How to Read People

How to Read People

How to Read People

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Nothing to Hide” by Allah-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.

If your goal is to increase your emotional intelligence, develop empathy for others, and improve your relationships, getting familiar with how to decode facial expressions is a worthy endeavor. 

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! 

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Read People

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How to Read People: Episode Highlights

Reading People

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:

  1. Perceiving emotions in oneself and others
  2. Understanding the emotions
  3. 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:

  1. What is said is what is felt.
  2. What is said has some distance from what is felt.
  3. What is said is not what is felt.
  4. 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 telling them 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.

Emotional Intelligence and Your Relationships

Emotional intelligence can teach you how to be more vulnerable in relationships, which can lead to closer connections, more satisfying bonds, improved leadership skills, and more. 

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. 

Projecting Emotions

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. 

Resources for How to Read People:

  • Get Dr. Dan Hill’s books, “Famous Faces Decoded” and “Blah, Blah, Blah” on his website.
  • Improve Emotional Intelligence (Podcast)
  • 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.

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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.

Facial Coding

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.

[Outro song: Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las]


Emotional Flooding

Emotional Flooding

Emotional Flooding

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Urgent Blowout” by Brandy

Emotional Flooding

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. 

Flooding Psychology

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

Emotional Flooding

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Emotional Flooding: Episode Highlights

Emotional Flooding – Defined

Many do not realize that they are emotionally 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 to apologize 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.

Resources: Emotional Flooding

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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.

[Outro song: Urgent Blowout by Brandy]


Self-Limiting Beliefs

Self-Limiting Beliefs

Self-Limiting Beliefs

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. 
  • Find out why emotional safety is necessary for growth.
  • Identify examples of self-limiting behavior.
  • Learn how you can overcome your self-limiting beliefs.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Self-Limiting Beliefs: Episode Highlights

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. And once 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: 

  • Inhibition
  • Paralysis
  • Inaction
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling like you can’t move forward

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.

[Outro song: Gaga by Julian St. Nightmare]


How To Be More Confident

How To Be More Confident

How to Build Confidence In Yourself

How to be more confident? If you have (like so many others) ever struggled with feelings of self-doubt or compared yourself to others, you know that feeling confident can seem elusive. While wanting to be “better” can feel like motivation for personal growth or self-improvement, sometimes this self-criticism can actually impede your personal development.

Consider the paradox of wanting to be more confident: When we don’t feel as confident as we think we should, it then becomes just another thing to beat ourselves up about. “I'm not as confident as other people!” Or, “I should feel more confident than I do!” Oh, the irony! But learning how to build confidence becomes much easier and more attainable when we stop seeking to “feel” confident and feeling bad about ourselves when we don't and, instead, start focusing on our relationship with ourselves. 

Self Confidence … Through Self Compassion

Does your relationship with yourself feel healthy and supportive? Do you know how to love yourself, and compassionately coach yourself through challenging life experiences? Or do you beat yourself up, judge yourself, or inwardly criticize or condemn yourself as you go throughout your daily life? 

The path to learning how to be more confident means learning how to have a healthier relationship with yourself.

Stop Beating Yourself Up

For people who struggle with confidence or have low self-esteem, their harsh inner critic can feel like the part of yourself that “really knows the truth.” It can feel like it’s trying to help you be better, by pointing out your flaws or shortcomings. But what we know is that growth requires emotional safety and support. If your inner critic is always tearing you down and making you feel bad, it becomes paralyzing. If you’re constantly making mistakes and doing the wrong thing, it feels like you can’t do anything: Not even the things that would help you grow and heal. 

Then you’re stuck! 

How to Build Confidence In Yourself — Compassionately

The key to creating self-confidence is learning how to have an emotionally safe relationship with yourself. This is a personal growth process that can be a journey to cultivate, for sure. But the rewards are enormous. Not only will you feel more confident, but this type of deep personal development work can also help you feel more optimistic, better able to meet challenges competently, and — perhaps even most importantly — improve your relationships with others too.

But how? How to build confidence through developing a relationship with yourself? On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m pleased to do a deep dive into this topic with my guest, Dr. Aziz Gazapura. Dr. Aziz is a psychologist specializing in social anxiety and self confidence, and he’s sharing his insights with us today. 

I hope you join us for this episode, which is essentially a “masterclass” in how to be more confident. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or right here. If you’re more of a reader than a listener, scroll down to find shownotes and a transcript below. 

Xo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Be More Confident

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Freedom” by The Originals

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How To Be More Confident: Podcast Show Notes

  • Why Is Confidence Important?
    • Confidence is essential to having emotional freedom to take risks, successfully manage challenges, and create authentic and meaningful relationships.
    • One of the primary reasons that people struggle with confidence and low self-esteem is that they have a harsh inner critic that’s making them feel terrible about themselves.
    • How to Be More Confident By Being Kind to Yourself
      • Confidence is an inside job.
      • The art of building confidence in yourself is akin to developing a positive, healthy relationship with yourself.
      • This allows you to feel secure from the inside out: You can take risks, try new things, and allow yourself to be authentically vulnerable. 
    • Building Confidence By Being On Your Own Side
      • As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where you become more “on your own side.”
      • This endeavor does not need to be a one-man job. If it feels difficult to “talk back” to your inner critic, that can be a sign that you could benefit from the support of a therapist or coach.
    • Breaking Free from False Self-Protection
      • Often, it feels like the inner critic inside our heads is trying to protect us from harm or danger.
      • However, they’re an outdated protective strategy that feeds us information that is not necessarily true. It holds you back. 
  • Social Anxiety vs. Lack of Self Confidence
    • Signs of Social Anxiety
      • Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
      • The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance. However, the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront them.
    • Social Anxiety is a Verb, Not a Noun
      • Rather than having social anxiety, think of it as doing social anxiety. 
      • It is reversible as long as you put in the effort to break free of your patterns.
  • How to Build Confidence in Yourself
    • Self Confidence: Be Willing to Fail Forward
      • The more you are willing to make mistakes, the quicker you’ll develop the skills that help you feel confident and competent.
    • Forge Verified Faith
      • Once you’ve practiced your social skills a number of times, you’ll be willing to take more risks. 
      • You then get faith in yourself that you can do it. 
    • Be Authentic, Not Nice
      • When you’re more focused on being nice, you approach people from a place of fear, not genuine love and connection. 
      • Doing this can build up resentment since you are unable to express your own needs and emotions.
    • Consider Therapy for Low Self-Esteem
      • Therapy is a good place to start. Your therapist can guide you through a systematic approach to build your confidence. 
  • Making Assumptions
    • We Attract What We Project
      • We're in an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. 
      • So when we have self-critical thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us. 
    • Negative Assumptions Are a Sign of Low Self Esteem
      • Most of us assume that people are against us because we are against ourselves. 
      • Initiate a dialogue with your inner voice so you can combat this chronic assumption. 
  • Building Confidence From The Inside Out
    • Cultivating a growth mindset that allows you to experiment and practice (with a minimum of self-judgment) is key to building 

[Intro Song]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. You're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

[Intro Song]

Dr. Lisa: My guest today on this episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is Dr. Aziz Gazipura. Dr. Aziz has a background in clinical psychology but he's a real expert in confidence. He's here to talk with us today about why self-confidence is important and really kind of unpacking that term with us because we hear all the time from every direction that we should be more self-confident; we should have higher self-esteem. For people that struggle with this, that quickly turns into just one more thing that makes them feel badly about themselves, like, “Oh, god, no, I'm not confident enough.” So we really want to dive into this topic to explore what the impact of confidence is in one direction or another, on life, on relationships, on a career. Dr. Aziz, as a real expert on this subject, I'm so pleased you can join us today to share his wisdom with you. Thank you, Dr. Aziz.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Bobby. I do think that's ironic, right? Someone's feeling maybe a little bit low about themselves or anxious, and then they have this idea, “I should be more confident… urghh I'm not”, and then made worse. So that's, I mean, I'm so glad we're having this conversation. I did start by clearing that one up. So people are free.

Dr. Lisa: Let's just start there. Because it's true. I mean, I think people that struggle with self-confidence, which is, okay, hi, everyone, right? But doubts themselves from time to time. Like, there's always this giant list of things that we all need to be we all need to do. And now we have 75, self-anointed life coaches, and our Instagram feed every day jumping up and down, telling us that we should like ourselves more, be more confident. And it's just like, “Oh, okay, great. Why, why is that even important?”

How to be Kind to Yourself

Dr. Aziz: Sure. Well, I mean, from subjectively our own experience, I like to think of it as a relationship. If you imagine having a relationship with a friend or family member or a spouse, and what is the quality of that relationship? Is it are you connected? Are you distant? Are you loving and kind and patient? Are you impatient and frustrated and critical? And there's really no difference with the relationship with ourselves. 

We are either distant and disconnected and kind of zoned out and not really present with ourselves or we can be harsh, critical, impatient, judging, angry. When we live that way, whether it's a relationship with someone in your life or relationship with yourself, when you're living that way, it's painful. It can be limiting. It feeling bad aside, it also can be very restricting and limiting to your life because when you're feeling low about yourself, you're feeling like you are unworthy or unlovable, you're not going to take risks. You're not going to put yourself out there. You're not going to really live up to what you want to do and what you want to create in life. So I think it has a kind of a one-two punch effect on us when our confidence and self-esteem is low.

Dr. Lisa: I am so glad we're talking about this, this way and in this language because I think you said something just so insightful, which is really like that self-confidence, right? To be self-confident to be in this almost mood state of self-confidence. It's like people think that that means that they need to feel a certain way; they need to project themselves differently to others. It's almost like how they should be out in the world is air quote, self-confident. 

But I love the way that you're talking about this in terms that I think is much easier to understand, like more relatable, which is that let's just toss that self-confidence term out the window. Almost what we're really talking about, is the quality of the relationship that you have with yourself. Is it supportive? Is it patient? Is it kind? Or are you being mean to yourself harsh with yourself, beating yourself up, tearing yourself down? How does your relationship with yourself contribute to how you feel in relationships with others?

Dr. Aziz: It is the most important thing in a lot of ways because everyone can just use this as a little thought experiment. Imagine yourself spending a day with someone that you love, maybe it's a lover or a close friend or your spouse of 15 years. You guys got a little date time away from the kids and you're out in a beautiful park or near a waterfall or going to the movies or whatever you love to do with someone that you love. And I say, “Well, great, how are you feeling? What's that day like?”, and you say, “Well, inside my head, I'm judging myself, I don't think I look very good. I don't. My clothes don't fit well, and I'm boring. You know, I'm worried about what's going to happen next, because I'm not good enough.” 

It doesn't matter what you're doing. It doesn't matter who you're with. It's pain, it's suffering. So if we don't get a handle on that, if we don't learn how to work with that, those voices in our head, critical side of us, our insecure parts, if they run the show, if it dominates us, then we're going to suffer and of course, our relationships are going to suffer too, right? Because we're not coming out as our best or most free self, we're going to be a lot more restricted, a lot more guarded, a lot more inhibited. So it makes all the difference. 

I do think that thinking of it that way, as a relationship with yourself, I often say confidence is an inside job. Because if people confuse that persona, that bravado, that appearance of confidence, the people that like really puff that up, actually, and you probably know this from your work and everything. It's like the inverse inside, they're the most insecure; it's a compensation. So we want to step away from needing to look confident or be anxious inside and actually say, “Okay, how do we fundamentally approach ourselves and life so that we can truly feel more relaxed, more accepted, more acceptable, and then more courageous, to move forward and really connect with others in a deeper way?” 

Dr. Lisa: I love that. Just to hear you talk like you speak about this. So insightfully and so compassionately, and I hope that this is okay to ask about, just in looking through your materials, you mentioned that at an earlier point in your own life, it sounds like you struggled to have a good relationship with yourself and I can only imagine the amount of empathy and just genuine understanding that must have come from that experience. Is it okay to ask you about that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, that is the source of not only my empathy for this and understanding but also my endless hunger to serve in this way. Because I experienced firsthand for many years, what it was like to live with pretty severe social anxiety and all of its cousins that people might not notice. But excessive niceness, people-pleasing, excessive guilt, worrying constantly of what other people think of me. So even after I got past some pretty strong inhibition and avoidance, and kind of broke through to the next level of at least appearing a little bit more confident, I was really tormented and suffered a lot with this relationship with myself. With that led to was this endless, obsessive hunger to say, “Well, how do I liberate myself from this? How do I? I was in therapy, and I go to workshops, I go to trainings, and I would always be listening specifically for that, “How do I like myself? How do I stop this critical beast in my head that seems like I don't, I'm not in control of it?”

Over time, fortunately, with enough growth and exploration, I was able to really discover how to shift that. We could talk more about that in this interview. But the beautiful thing is, I say, confidence is an inside job and we need other people. It's this beautiful synergy, right? I didn't really fully free myself. I mean, look, of course, we all have self-criticism, we all have some self-doubts. I'm not saying that that's gone forever. But I mean, it's night and day different the way I live my relationship with myself now, and it's not where it is today because I just did it all myself. It's truly other people. It's listening to shows like this. It's reading books. It's doing the work. 

As we do that, and as we take the risk to be more real and more vulnerable, as we change the way we talk to ourselves, we treat ourselves, you can experience a fundamental shift in the way that, I encapsulate this with people that I work with now, as I call it being on my own side. And in fact, the people I work with, the groups that I run, it kind of had, they came up with its own acronym, OMOS, on my own side, OMOS. That's a common phrase people will talk about is how you know how to be more on my own side because when we're on our sides that's kind of another way of saying what we're talking about here. So yes, I made a shift in my life from being many years very not on my own side, very against myself, to fundamentally residing where my center of gravity now is on my own side.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.  I'm glad that you bring up the part about how hard it is to do on their own, because it's almost like you're lost in this forest almost with this person who's mean to you and like telling you all these terrible things about yourself. I think that when you are alone in that, it's very easy to get tricked into believing that that mean voice is true. I think it requires a connection with somebody else, at least in the beginning stages of this journey to say, “No, don't listen to them. That is not true. Let me show you how to think differently or what to do to talk back to that inner voice.” It's very difficult to do that without someone almost like coming in to get you, and I want to say that out loud. Because again, I think a lot of times people believe that they should be able to do these things on their own, or like read a blog article or listen to a podcast and be like, “Okay, I know what I should do, now.” I just want to say that it's very hard to do this. It's one thing to hear what you should do, or what helps, but the doing of it is a collective endeavor, I think.

Dr. Aziz: Yes. The whole purpose of this inner critic, that's something I became very fascinated by, like, what's going on? This seems so maladaptive. This seems so not healthy, like what's going on. What I've discovered over time is… I love this idea of being in the woods being in the forest, and you got this character next to you that's criticizing you. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Dr. Aziz: But it actually as sort of purposeless as it might seem, just mean or it actually has a very specific function. The way I guide clients to see this, I said, “Well, what if that voice were true? You know, and it's, you're ugly, and you're not smart enough, and you're not gonna succeed?”, and all these things, like, if we were just to say, “Okay, let’s take it at face value, it's all true. Where is it steering you towards in your life?” When people reflect on this, what they often find is it is guiding them to downsize their life. To avoid risk, avoid stepping into the unknown, avoid trying new things, avoid connecting, avoid being vulnerable, and really kind of keep life as contained, armored, and small as possible, and so dense. 

Dr. Lisa: Protective

Dr. Aziz: It's a protective voice. Absolutely. It's an outdated, protective strategy to survive through basically armoring up and avoiding life. What's very helpful to see that, because once you start to notice it's actually the first step because all of a sudden, imagine you've had this character with you for years in the woods, and you think, maybe you think, “Oh, it's a jerk”, but you also think it's looking out for you. It's giving you real information. It's, maybe, it's even a friend or…

Dr. Lisa:  It's truth.

Dr. Aziz: It's a truth. All of a sudden, people start to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute”, and often tell like that's, I call it the safety police. It's trying to keep you safe by corralling you. I'll say that your safety police is not the voice of truth. It's a propaganda campaign to keep you in the woods to keep you out of your life. This brings us to other people because the safety police will love to say, “First of all, you know, you're screwed. Sorry, you're over. It's your genes. It's your family. It's your history. It's your age, it's your appearances, whatever, don't even try. And by the way, don't tell anybody about this, because you're so messed up. If people knew how messed up you are, they certainly wouldn't love you. So you got to work this out on your own. Just go read a blog article, listen to a thing, don't tell anybody.” Honestly, that's doomed to fail. We can get a little bit of insight, we can get a little bit of growth. 

I'm a big believer in education. That's why you have this podcast. I do my own. To really transform this in a fundamental way, we got to involve other people and it doesn't have to be so it could be paid help or counseling or groups. It could also just be like, “Okay, I'm going to read this book, but I'm going to talk about it with my friend, I'm going to talk about it to my spouse.” There so many people I come across who come into my world who want to do coaching or the things and they're like, “I can't tell my spouse” I'm like, “Okay”, I meet them where they're at. I make a note on like, “That's a problem.” because if you have so much shame, about the anxiety that you can't even tell the person extensively that you're closest with, that's a red flag that we want to make sure that we address so over time. You can because you're afraid right now, but that's going to be the biggest source of healing and liberation, to bring other people into your world and your safety police who's in the woods with you is going to yell ‘til it's blue in the face, saying, “Don't let anyone in. Don't let anyone. It's too dangerous.”

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to be able to have a corrective emotional experience where you are emotionally intimate and vulnerable with someone who does love you and who is able to receive that in a healing kind of way is so transformational. I just also want to say out loud for the benefit of people listening to this who might not be in that situation is that it does also require an emotionally safe relationship. But I see that not everyone and not every relationship is ready for that kind of authenticity as powerful as it is. 

So as a couples counselor, one of the things we have to do sometimes, as people sort of grow together, like pacing themselves on each side because it can be very unhelpful, even damaging if people are like, “Okay, I'm ready to share and be vulnerable with you now” with a partner who is angry with them or not ready to receive them in that way. There can be I think, some couples work that needs to happen in order for it to be a good experience, and not another bad experience that supports that she is your safety police is then like, “I'm never doing that again.” I think that's what can be really confusing for people sometimes. 

Signs of Social Anxiety

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so let's talk about this. One of the reasons that I wanted to speak with you is that in addition to your workaround like confidence in coaching. You have a background in clinical psychology and you've done a lot of researching and writing on the subject of social anxiety, which is, it's in the DSM, and it is sort of in that more disordered realm. I'm curious to know, how you would characterize serious for real social anxiety as being different from a confidence problem. How did you articulate that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's really a matter of degree when it comes to social anxiety. I think everyone experiences social anxiety. All that means is we feel fear of other humans. That's really what it means. And typically, it's a fear of being judged, disliked, rejected, and that underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy, unlovable. So that rejection means something damning about us because if someone is like, “Oh, yeah, someone might not like me, but I know that I'm okay.” or “I know that I'm worthwhile.” or “I know that I'm, even if I'm not good at this thing, I'm still a worthy human”, then the person's probably not gonna experience my social anxiety.

They might feel a bit of nervousness or something but it's a different ballgame. So there, we need those. Those are the sort of the fundamental agreements, and not agreements, ingredients for social anxiety. Again, we all know that experience, maybe it's at a party, maybe it's with someone you find attractive, maybe it's with a boss or a supervisor in authority, maybe it's in front of a group of people. I mean, people don't call public speaking social anxiety, when they're afraid to speak in front of a group. But that's what it is that some are afraid of this group of people. The more people, the more there's the potential judgment. Now, I'm more scared. So I think it's pretty prevalent. It's very common. Everyone's got it. It's just a matter of where and how often and how much does it come up for you. 

Now, most people, it comes up in certain areas, and then they feel more relaxed when they're not in that environment. When it starts to get into the more chronic or severe social anxiety, it follows you everywhere you go. You're nervous in a group of people. You're nervous on a date, or if it's severe enough, you might not even engage in these activities, you might not date, which is what I did, I didn't date for many years. I didn't speak up in groups. I wouldn't raise my hand. I wouldn't do all these things. Because the primary way that we deal with it when we're a lot of social anxiety is avoidance. Scary, it feels bad, so I want to avoid it. The problem with that is, the way avoidance works is the more we avoid something, the harder it becomes to confront it. Because we don't have experiences, we don't have evidence that we can handle it, all we see is it's dangerous. I avoided it. Glad I got out of that danger, better avoid it again next time.

To make things worse, the story is if I did speak up, if I did share, if I did ask that person that whatever it is, I would go terribly wrong. By never testing it, we solidify these stories of lack or not enough or unlovability. When people someone's got a long pattern of social anxiety, which the average person with social anxiety, more severe case of it will not seek any help for 10 years. That's unfortunate. That was my case, too. But what I love about social anxiety is though it is such a… people think of it as like a solid thing or “this is who I am, this is my genes” and it is so different than that is so much a pattern. It is a specific pattern that we run. I like to think of it more as a verb than a noun. So it's, I am doing social anxiety and as long as I do these certain patterns, I will have social anxiety and someone who just has more severe diagnosable social anxieties, “Oh, you've just done the patterns for longer and more environments and it's completely changeable. It's completely resolvable” And that doesn't matter. 

I've worked with people that had social anxiety for 40 years, and I've worked with people where it just kind of started to get out of control, maybe in the last year or two. Regardless, it can be changed, as long as someone is willing to make a change in their patterns, and be willing to step by step in a supportive, I love that you brought that up, in a supported way. Confront some of the things that are afraid of be open to things possibly being different, and to bring it back to earlier, to start with transforming their relationship with themselves. Because I know there's a one-to-one correlation, if someone has a high level of social anxiety, they have a high level of inner criticism, very toxic level of inner criticism that I've never seen. Anything other than that. So that's one of the first places we start.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It's so important too and I'm glad that you brought up the thing that can happen with social anxiety, or any kind of anxiety really, is that anxiety always leads us to avoid. Well, usually, anxiety can lead to other things, but many times it leads to avoidance. I mean, at a fundamental level, the antidote to anxiety is to move into it and do reality testing and try to do things differently. If you're not giving yourself the opportunity to have different experiences, both inside of yourself or with other people, what happens is that it enshrines anxiety. That anxiety almost gets more and more powerful and more and more true, because it's never, and I say true with my little air quotes here, because it is never questioned, it's never tested. 

It really requires a lot of courage and support, to begin to examine it. To think maybe the story in my head is not the whole truth. Maybe if I do start having a different kind of relationship with myself – treating myself differently – I can feel differently and have different experiences with other people. But it can be scary to start that process because as you brought up so astutely, it feels like an existential threat to do so that something terrible will happen. But I'm glad you're talking about it in this way.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. People think of it as like it's a brick wall, or it's a solid thing, or maybe a cliff is a better metaphor, right? It's real. I like to say instead of it being a brick wall, it's actually more like a curtain or a cloud of vapor, you can walk right through it, and yet, you don't tell someone… Yeah. Right. I love that. Yeah, you could tell someone that they're like, “I don't know, it looks like a wall to me.” That's why I love, love, love the power of groups. For years, I've been doing group work primarily, because it's so inspiring for people to see other people just like them, “Wait a minute, that person took a step in the, you know, towards their fear. Maybe I can, too.” One of my favorite things is, we would do them in person. 

I'm in Portland, Oregon. For this last year, I've been doing them all virtually. But we gather a big group of people, I have a workshop coming up, it's probably maybe 150 of us there. We will, I teach things and help people experience a shift in the room or the virtual room as it were. But then there's always an action step. So we will go out for a 30-minute break, and we're going to go do something. We're going to go test that edge right now. So even if people are alone in their city or whatever, during a virtual event, they come back together, and then we talk about it and we explore it. So what people have is they have an immediate experience. It's no longer theoretical, like, “Oh, I heard that in a book. Maybe I'll try it.” It's like I just did it and here's what happened. 

The way I see it is it's all positive. Either a lot of times people say, “Wow, I did this thing. And I mean, it was so much easier than I thought when I actually did it.” And sometimes people like “I did it, and it was really uncomfortable.” And then I'm still giving them a thumbs up. I'm like, “Great.” And then sometimes people will say, “I went out there and I try and I just, I was so in my head and I was judging myself, and it felt awful. And I failed.” And I still give that a thumbs up because I say, “You know, if you've been avoiding something for years, and you walk around, or you know, I'm gonna pick up the phone, or I'm not and you really wrestle with that edge of action. That already is a win.” Well, I think of it. Yeah, we think of it as like the action it's only a win. If I've leaped over, it's like no, even just getting ready is a huge win. 

We want to reinforce that. If it is really painful and you're beating yourself up, great, let's like let's study that. Let's get really curious. Because that's that's a piece of the social anxiety that you've been running. That's a piece of the pattern piece of the recipe that's been going for 10,20, 30, 50 years. If you discover it right now and you see it, you can start to change it, and that's liberating.

Dr. Lisa: It's so liberating, and I'm glad you are talking about that. So like, verbally with your group, because I think, to what can be very normal and expected, I think, from my perspective and your perspective, but maybe not sometimes for the perspective of our clients, is that if you have been struggling with social anxiety or low self-esteem and avoiding people because of that, that they're called social skills for a reason like there are actually skills involved with talking to people and making conversation and making eye contact. If somebody does this, I say that, and I think that people that have really been holding themselves apart from others, that they get rusty in some of those skills. Then when they do attempt to interact with other humans they may be awash in judgment when they're doing it, but also because they're sort of rusty, and they're like, “Oh, what do I do with my hands right now”, like that whole thing. 

How to Build Confidence in Yourself

Dr. Lisa: But sometimes they do come across as being rusty, and they have experiences with other people that make them think, “Oh, they hated me, I was terrible. That was horrible.”, really kind of needing to reframe that is, “No, this is why we practice is to test it out. And how did it go? And what were you telling yourself in that moment? And how did you feel? And how do they react?”, and really kind of like, using it all as learning opportunities to kind of like really learn how to be with people. I'm glad that you're offering people the opportunity to do that because that can be very hard.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That's what comes back to the we need other people, right? Because I'll highlight this in anything I'm teaching where imagine someone picked up the guitar, and they never played the guitar before – they played it maybe a handful times, five, six times in their whole life – then they pick it up. They're like, “I'm gonna play this song.” They can't play the song very well. Do you say… Well, I guess we're the kind of person… Right, it's like, “Well, I guess you're the kind of person who will never, never be good at the guitar. I mean, it's just not that hard for you.” Everyone kind of laughs because they see how absurd that is. But I'll point out that's exactly what we do when we have a couple of conversations. 

What we need to do, and I use the guitar metaphor is if someone wants to get better at the guitar, or my son, he's seven years old right now, he wants to learn how to play chess better, and yet, he doesn't. He hates losing. He hates losing so much even hates losing a piece. Like he was playing this morning with his brother and he lost his queen. He was in tears. He's like, “This is terrible. I'm no good, I lost.” What I'm trying to help him see is like, “Okay, you like to win?” He’s like, “Yeah, I like to win.” I was like, “Okay, you know, how do you think you win?” He's like, “Well, I guess had to play a lot.” “Yeah, that's right, you need to practice a lot.” And so if you practice, like what does that mean to practice a lot, though? I'm unpacking that with him. 

We can see it means making moves when you're not sure if they're good or not, getting feedback, and I lose my piece, and being willing to be messy, being willing to make mistakes, being willing to lose the pieces, being willing to lose games. I'm trying to help him see is that if he if he's willing to fail forward fast, like, the more he's willing to lose the faster and the better he'll become.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Dr. Aziz: That's not just for chess. That's not just for the guitar. That's for social skills. That's for public speaking. That's for being engaging and funny with a group. That's for dating. I mean, that's for every way that we can interact with people.

Dr. Lisa: That's so incredibly powerful. Such an important reminder that that kind of growth mindset, and how do you stay in the ring when it is hard? How do you identify with this idea of practicing is failing, is being uncomfortable, but that incrementally over time, we get stronger, and our skills build, and we feel better? 

I don't know if this is true for you, but in my experience, the core of self-confidence. Yes, part of it is inner dialogue and your core self-belief. But it's like, I think people who have had the experience of observing themselves, doing hard things and like developing competence and not giving up, that turns into this confidence that just is this like, very deeply felt. “Yes, I can.” It's because they have that it's rooted in this experience. To my ear, that is what you're describing.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if we think about confidence, the word actually comes from Latin — confidere means with faith. How do we get, how do we have faith? It makes me think. There's a book by Sharon Salzberg about faith. She talks about bright faith versus verified faith, and how we need both in our lives. Bright faith is that it's never been done before. We've never done it before. We just, we feel it’s possible. We're called to it. We hope, we wish. It's a dream and we have to have that because we gotta step into the total unknown sometimes in our lives. We got to do things we've never done before, or at least, hopefully we are for growing and exploring. 

Ideally, bright faith gets turned into verified faith, which is exactly what I hear you talking about is like, “I think it's possible for me to connect, you know, more freely with others and be comfortable in my own skin and laugh and be more focused in the moment and the conversation than on myself. I mean, I think it's possible.” That's the bright faith. But then once we've done it a number of times, once we've done we have to be willing to take those risks. All of a sudden, yeah, you've done it 5, 10, 20, 30 times, and someone's like, “Hey, you want to come to me to this dinner party? You want to come to this thing, this mixer?” Like, “Yeah, okay.” Because I know that you put me in a room full of people and I can interact, I can do that. That's that verified faith that only comes. We earn it, we forge it, we build it.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. important takeaway. Thank you so much for describing all of that, that's wonderful. I love the chess metaphor, too, with what your son is going through. It's so funny like we try, I'm a mom, to like trying to teach our children this idea of grit. It's really so instrumental in so many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to personal growth. I'm really glad that you're talking about it in that way. Another thing that I wanted to ask you about, too.

We've been talking about the importance of confidence, and we've been talking about the social anxiety piece. But you also wrote another book called “Not Nice”, which is about the overlap, the intersection of struggling with self-confidence or being worried about other people and a tendency to like, people-please, over-give, feel guilty. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit more about how those things are related.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I believe in a lot of ways that nice, and I called it Not Nice, it's a bit of a controversial title, people might hear that and think I'm suggesting people be jerks or cruel. What I very quickly address literally, unlike, aside from the copyright page and stuff, the first page of the book is a chart that says nice versus not nice, and it's got two columns, and it just really shows the distinction between what I mean by nice and niceness, for the most part, when people are behaving nice. 

They're not actually focused on kindness and generosity. They're focused on being polite. They're focused on not upsetting others, they're focusing on following the rules. They're focusing on getting approval. It's really often coming from a place of fear, rather than love and connection. That's how I'm using the word nice. I say the opposite of nice is not to be a jerk. The opposite of nice is authenticity. It's to be real. It’s to be boldly yourself. You say what's true rather than what's quote, “nice”. Yes, there's so much nuance to it. That's why that book is like 550 pages. There's still more nuance that I couldn't get to about, but I've tried to give a lot of examples of how do we really communicate in a way that's quite, “not nice”, that isn't just kicking down the door and telling everyone they're stupid. There's a way to persevere too, with kindness or with tenacity, keep bringing up a subject, or have the conversation you've been avoiding. 

Like anything else, there's a skill to that, and if we don't do it, we're not going to be good at it right away, we're going to be messy, but we got to lean in. Because what I discovered along the way is that this niceness that I'm talking about is just another form of social anxiety. It's like a more adaptive form. Instead of someone being really avoidant and I'm not going to talk to anybody, I'm just going to live in my apartment and never go out, the nice manifestation of social anxiety is more functional. You have friends, you have family, you have relationships, you have work, you're much more engaged in life, but you're living a persona of the nice person. 

The person or the nice person, it's just a different cage. But you got to say, yes, most of the time, because if you say no, that's mean, that hurts people's feelings, that's selfish, you got to be giving almost all the time. Because, same thing you want to be mean or selfish, you don't want to hurt people's feelings by saying anything too direct or too real. So even if you feel away, or even if you have a perspective, you don't want to share that because that could upset them. What ends up happening is people are engaging with others, but they're not taking these risks. They're not talking about what they really want. They're not saying what they really want. They're not being who they really are. It starts to dead in their experience of life and relationships. It starts to build up frustration, starts to build up chronic health problems It starts to build up resentment inside because we're not able to take care of our needs really effectively.

The other person is walking all over me or taking advantage of me because we're lacking the boundaries and the assertiveness to be for people to really feel where we're at. We were actually being deceptive. We're hiding where we really are. I say I mean that because, like the social anxiety side, then I live with this excessive niceness for many years. It was really detrimental to my relationships, particularly intimate relationships. You can't be excessively nice and truly intimate at the same time. They're not the same thing. Yeah, that became such a common occurrence for myself. Then all the clients I saw this invite, I realized I had to write another book about that.

That book is guiding people on that journey from discovering niceness. Discovering maybe its toxic effect in their life, and then a willingness to step courageously into being more boldly authentic in their lives.

Dr. Lisa: That word that you just used, that courageous word is something that I often think about and talk about with clients. I hear what you're saying that the book is really about reconceptualizing, being nice as really being almost afraid, in some ways of relationships, and again, just sort of another manifestation of not wanting to rock the boat. But in doing so, it really hollows out that emotional intimacy at the core of a relationship. I think it's so, not just easy, but predictable for people who don't talk about how they're feeling and prioritize what they imagined to be the needs of others. Through that niceness, that they can become so resentful, or feel like they're getting walked all over. 

But I tell you what, as a couples counselor, the person on the other side of that often has no idea that they are being experienced, as you know, pushing boundaries or being insensitive or not loving, because their partner isn't talking about it. It's very interesting, like the meaning that people on both sides of that equation can make because somebody is becoming increasingly hostile and withdrawn and resentful, and their partner's like, “What is going on?” Because it isn't getting discussed.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to have those real, authentic conversations, and it feels scary, but boy without it, I think again, people feel like they're protecting their relationships by being nice, but it is exactly the opposite. They are like that mental image that's coming up is like the air being released from a balloon, right? That over time, there's just nothing there. So I'm really glad that you're talking about that.

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great metaphor about the balloon, just the shell. That's all that's left is all you're left with is the structure of the relationship. No life, no vitality, no energy or passion to it. You're actually…

Dr. Lisa: Writing a real estate. Yeah. 

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, exactly. We're bound by our sales by our stability. That's in a way, that's really what the nice approach is, it's prioritizing too much stability, too much certainty, and not willing to step into the unknown and the uncertainty. That's what people do often in relationships. There's a lot of uncertainty.

In the beginning, “Is this person gonna like me? Are they gonna call me back? “I'm so excited.” Then what we want to do is we want to capture that and make it certain and make it predictable and make it controlled. That leads to structures that try to control it. But that also leads to a lot of our own behavioral patterns. I'm going to say this, but not that I'm, and that's what I see often, especially if you do a lot of couples work, I'm sure you see this, that people have been afraid to be real with each other for the last five years because now they feel like there's quote, “too much at stake.”, and yet, it's kind of like a slow bleed, where maybe you don't have any blowups, but you're losing in the long game. People not knowing that I really have seen that. 

In fact, I have a little metaphor I use in the book about boundaries to see to, and it's a little thought experiment to have the reader reflect on how expressive are you with your boundaries. So I say, imagine you're in your backyard, and your backyard is next to your neighbor's backyard. There's no fence in between just to cut the lawn goes across both. You're sitting in your back porch, and you see your neighbor gets out of his house, and he starts to walk over towards you. He walks into your yard and says, “Hey, how's it going?” As he walks, he walks towards you. He steps on some of the flowers you have in your garden. Then he goes over and there's you have your peach tree in the backyard and he walks over and he looks at your peaches like, “Oh my gosh, your peaches looks so great.” He grabs a peach juicy ripe one and bites into it and keeps walking towards you and says, “How you doing today?” I just say, “What do you do? What do you do in the situation? What's happening? Are you angry about the flowers? Are you upset about the peach? Do you say anything about the flowers? Do you say anything about the peach? Do you feel like, ‘oh, I don't know what to say so I can't say anything.’ Do you mention it?”

It's just a kind of silly thought experiment but it highlights exactly what you're talking about with couples with that person might be like, “What? I'm just being friendly. I'm coming over to say, ‘Hi.’”, and they have no idea they stepped on the flowers. They have no idea you have an issue about the peaches because you never say anything. If we really want to start to live with more freedom, we got to be able to say, “Hey, great to see you. And, you know, I've been saving those peaches, if you want to have some I can give you some but please don't pick on without talking about first though.: It's as simple as that, those little things. 

Sometimes, if someone's been nice for too long, they don't even think it can be that simple. They think it's got to be this huge nuclear combustion of like what you've always been doing the last 10 years is “I hate this about you.” It's like, actually, it's better for it to be more of like a combustion engine than a nuclear bomb going on just little things that you say here and there throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month. That might not even seem super confrontational. They're just simple statements, simple questions, that can really get you back on track.

Dr. Lisa: Totally. But again, I mean, going back to your original points about confidence, I can really see how that's so closely related. Because if you doubt yourself, if you feel like you shouldn't say that, if you shouldn't upset. People are working very hard to kind of like maintain relationships because you're pretty sure that people don't like you, or whatever it is. 

It's so hard to talk about how you really feel. There's that understandable, like tendency to withdraw. But that things build up to the point that when you finally do say something, it is World War Three, and you're like screaming at the neighbor for eating a peach, and he's like, “Okay”, back away slowly. It actually does mess up the relationship. So by stepping into that air quote, “conflict”, but that authenticity and talking about how you feel as you go, it's one of the most important things that any of us can do to maintain high-quality relationships. That's fantastic.

Therapy for Low Self-esteem

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. That's why just to bring it back to what I was mentioned, the workshops earlier, it's the same thing, and I run a group program that's all about helping people become more, that's called Total Social Freedom. It's about how do we really break out of that lifelong pattern of my avoidance and niceness and social anxiety and just be more free around others. 

What we do is we systematically build a 12-week program. Each week, there's another layer that gets added. I'm a big believer in the gradual exposure. I think, I don't know where it's in there somewhere in the middle of week, six, seven, they have an assignment to say no three times that week. The goal is like instead of having a world war three, you just build the muscle by lifting us like look for something small that you can say no to it's something really small, and the same thing, a couple weeks later, we have them like what's one conversation you could go have? That would feel like it's leaning into that edge, but it's not the most intense conversation in your life. It's just, can you go talk to that person?

I find that if we give people that support to systematically do it, then they start to build that confidence of, “Oh, I can do this, it can go well.” Ultimately, the goal that I have for people is not just to increase their confidence, but as a change in their identity. So they start to say, “Oh, I am the kind of person who can have direct conversations, I am real, I am authentic, I am directed”, becomes who they are. Because then they're going to behave that way more and more and more. Eventually, it just becomes that's their new reality.

Dr. Lisa: Wow, that's really powerful stuff. That experiential component where people are really actively doing that reality testing, like, “Okay, the voice in my head tells me this is going to happen. But when I actually did it, that happened”, and that over time without support are really accumulating this new sort of like encyclopedia of experiences that help them reconceptualize what's real, but most importantly, who they are through that. That's really deeply transformational stuff. That's really great. 

Hey, I know that I know that we don't have a ton of time left and wanting to wrap up. We have talked about the experiential aspect of building confidence, and also the identity pieces communication, circling back around though, so you and I both know, I think from our psychology background that the cognitions that people have around self-concept around how they think. Going back to that idea of how to have a better relationship with yourself. A lot of it is learning or relearning how to talk to yourself and sort of shifting from one kind of inner narrative to a new, more helpful one. 

Dr. Lisa: Are there any things that you've seen over your years of practice that are some usual suspects that people who struggle with confidence usually have going on in terms of their inner narrative and some shifts that you find yourself routinely encouraging people to make like I'm thinking of jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about how other people feel? Or have you seen other things to be more, more impactful?

Dr. Aziz: Sure, absolutely. I mean, at some of the common ones are feeling a sense of certainty about knowing what someone's perception is typically about you like it's the might be called mind-reading and cognitive therapy, take it one step further, I call it projected dislike, where it's not just I know what they're thinking about me, I know, they don't like me.  I just feel it when I walk into the room, and it feels very true. I'm certain of it. I'll even look for evidence and I'll confirm that and look for it, or make it happen in some way. 

We often bring about those reactions to us. Because of that, I think there's a lot going on nonverbally, energetically, emotionally. I think the more they study thought, it's really fascinating how much thought can be measured. So thought can be measured as waves if they put device, EG, on your, on your scalp, for example. But there's also it's a squid, have you heard of that one, the super quantum interference device, where they can have…

Dr. Lisa: Are you talking about particles behaving differently when people observe the experiment or not?

Dr. Aziz: This one is actually it's a, if we could find it, it's if you look it up online, that seven liter like squid, reading thoughts or something. It's like a device that's measuring something in the quantum realm. I'm not going to really understand the physics of it, but they can basically measure your thoughts from outside of your head. So the idea is if we have enough refined instrumentation, that probably are already discovering and probably going to continue to discover that your thoughts are emanating out of you beyond the boundary of your skin beyond your own head. 

It's the same thing with like the energetic field of the human heart has been measured out, like 10 feet or more than the roots 30 feet, I don't know. So this idea that we're like all self-contained is a sort of a outdated reality. What's much more true is we're an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. So when we have these very like self-judgmental, self-critical unmet enough thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Dr. Aziz: Then it gets real murky because really it’s “Aha! I knew it, you see?” So we really want to intervene on that one that jumping to the conclusion that people don't like me. What I always help people with that one on is, you think it's about them, it's about you, and you not liking you, or maybe more specifically, a part of you inside judges you. So what are you judging yourself? That's one of the first things that we start with people like, what's your list? What's your, I like to probably talk my books out of things, I like to take stuff that's maybe more complex, or I don't like to use a lot of psychological jargon with people, because I like to keep it very simple so people can just pick it up and run with it and tell say, “Let's make a why I suck list.” You have that, right? What is that for you? Because we have to start looking at what this grudge list that people have been holding against themselves for decades, ostensibly to make themselves better, or to pressure themselves into growing or whatever weak story is there. But we got to face that we got to start looking at that. We need to bring in a lot of that on my own side work. That's self-compassion work. 

One of the ways I'll have them do that is to start to dialogue with that critical voice too, and have a book called, On My Own Side, which guides people how to do this, where they can dialogue with that voice. Start to find the fear and vulnerability underneath that part and start to really get to the core of it, which is usually some sort of pain that's underneath that hypercritical voice and really meet themselves with a lot more love, a lot more patience, a lot more compassion, a lot more humanity. Then as they do that, it starts to melt away this chronic assumption that people are against me because you no longer are against you. You can start to see a lot more clearly.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Wow, powerful stuff, man. Just I feel like we could talk for two more hours about just all of these things that you brought up at the end about how we can really, through our thoughts and expectations, almost create the experiences with other people that support our preconceived ideas, which are based on how we feel about ourselves, not actually how others feel that it is a projection. That by really understanding that wounded part of yourself and having a dialogue with it and getting to know it compassionately. That's a very powerful path of healing.

Dr. Aziz: Yes, well said absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Good stuff. Gosh, well, thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and perspectives on this important topic with us. Again, I feel like there's a lot more to talk about so if you would ever like to come back and continue this conversation, the door is open. 

Dr. Aziz: I would love that! A part two. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, a part two. But in the meantime, I'm sure my listeners are very interested in everything that you had to say. If any of you would like the opportunity to learn more about Dr. Aziz or his books, or his courses, or his groups, or all other fun stuff he has going on out. There's also a podcast called Shrink for the Shy Guy podcast. You can find them all at DrAziz.com. Is there anywhere else that they should follow you? Are you on social media or anything like that?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean the website will link to all those things. But I'd say I'm probably most active on YouTube, we have usually one to two videos that come out each week where I'm teaching stuff for free, a lot of insights. Usually, what I'll do is I'll take run a lot of groups. So I'll take some of the key insights and teachings from the groups and then record videos that I think are gonna help everyone based on what we're doing in those. 

So that's a great way to get active to get support. So yeah, the website is a great place to start. You can look it up on look me up on YouTube, as well, more than the podcast, but any place that you want to get plugged in. I mean, that's why I'm doing this is to reach people who think, “Oh, this is who I am. I'm just I've been this way for x years. And I guess that's it.” I guess the final message I would have is like you don't have to settle. 

The past doesn't equal the future. In many ways, it's irrelevant how long you've struggled with something. If you're willing, you can make shifts really fast and not just manage it, but truly transform your experience of being around others. To really start to experience a level of intimacy and connection with yourself with others that gives life depth and meaning and fulfillment. That's absolutely possible. It's absolutely your birthright if you're willing to claim it.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. What a beautiful note to land on. Thank you again, so much for spending this time with me today. It's really been a pleasure. 

Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. Thank you.

Episode Highlights

  • How to be Kind to Yourself
    • You need to learn to work with the voice inside your head describing how you treat yourself and think of yourself.
    • As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where “you are on your own side.”
    • To transform in a fundamental way, you need to involve other people such as counseling, groups, a friend, or your life partner.
  • Signs of Social Anxiety
    • Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
    • The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance.  And the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront it.
    • The way to deal with social anxiety is to test it. You need to be able to confirm that you are not unworthy and not unlovable.
  • How to Build Confidence in Yourself
    • You would need someone to give you feedback. Someone who you can be messy with, make mistakes and be vulnerable to.
    • The more you are willing to lose, the faster and the better you'll become.
    • You would need bright and verified faith. Bright faith is the feeling that an action is possible without having done it before. It then turns into verified faith when you have accomplished the task several times.
  • Therapy for Low Self-esteem
    • An example is a 12-week program where gradual exposure is used.
    • The participants are encouraged to find small things that they can say ‘no’ to. This would result in being able to have authentic and better conversations with other people.

How to Be Happy

How to Be Happy

What Brings You Joy?

[social_warfare]

A JOYFUL LIFE | Do you ever feel like you've lost touch with what really makes you happy? Or like you spend all of your time doing what you have to do, and almost never things that you want to do? Or, like so many people, do you go through your days with a vague sense of dissatisfaction — feeling like even on good days, they could somehow be better?

If so, you're in good company. So many of our life coaching and therapy clients come to us with exactly this situation: They just want to feel happy. They want to feel good about themselves, and their lives. They want to feel connected to others, and like they have meaning and purpose in their lives.

But they currently don't.

Too many adults, especially conscientious, hardworking, responsible and successful adults, spend so much time meeting their commitments to others they start to lose sight of who they really are, and what they like to do for fun.

It's an easy slide: Especially as you “adult,” growing into a career with more responsibility, settle into a marriage, and start welcoming children into the world, you life starts to be more about all the other people you have depending on you than it is about you. Over time it stops feeling like “life is good” and more like, “I have so much to do.” Can you relate? (Lisa raises hand)

Many men and women spend their entire days, morning to night, doing things that they need to do, or to be of service in the lives of others — be it a boss, a business, a spouse or a kid. Even the darn dog needs something!

Who has time for fun?

Sometimes I ask a Denver therapy client or an online life coaching client, “What do you do for fun?” and I get a blank look, a stutter, or a reddening face. (This is especially true of my American clients. I do work with people all over the world for online life coaching and the Europeans with their six weeks a year of paid vacation can often tell me exactly what they do for fun!)

How to Be Happy Again

So this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success is all about YOU: and helping you get reconnected with your authentic happiness so you can experience a more joyful life. As always, I'll be offering some insight, new ways of thinking, and actionable ideas you can start using today.

Specifically, we'll be discussing:

  • What the current “science of happiness” has to say about what moves the happiness needle… and what does not.
  • The biggest hidden culprit getting in between you and a joyful life
  • Simple strategies to get reconnected with the real you (who IS still in there!)
  • Why you can't buy happiness, but where to invest your resources to cultivate more joy
  • Life hacks to make more space in your life for fun and play

I hope this discussion helps YOU reconnect with your true self and what makes you most happy. You deserve it.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

[social_warfare]

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How to Create a Joyful Life

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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