#1 PositivePsychology.com Podcast – Out of Your Mind, Into Your Life

Positive Psychology PodcastThis is the first PositivePsychology.com podcast, where you can join your hosts Hugo Alberts and Seph Fontane Pennock in their discussion on the importance and meaning of (negative) emotions, awareness, and mindfulness.

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Seph: All right, we’re live. My name is Seph Fontane Pennock and I’m here with my colleague Hugo Alberts. Hugo welcome to our first PositivePsychology.com Podcast.

Hugo: Yeah, thanks, it’s quite exciting. I don’t know what to expect yet but I’m really thrilled to do this with you.

Seph: Yeah, we’ll see what happens I guess. How do you feel about this? I know we’ve been talking about this idea of doing the podcast for a long time, so yeah what do you think?

Hugo: I’m really excited. I think the reason why we talked so much about it is that we had a lot of phone calls of course in which we discuss, I think, really interesting topics that I would love to share with other people and also hear their opinion about, so I thought why not spread the idea and just hear what people think, so I’m really excited.

Seph: Yeah. Yeah, just to give some background information for the listeners, almost every time I’m on a phone call with Hugo at the end of our conversation I’m like, I wish we had recorded this so that we could share this with our listeners as content. So yeah I’m very excited about finally doing this with you. Maybe we can pick up the conversation we were having earlier this morning.

Hugo: Yeah, exactly. So this morning actually I called Seph and I asked him like, “Hi man how was the weekend?” I know that he had a quite turbulent week last week because as some of you may know we from Positive Psychology Program to our new website, and some things went wrong as usual of course.

So he worked a lot of hours, and I noticed that he was quite stressed, so I asked him how he was. So I was happy that he said he had a nice weekend. And then we started talking about what was going on, and the idea of thought and getting stuck into a negativity bias and that kind of stuff, so maybe you can elaborate a bit more on that Seph.

Seph: Yeah absolutely, yeah. I think I’ve been living up to the moment of finally launching the PositivePsychology.com website ever since I purchased the domain back in the autumn of 2016. So it’s like over two and a half years ago. The vision I always had for the platform that we’re building, this Positive Psychology platform was always that the website would be posted on the domain, PositivePsychology.com because I think it’s just the best domain for us.

Of course, it’s the name of the field itself, so I’m actually very honored to be representing that with our new brand. But yeah, it’s something that I’ve been living up to for many years, which is why I think the pressure was maybe so high and you know you just want everything to go right and of course with a transfer like that pretty much everything goes wrong. So yeah I was almost on a 72 hour Skype call with Jeff, one of our developers just trying to fix everything.

And then it’s super frustrating because of course I’m not a developer myself so I can only work with the developer that I’m dependent on but luckily Jeff is an amazing programmer and our other staff is too, so yeah but still, anyway I was in this mode of fault-finding. You know, trying to find everything that’s going wrong so that we could fix it and what I found very difficult was to get out of that mode because I was just stuck in this mode of negativity.

Everything we need to fix, making lists and then privately, and as soon as I stopped working it was very hard to get out of this mode I noticed. Luckily there was some awareness, I was aware of what was happening, so I was able to bring some curiosity to my state, but still, my feelings didn’t change. I still felt stuck in this mode of negativity, so I really needed to reset over the weekend which luckily I have done, so yeah what do you make of all this?

Hugo: Yeah for me actually it was quite interesting because often what I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of synchronicity going on. A lot of things that you’re working, that you’re experiencing or I am experiencing, they happen at the same time so this week I noticed how often our thoughts actually attract their attention. It’s like they want to be noticed and they want your attention and it’s like an addiction kind of. The thinking process that we all have in our mind.

Our thoughts constantly ask for attention and this is something I noticed. It’s that you sometimes cannot stop thinking, it’s like they demand your attention and when you were talking to me last week I noticed that you were also a bit stuck in the mind game, you know. Always thinking, solving problems, a lot of stuff goes on in the head and this morning you told me one of your favorite quotes of Tony Robbins’ something like, ‘if you stay in your head your’e dead’ or something I don’t recall…

Seph: Yeah, exactly. ‘You’re in your head, you’re dead’ he always says yeah.

Hugo: Yeah, beautiful and this is what I realized as well. Once we start living in our head we start actually not living the real-life anymore and the only thing you can do is to do something different then to live in your head means I think to connect to life as it is again, to the present moment as it unfolds in an unthinking mode. So I was really happy when you told me that you were having a good time with friends at the beach and so on because I think that’s a very powerful thing to do to get out of that thinking mode.

Seph: Yeah, you have to break the pattern somehow, and it’s difficult to do that by yourself sitting alone in a room, so it’s usually a good idea to go out, maybe go for a hike in nature or be with friends. And something that really helps for me as well is exercise, so I started doing Crossfit about a month ago, and I’ve been really enjoying it so far. And this morning I just had one of the most intense workouts I’ve probably had in my life and I felt so much better afterward. I also had a good night’s sleep but then I realized, oh yeah, you have to physically break the pattern and to mentally get out of your mode of stuckness you know?

Hugo: Exactly.

Seph: It’s like the mind-body connection it’s super powerful.

Hugo: Exactly. So what I love so much about your story is that as soon as you step out of it you notice how much you were in it in the first place, right?

Seph: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Hugo: So this is why it’s so important we have to break the patterns. I think this is why it’s so important to be mindful of when this process of overthinking happens when we’re so stuck in our thoughts happens. If we notice that it’s going on we can do something to get out of it. You disconnect from it and then you slowly start to realize, oh my God I was so lost in all this whatever thinking negativity and so on.

I think one of the things the mind does is that it tends to create problems or things to solve and it just needs something, it cannot deal with the present moment. The thought is always concerned with a potential future or something that happened in the past analyzing this but it’s never really focused on this moment because the mind cannot analyze the moment.

The moment unfolds as it is and I think what I love so much about the mystery of thinking is that we all believe that it’s so important to think a lot and live a lot in our head but actually I don’t think so. I think many things you can do without thinking and yet be very creative and productive. And you don’t need to over-analyze everything.

I think when we are in a flow state, most people are just so connected to what they’re doing their not constantly thinking but they’re just immersed in a way and I think that’s also the beauty of finding work that you love. That you have this ability to lose yourself and you’re thinking process about yourself about who you are and what you want to be and who you should be and disconnect from that and connect to life as it unfolds, the very thing you’re doing.

Seph: Right. Right this reminds me of something that my writing coach, Katherine Britton, that she asked me a couple of months ago, she asked me how often during the week, during a typical work week are you experiencing flow? And can you tell me more about when you are experiencing flow and maybe how to build these moments to create those moments more often during the week.

So I really had to think about that and one of the things for me was always exercise. Sports, maybe team sports, I’ve always done that a lot in my life and over the past couple of years have got slightly less and less and that’s also what made me realize ah, okay I need to prioritize this again because of course it’s easy to say yeah I don’t have the time but I think it’s always… When people say that I don’t have the time, it always comes from this defensive mode of I know I should be doing this but there’s some cognitive dissonance trick that they’re playing on themselves right?

It’s like no, we all have the same amount of time, we all have 24 hours. The question is just what do you prioritize during those 24 hours. So I actually started prioritizing exercise higher than my work because it only takes a couple of hours a week, that’s nothing. But if I make it a priority then it really happens.

Hugo: Yeah, exactly so when people tell you I don’t have time for this what they’re actually saying is it’s not that high in my list of priority things right?

Seph: Exactly.

Hugo: It’s not one of my priorities yeah.

Seph: Yeah so maybe it’s good to talk about why do we start our first PositivePsychology.com podcast talking about maybe more negative experiences or about this mode. Maybe some people might be wondering, okay I thought this was about positive psychology so yeah, how would you reply to that?

Hugo: Oh, I have a very clear answer to that. For me one of the downsides of the name Positive Psychology is that it implies that it’s all about being happy, no problems, smiling, the problem-free life but for me it’s I don’t like the term positive psychology honestly, I would love the term well being psychology or something because I think what we’re dealing with is how to create a meaningful life, a life that is worth living rather than just a simple happy life because in the end I think we all face misery and problems and I think it’s not the goal of life, to not have this but to deal with in a way that promotes well being.

So for me, I think the negative side of life is inevitable and I think I don’t believe so much in negativity. I think negativity is positivity in a hidden form. I think we can all learn from the struggles we have and the things we are not so good at and so on. I think in everything there is a potential for growth. So for me, life is not about happiness or something. For me it’s about growth, about developing yourself, about cultivating your strengths, gratitude, all that kind of stuff.

But it’s not about circumventing the negative because otherwise, I would say it’s too simple. It’s not in line with reality. I think for many coaches and people, clinicians, practitioners, psychologists whatever you want to call them, I think many of them know that problems are part of our daily existence. So to come up with a branch of psychology that ignores that I think it’s just naïve.

So this is why I like so much the whole idea of second wave positive psychology and for me, PositivePsychology.com is all about the second wave approach which is all about incorporating the dark and the bright side of life and transcending that in a way I would say. Not just focusing on one side of the two, you know?

Seph: Yeah, exactly. I completely hear what you’re saying. I’m always reminded of this when I hear parents say, “Oh I just want my kids to be happy.” You know? I just want my son to be happy. And then I’m like, do you really just want your kids to be happy? Like that’s it? I mean I think I understand what they mean.

What they mean I think is they want a good life for their children which is very understandable but I think the phrasing is kind of awkward where they’re using the word happiness. I would rather say I want my kids to have the strength to deal with the inevitable suffering that life has to offer and to have the appreciation to make the most out of all the beautiful things that life has to offer right? That’s like both sides of the same coin.

Hugo: Yeah, absolutely. I was once reading a book, and I think the introduction went something like, imagine you could give your kids one thing before they start their lives right? What would it be? Would you give them an infinite amount of money? Or what would it be? And I think most people will agree that if you could choose among all these options I think giving them an infinite amount of money wasn’t the thing that you would give them.

Probably you would give them something different, maybe the ability to remain true to themselves, to follow their heart or whatever it is but that example always resonated with me because this is also how we often approach work and companies. Many people believe it’s all about money, just making enough money and so on but I think a healthy company or a healthy idea is never about money in the first place. Money is perhaps an outcome but it’s not the very process that makes something beautiful you know what I mean? And the same applies to life.

I think happiness per se is not what makes life so beautiful. I think what makes life beautiful is the very, very fact that we have negativity to overcome, that we have struggles, that we can grow, that we can learn, that we can… I think if you wouldn’t experience the loss, and the pain that is so part of life, you wouldn’t be humble.

You would be arrogant, you would feel entitled, and I think entitlement, actually I know that there is research that one of the things that correlate very highly in a negative way with gratitude is entitlement. People who feel entitled cannot be grateful. And it makes sense of course, so you know what I mean?

Seph: Yeah, no absolutely and when you were talking about giving kids a large amount of money, one of the quotes that came to mind, I don’t know where I picked this up but someone said the person most able to purchase a beach house will be least able to enjoy it. Because this person will be looking at the beach house right next to his or hers and think, “Okay how can I expand my real estate portfolio? How can I also acquire that or a bigger one or a more beautiful one?”

It’s not the type of person who sits on the porch, looks at the waves and is truly fulfilled or satisfied, no. The people who are probably more fulfilled or satisfied are the people he’s going to be renting out the beach house to, you know the family that can just afford to go there for five days and they’re going to appreciate the hell out of it. They’re going to enjoy it so much and talk about it for years and remember it and so often I see this pattern of people who are able to buy something, they’re not the ones that are going to truly enjoy it.

So yeah, that’s interesting, so what does that mean? I think it has a lot to do with habituation right? It has to do with the hedonic treadmill where you’re used to be able to afford something so it’s no longer exciting. It’s no longer new. It’s no longer something that sticks out in your attention so that you’re really going to give your full awareness and appreciation to it because it’s not new, it’s not something that sticks out. What do you think about that?

Hugo: Yeah, it’s cool. I think here kicks in the necessity of negativity so what happens if people suddenly are confronted with a loss or something, right? For instance, you have this beautiful, perfect life where everything is fine and so on and suddenly, a dear friend of yours dies right? Suddenly people have this wake-up call and suddenly they start to realize how important friendship is and all these kinds of things.

I think this is also very apparent from the research on near-death experiences. Many people that have a near-death experience, they start to re-evaluate life. They start to invest more in the people they truly love, they quit their jobs and so on. So what sometimes happens is that the negativity is in some way it’s disguised. It’s a disguised wake-up call. So I read a quote and I think it’s so powerful, it was about depression.

It went something like, ‘what if depression is not the sign of a human being that is not functioning well but a very well functioning human being that is just getting a lot of wake-up calls to change his or her life’. Maybe the depressed stage is nothing more than a sign, an indication that we should do something differently in life. So it’s not about a disease, it’s a very well functioning system we’re talking about here.

They’re just trying to make something clear and I’m not sure what it is of course but sometimes it has to do with re-evaluating the things we do maybe we should change our job, our relationship, maybe we should take a drastic turn and do things completely different and maybe that’s what feelings and emotions are really trying to tell us. That something needs our attention.

Seph: Right, and this is something that, of course, goes directly against the whole diagnosing people with depression model that we have nowadays where sometimes they don’t even ask a simple question like, how are you doing?, What’s happening in your life?, It’s like oh you’re experiencing these symptoms, oh that’s completely neurochemical, I’ll prescribe you something.

Serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or what have you that will deal with this. It’s like no, this might very well be, probably is a well-functioning human being except there’s just some feedback going on. And then the question is what is the feedback trying to say? What kind of feedback is it and that’s why I think a good psychotherapist can be of way more use here than a traditional psychiatrist who just starts prescribing antidepressants right off the bat.

Hugo: Yeah absolutely. I think it’s all about that whole picture. A human being is so complex and life is so complex, it’s never… You know haven’t you ever wondered that we’re all alive here, we all have this life, and everything is miraculously working. We can use our hands, we can walk, we can think, we can do all this kind of stuff, our body’s taking care of us 24/7 and we’re not doing anything consciously about it.

Our heart is pounding at this moment and we’re not doing anything about it, it’s just working and yet we approach feelings and emotions as something that is wrong and for me, positive and negative emotions is actually quite strange. The whole idea of an emotion that is negative. I think an emotion is a feedback mechanism and maybe we find it difficult to deal with them but that doesn’t make them negative, you know what I mean?

Seph: Yeah, that’s a label, right? Negative is no more than a mental label yeah.

Hugo: It is, it is and more even so I think because we grow up all with the idea that we shouldn’t experience negative emotions or we should control them or whatever. I think people over time develop very negative or I would say negative is not the right word, I would say unhealthy relationship with negative emotions.

We embrace positive emotions but when it comes to negative emotions we try to push them away or regulate and talk about it but they’re not allowed to be there and I think once we start transcending it, so we go back to the very first beginning of this call when we’re talking about positive psychology, once we start to transcend negativity and positivity, we say, well it’s not about being good or right or wrong or whatever you want to call it.

It’s about embracing it as part of life and see what you can do with it. What can I learn from it? What is this emotion trying to tell me? If you’re experiencing anger you can push away the anger but you can also ask what kind of boundary is being violated here? My personal boundary or whatever.

What is really going on here? And I think once you start doing that, the emotions start to serve a function and I think if you approach life in that way I think it’s becoming, in any case, I would not say easy but well more effective maybe or in any case easier to generate some kind of happiness.

Seph: Yeah, it’s also another constant identification with the ego or the id right? That’s more a superego kind of mode that you enter when you develop these skills of awareness and curiosity. You can become aware of a certain feeling or state that you’re in right? And then maybe by bringing an attitude of curiosity to it you can start to explore it and maybe even find some golden nugget of information there that you can start acting on.

That you can change your behavior, your daily routines based on this feedback that you got about your own life because there are no general prescriptions for this of course. It has to come from the inside. And also the motivation to change therefore has to come from the inside. It’s a very intrinsic process whereas I think a lot of people start looking outwards when they are experiencing some problems.

It’s like seeking the help of a doctor, okay we can already call that some sort of extrinsic solution, not that I’m against that. I’m not saying don’t go to a doctor but it’s like yeah but have you tried listening to your own body? Did you try to listen to your own mind? Because maybe that would be a good place to start?

Hugo: Yeah, but it’s really hard because I think spending time alone is really difficult because once you’re alone there are these thoughts coming up and there is just me and there is no distractions. And I notice this of myself as well of course. It’s really easy to occupy the mind with a lot of things you can, you know… We have social media, we have all these actually external things that ask for our attention, but I think what we’re talking about here is more like an internal curiosity and I think what I love so much about kids is that they have this curiosity for life still you know.

They grow up, they want to know everything. My son is so eager to know everything. He’s curious, he wants to know what it means, what it feels like, what it’s like in America, whatever he’s asking all these questions and the sense of curiosity sometimes I feel that we start to lose it as we grow older and I think when we can keep this feeling of curiosity and apply it to our own inner life to what we feel what our body is trying to tell us rather than just pushing it away or seeing it as negative.

I think it can be of tremendous value. I think the very stance itself, not even the outcome, what your analysis is or whatever, but I think the stance that the curiosity towards what you experience itself, that very stance is very helpful. Because it’s open, it’s kind, it’s not black and white, it’s not judging. It’s free from that, you see what I mean?

Seph: Right, it’s completely free of dogma, free of preconceived notions as far as that’s possible. It’s like its bordering taking an objective stance toward the self which of course I think this is extremely difficult to do because that means you would have to step out of so many biases that are just inbred, that are in our genes but I think it’s a very courageous thing to do. But Hugo why do you think it’s because you said this before, this line can be very hard to be with yourself, I’m curious why do you think that is?

Hugo: Why is that? It’s a very good question because honestly you know I suffer from this problem myself as well. As I grow older it tends to get less but I remember 20 years ago I couldn’t be alone. I always had friends around me, I always need to do something to not feel alone and I think in the end if you ask me I think when we’re really alone and we’re not being a really good friend to ourselves. I think we feel alone.

So we feel lonely I think and I think that feeling of loneliness is very painful. So one of my best friends he once told me, he’s way older than I am and he said, “My goal of life is to become a better friend of myself.” And I didn’t know what he was talking about back then but now as I grow older I start to realize what he’s talking about. He’s talking about the ability to accept yourself and to spend time with yourself and be okay with yourself alone, you know I think to be in good company when you’re alone.

Seph: Yeah. Exactly and maybe this is the difference between loneliness and solitude right? Where solitude is being able to be with yourself and being okay with that.

Hugo: Yeah, perfect, yeah exactly. I recently read a paper that actually made this distinction and many scholars make this distinction between the perceived loneliness and actual loneliness, you know. There are many people that have a very extensive network and yet feel lonely. So it’s not per se about having a lot of people in your life, it’s about how you feel among those people and more importantly perhaps how you feel when you’re alone.

Seph: Right. I know of similar research when it came to social support, I’m not sure whether that’s the same study that you were talking about but that perceived social support is way more important than the actual social support which it makes sense but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Hugo: Yeah, exactly, exactly but for me again this applies to another very important principle for me about positive psychology namely that it’s the mind that creates this world. Everything is shaped by the way we see things, not the things themselves. I think the things themselves change as we change the way we look at them. So for me, one of the ground rules of a life well lived is the responsibility that comes with looking at things in a particular way.

I think if we choose to look at it from a dark side, from a negative side, the thing themselves will turn dark and if we choose to look at it from a curiosity perspective from a gratitude perspective the things themselves change. So that whole idea is at the very foundation I think of many of the studies that are being done in the field that we shape our reality by the way that we think of it.

Seph: You know Hugo there’s this little booklet by Nietzsche, it’s called ,Why Am I So Wise, it’s been published by Penguin, it’s a short little booklet and he ends one of the chapters with a sentence that made such a deep impression on me. He tells this story about himself in this chapter and then he ends the chapter with the line, “And so I tell myself my life.” That was so insanely beautiful to me. He captures it perfectly in once sentence he just, he sums up cognitive behavioral therapy for one but meaning-making as well.

It’s like your telling yourself your life with all of these narratives and these stories that you’re forming about your past how has this given shape to who you currently are. Maybe that you’re blaming, maybe self-blame, your self-worth. Everything that comes as a result of these narratives that you’ve formed and that are deeply ingrained and that you have been believing in for decades which can make it very difficult to change behavior of course. I think that can be the biggest obstacle.

Hugo: Yeah, absolutely so what is so funny about this is actually we’re getting back to the very beginning of our talk because we were talking about thoughts right? About continuously thinking and getting stuck in this mind mode. I think what the mind tends to do is create stories. It just wants to understand things, interpret things, analyze things and to do, so it produces words and symbols and all that kind of stuff in your mind, but those are not reality.

A word is not reality, and I think here is where the confusion starts. I think that we do this also in ourselves, we create stories about who we are, what we did in life, whether it was good or wrong, what other people are, what they do and so on. This narrative is so pervasive it actually is there, and we don’t know it. We so strongly identify with it, we believe it that it tends to start a life on its own and this is why I start to see the benefit more and more of learning to get out of thinking and way more connect to life as it is in this moment.

Just really feel life in this moment by just doing whatever you do with full attention and not to be whatever, you could say, “Well I’m trying to be mindful.” But that’s again, it’s another label that you put on yourself, I am a mindful person. It has nothing to do with that. You don’t do it to become something or to add something to your narrative. It is just because if you pay attention to what is happening right here right now with full attention it comes to life.

It adds flavor to it, it adds color to it. That’s why you’re not doing anyone a favor but yourself. It’s all about you and I think what you did this weekend when you said I’m having a good time with my friends, I think on a deeper level, you know you could say from a positive psychology 1.0 perspective you could say you were living the good life right? You were enjoying it, maybe having an ice cream, made some fun, blah, blah, blah.

Seph: Hedonic well-being.

Hugo: Hedonic well being exactly but on a deeper level I think what was happening is that you were able to shut down that negative spiral that you were caught in, this thinking spiral, that problematic thinking spiral and connect to life on the beach and stop that very process. And it reset you if I understand you correctly. You said to me like the beginning of this morning you said, “I feel reset. I feel that my system is back up running again.”

Seph: Yeah exactly. It was like rebooting your computer you know, that’s what it feels like, yeah.

Hugo: So for me, that would be a very important take-home message for myself as well by the way because I recognize of course the very thing you’re describing here. To deliberately make more time to connect to life in a non-thinking way.

Seph: Yeah so, and I can understand people might be wondering how do you do this? Because I’m hearing your words, I understand that this is important but how do you do this on a practical level? Maybe you could tell something about what has helped you to actually connect with the present moment and be in the here and now. Like what are some practical strategies for that?

Hugo: Very good question. I think there are many of them, but the simplest way to do it is to connect to the senses. If you notice that you’re caught in thinking just stop, breath in, breath out and pay full attention to your breath because once you’re focusing on your breath you’re not thinking. If you’re thinking your not focusing on your breath. So the breathing is a very powerful way to come back to this present moment. It’s happening right here, right now and as long as you live it’s always with you.

So this is one. But you can also do it with another… In another way for instance, every day I reserve some time for myself to enjoy my cup of coffee mindfully. So I go outside, preferably 10 minutes or so, just really only pay attention to this cup of coffee. I’m not using my computer, my phone, it’s just me and my coffee. Or you can even do it in a social context when you’re talking to people. What if you could fully pay attention to the moment as it unfolds to what people are saying, not what you want to say or what your mind is making of this other person but to the very conversation at this moment.

What happens if you just do that? I think mindfulness comes in moments. It’s not about sitting on the cushion for 50 minutes a day. That can be very powerful of course, but I think what we’re talking about here, getting out of that thinking mode is basically connecting to the very experience of this moment, whatever this experience is. It may be the sound of something, maybe you can close your eyes and listen to the music, you can fully engage in the very thing you’re doing, not multi-tasking many things at the same time but just focusing on one thing at a time.

It’s a conversation with somebody, it’s maybe your breath, it’s your body, it doesn’t matter what it is, but anything that happens in the present moment with full attention. You know everything is like a muscle I guess, you know we can train it. And the more we do that, the easier it becomes. And many people they ask me, “How do you run your company? How do you do that? How do you make all these tough decisions?”

And most of them are really surprised that I tell them that I do not tend to over think them. I tend to go with what feels right at that moment and follow my intuition and rather than just making complex analysis of whatever goes on because I think in the end, your body is a feedback system and many things, many choices that we make are reflected by what our body tells us.

Seph: Yeah. Yeah, this has been a tough process for me and still is. The listening to my intuition instead of rationalizing things and trying to come to a logical, rational decision on something but I feel like that’s something we could do a complete separate podcast about learning to listen to your intuition and I’m sure you have a lot of inspiring things to say about that as well.

Hugo: Well, I don’t know, you know I try to do it as much as possible but no I think we’re all being trained in a very rational way. We tend to rely very much on thinking, analyzing things, but I love to use this example of buying a new house right? I think you buy a new house not by comparing all the pros and cons of another house but by entering the house and just noticing and if you feel at home in this house. If you would love to live in this house.

Basically, that’s not a rational thing, it’s an intuitive thing. You just know whether you should do it or not and honestly I know people that made that decision purely on a rational choice and quite a few of them also regret their choice afterward. Rationally it’s the best choice to take this house because it’s a good value for money, blah, blah, blah but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether you feel at home and whether you want to go back home, and you look forward to going back to this very home. Rather than whether its right or wrong objectively. You see what I mean?

Seph: Yeah, I think that’s such a great example because I immediately know what you’re talking about where the times when I went looking for a new home, sometimes I entered the house and I just immediately felt like, okay realtor you can say to me whatever you’re going to say but it’s not going to change my feeling, this is not the house. And you know it just right off the bat, it’s like I am never going to be living here, I know that for a fact. And where does that feeling, where does that intuition come from?

Hugo: We don’t know.

Seph: It’s very interesting, no. And I think it’s pretty much impossible to get to the bottom of that, although an attempt would be interesting to witness and sometimes you have the opposite, it’s like you enter and it’s like oh yeah, yeah, yeah this is it, you know?

Hugo: Exactly. You know what comes to mind? You remember when we had to select the location for the masterclasses that we recorded?

Seph: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah.

Hugo: So for the listeners, that may be funny to hear. So we were recording a masterclass series and we did not choose the right location yet. So we were visiting all these places and it was constantly no. Both of us were like, “No man, it’s not going to happen.” And suddenly we… actually it was your idea, we went to a castle and I believe we were not even in the castle yet and we both were like, “Yes. This is it, this is it. It’s going to be this one.”

Seph: It was like the lane with trees that led towards the castle. We were driving there and I was already like yep this is it. We don’t even need to see the inside, it just felt right.

Hugo: Exactly. And I think this is also, some things I think I’m not sure whether science will ever fully understand what’s going on there but for me, that’s also the beauty of life and all those things like love and intuition and that kind of stuff. You can rationalize it whatever you want, but I doubt whether you get to the real core. I think for me what I learn from making music, you know I’ve been making music for over 20 years, is that it’s really hard to do it rationally.

You cannot say, “Well I’m going to play this melody now.” It just unfolds, and you create and this is also why I hate it when people try to analyze what makes a good song a good song. As if this writer chose this song rationally to be that way. Like “Oh I’m going to play this note and then I’m going to this distance between notes and then it will be a hit.” Or something. It doesn’t work like that. But after the fact, in retrospect, people start to analyze and say, “Yeah that’s very catchy because of this and that.” But it’s explaining, but it’s not I think getting to the real core of what happened in the creative process.

Seph: Right. Of course, it’s a control mechanism kicking in that tries to understand it. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book about this, Big Magic, it was recommended to me a while ago. I read it and it talks about this idea as well, about an idea, like visiting you kind of as an entity in itself. You know sitting on your shoulder and waiting for you to be ready to receive it and to trust it and then to let itself express the idea through you and if you’re not ready and if you’re in the rational mode and you’re trying to force too much about it then you’re not ready for this idea and the idea will go on and go to someone else who will then may be, be ready to give expression to that idea.

And of course it’s all one big metaphor but I really love this way of looking at things because there’s… Like as soon as you start using force, it goes, it flees, you know it’s gone. And that’s exactly what I have experienced in writing stuff as well. If I want to write a book about something, I desperately want it because of I don’t know, because of the signaling, the status, what I think it will do for me. All of these extrinsic things.

Not a chance I’m going to be finishing it. I’m going to struggle a hell of a lot during the writing process, I probably won’t enjoy it. It will be like a to do on my list whereas I have this completely different mode that I can be in while I’m writing and I know it’s vastly different because it just flows. I don’t feel that I’m writing, I’m just channeling words that I have no idea who is writing this but I sure as shit ain’t. You know it’s like it’s happening, it’s just flowing out of me. Very, very different mode.

Hugo: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s also what many musicians recognize. Once you’re in the flow state it’s not that you are playing the guitar actually. The music comes out of you and it’s really hard to describe how it works, but it’s like you’re in sync with life or whatever you’re doing. There is a perfect congruence. A congruence between you and the very thing you’re doing, and I love to think of it as effortless creation.

I think we’re so much trained in effortful creation. We all believe that we should really work hard and do your best and overcome goals, and a lot of will power and all that kind of stuff, but I think many beautiful things can also emerge from this effortless creation, and we should just align with what you love doing. You choose what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing and then the results flow from that very state of basically love for what you do. I think then the creation itself will carry the love that you created it with you in itself.

Seph: And it’s selfless in a way as well, right?

Hugo: Exactly. It is selfless. There is no self-involved. It just follows naturally. So this is why I’m starting to experiment in my own life way more with effortless creation. What can I do that I truly enjoy doing and that I lose myself in and I lose a sense of time in and what happens if I do this? What is the result of this? And what I’ve noticed is what is created with love is so much more powerful than something that is created with a lot of pressure and have to and whatever, not you know.

Seph: Yeah, you know what it’s a love that is not obsessed with itself. It’s a giving kind of love.

Hugo: Yes, exactly.

Seph: It’s an egoless kind of love.

Hugo: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And what I love so much about it is love has often a romantic connotation about loving other people or whatever but for me, it’s a whole different thing. I think love is what connects you with something else truthfully. That for me is love, you know, and it can be with another human being, but it can also be with your work, with music, whatever it is.

So I think and what the mind does to get back to the very beginning of this talk, I think what the mind does, an over rational mind it tends to disconnect us. It tries to rationalize everything, make bits and pieces of it and actually lose the sense of wholeness that is so typical for a state in which we’re connected. If you’re connected to the very present moment fully, for me that’s an act of love. You see what I mean? Because you’re embracing, you’re connected. You’re fully connected and not because you want to be a mindful person, because that would be self. You call it like a self-connected love.

There is a hidden agenda there, it’s because you want to be somebody. But it’s just, for the sake of connecting, just in the same way that kids play for the sake of playing. They don’t play because they want to seem competent or they want to impress others. They just play because they want to play. And I think if you approach life in the very same way and you start paying attention to it, not to be somebody but just for the mere sake of paying attention you will experience a very… It’s a different life.

Seph: Yeah. Performing the activity for the sake of the activity itself right?

Hugo: Exactly, exactly.

Seph: It’s also something that, well, at least for me, that I slightly… Well I haven’t completely lost it luckily but I’ve slightly lost that mode of doing something just for the sake of doing it. Like usually there’s some sort of goal behind there that fits in some bigger picture of something I’m trying to achieve. Where it’s such a big relief if that’s all of a sudden if it’s not necessary. You know? Or if you realize it’s like okay, it’s perfectly fine to just sit here and be and sit in the sun and there’s nothing that you have to achieve by doing it. It’s rare. I feel like it’s rare.

Hugo: Yes, we’re not being trained in not being productive. We all have to be very productive. It’s a very pervasive belief that many of us, including myself have, and I suffer from it many times because even when I was on holiday I felt guilty because I wasn’t productive. And this is a forced way of living. There is always something you need to do in order to be good enough, and I think for me one of the main reasons why I would love to do this podcast with you is because it’s just plain fun. For me there is no hidden agenda, it’s just because I love talking to you about this stuff and if people enjoy it that’s beautiful but in the first place I just love doing this. It gives a certain likeness to the work we’re doing.

Seph: Right, and it’s like we’re having these conversations anyways because we always do every week. The only difference is we’re pressing record now, so I feel like that’s intrinsic enough of a reason to do it.

Hugo: Yeah, I think it’s a nice moment to conclude this first session Seph.

Seph: Yeah, yeah lets. I feel like we’ve gone all over the place. We’ve touched on so many big topics. So I hope people will be a little bit forgiving about that. If not, that’s all right too. Yeah looking forward to doing this again and we should definitely keep it up I think.

Hugo: Yeah, and also to hear what people think of it and have to add to it. I will also add a few videos to this podcast. I think I have some nice videos that will maybe even give a little bit more depth to this conversation about the loops of the mind and the rational mind. Basically, the topic that we tried to cover today. But yeah, so thanks Seph. Thanks for taking the time.

Seph: Thank you too and yep, talk to you soon.

About the Author

With his work in positive psychology, Seph Fontane Pennock has been able to help tens of thousands of practitioners and educators all around the world. Seph strongly believes that we can deal with most of life’s absurdities by leveraging human connection and challenging ourselves, instead of using dogma or pharmaceutical drugs.

Comments

  1. Annmarie

    This was a great discussion. Body-mind connection, resilience, the meaning of “positive” in positive psychology, and a really great Neitzsche quote to remember. Really good stuff. I look forward to listening to more! Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Victoria Beresford

    Hi Guys,

    It was so nice to hear your voices. It made me want to travel back to Maastricht!!!!!

    Reply
  3. Mary williamson

    Thanks for this podcast, it was really uplifting and inspiring, I particularly valued the insights into the role of parents in preparing young people for life’s challenges, and considering depression as emotional feedback.
    I look forward to listening to the next podcast

    Reply
  4. Charanjit Kaur

    This is a wonderful podcast to listen to. Thank you Stephen and Hugo. I was expecting some tips on focusing on positivity in life, but understanding and accepting what our emotions are telling us.. What boundary or the limit that has been violated? Taking care of self and listening to our own body and mind.. When it’s easier to expect others to listen to our mind or to show care towards our well being… So many pointers that are so important and radical in the process towards healing oneself. All this while I received emails which I may not have opened to check.. But I am thankful that I opened this podcast.
    Eagerly awaiting what content I will hear in the next podcast
    Thank you so much

    Reply
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