The Mindspace Podcast #11: The Science of Personality & Philosophy of Well Being

welcome to the Mindspace podcast I’m
Joe Flanders thanks for tuning in as you may know the purpose of the mind space
podcast is to inspire well-being to help us all move toward a healthier more
joyful and more meaningful life for ourselves and our communities I’m
convinced that a scientific understanding of well-being provides a
strong foundation for this pursuit and my guest today is an exceptional guide
to this area of science his name is Colin D young and he’s an associate
professor in the department of psychology at the University of
Minnesota he specializes in the study of personality and it’s biological basis I
feel like this episode is particularly relevant at this time of year
it’s the beginning of 2019 and for many of us this is a period of reflection a
moment to clarify our hopes and dreams for the next 12 months the podcast
should align nicely with the state of mind is Colin talks a fair bit about the
philosophical basis of well-being science our conversation challenged me
actually to check in on my own assumptions about my happiness and make
sure I have the basics right we also discuss the role of a few different
aspects of well-being including personality habits values goals in
practices such as mindfulness meditation you’ll hear Colin and I speak about the
big five theory of personality and how it surpassed the myers-briggs approach
to become the dominant model in personality science if that discussion
makes you curious about your own personality you could get a report on
your Big Five profile by filling in a simple questionnaire that we will make
available to you on our website so check the show notes for this episode on mind
spaceball being calm finally if you’re inspired to improve your own well-being
mind space could help you can make an appointment with one of our therapists
or coaches you could register for one of our
mindfulness programs you could join our meditation community at presence or you
could bring mine space to your workplace visit mind space well-being comm for
details and now I bring you my conversation with Colin deal hey Colin welcome to the podcast
hey Joe thanks for having me on it’s a real pleasure why don’t we start by you
just telling us who you are and what you do all right so I’m Colin DeYoung and I
am a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and I study
personality psychology and I have a kind of an emphasis on neuroscience so I’m
interested in the brain systems that are involved in different personality traits
I’m just interested also in personality in general and usually say that I’m
interested in the structure and sources of personality so what are our important
personality traits would have the components of personality and where do
they come from okay and how do you do this kind of research what kind of
methods do you use we use a mix of a whole variety of different methods
there’s the old standby of course for personality research is just a
questionnaire so you ask people questions about what they’re like and
they rate themselves on a very time a variety of different questions and
that’s still the best way that we have to get at people personalities because
we need an assessment of what they’re like in general we can supplement that
by having their peers friends family anyone who knows them well also give
ratings of their personality and that seems to improve our assessment there
are some things that you know about your personality that other people don’t but
there are some things that other people know about your personality that you
don’t but then in addition to questionnaires we also use a variety of
cognitive tests and computerized tasks and then for the neuroscience part of
course we need to do something to scan people’s brains and we usually use MRI
for that in my lab so magnetic resonance imaging okay you mentioned something
interesting there around I know stuff and other people might know other things
about my personality that it’s hard to get kind of an objective measure of what
my personality actually is and I want to and another kind of wrinkle to that
which is that we’ve been using actually your personality tests at work lately
and people have approached me to say well I feel like I’m one way at work I’m
another way at home so in a way personality is going to be sensitive to
context as well right yes that’s true and that’s that’s a real issue that’s
why when we have people do those questionnaires we just ask them what
they’re like in general and so of course you know that’s that’s imperfect they
have to do kind of likes I don’t know some kind of averaging in their heads
but we’re interested in people’s general tendencies
you know personality psychologists recognize that people are not going to
act the same way in every situation and in fact that’s a common misconception
about the idea of a personality trait when we talk about people having
personality traits like if we say that somebody is high and anxiety other have
a personality trait of anxiety we don’t mean they’re experiencing
anxiety every minute of every day in every situation we just mean that
they’re more likely to experience more anxiety in more situations than someone
who’s low in anxiety and you might have some situations where they’re totally
calm even if somebody else might find it stressful but just what we’re doing
essentially is talking about a kind of global average of people’s tendencies
what about the argument that personality is totally dependent on context it
doesn’t exist right yeah well that’s pretty well-established to be false at
this point it’s very clear that people do have persistent tendencies and
regularities in their behavior you know and of course that’s just confirming
people’s common sense you know you can if I ask you about any one of your
friends you’re gonna describe them and you’re gonna describe them in terms of
the ways that they that they typically act and if they’re good around me in the
middle but if they’re good friends you’ve seen them in a wide array of
situations it’s unlikely that somehow just your presence is turning them into
a you know a predictable person in ways that don’t apply at all in reality or
across the rest of the lines and so but as I say it’s not just common sense
there is plenty of evidence to indicate that that is true
so as a personality researcher you’re just stuck with the challenge of trying
to get the best estimate of their general tendencies right the best we can
do is to triangulate right and so you know in four different different
concepts or traits in psychology there are different kinds of measurement and
you know so for example if I’m really interested if the trait that I’m really
interested in is intelligence I can use an IQ test and an IQ test is a good
measure of general cognitive ability you know people are still sometimes
skeptical about IQ tests but in fact it’s pretty clear that those are among
the best measures that we have in psychology and you know that’s fine
because what we’re looking at is somebody’s you know ability to do the
best that they can on a particular test that has a right or a wrong answer but
to get it most of people’s traits we’re stuck using these questionnaires because
there isn’t a right or wrong answer we can’t just give you a some kind of
performance test to find out how extroverted you are for example you know
I don’t know maybe somebody will devise one but I doubt it okay one other
question related to this issue of behavior being context dependent I feel
like it’s possible that some people’s behavior is gonna vary more depending on
context and others meaning some people are always the same or more likely to be
the same regardless of the context and some more are more chameleon-like is
there any study of that phenomenon yes actually there’s been a lot of research
on that phenomenon and I actually published a paper about that recently
with a graduate student that I’ve been collaborating with and Mike will not
that has been studied under the label of self-monitoring
which is kind of a weird name I think for the concept but it basically means
that some people pay a lot of attention to how they’re coming across in
different situations and adjust their behavior a lot depending on the
situation whereas other people don’t but it turns out that you can predict who is
likely to do that based on people’s personality traits sort of ironically so
that the tendency to be to act differently in different situations is
itself basically like a personality trait and it can come from a couple of
different places so probably the the biggest personality traits that
determine whether you’re likely to act in a lot of different ways in different
situations or to be relatively consistent are well extraversion is one
of them and a trait called openness to experience or intellect we can talk
about that a little bit is the other one and basically those both have to do with
how sort of flexible and exploratory you are exhibition is sort of about how
exploratory you are in your behavior and openness is more about how flexible you
are in your cognition your perception and those two things together lead
people to just basically adopt more ways of acting or trying things out or
thinking about things in the world now the other place that that tendency
towards self-monitoring or acting different comes from is more from a
place of insecurity so people who are who feel socially awkward or
self-conscious who are worried about how other people perceive them they’re also
likely to try to adjust their behavior to the situation more than people who
are you know more comfortable or we have a more clear sense of who they are okay
so you actually mentioned a few traits already it sounds like you’re or you’re
taking us into one sort of paradigm which I believe is the big five can you
just tell us about that approach to personality yes yeah that’s a good idea
because we should probably have some foundation because I’ll probably mention
big five traits a lot so personality psychologists for a long time like let’s
say from the 50s 60s 70s into the 80s we’re really concerned with trying to
figure out what are the most general common dimensions of personality in
other words there are like a thousand different ways that you could describe
people’s personalities so there are a lot of different personality traits but
some of those traits tend to appear together like it turns out that if
somebody is more sociable they’re also likely to be more talkative they’re also
likely to be more assertive and driven they’re also likely to be more
physically active and they’re even also more likely to experience more kind of
upbeat positive emotions like excitement and enthusiasm and joy and it turns out
that all of those things kind of hanging together if you know that somebody has
one of them they’re more likely to have the other ones and so we can summarize
that whole general tendency as the personality trait or dimension of
extraversion and anyway there was a lot of research for a number of decades and
that really got facilitated once computer power became good enough to do
these kinds of complex analyses that has basically established that there are
five major dimensions of this these sort of patterns of co-occurrence or Co
variation within personalities and so those are what we call the big five and
so just to run through them extraversion vs. introversion is one of them in
modern personality psychology introversion doesn’t mean that you are
imaginative or creative or interested in the life of the mind or fantasy or
whatever it basically just means that you are low in this extroverted tendency
so that you’re more quiet you’re more reserved you’re you know just less
assertive more submissive and those some of those traits that people sometimes
associate with introversion because of the way that Jung thought about it those
are actually part of a different mention a different one of the big five traits
and that’s the one that I already mentioned just a minute ago in terms of
people being flexible in their behavior and that was a trait that’s called
openness to experience now the confusing thing about this one is that it’s also
sometimes called intellect and so there a long debate in personality psychology
about what was the best way to characterize this and the way that this
debate got resolved and this has been some of the some of the research
relevant to this has actually been work that we’ve done in my lab has been to
realize that this broad big five dimension has components that are both
related to how intellectual and engaged in kind of abstract ideas and
philosophical interests that people are and it also has components that are
related to people’s openness to more perceptual or imaginative experience so
tendency toward appreciating art and being interested in aesthetics and
seeing patterns and things being more prone to fantasy and imagination and
artistic creativity so all these things come together and you might wonder well
like how do those things really go together and it seems to be what they’re
reflecting is this kind of common tendency toward cognitive exploration
right like we can explore the world through our behavior and actually you
know pick things up and take things apart and go to new places but we can
also explore the world by thinking about it or by looking at it by manipulating
information in various ways and so there’s this one crucial personality
trait that’s really fundamental to a lot of centrally human tendencies like
intelligence and creativity and imagination that is one of the one of
these big five traits and so it often ends up now getting referred to as
openness slash intellect and it’s kind of an awkward way to talk about it but
it’s because it’s got so many kinds of shades and nuances to it all right so
that’s the first two of the big five and then the third one that I’ll mention is
neuroticism that’s an old label with a lot of
baggage if you don’t want to think about Freud when you talk about personnel you
can call it something like negative emotionality because it basically refers
to the tendency to experience all different kinds of negative emotions so
sadness anxiety irritability jealousy insecurity all these things
unfortunately if you are the kind of person who’s prone to experiencing some
negative emotion you’re also prone to experiencing all
the rest of them too it’s kind of unfair fact about human nature but so some
people are just more sensitive to negative emotions than others and that
seems to be due to their sensitivity to possibilities of threat and and
punishment and okay so the next big five trait is agreeableness and that
basically collects all of the different traits that are related toward people’s
tendencies to be altruistic and cooperative right we’re social animals
we have to interact with lots of other human beings all the time and one of the
things that matters is that we have to be able to get along with them we have
to be able to coordinate our goals with goals of other people and so we have a
whole bunch of different mechanisms or adaptations that allow us to do that but
different people do it to different degrees right some people don’t seem to
care much about whether they hurt other people’s feelings or inconvenience them
or get in their way or prevent them from meeting their needs or whatever and some
people care about that so much that you know they can’t even manage sometimes to
prioritize their own needs over the needs of other people so there’s a lot
of this big range of variation there and that goes by the name of agreeableness
and then the last one is conscientiousness and conscientiousness
refers to people’s ability to be self-discipline to be organized to be
hard-working and pursue long term goals and to be orderly and you know neat and
on time and so it’s all of these things that basically require us to prioritize
some kind of abstract rule or long-term goal over just following our our
impulses or pursuing short-term you know distractions or enjoyments or whatever
so that’s that’s the big five okay my understanding is that the Big Five has
really become the dominant framework for studying personality in psychology and I
guess a couple questions on that maybe how that came to be it does sort of
sound a bit arbitrary like y5y those five in particular and then probably
personality scale that maybe is more known in the general public is this
myers-briggs approach I’m wondering how big five came to sort of overtake that
as the as the dominant model okay well those are those are definitely both good
questions I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the myers-briggs
because I feel like I spent a lot of time talking about it last I did a
podcast with another friend but it’s sort of an inevitable question because
that’s such a popular test just within the general public let me first start
with where the big five came from and actually the first one thing I want to
say is that you know as with most scientific ideas not everyone is
convinced that the big five is the best way to describe personality it’s
certainly not the only way it’s based on the patterns by which different
personality traits tend to group together within people and as I said
that’s something that has been studied empirically over decades now and it’s
essentially just like an empirical observation so you can ask you know why
are there five but you know some people have said that that’s like asking why
are there you know five continents or are there six well whatever you know
however many there are it’s just an it’s just an empirical observation right and
so the question is you know well why are there those particular five traits and
that’s actually one of the things that I’m particularly interested in is
understanding where these different traits come from now as I mentioned not
everybody thinks it’s the best way there’s another system that is also
empirically based that suggests that maybe six traits are more useful for
understanding personality it’s but the thing is that that system is very
similar to the Big Five it basically just splits the trace up in a slightly
different way so it kind of splits one of the big five traits into two and
reorganizes a couple of the other ones so basically that’s what I would say is
that there’s not going to be an absolute answer about what is the best system but
we know that the system that we’re using is is a pretty
proximation of the kind of empirical reality that’s been observed across
hundreds of studies for many years now now in terms of how the how the Big Five
compares to the myers-briggs the thing you have to understand about the
myers-briggs is that it has no scientific basis okay so it was
developed by someone who was an enthusiast of Jung’s psychological ideas
and theories and she did not have any particular training in psychometrics or
psychology she was just a fan of viewing and thought that it would be good to be
able to measure his ideas in this way so she devised this system this
questionnaire with some help from her mother’s that’s this Myers & Briggs one
of the Myers a Thomas Briggs and it became incredibly popular but as I said
it doesn’t have a scientific basis and there are a lot of problems with it from
an empirical standpoint you know nonetheless it can kind of give people a
sense of what their personalities are like but and as I said I don’t have
spent a lot of time talking about it I’ll just mention a couple of the
problems with it from a scientific perspective one is this use of it to
categorize people as either one end of a trait or the other like you’re either an
introvert or an extrovert you’re either a judge or a perceiver
well you know the problem with this is that that’s not how personality is
actually arranged in the population there are categories of people who fall
into one personality trait or another what there is is a continuum you know
it’s like we talked about a spectrum often when people are talking about
mental health problems well all of personality is composed of spectra and
so it’s not case that you’re either an extrovert or an introvert it’s the case
that you have some degree of extraversion versus introversion I mean
it turns out that just about all of these normal personality traits are
distributed on the norm the normal curve is also called the bell curve and what
that means is that there are a lot of people who are basically average in that
trait or near the average and then there are relatively fewer
people who are at one extreme or the other and all those people who are near
the average if you try to categorize them as being either an extrovert or an
introvert you’re likely to either mislead them or what often happens is
that people get worried because their scores are unstable like they take the
myers-briggs one time and then they get again and their personality has changed
it doesn’t actually mean however that their personality has changed very much
it just means that even within the margin of error of the test if they’re
really near the average they might have scored just above the average one time
and just below the average another time just you know for reasons of error in
the test and they’d get categorized as having a totally different personality
so the way that we study personality scientifically is that we give you a
score ranging from you know extremely introverted to extremely extroverted and
you know you might be at the 50th percentile or the 75th percentile so we
usually continuous measure and that’s important then the other issue we have
it with it is just the way that it divides up the personality traits the
the biggest example of a problem there is this idea that you’re either a
thinking person or a feeling person well it turns out that Berkeley speaking
those two things are simply not opposed it’s not the case that people who are
more likely to be intellectually engaged and to think about things and interested
in you know logic are less likely to be engaged with emotions and to be
sympathetic with two other people and to pay close attention to their emotional
experience those things just aren’t the opposite ends of a single trait so
you’re sort of artificially creating this dichotomy wherein exists and you
know people will say well but it’s important to talk about Jung’s ideas of
personality well Yoona was really a man and had a lot of good insights but he
also wasn’t a scientist by our standards today some of what he did was you know
reasonably scientific by the standards of science you know in 1900 but that
doesn’t mean that we should be paying too much attention to it when we’re
trying to do science today there just isn’t the same kind of empirical support
all right so that’s my that’s my rant on the MBTI so
now we can get back to more modern topics okay well I actually found that
super interesting so I really appreciate it but we’ll we’ll move on because maybe
we’ll get to topics that you’re more interested in exploring and actually
what I’d like to ask you not sure if you’ll be pumped about this one or not
but how did you personally sort of get interested in personality and why did
this become the thing that you devote your professional life to you well
really it’s because of a class that I took in college so I’ve always been
interested in kind of what makes people tick and trying to understand people I
think partly because I wasn’t very good at it was a kid I was kind of socially
awkward and I sort of didn’t get like you know how’s this whole sort of social
interaction things supposed to work so I was curious about people also just you
know introspective and interested in understanding myself but when I got to
college I was I thought I was going to major in philosophy I was really
interested in philosophical questions around how consciousness works and I was
into existentialism I had taken a class to talk about that in in high school I
think existentialism sort of a natural fit for angsty teenagers right but what
happened was that I got to college and probably just by chance took a couple of
really boring philosophy classes in my first year and you know when you’re 19
you don’t know what the hell you’re doing so if I had happened to take a
philosophy class that I really liked I could be in a very different place right
now but anyway that’s what happened and so I felt like well I’ve got to find a
new major and so I started shopping around for different majors and I found
this program that was there was a interdisciplinary cognitive science
program and I was coming more out of the humanities you know in philosophy and
literature and I discovered that in the cognitive science program there was a
track that was run out of the history of science department and they would allow
you to two classes in philosophy if they were related to
the philosophy of science and Sonia may so I found something that really seemed
to match what I wanted and I ended up studying the history of psychology and
psychiatry as my main focus in college and in fact I wrote my senior honours
thesis on young and his theory of the collective unconscious and trying to
assess that from a historical perspective but one of the requirements
of that major was that whatever science you were studying historically you also
had to take some current classes in it as well and so I ended up taking a bunch
of psychology classes like a minors worth basically and the first one of
those classes that I took was a class called personality and its
transformations and this was at Harvard and it was taught by jordan peterson who
is quite famous now for other reasons but anyway i was very interested by his
class when i took it and that was what kind of got me onto this trajectory of
studying psychology and specifically studying personality psychology and it
just it turned out that there was you know there was actually a discipline
that was interested in scientifically researching all these questions that i
thought were really important about life but i hadn’t really realized you could
study them scientifically like you know why are people different from each other
and how do people figure out like what’s a good thing for them to do in life all
these kinds of questions that you know a lot of people are interested in when
they’re nineteen twenty and it turns out that personality psychology actually
does research into these questions what can you tell us about what science says
about making good decisions and all those things that you’re interested in
when you were 19 and what personality research says about who is experienced
as well being and why alright well somehow i expect this is what’s going to
take up a lot of the rest of this podcast because that’s a that’s a very
big question also something i’ve been getting more interested in recently I’m
actually working on a paper right now about
personality and well-being with a friend of mine Valerie Tiberius who’s a
philosopher here at the University of Minnesota who studies well-being from a
philosophical angle and has her own theory about well-being and kind of we
discovered that it was a it fit really well with my own theory of personality
that I’ve been developing so I guess you know one place to start with this would
be to talk about what do we mean when we say well-being right and it turns out
that philosophers and psychologists tend to come at this from pretty different
perspectives and again this is partly because of the challenges of measurement
trying to talk about the difficulty of how you measure people’s personality as
well it also turns out that it might be difficult to measure well-being
depending on what you think well-being means now if you think that well-being
is simply somebody’s sense of satisfaction with their own lives and
how happy they are then it’s actually pretty easy to measure and so this is
how psychologists understand well-being probably probably precisely because it’s
easy to measure so in psychology what we do is we just ask people about how
satisfied with their lives and how much positive relative to negative emotion
they experience and some psychologists have felt like that was a little deleted
so now there’s also a tendency to think about other types of well-being like how
meaningful people experience their lives to be in people whether people have a
sense of purpose in their lives and of course these are already important
things in terms of people’s people’s experience of their own lives but
nonetheless you’ll notice that they’re all still still completely subjective
they’re just about how people feel about themselves consciously and so it turns
out that most philosophers actually wouldn’t take that to be an adequate
foundation for well-being the school of philosophy that gets closest to that
view would be the hedonists so there are there are simply three general types of
theories about well-being and philosophy and I know about this enlarged bride
thanks to tutelage from my friend Valerie hedonism is one of them which
essentially says that you know the balance of pleasure and pain is really
what constitutes somebody’s well-being and you can talk about whether that’s
important just moment to moment or whether there’s some kind of long-run
balance between pleasure and pain that we should use to establish somebody’s
well-being but at any rate that’s really the only philosophical school that
thinks subjective experience is the primary or crucial foundation for
well-being there are two other general types of theory one of them is they’re
known as list theories and the original one is comes from Aristotle so they’re
also referred to as Aristotelian approaches to well-being and they
basically argue that there is some objective list of qualities that you
have to achieve to have well-being that can be with the sense that you have to
fulfill some kind of human nature right that you have to live up to some kind of
potential for human nature and that is what true well-being means and so if you
have those kinds of things whether they are well that’s the thing is that
different philosophers within the school will come up with slightly different
lists of what are the qualities that a person should have like you know wisdom
and temperance and good judgment and whatever else it is that once somebody
has that then you can subjectively that they have a high level of of well-being
then the third type of theory are usually called desire or preference
satisfaction theories and these basically state that people have certain
certain desires certain goals and the degree to which they are actually
achieving those goals or successfully meeting those desires is what really
causes well-being now there’s obviously a subjective component there right
because what people’s goals and preferences are going to be at least in
part subjectively determined but there’s thought to be essentially a real
potentially objective question in many cases about whether people
actually are moving toward their goals or not so in other words somebody who
was delusional who thought that things were going really well in their lives
and had a you know a strong sense of satisfaction and felt like their desires
were being met even when if we could identify that in truth that they weren’t
that they were failing in most of the things that they themselves professes
their goals and that you know they’re heading for some kind of calamity we
might say that well they’re actually miss misled or deluded about their own
well-being alright so Valerie’s theory is kind of a
sophisticated version of a preference or desire satisfaction theory it’s called
value for film theory and it basically says that people have well-being to the
extent that they are moving toward fulfilling a set of values that they
have and those values have to be appropriate that’s the word that she
uses and what that means essentially is that people’s conscious judgments about
what they want are well integrated with their with their emotional lives and our
basic motivations and so these other things about themselves that may not be
always fully conscious but that we can you know try to have some kind of
insight into and to pay attention to and so not that that that that idea that you
have to have these sort of well integrated goals that are that are
viable and other words have to be realistically possible for you
that are sustainable that are going to be things that actually work for you in
the long term or at least relatively long term because of course people can
change their goals and then also have this quality of being well integrated
across our various different goals and both our conscious and unconscious
experience of the world our relation to the world that fits really well with the
kind of approach that I take to help personality who works in which goals are
really important call and catch up in there for one sec yes a couple questions
there so one approach to well-being that I understand is very popular in positive
psychology is this ocean of eudaimonic well-being which I
believe puts a lot of emphasis on capacity to handle adversity and make
meaning out of the difficult things that arise in life and then sort of integrate
experiences that have to do with overcoming difficulty and there’s
something about that that’s very conducive to well-being and it’s
interesting because what you’ve been talking about the sense of like moving
in the direction of values or working towards goals I’m wondering how this
notion of eudaimonia fits in because we all know that the best-laid schemes and
can easily fall apart that adversity is a natural part of what it means to be
human being so with this notion of adversity and overcoming adversity as a
source of well-being fit into this approach at all yes that you link it to
eudaimonia so here’s a little quiz for you in the description that I gave there
are different types of well-being theory where do you think well if I’m not
mistaken and I’ll definitely edit this out if I get it wrong but I thought this
notion of eudaimonia is Aristotelian that’s true but but it’s not part of
this list approach that you mentioned earlier yeah so the interesting thing
that is and I kind of purposely didn’t use the word because especially in this
dialogue between philosophy and psychology the use of eudaimonia is
really confusing so yes you’re right that it comes from Aristotle and
basically eudaimonia to Aristotle meant this state of fulfilling ones one’s
human nature and sort of cheating this kind of the optimal equalities that a
human being should have and so in other words it was about fulfilling the
purpose of being human so it’s properly described by
philosophers in this kind of Aristotelian context which ends up being
moral a with these list theories now the problem is that psychologists got hold
of this idea and they thought oh that sounds great there’s you know there’s
more to life than just happiness and satisfaction
there are also there’s also this sense of what is the
purpose of human life and having a sense of meaning and fulfillment and so what
they did basically was that they took eudaimonia and used the term in a way
that they may have thought was let’s say faithful doddle but the philosophers
don’t agree all right so the psychologists they talk about you
demonic well-being and what they mean is that people describe their lives as
being meaningful and as having a sense of purpose and there’s a whole bunch of
measures that now exist that ask people with questionnaires you know
subjectively to rate those things but the Philosopher’s say well hold on a
minute here because Aristotle wasn’t saying that you just you know whether
your belief about whether you’re achieving the fulfillment of human
nature is what counts you actually have to achieve it it’s an objective quality
not a subjective quality right and so the Philosopher’s actually tend to get a
bit bent out of shape by the way that the psychologist uses the term
eudaimonia so now you know okay but to what extent does meaning and purpose fit
into the approach that you’re taking with your colleague around goals and
values well I do think it is important right and so people’s subjective sense
of first of all we’re not claiming that people’s subjective sense of well-being
whether it’s happiness or meaning or purpose or whatever is irrelevant
obviously very important is not the whole picture
I think that in order to have a sense of purpose or meaning in life you have to
have what Valerie calls appropriate values and what that means is that you
are motivated by some kind of larger longer-term goals and now I should
probably say a little bit about this contrast between the terms values and
goals so I I tend to use goals in a sense of the word that comes from a
field called cybernetics and we can talk about that a little bit more too because
that’s the basis of my own personality theory
so cybernetics is the study of systems that are goal directed and that manage
to self-regulate by a feedback all right so they have some way of monitoring what
the state of the world is and they also have some kind of representation about
the way that the world should be and they are capable of comparing those
things and then engaging in various kinds of strategies or actions or
cognitive processes to try to transform the way that the world is in to the way
that they think that the world should be and so these representations of the way
the world should be our goals and the goals can be as as simple and
straightforward as like I want a sandwich because I’m hungry to something
like I think that let’s say I should always be an honest person or I think
that war is bad and we should be trying to eliminate it from the world right so
what people often refer to as values I think are in an important sense just
some of these relatively broad abstract goals all right so that gives us a way
of thinking about then what it means for people to say that they’ve got meaning
or purpose in life but isn’t a goal something that could be accomplished and
a value is something that we can only sort of point ourselves toward no I
don’t think that’s necessarily true so philosophers were taught we’ll talk
about people having a range of values from the relatively concrete up to the
relative abstract now you might say are there some values that we can only point
ourselves toward and I you know that might be true right there are some
things that we might try for but that we know are never going to be perfectly
achieved the way that I talk about goals from the cybernetic perspective is that
they are these kinds of guiding representations of what is desirable so
you could have a goal that you are genuinely working for even though you
knew you were never going to perfectly achieve it right so you know let’s say
well you know let’s say my goal is to be perfectly honest let’s say but it’s
unlikely that people are ever going to manage to successfully avoid misstating
things occasionally or you know there’s the
occasional white lie that people feel like it’s necessary for whatever reason
and you know not that I’m trying to say that perfect honesty is the right goal
to have but just that you can imagine somebody having that goal even though
they acknowledged that they were never going to live up to it perfectly and I
feel like well a lot of the kinds of values and ideals that people get out of
their religious or spiritual traditions have those kinds of qualities right that
you know people are we recognize that people are flawed that they don’t always
live up to their loftiest ideals to it which I would describe as some of their
most abstract goals but nonetheless they are still they are guiding their
behavior and people are trying to you know create a world and create
themselves in such a way that they live up to those old okay so it is a broader
use of the word goal yes yeah so so that’ll be interesting to kind of map
out as we go forward one of the things one of the other follow-up questions I
had for you is if well-being is so closely tied to goals
what do you make of this approach to well-being often embodied in in
mindfulness and meditation and all this stuff this approach of like letting go
and being a little less like obsessed with goals and outcomes and really being
able to connect more to engage more readily with the present moment the idea
is that if we’re constantly preoccupied with where we want to be we’re selling
ourselves short in terms of appreciating what is already here and I think it’s
actually compatible with the way that I think about well-being and it actually
raises some really interesting questions right so I think that the probably the
right way to think about that is that the I think we can boil down well-being
from my perspective to two basic questions one is how successful are you
in moving toward your goals and by that of course I don’t I’m not including just
your concrete goals like you know getting a raise at work I’m also
including these much more abstract goals you know like be an honest person or be
kind or have fulfilling personal relationships these kinds of
things that people view as part of their you know ideal self or ideal future the
way that they want the world to be and so so the first key component is our
people actually making progress toward those things and the second key
component is how well integrated are their various goals right so we can
think about people’s goals as a hierarchy because some of our goals are
broad and some are more narrow as we buggie said and typically in order to
achieve rod goals there are sub goals that are some of those narrower goals
that we need to be met so you know let’s say I have the goal you know let’s say
I’m in college let’s say and I have the desire to have a fulfilling career and
I’m sort of thinking about what my future is going to be maybe I decide
that you know maybe I have this feeling like I really want to help people and so
I think well being a doctor would be a good way to do that you know that
suddenly I’ve got this I’ve got this well very broad goal which is to help
people then I picked a sort of somewhat more concrete sub goal which is to be a
doctor so that’s a way in which I’m gonna be able to help people and then
that sub goal of being a doctor that in itself is a goal that needs a whole
bunch of different sub goals right so that means I have to successfully get
into medical school and that means that I have to take pre-med courses and there
are all these things that one has to do in order to achieve these broad long
term goals and they too are our narrower goals right and so we have this whole
complex set of goals and the problem is that they don’t all necessarily fit
together with each other very well let’s imagine this person who wants to be a
doctor and let’s imagine that they’ve also always really enjoyed music you
know so let’s say they’re excellent musician studied music as a child really
enjoyed it and but now they feel like well you know
music is it’s good I’ll keep doing that on the side but I’ve got a you know I’ve
got to get into med school and be a doctor so maybe I don’t have as much
time for it as I used to now that might work out you know
maybe for this person music is works fine as a side hobby but maybe it turns
out that they were a lot more attached to to making music
then they realized and what they’re finding is you know they’re not enjoying
organic chemistry or these various other things that they were taking in order to
be pre-med you know this there’s essentially no time for music these
classes are hard that’s out the window and they really start to suffer because
of that and feel like that there’s a detriment to their well-being and so now
there’s an interesting choice to make right and sometimes people make these
faces without really even consciously realizing that they’re doing it it’s
like things just drop off or kind of flakes between different goals that
people have people that compromises sometimes without even paying attention
to the fact that they’re making compromises and so a lot of what we have
to deal with in life and a lot of what leads to poor quality of life or lack of
well-being has to do with goal conflict you know we have some need that is not
being met you know because the need is just another way to talk about a goal to
me a need is basically like a goal that is built into the human being by
evolution but there are certain things that there’s certain goals that we just
can’t they’re not really optional for most people that aren’t you can’t escape
them and so they’re often these tensions between fulfilling our different needs
or goals or values and I think that too if I can bring this back around to where
your question started out that these traditions that emphasize the important
of the importance of mindfulness and non judgment and letting go of our
attachments what they’re doing is basically providing us a tool with
figuring out what are really our important goals like they don’t usually
use those words and that’s partly because of the way that I’m using gold
more general in abstract way but you might think that as they help us to
figure out what our really are important values what doing what do we need to be
attached to and what do we not need to be attached to now you might say okay
hang on if you’re a good Buddhist you don’t
think you need to be attached to anything right you have to complete non
attachment but you know interestingly I think that’s exactly like one of the
things we were talking about earlier like one of these values that you know
maybe works for some people is something to work toward but it’s not actually
something that you can achieve you cannot cease to be a cybernetic system
in other words you cannot cease to be an organism and organisms are goal-directed
by their very nature that is essentially what makes it an organism what it is and
so you will continue to need to eat that’s asleep you will continue to care
about your interpersonal relationships you will continue to have goals no
matter how good a Buddhist you are you don’t think it’s possible to achieve
freedom from those attachments so whatever that means well first of all if
I meet someone who claims to be enlightened I’m suspicious because most
of you most of the people that I’ve known who seemed particularly
enlightened you know some very admirable and let’s say high-level and voted
Buddhists for example they do not typically claim to be heightened does
the Dalai Lama going around you know bragging about his
enlightened NISS that’s not really the way that it works I think because once
you we’re that far along the path to enlightenment I think what you realize
is again it’s the kind of thing that is an ideal but you realize that it can
never be perfectly achieved and so you know while you are a living organism you
cannot be free of attachments if by attachments you mean having goals right
having things that you that you desire and that you care about what you can do
however is to give yourself the capacity to detach yourself from any particular
goal in any particular moment and you can also gears off the capacity to take
a kind of more distance perspective and to sprout whether you really need to
care about some of these things or not right so a lot of the times a lot of the
things that we care about are these fairly low-level concrete goals of
course because they’re organizing our days you know from moment to moment an
hour to hour it’s like I got a deadline I need to get this done and
it’s very easy to get so focused on your relatively short-term goals that you
lose track of the larger goals or the longer-term goals and the more abstract
goals or the values or whatever you want to call them that hopefully you’re more
shirt short-term goals are actually helping you to to move toward until to
fulfill so what I think that things like mindfulness practice can help us to do
is to allow us to be a lot more flexible in our attachments they can’t eliminate
all attachments they can’t eliminate the fact that we need things as living
beings but they can certainly help us to be more flexible to realize that hey if
I can’t if I can’t get closer toward my ideal future through this path there are
probably other paths I don’t have to feel like it is life or death whether
this particular path works out or not you know and I think to again bring us
back around to something you asked earlier this gets back to this idea of
coping with adversity right and when you were talking about this rather than the
word eudaimonia I was thinking about the word resilience this is how do you
manage to cope and recover from setbacks and how do you manage to to adjust and I
think that that’s the other crucial thing that sting like mindfulness can
can potentially contribute to is this capacity to increase our exploratory
capacity the ability to generate to generate new goals and new strategies
for pursuing existing goals and new ways of just interpreting the world right
that might change what we think we need and what might at some point change what
our goals are or might help us to realize that I hey we’re actually much
farther along toward some goal than we thought you know like maybe you always
thought that you needed to have x y&z in your
romantic relationship for you to be happy but maybe you have some kind of
insight that allows you to reinterpret the qualities of the partner that you do
have and to see that in fact you know a B and C where qualities that actually
can meet my goal of having a fulfilling relationship and so they’re all kinds of
ways in which we have to be able to be flexible because as you said write
adversity is just a fact of human life things will go wrong everything will get
all screwed up and so the more you have that capacity to not be attached to any
particular goals and be able to be flexible and develop new goals and new
strategies when you need to the better off you are and the higher your life
your well-being is likely to be so write and see go ahead I was just going to
going to one point that I had started earlier which was this idea of the
importance not just whether you’re successfully moving toward your goals
but whether your goals are well integrated with each other right and
some of our goals are conscious we know that we want X Y and C sometimes they’re
more on unconscious we just have let’s say an emotional representation or a
motivational state that we can’t even quite put a finger on but it’s really
I’m cleaning us in some direction so the more integrated we are the more well you
know I said that Jung had some good ideas even though he wasn’t exactly a
scientist by our current standards he had this idea that the goal of
psychotherapy and the goal of human development in general was what he
called individuation you want to become an individual a part of what he stressed
was that in to be individual to be individuated means to be undivided it
means to be well integrated it means that you’re not working at
cross-purposes to yourself so that means that you have a good understanding of
your own emotional life and your motivations and you can connect that to
the kinds of conscious feelings that you have about what your goals in life
should be mindfulness can help us to achieve that kind of integration that’s
allowing us to have real well-being which is founded in being not divided
against our right so you talked with this tendency
to be really caught up in or really really focused on the you know the goals
of the moment or the goals of the day I think we could even be caught up in
longer-term goals and just sort of pursuing them in the reality on the
ground but this capacity for mindfulness allows us to be flexible disengage from
some invest more and others reflect on new ways of approaching the pursuit of
that goal when adversity arises so it really is about cultivating
psychological flexibility yes that’s right I just want to take a little
tangent here because you sound like somebody who has either studied or
thought a lot about her practice mindfulness and you and I actually took
a meditation class together as my first meditation class in Toronto yeah so I
just want to take a little detour here and just ask you about your own practice
and if you’re still practicing and and what it’s bringing to your life these
days it is what you’re experiencing with your meditation practice related to what
we just talked about in terms of this this theory that you’re working on yes
well I wish I could say that I had a good meditation practice still but the
fact is that at this point I am meditating only very rarely and it would
be great if I was doing it more and I’ve thought a lot about like why it’s hard
to maintain meditation practices I think that if I look back over my over my life
you know for the last well let’s say what is it now so almost 20 years right
well at least 15 or so since I took that class with you and that was when I
really started meditating and in what I got out of that and I had a very regular
meditation practice for probably about five years let’s say and that was hugely
important just for my development and I would say for my well-being even through
to today and a lot of what I learned with that
practice is still just influences the way that I experience life all the time
even though I don’t sit very often anymore so what happened was that I
guess there was a period of of a few years where I was just meditating less
often and then since then it’s just kind of dropped off you know one of the
things that I always thought about a lot even when I was meditating often was
that I would get into periods where I was having a hard time making the time
to actually sit and meditate and that was weird to me as a psychologist
because of the fact that when I did it I found it so rewarding I found it you
know some people talk about really struggling and of course everyone if
they’ve had a regular meditation practice has had the experience of
struggling with their practice and feeling like you know sometimes it’s
just really hard to to you know sometimes the mind wandering is worse
than usual I can get frustrating but you know I
didn’t have that experience too often I mean I certainly had plenty of
experience of having an unruly monkey mind but I generally found it to be a
really positive experience in the moment while I was actually sitting there like
it was emotionally positive for me and so that I thought like as a good
psychologist like well this should be conditioning me this should be making it
really easy to be motivated to do this and so I started to think about why that
might be and I didn’t I when I started to learn about some of the ways that the
brain’s reward system works and the way that dopamine works and the way that the
endogenous opiates system works I kind of developed a hypothesis I haven’t ever
tried to test this yet about why that might be the case and so basically what
you’re doing when you are meditating right is that you are trying to free
yourself from desires from trying to pursue things from being judgmental
about things from being caught up in pursuing some particular goal regardless
of what it is and so I think that one of the things that you’re doing in typical
meditation is that you are really trying to turn off the dopamine system right
yourself some some freedom from from wanting things in order to have this
greater clarity and perspective now so out there in the popular press dopamine
gets presented sometimes is like a feel-good chemical or it’s what makes
you happy that’s not true if you you know if you take a dopaminergic drug it
will awesome it will often induce euphoria alright that’s why people like
cocaine and amphetamines which are acting pretty much directly on the
dopamine system but it turns out that that feeling of pleasure and that good
feeling is actually due to a different set of neurotransmitters those are
related to the opiate system but what dopamine it’s doing is it’s making you
motivated it’s making you want things so it’s really more a chemical about
wanting than it is about liking things and so I think that what you’re doing
when you meditate is you are temporarily trying to deactivate your dopamine
system and the interesting thing about that is that dopamine is what creates
learned motivation okay so I think that what’s happening one of those is that
it’s hard to maintain a regular meditation practice is that even though
you have that you can have the kind of liking and enjoyment of the behavior but
you are intentionally suppressing the process that would normally make a
behavior addictive alright that would make it something that you were really
motivated to do and that you have the desire to do in a way that manifested in
your behavior so I think that there’s something interesting about the way
meditation works by its very nature that actually makes it so inherently harder
to train to train yourself into a habit with it that is that really would
explain a lot if it’s true because this is something we face at mind space and
everywhere I go trying to inspire people to meditate is that almost everybody
recognizes that it would be beneficial and valuable and and a useful thing to
do but it’s just so hard to make it stick and one of the one of the things
that for probably millennia people have understood about maintaining a
meditation practices community is a hugely important component right so you
there’s the Sangha and there’s the people that you sit with and I
wonder if that’s becomes a question of introducing reward into the routine well
I think it’s not even just reward although of course people are rewarded
by social engagement often in community but it’s also just building like a
pragmatic structure so that you have the organization and it’s not just up to you
and your whims whether you you know whether you pursue the practice or not
you’ve got obligations to other people you’ve got all these other motivational
systems that are now coming into play that help you organize your behavior
other than just whether you feel like doing something or not right right so I
feel like we should kind of connect the two streams of our conversation so far
one of them is this really interesting discussion of well-being in this model
that you’re working on with a colleague and the other one is personality
how does personality fit in here are there traits that wouldn’t make us more
likely to be individuated or have our goals integrated successfully what are
the traits that make that more difficult where does psychopathology fit into all
of this that’s all big can of worms so let’s start with just the kind of basic
idea of associations between personality traits and talk about the big five and
well-being and let’s back up for a minute and talk about well-being in the
way that psychologists usually think about which is just how satisfied are
you with your life and how much you know positive versus negative emotion do you
experience well it turns out that even if you ask people about that you know
just like how you feel right now in the moment that turns out to be remarkably
stable over time right and what that means is that like if I ask you now how
you feeling and a bunch of other people and I asked all those people and you
again you know a few years from now there’s actually going to be a pretty
strong correlation between who is feeling good versus bad now and who’s
feeling good versus bad years later and one of the things that that indicates is
that that sense of subjective well-being basically has the properties of a
personality trait in other words it’s very stable over time and you might
think well that’s weird because people’s lives change a lot in something
better and worse why is that so stable well it turns out that people’s levels
of well-being have a lot to do with their basic personality and even when
good or bad things happen in life in our lives we tend to to adjust over time and
to get used to them basically back to our kind of predisposed levels of
happiness now of course there can be some long-term changes for very for
worse but this is just talking about a general tendency across people and so it
turns out that your levels of neuroticism which remember reflects
levels of negative emotion plus your levels of extraversion which in part
reflect your levels of positive emotion have a lot to do with your levels of
well-being over time you know and so that’s that’s kind of a bummer for
people who are highly neurotic and relatively introverted because it
suggests that they have a certain degree of you know let’s say less well-being if
you will from the subjective perspective than somebody who has who has different
levels of those traits who’s at the opposite end of the spectrum and that’s
actually part of why I think it’s important to describe well-being in
terms of people’s capacity to move toward their goals
rather than only in terms of their subjective sense of satisfaction or
happiness because you can have people you know and
so just as a slight tangent obviously most people have the goal of being happy
right so to the degree that they’re subjectively less happy maybe they are
having some trouble in meeting one of their goals but we have people have
different levels of expectation and somebody who is you know generally prone
to negative emotion can make peace with their own level of neuroticism to some
extent and I think that’s one of the things that mindfulness is really
important for is that it sort of helps you to understand that there are going
to be limitations on your own tendencies to experience the world that you can
work around that you can be flexible with and that don’t mean that everything
is ruined right like let’s use just like a
stereotypical American example is like everybody Americans want to be
extroverted and outgoing and it’s very much you know one of the kind of
cultural ideals that people should be loud and proud and liberals
and so you know it’s kind of potentially tough to be an introvert in the US but
if you can you know accept that that does not need to be a goal that you have
and that being relatively introverted even though it means that you’re not the
most you know a bully and are outgoing or a happy person from moment to moment
doesn’t mean that you are necessarily failing at your goals right you can
adjust your goals you can say that your your goals are not necessarily to have
the maximum excitement and immediate pleasure at every moment of of your life
that you might have other things that are more meaningful and contribute more
to your sense of purpose in life so getting back to your question I mean the
answer is yes there are certainly personality traits that have a direct
link to our sense of well-being subjectively but I don’t think that that
necessarily means that your personality traits have some kind of determine of
effect on your capacity for well-being partly because I think that mere
subjective well-being is not the right way to think about it if you think about
well-being more in terms of having well integrated goals and values and and
being able to pursue them sustainably there again we are going to see some
influence of people’s personality traits on them and your personality traits are
basically going to be you know they’re going to be things that facilitate what
you want to do in life or that make it harder and you just have to learn how to
work around them yeah I mean there’s also there is also a possibility for
people’s personality traits to change over time that’s really important to say
as well we know that personality is not completely fixed that’s something that
people used to have let’s call it by now it’s it’s a myth essentially right that
your personality is fixed once you reach adulthood it’s never going to change
again especially if we’re talking about these broad personality traits like the
big five it’s clear from research over the last 90 years or so that people’s
personality traits do change even in adulthood I guess the thing is though
that it’s not easy to change them right and they’re not likely to change
dramatically you’re not likely to go from being a complete interpret to being
a complete extrovert or vice versa but change is possible even in these basic
tendencies but even without changing our Bay
personality traits which can be very difficult and limited we can change
other things about ourselves we can change our habits right we can change
the way that we interpret the world we can change our specific concrete goals
and so it is hot and those things in as much as they are relatively stable over
time those are important parts of our personality right the things that I care
about the ways that I interpret the world even though the things that I’ve
learned in interaction with my environment may be influenced in various
ways by my personality traits those changeable updatable things that I’ve
learned those are all parts of my personality and those can be changed
more flexibly than my personality traits is that your notion of the
characteristic adaptation yes it is right so in my in my theory which is
called cybernetic big five theory because it basically tries to apply
cybernetic principles to understanding what personality is and where the big
five come from I make a crucial distinction between personality traits
and characteristic adaptations and so the traits are these variations in
mechanisms that all people have right like everybody has the capacity to be
threatened by things or to be pushed by things and how sensitive that mechanism
is is what seems to determine our levels of neuroticism as a personality trait
and so when I talk about personality traits I’m talking about concepts or
qualities that we could use to describe people at any point in history in any
culture right so you know argumentativeness for example people now
can be more or less argumentative I’m sure there were more or less
argumentative cavemen right and cavewomen
so I’m sure that was relevant back then on the other hand there are things that
are specific to any individual culture right so like if I’m an argumentative
person maybe I end up in the career as as a lawyer as a trial lawyer and that
works well for me and then you know my whole life is built around or a lot of
it anyway is built about being a lawyer that’s my career I have a lot of goals
related to being a lawyer I have various ways I interpret the world related to
being a lawyer and those are all characteristic adaptations right so
being a lawyer is the way that I’ve adapted to my particular life
circumstances to my culture and who I am personally
but it’s not something that has anything to do with you know something evolved or
something that might apply in any culture so I think it’s it’s useful to
make this distinction between all of the things that we learn how to do or think
or to believe or to want that are contingent on our particular life
experience and where we are and what culture were in and what happens to us
and to think about those even when they’re part of our personality because
they’re stable over time as being different from our basic personality
traits and so we can change our characteristic adaptations a lot more
easily than we can change our personality traits right and I think one
of the things that mindfulness helps us to do is to become less attached to
particular goals or particular strategies or particular interpretations
or understandings of the world and so those can be more flexible even you know
leaving the problem of what your personality traits are to one side if
I’m getting this correctly the idea is that we can deliberately shape or modify
our characteristic adaptations to orient them more towards well-being right yes
absolutely so that’s really interesting and I appreciate you pointing to
mindfulness as one vehicle for doing that or one tool for doing that I wonder
if and we actually talked about others the importance of the integration of
goals yeah there is the sort of psychological flexibility to sort of
adapt goals I wonder if there any other if you have any other suggestions or any
other insights about what are the key drivers of changing adaptations or what
skills people could think about developing to improve their well-being
yeah well I mean you know there are certain specific things that we know
about and I think you know that are widely likely to improve people’s
well-being and I think that’s actually because they tie into some of these
basic needs or you know goals that everyone has just by virtue of being you
know a human organism so for example something that I know is really crucial
for my well-being is cardio exercise right like if I don’t
exercise I become irritable and less happy you come within a matter of days
and so you know there we can come up with various specific tips that are
related to just how people work but I think probably the most useful thing is
to think about why it is that people don’t change like what is it that
prevents people from changing their habits and from changing the way they
think about things and I think it’s it’s largely to do with the fact that change
is both hard and frightening right and so I think in some ways that the best
way the best thing that you can do to facilitate your own well-being is to
recognize that you are going to have to face and deal with precisely the things
that you least want to face and deal with because the things that are that
are too hard or too scary or too annoying those are precisely the things
that are likely to be what you most need to address because they are indicating
areas where there is conflict between their goals I think that one of the
things that makes change particularly hard is that it’s it’s well I mean it’s
literally hard and that it requires effort right and one of the things that
organisms do is that they try to conserve energy and so build into us
essentially that we are going to be careful about doing things that are
difficult and so it’s partly to conserve energy or not to expend energy
needlessly but it’s also because it’s it’s frightening and potentially
dangerous right you know that’s saying that the devil
you know is better than the devil that you don’t know and that has to do with
the fact that it’s not just things that are difficult that that are aversive to
us it’s also things that we don’t understand and things that we can’t
predict so the fact is that if you are trying to develop a whole bunch of new
goals or new ways of thinking about the world that is that’s a frightening
process it’s very uncertain because you even if things you’re doing now don’t
work very well you at least can predict the ways in which they
going to be dissatisfying and the way this in which they don’t work right so
they’re they’re obviously meeting some of your goals even while you know you
may be upset or dissatisfied because they’re not meeting other ones for you
to throw those out and to try to develop a different way of being adapted to the
world different characteristic adaptations well you may have a sense
that you can get to a better place than you are than you are now but it’s
obviously not certain right you’re not you can’t be sure that things will work
out the way that you hope they do and that is frightening alright because from
from a cybernetic perspective the thing that we most care about is maintaining
our capacity to be able to to move toward our goals and you know one of
those from the perspective of an organism is just to stay alive we tend
to be very motivated to stay alive and but then you have to think about it in
terms of that hierarchy of goals what is required to stay alive well we know
things like food and shelter at a minimum are crucial for staying alive if
I want to change careers for example I’m not necessarily sure I’m going to be
successful in a new career that means I’m not sure I’m going to be able to
make money that means I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pay for a roof over
my head or food on my table alright so at some level when you start opening up
the possibility of change you are opening up the possibility that things
could go wrong to a degree that you cannot entirely predict right so when we
change you know it’s always there’s always a certain amount of faith there’s
a certain amount of optimism that’s required that you’re got you know you’re
making the sleep and you have to be confident in your ability to to make it
work out and that’s why going back to something we were talking about earlier
I think that it’s this idea of resilience you know there’s a lot of
psychological research on resilience and one of the things that makes people
resilient is just being less neurotic less sensitive to negative emotion say
okay well that’s fine of course if somebody doesn’t experience it as being
quite as bad or as threatening or as punishing the experience is going to
have less of a bad effect on the long-term but that’s perhaps less
helpful than the possibility that no matter how bad it
is you have the capacity to to explore and generate new new successful ways of
adapting to the world and so I think you know rather than just basically trying
to make people experience less fear and less anxiety we need to get people to
believe that they have the capacity to deal with their own fear and anxiety
right and to create new ways of thinking about the world and behaving in the
world even in the face of fear and anxiety and that’s one of the things
that I think mindfulness is good for you know connecting as use of the two parts
of this conversation is that it is really helpful to gain that perspective
on your own anxiety when it appears right to say okay I’m worried about this
because there’s uncertainty here and that’s making me want to avoid it but if
I can just sort of keep a broader perspective and recognize that that
anxiety is just my response to uncertainty and the unknown then I can
push through that and do the work that I know needs to be done in order to figure
out what to do next it sounds like what you’re saying is that courage is an
important trait or it’s an important lever for creating well-being lasting
sustainable well-being yeah absolutely absolutely right
courage and but also humility right because you have to not that’s the
that’s the point of non-attachment right is that you can’t assume that you’re
already right you can’t assume that the way you’re currently doing things is the
best way to do things you notice especially if you’re dissatisfied like
that’s the that’s always the funny thing when you see somebody who’s complaining
about their lives but then when you try to suggest any adjustments you get met
with defensive resistance because they already know what they’re doing they
already know how to do it right it’s like you might think well if you know
how to do it right then how come you’re how come you’re unhappy right well then
you can blame the rest of the world right well I’m doing it right it’s
everybody else who’s screwing up my life for me well you know at some point you
have to have the is both the courage and the humility to acknowledge that you’re
not doing it right and that there are always ways that you could improve and
that it might be worth actually facing that anxiety and facing that uncertainty
and doing the hard work that’s necessary to change hmm well Colin I’m really
appreciating all this stuff and and just how skillfully you’re kind of tying it
all together I’m mindful of the time here and I I know you probably have a
busy afternoon I’m wondering if there’s anything else that you want to add or
anything else you want to say that we didn’t get a chance to cover so far no I
think that’s probably a pretty good place to leave it Joe I mean there’s
obviously a lot more we couldn’t talk about about personality about meditation
right all kinds of things but that’s probably a reasonable place to end it
for now okay great maybe you could just tell us where we
can get more information about your research your lab like your website or
whatever just look for my name google my name column DeYoung and you’ll find my
website I have a lot of my articles available on my website that’s great
thank you so much Colin and I hope to get a chance to talk with you again soon
great nice to talk to you Joe all right take care

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