therapists or people in my industry talk about. I have to tell you, I came about this understanding kind of the hard way, the humbling way, after more than a few years of practice.
I'll tell you what happened that helped me truly grasp the power of the mind-body connection and create a very just clear example of how, as a therapist, I had really been seeking to help people through the ways that I knew how so therapy and talking about things and then just had some experiences with clients that were like, “Oh, I really need to be paying more attention to these other aspects of life that are so dramatically important.”
I think in my own career, there's been this, looking back, this progressive evolution in the way that I seek to help people. When I first went into practice, I was very excited about psychodynamic stuff and experiential techniques. I had clients in my office, screaming at therapy pillows in the chair and crying cathartically, which was all great. We had a fantastic time there, magical moments in the therapy room, but I realized that while sometimes that led to change with clients, it really didn't always. It was interesting and they're like, “Wow, I never realized that my father's criticism was so impactful.” They'd walk out but come back next week and things had not really substantially changed for them.
I found myself going back to the drawing board, and being like, “Okay, so the things that I was taught in counseling school aren't always translating into actionable results for my clients and what can I do differently?” Over the years kind of evolved into more of a cognitive-behavioral lens, which has a ton of evidence-based really solid research to support its efficacy. But even then, I think that's really what kind of led me in the direction of coaching, is how do we move away from talking about this stuff to actually doing it and helping people move forward? That has been my kind of just progression and my own way of thinking about how to be helpful to people throughout the years.
Something really important changed for me, this is probably 10 years ago. I had been working with a client, who I'm sure would not mind me telling you the story. He's fantastic. We were together for quite a while because he came in, and he had pretty serious anxiety. All the symptoms: very irritable, snapping at people, being kind of reactive in relationships, having a really hard time sleeping, would stay up half the night worrying about stuff, really worried about work, in particular, a lot of future thinking, a lot of what-ifs, a lot of catastrophic thoughts: “If I do this, then this terrible thing will happen.”
Really, it was very rea,l and he felt very stressed out a lot, that cognitively super problem-focused. His relationship was suffering because of it. We worked for a long time on this, reviewing family history stuff or doing a lot of cognitive therapy techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, which again, have been shown by research to work beautifully. Mindfulness skills training, looking at helpful thoughts versus unhelpful thoughts, shifting into a growth mindset, some strategies to help unhook his mind from problem-focused thinking, ways to sort of self-soothe, self-care activities.
We did all of it, and it helped a little bit, right? But not dramatically, and I was thinking, “Okay, well, maybe this is just an organically based mental health thing.” I'm not sure if he was on medication or not. I would need to look at my notes but thinking like, “Wow, this is very entrenched.” Anyway, we're seeing each other week to week and then one week, he came bounding back into my office and he was so excited. Actually, I hadn't seen him for a week. He had gone on a camping trip. I think it had been two weeks and he came bouncing back into the office and he was like, “Lisa, I feel so good. Everything is so good.”
He was telling me, he's like, “You know, I had the best time on this camping trip. I slept through the night, I found myself just being able to kind of relax and hang out with my wife and have a nice time and nothing felt like it was that big of a deal. I really unplugged from work, and I climbed a mountain. It was so great.” He was just so happy. It had been a couple of days since he's been back and he's like, “Ever since I got back, at work even, I'm able to kind of keep myself organized and not overthink and I'm feeling less stressed out and I'm not feeling grumpy and angry at everybody.” He's like, “I am cured.”
We were both excited and high-fived each other, all of these things that we had been working on just fell into place. He was like, “It's so much easier now. I can do those things that you've been teaching me how to do, like shift into better, more helpful thoughts and not catastrophize and remind myself, my mindfulness skills, and all these things.” It was so good so anyway, we were both so happy and it was like, “Success!” Then, he left the office and came back, and I think it was a week or two later and I was fully prepared, to be like, “Maybe we're done. It worked, great. The answer is all these skills and maybe taking camping trips more often, right?”
Because my goal is never to keep people in therapy their whole lives. We are here for a reason, we're here to help you solve a problem and then go be happy. So when I saw him again, I thought it might be the last time or he would cut back substantially. He came in and he was like, “Oh, I feel so bad.” He was telling me about what a jerk his boss was being and all this stuff that he was all stressed out about and he was angry and couldn't stop thinking about this and had been up for three nights in a row. It was just like he had fallen right back into it. It was such a dramatic change.
I was like, “Okay, wait a second. What in the heck happened?” Because it wasn't just work, right? Also, we can't stay camping forever so it's like, “What is happening?” Instead of just kind of doing the same old thing, I was like, “This is so dramatic. There is something else here, and let's just investigate this.” We spent pretty much the entire session talking about: “Okay, what was different when you went camping and immediately after coming back?” We ran through all of it. He had been getting more exercise on his trip, certainly, and had been with friends and unplugged from work, all these are good things, but he gets exercise anyway.
This is a person who exercised, he had an active social life so it wasn't that different. He had taken vacations before and did not experience this kind of benefit over the course of our work. He'd actually taken a couple of vacations, and he and his wife had gone to a resort and a tropical paradise kind of deal so we're like, “What is going on?” Anyway, so to cut to the point, one of the things that were actually a little bit different is the Diet Coke situation. I was like, “I'm sorry, the what?” He shared a detail about his life that I had not known before because it never occurred to me to ask, it never occurred for him to tell me.
He's like, “Yeah, usually, I drink a lot of Diet Coke. I will easily go through a six-pack a day. I have them at work while I'm working. I have one with dinner but, obviously, on a backpacking camping trip, I am not going to trundle a case of diet coke with me into the woods.” He was like, “Do you think that could have something to do with the anxiety thing?” And I was like, “I don't know. Let's find out.”
Actually, I did share that I'm such a nerd. I was a biology major in college, and at one point, I had actually written a whole paper on the impact of aspartame, which is a sweetener that's used in Diet Coke and other drinks, or at least it was. I don't know if it's still around anymore, but it has pronounced stimulating effects on people's nervous systems that look similar to caffeine, actually. Aspartame, for some people, not all people, people have different kinds of just reactions to different chemicals and additives based on their own body chemistry. I have a sensitivity to aspartame, and also a related food additive, MSG, which isn't a lot of things, but if I have too much of it, I'll get a headache, honestly and it'll actually impact my sleeping. That's why I was interested in writing a paper on it in college.
Anyway, when he told me this, I was like, “Very interesting. Let's have an experiment.” The experiment was no Diet Coke. It's very stimulating between the aspartame and also the caffeine and caffeinated beverages. He was like, “Well, that's easy enough.” He swapped that out for something decaf and not artificially sweetened. Wouldn't you know it, he came back into my office the next week, and he was like, “We figured it out.” That whole experience was really incredibly interesting to me but also very humbling because here I was, and I can't beat myself up too much about this because we only know what we know at the time, but we had been working on anxiety together in therapy for quite a while.
He was coming in every week, I was taking his money to help him figure this out and was really working very hard to teach him all these cognitive-behavioral strategies that I thought should work. But there was a physical component to his experience that was really creating a lot of these anxious thoughts, anxious feelings, anxiety physical symptoms that were consistent with anxiety: sleeplessness, racing heart, breathlessness, all the things. Until we removed that physically-based variable, he wasn't going to feel better no matter what we did in therapy.
I wanted to share that story with you to illustrate the point and the importance of really understanding the mind-body connection in a different way. Because it is very easy to spend a lot of time and energy and money trying to resolve what we think are mental health issues, completely overlooking all of these physical components of our lives that can have a huge impact on the way we think and feel. Until we address the physical components, all the therapy in the world isn't going to change it that much. That is a hard fact for card-carrying therapists like me to acknowledge. Again, it's humbling, but it's also so true. Since this client, I have seen that be true time and time again.
Now, when I am working with a new client particularly, a new client who has any kind of mood symptoms, I start with the physical stuff and ask a lot of questions to see if there are any easy stuff we can experiment with. It might have dramatic impacts on the way they're feeling and that don't involve coming into therapy with me for six months every week because that would be fantastic. Not that I'm not super interesting and fun to talk to, just kidding, but really, we're here for a reason.
That has been an important lesson, and what has also been an equally important and humbling lesson are people that I have worked with over the years who have very, very real chronic health conditions that are not in their heads. They are very real, they are actual physical symptoms that do require treatment. When we unpack this, the reason why they are having those physical symptoms is often, at least in part, due to the way they are thinking and the way they are feeling emotionally and also because of things that they have experienced in their lives like historical trauma. It comes out in the body in very interesting ways years later.
They have been working with all these medical professionals to resolve all these physical symptoms that again, are real. They are not making them up. They are real things that are happening and yet, it's only when they do this deeper work in therapy to figure out some of their internal processes, and learn how to think differently, learn how to manage their emotions in a different way or process their trauma, these physical symptoms will melt away. Again, sometimes, in very dramatic ways.
Being able to understand this interplay, I think, is incredibly important for everyone to understand because sometimes, the most direct route for helping ourselves feel better, both emotionally or physically, can be really different than what we think is the answer. Like my client: “I have anxiety; therefore, I should go to therapy.” Makes perfect sense, when the answer was actually something completely different. Here are some of the highlights that I'm going to share with you, things that I have learned over the years.
Improving Mind-Body Connection Wellness
I just made a little, shortlist for you, especially heading into the winter, things that I would like for you to be thinking about and experimenting with, if you notice that you are starting to feel low, or tired, or stressed out, or even a little bit more anxious. Or even if you have been feeling that way even before winter happened, Lord knows there are all kinds of things for all of us to be stressed out and low about these days in the world. If you were my client coming in being like, “Lisa, I don't feel good,” I would be wanting to know a few things.
First of all, and this is a real easy one, when was the last time you just had a physical, just a basic physical and your doctor does a blood panel and also maybe even does an assessment of your vitamin levels? We know that being low in certain vitamins and nutrients like iron, if you are low in iron or anemic, you will feel depressed. You will be exhausted and foggy and like, “Ugh, I can't.” Wouldn't it be simple to take an iron supplement or eat more spinach and feel 10x better without coming in talking to a therapist for six months? Sometimes, these things are just super easy. Iron is one of them, vitamin D is one of them.
As I was mentioning at the top of this episode, particularly if you are like me, I sit in an office all day, basically like a little mushroom festering in my dark office. I need to be sure that I take a vitamin D supplement and make it a point to: “Yes, I wear sunscreen, but also get outside.” Your body creates vitamin D, it synthesizes vitamin D through your skin, so when you get sunlight, a substantial amount of sunlight, it changes your vitamin D levels. That is one of the hypotheses around seasonal affective disorder, is that people in the northern hemisphere, their vitamin D levels drop and this is true for everyone.
There's also fascinating research on the impact of your gut health and your mood. Fascinatingly, your digestive tract is the second-largest manufacturer of serotonin in your body. Depending on your microflora, so probiotics, prebiotics, it can really have a substantial impact on the way that you're feeling. I don't know if this has been conducted on humans, but in mice, this is kind of gross, but researchers took happy mice as evidenced by being energetic and kind of curious and licking each other and running around their cages, and unhappy mice that were sort of just sitting there and not wanting to run around the maze or interact with other mice, the depressed mice.
When they took some fecal materials or poop from the happy mice and seeded the intestinal tract of the depressed mice with the bacteria from the happy mice, the depressed mice became happier because of no other reason than the flora of their intestines. Again, very, very interesting to consider these implications and taking a probiotic every day is pretty easy to do for most people. Again, please don't start doing or taking supplements or things that might not be a good idea for you specifically based on my advice. I am not your doctor, but go get some blood tests, see if there's anything there. Vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, if you are deficient in magnesium, you will feel anxious. It's just a sort of straight line of magnesium and anxiety symptoms.
Those are all really easily modified things. It is as easy as taking a vitamin every morning or getting more sunlight. Talk to your doctor about that if you think that it might be a thing for you, or if you don't have any known reason to not take a good vitamin supplement, especially during the winter, it's something you might want to consider. Also, there's some evidence that fish oil supplements can have an impact on mood and that can be another just super easy thing.
Another thing that many people do not know about, I did not know about this, is the dramatic impact that even mild levels of dehydration can have on the way that you feel cognitively and emotionally. If you are stressed out at work, there are lots of things that you could do, but try drinking a big glass of water. It's so interesting, even if you are not even aware that you are thirsty, there have been so many studies. People who are just the tiniest bit dehydrated will experience more subjective stress, they will perceive things as being more difficult and complicated than they do after as compared to when they're well hydrated. They have this brain fog kind of experience so it's super real, and it's super easy, so drink more water.
Body Health and Mind
Then also, there can be other things that are a little bit sneakier to sort of ferret out. For example, if I have somebody come in and say, “You know what? I think I have ADHD.” First of all, ADHD is so real and it is underdiagnosed for a lot of people, particularly women. When somebody shows up and is like, “I want to talk about this,” I first asked them about how they're sleeping and have on more than one occasion, referred somebody out for a sleep apnea test and they have come back and said, “Yeah, I had sleep apnea, and I didn't even realize it.” They got their sleep apnea symptoms treated and then “ADHD” was no longer a thing.
There are also some interesting, and I won't go through all of them, but if you use an asthma inhaler, that can create ADHD-like symptoms because of the effects of the medication. If you have recently been ill, or have gone through surgery, or broken a leg, or something like that, your body will, by default, create an actual, essentially a depressive episode to protect you while you're healing. There's something called the sickness response.
Your body is an incredible machine that has over hundreds of thousands of years evolved to keep you alive. That's the number one priority. And it has many interesting ways of doing that and one of them is that when you get sick or when you have been injured, your body will make you feel very, very low, emotionally. It will change the way you think. You will become more pessimistic. You'll feel more hopeless and helpless. You will not want to go anywhere. You will not want to do anything. You will feel tired. That is all of the criteria for major depressive disorder.
It is your body's highly adaptive evolutionary response to keep you in your house, not circulating amongst people that might give you additional germs or to protect you from risking injuring your body again while you're in the process of healing. I've had so many clients come to me after an illness or a surgery and like, “I don't know what's wrong with me.” It's been three weeks or a month later and they have done quite a bit towards healing but they were genuinely surprised to learn that this was a thing.
They thought it was depression with a capital D, and I think it just helped them to understand like, “No, you can expect that and it's a good thing that this happens. Your body is keeping you alive; it's doing its job.” The period after having a child, the postpartum period, is similar to that, so there are all kinds of interesting physically-based changes in your body and some of them are vitamin deficiencies but also based on your circumstances and your overall health, that can really dramatically change your emotional state and the way that you think.
It is also true, again, that people will commonly experience very, very real physical symptoms that are, again, I want to say, this not in your head. I think that people who hear that physical symptoms, there is a relationship with what is going on inside of them psychologically, it feels very invalidating. It feels like they're being told that they're just making it up or that it's not real; it's all in your head. I just want to say very clearly, that is not true. There are physical symptoms. Anybody who has ever had IBS, shingles, or high blood pressure, or God forbid, a heart attack will tell you that these are actual physical conditions that require treatment, and that they benefit from being treated. There are medications and things that help with this.
How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health
What I think is not as well-realized is the impact of the way we feel day-to-day and what that does to all of our sort of physical systems. I think what is also not well-understood is the impact of the way that we think on our emotions and then the impact of our mood state on the way that we think. It's very circular. For example, going back to is the example of anxiety, when we begin to feel anxious, as we often do, being humans, again, we're created to survive in this world and part of that is being vigilant for danger, we're not often in actual physical danger most of the time.
We are relatively safe: we are sitting in our offices, making podcasts, talking to people, eating our breakfast, driving a car, nothing bad is happening. Because we are so smart and creative, we have these gigantic human brains that are so good at going into the future or replaying events of the past and thinking if this, then that. We are solving potential problems. We are paying attention to what is coming down the pipeline. And we need to finish that assignment by this day so I can do x, y, z. Our brains are always working on stuff and trying to anticipate problems or kind of think: what could be a problem.
Truly, the problem is that because you are so intelligent and creative, and this is actually worse for people who are exceptionally intelligent and creative, you're good at envisioning things. Particularly if you are a visual thinker, you won't just think about the impact of missing a work assignment sort of generally. You will see your boss's face and see this little mental movie of the consequences of x, y, z or visualize your car skidding off the road into a ditch.
The issue is that the part of our brains that feel emotions, your brain is built in layers, there's a thinking part of your brain, and then there's a totally different part of your brain that generates emotions based on what's going on in the world around you. That older emotional part of your brain cannot tell the difference between things that you're thinking about and things that are actually happening.
When you play a mental movie of your car flying off a cliff or your car is actually flying off a cliff, the part of your brain that feels will experience those things similarly. What happens is that the part of your brain that feels emotions will just be like, “Oh my gosh, my car is going off a cliff!” And will squeeze out all these adaptive survival-based hormones, your endocrine system, squirts out adrenaline, cortisol, your breathing speeds up, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tense. You're preparing for impact.
You just had a thought in your head, right? You're not actually going off a cliff but your body is like, “No, we're here. We're going to survive this.” Your body is having all these reactions. It changes many things in your body. It changes the way you digest food. It changes the way your immune system works. It changes your circulatory system. You're all awash in adrenaline now. Your body is in a totally different space, and this impacts many physical systems in your body: your digestive process, it impacts what is happening in terms of your blood pressure or your cardiovascular health, migraines, all these things are totally related.
A fascinating study that came a while ago was conducted on two groups of people, as the best research studies are. A control group had a small, superficial skin injury put on their arm. They basically scuffed the surface of their arm, went down a layer or two of skin, put a bandaid on, and sent them home. The second group of people was identified as being chronically stressed. I think that they may have been caregivers, primary caregivers to people or partners, or possibly parents with dementia, hard stuff, but same deal. They scuffed up their skin, put a bandaid on them, sent them home, and then brought them back to measure how quickly their body was healing.
You might imagine that people who were living in that day-to-day stress all the time had a lot of stuff to worry about, their bodies literally healed more slowly than those of people who weren't bathing in that stressful broth every single day. The impacts of this stuff are somewhat facetiously, but as real as a heart attack.
Even in the 1950s and 1960s when this stuff was sort of first being explored, cardiologists would notice that they had to change the upholstery on the chairs in their waiting room a lot more often than the pediatrist next door because they had their type-A high-risk cardiac patients who were super stressed out about things. They were worrying. They were fidgety. They were like, “My appointment was supposed to start five minutes ago,” going up and demanding to be seen at the reception desk.
That's sort of the stereotypical personality of somebody who has a more increased chance of having a heart attack, and it's because of the way they think, the way they feel, the way they relate to others, and the long term chronic impact that this has on what is happening in their body. This is true for all kinds of things. There's a well-researched assessment, it's called the ACE, which explores adverse childhood experiences, aka childhood trauma.
If you have a high score on the ACE, so you've lived through really difficult scary things as a child, it is strongly associated with all kinds of long-term health consequences. Some of the thinking behind it is that when people experience serious trauma in childhood, it changes the way they're wired physiologically to a degree: being more vigilant, anticipating something bad happening.
There's a good reason for that but it also shows up in health, and often, it's not until that earlier trauma is addressed and resolved that people can heal from things like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. These disorders are strongly associated with early childhood trauma. All this stuff is just so real and worth not just thinking about but working on.
If you are dealing with physical symptoms and you are seeing a doctor and maybe you're getting what you need out of that, fantastic, just consider though that if it's along the lines of anxiety, or depression, or some of these chronic illnesses that show up in your intestinal tract, cardiovascular stuff, whole body kinds of issues, it may be worth talking to a psychologist just to see. You might just wander in and be like, “Here's what's going on,” and they give you an assessment, you walk back out again, nothing changes, that's fine, but what if there is something that is worth talking about?
You can keep seeing medical doctors and keep doing the treatment and you should, and if you're not getting the results that you want, just consider that there could be other things to investigate, I guess, is what I want to say.
Healthy Mind and Body
These things are all real and they're also very circular in nature. For example, one of the things that I've noticed in my own life and with a lot of clients is the impact of three things, in particular, both mentally and physically. Probably the biggest one is sleep, I would say. When you don't get enough sleep, your body changes in response to this. Again, everything that happens in your body pretty much is either to keep you alive or to procreate. When it gets very down to the basics, that's why we're here.
When you consider that if your body is physically stressed, like not getting enough sleep, your body, when it is elevated, it physiologically changes the way you think for you without being asked. It is not in your direct control but when your body is like, “Oh, there's something's going on; there is a threat,” your mind goes into almost vigilance response. Your mind starts looking around for possible problems and scanning your environment for: “What are the bad things that could happen? What should I be worried about? What is going to be really hard? What is just not going to work out?” That problem-focused possible threats, you are designed to do that, it is not your fault.
Everybody's body disorder does this automatically when they are physically stressed but the problem is that because you are so smart and creative, you will always find something that could be a threat, or could be a problem, or could be a thing to worry about. Since your mind is kind of primed to do that thinking, you will think about that a lot. As a consequence, it will reinforce this physiological, elevated state that will then make your mind even more hyper-focused on the problems and the threats and the things that aren't working out, that aren't going to work out: “This is what's going to happen and it's going to be so bad.”
When you have that kind of inner thought loop happening in your mind, that is strongly associated with depression and with anxiety. When people experience a major depressive disorder or a depressive episode, that is what is happening. Depression changes the way that your brain works. It changes the way that you think. You have a different internal dialogue happening in your mind when you are struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
There is this interplay between those thoughts, what you're telling yourself, what you're envisioning, and blah, blah, blah, and then, the very real impact that has on your body so now you can't sleep. You're up until three o'clock in the morning worrying about all these things and running through the stuff in your head. That reinforces this physical threat, this physical like, “Oh, no, we're in trouble” physiological response in your body that then cranks up the knob on the depressive thoughts and the anxiety thoughts.
That's what happens. Another thing that also happens oftentimes with these is when we feel tired, when we feel low, and we don't have any energy, when we're like, “Oh, no, I can't. I don't have time. I'm so stressed. I have to do all these things for work.” What happens when that goes on in your life? What happens in my life is one of the easiest things for me to cut is exercise. Like, “I don't have time or I don't have energy or it's too cold,” all these things so we don't.
One of the easiest things that any of us can do to combat all of this, both mentally and physiologically, is getting even 20 or 30 minutes of brisk physical activity a day. Walking is just fine. You don't have to go to a gym, you do not have to do anything heroic. You can seriously just jump around with a YouTube exercise video for 20 minutes a day. It has this really significant relaxing effect on your body. When your body relaxes, it starts to relax your mind and make it much easier to shift out of those threat-focused or problem-focused thoughts. It improves your sleep, which then also improves the kind of thoughts that you're having, and your energy levels, which makes it easier to get up like, “Yes, let's do more exercise because I have more energy.” And then, you can think more clearly. You can focus more easily.
When your brain is working better, the things that felt really stressful problems, you're like, “Oh, I'll just make this phone call. It's not that big of a deal.” All of a sudden, you feel so much better because there isn't this looming thing you've been putting off. When you are taking care of your physical health in these really simple ways, there is this interplay that is huge, hugely impactful much more than that the isolated thing.
We think about exercising as being good for our health or sometimes, people exercise to change the way that they look. If that is true for you, I will refer you back to the Love Your Body podcast episode that I did with my colleague Stephanie a while ago. We need to move away from that, but physical exercise has a huge impact on your energy levels and the way that your brain works.
There's also a lot of evidence that getting regular exercise changes the way that your mind works in terms of not just reducing anxiety and depression, although there have been studies that indicate that getting about 30 minutes of exercise a day is around as effective as taking antidepressant medication for reduction of those symptoms. That's something to think about. Also, I just want to say that it is also true that for many people being on medications: antidepressant medications, anti-anxiety medications, or other mood-stabilizing kinds of medications, is a very, very important foundational piece of your overall kind of wellness plan.
I don't want you to hear me say this and think like, “Oh, I should get off my medications because Dr. Lisa said that I could just walk instead.” Don't do that but you might want to consider adding a nice walk to your daily routine. It will help you feel better, it will help you think better, it will give you more energy, it will help you feel more able to solve solvable problems, and you will get a better night's sleep, all of which have this self-supporting positive impact on your wellness on all of these different levels.
Sleep and exercise arehugely important, as is nutrition. Visit with your doctor, see if there's anything easy you could try to make sure that you're getting good nutrition, drinking enough water, keeping an eye on whether or not you're taking supplements that are messing up your kind of low-key stimulating things.
I had another client who could not sleep and it was impacting her so tremendously. Super healthy person, super healthy lifestyle, was not a Diet Coke drinker, no obvious causes, and it took us months to figure out that she was drinking either a shake or it was a supplement, but it had maca. I'm not sure exactly what it was but there was some additive, it was like an herb that for many people probably didn't have any impact at all but for her, it was keeping her up half the night.
One time, gosh, it's been a while ago but I experimented once with taking St. John's wort, which kept me up all night. I had the weirdest reaction to it. Just look around like, “Are there any herbal supplements or things that I'm taking?” Easy thing to experiment with. If you're having trouble sleeping or if you're struggling with anxiety and you are taking a supplement, what happens if you don't take the supplement for a week? Like that camping trip: “Here's how I feel when I do it. Here's how I feel when I don't.” Then we can have an ABA test. “Now, I'm going to start taking it again and now, what do I notice?” It's okay to have little experiments with yourself.
Sound Mind in a Sound Body
Also, do not underestimate the power of your mind to change the way that you feel. Very well established that the way we think creates our emotional reaction to everything. Nothing means anything until you decide what it means and when you have control over how you're going to interpret whatever's happening in your life, you automatically have an enormous amount of control over the way that you feel. When you're in control over the way you feel, it has a positive impact, not just on your physical health, but also on your behaviors.
When we have certain feelings, for example, when you feel worried about something or scared about something, the behavior associated with that is to avoid it, which makes perfect sense if it is an actual threat. But if it is a project assignment that you need to get done for work, and the way that you are thinking about it makes it feel really intense and stressful and overwhelming emotionally, the response will be to avoid that and procrastinate, which will not just make you feel more stressed, but it may actually lead to adverse consequences in your life if you start missing deadlines. Then, you feel really bad.
Being able to figure out, “How am I thinking?” And I say that like it's very easy to do like we should all be able to sort that out, but the method of doing that is through either cognitive behavioral therapy. The cognitive part being operative here, which helps you understand, “How am I thinking? What are my core beliefs? What am I telling myself? And how do I intentionally shift that in order to feel better and to get better results in my life?”
There's cognitive behavioral therapy, there's also such a thing as cognitive-behavioral coaching, which is where therapy is the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. If you have arrived in a space where you actually do have major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder that is quite entrenched, and it's impacting your ability to function, you need cognitive-behavioral therapy.
If you're resonating with what I'm saying today and don't have an actual mental health diagnosis but want to make improvements in these areas, I would suggest cognitive-behavioral coaching, which is not focused so much on symptom reduction, but it's really helping you figure out just all of these different elements. “Holistically, what is the interplay between how I am thinking and how I am feeling, and how does my mood state impact my thoughts? And then, what happens to my physical process when I'm thinking and feeling this way? And then, when I'm in this physical state, what is the impact that is having on my mind and my body?” Hugely interesting and I think very useful and very productive for most of us.
When I personally start not feeling so great, I've learned this over the years, “Okay, what's changed? What am I doing? What am I telling myself? Am I exercising? No, I'm not exercising. Yeah, I need to go do that.” Very reliably, usually within a short amount of time, it really changes the way that I feel. I've seen this work so many times for my clients, and I think it can work for you too.
I really hope that this episode, this time we spent together today has given you some ideas for how to support yourself on every level, particularly heading into winter. I hope you experiment with them and see what kind of impact they have, and I would always love to hear about your outcomes or any follow-up questions that you have for me. If you want to leave comments, the post for this podcast is going to be growingself.com/mind-body-connection.
You can cruise on over, leave comments for me, or get in touch through Instagram, or email on email@example.com, orInstagram: @drlisamariebobby. Leave your follow-up questions or comments so I can address them and thank you, again, for spending this time with me today. I will be back in touch next week with more love, happiness, and success advice for you, and here's more Fake Names with Darkest Days.
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