Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach.
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. So here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on building the elements of joy. Those are the positive emotions and inner states become the building blocks for a joyful life.
The element for this episode is inspiration. So in the last two episodes also on inspiration, we really worked on some myths around [00:01:00] change and happiness. Going after these false beliefs that were broken, that we need to be fixed, that we need to change to feel some happiness.
Or that if only one person in our lives or "those people," or this thing in our life were different, then we'd be happy. So those episodes are really helpful to listen to before this one, but not totally necessary if you're really wanting to dive in right now with us, you can always go back later.
Uh, The point though, I'll say, is that these are really super sticky myths. They come up a lot. And here at Joy Lab we work on building ourselves up in powerful ways that sort of quiet that talk, that soften those myths. At the same time, of course, we want to, um, make change in our lives. That experimenting, exploration, that steering is part of the fun.
So in this episode, we want to get into some principles around change, not because you are broken,[00:02:00] but moving from a place of self-acceptance, even a place of self-love. Making changes because you care about yourself. And I think the myth that can come up here is that with all that self love, with all that self-acceptance, we'll just float around, complimenting each other, perpetually holding up a white flag, naval gazing, lulling around, never accomplishing anything.
And I love that it's actually the opposite. And with this fuel of inspiration, we can really create meaningful, lasting changes. I love this Jack London quote because it slaps that myth so well that I just noted: " Don't loaf and invite inspiration. Light out after it with a club. And if you don't get it, you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it."
Henry: Wow. "Light out after it with a club."
Henry: That's, that's an intense quote and I really like it!
Aimee: [00:03:00] That's some resolution energy right there! I
I don't know if Jack London and I were cut from the same cloth exactly. He was a writer of course, and I'm a writer. Kind of. The difference is, okay, well there's actually a ton of differences...
Henry: Where I was going with that is that creative writers, especially if you're trying to make a living as a writer, often seem to famously struggle to find inspiration. Sometimes they just have gobs of it, but then it seems to disappear for these long dry stretches and people can really struggle then, fight hard to get it.
Henry: But according to this London quote, I'm kind of a loafer because my approach is usually to [00:04:00] invite inspiration to come. And then wait for it. And wait for it, and wait for it. And I guess as I'm talking, I, I can see the flaw in my method.
Aimee: Right. I have to be honest though, I cannot read Jack London books. was forced to read White Fang and Call the Wild in school. I think people will remember those books if they're in my era, um, forced to read those. I get a pit in my stomach. Same one I get when I think of Turner and Hooch, that movie, human dog dramas are just too much.
But this quote, it's just this reminder, to me, how we can create these positive inner states and that they grow. They create this forward momentum, this upward spiral that supports us. But, like Jack London would say, we have to play a role in this process. We have to light out after it. Uh, we can't just wait for [00:05:00] inspiration to come. Or all these other elements that we want in our lives that we work on here at Joy Lab: love, compassion, fun, joy. I love that saying actually: "That which you are seeking is also seeking you." You know, these elements are within us, around us seeking us, but we have to meet them halfway.
Henry: Right, I am taken with this image of Jack London or, or whoever, you know, kind of trying to drum up some inspiration with this club, chasing it around with this club in his hand. So, um, so which do you think it is, Aimee? Should we invite inspiration to come or should we chase it with a club?
Aimee: Yeah. It's not always a, a club that kind of active energy. Sometimes it's a nap I feel like. But we really have to be present, be self-aware. I think this is a key of when to grab the club and when to grab the covers [00:06:00] and more often Um, more often it's when to go down the middle road. That place where we meet these elements halfway.
And feel nourished down the path. I mean, we can only light out or light out and hold that club for so long and we can only stay under the covers for so long. There's space for that. That middle space where it's more nourishing, where we can really create inspired change in our lives. It's down that center.
So we've got five principles to help you do this, to find and walk down this middle way to create inspired change. These are pulled somewhat from Henry's wonderful book, " The Chemistry of Joy" and the workbook for that book. So Henry, can you start with number one?
Henry: Sure. So the first principle is "Inspired Change is grounded in radical self-acceptance." You know, so often people approach change [00:07:00] as a self-improvement project, and it's not. We talked about this as resolution one a couple of episodes ago: you don't need to be fixed. So the starting point for inspired change is acceptance of yourself and your life just as they are at this moment in time. This runs counter to the usual approach, which is rooted in self-criticism and the drive to create a a better version of myself.
So, we're not talking about a passive or resigned state of acceptance. We're talking about an energized and forward -looking sort of acceptance. There's a Japanese word I came across years ago that I think captures this dynamic tension.[00:08:00]
The word is Arugamama. I'm probably not saying it right, but I love the word. And what it means is that it's a state of unconditional acceptance of yourself and your life as they are, at this moment. But at the same time, holding the intention to act in positive ways to create change. There's the famous quote by a Buddhist teacher named Suzuki Roshi: " You are perfect as you are and you could use a little improvement." So start where you are with this energized self-acceptance.
Aimee: I love that "You are perfect as you are and you could use a little improvement." I love saying that to myself in a soft and gentle way. Uh, number two principle: Inspired change begins deep within. Actually just [00:09:00] want to, um, read what you have from the book for this one, Henry. It's so good and describes a lot of what we covered in the last two episodes.
Here's this paragraph. " The most sustaining motivation for change comes from connecting mindfully and compassionately with one's inner suffering and the desire for relief from that suffering. Change that is based on what you believe you should be, or based on the standards set by others, is often short lived. Being willing to listen deeply and honor your desire for change in a compassionate way leads to sustainable change."
So in the previous two episodes, I talked about some behavior change models. If you've listened to the pod before, you may know that I totally geek out on these. Um, Broaden and Build Model, one of my favorites.
Also the Integrative Model for Behavioral Prediction, another good one. If anybody's looking for fun things to read this weekend. But the point is that [00:10:00] in all these models, like those ones I just noted, um, and the ones that actually have some evidence to support their use, all of them focus on acknowledging, acknowledging and navigating unique obstacles or pains and building the person up in a personalized and meaningful way.
They all illustrate what ends up to be like this really kind of patient and loving process of behavior change.
Henry: Hmm. That's so good.
Aimee: They are beautiful models.
The third principle is that: inspired change embraces even the resistance to change. Now, this is complicated
Henry: because we are so complicated. So most of us get frustrated with ourselves when we can't seem to make the life changes that we know are good for us. But resistance to change is [00:11:00] completely natural.
It's normal. So rather than wishing it away, try your best to accept that resistance is there, and learn to work with it more skillfully. Let me give you an example cuz I know it gets convoluted. So suppose that you want to change something about your work. Maybe you're just not feeling satisfied with work or, or you don't feel secure enough to leave your job even though you want to, or you know, maybe you've just gotten used to things as they are and you're not ready to give it up. Homeostasis is a very powerful force. That's why even when we're not happy where we're at, it has become the way things are and it's really hard to let go of the way things are even for something better.[00:12:00] So this creates this inner tension. I want to change, but I don't want to change. So here's the trick:
instead of fighting this, if you can simply accept that you have this resistance to change and acknowledge that it's difficult, you'll release some of that tension. And if you can remove even a little of this energy of resistance just by letting it go, letting it leave like a, a balloon when you let go of it. You'll free up some of the energy that then you can use to actually make a change.
Years ago, I, I used to practice the martial art called Aikido. And the idea behind that, which is why I was drawn to it, the idea is so cool, it's that you don't meet force with force. [00:13:00] Instead, try to welcome, embrace the forest that's coming at you. You merge with it. And then you can neutralize the attack. So likewise, if you can soften your stance toward your own resistance, you take the punch out of it. And then you can use the energy of resistance itself, to empower your change.
Aimee: Hmm, the fourth one: Inspired change happens in connection. So I know this feels counter to so many approaches to change, particularly in US culture, which puts everything on the individual to initiate and accomplish change. Um, but there's actually some really fascinating research coming outta the field of social genomics. Where researchers are looking at social experiences and their relationship to the expression of genes related to, uh, at least in [00:14:00] some of this research that I like, to related to immune function. So it's really looking at physical health outcomes. Uh, so generally higher wellbeing predicts better behavioral health in the future, you can say that.
But there's this really great study, uh, led by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, we talk about a lot, and I'll link to it in the show notes, uh, that broke wellbeing into two parts, which this is not uncommon, hedonic and eudaimonic. So I think of hedonic wellbeing or hedonic happiness as how you feel. It's focused on your own feelings of wellbeing or happiness, really maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain in body and mind.
Pretty simple explanation there. And I think of eudaimonic how you contribute. It has to do with feelings of meaning and purpose. It stokes a sense of, connection and community. So you have how you feel hedonic, how you contribute, eudaimonic. [00:15:00] Both are really important. I'll first say that I'm not like in one camp or the other strictly.
I think we need both to flourish. The fascinating finding here was that eudaimonic wellbeing was associated with a lower expression of pro-inflammatory genes and a higher expression of antiviral genes and hedonic wellbeing was not associated with this healthier sort of molecular physiology. So just feeling better, doing things for yourself,
did not really help this immune function, for these participants. And I really think this is some pretty hard evidence that we are literally programmed, genetically programmed to create change with others, to draw inspiration and meaning from shared goals. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes total sense.
Community-minded folks fare better. Right. Those are the ones that species [00:16:00] want to keep going, so they're rewarded with a better immune system. It's kind of that simple. If you've got a goal in mind, let's make this practical, maybe you wanna start walking three times per week. You can try to link that up with something beyond your own goals.
It's great to have those hedonic feel better goals, then link it up with a eudaimonic goal. Maybe join a 5K that is supporting a cause you wanna help. Maybe walk dogs at the Humane Society or for a local rescue. Or maybe there's someone in your neighborhood who has a hard time keeping up with their yard work.
You could walk over there, do some gardening quickly, and walk back or do some shoveling, in Minnesota, and walk back. So you'll get your workout hedonic boost, you'll feel better, then you stoke this sense of connection and meaning, a eudaimonic boost, which is gonna fuel, um, that immune function. So, [00:17:00] right, that little shift amplifies your health benefits in surprisingly big ways and I promise, promise, adding this piece will also help you stick with your goal.
Henry: Nice. The fifth principle is that: inspired change is a process, and it's not just a simple linear process. So of all our elements of joy, I think inspiration might be the most elusive. You know, it seems sort airy or intangible or almost other-worldly. It's like you can't quite grasp it. And if you do, you might not be able to hold onto it, and then you just have to wait for the muses to come back to you or, or else chase them with a club.
Aimee: All Right!
Henry: So I wanna try out a metaphor for inspiration, just see if this works for you. Inspiration is like the moon. [00:18:00] It goes in cycles, it arises, stays for a while, and then it kind of slowly fades away when it's present. It's really beautiful. It lights your way, although kind of gently, it's not like the sun, which has more of a harsh light to it.
And when it's gone, you might feel a little bit lost cuz your path is dark and you can't quite see the way ahead. And then you might wonder if the light is ever going to come back. Now, I think the idea of self-improvement might give the impression that if you're doing it right, you will experience this continuous upward improvement.
And if you lose your way, it's because you've done something wrong. [00:19:00] In the inspired change process, you might go on and off the path of change many times. And you might even feel as if you're kind back where you started. That is normal. It's to be expected. All you really need to do is acknowledge it, pick yourself up where you are, and then return to the path that you've set for yourself.
Aimee: I love that metaphor. It also makes me think of, um, the myth about how long it takes to establish a habit, 21 days. I know we talked about myths in the last episode, but I'll plug one more here cuz I think it's so helpful to recognize, you know, there is no right timeline for change. So just an interesting bit of history:
Much of this 21 days to create a new habit came from a cosmetic surgeon who practiced in the early half of last century. He wrote this super popular book in 1960 called Psycho [00:20:00] Cybernetics. It has to be said in that voice... It's an interesting book. Nonetheless in it, he noted that for those of his patients who had a nose job or a limb removal, it took about three weeks for them to get used to their new look or their new body. That's it. That's where all of this started.
You know, all these other people, uh, ran with this number, said it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, you know, which is false. Takes 21 days to get used to your nose job, hard stop. That's about it. So there's this great study led by, um, Dr. Phillipa Lally. I'm probably saying the name wrong, but, um, really cool study who wanted to understand this.
Like is there a real number that we can quote for the time it takes for a new habit to form? I'll let everyone guess along with Henry. What do you think that number was that researchers found that it takes to establish a new habit?
How many days? [00:21:00]
Henry: You asking me?
Aimee: Yeah, go for it.
Henry: Okay. I'm gonna say 76
Aimee: Hey, you're in the window.
Henry: Oh, seriously!
Aimee: It takes between 18 and 254 days.
Right!? Is that helpful?!?
Henry: Glad I'm, I'm glad I'm in that window, anyways!
Aimee: I'm sure everybody guessed somewhere in that window. The point is there's like no answer. It just depends on a million things. I love that it's both, you know, maybe unhelpful and also extremely empowering. And they also found, I like this, that when people messed up here and there, missed a few workouts, just like you were saying, Henry, went off the path,
the moon is, moon is dark. No full moon, it hasn't showed up in a while. Whatever their goal was, even if they missed some days, if they messed up, it really did not impact the time it took them to feel like they'd established that habit. Meaning it was [00:22:00] not an all or nothing game. Rigidity wasn't helpful.
There was no perfection.
Wow. I was not familiar with that research and I really like it.
Aimee: Isn't it great?
Yeah. 18 to 254 days. Go for it. You can't screw up. Keep going.
Henry: Well, I would like to circle back just for a moment to the Jack London quote that we started with. So he said something that I just really think is cool. That even if you don't get inspiration by chasing it with a club, you'll get something that looks remarkably like it. I actually find that to be really helpful.
It, it reminds me of something that a friend said to me when I first started working on my, my very first book, I was not a writer prior to this, and it was just really daunting to me. I was kind of [00:23:00] clueless as to how to proceed. So my friend happened to, to do a lot of writing in his job, and so he had years of experience with it.
Um, it wasn't writing books, but he just had written a lot. So here's his advice to me. And I was kind of waiting for this. I was really looking for something great. He said, get a giant piece of Velcro. Attach one part of it to your chair and the other part to your backside.
And the key to writing is just to stay at your desk and keep writing.
Aimee: Is that what you wanted to hear?
Henry: No, it was totally not what to hear! That sounded like just a lot of work. But you know, he was kind of right.
And I do like that sense of tenacity and determination. And I think there's something to learn from that when it comes to [00:24:00] inspiration.
I get a lot of my inspiration from poetry, and here's a line from Rilke, that's one of my favorites: "Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final." Now, the line in this that I want to point out cuz it resonates so much with me is "just keep going." It's just so much like that old Japanese proverb that says "Fall down seven times, get up eight." The important thing is to notice when you've fallen and then get back on the path.
You know? I often see that kind of tenacity [00:25:00] in some of my patients, they just keep going. Now, they might have really unfortunate genetics, terribly complicated childhoods, maybe a ton of stresses at this moment in their lives, but they just keep going. And to me that is really inspiring.
Aimee: Hmm. I love these reminders. Stick with it. Keep going. And I know we hear it all the time. It's not the destination that matters, it's the journey. But there's more to that. I mean, it's in there. It really is about those steps walking this path, because we can't really predict the final outcome. It's always changing.
I guess our message here is to soften up on those resolutions. If you set 'em maybe bring inspiration with you, chase it down a little bit, let it fuel you, give it more focus and [00:26:00] you'll stay on the path. There's a piece from Carl Rogers I wanna end with from his book on, called On Becoming a Person.
He writes, I have gradually come to one conclusion about the good life. Seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. It is not, in my estimation, a state of virtue or contentment or nirvana or happiness. It is not a condition in which the individual is adjusted or fulfilled or actualized. To use psychological terms, it is not a state of drive reduction or tension reduction or homeostasis. The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.
Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit JoyLab.coach to learn more about the full Joy [00:27:00] Lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.