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077: How to Handle Failure and Embrace Your Awesomeness – Neil Pasricha

Neil Pasricha is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome series, which has been published in ten countries, spent over five years on bestseller lists, and sold over a million copies. Pasricha is a Harvard MBA, one of the most popular TED speakers of all time, and today serves as Director of The Institute for Global Happiness. He has dedicated the past fifteen years of his life to developing leaders, creating global programs inside the world’s largest companies and speaking to hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. He also hosts an Apple “Best of 2018” podcast called 3 Books where he’s on a mission to uncover and discuss the 1000 most formative books in the world. He lives in Toronto with his wife and son.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • How Neil dealt with his personal challenges of 2008.
  • Why you should add a dot dot dot to your challenging life experiences.
  • Why we’re tempted to buy in to the end of history illusion.
  • The number of one-night stands the average man and woman have before finding a life-long partner.
  • Why Neil is anti-social media and how he deals with it.

Connect with Neil:

Launch Your Life – online course and coaching experience

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Interview Transcript

Neil, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with us today. I really appreciate it.

My pleasure, David. Thank you for all the work you’re doing, all the beautiful art you put out into the world.

Yeah. Well, I know looking back, 2008 was a pivotal year in my life. It was one of the worst years of my life without a doubt, and it sounds like 2008 was a pretty tough year for you, so take me back to that year. And I also know you started something to cope with that situation in your life, so tell us what happened and what you did to cope with it.

Sure, absolutely. Well, I think 2008, for those that may or may not remember, it was hard for everybody. Because first of all, the economic recession kind of cracked everything open. The stock market dived, which of course has a huge impact on a lot of people’s livelihoods. People lose jobs, people lose income, people loose nest eggs. And so for me, on top of that layer of ugliness, was two big huge things. One is my wife of two years told me one night after work that she did not love me anymore, and she did not want to be married to me anymore. And although she was probably right, I can say from the future, at the time I was in total shock. I of course loved her and wanted to be married to her, we just bought a house, we’re talking about having kids, I was stunned. And on top of that, I didn’t have time to even process the shock because my best friend took his own life. And that happened just days after I heard that my marriage was going to end.

Wow.

Yeah, it was an extreme set of events. And my friend Chris – I don’t know if you know this or not, David, but suicide’s now the tenth leading cause of death in this country. And number two for people under age 29. So we’re just not talking about it enough. We sweep it under the rug. The newspapers are full of murders, but actually our suicide rate is double our murder rate. But I didn’t know all this at the time. All I knew was I lost my best friend, I lost my wife, I lost my marriage, I lost my house. I lost my social connection with a lot of people.

Did you fight for your marriage? Everybody experiences that in a different way.

No.

Was it just kind of like, “Okay, she doesn’t want to be a part of this. I guess we’re done”?

People asked me today. They’re like, “Did you guys go to couple’s therapy? What did you try to do?” And I said a couple things here. One is, there were some signs that things were not going well. So a couple times she tried to broach the conversation, I don’t think I was ready to hear it. And two, she met someone else. I don’t talk about that too much, just because I’m trying to be sensitive and respectful to her, and I don’t judge her for it. But she had developed a chemistry type of connection with somebody else, so therefore it was clear that it was not going to work because she was becoming aware of her emotions to somebody else. And by the way, again from the future I can say it’s great that that happened, because she’s now living a happy life and has children with somebody else. And so am I. But at the time, I had nothing. I was devastated. I lost forty pounds just due to stress. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. People at work were like, “You look great, man. What’s your secret?” I’m like, “Just stress.”

So I start this blog. That’s the coping mechanism into that. And the blog is called www.1000awesomethings.com. And so for a thousand straight days, which is a long time, I wrote an entry on my blog every day about something small that’s awesome. Like the smell of a bakery, or wearing sweatpants all day, which I’m doing today by the way. Or finding five dollars in your old coat pocket. Or getting called up to the dinner buffet first at a wedding. Or flipping to the cold side of the pillow. It was just stuff like that. And I wrote an essay about it and I posted it. And low and behold the blog took off. Nobody read it of course at the beginning, but eventually it got some traction and a few big websites started covering it. It was on the front page of Reddit.com and stuff.

And then what happened was, I won an award for best blog in the world. Which doesn’t even sound real, but it is. And I go to New York City and I walk down a red carpet and I’m winning this award from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for best blog. And then I come home and ten literary agents are waiting to turn 1000awesomethings.com into The Book of Awesome. So you asked about 2008. Well, The Book of Awesome, my first book came out in 2010. It’s about gratitude obviously, and using these small simple pleasures as essentially a rope ladder when we’re struggling with things, as I did it myself.

And it’s funny, because again I’m talking from the future now and you’re asking me about something a while ago, the most common feedback I get on The Book of Awesome is, “This helped me through my divorce.”  “This helped me through the loss of my husband.” “This helped me through the cancer I was fighting.” Honestly, I have no idea how people can sense through the words that I wrote those things as the time of my own struggle. Because nowhere in The Book of Awesome do I say, “I was going through a divorce.” I don’t even mention it once. It was not about me. But yet somehow through the words and the power of language, or people’s own perception skills, which we all have a very finely tuned BS meter these days. They have used it on the same exact emotional state that I was in. And so I found that so fascinating.

Awesome. Literally awesome. Yeah, so good. So you wrote a book on gratitude, which is The Book of Awesome. You also wrote a book on the subject of happiness.

Yes.

Why were you interested in writing a book now on the subject of resilience, which is your new book?

Yeah, sure. So years after that divorce I ended up meeting somebody new. Her name is Leslie, we fell in love. I’m saying a very long story in a short amount of sentences.

Of course.

We fell in love. She moved in with me. We got married. And on the flight home from our honeymoon, which was in South East Asia, she got sick on the flight. So then we have a layover, she’s looking for a pharmacy, she needs to lie down. She’s like, “I don’t think I can get on the plane.” “It’s a thirteen hour flight home, I don’t blame you.” And she’s like, “Why don’t we just get on? I think I can make it.” So we go on the plane and it takes off, it goes above the clouds, she goes to the airplane bathroom at the front of the plane. A few minutes later she comes back to our seats and she says, “I’m pregnant.” See, she bought the pregnancy test in the airport pharmacy in Malaysia. She did the pregnancy test in the airplane.

Wow.

In the bathroom, she did the pregnancy test right then. That’s why she said, “I’m pregnant.” She just found out. She had the little digital thing, she’s like, “Here it is.” And then I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m going to have kids.” And so I wrote The Happiness Equation, which is the book you mentioned on happiness, essentially as a three hundred page love letter to my unborn child, on how to live a happy life. Honestly David, it comes from me worried, “What if anything happens to me before they become a teenager? Before they become a twenty-something and they don’t get to hear Dad’s advice?” And I’d been researching this for years, because of course of the success of The Book of Awesome, people are all asking me how to be happy and what’s the science say, and blah, blah, blah. So I was like, “I have a lot to say on this.”

So my last book, The Happiness Equation is all about happiness, and it was originally a letter to my kids. Now you’re asking, “Well, why’d you write about resilience?” So first of all, classic author, especially non-fiction author, I’m like, “Oh, now I realize that my books are not all about awesomeness. They’re not all about gratitude. They’re about intentional living.” I’m really fascinated by this idea that our lives are only thirty thousand days long. That’s very short. And how do we make sure that they count? And so gratitude was the first book. Happiness is the last one. And this one’s about resilience. Okay, here’s why I think resilience is the biggest issue of our day today. Because you can press a button and a car will pick you up at work. Your phone will entertain you on the way home. You can press another button and order food. And by the time you get to your house, your food’s waiting for you on your porch.

Sure.

We are living like kings.

Right, right.

We are living in the era of the most infinite abundance ever. We live in the best time ever to be alive. At the same time, and you may or may not know this, our rates of anxiety, loneliness, suicide, and depression and mental illness have all skyrocketed. And I don’t mean they’re going up, I mean they’re skyrocketing. I mean, the most recent data we have on anxiety, especially in woman, especially young women, is it went up thirty percent. Thirty percent in the last five years. It usually goes up one percent. This is huge. And so my argument is, this is because the world is so abundant. We no longer have the tools to handle failure or even perceived failure. These days when we fall, we just lie on the sidewalk crying. We’re turning into an army of porcelain dolls. We aren’t tough. We aren’t mentally tough. And I’m including myself in this by the way. I’m just as likely as everyone to be like, “Oh, no. My picture only got two likes on Instagram. I guess I have no friends.”

Sure.

This is what we do. We kind of create this terrible picture that everything’s going wrong. Because we don’t have the school, we don’t have the education and the musculature really, to handle and navigate failure. And so You Are Awesome, my new book, which has the purposeful subtitle by the way, How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life is all about resilience. It’s all about how to grow this muscle that I’m arguing we all desperately need today.

I think it’s funny. Obviously it’s part of your brand, the term “awesome”, that you titled the book, or your publisher did, You Are Awesome. When that message is actually, I think, part of the underlying message of fragility. Like everybody thinks they’re awesome, and then when I slightly feel like I’m not awesome, then my world falls apart.

Yeah, the word that popped into my mind is anathema, if I’m saying that right. Isn’t it the opposite of how people feel? And actually, that’s partly why – and I won’t blame my publisher, I actually was the one that thought this would be a good title. Is because right now, when I talk to people, I give speeches. I’m in colleges, I’m in universities, I’m talking to parents of children, I’m talking to parents themselves as they go through career changes or losing a job or losing a relationship. The underlying theme I hear is people thinking to themselves, David, “I’m not awesome. I stink. I suck. I’m not worthy.” And so part of the reason I titled the book You Are Awesome, is because I’m trying to reclaim that sentiment that I think we all need to have and we need to remind ourselves about.

We need to tell ourselves that we’re awesome, because we truly are and we have forgotten it. And sometimes I think all we need is a few guideposts and pieces of wisdom, bodies of research, personal stories that help remind us why we’re all works in progress and why we’re actually pretty good. And so when you open You Are Awesome, it literally is the set of nine whittled down, carefully curated, seven times edited pieces of wisdom that I was able to develop in my own life. And which I think my kids and anyone when reading it will benefit from. So that’s kind of where the title came from. And to your point, yeah, it would be really hard for me, the guy who’s written five books and ten calendars and three journals with the word “awesome”, to use a different word. I’m beholden to the torture chamber that I’ve created for myself, you know what I’m saying?

Of course. Of course. So I do want to jump into those nine secrets, because I want to pique our listeners interest to get and read the book. The book comes out on November 5th, 2019, and this podcast will come out before then, but people can obviously get it on Amazon and we’ll put the links in the show notes. They can swipe up on their phone and click the link if you’re listening now. Or go to our website, of course. But I want to jump into a few of these secrets just to get you to tease them out for us.

Yes.

Chapter one is called Add a Dot, Dot, Dot. Now what is it about an ellipsis that is so powerful?

Well, here’s the thing, I was starting in this place where I thought, “Someone’s going to get handed this book when they’re going through cancer or when they just lost their spouse or they just lost a child. They lost their job or something huge just happened.” And when that happens to people, we get stuck. We actually don’t move. We project forward and we think, “My life is over.” We put a period on the end of our sentences. And so in this chapter, chapter one, I use my mom’s story of being born frankly the wrong gender in a terrible time in East Africa under a dictator. Being forced into an arranged marriage at a young age to a guy she met once before the wedding. Being shipped off to another continent where she knew nobody, in a language that she didn’t really speak, it wasn’t her first language. In a city with a hundred percent white people and she was brown, so she was also culturally neutered. And I used her story intertwined with the research around the ellipses and the research around keeping your options open, to show people that when you are going through major life struggle, the key there is to add a dot, dot, dot.

To turn the period that you perceive at the end of your sentence, to one of simply continuing to move, continuing to breath, continuing to operate. If you can switch that to an ellipses, you can keep moving. And of course, I share the history of the ellipses. What that actually means in practice, some research studies behind it. And I also share a word that enables this thinking, which is the simple three letter word “yet”. People like me, like you, like everybody, we talk so negatively to ourselves. If you fail a test you say, “I’m not creative.” You get a bad health record. Your doctor says you have high cholesterol, you think, “I don’t take care of my body,” or “I don’t exercise.” People talk like this to themselves, and so I’m saying if you just said the word “yet”, that’s what I saw my mom doing. That’s what the ellipses does. It actually helps you see the little sliver of light between the door and the frame after the latch closes.

So it’s not, “I’m not creative.” It’s, “I’m not creative… yet.” It’s not, “I don’t take care of myself.” It’s, “I don’t take care of myself… yet.” It’s gotten to the point now David, where I’ve actually trained my kids not to say, “I don’t like broccoli.” They just say, “I don’t like broccoli yet.” And I know it sounds funny to hear a three year old tell me he doesn’t like broccoli yet, but actually what he’s doing in his own brain is quite a powerful little scientific trick. He’s enabling his mind to hold the idea that he might in the future like it. And that’s what I’m trying to teach people to do. It’s the very first secret of the book, so we kind of start from the bottom as it were. Someone that can’t move or can’t function or can’t breathe or can’t operate. And that’s what I saw my mom doing. When she came to Canada, she was like, “I don’t know how to live in Canada yet.” “I don’t eat meat yet.” She started eating meat, because you couldn’t really be a vegetarian in the sixties in the suburbs of Toronto. What are you going to do? Pick the bacon bits out of your Caesar salad? The barbeque has no veggie dogs.

So she just kept saying, “Dad wants to go ballroom dancing? Well, I don’t ballroom dance yet.” And honestly, that type of thinking, as simple as it may sound, is steeped in deep scientific research that shows when you hold onto the idea of the ellipses and the word “yet”, you enable your future self to open that door one day. And that is such a powerful dose of forgiveness and of liberation that you can do for yourself. And all it takes is that three word phrasing, introducing into your mind. This is what happens, people say, “Oh, why’d you go into law school?” It’s like, “I’m not good at anything else.” Or, “Why’d you marry that guy then if you don’t like him?” It’s like, “Well, I’m no good at dating.” No, I’m not good at anything else yet. I’m not good at dating yet. Let yourself be open to what your own future could bring you if you allow it to come.

Keeps the door open basically.

Exactly.

Like you said, it’s just a very early first step for someone. Just to go, “Okay, let me just keep that door open.”  In chapter three, it’s called See it as a Step, which ties into the concept that you’re saying. You talk about the end of history illusion.

Yes.

And so when are we tempted to believe this illusion? Well, first of all tell us what that illusion is.

Sure.

When are we tempted to believe it? And what’s another option?

Sure, exactly. So in this chapter I talk about my divorce which I mentioned briefly, and how I thought, “Oh, I will never find anyone new. I will always be single.” I had no resilience to think of myself as someone worthy of dating. I actually thought I’m ugly, I’m unlovable, I’m a horrible person. And unfortunately what the science teaches, and this is a great piece of research from Daniel Gilbert from Harvard. He’s the author of Stumbling on Happiness, and he teamed up with a group of researchers and they interviewed nineteen thousand people. And they asked them two basic questions. First question was, “Hey, what did the last ten years of your life look like?” And the second question was, “So, what do you think the next ten years of your life is going to look like?” No matter what age the people were, whether they were in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, whatever, they all said, “The last ten years of their life was this tempestuous portrait of changing relationships and careers and moving cities. An endless array of ups and downs.”

But then when they were asked what the next ten years of life would look like, again regardless of age, demographic or background, they all said, “Oh, I think it’ll be about the same as I am today. I’m definitely still going to be with Sally, and I for sure will be at the same job.” What are you talking about? The whole point of the research study proved that we have a human tendency in our brains to think that today is the day history ends. ] I use this metaphor in the book of a staircase. Because we can see the staircase behind us, right? You can see, “There’s my prom and there’s the day I met Sally,” and all that stuff. You can see it, so you know it. But in the future you can’t see the stairs above you. You can’t see the path you’re going on, so then you therefor confuse the possibly of change with the probability of change.

This is an important point. It means that you think after you get fired, “I’ll never find another job.” But actually, you will. You just cannot picture it because you can’t see it. And so the end of history illusion, frankly it’s based in neuroscience. It says we all have the human tendency to think history stops today. It’s not so bad if you’re flying high, but if you’re suffering through something, it can feel totally detrimental. And so how do we use it? Okay, this is your second question. You’re like, “Okay, well how do we use it to our advantage?” Well, for this part I share a story about how I used to have a terrible job. I was essentially the HR person at Walmart who would go with managers into the meeting room and fire people. And I did not do the firing, but I had to coach the manager before on what to say and what to do. And then I had to help the associate, we called it – they didn’t use the word “employee”. We had to help the associate who was having to pack up their trunk and put their pictures in a box and they were crying and they were like, “I’m never going to find another job. I was working here thirty years, what am I going to do now?”

And this was at the corporate level, right? Not the store level, correct?

Yeah, right. It was at the corporate level. So I worked as an HR manager in the head office. It’s one of my early roles at Walmart. I was the director of leadership development there when I left after ten years there, but I’m talking about one of my earlier roles.

Sure.

And it was a hard job because obviously emotionally it weighed on me. But the point of the story is, that every time I bumped into somebody years later who had been fired from the company years before, guess what they all told me? I’m not kidding when I say this, they all said to me David, “That was the best thing that ever happened to me. If I hadn’t of got fired, I wouldn’t have found this job at this small company that I love.” “I wouldn’t have gone to Peru with my mom before she died.” “I wouldn’t have been there for my daughter after she had her miscarriage.” “I wouldn’t have decided that I actually wanted to start up that business I always told myself I would do but I never did it. And then when I got fired, I was like, ‘Oh, now I have some severance money and I have time, so I’m going to start up my little ukulele importing business’,” or whatever it is. And by the way, I said ukulele importing business because I actually know a guy who said that exact phrase to me.

Nice.

He started up a ukulele importing business, I’m not joking. Where I’m talking to you now, I actually can see the ukulele on our wall hanging there.

That’s fun.

So the point is, even though everyone said to me at the time, “What am I going to do now? I’ve been here thirty years, I’ll never find another job.” Guess what? They all loved it in the future. This is the point of the end of history illusion. Today I’m married to a woman named Leslie. We have three little boys five and under. Honestly, thank goodness I got divorced. Thank goodness, because I could be unhappily married today. But instead I’m happily married today with a woman I adore and who’s the light of my life and with children that I could not imagine not being with. And so thank goodness I got divorced. And the crazy thing is, this is how it works in life around everything for everybody, because of our tendency to catastrophize. We all think it’s over when everything happens.

When I think back about all the jobs or roles that I didn’t get in that moment I was super sad, depressed, thought I’d never find whatever I really wanted to do. When I was at my lowest point in 2008 – I actually had a similar experience to you in 2008, but I was on the other side. I actually had an affair, and my listeners would know that from my previous interviews and the content that I produce. And I ended up moving in with that woman. And I was a pastor at the time. Neil, let me tell you, that does not go over well with a church congregation. And I resigned of course.

This gal ended up leaving me and going back to her husband forty days later, and at that point, I had lost my career that I had invested time, energy, money. It was my calling, my passion, and I had lost my wife and kids. And I had lost this woman that I had put all my eggs in the basket for. And I’m at rock bottom. What do I think? Life is over. Life is over. Frankly I didn’t even want to live. It turns out now, that’s eleven years, my wife and I just celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary because we were able to reconcile and get back together. I have two amazing kids that I now spend a ton of time with and enjoy. They’re sixteen and twenty. And I am involved in some church stuff, but that’s not the focus of my life. My focus is primarily on coaching. Coaching people through these dark times in their life.

Which I’m assuming was partly enabled by your own navigating of that?

Oh, without a doubt.

Right?

Yeah, without a doubt.

Yeah, you couldn’t do it if you didn’t do it.

Right. Right. And so every single thing like you said, from the dark points to the things that we have losses, it’s so hard when we’re in the midst of it to see any possibility of the staircase continuing upward. It’s like the staircase ends here. So beautiful, the end of history illusion. And yet it is just a next step. And that’s one of the most powerful things we can say to friends in family in the midst of that darkness is, “There will be a next step. You’ll look back on this day and be thankful in some way.”

First add a dot, dot, dot. To your point, what you did when you felt like there was no hope, or no joy, or no purpose, you kept breathing. You kept moving. You just lost the woman you had an affair with. You lost her. You lost that apartment. You presumably at the time felt like you had lost your marriage. You had lost your job. You could have thought, “This is a period.” But instead you added a dot, dot, dot. You just kept breathing.

I wanted to add a period actually. With the help of some close friends and a therapist, I ended up checking myself into a hospital for three days. Because I was in such a dark place that I wanted to add a period. I wanted to end my life because I felt like I didn’t have any life left. But it’s only when we have some people stabilize us and help go, “Okay, this is not the end. It doesn’t have to be the end.” And I’ll tell you, you were in a different place in 2008, but I had small kids at the time, and the only thing that prevented me from adding a period was I didn’t want that to be a part of their legacy. I didn’t want that to be a part of their…

Yeah, to have had a father that took his own life.

Yeah.

How did you reconcile?

You know, after I got out of the hospital, I of course moved several times. I only had a credit card that I was living on, because I didn’t have income. I had this sense that I was supposed to turn the trajectory of my heart back toward my soon to be ex-wife. We had filed for divorce. And I told her, I said, “You may not ever want to be with me. And I’m not asking to be with you, but I just want you to know that I’m going to be the best dad I can possibly be. I’m going to care for you in ways that I can care for you. And I just want you to know that.”

And so man, I’ll never forget meeting up with her at a park and taking full responsibility of what I had done and the humiliation. It’s just very humiliating because I was a very public person in that time and area, because the church had grown quite large. And so yeah, it was just a matter of me turning the trajectory of my heart and going, “I’m going to serve you and care for you as the mother of our kids, and if it comes together, great. Otherwise, I’m going to keep serving and loving you.” But it’s only because not buying into the end of history illusion, like you said, that I was able to do.

Well, kudos on your tremendous heart. For your vulnerability, for your openness, for your honesty, which of course helps create that conversation with your wife. But also, I know and I can hear in the conversation with you, it’s what makes this podcast so enjoyable and listening to you so enjoyable. Because you’re so vulnerable. You share that, and that makes you a better coach and it makes you a better leader. And so there’s actually a provocative title in my book that the editor actually wanted to take out originally. It’s on page eighty-three, and it says, “Have you had enough one-night stands?” And it relates directly to this conversation we’re having, because it was in one of the advertising -. It’s funny, I live in Toronto, Canada, and so they made subway advertisements for this book. There’s a big picture of You Are Awesome, and there’s highlights from the book. Anyway, in the US, they snipped out that line, “Have you had enough one-night stands?” And in Canada, they let it in.

Really?

So I don’t know what that tells you about -. Yeah, that maybe the Canadian culture is a little bit more liberal and that was not an eyebrow raising thing at all. But in the US they were like, “We can’t put that on the title.”

By the way, when I read that I was like, “Whoa, what is this?” It really pulled me in.

Exactly, it’s an interest peaker. That’s the purpose of it. But actually the point is, it’s because I came across this amazing study that was published in The Telegraph. Where they interviewed people that were in stable, long-term, loving relationships with what they called “the one”. So if you find the one, your soulmate, the person that you’re like, “I’m happily married and I couldn’t imagine being with a better person.” Those are the people they interviewed for this study, and they asked all of them, “So you’re happily married?” “Yes. Yes, I am.” I don’t even know if they had to be married, but they were with the person that they love and whatever. And the interviewers were like, “So did you date anyone before?” They’re like, “Oh, yeah. I had ten boyfriends.” And then they’re like, “Oh, well did you sleep with them?” “Well, yeah, I slept with seven of them.” They’re like, “Oh, and did anyone ever cheat on you?” And they’re like, “Yeah, a couple guys did.” They’re like, “Did you ever cheat on -?”

Anyway, the whole point of this study was, they actually used a composite of all these interviews to map the average road that the average person takes to finding the one. And guess what? That road – and I’m going to actually read it to you right now because I think it’s really interesting, “The average woman will kiss fifteen people, have seven sexual partners, four one-night stands, four disaster dates, three relationships less than a year, two relationships more than a year. They will fall in love twice, be heartbroken twice, cheat once and be cheated on once, all before she finds a lifelong partner.” And the stats for men are almost identical. I think they kiss one more person and have a couple more sexual partners, but really it’s about the same. And the point is, when you hear that, imagine you were talking to your kid. Your kid’s sixteen and they’re like, “So dad, I really wanted to meet the one.” And you’re like, “Yeah, well have you had ten sexual partners, six one-night stands, four disasters?” And the kid would be like, “Are you crazy? Of course I never want to do that. That sounds horrible.”

Right.

“To get my heart broken repeatedly?” all this stuff. I’m not saying this is a should do, but the point is the average composite of the average person who has actually found the one, is they have been through an average of that many steps. So this is also related to end of history illusion, meaning that it might be just that you don’t have enough experience yet. It’s kind of like the old adage, and I don’t know if you have this in the States, but in Canada we have something called “The Turkey Dump”. Where people who date in high school, go to university or college, and on the Thanksgiving weekend when they first return home, they dump each other. It’s called the turkey dump. Do you guys have that?

We do not have that. We do not have that, no. I mean, it happens. It happens but we don’t call it that.

I don’t know why. Because it’s so cliché, but the point is once you’re realizing the road to romance actually really is rocky, and part of what building resilience is all about, it’s just being aware of the fact that you might just be in a mode of your life or a moment of your life where that relationship that ended, or that disaster date, or that one-night stand that didn’t go well, or even did go well, it might simply be part of the path you’re on towards a future that you can’t yet see.

Sure, sure. Jeez, I can just hear my mom going, “Well, David, I just pray that doesn’t happen to your kids.”

Or, “David, I’ve just unsubscribed from your podcast.”

Yeah. Well, I’m not sure she listens to begin with. But yeah, that is so fascinating. All right, chapter four, you encourage us to lose more to win more. And this ties directly into the see it as a step. Why are you such a fan of losing?

Ah ha, okay. So I think this is chapter five.

My apologies.

No, no, no, no. But I just want to make sure I tell you the right story, that’s all.

It is chapter five, yes.

So lose more to win more. Okay, have you ever talked a wedding photographer? This is something I always am fascinated with. I’m like, if you see someone’s wedding photos, you’re always like, “Wow.” First of all, my friends look hotter and more beautiful than they ever have before, and even me. I’m in some of the wedding photos and I look great. And so I always have this fetish where I ask the wedding photographer, “How’d you do it? How did you take these fifty amazing pictures that are going to capture this memory and this moment for this couple for the rest of their lives? This is going to be a picture that they hang above their mantle until they’re eighty years old.”

And you know what every single wedding photographer always tells me? The same exact answer, “I just take way more pictures. I take a thousand pictures, so of course I’m going to have fifty good ones. I’m throwing away 95% of them just to find those 5%.” And so that kind of stuck in my brain. The other thing that stuck in my brain was the fact that when I was a kid there was no internet, there was no Wikipedia. I used to really love baseball, and so my dad bought me the complete book of Major League Baseball statistics. Which for a tiny nerd in the suburbs, this became my Bible, okay? I don’t mean to throw around the word Bible.

No, I get you. Yeah.

Right, and so then I look it up. I’m like, “Oh, okay. Who has the most wins of all time?” And it’s a guy you’ve probably heard of, Cy Young. Of course they named the Cy Young Award after him, and he’s won 511 wins in baseball. And as I kept paging through this book, I’m not kidding. The way people look at their cell phones before bed, I’d look at this thing before bed. One day I stumbled upon the most losses in baseball, and I was like, “Hey, that’s weird. The guy with the most losses is Cy Young. He has 316 losses, hmm.” And then I started looking through the book from a different lens. I was like, “Hey, wait a minute. Who has the most strikeouts?” And of course it’s Nolan Ryan. He’s got 5000-something strikeouts; 5714. And then I’m like, “Hmm, well that’s the best thing you can do as a pitcher. What’s the worst thing you can do as a pitcher?” It’s walking somebody, right? So guess who has the most walks? It’s Nolan Ryan. He has 2795. I’m like, “Interesting.”

When we look at models of success today, what we think we’re looking at is someone who’s super successful. Someone who succeeded; Nolan Ryan, Cy Young, a wedding photographer. But actually the lesson that I want to teach people is that actually what we’re looking at is somebody who simply, their greatest strength is navigating through failure. That actually is their biggest strength. You and I would take a picture – well, I shouldn’t speak for you. I would take three pictures at a wedding and I’d be like, “These suck.” But if I took a thousand, I’d probably find fifty good ones

I would never get on a Major League Baseball pitching mound, but certainly I’d probably quit well before I attempted that many. These days they’re always like, “Oh, Tom Brady has the most complete passes.” I’m like, “Look up who has the most incomplete passes.” Bet you it’s Tom Brady. He just played the longest. This guy is okay with losing, with failing, with missing a pass. His biggest success is actually navigating into the future. And so I looked at my own life, and I looked up the research related to this, and it turns out there’s a ton of supporting research on this. One of the best interviews I discovered was by – have you ever heard of the newspaper The Onion?

Of course, yeah.

Okay, right. So The Onion, a weekly comedy newspaper based originally in Wisconsin. Well, the former editor was a guy named Todd Hanson and people used to always say to him, “Hey, how did you get to write jokes for a living? Everyone wants to write funny jokes and you get paid for it.” And he’d always say, “Do it for free for ten years.” Because if you do it for free for ten years, you will work through all the musculature required, which is resilience, in order to be okay with some being good, some being not. Some days you don’t have any, you keep going.

Okay, so I make the argument in this book, in this chapter Lose More to Win More, that we are asking our graduates of universities the wrong question. These days when you hear a commencement speech, people always say, “Do what you love. Find your passion. Chase your purpose.” No, that’s not true. What we should be actually asking people in commencement speeches – and if you’re listening I will be happy to give this speech at your university. Is, “No, no, the question isn’t do what you love, it is do you love it so much that you can take the pain and the punishment with it?” If you really want to be a rock star, then are you okay with lugging a heavy amp through sticky, smoky bars at two in the morning on a Tuesday for seven years? And practicing strumming the same three chord progression in your basement until your fingers get raw, until you nail it, until you can do it with your eyes closed. Until you can do it while you sing. Until you can do it while you’re singing and people are talking or cheering in front of you. Can you do that? Not many people can do that.

If you can take the pain and punishment that goes towards becoming a successful performing musician, then you will become a successful performing musician. It’s just that the road to get there is so rocky, that the vast majority of people will quit well before they do it. And for me as a writer today people say, “Oh, Neil. Must be nice, you got your seventh book out.” You Are Awesome, my seventh book. But actually what they don’t know, and although I tell them in this book is, “No, no, I had no one when I was a kid.” I used to read and write every night from the time my parents and sister went to bed until midnight. Because I didn’t sleep very well and there was no internet, so I just developed the ten thousand hours earlier. And so this writing if you ask my mom, is a function of me writing as a kid for twenty years without anyone seeing it or getting paid for it.

So much of the – go ahead, I’m sorry.

No, so Lose More to Win More is, “Could you go through the pain and punishment to lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, so that of course, the win comes at the end?”

Yeah. I love social media, and yet, social media has just allowed us to show the shiny parts, show the final moment of that rock star on stage. And not the years and years and years of practice and losses and challenges. I wanted to take a side note because I’ve heard you talk about these three P’s of social media that you find are challenging for us in this day and age. And I know that a lot of our listeners are moms of teenagers and older, and I don’t want to be anti social media, but at the same time I do like your insights on this to help us reframe, and help us see beyond the shininess of social media. So do you mind breaking those down real quick?

Sure. Well, first of all, I am anti social media. I personally think it’s a huge scourge and although I was just as enamored with Facebook as everybody was when it came out. Because I got in touch with my own aunts from a foreign country. I have a weird last name. My last name is Pasricha, Neil Pasricha. So I searched Facebook and found thirty people on Facebook with the same weird last name as me from all over the world. So I made a Facebook group called Pasricha’s, Pasricha’s, We’re Everywhere. And it turned into this thousand person thing, and it was so fun. This was 2006, okay?

Now I say there are three big problems and they all start with the letter “P”. The first one is Physical. When we expose our brains to bright screens before bed, especially before bed, we don’t produce melatonin overnight. So our resilience levels go do. So when we wake up in the morning, the first thing we want to do is turn to our phone. People say, “Oh, my cellphone is my alarm clock.” And I always say, “Go to Walmart. They’re ten dollars. Buy an alarm clock.” I can’t remember who it is, but there’s a CEO in the US – really progressive CEO that’s actually handing out alarm clocks to his employees now, because for this exact purpose. He’s trying to get people not to be sleeping with their cellphone.

The other physical problem of course is that we’re becoming a nation of humpbacks, we are getting texting thumb. It’s not good for you to add sixty pounds of pressure to your spine, which is what you’re doing when you text. So the first P is physical. The second P is psychological. This is a big issue. Social media tells us that everyone else is awesome, and it kind of reminds you that you’re not. So the way it does this is it showcases everybody else’s greatest hits, and you are left living your life in the director’s cut version. By definition, as we live in this giant flattening eight billion person community now, you will never, ever be the best at anything, ever. You will never get that feeling ever.

You will never have the most followers. You will never have the most friends.  You will never be the best basketball player in your school anymore, the way you used to be, because there’s someone better on YouTube. You can’t even finish a video game better than your friends in the basement anymore. I used to play Mario Cart and it was like, “I got first.”  No, no, there’s someone one YouTube who’s literally got it to the tenth of a second. You can’t beat the way that they can win. So you’re like, “Oh, man. I suck.” So psychologically we’re killing ourselves. We are telling our self that we stink over and over and over again. And it never ends. Even Oprah thinks Justin Bieber’s got more followers than her. You can be Oprah and feel like a failure.

The third P. So I’ve already said physical, and I’ve already said psychological. The third P is productivity. According to McKinsey, we now spend thirty-one percent of our days bookmarking, prioritizing and switching between tasks. Not actually doing anything, but simply deciding what we should be doing. Social media and cellphones in general to some extent, are killing our productivity. They are feeding us an endless array of dopamine inducing distractions that are constantly stimulating us. Of course I want to watch the new Saturday Night Live sketch, or the best sketch of the night. And the latest highlight of the NFL game that was on last night that was the one highlight that everyone should watch. And, “Did you see that one handed catch that OBJ made? You’ve got to see it.” It’s feeding us an endless – imagine a little hose like a hamster feeding into your mouth, pellets that you just can’t stop eating because they’re so tasty.

So how do you personally deal with social media on a day-to-day basis? Are you on it at all?

So here’s what I do. I have deleted social media apps, all of them; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etcetera, from my phone. So the first thing you got to do is get rid of the access point. And by the way, social media companies are smart, they will let you log in from your computer. But because you have to log in on actual computer, you will do it much, much, much less frequently. Because I have to go to my computer and log into Twitter. So this is first thing you do, delete the apps. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, I was really serious when I said don’t sleep with your cellphone. I say to people, it doesn’t matter where your cellphone is in your house, it matters where your charger is.

I keep my charger in my basement. It’s two levels below where I sleep. So in the morning I’m like, “I don’t want to walk down two levels in my freezing cold boxers into the basement to get my phone. I’ll just check it later.” Between here and there, there’s the bathroom, there’s the kitchen, there’s breakfast, there’s my kids, so I don’t make it to check my cellphone definitely not within the first hour or two of the day. Similarly because I plug my phone in the basement at night, I’m like, “Oh, I’ll just plug my phone,” and then I’ll go read a book or I’ll hang out with my wife, we’ll have a cup of tea. Remember when the internet used to be a box in everyone’s basement? Put it back in the box in your basement. That’s a huge, huge, huge thing behavior-wise. We have to put our cellphone chargers far, far away from us.

The third thing is, our phones and social media of course in general, have been designed to be what I call “push devices”. You need to change them into “pull devices”. A push device is anything that tells you anything it wants to tell you whenever it wants to tell you. Like the little 99 that hangs out in the corner of your Twitter feed. “You’ve got 99 notifications.” “This new thing happened to you.” You’ve got so many things that it’s trying to tell you. Text messages. Alerts. Notifications. Emails. What you need to do is live fulltime on your cellphone in airplane mode. That’s what I do. I’m fulltime in airplane mode, and then I’m choosing a few moments in the day, typically morning once, maybe at lunch time once, where I go off airplane mode.

I experience the crazy feeling of getting a barrage of seventeen text messages, twenty-eight emails, and all these uninteresting alerts. I delete most of them and then I maybe respond to one or two, and then I go back into airplane mode for another four, five hours. I’ve actually done a study on this with a productivity author. And we found for those listening that are in a corporate job that are like, “He doesn’t get me. I got so many emails for work and I’ve got so many social media things I’ve got to respond to.” What I say to them is, I’ve done a study on this, and it turns out that two best hours of the day to check email – and I know I’ve taken social media and gone to email, but it’s kind of related. Is nine to ten AM, and four to five PM. And the reason is because you’re still giving yourself two full hours of email a day, which is a lot.

And the second reason is because you then shut off your email from ten AM to four PM, and you create a six hour deep work oasis in the middle of your day. And that you’ll notice, will become massively productive. When they look at the devastating effects of email and social media on our productivity, what they see is people check them fifteen times an hour. Or something crazy. Maybe even more than that, so that of course you can’t do any deep work if you only focus on it for three minutes. If I have three minutes to write an article, then it’ll take me a week to write the article. If I give myself four hours, I will write two articles in that four hours because I have no interruptions.

And so anyway, this is all relating to chapter eight of my book, which is called Go Untouchable. In that chapter I specifically preach about the untethering that we need to do in order to grow resilience. And I do this one day a week, where I actually have no contact with my wife, my kids, my family, nothing. No internet. No phone. Nothing. One day a week I go completely untouchable, and you will not be surprised to find that those are the days of my deepest creativity, my strongest writing, and all good ideas. Everything good I do comes from those one day a week.

One of the things that I’m not sure you touch on in your book, but I’ve interviewed several women on this topic of resilience. And one of the things that they point out is that resilience isn’t something you develop in the midst of a challenging time. It’s something that you develop almost like a bank where you’re storing up this resilience inside of you every day. So that when there’s a challenging experience, you have that to draw upon. And I’m seeing that these secrets, these tools that you’re giving us, they’re every day tools. You know what I mean?

Yeah.

They’re things that you can live out each and every day, not just in the midst of a challenge.

Right. For example, we were just talking about Lose More to Win More. And if you read the last part of that chapter, “Go to parties where you don’t know anybody.” “Set up a failure budget where you can experiment with trying new things.” “Count your losses, not just your blessings.”  My takeaways are simple. Simple behavior changes, but they’re just things we don’t normally do. We hide our losses. We don’t go to parties where we don’t know anybody because we’re afraid that we’ll be a loser. We don’t have a failure budget, so when you want to try that new cooking class or go to that music festival in the different genre, you don’t do it because you can’t mentally justify spending money on something that you might not like.

Whereas I’m saying, “No, no, go to Spanish classes,” or whatever. That’s a Canadian reference, because no one here knows Spanish. Or hardly anyone. And you guys, it’s the opposite. Go to a French class, that’s what we all get taught in our schools. And then try it, because that’s worth it to learn it. And yes, my models are simple. My takeaways are light, but they are also the most actionable and accessible way I can dole these things out. In terms of this idea that you said that these women that you interviewed shared about building it up over time like a bank, a word popped up in my research that I put into this book called “hypertrophy”. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that word before? Most people haven’t. Do you know what I’m talking about, David?

I have not, no. It was not familiar with me.

So do you ever do weight lifting of any kind?

Yes.

Okay, so what’s an exercise you like? Bicep curl?

Yes, sure.

Okay, so you grab a weight. Say you grab a forty pound weight, I’ll grab a fifteen pound for myself. And what you do is you curl your hand up, and your bicep flexes. And you curl it down, you might do it twelve times. The next day if you did a heavy enough weight or you did enough reps, maybe your bicep tingles a bit. You almost feel a little burn in it. It turns out what’s actually happened in your muscle is something called hypertrophy. Meaning, that you have worked out that muscle enough that you have created tiny, micro traumas in your muscle. They’re little rips actually, almost like tiny little shreds of a piece of paper. Then the next day, what you’re actually feeling in the burn, is that muscle healing itself. And guess what? When it heals itself, that’s when it gets stronger. The muscle actually grows in size through the process of tiny little rips. It gives new meaning to the word “shredded.” I always think, “He’s shredded.” It’s like, actually, yeah. Literally he has shredded his muscles so that they have regrown to be bigger.

That’s a physical metaphor for what I’m preaching in this book, which is the sort of psychological metaphor of giving yourself failure budgets, failure allowances, counting your traumas. Because all of those things that gave you challenge, are things that you get through. To some extent the old adage, “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,” actually is correct. People always say, “Oh, well that doesn’t make sense. If I lose my arm in a welding accent, I’m no stronger for that.” Well, actually there are studies that show that you are stronger after. They’ve even compared paraplegics to lottery winners, and found that a year later, often times the paraplegics are even happier. Because they have a new appreciation for their sense of life, whereas the lottery winners have all kinds of new expenses and all kinds of tortured personal relationships.

Sure, sure.

And I know I went on a bit of rant there, but my point is hypertrophy is the process of breaking something down so it can be rebuilt to be stronger. Similar to the goodwill metaphor, could you break down or give yourself new hobbies, new experiments? Put yourself in unusual situations. Make yourself try something that’s out of your comfort zone. Take the scuba diving class that you want to be taking. Don’t think about it. Put yourself in situations where you’re learning rate is the steepest, which of course is at the earliest stage.

Okay, last question for you, Neil. If somebody’s struggling with a situation in their life right now, feeling down, feeling like this could be the period. What would you want to say to them in this moment?

Yeah, first of all, the biggest thing is just forget the book that I’m talking about today, and let’s just be humans. Let’s just say hang in there. Hang in there. That’s the biggest thing I would say. Because we know from a lot of research, we know things often do get better if you can hang in there through the hardest time. Then I’d say seek out support. For me, therapy was extremely helpful. As I was going through my divorce, I ended up seeing a therapist twice a week. I’m down to once every three months today, but at the time I was twice a week. I would go in for hour long sessions. I basically bounced off the walls in jubilation because I’d been processing all these dark and heavy thoughts.

And it can’t be your mom or your best friend, it has to be a trained and licensed therapist that can listen to you and help you navigate those really complex emotions in order to pull them out of you and feel safe and strong and get better. And no offense to the mom or the friend, because of course they can be helpful. But can you try to get some sort of therapy? And then I would say in some way, shape, or fashion, you need to talk about it yourself. So for me, that was my blog; 1000awesomethings.com. It became a form of journaling that proved very therapeutic. For other people it could be an actual journal that they keep beside their bedside table that they write in. There’s a journaling subscription service that is totally free that I use myself and I love this, and I don’t have affiliation with them but it’s called Ahh Life, ahhlife.com. Do you know about it?

I don’t, no.

Oh, okay. So you basically go to this website and you sign up. For me I set it up as Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays at nine PM. But of course you can do it any frequency you want. And then it prompts you over email to write a little journal entry. And it prompts you with a former journal entry that you wrote. So as you keep responding, your journal prompts get richer and richer. And of course, because it’s in your email, which is something we’re all addicted to, you simply see it and you reply. One sentence. Ten sentences. An essay. Whatever you want. That therapeutic practice of journaling could not be made more simpler through this, and it becomes a little interjection and a little outlet for you to process yourself.

That’s fun.

So in summary, hang in there. Okay, that’s the, “Add the dot, dot, dot”. Then find a therapist or somebody that is a professional that you can talk. You need that. And then third, you need to process it yourself. My example is my blog, but could you start a journal or use an online service or something that helps you put your thoughts someplace that you can start to work them out of your system?

That’s great. That’s rich. So I really do want to encourage everybody to get this book. It is really a great read. It’s a quick read, and there’s so many actionable insights. Every one of the chapters, these nine secrets are wonderful. So you’ve got access to Kindle, audiobook, hardcover, even an audio CD on Amazon, it’s called You Are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life. And the link to that is in the show notes, which you can just find by swiping up on your phone. And all of Neil’s links will be in our show notes as well. Neil Pasricha is his user name on all the social platforms. He won’t respond to you, but you can go there and see what he’s up to. That might not be true, maybe you will respond to them.

Well, I get an email once a week with all the messages that are left for me. And I answer all of them in that once a week overview. I do answer them, but I don’t go checking it every day.

And he’s got a number of websites; www.globalhappiness.org, www.1000awesomethings.com, which you are still posting. Now you’ve gone beyond a thousand, and now you’re doing a thousand more. And he has a podcast called 3books.co, and he interviews people about the three books that have impacted their life. So Neil, we’ll put all those links in the show notes, and I just really appreciate you taking the time to share about your book. And we’ll keep encouraging people to buy it when it comes out on November 5th, 2019.

More than buying the book, I just really appreciate the connection, the conversation about resilience. And thank you so much for the work you’re doing, David. Thanks for having me.


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thank you!