In this second episode of 'The Humans Strike Back' Tal Ben-Shahar, bestselling author and important figure in the Positive Psychology movement, talks about discovering your passion, the benefits of giving, why money doesn’t bring happiness, and how to actually find it.
Tal Ben-Shahar is a bestselling author, a Harvard professor who is responsible for creating two of the university’s most popular courses, and a co-founder of a leadership consulting company called Potentialife.
Tal is also an important figure in the Positive Psychology movement, a movement that focuses on learning about what makes people happy and well, as opposed to what makes them sad and sick.
In this episode, we're discussing what it means to put people first, and how doing so can help you achieve success. Tal will also talk about discovering passions, the benefits of giving, and why money doesn’t bring happiness, as well as what actually can help you find happiness.
Tal also talks about why failure is a necessary component of success. He shares examples of failure from his own life, and illustrates why he feels that it’s important to share his failure with others. He explains how you can build resilience that will help you get through failures, periods of suffering, and difficult times.
At the end of the episode, Tal also recommends resources that can help you learn how to take a people-first approach to success.
[00:00:32] David: This episode really highlights the importance of embracing failure in order to be successful. Today, you’re also going to learn Tal’s take on what success really means, the simple thought experiment to help you discover what you're most passionate about and what your calling is, how money does not make us happier, and Tal’s take on what does, how helping others actually increases our own levels of happiness and contributes to our success. Tal also shares a story of what led him to more publicly embrace his failures and realize how we need to give ourselves permission to fail so that we can grow more. It was a great conversation and I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.
Today I'm very happy to talk to Tal Ben-Shahar. He's someone who I've admired for a very long time. He's been a big part of advancing the Positive Psychology movement, which is all about understanding what makes us, as humans, flourish and thrive as opposed to what makes us sick and depressed. He's a bestselling author, the creator of Harvard University's two most popular courses of all time, and the co-founder of the leadership consulting company, Potential Life. Today, he's going to talk to us about how he learned to embrace his failures and share them with others. So, Tal, welcome to the show.
[00:01:41] Tal: Thank you, David.
[00:01:42] David:I'd love to ask you, Tal, what does it mean to you to succeed by putting people first?
[00:01:48] Tal: I've been, in many ways, avoiding social media for a long time, but recently, some of my colleagues and friends said, "Tal, you've to get on. This is the 21st century, you're not living in the 19th century." Even though that's probably the era that I would be most fascinated by. I had to get on Twitter, and on Twitter you need a tagline. This is the tagline that I had. My tagline is, "If you want to be in the light, help those around you shine." And this is basically my philosophy, it has always been my...well, no, I wasn't always this way, I guess. But this is certainly my philosophy today.
[00:02:32] David: And what does that mean to you, exactly?
[00:02:35] Tal: What does that mean? We're limited in our ability to just succeed on our own now. My background is in sports, athletics, and I played squash. Squash is an individual sport, you can't succeed, get to the highest levels without a coach and a supporting environment, basically a village to raise you as an individual athlete. Not to mention the fact that if I think about the best games that I've ever played, it was when I played for a team and there was the support, and the accountability, and the energy that comes from the environment. In anything, in individual sports, obviously team sports, in business, obviously in raising a family, we can't do it alone.
Having said that, in the words of David Schnarch, the relationship psychologist, it's also important to be differentiated, meaning not to lose our sense of self. I turned to one of Warren Bennis' friends who also passed away recently, it was Nathaniel Branden, who wrote a lot about self-esteem. I also wrote my dissertation about his work.
Nathaniel Branden talks about relationships in the context of self-esteem. He says that the first love affair we need to realize, to make real, is the love affair with ourselves. We need to first cultivate a strong self before we ought to reach out and work with others. These are the best relationships, where there are strong individuals working together.
[00:04:32] David: What are some of the ways that you feel that you've done that for yourself, cultivated this relationship with yourself?
[00:04:36] Tal: I think the most important thing is essentially pursuing my passions.
[00:04:43] David: Which have been?
[00:04:44] Tal: Well, recently, more recently, they're writing and reading, before it was squash, sports, whether it's playing, whether it's watching, whether it's being a cheerleader. Sports was, still is, to a great extent, my passion. But doing these things and doing these things independent of other people.
One of the thought experiments that I do with my students, and it's a thought experiment that I've done and still continuously do is the following. Imagine that a spell of anonymity has been cast on you. From now on and for the rest of your life, no one would know what you do. No one would know about the wonderful things that you do. No one would know how much money you make, how successful you are. You and you alone will know. In such a world of anonymity, what would you do?
The reason why I find that thought experiment helpful and important is not because we wanna live in a world like this. It would be very hard and very depressing, literally, depressing, to be in a world like this. However, it's a good thought experiment so that we can identify, and in a sense distill what it is that we are passionate about, independent of what other people think we should do, ought to do, and what they will approve of. And if we can distill the essence of our passion and then pursue it, that is when we most strengthen our sense of self.
[00:06:17] David: I see what you're saying. Can you tell me more… Because for example, you said sports is a huge part of your passion, but you're not a sports coach, you’re a leadership consultant. How do you tie those two together? If one of your main passions is sports and yet your field is in a completely different area, how do you tie those two together?
[00:06:41] Tal: For me, they are very tied. There was a book that came out decades ago called Everything I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten.
[00:06:50] David: No, I haven't heard of it, it sounds like a great title.
[00:06:52] Tal: Yeah. It's a book that did very well when I was growing up. I thought of another title, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from the Squash Court. You learn so many lessons playing sports. In fact, this is one of the areas I'm most passionate about today is advocating for sports, especially amongst students. Why? Because it's such a great antidote to screen. Kids spend so much time on the screen. They're sedentary. They don't move. They don't meet people. In sports you meet people. It's a great way of becoming more resilient, not just physically, also psychologically more resilient.
Sports is great, but beyond that also, especially in competitive sport, you learn very important life lessons. For example, perhaps the most important lesson, you learn how to lose. There's a great video of Michael Jordan which you can easily find on YouTube, it's a Nike Ad. Him talking about all the missed shots and the missed game-winning shots that he had and the losses that he experienced. And he ended by saying, "I've lost time and time and again, and because of that, that is why I succeed. That is why I succeed."
Thomas Edison famously said, "I failed my way to success.” He failed thousands and thousands of times.
The sentence that I repeat over and over again, this is something that I learned initially through squash is, "Learn to fail or fail to learn." There is no other way to succeed, and sports teaches us that. In addition, sport teaches us the importance of hard work, of discipline, or more specifically, of ritual.
I'll give the example of two great tennis players from the 1980s. On the one hand, you have Ivan Lendl who was from Czechoslovakia and a great player. Every day, he knew exactly what he would do at every given moment, essentially. Very organized, very disciplined. And then you had John McEnroe who seemed to not have any rituals and be undisciplined, but he couldn't have been world number one, you know, Wimbledon champion, without rituals and applying himself consistently. This is a very important lesson to learn because you cannot succeed at anything without having that discipline, without persistence, without what Angela Duckworth has been talking about as grit.
[00:09:40] David: If I'm understanding you correctly, the way that you tie your passion to everything else that you do is when you pursue your passion, it's not necessarily about making money through your passion, but it's the lessons that you can learn through your passion. Because if what you're passionate about is something that's so central to your life, then there's many things that this is gonna bring to light to you, which you can then apply in other aspects of your life. Am I understanding that correctly?
[00:10:07] Tal: Yes. You talked about money and we know from the research money does not contribute to happiness. In fact, yes, when we don't have our basic needs met, then of course extra money will contribute to happiness. But once basic needs—food, shelter, education—are met, money doesn't make us happier, or less happy for that matter, unless we'd been living under the illusion that when we have money we'll be happy and then we have money and we're not happier, then of course, it hurts our levels of well-being.
But what does contribute to our levels of happiness is applying ourselves, engaging in that which is our passion. Whether we make a lot of money from it or not, that's irrelevant. Whether we are successful at it or not, for the short-term, yes, it matters, we experience a high when we become successful, but ultimately that's not deep happiness. That's not what yields long-term happiness. It's applying…
[00:11:03] David: What is deep happiness?
[00:11:03] Tal: Deep happiness is about pursuing our passions, applying our talents, our strength, our inclinations, applying them in a direction we deem worthy, doing something that we find as meaningful and purposeful.
[00:11:22] David: I see. So it's that sense of fulfillment that comes through the actions that we take rather than the goal of what we reached once we've taken those actions.
[00:11:32] Tal: Very much so. The process that we go through has to have two components if we are to fulfill our potential for happiness. The first component is that we need to really enjoy what we're doing, we need to be passionate about it. Second, we need to believe that it's worthy, that it's meaningful, that it's important. So it's two elements because they don't always—they sometimes, when we're fortunate, they go hand-in-hand, but not always. For example, you know, I may enjoy lying on the beach and sun-tanning and enjoy it for a while, but if that is not something that is meaningful for me, how long can I sustain it for?
On the other hand, I may find a particular activity such as teaching in a school. I may find it very, very meaningful, but if I don't enjoy teaching, then also that's not sustainable. It's where we find both pleasure or satisfaction as well as meaning, a sense of purpose. It’s when the two come together, that's when we were fulfilling our potential for happiness.
[00:12:44] David: For people who are right now in a job where they don't particularly feel a sense of meaning or they don't particularly feel a passion for what they're doing, what would you recommend to them? What kind of changes would they need to make in order to reach that state where they're feeling fulfilled by what they're doing?
[00:13:02] Tal: Look, sometimes changing work is possible, other times it's not. Either way, even if it is possible, I would begin by looking within to see how I can take responsibility for my experience. Shakespeare famously said, "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Very often our evaluation of a situation matters a lot more than our judgment, our interpretation. It matters a lot more than the situation itself.
This idea goes back all the way to Marcus Aurelius from 2000 years ago. And today, cognitive therapy is predicated on this idea, that it's our interpretation that matters a lot more than the actual experience. I would look within and some positive psychologists have done research on it.
Not sure if you or your viewers are familiar with it, but research by Amy Wisniewski and Jane Dutton originally from the University of Michigan. What they showed was that essentially, people can be divided into three groups in terms of their work orientation, how they perceive their work.
One group looks at their work as a job, "A job is something I have to do, I have no choice about." A second group looks at their work as a career, "It's something that I want to progress on, make more money, climb up the organizational hierarchy." The third group sees their work as a calling, which is they experience a meaning and purpose. They will do it anyway. They’re glad they're paid for it, but they would do it anyway. Essentially, we can all be put into one of these three work orientations, see our work as a job, or as a career, or as a calling.
The interesting thing about the research by Wisniewski and Dutton is that the work itself has less to do with our experience than our interpretation of the work. There are people, and she gives the examples of janitors in hospitals, who see their work as a job, something they just want to get over with. Other janitors doing the same work see their work as a career, they want to progress, they want to make more money. Other janitors see their work as a calling, as enabling the health of the patients, as facilitating the work of the nurses and doctors. She replicated the exact same finding, or they replicated the exact same finding with doctors and nurses, as well as with the hairdressers, and barbers, and with engineers, and managers, and teachers.
[00:15:44] David: Is it our goal to move towards finding what feels like a calling for us?
[00:15:51] Tal: Absolutely, because the benefits thereof are immense. A, in terms of our experience of the work, we're much more likely to enjoy it and derive satisfaction from it. B, we'll be more productive, more creative and, overall, more successful. One of the things that I do with my clients is that I ask them to write not a job description, which is what we are mostly asked to do, but I ask them to write a calling description, which is, "What is it about your work that you're already doing that is meaningful?"
[00:16:28] David: And what typically comes out of that?
[00:16:31] Tal: What comes out is a lot of it is around relationships. A lot of it is about the difference that they are making to other people's lives, whether it's their customers or their colleagues or their family. A lot of it is about doing things that they're passionate about, whether they are passionate about organizing things or whether they're passionate about crunching numbers, it doesn't matter.
[00:16:57] David: For people who are looking to move into their calling, this is an exercise that you would recommend for them. Can you repeat it one more time? What was the exact process?
[00:17:07] Tal: Ask yourself to write about your calling description, what is it that you do in other words,already doing day in and day out that is meaningful? Or what can be meaningful in what you do or what you can do?" Because there’s usually degrees of freedom within most workplaces where you can't entirely control what you do, but you have some control. What can you do to bring more meaning and purpose to what you're already doing?
[00:17:40] David: What you just said, is it about trying to give meaning to what you're currently doing or is it about finding the meaning in what you're doing so that you can then discover what is something else that would enable me to do that more?
[00:17:51] Tal: Both. Viktor Frankl in his amazing book Man's Search for Meaning makes the distinction between meaning of life and meaning in life. So meaning of life would be to discover, this big meaning and purpose, why am I waking up in the morning? The meaning in life is finding the meaning in the things that you do every day, in the interactions, in the smile that you exchange with someone, whatever it is, but meaning in life. Ideally, we want both, but even if we don't have both, one is plenty. When I say one is plenty, we don't have to experience meaning and purpose at every minute in our life.
Many people say to me, “You are talking about finding our calling, purpose, what about a single mom who has to just bring food home? She needs three jobs, how can she even talk about meaning? This is for the privileged, this conversation." And my answer, "No, not at all,” for this very important reason that even if we're able to find meaning in just one hour, two hours a week in one activity, that has an impact on our entire week. There is a trickle effect to what happens before and what comes after. Let's say that mom can spend, you know, two hours with her BFF, and it can be a very meaningful and deep conversation. That conversation can give her strength for what comes before and what comes after. Small changes make a big difference, that’s one thing.
The second thing, we also know, and there's a lot of research on it, that one of the areas where you would find the highest levels of nihilism, of meaninglessness, is actually among the privileged.
[00:19:49] David: Yeah. Somehow, that's not so surprising.
[00:19:52] Tal: Yeah. I still remember this when I was in undergrad, I remember buying my first fax machine. I must say it was a peak experience when I brought it home and opened it and it also had an answering machine as part of it and I sent my first fax. I sent my parents a letter and received the letter back. How exciting. I think about my kids today, will they be excited when they get their computer? Yeah, maybe for about an hour or two, but we have three computers at home, it’s accessible. There isn't anymore this sense of joy when we get—what today we consider the little things—in the past were the big things.
It's a silly example, it's a fax machine, really. But the point is that very often, people who are privileged have to look harder for something that is meaningful. Because for that single mom, maybe the most meaningful thing is seeing her kids eat, providing for those needs. But even if that is not sufficient, then she can look for it elsewhere as we all can.
[00:21:10] David: I wanted to go back to your Twitter tag line. Could you repeat it for me one more time?
[00:21:14] Tal: Yes. If you want to be in the light, help those around you shine.
[00:21:18] David: I feel like we covered the first part of that where you're talking about discovering your passion, discovering either the meaning of life or the meaning in life, and following your passion and discovering your calling so that you yourself can feel fulfilled. What about the second part of that, helping others to shine?
[00:21:35] Tal: Yeah. There's a lot of research on the benefits of giving. In fact, one of the best ways to increase levels of happiness, to increase levels of resilience is when we give. My mother tongue is not English, it's actually Hebrew. In Hebrew, my favorite word is the word "to give," which is “Natan." The name Nathan actually comes from Natan.
[00:22:06] David: Oh, I wasn't aware of that.
[00:22:07] Tal: Yeah. If you spell the word, whether in English or in Hebrew, it works in both languages. So English, it would be, N-A-T-A-N. Now, you notice it's a palindrome.
[00:22:21] David: Right, forward and backwards, it's the same.
[00:22:24] Tal: Exactly. And that's not a coincidence. There's a lot of wisdom in many of the ancient languages, and what the word "Natan," giving, what it communicates is the fact that when we give, we also receive. When people talk to me about generosity, there is no distinction between being generous towards one's self and being generous toward others. When I'm being generous towards myself, I'm actually becoming stronger and better able to help others. When I'm being generous towards others, I'm actually helping myself, making myself happier. We're all tied together in this web of generosity, of kindness, of giving, of empathy, and the more we cultivate any part of that web, the more we cultivate the whole.
[00:23:17] David: I happen to share this belief. I happen to feel the same way, but I'd like to push back from the perspective of people who don’t. Because a lot of people would say, "Okay, yeah, that sounds great, but I've got a business to run. How can I apply this in my business? How is this gonna help me actually generate results when I've got to focus on the bottom line?"
[00:23:38] Tal: It very much applies, even if your focus is the bottom line, everything that we've talked about. Focusing on your passions, ultimately, you'll also be more successful. Helping other people shine, helping them rise in the long term will help you rise, as well. The belief in a zero sum game, in a fixed pie where if you do well it means that something is taken away from me. Sometimes, in the short term that may be the case when there are limited resources. In the long term, it's always almost never the case. When we help others, when we contribute to others, we ultimately will be helping ourselves. I mean helping ourselves not just in the sense that we'll feel better, which we will, I also mean in the sense that we will have more physical abundance. Once again, to give is to receive. You're helping grow the pie.
[00:24:34] David: If I could translate that for a company. For example, it's when you give the people that you serve, your customers what they need, and what they really need, then naturally this is going to create more abundance for you. This is going to create more success for you. But in order to do that, you need to understand them. You need to have empathy for what their needs are.
[00:24:59] Tal: Yes, exactly. You need to think, and this is an idea that's been wonderfully written about and developed by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, who wrote in their book on Conscious Capitalism. What they write there is about how the most successful companies in the long term are companies that don't just aim to maximize their shareholders value, but there are companies that look at all their stakeholders. And stakeholders mean, yes, also the shareholders, and their employees, and the customer, and the environment. When we look at the whole system rather than just part of it, and we think of the system as a pie, the pie grows.
[00:25:51] David: That's an interesting concept. So you mean the more you put into it, the more there is, the more there is to share?
[00:25:57] Tal: Exactly right.
[00:25:58] David: Okay. Well, I also wanna get into the story that you'd like to share with us, which is about how you learned to share your failures with others. Could you paint that picture for us?
[00:26:09] Tal: Yeah. I'll actually share two stories with your permission and they are related.
[00:26:15] David: Absolutely.
[00:26:18] Tal: The first story is that I was applying for a project, a freelance project, with one of the big consulting firms. It was a project that I thought I could bring all of my passions and my strengths there and it would be a project that was not only very prestigious, it would also teach me a lot, it would help me grow.
[00:26:43] David: Was this in your work as a leadership consultant?
[00:26:45] Tal: Exactly. That was in my work as a leadership consultant. I put together a project, I put a lot of time, literally days and nights, and I loved doing it. And then I went and I thought the audition, so to speak, actually went very well. I went home and was just anxiously waiting to hear from them. I was very optimistic.
I was at work when I got the email from them saying, "Thank you very much, but no, thanks. We didn't feel that there was a fit between what you offer and what we want to offer our clients." I was devastated. And I, you know, I went home, I left work in the middle of the day. Left my office, went home. I was just sitting on the couch, despondent. My wife comes to me and puts her hand on my shoulder. She knew how important it was for me. And then she asked me a question a few minutes later, she said, "Tal, do your students know how often you fail?"
[00:27:52] David: So she meant your students at Harvard? You were also teaching at Harvard at the time.
[00:27:56] Tal: Yes. "Do your students know how often you fail?" The answer was no. She said, "They should." She was absolutely right because I talk about learn to fail or fail to learn. I know how much I fail. I'm around when I fail.
[00:28:11] David: Right. No one knows how much we fail better than we do.
[00:28:15] Tal: Right, right. And my students, they saw me on stage, very successful class. They read in the media is writing about the class, and they didn't know how often I fail. When I talk about learn to fail or fail to learn, or quote Edison who was incredibly successful, "I failed my way to success," they don't get the feel of the sense of what it really means to fail and how important it really is. I started talking more about failure as a result of that.
But there was another experience, which came I think, a year or two later. I was running a year-long certificate program in Positive Psychology. This was for the general public. As part of that program, there was an immersion at the beginning which was 5 days long, then 10 months online, and then another 5-day immersion at the end.
I was working with a group, 200 students in the second immersion. We were nearing the end of the program when I opened it up for conversation. There was a woman in her late 30s, early 40s, put her hand up and started to share. As soon as she started to share, I saw it was something deep, her eyes became moist. She said, "You know, Tal, I'm a psychotherapist. I have a very successful practice. I'm also an expert in Positive Psychology, the science of happiness. I've been studying not just with you, but I've been reading extensively and in other academic institutions. And yet I often feel, especially when I work with my clients as a therapist, I often feel like a fraud."
[00:30:05] David: Imposter syndrome.
[00:30:07] Tal: Exactly. And I said, "Why?" And she said, "Because, you know, how can I be talking to them about their happiness, their well-being, and yet I so often, myself, go into these dark places? How can I be teaching others to see the light, to be happier when I sometimes enter those dark places?"
She was sitting in the front of the room and I said, "Do you mind if I ask a question to the rest of the group?" She said, "Sure." I said, "I'd like you to put your hand up if over the last three months you have been to one of those dark places. I'd like you to put your hands up." And then I said to her, "Look around." She looked around and basically 200 hands were up, including mine. And then I said to her, "Look, we all go through these, into these dark places. There are ups and downs in life. It's natural. We all experience it. I do, too."
As I said it, I noticed something in her demeanor. I said to her, "You don't believe me, do you?" And she said, "I don’t." She had that perception, the belief or the hope, perhaps, that when you really become an expert in Positive Psychology, when you've taught the largest class at Harvard, when you have really studied this field, then you will not go into these dark places. This is false hope. We all go through it.
I always tell my students there are only two kinds of people who do not experience painful emotions. The first kind of people who do not experience painful emotions are the psychopaths. The second type of people who don't experience painful emotions are dead. Experiencing these emotions, it's actually a good sign. You're not a psychopath and you're alive. And yet, people still, even experienced psychologists still have this hope, lingering hope and belief that it's possible to "be enlightened" and to always be in that enlightened happy state. It's not. We all have our ups and downs.
When students come to me, very often, at the beginning of the course they said, “Tal, you talk about the importance of painful emotions, but what if we really become good at this Positive Psychology thing? What if we don't have these painful emotions or experience those failures anymore?" My response to them is always the same, I say to them, "Don't worry. Life will take care of it. It always does."
[00:32:48] David: Yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense. Actually, I spent some time in India and I met with a number of different teachers who, apparently, had attained this kind of awakened state of self-awareness. What they shared also was people had the same perception of them that somehow they're, they're apparently enlightened. They must never go through these kinds of dark experiences or these human emotions. And consistently the answer that they gave is, "No, that's not true. We are human. We all go through these things. The difference is in the conversation we have inside around it."
[00:33:31] Tal: Very good. Yes. This is a very important point that you bring up. There's this sentence, this quote, I can't remember who said it, that "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."
[00:33:45] David: Right. I've heard that as well.
[00:33:46] Tal: Yeah. What this means is that experiencing pain—again, unless you're a psychopath or dead, you'll experience it. The suffering or what I've come to call second level suffering, because suffering, you know, we all go through, but second level suffering is the conversation we have around it, such as, "I'm a therapist, I shouldn't be experiencing these dark places," or, "I'm an expert in Positive Psychology, I shouldn't be experiencing such emotional thing." That brings up more suffering. That’s second level suffering, and that's not inevitable.
[00:34:20] David: For a lot of our listeners, for example, that's also like, "I'm a marketer. I should know how to put together a strategy.” Or, "I'm a developer, I should know how to solve this coding problem." Or, "I'm a CEO, I should know the answer to this problem." But actually, it's natural to go through periods of the unknown and doubt.
[00:34:38] Tal: Yes. Not only is it natural, it's essential, it's important. These are the times that help us grow the most. These are actually the places that develop our muscles. If everything was easy, we wouldn't grow. If you go to a gym and you lift weights and you have zero weights and it's all easy, your muscles won't develop. We need the resistance. We need the hardship and difficulty and failures and pain in order to grow.
[00:35:07] David: What can those of us—I guess all of us—who go through these dark times, how can we develop this resilience so that, as we go through them, we learn how to grow as a result instead of get pulled down by the negativity that we're experiencing?
[00:35:25] Tal: What we need to do first and foremost is accept these painful emotions, accept them as natural, give ourselves what I've come to call the permission to be human. Because once we accept them, when we open up ourselves to having these emotions, they help us grow, they don't bring us down. Whereas when we reject them, when we try to suppress them then they're actually making us weaker rather than stronger. Second is we need to fail more often because, A, because it will develop our muscles more, and B, because if we allow ourselves to fail rather than run away and try to avoid failure, we realize the true nature of the beast, so to speak.
I love the end of The Wizard of Oz when the dog runs to The Great Wizard of Oz and opens the curtain and suddenly they see that this is the wizard and Dorothy says, "I can't believe it." You know, we can't believe that actually the great wizard of failure is actually not that bad. It's not that terrible. But in order to do that, we need to see it, observe it, face it, rather than run away from it. Because the more we try to avoid it and run away from it, the bigger it becomes in our mind. It gets disproportionately large unrealistic proportions. Keep it real is what I'm saying.
[00:36:59] David: The first thing is to give ourselves permission to feel this way, and to accept it that we're experiencing that.
[00:37:07] Tal: And then the second thing is to put ourselves on the line more, to fail more.
[00:37:10] David: And then to allow ourselves to fail more. I can share from personal experience because I go through imposter syndrome all the time. This is something that I experience on a regular basis, even when I'm succeeding. When I'm succeeding I feel like, "Okay, now they're going to find out, at any point, they're going to figure out that I'm actually a fraud and I don't know what I'm doing. I have no idea what it is that I'm doing." Because this is actually how I feel most of the time.
I really don't feel like I know what I'm doing, but I'm very open to situations. I'm very open to answers coming to me and things flowing to me. But because I don't feel like I know what I'm doing, I have this constant anxiety that people are gonna figure this out and gonna realize like, "Oh, we probably shouldn't have brought him on for this role."
What I want to ask out of that is how can we give ourselves permission? What can we say to ourselves? What do we need to do to give ourselves the permission to experience these feelings?
[00:38:08] Tal: So first of all, and this is what I'm sure many of your teachers in India said, just observe the feeling. Don't try and change it. Don't try and do anything with it. Just observe it, "How interesting I have the imposter syndrome, me and five billion other people in the world.” So that we don't make a bigger deal out of it than it is.
An experiment that I often do with my students is based on an experiment by Daniel Wagner. I tell them, "For the next 10 seconds, don't think of a pink elephant. Don't think of a pink elephant." Of course, what happens is everyone thinks of a pink elephant. It's the same with any emotion. When we say, "Okay, don't experience the imposter syndrome, don't do it. You shouldn't do it because look at all the things that you haven't done and are doing." You will experience the imposter syndrome even more.
The same with anxiety. One of the things that I had to deal with for years is anxiety before lecturing. Because I'm an introvert, I feel comfortable in a small group, one on one, but not in a large lecture hall. And initially, the way I try to deal with it was I said to myself, "Tal, don't be anxious, don't be nervous." And of course, what happened? More pink elephants. Whereas as soon as I accepted and I say, "Okay, interesting, here I'm nervous. I've given this lecture so many times, I'm still nervous. How interesting.” This is very helpful.
It's something that, again, Viktor Frankl calls paradoxical intentions. That's another technique that I've come to love and use often. Paradoxical intention is about going and saying to yourself, "Okay, you're not nervous enough, be more nervous, be more anxious." Or, "You don't really feel the imposter syndrome enough of the time and strongly enough. Come on now, really experience it." When we say to ourselves it's silly, and we smile at it, and we take it in proportions. We see the wizard for what it is.
[00:40:15] David: Right. Right. That makes sense. That's wonderful advice. I also want to ask you, a lot of people are skeptical about embracing a people-first approach in business and putting people before profit. What would you say to them to help them understand that this really is, in many ways, the only sustainable way to succeed?
[00:40:40] Tal: What I would say to those people is don't take my word or David's word for it. Experiment. Try. Mahatma Gandhi subtitled his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth. First of all, it wasn’t My Finding Truth, it wasn’t My Looking For The Truth, it was, My Experiments with Truth. Don't take anyone's word for it. Experiment. Try. See what happens when you go out of your way to help people, to help them shine, to make them feel good, and to listen to them. See what happens. Not just one day or two days, but take a bit of time and see what happens in the long-term. Observe what you feel, observe how they feel, observe what begins to happen. Very often, you'd be surprised at the miracles that begin to happen as a result of putting people first.
[00:41:35] David: Great. If you had to pick one resource to help our listeners succeed by putting people first, what would that be, if it was a book or a podcast or a video?
[00:41:44] Tal: Yeah. I have actually a couple. One, I would recommend Warren Bennis' book On Becoming a Leader. Second, I would recommend Nathaniel Branden's book called The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. I think the combination of these two books, both of them are about looking inside self-cultivation, self-knowledge, and self-development, as well as looking outside, cultivating and helping others, the combination of the two books is so powerful.
[00:42:16] David: Again, this concept of in order to help the people around you, first you need to develop this relationship, help yourself, and then you'll have the means and the capacity to do much greater work for those who...
[00:42:27] Tal: And when you do work for others, you would also be indirectly cultivating yourself. It's this self-reinforcing loop between helping self and helping others. Combining the two is something that I've been doing a lot of work on. People often create the distinction, the schism, between selfishness and selflessness. I think this is a false dichotomy. The same applies to the dichotomy between altruism and egoism. Are you for others or are you for yourself? Given that when we give, we receive, the two are interconnected. Instead of talking about selfishness or selflessness, I would rather talk about self-fullness. Self-fulness is about generosity towards self and towards others, reinforcing one another.
[00:43:29] David: Tal, this was a phenomenal interview. Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciated it. Thank you again, so much.
[00:43:34] Tal: Thank you, David.
'The Humans Strike Back' is hosted by Louis Grenier (Content Lead) from Hotjar.
Hotjar is a powerful way to analyse people's behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience. Based in Malta, Hotjar launched in 2015 and grew from €0 to €10M using a people-first approach and no outside funding.
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