Ep. 203 - Susan David: What Happens When You're Deeply Stuck In Your Job and Asking, "How Did I Get Here?"
January 5, 2017•70 min
It’s the most commonly believed lie. It will make you lose all your money. It’ll make you wake up in your 40’s or 50’s and wonder what you’re going to do about retirement. It will make you develop your worst possible habits. For me, it was drinking. And waking up face to floor. I was ugliest when I was unhappy. That’s true for everyone. Unless you hide it with plastic surgery and cocaine. The point is I care about myself now. And not a lot of people say that. But it’s important. I should care about me more than anyone else… even my daughters. But sometimes I mess up. Sometimes I love them more than me. Even on airplanes, they say, “Put your mask on before assisting others.” If you put a mask on your baby before you put a mask on yourself, your baby will never know who you could’ve been. If I don’t put my oxygen mask on first everyday, then my kids, my friends, everyone I meet, won’t know who I really am. They won’t know me at my best. They’ll know me passed out on the floor because I tried starving myself for three days (it was a fast. I was trying to detox my body. Again this goes back to caring about yourself. Molly, Josie, I swear, I had good intentions.) Let me get back to the most commonly believed lie. It’s called the sunk cost fallacy. This is when you stick to what you’re doing because you already invested your whole life in it. For example, you won’t quit your job (the job you hate) because that’s what you went to college for or because you’ve been doing it for 20 years and change is scary. I studied computer science. I went to graduate school for it. But now I do what I love. Because I gave up. I had to give up on life’s little stresses and jump head first into an even bigger stress. It took me one step closer to bottom. And one step closer to the lifeboat. I have a friend. She’s 52. Or 53, divorced. She has a “low-level” job. Or that’s what she says. She thinks her goals are out of reach. She says, “I can’t do it.” And she believes it. So I asked my friend Susan David, (she’s a Ph.D) “How can you help someone like that? How can you help someone struggling with life’s circumstances?” But I was asking the wrong question. Because she told me the stress people experience everyday isn’t (usually) caused by massive life events. “There’s a particular kind of stress that, in psychology, we call allostatic stress,” Susan said, “It’s the everyday stress.” I was interviewing her about her book, “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.” She gave 50 or 100 tips to do exactly what the subtitle of her book says, “Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.” 1) Accept it “Accept that you aren’t where you want to be,” Susan said. “Be with those difficult emotions.” She said we get stuck in two ways. One is “bottling.” The second is “bruting.” Bottling is when someone traps emotions inside. They ignore their feelings. Bruting is when someone obsesses about emotions. And try to determine what happened and why… They both cause high levels of anxiety. So I had to stop asking, “Why?” 2) Choose “want-to” goals I have four main values. They’re in my daily practice. Values are the things you want to do versus the things you have to do. Because “have to” goals are less likely to be successful. So I asked Susan, “What if you don’t know what your values are?” “We often turn around and say, ‘How did I get here?’ “I was just going on with flow. I was just doing what everyone else told me to do. I went to college. I got a job. I got a house... How did I get her?’ This is a really difficult place for people to be” she said. “What’s really critical for all of us to realize is values are not some abstract idea. Values are ways of living, ways of being.” Figure out your values. Susan says, at the end of the day ask yourself, “What did I do today that was worthwhile?” I watched a plane move through the sky today. I held the door for someone. I smiled at someone who looked dangerous… someone who probably isn’t smiled at often. Those were worthwhile moments. I’m also writing… It’s a “want-to” goal that I hope to have for the rest of my life... but who knows, sometimes reinvention has new ideas for you. 3) Make “towards” moves There are two types of movements. Everything you do is either a “toward” or an “away” movement. “If I value my health, I can go downstairs and choose an ice cream, which is an ‘away’ move or I can make a choice that is healthier,” Susan said. 4) Watch for setbacks “When you have a setback you’re more likely to revert back to an old bias you falsely believe,” she said. I made an “away” move. I stopped writing my daily gratitude list. And then I started complaining. It was a domino effect. But I caught it early. Setbacks happen everyday to everyone. I just have to watch for them. I’m not immune. I asked Susan about her setbacks. I wanted to know what drove her to this study. “As you can hear from my accent, I didn’t grow up in the U.S.” “I thought that was a Brooklyn accent,” I said. “When I was growing up, your chances of learning how to read and write were lower than your chances of being raped,” she said. “So from a very early age, I became interested in how people were dealing or not dealing with the chaos that was going on around them.” Susan was 25 years old the first time she could safely go for a walk. She’s from South Africa. She lived there for 25 years. Then moved to New York. -- I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get rid of stress. But I spent more building it. The lie we all believe is that you have to stick with it. You can’t quit. You are what you are. But that’s not true. You are what you choose to be tomorrow. I chose to be a writer, podcaster, father, angel investor, interrupter, chess master. I chose not to be a computer scientist or to walk the streets of NY waiting for a coconut to save my life. Susan called it “the physics of willpower”… It’s when you finally decide your investments are failing you. A lot of people feel deeply stuck in their lives. I have, too. But the way out begins when you accept what you really want: reinvention.