The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Jonny Miller. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Jonny Miller, he is the co-founder of Maptia. He’s an emotional resilience coach. He’s the founder of the Nervous Systems Mastery Course. He’s a meditation teacher and host of the Curious Humans podcast. You can find out a lot more about his doings at curioushumans.com and at Jonny Miller at Twitter, though that’s funky ass spelling there Jonny, J-O-N-N-Y-M-1-1-L-L-E-R. As usual, all these links will be available at the episode page at jimruttshow.com, so check it out. Welcome Jonny.
Jonny: It’s great to be here. Excited for this.
Jim: Yeah, this should be fun. This is a completely atypical podcast, so God knows where we’ll go with this thing. But sometime back it was on December 22nd according to my notes, Jonny tweeted, “I’ve set aside February, March next year to have as many interesting podcasts conversations as humanly possible, you guys know any great hosts who might be a good foot, blah, blah, blah.” And for whatever reason I raised my hand, though actually Jonny and I had a few conversations previously and I said, “You know what the hell let’s have him on.” So I just said, “DM me if you got the nerve.” And he did, so here we are.
Jonny: I appreciate the British accent there, that was very good.
Jim: As I was joking with him earlier I wanted make sure he was an actual Brit, not some American trying to claim the bonus 15 IQ points that Americans wrongly give to British accents. Turns out he actually is a Brit, don’t feel like you’re being scammed there Americans. So did you have other good podcast episodes from that tweet?
Jonny: Yeah, I’ve had some great conversations. It’s actually been really fun. I have a podcast myself and I love hosting, but just being on the receiving end is so delightful. You just get to turn your brain off and just see what comes through, it’s really fun.
Jim: Exactly. I always tell people when they ask me if I want to come on their podcast, “Oh hell yeah, I’m a podcast slut, just ask me and I’d say yes.” Because compared to being the host being the guest is fun.
Jonny: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes I found myself saying things that I didn’t realize I thought or I knew and that’s always fun, like, “Oh, I didn’t realize I thought that.”
Jim: Yeah. And that’s a sign of a good host when they bring that out in you.
Jonny: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So I’m excited for this one seeing what comes through.
Jim: All right. And in our interchange the origin story of this episode I wrote, “I don’t usually have self-help guests on my podcast, but you look a lot less banal than most, so let’s do it.” And you said, “Hey, let’s talk about why the hell it is I hate self-help.” So let’s start there.
Jonny: That’s great. Well, why don’t you kick us off and what is it that annoys you, frustrates you about the self-help world? And I have thoughts on this too.
Jim: Yeah, no, of course as I often say I have opinions strongly stated but weakly held. So if I rant and rave a little bit, dilute them with some branch water, and you’ll probably be fairly close to reality on this topic. I suppose I’ll take the straw man mode of attack on this one, which is I feel like I much prefer being a natural person, a naturalist, who I am, what I am, existing in the world, doing my work, and what happens happens. In the same way back in the days when I looked at such things, which was quite a while ago I did not like fake boobs or shaved beavers in porn. I like actual girls goddamn it. And so in a similar vein I’ve never felt any desire for taking a self-improvement class or talking to a therapist or any of that.
And here’s one that people today will probably find amazing. Throughout my business career I managed to avoid ever going to a training course. I worked for big corporations for 10 years or thereabouts, a little bit more than that in my business career. And I would occasionally get scheduled for them, and I just wouldn’t show up. Nothing ever happened, nobody ever even said a word. So I managed to be not only unshrunk, unimproved, but untrained throughout my whole life and I like it that way. I just consider myself as a natural human who lives in a ecosystem, who learns from the ecosystem rather than having to be manipulated by somebody, so I think that’s where I’m coming from.
Jonny: Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for that. I think for me a lot of self-help is actually… I think it’s deconditioning and unlearning a lot of the shit that we get indoctrinated with during our early years. And I also feel the idea of self-help is in some ways ludicrous in the way that Alan Watts says you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And it’s like there is definitely a trap that I see a lot of people fall into, where they’re just endlessly trying to optimize themself and they’re treating themselves as machines, and they’re trying to endlessly improve themselves as if they’re a product. And I think that is while it may be useful in the beginning, it’s definitely a trap that people do fall into. And I think in some ways the end state is letting go of the need to improve yourself at all. Steve March talks about self unfoldment and creating the conditions for self unfoldment to emerge, as opposed to trying to improve or intervene in some way. And it sounds like you’re in the more unfolding camp.
Jim: Yeah, I like that a lot, who was the guy that said that?
Jonny: That’s Steve March, he founded the Alethia Coaches-
Jim: Okay, that-
Jonny: … Program.
Jim: … sounds kind of cool. Because if I had to describe my own technique, I don’t have a technique, but if I was going to describe it, it’s something like that. I’ve intentionally done lots of wild and crazy shit, exposed myself to big risks, and I hitchhiked 50,000 miles when I was young, did all kinds of crazy things then, started various companies, some of them good ideas, some of them not such good ideas, doesn’t matter. Always try to be somewhere near the edge because near the edge interesting things are happening. And if you’re spending your time fairly close to the edge then you will unfold, I like that, that’s good terminology.
Jonny: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And in some ways it’s pretty hard not to “improve” if you are living a life in that way. Just a friend of mine says, “Just try and not improve for a week and just see what happens.” And if you do interesting stuff like hitchhike through foreign countries, start companies, when you are at that edge improvement is almost… or improvement isn’t even the right word, unfoldment is almost inevitable in some way. I think the piece that I want to add is that often we have these enormous blind spots and biases, and having other perspectives to help poke at these and point these out. And also tools or an ecology of practices to use a Game B term is enormously useful for ensuring that we’re not bullshitting ourselves, and also making progress in this infinite game of learning about ourselves and self-discovery.
Jim: Yeah, I will say even if I for my own self say, “Fuck that shit.” Of course, this is always dangerous good for thee, but not for me. I do like a lot the work of people like John Vervaeke in particular thinking about ecologies of practice. And in Game B terminology we sometimes call that deprogramming from Game A malware. The stuff that’s in our head from the way we’ve lived in our world, that would be nice to get rid of. I think that if you come at it from with that perspective then I’d say, “Yeah, that could be pretty cool, I suppose.” Though I think I was kind of lucky, I’ve always been a skeptic and a basically disagreeable person. I didn’t ever give a fuck what anybody thought. So I think some Game B malware has lodged in my brain, but probably less than average. But for people who are less hardcore disagreeable I can see that’s going to be an important part of shaking loose of what’s screwed up about the world.
Jonny: Yeah, I think at least from the lens in which I’m currently viewing the world, a lot of the Game A malware is stemming from what I frame as nervous system dysregulation. And it’s the ways in which we get trapped in reactivity, and we have these patterns that are in our nervous system that just cause us to react in default shitty ways. And I think a lot of the organizations and the systems that we’ve built are stemming from that state of disregulation. And so the approach that I’m taking is if we can find more regulation in ourselves then ultimately that will ripple out into organizations’, companies, systemic change.
Jim: In Game B terminology we, I think, call that sovereignty. If you can actually be an adult person in the world and not have your buttons easily pushed and such. One thing I think I read that you had said, I’ll check in with you on this, don’t want to put words in your mouth, is that I think you referenced someplace that one of the problems of the world today is people take a lot of pills to do shit to their nervous system. I ain’t one of those I’ll tell you that, I’ve never taken those psychoactive pills other than purely for recreational and abusive purposes in my younger years. I confess to have been a fan of methamphetamine and things of that sort LSD, mushroom, Quaalude, shit yeah.
But I would never waste them to manage my everyday state, strictly party drugs. But as we know in our current world there are a lot of people who get trapped into doing Adderall as a way to compete in white collar work. In fact, I recently pointed that out as a classic multi-polar trap, where if everybody else at work is doing it then you have to do it if you don’t want to get… At least if you’re a person of relatively low psychic energy, you’re going to get sucked into it because if you don’t you’re going to be outcompeted by the other guy. So how do this bad habit people are falling into of taking all this psychoactive pills fit in your model of nervous system regulation?
Jonny: Yeah. Well, I like that you mentioned sovereignty, and I think that’s actually a big piece of this. And what I think a lot of us do is we give away our power, our agency to shift our state to external substances. It could be alcohol, coffee, Adderall, the sleep medication, melatonin, all these things which particularly Americans are dosing themselves up with every day. It’s essentially to shift our state away from a less desired state, towards a more desirable state. And there are many ancient practices for shifting our state using the breath, for example, using lots of natural state shifting mechanisms that are inside our own body.
And for me that is giving the power back to the individual as opposed to relying on these external substances to just get through the day, or to get to sleep or to have energy in the morning. So I think that’s a big piece of what I like to talk about because it’s essentially we create these prisons for ourselves, if we’re reliant on these drugs with the exception of the recreational purposes. And so it is giving people more freedom and autonomy if they can learn to self-regulate their nervous system as and when they need.
Jim: Yeah, I noticed you had on your podcast, or one of the people I think really is smart in his space is Jamie Wheal, and he makes the point that peak experiences, flows states, things of that sort. Of course, he’s also into breath and things of that ilk. So he seems to be a guy who has some ideas in a similar space. How would you compare and contrast your approach to Jamie’s? Who’s been on the podcast, I don’t know, two or three times, so our listeners have heard him before.
Jonny: Yeah, Jamie’s great, he calls it hedonic engineering, I think is his phrase. His kind of approach is more for finding peak states and creating altered states of consciousness he says to have an IQ of 300 for 12 minutes, things like this. And I think that’s amazing as well. I think I’m focusing more on the everyday applications of using breath of increasing interception and somatic self-awareness, to just even listen to the data that’s coming from our bodies the whole time as opposed to just being stuck in our heads. And the other focus that Jamie does talk about to some degree, but practices for emotional fluidity and working with emotions, so that we’re not hijacked by them and we’re able to feel them fully. And again, Jamie does talk about this too, but he talks about a lot of stuff. And his main focus is with the background in the flow camp, and with leadership training and that kind of stuff, so I think that’s where his main energy is.
Jim: Of course, as you say he talks about all kinds of things, but he’s really at least from my perspective highly focused on peak experiences, on pushing yourself as far as you can go. And it sounds like maybe you’re more oriented towards day to day is that a reasonable distinction?
Jonny: It is, I’d say so in the neuroscience literature there’s an idea of the window of tolerance. And sometimes it can be healthy to go deliberately, like you were saying earlier at your edge, outside of your window of tolerance, and that’s how you build this adaptation to stress and it’s how we grow. And it’s also really important to know where that window is for each of us, so that we’re not finding ourselves outside of that window during a boardroom meeting, during a podcast conversation. And learning how to increase the size of that window, and up and down regulate depending on where we’re at.
And I think that one of the things that I’m really passionate about talking about is this idea of interception, and feeling the somatic cues in our body when we are in this state of reactivity. And that could be stress, anxiety, overwhelm, or it could be what’s known as dorsal shutdown, which is more like the depression, lethargy, when people can’t get out of bed in the mornings. And so I think having that almost map of our own bodies and knowing, “Okay, I’m in low tone dorsal shutdown right now, I’m going to go outside for a walk or go for a run or do some-” whatever it is. And being able to tweak in real time is really helpful.
Jim: Cool. One of the things you mentioned the exposing yourself to some pressures out there in the world, kind of brings to mind Nassim Taleb’s idea of anti-fragility. The idea that things that stress us a bit, maybe even hurt us a little bit, make us stronger. The classic example which he gives, uses is lifting big weights actually tears your muscles a little bit. And the healing around those little micro tears is actually what helps make you strong. And I would say that’s always resonated with me. Playing it safe that just seems like a early boring thing to do. And the unfolding that we talk about earlier doesn’t happen very rapidly if you’re not exposing yourself to risk. And so dialing in the appropriate amount of risk in your life sounds like a really important life practice. But again, to your point, and also Nassim Taleb you don’t want to be crushed, you don’t want to expose yourself to more risk than you can successfully deal with. How do you talk about things like that with your clients?
Jonny: Yeah, so I think that’s a great analogy to bring in. And I talk about emotional anti-fragility sometimes. And that is exactly as you say, it’s finding what is just beyond our edge, just outside of our window, but not beyond. Because if we go beyond we’ll disassociate, we’ll check out, we’ll shut down, something will happen. And it isn’t conducive to self-unfoldment in the long run. And so to give a practical example learning how to feel like healthy anger is really helpful. But if someone’s just beginning with this and they haven’t really expressed anger for 20 years, that might look like rage in the beginning or it might go too far. And so it’s helpful to titrate or pendulate into intensity and then come back into resource and safety. And that process creates anti-fragility in the long run. But what’s essential, and this is true of muscle building or anti-fragility of the nervous system is there must be time for recovery and integration afterwards. With building muscles you need to eat protein and then sleep, and that’s when the muscle gets built.
And the same is true with ramping up the nervous system, there needs to be a window of integration. And this is particularly true circling back to the peak experiences stuff with Jamie Wheel. A lot of people will have these peak experiences, maybe they’ll take LSD at Burning Man or do a huge breathwork journey, but then they’ll go straight into another intense thing. And the changes don’t actually land in the nervous system when that happens. There needs to be that down regulation that’s equivalent to the height of the peak that they reached in order for things to actually land and integrate.
Jim: If only at the neuroscience level we know that it can take a couple, two, three days for experiences to essentially be written from the hippocampus, where they’re in medium term memory to enter the cortex, where they can then become part of long-term memory. And there’s still some links back to the hippocampus. So the dance is not entirely straightforward, not as quite as simple as the cartoon version of it, but there is a period of time of consolidation of experience. Do you have a practitioner’s sense of how much consolidation is necessary after a peak experience?
Jonny: Yeah. Well, in the context of breathwork journeys, which I guide through modality called facilitated breath patterning, so that the peak of the journey is usually around 45 minutes and the journey ends after 90 minutes. And so after the peak we allow another 45 minutes for integration and relaxation. And you can see in someone’s breathing rhythm if whatever emotional catharsis or incomplete reflex emerged during the journey, if that then landed in their breathing pattern because their breathing will change. And so we can see if the thing actually integrated in the integration and relaxation period.
And then we can obviously see in a follow-up session is the way they breathe different to how it was before, is there more vibrancy in the inhale, is their more relaxation on the exhale, is the breath reaching the pelvic floor and the lower belly. And you can really see in real time did this thing land and integrate? And then you can hear a week later are they still falling into the same reactive patterns with their partner, or are they still feeling stressed in the same way? You can also see did the thing land in their day-to-day life as well?
Jim: Yeah. Now the mechanical or procedural part presumably gets stored in the basal ganglia and that can get stored right away. So you could see behavioral changes at the physical level right away, but you might not see the propagation to the cognitive right away.
Jonny: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing that I’ll mention is I’ve worked with clients who they’ve brought breath all the way down into their lower belly and their pelvic floor maybe for the first time during these sessions. And they say how there’s almost an embodied sense of safety that they feel in their body purely by having brought their breath down here. And so there are these interesting embodied experiences, and felt senses that people can have purely from shifting their breathing rhythms into patterns that they haven’t done previously.
Jim: I’ve been interested in this breath stuff. Unfortunately, I have a little curious heart condition where they don’t recommend doing anything very extreme. Part arrhythmia, which is fortunately well controlled at the moment, but been warned to watch out for that with respect to that condition. Because it does sound like it could be a quite interesting practice. And unlike putting chemicals in your head, it’s something that’s more natural. It’s not fake tits and shaved beavers, right?
Jonny: Yeah, this is the natural porn version of self transformation. When people think of breathwork they might think of holotropic breathwork, which is huffing and puffing for three hours with intense music in the background.
Jim: Exactly, that’s the kind of stuff I’ve heard about.
Jonny: Yeah, that’s what Stan Grof pioneered in and he was amazing. And recent developments in this field have shown that that way of breathing isn’t necessarily honoring the nervous system. And so more gentle practices where there’s maybe a vibrant inhale, but a relaxed exhale in my experience still create those peak experiences, but without revving up or jacking up the nervous system again outside of the window of tolerance. And so for someone like you practicing in the beginning just breathing in and out through the nose could also be really interesting, because that’s almost like breathing in second or third gear as opposed to in and out through the mouth, which is fourth or fifth gear, which is again when the nervous system really revs up. And so it’s definitely still even with a heart condition I think it’s still worth trying.
Jim: I’ll hook up with you, we can do it sometime.
Jim: It might be fun. Now, another thing I’d like to dig in a little bit you mentioned anger. And one of the things I’ve noticed that from the personal development woo-woo types, et cetera, they often seem to have put anger in bad color. Personally, I think anger is good. I would say that a significant amount of the good work I’ve done in the world has come from anger. And typically, if I get angry about something I’ll be hot angry for five minutes, and that might be once every two years. And then most of the time it’ll just evaporate. But once in a while it’ll turn into an extremely productive cold anger where something is now my fucking enemy, like Game A is now my fucking enemy. I had a angry reaction to it when the light came on, and then it consolidated five minutes later I was fine.
And then it consolidated over a few days into cold anger. So the same was true in my business career, been true in just a few times in my life where hot anger instead of just dissipating and going away was consolidated into a very useful frame for providing long-term power to attack something. First, I’d ask you why does anger… why is it in bad color amongst many of these kinds of self-improvement folks? And sounds like maybe it isn’t necessarily in your doctrine. So tell me what you think about, one, why do people think it’s bad, and how might anger actually be put to good use?
Jonny: Yeah. Well, I think anger is fucking great. Anger is absolutely essential. I think it’s quite easy to point to why it’s been demonized in our culture, because a lot of pain and suffering has come from unhealthy kind of shadow, repressed anger coming out in very harmful ways. And it’s easy to point to particularly historical situations where that’s been the case. But anger itself… and it’s funny I had a friend who he breathed a Buddhist monk, did a breathwork journey with him. And this monk expressed anger for the first time in maybe 25 years during this journey, and it completely transformed his life. It gave him so much more energy and aliveness and vibrancy. And when we repress our anger, and I did this for probably the first 25 years of my life because being British we’re not very well known for expressing our emotions.
Jim: [inaudible 00:24:32].
Jonny: Keep going, carry on, head down. And coming into a healthy relationship with my anger was transformed. One piece is the difference between being nice versus being kind, being the people pleasing Mr. Nice Guy, versus being kind where you might say things or do things which hurt people in the moment, but they’re actually kind and loving in the long term. And the distinction that I use with anger is it’s almost like if you imagine a hose pipe and this intense energy is coming through the hose, it can be kinked in one of two ways. It can be repressed where you basically shut it down and you’re passive-aggressive.
You’re like, “I’m not angry. You’re angry. No.” Or it goes the other way and it comes out as rage where you attack people, you blame people, you shout at people. And that’s also avoiding feeling the anger itself, but the actual you used hot and cold, but I think clean and unclean is a helpful distinction as well. And when it’s clean it’s just the energy of, “I really fucking care about this, this is important to me. This is what matters to me and I’m going to protect it. I’m going to build things that help to serve.” I see it as this healthy warrior energy that’s in us.
Jim: Exactly. Exactly.
Jonny: And when that is harnessed it creates amazing things, it creates change. It shows us what we actually love.
Jim: And to the point of passive-aggressive few things I hate more than passive-aggressives in corporate America they’re full of them. And I often made it my campaign to disempower the passive-aggressives. And I had a very interesting little technique for those of you who ever stuck in corporate America. At one point I was put in charge of a bunch of these decision-making councils across this big multinational corporation, that were supposed to decide on transformative processes within the big corporation. And if you’ve ever been in a big corporation, there’s always a bunch of people that don’t want to change no matter what. And so they try to stall and slow everything down through passive-aggressive techniques. And I found a very good way… when I took over these things they hadn’t done shit in years other than talk. And so I said, “All right, I’m going to disempower these passive-aggressives, here’s how I’m going to do it.”
I’m basically going to announce to each of these councils that, “All right, we got a deadline, you guys we have to have a recommendation by September 15th. And if we don’t, I personally and I’m going to decide and I’m not going to do a bit of research. I’m just going to make a decision. So probably it’s going to be way worse for you passive-aggressive motherfuckers, than if you participate in good faith in the process because you’ll at least have some-” Of course, I didn’t say it quite that way, but that’s what I was thinking, “You’ll have some input into the decision. If not, the radical, crazy man Rutts is going to decide. So y’all get it done by September 15th or watch out.” And I can tell you what, not once did I ever have to make a decision in that context.
Jonny: Yeah, that’s great. To me, that actually sounds like more empowering in some ways, being like, “Guys wake up.” And I think for people that are listening and maybe stuck in passive-aggressive patterns, which we all do to some degree, creating a space where the anger is fully welcome. There’s things like rage rooms now, or going off and screaming into the forest or joining a boxing class, things like this. Healthy outlets for this actually help that passive-aggressive kinkedness to shift. And often it will shift into the rage and then it pendulums back into some sort of healthy medium.
Jim: Some sort of healthy assertiveness.
Jonny: Determination like this.
Jim: Put it on the table, dude, and back it up. If you win, you lose. You don’t win every time, but don’t be afraid to get into the arena goddammit it, right?
Jonny: Yeah, totally, totally.
Jim: Cool. So what else do we want to talk about? I went through our tweets that you and I did back and forth before we decided to do the podcast, and I found some of them at least somewhat interesting. One, you asked, “What is the one principle that helps you make decisions? Either one you’re coming up with yourself or adopted from someone else.” And I posted my reply, “Maybe the most important thing for a comprehensive approach to decision making is having a sense that now is the time to decide this, that you now have enough information and have done enough processing that deciding now is appropriate, neither too early, nor too late.” And again, I was thinking in business decision context. And you see both errors, I could say type one, type two errors. Type one, there are definitely people who are just impulsive and make decisions without having thought it out sufficiently.
And then there’s also analysis paralysis folks that can’t make a decision, even though it’s fairly clear that they could and they should. And the delaying does more harm even than taking a chance of being wrong. And so getting some sense of when to make a decision in my art form of life has always been something I’ve considered myself pretty good at, not perfect. I can give some examples of type one and type two errors, probably more type one than type two. But something that I’ve tried to teach people who work for me as well. How does that resonate with the things you think about?
Jonny: Yeah, that does resonate. So I’m drawing my opinions from a guy called Joe Hudson whose work I really admire. And he has this idea that we’re making thousands of decisions every single day, every moment. And when we think it’s a decision as opposed to just a choice, it’s usually a sign that we’re in fear or we’re avoiding something. And so when we’re just making choices we just keep doing the next most obvious thing until let’s say it’s a business decision and you’re buying a company, at a certain point you’ve done enough research when it’s obvious, okay, we are going to buy this company, that’s the choice. But when we think there’s a decision usually it’s binary, that’s also another sign that we’re afraid of an outcome. Deeper down it’s related to avoiding, it’s actually directly coming from avoiding a certain emotional state.
And it’s interesting particularly in the business world there’s this myth that we make rational decisions, facts over feeling someone tweeted the other day. It’s bullshit and it’s been shown through neuroscience, the work of Damasio in Descartes’s Error where he talks about the patient Elliot, who had his emotional center removed due to some sort of brain operation and his entire life fell apart. He couldn’t choose between what to have for lunch or what color pen to use. And even though he still had a high IQ, his marriage failed, his business went under, his life fell apart.
And it’s because every single choice or decision we make is driven ultimately by emotions. And so this is where the work of the self-unfoldment let’s say of emotional fluidity is so important, because when we are truly willing to feel the full spectrum of emotions we’re not subconsciously avoiding certain choices or certain parts because we’re subconsciously afraid to feel that thing. And so I think the work of let’s say world-class decision making in the business world is actually very related to how willing are you to feel the heartbreak of a potential outcome or to feel anger that might arise. And it’s really our lack of capacity to feel that is tainting these choices that we make. And once you start to see it, it’s a lens that you kind of start to see everywhere.
Jim: In fact, we had Antonio Damasio on the show not too long ago-
Jonny: Wow, oh, cool.
Jim: … back on EP 148. And I’ve long been a… I’ve read his books going back 20 years. And it is really a profound eye-opener when you realize, even deciding whether to have Corn Flakes or Rice Krispies for breakfast is at the end of the day an emotional tip decision.
Jonny: Yeah, exactly.
Jim: Decision paralysis comes from people not willing to let their emotions tip it at the end. But at the same time I would say the art of good decision. I know, for instance, my family thinks it’s quite funny that when I buy a car I’ll spend two weeks researching cars and, all right, thinking it through, putting little tables together, “Oh no, dad made a spreadsheet, oh no.” And yet I also know that it is only a quasi structured form of decision making because at the end of the day, I will not make the decision by multiplying the weights in this column by that column, and whichever one is the highest I will go with. I may actually go through that exercise, but I don’t necessarily use that to drive my decision. I will become an informed decision maker, but I will let my unconscious, high-dimensional processes make the decision for me. But not until I’ve done adequate prep, so that those unconscious processes have useful material to work with.
Jonny: Yeah, totally. And I used to do the same thing. I remember I made a spreadsheet, I had 10 side projects going on and I was like, “I don’t know where to spend my time. What one should I work on?” And I weighted them by potential impact, “How much fun am I having? What’s the revenue opportunity?” All these things. And I looked at the end results and I was like, “That doesn’t align with actually what I feel.” And it helped me to realize what I actually felt inside, it was almost like a mirror in some ways. I’m totally with you and Jeff Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework is really helpful. And there’s a number of different cognitive tools to help us reframe choices. But ultimately, we are going to choose what our body thinks is going to make us feel good in the future, that’s how we work.
Jim: If we’re healthy because there are people presumably… How many people do that just seem to drive their emotional or mental car into every telephone pole on the road? They just seem to have an amazing talent for making the wrong decision every time.
Jonny: That’s interesting, but I think that this is a key point in that those decisions are still serving them in some way. It’s allowing them to feel something, which at the very least has felt good in the past. And you can use the example of an addict or a junkie, they are using whatever substance it is so that they can feel that temporary hit of connection and that hit of, “Oh, I feel good. I feel okay.” And then there’s the long-term consequences, but it’s still there’s a weird logic to it in the same way that we have these strategies from childhood, which served us in the first five years of our lives, but now as supposed adults they may be less helpful. But it’s like we’re still running a lot of those unconscious strategies, which were rational at the time, but they’re now no longer as useful.
Jim: One domain where I see this constantly driving the emotional and cognitive car to the telephone pole is in romantic relationships. I think we all know people that, “Man, how could you make six bad choices that are of a similar one after the other?” What’s up with that?
Jonny: Yeah, so two things here. Firstly, I think romantic relationships are probably the most juicy arenas for bringing up our shit, for bringing up our triggers, for bringing up our traumas, repressed emotions, all these kind of things. And when someone is making the same bad choice seven times in a row, that is a pretty clear sign that there is a certain emotion which they are avoiding. And it’s almost as if life or certainly their partners are giving them opportunities to feel it over and over again. And at some point there will be such a terrible heartbreak, or such a rock bottom that they’ll be forced to feel it. And on the other side of feeling the fucking thing, there will be freedom and there will be more sovereignty. But I feel like that is the way life works, it gives us these opportunities. So if we’re making six, seven bad decisions in a row that have a common theme, it’s like, huh, what is the thing here that is maybe asking to be felt or looked at?
Jim: Another thing from relationships again watching them. I will say very fortunately I found the right person many years ago, been happily married for what will be how many years in June, 42 years.
Jim: And we are just such a good couple, it’s scary. But of course we’ve seen lots of others in action. And one of the patterns that we see a fair bit is especially in interpersonal, romantic, couple type relationships is usually one and if it’s both it’s really crazy, who seem to need… well, I would describe it as needlessly adding drama to the relationship as if they need drama in their lives. Why get all worked up about petty bullshit and yet you see it time and time again.
Jonny: Yeah. Well, it’s tricky without having a specific example, but I think often when that and not to stereotype it, but it is often the feminine that’s bringing up the intense emotion or the drama. There’s often some wisdom there or something pointing to, but it’s being raised in an unskillful way. And when it comes to the petty arguments, it’s so rarely about the thing that they think they’re arguing about, it’s almost always about something deeper. And so the work is really to recognize, “Oh shit, I’m doing that thing again. Let me take a moment to find my breath, regulate, tune in, feel safe, and then be like, ‘Okay, what emotion is it? What is this situation that I think is about washing the dishes or some petty shit? What is that actually pointing to that’s in me and then how can I-‘”
And that’s the other thing. I think we often have this tendency to blame the other, or it’s their shit or it’s her shit. But if there’s something going on between the two of you there’s always something for both people, because they’re both creating the conditions for that to arise. And so the ninja move is to be able to have that slightly more spacious awareness and be like, “Okay, we’re doing that thing again. What’s here? What’s actually under the surface? What are some of the deeper feelings?” Maybe it’s something from a past relationship or maybe it’s something from our childhood, all these things. I think that’s the work and realizing that the drama is never actually about the thing, but it’s pointing to something deeper that our subconscious is begging us to feel and begging us to bring up.
Jim: And I would also suggest that it may also be a failure of communications that if a couple would just put their cards on the table and not play hide the card kinds of games, these things can generally be resolved or not, or you decide they’re not resolvable. At least you decide one way or the other. You’re not just caught in this interminable, highly draining, emotional fucking shit storm for 15 years, right?
Jonny: Yeah. When you put it like that, it’s like obviously. And communicating in that way I think the biggest barrier is both owning our own experience and being genuinely vulnerable, which is scary because it usually requires us to feel something. It’s much easier to project or to blame the other as opposed to acknowledge, this is the story that’s coming up for me and this is how it’s making me feel, as opposed to saying, “You did this and now I feel shit, so I’m blaming you.”
Jim: I also often say that owning your own shit is really, really helpful in relationships, right?
Jonny: It’s helpful in life, I think.
Jim: Yeah. I’ll absolutely admit I’m an X, Y and a Z, oh, well. It’s the way it is, the Popeye defense, I am who I am.
Jonny: And that’s also a trap.
Jim: It was what?
Jonny: And that’s also a trap of thinking, “I am this way and I can never change,” and blah, blah, blah. That’s also just a story that we can believe or not believe.
Jim: I’ve seen myself change over the years, but not in radical discontinuous ways. What’s your thought about how much change is reasonable or healthy for a human to undergo over a period of a few year let’s say?
Jonny: What is reasonable or healthy?
Jim: I’ll put a sharper edge on it. When I see people radically change because they went to some therapist or some group or something I’d say, “That’s a shallow motherfucker, what the hell’s wrong with that person? I don’t trust them.”
Jonny: So I have a few answers for this. The first one is that sometimes change can be a surface level thing, and it’s actually a more elaborate way of the ego running away from something in a different way. And I think there’s another deeper form of change and Bill Plotkin, Dr. Bill Plotkin talks about this in the Journey of Soul Descent is the book and I had him on my podcast. And he talks about a radical extended ego dissolution, where usually through a number of crises or a particularly intense crisis, parts of their ego, parts of their identity disintegrate to such a large degree that almost a genuinely new version that is less mired in that shit emerges on the other side. And I went through this myself to some degree during a process of deep grief I lost my ex-fiancee, and at some point during that I let the grief annihilate me.
And it really changed who I thought I was on a very deep level. And so that wasn’t something that I did, it was more just allowing myself to surrender to a natural process, which then I’d say did change me on the other side, but not out of me efforting to try and change myself, but it was just a natural thing that happened. And so I think enormous change can happen in a very short period of time, and usually certain people are ripe for it. And it’s usually people who are having existential crises, or people who are in depression or having a really challenging circumstances that’s normally when they allow something in to a deeper degree, and then genuine transformation happens on the other side.
Jim: I know the people at Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, say that most alchies aren’t going to actually change until they hit rock bottom.
Jonny: Right. And it’s unfortunate in a way, and it’s also beautiful. And there’s many people who tragically do get stuck in what Zack Stein calls the tragic, we go from the pre tragic to the tragic and then the post tragic. But for the people who are able to often surrender to the pain and find their way in that post tragic beauty, where there’s not an ignorance of the suffering but it’s finding the beauty and the joy in the suffering, that’s the fucking magic. And I think in many ways that’s the question of Game B is how do we take this massive humanity who are stuck in the tragic, and give them the tools and the ecology of practices such that they can pop out, and find themselves in a more consistent state of post tragic.
Jim: Very good. Now let’s move on to another little conversation we had. This happens to be a topic I’m very interested in, which is you wrote, “Been thinking about play recently, specifically, what are some of the barriers that get in the way, or what conditions need to be present for play to spontaneously emerge?” And my response was, “Mind cleared of distractions, it’s why kids are so good at play.”
Jonny: Yeah, that’s a big one. And I think speaking from my experience we have so many barriers to play as adults, fucking hell. Our deep desire to be productive and useful all the time. Play is inherently opposed to the part of ourselves that wants to be productive, because it requires that we do something for the sake of itself, regardless of what the end result is.
And I think for many of us speaking for myself, play it’s a really edgy thing to lean into because, one, there’s maybe shame around fear of looking silly, fear of looking stupid, fear of being perceived as immature. People poke fun at you. And there’s this sense of, “Why am I doing this? Why am I wasting my time doing this ‘pointless’ thing?” And that I think points to something which also is required, which is this deep embodied sense of safety and bringing it back to the nervous system to some degree, play requires what’s known as ventral vagal tone, which means that we feel safe in our bodies. And we have a puppy right now and I see this with our puppy. She plays all the time, but when she’s outside and there’s loud noises she won’t play because she’s like, “I’m afraid, I want to curl up next to you.”
Jim: I have to figure out what the hell’s going on here. I’m not free of distractions.
Jonny: And so play requires this embodied safety, which can be created through external conditions. Having financial stability, having some degree of certainty in our lives is super helpful. And I think there’s a lot of deconditioning required. And for me, at British school we were rewarded for giving correct answers as opposed to playing and exploring and asking good questions. And I think the art of play it’s so free, and play is also where we explore our edges and our boundaries, it’s where we learn in low stakes environments. And so the more that we can forget textbook learning and taking in information and more just playful exploration, I think it’s really needed. What’s your sense beyond what you shared on Twitter?
Jim: Yeah, I will say that I’ve always tried to find room in my life for play. I won’t say I always had enough, but one of the reasons I had our country farm, wife and I owned through much of my business career was a place we could go and just dick around, hike around, drive around on ATVs, shoot guns, blow shit up, have friends over. Just old neighborhood friends, not business friends, not intellectual friends, just people who know how to have a yee-ha, good time. And we’d play silly games, and so I always tried to leave enough room in life for play, probably didn’t always, but always thought it was important. And I’ve lately gotten a really good education, a reeducation in play.
Because I now have a young granddaughter, two and a half years old who’s a very ebullient personality, highly energetic and just loves playing about… Her and I will sit there and build stuff with blocks for 45 minutes. And it’s just like all we’re doing is playing with blocks, but we’re not. But when you say all that we’re doing it’s actually a dance together. We’re deciding what we’re going to build and when we’re going to knock it over and start over again, and that is just such a good thing.
Jonny: Yeah. Do you think that you’ve got better at playing as the years have gone by?
Jim: Well, the fact that I’ve been retired from business for 22 years has given me lots of time to play. I would say I got better after I retired from business because there were times I was… I think this is important too is a life lesson from Rutt, which is. I worked really hard Monday through Friday in my startups and in my corporate life, et cetera. But and this was an agreement I had with my wife, I pretty much left business on the shelf for the weekend. And I hear all too many people who worship the grinding lifestyle, that they think that they need to work seven by 24 and I strongly counsel against that. Have play in your life or at least some hobbies or something. And your net productivity will actually go up, I’m willing to predict if you do not feel that you need to grind on Saturday and Sunday every week.
In fact, I sometimes will just for fun I’ll say because I do a lot of mentoring of young business people and even a little bit older than young business people, I’ll say, “I had a fairly fun intense business career for 30 years. How often do you think I went into the office on the weekends in 30 years?” And they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know a thousand times or something.” I go about 30, once a year maybe I go into the office on the weekend, and this was before all the remote to tools. So pretty much that meant I didn’t do any business work on the weekend other than maybe read a paper or something. And I think that consciously designing one’s life for some significant amount of unscheduled time, especially with respect to work is really important.
Jonny: That sounds dangerously like self-improvement advice Jim.
Jim: Uh-oh, uh-oh.
Jonny: No, I love that. And I think what comes to mind for me is also during the week when you’re working on the business it’s like how can a sense of play be introduced into that? And something that I’m tracking myself is this difference between taking things too seriously, or being sincere versus serious as Alan Watts puts it. And it’s like I can be sincere and playful in what I’m doing. And I remember reading a book by I think Steven Johnson, he talked about how many of the great inventions of this age begun as playful tinkering experiments, so people was having fun on weekends. And then it turned into this amazingly useful, productive thing. But it was born from that spirit of play. And I think the more that I bring that into the work I’m doing right now of not creating this binary distinction of in the mornings I’m in work mode, I’m focused, I’m brows furrowed serious mode. But how can actually that have an element of play in it as well?
Jim: Yeah, I think that’s always good. I always tried to have a good time at everything I did. And of course, it’s probably harder today with all these uptight woke motherfuckers, you can’t joke or anything like that. We just have a good time at work. And I don’t think anybody was disrespected or suffered from microaggressions or any of that horse shit. And if they did they were big enough to just suck it up and roll with it. But I think it’s constipating people emotionally to have to work in corporate America today or probably UK as well. What do you think about that?
Jonny: Do I think it’s emotionally constipating to work in corporate environments? I’ve never had a job really, so I wouldn’t know how to answer that.
Jim: Good man, good answer.
Jonny: And at the same time I’ve met a lot of people who have quit their jobs in the city and then gone on these journeys where they’ve realized… And this was true for me as well, of being numb from the neck down essentially. And just living in their heads, in their minds intellectually over analyzing everything and then realizing, “Oh, there’s this inner landscape of emotions and feelings that I’ve been oblivious to for years or decades.” And so I think the corporate environment, unfortunately, in many cases does perpetuate that uptight emotional repression. And I think that’s unfortunately a really shitty thing, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jim: Yeah, no, not at all. Our company’s in the 80s we had good times and crazy times. Sometimes we get into fist fights and shit and we argued about things.
Jonny: Definitely, no repressed anger at that company.
Jim: Yeah, definitely not. We did not tolerate passive-aggressives. Want to be aggressive, be aggressive, aggressive. And intellectual honesty was always the highest value in our companies that you should always say what you think, and to not say what you think is a failure of courage. And courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage none of the other virtues are possible.
Jonny: And I’ve lived my life as trying to be someone who I see, I see myself as courageous, doing the courageous thing. And I think there’s also a fear of being perceived as helpless, or certain situations where actually the truly courageous thing is to maybe not say what we… or say what we think in a way that creates connection as opposed to disconnection. I think that it’s tricky.
Jim: And I think that’s correct. There are lots of ways you can say what you think in ways that just piss people off for no good reason. And as they say here in the south where I live a southern gentle woman never offends anybody unintentionally.
Jonny: I’ve yet to adventure to the south, but I’m sure I’ll make it down there at some point.
Jim: Definitely the best part of America though it has its quirks like any place else. Now we’re going to turn maybe a little bit back to my somewhat more jaded straw man anti view here. This is another tweet, which begs the question from you, “How does one invest in their mental health regular early sunlight,” which I agree with by the way, “somatic based therapy, strong community and friendships,” I agree, “learned protocols, social health, regular exercise, avoid processed food. What else?” And then I wrote rule number one don’t think about your mental health. Because if I look at the arc of history say my parents’ generation, these were the GI Joe World War II people, they went through the Great Depression, They went through World War fucking II. They went through the bomb over their head. My parents were in their how old they’ve been, early 40s during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I didn’t know any of them that were crazy or any of them that had mental health issues. Now, a few of them drank more than they should have probably, but they seemed pretty mentally healthy. And boomers were somewhat a little bit less resistant to thinking about their mental health and they’re a little crazier. The X-ers the same, millennials the same, and now our Zoomers all they fucking talk about is their mental health. And they’re the craziest generation that America’s ever had. So it strikes me that at least based on empirical data, worrying about your mental health is bad for your mental health.
Jonny: There’s obviously a piece of correlation versus causation in that. The word mental health I agree with you I don’t think it’s particularly helpful, because it also emphasizes this Descartesian stupid notion that the mind and the body are two separate things. And so separating physical health from mental health is absurd in many ways. And I think speaking to previous generations, I also think that there was a large amount of emotional repression that went on. And I didn’t live through these areas, I don’t know. But from what I’m guessing is that they found ways to still be functional and to still operate, and raise families in these things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were thriving and happy. And I think that meant because there was so much stigma around talking about these things around depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, these types of things, I think it was often just swept under the rug.
And so I think what’s happening now is the opposite. It’s coming out from under the rug and everyone is talking about it. I think in my view the conversation needs to shift from purely mental health. Seeing a therapist can be great, I think it helps lots of people. And if you’re not working with the body in a somatic way, it’s basically impossible in my opinion to get to the root cause of what causes these addictions, disorders, the whole gamut of mental health challenges. And so I think what needs to be reframed is talking about outlets, and this is what we need in culture, are healthy places for emotional expression. In the war in eastern Europe they had sauna culture where twice a week they’d go in saunas, they’d sweat for an hour, and they process their emotions and their feelings and talk about things in community.
And that’s how they regulated themselves, and we don’t really have that in the west right now. There’s not these socially acceptable places where all of that emotional debt that has been accumulated in our lives and potentially previous generations gets to be expressed or felt, with the exception of men’s groups or Ayahuasca ceremonies, things like this, which are very isolated and certainly not part of people’s weekly or even monthly routines.
Jim: Well, I’m going to add something here on this generational thing because, again, I hear all this for my generation at least, the typical place that you’d have your emotional outlet is with your best friends. Your three or four or five friends that as they say a friend will help you move, a good friend will help you move a body. And so your four or five lifetime good friends those are the folks that I look to if I have to really talk something through. And they will listen to my ratings and I’ll listen to theirs and they’ll know us… One in particular we’ve been friends now for 67 years.
Jonny: Oh, shit.
Jim: Through thick and thin and we know each other better than… We know each other probably that better than either of us knows ourselves, one of those kinds of deals. If one of us needs to have someone to talk to, there’s someone there to talk to. And one of the things that does scare me about the things you read in social science polling is that the number of authentic friends people have is trending down towards zero, and that’s pretty scary.
Jonny: Yeah, it’s terrifying, I agree and you’re right. It’s not just friends, but deep friendships that you’re willing to share the uncomfortable shit, what’s going on in your intimate relationship or I’m struggling a bit. Say the stuff that’s real.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. Hell, you’d move a body together, so you can talk about anything. The Russians are very good at this. Under the Soviets they had a tradition that everybody had at least a one or two of these deep life partners, friends, usually same sex. And the way that the friendship was sealed is that they each told each other something so subversive that they’d been sent to the camps if the KGB knew about it, “When I was 12 I wrote fuck Stalin inside a subway station,” or something. So this was where you got down to bare metal, and so you could then thereafter always have real bare metal conversations. So in your work do you help people think about how they can have more bare metal real deal friendships?
Jonny: Yeah, that’s a great question. Answering from my own life, I think the deep friendships that I’ve found have come through intense experiences. So one example was going through grief, one of the gifts of that was actually bringing me closer to a handful of friends and family who rallied around me and supported me during that time. I think that was a big piece. And then another thing that comes to mind is there’s a rise of men’s work, men’s groups. And I went to a retreat last year where we had a ritual combat where we put on boxing gloves, we got into the center of a circle with 60 other men shouting around us and we just fought. And I ended up feeling really close to that other guy by the end of it. And I think maybe for men in particular going through challenging experiences together does forge deeper bonds and deeper friendships.
And there is maybe an absence, again, of healthy containers to go through, particularly physical challenges together outside of these retreat situations. But in terms of how the work I do influences this I think ultimately when we are guarded, and when we are afraid to feel certain emotions or we’re afraid of taking the lid off the thing that we’ve been pushing down for long periods of time, that creates a barrier to deeper connection. And so even though we might intellectually think, “Oh, I really want a couple of close friends that I can really trust and bury bodies together with,” whatever it is.
If we’re simultaneously guarded and unconsciously holding all this stuff, it’s actually really hard to form deeper connections. And so I think a beautiful side effect of this work with nervous system mastery or breathwork or increasing emotional fluidity is it allows for deeper connections and relationships, both intimate partners, but also friendships, which are I think as you said are a really underappreciated thing in modern society. I’m curious what’s your sense of why is it less common to have deeper friendships in some cases, know real friends in the world today?
Jim: That’s an interesting question and I want to give a multi-part answer, because I also want to jump back to the fighting business. The big change from when I was a kid is when I was let’s say in my early teens we all fought, it was part of growing up. And not getting into the occasional fight would’ve been very weird. And you got into a little trouble for fighting, but not a whole lot. Now you’ll fight in school they literally call the police and zero tolerance, blah, blah. I’m convinced, quite convinced that this is what causes school shootings. Because to your point people you got into a real fight with they may well become your good friends. Or if you’re a victim of a bully and you and your best friend go trash the motherfucker, it puts an end to it instead of the pressure just building until you bring your AR to school and shoot the place up.
We didn’t have school shootings in our day, no such thing. No cops in the schools, nothing. But there were fights every day in middle school, junior high school as we called it in those days. And in my conversation with Tyson Yunkaport, I’ve had several conversations with him on my podcast. And he and I both agree that this alienation from the sparring that the young male mammal needs, look at puppies, they’re fighting and rolling around nipping at each other, chimps famously are pounding at each other. Wolves, any kind of mammal particularly social mammal, the young males engage in sparring. And this banning of sparring from the life of the 12, 13, 14, 15 year old male strikes me as terrible. And you don’t know how to really relate, because my best friends are from that epoch and younger even. And not being able to have those kinds of experiences is quite telling.
The second and this something I’ve long been a believer in is that I think if there’s two kinds of links in the world, of course everything’s not a continuum, but think of strong links and weak links. Strong links are the things you do moving a body, counseling somebody on their breakup face-to-face over a bottle of whiskey. Weak links are di, di, di, di, di, di on Twitter or text messaging back and forth with 17 different people, those aren’t really strong links. So I suspect if we did a time audit on people, the emergence of cheap, fast, weak links in our society has depleted our time and our emotional stockpile for building strong links.
And that if we took our phones and threw them out the window for a couple of years, and just started going out on Friday nights and driving around looking for trouble and hanging out with our friends, we would build considerably more strong links then we do go di, di, di, di, di, posting Instagram selfie blah, blah, blah, blah, but that’s all weak links. And there’s probably a approximately finite amount of time and mental capacity you have for managing your social links. And the more weak links you have, the less strong links you have.
Jonny: That’s interesting. I wonder if it is zero-sum, it could be zero-sum to some degree. I think also the way that things like Twitter and social media are created we get these dopamine hits instantly.
Jim: Exactly, that’s what they’re designed to do. And the worst one of all is goddamn TikTok. All my listeners will know here that I will have one of my plug-in rants. Any parents out there your kids got TikTok on their phone, make them delete it, it’s the worst thing’s been created. I’ve been building online products for 41 years, and I can tell you as soon as I picked up TikTok signed into it, I say, “Oh, this is it, this is perfection. This is online fentanyl.” It’s perfect. It’s perfect. Can’t get any better than this. It’s utterly vile, bad. Delete it from your phone. Delete it from your kid’s phone, and letting your kids have TikTok is worse than giving them cigarettes. Goddamn it, so rant off.
Jonny: Great, I haven’t really used it myself, but I can totally see that. I suppose in the absence of those easy, quick dopamine hits, again, the conditions are maybe be created. And I think play’s part of this as well. I think play also forms deeper friendships, again, because there’s this sense of investing time in something which doesn’t have a productive outcome. Friendship it takes a lot of time and emotional labor to invest into it. You don’t get paid, there’s not a thing at the end.
Jim: You don’t get a silver star or anything, its for its own sake. It’s like play, friendship and play are both for their own sake.
Jonny: Which is beautiful. And there seems to be this conditioning that’s built up particularly in my generation of a resistance to do things that are just for the sake of themselves and are nothing else. And it does require, this retreat that I went to the phones were chucked away, no one looked at them for three days. And it’s amazing how I think deep connections can be forged in a really short space of time. And I felt this to the degree that there was one guy there who I felt as close to as some men that I’d known for maybe five years.
And so it’s not necessarily a function of time, it’s just like how deep are you willing to go in that short… And sometimes it’s easier to do that with someone who’s a relative stranger, who doesn’t have all these preconceptions about who you are or things like that. But I agree with you I think it’s a real tragedy that there is so little emphasis placed on friendship and how important it is. And I think also that there’s a cultural obsession with the atomic family unit and how that is prioritized over particularly same-sex friendships, but friendships generally.
Jim: Yeah. And I would argue that, well, occasionally you can build strong friendships virtually. It’s face to face where you really build the strong friendships, or at least you do so quickly. I’ve had one of my best friends we had a transformational four-hour conversation one time. I think we’d met, we were both on the same board of directors, we’ve probably had the occasional thing. But somehow after one of the meetings we sat down and had a four-hour conversation. And I think we’ve been pretty serious friends ever since that occurred because the conversation went very deep into what we were about, what we thought was important, what we thought living was, what the virtues were, how those had gone awry in our society. It’s the kind of thing that you could have endless tweets with somebody and you have no idea about these things about them. One four-hour conversation and we’re basically synced for life as far as I could tell.
Jonny: Yeah, that’s beautiful. And I think there’s a piece of nervous system co-regulation that happens when you are in the same room as someone, you can feel them to a deeper degree. And I’ve experienced this with some friends who… I’d say they’ve been intellectual friendships, but there hasn’t been that deeper connection, and it’s usually been going on either in adventure together. I did a standup paddle board trip over two weeks in Norway with three friends, and we emerged super tight after that. Or more recently I was wrestling with a friend again in our house downstairs. And that’s something about that of the physical intensity of it just creates a deeper connection.
Jim: Indeed, indeed, now I’m going to talk… this conversation made me realize, play being a very good and important thing can also get hijacked like anything else. The phenomenon particularly of young males getting sucked into video games, to the exclusion of all else. I’m not making this up, it’s nothing I put in my notes, but is that an example of play gone wrong maybe or something like that?
Jonny: That’s interesting. Good question. There’s still that really healthy aspect of play that is there I think. I think the tragedy is that it’s through a medium or it’s mediated by small computer screens, and it is disintegrating human bodies if they’re just hunched over looking at screens for 12 hours a day. But I feel like the actual play impulse in that is still alive and beautiful. And if someone could create something where they were holding the same remote control, but they were running around the forest slashing, killing dragons or shooting imaginary enemies, I think that would be amazing. I think it’s purely just unfortunate that the medium is through screens and mostly indoors, which is just terrible for mental health, physical health, the nervous system, all these things.
Jim: But I would also suggest that if they’re in play mode 12 hours a day at the expense of making a living, and establishing romantic relationships and having real world friendships and burying bodies together, there’s something seriously off balance there.
Jonny: Yeah, for sure like anything you can take healthy things to an extreme and they become very unhealthy and dysregulating. It’s funny, my friend and I both bought Zelda recently because we both grew up playing Zelda. And I attribute that game running around as Link and going on secret missions and adventures.
Jim: I love it.
Jonny: It seeded this thing in me this aliveness, which I then took to traveling the world for three or four years. And I saw myself as finding secret surf spots and having that same adventurous spirit. So for me it was a really beautiful and healthy thing, honestly, I think. And like you say I think when there isn’t connection in the other areas of life, whether it’s connection through friends, family, oneself, then it becomes an escape. And it becomes something which that video game, it becomes the only way that they can have those needs met for friendship, community, play, meaning, purpose, identities where they see themselves as warriors with fiery swords, these kinds of things. It’s easy to see how that is more appealing than those people who have lives that don’t have that sense of inherent connection in them.
Jim: And we have that even new higher level coming up with the metaverse if that happens, fully immersive. I’ve heard some cynical things from Silicon Valley folks, “Oh yeah, let the young guys work at the UPS store, but they can drive Lambos and live in a castle in the metaverse and they’ll be happy.” And I go, “I don’t think so.” I don’t know, I’ve got a serious problem with that.
Jonny: My thing with that is it means people are so disconnected from their bodies if they’re getting all those things from metaverse games, but they’re not actually feeling the things into… In some ways the body is the ultimate metaverse, that’s where we feel these sensations and emotions and you can take a walk and it’s amazing. I can see why it is appealing and addictive for people that have challenging circumstances. And I just wish that that lens of wonder and fascination and play could be applied to like this without a headset.
Jim: Yes sir. Exactly, I love it, that’s great. All right, last thing here as we turn towards the end of the episode. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about your Nervous System Mastery course.
Jonny: Yeah, sure. So it emerged out of a series of workshops I did with leaders and CEOs that was focused on emotional resilience. And the piece that resonated the most was using in particular breathing practices to up and down regulate their nervous system and to change energy levels in real time. And so I’ve developed a curriculum which basically has three pillars. One pillar is building interception, building that somatic awareness to listen to the feedback and data from my body. The second is practices and protocols for self-regulation. So instead of taking pills, alcohol, caffeine, whatever it is, you can just use your breath or other optic flow, or other practices to shift your state in real time. And then the third piece is what we were talking about earlier around emotional fluidity. It’s like do you build the skill? And I think is a skill of accepting, welcoming and feeling emotions as opposed to repressing them or projecting them onto other people.
And so it’s a five week bootcamp. We’ve had 400 people go through it so far and it’s really fun. Honestly, for me it’s a way in which I get to distill a lot of the practices and experiences and tools and things I’ve learned into a learning environment where there’s this spirit of self experimentation. And we use this thing called the Feynman Principle, where students have to explain to each other what they think they’ve learned from things, and it’s a very interactive community based learning. It’s not me just saying shit at a screen, which I find terribly boring. And so I’ve tried to make it as fun and engaging and playful as possible, honestly, I think that’s been a big part of my approach.
Jim: That sounds like it must be virtual. I can’t imagine in this day and age too many people being willing to go to a five week face-to-face bootcamp, though it might be a good idea for them.
Jonny: I’d definitely like to do a week long thing at some point in the next year or two in person, because I think there is like we were saying a degree of connection that’s only possible when you’re in the same space as someone. But for now it’s virtual, but using Zoom breakout rooms to still build some connection as well.
Jim: And where do people go to learn more about the Nervous System Mastery course?
Jonny: That is on nsmastery.com, which is the website. And you can also find me on Twitter and just say hi, ask me questions. I love talking about it, so please do harass me there.
Jim: All righty. Well, I think it’s turned out to be a quite good little podcast episode despite its non-traditional origin story, so thank you.
Jonny: Thank you for taking pity on me and inviting me on.
Jim: Yeah, I thought we had a really good conversation. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Learned a few things.
Jonny: Yeah, me too, me too. I really enjoyed this.