Mental health is one of the most significant areas of our system, but our awareness and knowledge about it is usually lacking. That’s why a majority of us tolerate burnout, toxic masculinity, and disasterbating, making it hard to get out of the box of these alarming limiters. Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen dissect these sensitive topics with therapist Nick Bognar. Together, they discuss why the culture of burnout must not be fetishized anymore, the dangers of toxic masculinity and how it affects the perspective of fear, and how to avoid drowning yourself in negative thoughts simply because of disasterbating on social media. The three of them also share their own guilty pleasures and how they consume each one.
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Nick Bognar On Getting Out Of The Box Of Burnout, Toxic Masculinity, And Disasterbating
Here on the show, if you dear reader, are joining us for the first time or conversely, if you are a longtime reader, one of our favorite subjects to explore here is the concept of mental health and emotional wellness. It’s one of the foundational elements of why we started This Might Get Uncomfortable. It’s one of the foundational elements of why we started our brand Wellevatr and one of the things that Whitney and I are absolutely passionate about. It’s figuring out what that means for not only us on an individual level, but on a global level how do we address mental health and emotional wellness. Our guest, Nick is an incredible therapist based out of Los Angeles.
Nick, I want to start off with maybe a macro huge question here. Whitney and I like to pass around articles about health, wellness, and mental health. An article I shared with her was alarming to me. It was an article about the suicide rates in Japan. In October of 2020, the suicide rates in all of Japan exceeded the total number of people that had passed away from COVID. It was a wonderful deep dive into interviewing people that were working on the frontlines of mental health and emotional wellness in Japan, trying to get to the root of why there are so many people taking their own lives.
I know this might be a pretty heavy thing to start the episode with but my question and the kickoff for all of us here in this episode is we talk about the fourth wave. It’s said that the fourth wave of the pandemic will be increased rates of depression, suicidal ideation, strained relationships, and the mental and emotional toll that COVID has taken and will continue to take as we wrestle with this. I’m curious, in your practice, Nick, in your own personal life as a therapist, how does this resonate with you? What things have you seen maybe doing your own research or working with people and how does this potential fourth wave concern you?
Not particularly on its own. Everyone is struggling and suffering in this pandemic, but people are also learning to adapt to this pandemic, as well. It seems to me that there is emotional fallout from this but there’s also a lot of therapy, resources available, a lot of ways to work and live and love virtually that are available to people. My hope is that people will avail themselves of the resources that are out there for themselves. In a country like the United States, fortunately, there’s not an enormous stigma against mental health care, at least in a lot of communities. People are taking care of themselves and I work every week with people who are doing what they can to get through this crisis.
What do you think is underneath this stigma? This is something Whitney and I have talked about in multiple episodes in our individual struggles with anxiety, clinical depression, and suicidal ideation. We’ve gone deep down this rabbit hole and it’s interesting to me to think about constantly looking for new tools. It feels like one of the most challenging parts of working on ourselves. It’s when we do something for a certain period of time and it works. We’re like, “I’m feeling better. This seems to be making some strides in terms of how I feel on a mental and emotional level, but then it stops working.”
I’m curious for you when someone comes to you or when you work with people, and they’re like, “I’ve been trying this thing for a long time. It doesn’t seem to be working anymore.” What is the process of experimentation in terms of people working on their mental health? Certainly, there’s therapy and I want to talk about the style of therapy that you do but there’s eating, supplementation, exercise, endorphins, and neurotransmitters. It seems that the topic of mental health is such a multi-dimensional complicated thing. That even for me, as someone who’s been going to therapy for years and trying to optimize my food and my intake and all these things, I still struggle with it. It’s like, “I have all these tools. Why am I still struggling with this thing?”
The experimentation part of it is an enormous part of the actual therapy itself. To be clear, I only see people who are coming to me because something that they love doesn’t work. With the new therapists that I supervise, I have this paradoxical theory that I use. It’s effective if a person comes into my office and tells me, “I need a lot of assignments. I need a lot of homework. I need worksheets. I want you to give me action items.” That person probably needs to learn to be able to sit in their feelings, have a discussion, and a relationship. In their lives, they’re giving themselves worksheets, assignments, and tasks all the time and for some reason, that’s not working, and that’s causing this distress that’s bringing them into therapy.
Conversely, when somebody comes to me and says, “I need a place to vent for an hour a week.” That tells me that that person needs to be assigned homework because they’re venting and a lot of parts of their lives. They’re emotionally unloading in a lot of parts of their lives, and they’re not seeing the change that they want to see. In those moments, I try to serve those people into action.
When you say the word homework, elicit is a pretty interesting reaction because I might have some trauma over homework. When you say homework, what does that mean? Do you mean actual writing exercises in journaling or do you mean actual physical things? Give me a little insight into what you mean by homework?
A lot of times it is writing exercises because writing is such a powerful tool for introspection and for change. I would be loath to assign somebody physical activity because that’s outside of my scope of practice. A lot of times, it’s introspection, writing exercises, and planning is a huge one that I end up working on with clients. As coaches, this may resonate with you too. One of the enormous things that stand in people’s ways is that they’re disorganized. I sense from the incredible checklist that you sent me that that’s not a problem that the hosts of this show have. People at large in the world often struggle with having a million things that they want to do, having the tools to do it, and not having the structure in place to accomplish those things. One of the great things about therapy is being able to be creative so the homework assignment oftentimes is going to be whatever my intuition of the moment tells me will be most helpful for that person.A lot of us don't know how to feel like we're doing enough unless we're feeling burnt out. Click To Tweet
It is interesting because we have a program called The Consistency Code that we designed for this exact challenge that we saw so many people facing. It wasn’t that they didn’t know what to do, or they didn’t have the information, strategies, or whatever they needed to make changes in their lives, it was that they struggled with being organized and staying consistent. I’m constantly amazed by hearing all these different stories and noticing how much people struggle, myself included. Even though I can be organized and on top of things, I still have times, where I forget things or I simply don’t want to do them.
Sometimes that’s because I’m overwhelmed and burnt out and that’s a huge issue. It’s an incredibly common thing. The word burnout is used so frequently and it often makes me wonder, what are the roots of that? Where is this all coming from? Is this that society has set us up to be overachievers and that we’re constantly pushing ourselves and we realize we’ve taken on so much more than we can handle? How do you come across this with the people that come to see you?
In a lot of ways, as a culture, we’ve fetishized burnout. A lot of us wouldn’t know how to feel like we were doing enough unless we were burnt out. I see that across the board and we reward it too. Your boss is going to love you if you work 80 hours a week. There are fields like attorneys where if you want to make it in a lot of cases, you’re going to be expected to work your fingers to the bone for a long time, in order to grasp the brass ring, which is cool if the brass ring by itself can make you happy. In my experience for most people, that’s not the case.
A lot of us are actively seeking burnout. Even though we wouldn’t say that and we’re finding it. One of the things that I love to work on with people is building that balance in their lives. Paradoxically, if they come in and work is their number one priority, I definitely want to know how their family and friend relationships are. Similarly, if they come in and the one and only thing in their life is their marriage, I want to know about their creativity and their professional pursuits.
It sounds like what you’re talking about is maybe leading people to explore more balance in their life. Where if they’re so myopically focused on making one aspect of their life, for lack of better terminology, their entire world as you said, whether that’s work, marriage, kids, and other things are imbalanced. Is that maybe a cornerstone of what you see trying to support people with this finding balance? Is that how you would phrase it? That is my own terminology, but it sounds to me that maybe what you’re trying to help people with?
I might steal that for myself. If you see some quotables from you on my website, you’re going to know that you helped me find a concise way to talk about it. That is exactly the thing that I’m talking about. There are some people that are comfortable being about one thing. If you ever know professional poker players, the people that can do that for a living are the people that spend eighteen hours a day on it, because they love it, and they read about it in forums all the time. That is how they want their life to be and they’re comfortable with that but the people that walk into a therapy office are walking in there because something doesn’t feel right and doesn’t feel contented. It’s finding the balance. I don’t need to attend to the part of this that you’re attending to every day. I need to shed a little light on the part of it that you’re not dealing with at all.
This is super interesting, because for some reason, the first person that flashed in my mind, and this is somebody that Whitney and I follow his career arc is Elon Musk. A lot of the interesting articles that have come out about Elon over the past few years about his work ethic, how many hours he works, the drugs that he takes to keep going with work, and some interesting analyses of his personality. It makes me wonder if someone, perhaps on the outside by their friends, family, or associates could be labeled as a workaholic or a narcissist. I’ve read some interesting articles that that’s something that gets mislabeled a lot in our society. It gets passed around a lot. It’s like, “You’re a narcissist,” but that people are misunderstanding what narcissism is. That might be a completely separate question.
If someone has certain tendencies are ways of being pointed out by their friends, family, and associates, but they don’t see anything wrong with it, “Maybe I am a workaholic, maybe I am a narcissist,” but they don’t see anything that’s alarming about that. My question is, for someone to come and seek therapy, would it be that they realize that something isn’t working in their life, they’re sad, unfulfilled, depressed, suicidal, and imbalanced.
If someone’s going through life, they could potentially have a bunch of people saying, “This isn’t okay. Your relationships are fractured.” They’re like, “I don’t care. I’m making a bunch of money and succeeding.” I don’t know if I have a specific question in this but for some reason, Elon is the first person that popped in my mind where it seems like he’s an archetype that people look up to because he’s so valuable and he’s created these amazing companies. It seems that his personal relationships from the outside, we don’t know, tend to suffer a little bit as a result of that.
I say this not knowing much about Elon Musk other than he’s a scientist and he made electric cars, but I know that he’s handsomely rewarded for that behavior and that lifestyle. It would take a real need and a real act of courage on the part of somebody like that who does experience so much wealth from that and so many rewards. People are falling over him, and they idolize him. Number one, that might work for him. Workaholism if that is his thing is insidious in that way, and that a lot of times people are incentivized to indulge in it.
Also, in terms of the relationship with the self, if I’m the scientist that’s sending people to Mars, making electric cars, and that’s how I get my esteem, how I’m known in the world, how I make my money, that’s how I know myself, what would it take for me to decide to do something different from that? It would take a hell of an earth-shaking moment for that to happen. A lot of times, people’s lives don’t ever get disrupted to the point where they feel like they need to make those changes. Sometimes it’s a blessing for people in their lives to get disrupted to the point where they do have the opportunity to take a step back and look at those extremes in their lives. Again, not knowing Elon Musk, my guess is that the rewards for him are probably going to be great enough that he wouldn’t ever have a moment to have that occasion of self-examination but who knows.
There’s something that Whitney and I have expressed on the show about what you touched on in the beginning about burnout. Both of us have challenges of finding the energy and the will to do the things we’ve agreed to in life and run our business, show up for our relationships, and a lot of the things that life has presented to us. In a general sense, Whitney and I are both going through our different versions of this.
Whitney, I’d love for you to jump in if you feel compelled on how you’re feeling about the concept of burnout now and where you’re at with it. To you Nick, if someone is feeling burnt out, and I know this is a nuanced individualized thing, but generally speaking, where do people go from there? Do they realize they’re burnt out? They realize that they’re like, we talked about this in previous episode, feeling like the crispy edges of the burnt toast at the bottom of the toaster oven. Where do people go if they’ve reached this proverbial rock bottom? How do you emerge from a state of burnout?
You have to accept that what you’re doing is a choice and a lot of people struggle with that. We might have a lot of stories made up in our minds. I have to work. I have to work this hard. I have to take on this many clients. I have to accept this abuse. The truth is, almost everything, as an adult is negotiable. It might take sacrifice, it might be negotiating between two options that you don’t like but the first step is understanding that you are in charge and accepting your own agency in that.
Once people realize, “I’m burned out because I’m choosing something that is burning me out,” then we start playing around with what are some changes we can make great and small, large and tiny. What are changes we can make that will offer you the opportunity to feel recharged? Once you make that choice, what are you going to do instead? It can be awfully tempting, especially if we were burned out to go play video games for 40 hours, lay down on the couch, getting stoned, or whatever. That’s all fine but ultimately, it’s not super nutritive. We need those things in our lives that recharge us if we’re going to deal with burnout. The last part is deciding to put a structure in place that allows you not to get burned out in the future. It requires a lot of reconfiguration, but the good news is for the people that summon the courage to do it, the payoff is immense.
What are the things that you think get in the way? You said, an important word, which is, courage. It’s something that I struggle with now in the sense that I know that there are specific changes that I’m on the precipice of making in my life and career. In some ways, it’s interesting. Life will sometimes make the changes for you versus you initiating the changes yourself. The ancient Greeks had a term called ktisis. Life is ushering you to make changes and if you don’t make them yourself, life will impose those changes upon you through different situations or earth-shattering life-changing events.
For me, this concept of courage is interesting. I almost got chills when you said that because I realized that I’ve been afraid to make certain changes in my life because I’m terrified of certain potential consequences on the other side of those choices. What if the whole thing implodes? What if I’m homeless? What if I have to give away all my animals? My mind goes to these worst-case scenarios, but what does courage mean to you especially in this context of making changes and emerging from burnout? How do we cultivate courage? How do we practice that?
There are a few ingredients and I want to get to that, but before I do, with this notion of, “You’re going to make these changes, the world is going to make them for you.” There’s an even worse scenario, which is that, you’re not going to make these changes and the world is not going to make them for you. Ultimately, no change is going to happen. I would like to liken it to and I know you have a background in food, the difference between attending an event and getting a tray pass or walking into the kitchen and cooking. If you attend an event and you eat whatever’s on the tray pass, that’s rad. You will get some delicious amuse bouche and you’ll try some things but if you go into the kitchen, rifle through the refrigerator, and get the ingredients out, you can make whatever you want. That’s the analogy for choice here. If you wait for the universe to hand you things, you’re going to only pick from those things. If you take some charge of it, then you have many more options. Your second question if I remember correctly was, how do you summon up that courage, is that correct?
Yeah. It seems that sometimes in life, there can be a certain level of clarity of, “I know that my heart, my soul, and life is pulling me toward this new chapter or new phase but I’m terrified of it. I don’t know if I can summon the courage to say yes to it and leave behind the old version of myself.” It seems that courage sometimes is positioned as no fear. I remember, in the ‘90s, there was that line of T-shirts that all the skateboarders and extreme athletes we like, “No Fear,” wearing the T-shirt. Does being fearless have anything to do with courage?
No. Being fearful is a natural thing. I don’t think that’s something to pathologize or to criticize ourselves for. It’s the thing that you described, “What if I’m homeless?” That’s extreme but for some people, that is a potential consequence and that’s scary. We all need to be connected to our support networks. If you’re thinking of taking a big risk, I want you to be in contact with people who will be there to support you during that no matter what happens.
Additionally, another thing that I say to clients all the time because it’s fucking true, “The status quo will always be there if you want to return to it.” Anytime people are considering change, change is virtually always hard or it wouldn’t happen automatically. People are often afraid of, “What it will be like if I try this out.” Sometimes it’s things like, “What will it be like if I get rid of my depression?” Sometimes people want to hold on to painful things but the truth is, they will always be there for you if you want to return to it. You will always be able to go back to this lesser or less distinguished thing if you want to. People forget that.A lot of us are seeking burnout, and we're finding it. Click To Tweet
There are few cases where you can’t walk back towards that thing. In addition to it, we need to reframe things in terms of positive stuff. Rather than say, “Be fearless, because you’re spineless if you’re afraid.” If you’re trying to go into business, with fear, then you’re chumming the water, and the sharks are going to get you. I might say instead, “This is super scary. Some people fail at it and it’s hard. It will take a real act of courage for you to do this thing.” Win, lose or draw, maybe you have an opportunity to be a courageous person now.
The thing that comes up for me is a topic that Whitney and I have dug into on episodes, which is this idea of chasing greatness. A lot of the messages we get and we see on social media about pursuing greatness, being your greatest self, and constantly improving. It almost seems to me that it ties into this idea of burnout and overworking of people wanting, and I know, I’m this way too, and Whitney, and I’ve discussed it offline of, of this constant pressure to be our greatest selves. The one thing that we’ve been discussing is, what wrong with being average?
I drive an average car, I’ve got average grades, I make an average amount of money, I wear average clothing, whatever that means. It seems that it’s the interweaving of the comparison trap and social media and digital media exposing us to this curated sense of people living their greatest lives and you ought to as well. You should be the greatest version of yourself. We’re seeing not only in our lives, Whitney and myself in our own versions, the dismantling of this pursuit of that for so many reasons. In general, Nick, and Whitney, I’d love for you to jump in whenever you feel compelled to on the subject. On a greater scale, pathologically speaking, people feeling so driven to be great all the time, what are the ripple effects that you see with that, Nick, if any, in people that you work with, or in general on a societal level?
One of the heartbreaks about the social media thing is that we confuse greatness with visibility and those two are not the same thing at all. We have a lot of confusion. We confuse greatness with physical attractiveness and wealth. We confuse it with intelligence. We have all of these things that we conflate with actual quality, human quality. Those things are all good if you have the opportunity to be visible, wealthy, smart, athletic, and attractive, that’s fantastic but none of those things is the thing that makes you great. I see a lot of people in my office and even in my field who experienced this sense of, “Am I enough?”
Even though we teach it in therapy school, the idea of being good enough, the good enough parent, the good-enough therapist, a lot of us, even me sometimes struggle to internalize that’s the thing to search for. It’s not searching for being the greatest. It’s not searching for being on a mountain where everyone is beneath you and you are on top, it’s about being a part of an ecosystem. The ecosystem has room for all kinds of creatures, whether they are enormous and flashy like whales, or whether they are small like planktons or they are unknowable like a sea cucumber. It’s about being comfortable as a part of an ecosystem and accepting the other parts of that system as well.
When we talk about this good enough thing because if I look at my, for lack of a better terminology, core trauma or negative belief system that I’ve been unraveling in my adult life was this idea of never being good enough. I’ve talked about tracing that back to my relationship with my father. The feelings of abandonment and how that affects my relationships as an adult. That’s a whole giant ball of wax to crack open but how do we assess that for ourselves? What are the personal metrics that we can say, “If I’ve been chasing this idea of greatness, and my idea of greatness has been making six figures, driving a Mercedes, or living in an amazing house in Pasadena?”
Whatever the externalized success metrics are when we’re talking about what is good enough, how do we even start to assess what that means for us on an individual level? I’m asking not for the collective and for the reader to glean this but for myself, because I still struggle with what good enough even means. If I look around and I’m experiencing gratitude for I have a roof over my head, I have food every single day, I bathe in clean water, I have companionship, I have love, I’m relatively healthy, my overall question is, what is good enough and how do we even assess that for ourselves?
I’m going to shoot from the hip here but my thought is, you need to have a long game and a short game running at all times. It’s good to have dreams and hopes for the future and if you want to own a house, that’s terrific. One day, hopefully, that will be wonderful for you and you’ll enjoy it but you also will have a long period of life if you’re starting from scratch that you’ll have to live before that happens. It’s good to know what’s good enough for now. It’s also good to know what you want in the future and to spend some time in both of those spaces mentally.
This is what you do want to spend time in gratitude. This is what’s great about now. This is what I have to thank past Nick for. Thank you past Nick for going to school in 2012 because now I have this wonderful practice that I love. That’s amazing. If it’s the exact same practice, when I’m 70, maybe I’ll be a little disappointed maybe I want to grow between now and then but that doesn’t take away from the fact that right now is great. It’s about understanding that you have a couple of different frameworks that you’re looking at and learning how to hold all those together.
I was looking at some of those shirts that you brought up, Jason, the No Fear shirts because they gave me all this nostalgia. I pulled them up on Google image and one of them says, “No fear. If it were about attitude, everyone would have it.” First of all, I’m like, “What does that even mean?” Everyone would have fear or everyone wouldn’t have fear. Does that make immediate sense to either one of you?
It’s a double negative. If it were the attitude, everybody wouldn’t have no fear. That’s my best guess. It’s not totally coherent.
This is interesting because I haven’t thought about this before. Wearing those T-shirts, was a precursor to what we see on social media with all of these cliché messaging that we keep seeing over and over again. All these mentalities all of these things that we pass through each other and encourage them to not have fear and make it seem like fear is such a bad thing. My heart goes out because I feel like as a kid, and you guys could speak to this much more than me because of the No Fear shirts. I remember the boys wearing it. I don’t know if I immediately recall any woman or girl at my school wearing them, but maybe they did.
It’s not a gender thing, per se but I felt like it was something that a lot of men would wear or boys at that time, because that was a way of proving their masculinity or reminding themselves and each other, “We’ve got to go through life without fear. We’ve got to have these attitudes.” It was this whole idea of being strong, which felt appealing growing up, but then to some of the points that you’ve been making then you start to think of fear as a bad thing. That has contributed to a lot of confusion and a lot of shame too.
You feel ashamed if you have fear, you’re not successful and if you don’t look a certain way. We’re constantly being shown these messages about what a good life looks like, what a successful person is, or what a strong person is. We see it on t-shirts, billboards, and movies. There was a social media post I saw and it might have been a tweet. It was like, “This is how male screenwriters represent women who are depressed,” and it was a picture of a girl smoking a cigarette on the couch with a ton of empty food containers around her.
I was looking at that thinking in so many ways, we receive this messaging of, “You must be in a bad place in your life if you have empty food containers scattered around your home.” Most of us have had empty food containers scattered around our home and we start to feel all the shame. It’s like, “I must be struggling. I’ve got to hide this. I can’t let anybody see me this way.” We end up hiding elements of ourselves because the media or all these forms of messaging are telling us what is good is bad, what is right is wrong and what is strong versus weak but a lot of these things are things that we all do.
A lot of the work that I do is with men and it’s important to understand that with all people but especially with men, we stigmatize fear and sadness. Men learn from an early age to turn that into anger and rage because for some reason we can accept that from them in a way that we can’t accept fear. I even remember the No Fear letters are written in jagged electric letters. It’s an aggressive thing.
It’s got some eyes that look like cartoon eyes that look menacing.
It’s like an invitation to fight. When you’re working against so many years of that conditioning and you grow up. It’s like, “The world is a scary place,” especially if you decide to take a risk and take up more space. Maybe you decide to get ambitious, you want to go for something that’s special or something that people tell you can’t have. You have a family story that no one in this family can have this thing. It’s scary and you hide it. Hopefully, you don’t, but a lot of people hide that fear and it festers. It’s sad.
For me, one thing that I’ve been wanting to explore is the idea of cultivating more sensitivity and empathy with men. I remember on this subject of having these male archetypes growing up. It was witnessing that the more aggressive you are, and the more demonstrative you are, the more rewarded that you are. Aside from the sex, drugs, and violence, that prototypical approach of observing that and growing up in Detroit, not that Detroit foster’s that but as a backdrop, it was a little bit of a hardcore situation from time to time.
I remember at a young age feeling so sensitive. As a Cancerian, if you believe in astrology, I’ve always been an empathic sensitive man. I remember as a young man being so confused, because it was like, “You’re sensitive. That must mean you’re gay,” and people thinking that I was gay. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with whatever one’s sexuality is but I remember as at a young age being so confused. If I’m sensitive and I cry about this thing and I don’t observe any other men in my family or my friends crying about it. Why did why am I so upset or moved by this thing and no one else seems to be?
In my young adulthood, I started to look at archetypes of men that were “successful” being in athletics or being in fields that I admired, and being like, “They’re rewarded for aggression, domination, and win at all costs type of attitude.” Not just in sports, but music and business. Not the heroes, but the avatars I looked up to them, like, “There are some commonalities here.” For many years, what I started to do was go against my natural sensitivity, natural emotiveness, and natural empathicness. It was like, “Not only are you going to be judged and shamed for being a sensitive man in the world, but you’re not going to ‘win’ because all the people you see winning that are men are in this idea of domination, subjugation, aggressiveness, and push until you win.”The status quo is always there if you want to return to it. Click To Tweet
Winning is the only thing that matters. I’m realizing now that if I embrace my natural sensitivity and emotiveness, I’m starting to feel safe enough to express those things again in my life after being ashamed about it for a long time. I remember for many years, people are like, “You’re so sensitive.” It was this negative thing. In my early 40s, I started to be like, “Yeah. I am super sensitive and I cry a lot. I feel things deeply. Maybe instead of that being a negative thing or a deleterious thing, it’s part of my power.” It’s taken a long time to come back around to it though.
It’s working against decades of conditioning. What you’re saying speaks to me. I remember as a kid, feeling those accusations of being gay, too. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, but it wasn’t being made as an actual question about like, “Is this your sexuality?” It was saying, “You’re weak. This is my shorthand for how weak and effeminate you are.” In terms of people being rewarded for that behavior, as a kid, I was bullied a lot and it was intensely painful and miserable. I had a specific time in high school where I figured out how to be the bully. It was an instant turnaround. It happened in one day.
I started picking on this dude and, gratefully, I used my powers mostly for good, but I learned to be aggressive. I’ll tell you, it paid off. I was popular by the end of high school. Part of it was that I learned to be aggressive, go on the attack with people and keep people on their heels. That was something that took a lot of intentional work personally and in therapy to walk back and re-access that part of me that still has a sense of humor. That wanted to draw people together and have rewarding loving relationships with everybody rather than constantly feel like I was in a war zone trying to make sure that I was on the top of the hill and everybody else was at the bottom.
This is particularly challenging in certain ways though because if you observe that you have a way of being in the world and you’re consistently rewarded for it. Even though it might be making people feel uncomfortable or putting people in extremely vulnerable situations or taking advantage of people fracturing relationships. One of the most challenging things I would imagine is encountering someone who may be like, “I’m going to go to therapy. I’m going to start examining myself. This thing I’ve been doing works well and I’ve been rewarded for it.”
Mentally, that seems like it would be a challenging thing to unravel because on the one hand, maybe it’s like, “You ostracize people. You fracture your relationships. You’re so aggressive,” but it’s like, “Look at all this success, money, and worldly trappings that it’s gotten me. Why should I change?” There has been a lot of articles and information around toxic masculinity. I’ve certainly done my fair share of research and looking at that. If someone is “engaging” in behavior that would be labeled as toxic masculinity, but it’s working for them, why change?
Most of those people wouldn’t come into my office because it is working. For people who have something that’s working for them and are examining change, I tell people that any credible tool belt has more than one tool in it. I’m never trying to take away something that works for you unless it’s overtly harmful to other people. I’m more of saying like, “You’ve been using this hammer on everything. Let’s see what a wrench or screwdriver would do.” One of the analogies that I make to clients all the time is about professional arm wrestlers. If you’ve ever seen them before, they’re physically interesting.
They have one giant arm that looks like they’re smuggling a watermelon under their skin because that’s their arm wrestling that they make their career with, and then they have one arm that’s more regular-sized and proportionate to their body. That’s because they use the right arm, let’s say, for everything. That’s their arm wrestling arm and career arm, and then they have this other arm that relatively experiences neglect. I don’t want to de-strengthen anybody’s right arm. I want to build up their left arm.
In terms of shedding toxic masculinity, one of the things that I love to work with men on is that a lot of times men aren’t raised to understand the effect that their actions and words have on other people, and that doesn’t excuse it. In terms of if we’re in the business of change and we want to work against toxic masculinity, the way that at least it worked for me was having somebody get through to me about what it was like for them when I acted or when I spoke that way and to believe them about that.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to hear it from a male therapist who has done that journey himself or is in the midst of doing that journey himself to unpackage what it is like to be in a relationship with you and what the effect is that you have on other people. Also, gaining some understanding of what other people’s experiences are like because we normalize white male experience in this country and in this world. Often, you come up thinking that your thing is normal and everybody else’s thing is weird and exotic.
You’re telling me that the Stallone movie, Over the Top, was not an accurate representation of that field?
I’ve never seen that movie, but I know Sylvester Stallone. He’s one of our great national treasures in terms of documenting. My assumption is that one’s probably right. The other ones are probably a little fantastical.
After this episode, I feel like I need to do a Google image search of professional arm wrestlers because I’m now imagining this watermelon arm and an arm that is like mine. What’s the person with long limbs?
I don’t know who that person is, but I would call you an up and comer.
I’m lefty now. This conversation around masculinity and relationship brings up for me something that I have struggled with in different partnerships over the course of my life. In the sense that I get confused by the messages because I want to be a “good person.” Sometimes, I feel like I have dropped into my sensitive feeling, I suppose. One might say more feminine polarity in romantic relationships, but then had feedback from women at times saying, “You need to be more assertive. You need to be more aggressive. You need to be more this.”
I would go over to that polarity and they’ll be like, “You’re being too aggressive.” When I was sensitive, it was too sensitive, and now it’s too aggressive. I remember working with my therapist years ago, I vomited out this term to him. I said, “In terms of this energetic polarity in romance, I’m energetically androgynous.” In the sense that I feel like I can live in the assertive, dominating, one-point of focus like, “This is going to get done. We’re going to do this. This is the way it’s going to be,” versus open receptive, sensitive feeling.
On both ends of those spectrums, I can feel comfortable and much in sovereignty, but it seems like if I live in one of those polarities too long, people get weirded out by it. My challenge has been like, “Maybe then living somewhere in the middle of being sensitive and also aggressive when the situation presents itself. I can be feeling and receptive and I can also be demonstrative and push for what I want.” In romance, that has been tough for me because sometimes, it’s been confusing for me like, “Which polarity do you want me to live in then?”
If somebody says to you, “You’re not being assertive enough,” and then you make that course correction, “Now it’s too much,” that makes me think that maybe it’s not about you so much, Jason. That’s the people that you’re with. One of the important things about building relationships that I talk to clients about all the time is that it’s tempting to try to be what other people want. That is a mistaken approach. It’s better to get accustomed and to get informed on who you are, to love that and find somebody else who loves that and see if you love them.
We start from this place of like, “I’m going to look a certain way. I’m going to act a certain way. I’m going to download the formula for what people want.” That’s disappointing because there is no formula. People want all kinds of different things. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you learn to play a role, and then somebody loves it, and then you’re cast in that role for the rest of your life instead of being your true self. I strongly encourage people to get firm in their own selves. If that for you, Jason, is being in touch with your emotions and experiencing things that way, I say lean into that because there’s plenty of people that love that, and to whom that will be important and they’ll feel a kinship with that.
Nick, you have many eloquent ways of answering these questions and I’m thinking, “We should read this episode anytime we need advice,” because you always have little snippets here and there about any situation. I don’t know if you’re feeling that way, too, Jason. You’ve talked about how much you struggled with that professionally and personally. Sometimes, being typecast, maybe it isn’t that hard. Maybe it’s not as constrained as we think it is. To your point, Nick, we’re focused on the people that want us to be a certain way or have put us in a box where there’s probably plenty of people that don’t want us to be in that box or don’t even care what box we’re in.
Culturally, a lot of us are conditioned to focus on the box. The older I get and the more I experiment with the way that I live my life, I start to realize, “There’s so much to life outside of this box that I’ve put myself in.” It’s not even that other people put myself in there. It’s like, “I climbed into the box where I thought I would get the most approval, and then stepped out or peeked out over the ledge.” Metaphorically, you realize, “There are many other boxes I could be in and they’re all okay.”
To get a little political about it, the box is often somebody’s way to make money. Every time you think you’re fat, somebody sells a pair of jeans. It’s a little bit like when you hear a bell ring, an angel gets his wings from It’s a Wonderful Life. Every time you think that you’re not good looking enough, somebody sells a cosmetic or some ridiculous hair trim. Not that our physicality doesn’t matter, but the amount of time that we spend conditioning it for some amorphous ideal that someone has set out for the world at large is wasted time.We confuse greatness with visibility; they're not the same thing at all. Click To Tweet
Ultimately, it is designed to earn money for other people. You’re coaches, I’m sure you’ve had to say this to people. Part of finding the right people is grieving the wrong people. If you want to find true love, as much as that exist and is available, you need to find it for your actual self, not for the Instagram personality that you have cultivated. That means accepting that there are going to be people that don’t like your flavor of ice cream.
I say that exact phrase all the time, Nick.
I often say my ice cream flavor is double fudge chocolate Habanero Brownie chunk with sarsaparilla. It’s like, “What the hell is that?” It’s definitely not everyone’s flavor. I started to realize in this analogy, which I love that you phrased it that way. I say that all the time. I’m like, “I know I’m not going to be most people’s flavor, and that’s okay.” It’s going to be that one at the ice cream shop that you’re like, “That’s weird and interesting. Let’s try that one.” I’m okay being that flavor. It’s the opposite. Not that there’s anything wrong with vanilla but I’m whatever the weird opposite other polarity of vanilla is. I’m like, “I’m the weird guy with saffron and habanero.”
He’s the anti-vanilla.
It also gives you a peek into my sexual preferences. That’s another conversation. To me, it’s like this conversation about self-love that we’re grazing on, in a way, to me sometimes, it’s a nebulous conversation like, “I need to love myself more.” Even after all the things that Whitney and I do with our programs and teaching people enoughness, working on ourselves, and having been in the wellness industry as long as we have. There are times where I’ll sit by myself and I’m like, “Love myself more. It’s not about getting the new vegan Häagen-Dazs and doing a call back to these tired tropes of the depressed woman in movies.”
Self-love is, “I’ll go to a spa treatment and get a tub of Häagen-Dazs. I’ll go get a foot massage and I’ll cover myself in kittens,” which are all great things. I love all those things. What we’re talking about is a much deeper, more visceral sense of loving oneself. I’m curious when you bring up self-love, Nick, and the cultivation or exploration of that, maybe we’ve never been taught what even the hell that is growing up, where do we even start with that conversation of loving ourselves more?
The first thing that we have to do is weed out the stuff that we confuse with self-love. Like both of you have said, it’s not gifts and not ice cream. Those things are lovely. Occasionally, it might be an act of self-love. It’s also not tuning out. We have tuned out behaviors like getting high and watching TV. It’s satisfying, but not the nutritive self-love thing. Self-love is an active process. In the same way that loving another person is an active process. If you are in love and you’re working on your relationship, then the strength of your relationship is going to be directly commensurate with the amount of work, time, and effort that you put into it. This comes up all the time in couples counseling.
It doesn’t mean being perfect, but it means that you need to reflect on your partner what you love about them, what makes you care about them, the stuff that’s imperfect and wonderful about them. If you’re dating somebody and you buy them a pint of ice cream every day, but you never tell them that you love how funny they are or how beautiful they are, then you probably don’t have much of a relationship. You don’t tell them any of the other wonderful things about them or how kind they are. We have to get rid of the confusion around what looks like self-love, but it’s just commerce and zoning out. This is awkward like affirmations are awkward, which can be a part of it, too, and getting to the place where we admit out loud the things about ourselves that we love, and then we say that the way that we would to a partner that we adored.
Another element of this conversation that makes me think about it is the forced self-love that we can see sometimes on social media or and in person as well. This is a cliché in cities like Los Angeles especially because people tend to be liberal and perceived as being hippy or woo-woo. Everybody’s talking about how much they love each other, but do they really love each other or are they just saying that? Are they just doing the behaviors that they think mean love? Are they just doing the things that other people perceive as them loving themselves?
You see this a lot on social media, especially with younger people who want to prove to the world that they love themselves. They’re like, “I don’t care what you think. I love myself, so this is how I’m showing up.” Sometimes, I’ll see posts and/or hear people talking. I’ll think to myself, “There’s a gut feeling I have that you don’t mean these things. You’re just saying them.” They’re empty or they feel superficial. It’s this desire to prove to other people that you love yourself when the only person that cares if you love yourself is yourself. We culturally are obsessed with showcasing self-love.
If you’re practicing self-love in an overtly public way that requires an audience, then ultimately, you’re not dealing with your relationship with yourself. You’re dealing with your relationship with others. If I’m practicing self-love, it’s reasonably private act for me. If I show up here and tell you all the things that I love about myself, then on some level, I’m trying to get Whitney and Jason’s affection and affirmation, too. I love that you brought up that I’m going to call it an icky feeling in your stomach when you see these things that appear to be on some level that feel the opposite of what they look like or they’re advertised. It’s one of the most important human instincts that we have. Paying attention to that instinct is important.
It’s such an interesting framework of social media as a lens into people’s state of being. One thing that Whitney and I have talked about ad nauseam is certainly our mutual desire, but my acute desire to take a break off of social media and see how that would affect my sense of who I am, my sense of self. I feel that even though there’s a reductionist aspect of the amount of time I’ve been spending and reducing it, as an experiment, I’m curious to see how my sense of self-worth and my sense of self-love would be affected by being off of it completely for a period of time. I’m curious if that’s something you’ve personally done or it’s something that you’ve advised your clients and the people you work with like, “Maybe you should get the hell off of it for a period of time and see how you feel.” How is that relationship with social media detoxing being interwoven into your life and in your practice?
Social media is new. Human beings have been around for thousands of years and suddenly, we have this brand new thing that’s changing everything. The problem with it is that we misuse and abuse it. If we used it correctly, social media would be a wonderful joining factor in our lives. We would use it to meet people that share our interests. We would use it to connect with people that we missed in high school who live ten states away. For the image-based ones, we would use it to catalog and chronicle our lives, all the lovely places that we’ve been, and the things that we’ve eaten that we don’t want to forget.
We would be using that technology to commemorate our lives and our relationships with other people. Sometimes, we do use that. We also use it for stuff that’s not helpful. The one that I’m guilty of a lot is using it to zone out. Therapists have ten minutes at the end of the hour built in for notes, for the bathroom and phone calls. Fortunately, I often have some of that leftover, but a lot of times, I just get on my phone and scroll around a little bit. That doesn’t do anything other than let me tune out. Additionally, we use it for stuff like advertising, and that’s fine. If all of your life is advertising, then you’re probably experiencing an imbalance of some kind.
If you’re one of the millions of people that are having this experience of like, “I’m not sure I love how this is appearing in my life. I don’t love social media. It’s making me feel bad. The amount that I’m doing on it is making me feel bad. The content is making me feel bad. I’m getting into needless political arguments,” which is another one I fall prey to all the time. Definitely, it’s worth examining both the amount of time you spend on it, but also what you are using it for and getting specific about what your intentions and purposes are on it, and then being disciplined about making sure you’re doing that.
When you talk about what you envision it optimally being used for, it feels like at the beginning, that’s what it was being used for. I remember being on Meetup.com and going to meetings, potlucks, gatherings and meeting new people like IRL, completely In Real Life, and how huge Meetup was twenty years ago. Remembering in the early days of say, MySpace, from 2004 to 2005, of meeting different musicians in my city and being like, “Let’s get together and jam.” Even Facebook at the beginning of uploading pictures of my cousin’s wedding, going to an anniversary party or a date with my girlfriend and how, for lack of a better word, innocent it all seemed in the beginning.
In many ways, the level of seriousness and the level of ego identification like, “We have to use it to build our brand and we have to use it to show everyone how amazing we are,” I feel like in the beginning, at least if I recap my experience with AOL, MySpace, and Meetup, it didn’t feel that way. At some point, it mutated into this massive juggernaut the whole thing now, where I don’t feel much joy using it anymore. At least not compared to in the early days when it felt exciting and interesting. It’s like, “What is this? You mean I can meet different musicians, artists, and people in my city that I’ve never met before?” We’re so far from maybe the original intention of why these things started.
I’m curious, are you going to undertake that experiment? I would love to hear about what it goes like for you. It sounds like it’s not particularly pleasant for you. Do you want to take a break?
Whitney knows this. I have been wanting to take a break, and the reason I haven’t taken a break yet is I’ve agreed for not only our business and our brand, certain things that we’re launching. We have these bundles we’re doing and we had this great holiday giveaway. We have things we’re doing where we’re wanting to give back to people. It’s almost like, if I frame it, “I’m going to use these tools to be generous and give what we hope are useful things to other people.”
I do feel a little glimmer of joy in that, but overall, in a macro sense, Nick, not just a mental health level, but almost like a soul exhaustion level, I know I need to take a break. I almost, in a way, want to invite other people who are feeling the same and maybe have some support group as an experiment of like, “Let’s take 30 days or 60 days, or whatever it is, and make sure that we can be supportive with one another.” Knowing me and how the dopamine works, having accountability partners, and having other people doing it with me in a group will be easier for me to stay committed to being off of it.Any incredible tool belt has more than one tool in it. Click To Tweet
That seems eminently reasonable. You find yourself in a place where business-wise and mission wise, it’s integral to you to stay on it to some degree. You also can do what I’ve had to tell people to do a lot with news and current events, which is to be structured and disciplined about what you use it for and how long you use it. It’s important for us to be aware of current events, especially in the last few years when there’s been a lot of extra stuff going down. We felt glued to it and that’s good. However, doing it twelve hours a day is not so good.
Any amount of this firehose of bad news absorption that you do beyond what enables you to know what you need to know and equip you to be the person you want to be out in the world is damaging and extraneous. One of the things that I had to start telling people to do is, “If you feel like you need to know current events, I support you in that, but then it has to be your second job. What we do with jobs is we clock in and clock out.”
If you’re going to be a part of the news cycle in this way, then you need to decide that, let’s say 9:00 to 9:30 AM every day is your news time. After that, you can call your senator, write a letter, meditate, or do whatever you need to do as the companion piece to that ingestion of current events. You have to clock out. You can’t be a part of it for the rest of the day. You have to go attend to the other parts of your life. I’ll tell you, not everyone has agreed to do that, but the ones that have felt much better.
Disasterbating and doomscrolling are the two terminologies I see to this.
I was disasterbating long before the internet.
He’s a master disasterbater. I doomscroll and I catch myself doing it. I’m like, “Do you need to be looking at the statistics of Coronavirus every single day? Do you need to be looking at whether or not the government’s going to give us more money? Are we going to get another check in the mail?” There are a gazillion examples. There was a horrible thing I clicked on and I remember clicking and I’d be like, “Why are you clicking on this story? It was a horrific story about a guy killing his family.” I’m like, “Why are you exposing yourself to this? You don’t need to be clicking on this.”
I’m curious, what is the fascination with doomscrolling? What are we trying to glean from it or get from it? As an offshoot, I didn’t even know this terminology hate-following. Someone’s like, “I’m hate-following so and so.” I’m like, “What’s hate-following?” They’re like, “I’m following this person on Instagram because I despise them. I want to see what they’re up to, so I can hate them more.” I was like, “What the hell is all this about?”
It’s psychologically rich, isn’t it?
Deeply so, that’s why I’m bringing it up for the three of us. What are the mechanisms underneath something like doomscrolling, disasterbating, and hate-following?
The doomscrolling one is an interesting thing. Plenty of people are aware of it, but more people are not, which is that human beings are tremendously uncomfortable with the unknown. They would rather hear and internalize a painful truth than cope with the feeling of being not able to know something or being not able to control something. This is how conspiracy theories get their legs, too. There are people who feel out of control and out of touch and feel like they don’t know what’s going on in the world or what’s going on around them.
It’s far easier for them to internalize this notion that there’s a pedophilia operation taking place in the basement of a pizza parlor than it is for them to internalize the fact that they don’t know and that they’re scared. That amount of control helps counteract these feelings of fear that we have. Healthy self-esteem is believing that you’re of exactly equal value to everyone else in the world. That means your podcast co-host, podcast guest, the president, and the homeless person you passed on your way. You are of equal value to those people. When we go into self-esteem failure, we go one down and that’s a painful place to be, to feel like we’re not good enough or bad or feel that shame.
What a lot of us do is we got one up, which is a little grandiose, so that says like, “Maybe I’m unconsciously not feeling great about myself, but at least I’m not a fucking lunatic like Alex Jones.” The upside of that is it’s good you’re not a lunatic like Alex Jones, but the bad news is that you’re creating this false and fleeting sense of self-esteem by holding yourself up against other people who you see as beneath yourself. That’s a sad and self-perpetuating rhythm for people to get into. For people that find themselves hate-following, I would prescribe not hate-following. I would unhate-follow everybody. I would find 1 or 2 people that you can love-follow, and then I would look hard at yourself to see the part of you that’s hurting.
To be full of transparency, it was in the genre of hate-follow, but one time, I clicked on an article talking about the unraveling of Johnny Depp’s career. I was observing myself being emotionally invested in reading about Johnny Depp sabotaging his career and I’m like, “You have nothing against Johnny Depp. You’ve enjoyed his work.” Particularly his early stuff with Tim Burton. I have no emotional charger investment around Johnny Depp. Yet, here I am scrolling through this detailed, sordid long article about Johnny Depp’s career, his emotional aptitude, how he’s destroyed things, and how he took eight pills of ecstasy and cost Disney $350,000 a day because of the delay of shooting. I was like, “How could anyone handle eight ecstasy pills at once?”
That’s aggressive on a different level.
I was like, “One is good. How do you do eight?” We talked so much about self-awareness and I have to take accountability and ownership over my own unconscious behavior. It’s almost gossipy. I’m not into reading gossipy feeds, columns or anything. Whitney and I talked about gossip in some earlier episodes and the effect that has on relationships in ourselves. As an example, this Johnny Depp article, I was like, “This feels weird. Why am I invested in the demise of this man’s career? Am I trying to make myself feel better right now?” Am I like, “The mighty have fallen? Even you, Johnny Depp, are going to find your day of destiny where you fall to. Even you, Edward Scissorhands.” There is this part of me that I have to laugh at and not judge myself with it, but like, “Do you want to be spending time in your day doing this? No, you do not. Stop reading it.”
Except there’s a part of you that does want to do that, and that’s the part I want to get in touch with. I don’t want to shame him. I want to know. What is the part of you that is feeling good reading about Johnny Depp’s career disintegrating? Is it a part of you that feels sad or feels not enough or it needs consolation? In the interest of self-understanding, rather than to say, “Cut it out.” I’d rather say, “What is the part of this that’s serving you? Can we serve you in a different way that doesn’t require somebody’s career to flame out spectacularly in order to do it?”
On the one hand, I tend to not click on those articles. I don’t see that as a pattern of like, “I’m going to seek out articles talking about how horrifically people failed.” That’s not something that I find myself doing.
It’s a casual disasterbater.
I’m a casual disasterbater. With this particular article, the headline is what got me about the eight pills of ecstasy and costing Disney all this money and I was like, “Drugs and expensive things, you’re drawing me in headline writer.” On this show, we’ve talked about society’s tendency to want to encourage people to pursue these extreme levels of wealth, privilege, fame, influence, but then we also celebrate their demise, not necessarily their physical demise, but like, “You fucked up famous person. We’re going to observe your flameout and celebrate that, too.”
Usually, people come back and then we’re celebrating their comeback. I’m in alignment with that weird, semi schizophrenia thing of like, “We celebrate this person. You’re not perfect either. You act like you’re this perfect person, but you’re not. You’re human like us and you fucked up, too. Here they are with their comeback. We love you.” Maybe I’m subject to that bizarre framework of celebrating someone but then celebrating the fact that they’re not this perfected thing, like, “You’re human. You bleed, too.” They come back and it’s like, “Good for you. You came back from it.”It's so tempting to be who other people want. Click To Tweet
Almost all of us are subject to that thing. News and social media often show whereas, if you focus on me, we all live in our B roll. Every day is a 24-hour long journey with a lot of stuckness, challenge, and unremarkable, not photogenic work. It feels good to get on somebody else’s rollercoaster for a little while and see the big ups and downs rather than the little daily struggle that often can feel stuck.
In the spirit of getting uncomfortable, I want to bring up a subject that has a lot of contentiousness in the health and wellness world at least. In some of the conversations and circles that Whitney and I have found ourselves in is the concept of pharmaceuticals for mental health, specifically SSRIs. On the one end of the spectrum, we’ve been exposed to different people that have been like, “Under no circumstances should you take an SSRI.” There are all these “more natural treatments” to deal with one’s mental health. There are other people that are like, “By all means, if one needs to be prescribed pharmaceuticals and take SSRIs, do it.” I’m curious, in your research, how do you find the benefit of prescribing something like an SSRI, if you even do it in your practice? Where do you fall in this spectrum of holistic therapies, as they would be generally classified, versus a more pharmaceutical approach to helping people with their mental health?
It’s a super complex issue. To be clear within the ethical guidelines of my field, I am not an MD so I don’t prescribe medication to anybody. It’s outside of my scope of practice. Oftentimes, I do refer people to psychiatrists or LPNs to get prescriptions for their mental health. I don’t have any reservations about suggesting that people visit a credible doctor to try that stuff out. It’s not for everybody. I don’t have any disrespect for anybody that doesn’t want to do it. To me, I liken it a little bit to automobiles, by which I mean to say that I can get anywhere I need to get without an automobile. I live in Pasadena. Even if I needed to get to Santa Monica, I could walk there. I don’t walk there because it’s 2020 and I have access to a car. It’s a little bit like that with medication. A few people need it but many people can benefit from it.
In terms of the less evidence-based treatments that people use, instead of psychiatric medicine, I’m always a little skeptical of those because they are often not subjected to the rigorous research that psychiatric meds are. I also think that the industry is ripe for abuse and a lot of people are abused by it, whether they’re buying snake oil or doing dangerous home procedures and stuff like that. I’m always a little wary around that. That being said, with that caveat, psychology as a field is new. We are in the barber era of psychologists.
I’m a marriage and family therapist, not a psychologist. Years ago, medicine was like, “We’ll try to let some blood out of it and then we’ll burn some hair and we’ll see whether you feel better.” It was pretty medieval and they were doing what they could to make it work. Psychology is much that way, too. I’m grateful that you all have found the ways that I’ve put things to be elegant. What I’m trying to do is find frameworks for people to lead their lives in more content and satisfying ways, and that is a little made up too. I don’t necessarily have total support or antipathy, one way or the other. I’m willing to try anything that doesn’t pose a direct threat to anybody, whether it’s my client or someone in their orbit. In my notion, it’s what makes you feel the best and turns you into the version of yourself that is most in line with your values.
You used the words contentment and satisfaction. You didn’t use the word happiness. In my personal cosmology, I feel like that word is something that is grossly overused in terms of a pursuit of. It’s right there in the Constitution. Much like sorrow or suffering, I don’t feel that happiness is a sustainable state of being. Interestingly, you used contentment and satisfaction or fulfillment. To me, the energy and the meaning of those words feel more sustainable than trying to be happy all of the time. I have observed myself in the past like, “Why am I not happy all the time?” Talking to friends that are like, “Why am I not happy all the time?” It’s like, “Maybe we ought not to aim for happiness all the fucking time.”
I appreciate that you picked up on that because it’s deliberate. I am conservative about the times that I use the word happy because it’s misleading in this way. What people think of happiness is joy. Joy is fleeting. If contentment is the sex, then joy is the orgasm. You don’t want to live your life having a sustained orgasm all the time. It’s officially not good for you. I use that word contentment because I find that’s a sustainable, enjoyable, attainable quality of life that people can have. Remember that a good life has sadness in it. A good life has obstacles in it.
If you play Super Mario Brothers and there are no holes for you to fall into and no turtles and no fireball breathing plants, it’s a boring game. You’re playing Run, Mario, Run for the rest of your life. People who have everything and have no problems are miserable. It’s not about lamenting the obstacles in your life or thinking that everything could or should go perfect. It’s about having a life where the obstacles, hopefully, make you stronger. Hopefully, you’re surrounded by people that you love and who love you back. To me, that is the simplest form of contentment.
You have nonstop quotables. I’m blown away. You remind me a bit of Jason in this sense because you can share these eloquent phrases. Jason is good at quoting other people. He’ll pull out these inspirational quotes out of nowhere and I’m like, “How often are you rehearsing this?” It’s impressive. Listening to you is comforting and helpful. I’m looking forward to putting together our social media posts for this episode because I feel like you’re sharing so much that’s going to resonate with people. I’m one of those people that love reading quotes on Instagram. That’s one of my favorite things to look at. Sometimes, there are even basic things that I’ve heard before but I like hearing it. Listening to you has been a version of that. I’m appreciative of that.
Thank you. That makes me feel good. On my Instagram, I look at pictures of No Fear t-shirts and super toxically, masculine fashion trends of yesteryear. I’m glad that there’s an Instagram for each of us to follow out there.
That is a great callback. One thing that I don’t know if we fully touched upon is this idea of not having shame. Let’s say you did enjoy looking at those types of images. It’s easy to say, “You’re hypocritical. I can’t believe that you did that.” It goes back to that image which came from The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix show of how we portray women in the media even in 2020. Their lives are a mess because their homes are a mess or whatever it is. We can get judgmental about what people are not into.
I loved what you said to Jason about not necessarily trying to correct yourself. It’s like, “Why am I reading this article?” I’ve done a lot of that in my life, definitely when I was younger. I noticed many other people doing the same thing. We call things guilty pleasures or we feel embarrassed to share things. I look forward to people sharing these things about themselves and try not to judge them for it. I’m in the practice, which is challenging for me going back to what I was saying about getting a bad gut feeling when I see certain things online.
One of the reasons that I like reading quotes is it’s hard to go wrong. Looking at a nice quote is either black and white or it’s on a peaceful background like the mountains or water and you’re like, “This is soothing.” I can often feel the exact opposite if I see a macho guy flexing his muscles or an in-shape girl and then I’ll start to think about my life in comparison to her and what she looks like. I’m constantly in the process of not judging somebody. If they want to post those pictures of themselves, who am I to say that’s right or wrong, good or bad? Since I don’t like this, then that’s not a good thing for anybody. Going back to the box metaphor as well.
It happened to me. I clicked on somebody’s Instagram account and I immediately was like, “I don’t like these photos she’s posting of herself. They don’t make me feel good.” I had to catch myself and realize, “This works for her for whatever reason and that’s okay.” It’s okay that I don’t like it. It’s okay I’m not going to follow somebody like that. Maybe other people enjoy looking at her pictures. Who am I to say that my opinion on her account is right or wrong? As funny as it might be and as a joke, it is also important to remind ourselves that there’s nothing wrong if you want to wear a No Fear t-shirt. Maybe you do like looking at those pictures. Guilty pleasure or not, why do we even have to feel guilt around it?
People need to ask themselves, “What am I guilty for? What have I done here?” If the answer is, “I’m watching junk food entertainment.” That’s great. Enjoy it. Lean into junk food entertainment and love it. If you’re feeling that oppressive guilt, then don’t bother with it. If you’re violating one of your values by enjoying that, maybe you want to take a break from it. We only get to be here for a certain amount of time. Enjoy that stuff.
To your piece about looking at other people’s Instagram feeds or whatever, I have a little thing that I’m toying with. We get raised to think of things as competitive and it’s zero-sum. If Whitney and Jason’s podcast is successful, then my podcast can’t be successful. I won’t be enough unless I’m ahead of everybody in the world. Success for anybody that I either like or that I don’t know is great and I celebrate that. I’ve been toying with saying, “Good for them.” If I pass a post and my initial thing is to experience some contempt or scorn because it draws something up in me or if I think, “That’s needless. It’s stupid. Why in the world is this person bragging about that?” I’m focusing on conditioning myself to say, “Good for them.” The truth is, if their life gets better, even in some tiny little butterfly effect way, my life is going to get better too.
One question that I have for Nick and Jason as well, if there’s something that you haven’t shared on this show yet, what have you perceived as a guilty pleasure for yourself? It doesn’t have to be defined as a guilty pleasure. What is your guilty pleasure, or one of them right now?
This a guilty pleasure and maybe this is worth examining because this might not be within my value set. Something that I loved for years, it’s not on anymore, was that show Blind Date? Do you remember that?
I don’t know if I know that one.
It was this terrible show where they would get these people and they screened them to see if maybe they weren’t okay. They would put them in these dating situations and then they would ply them with alcohol and then put up these pop-up videos and make fun of people all the time. Let me tell you that for a while, in my life, as a younger person, the light of my life were watching these people get drunk and sabotage their own dates.
It had a formula. They would do these interviews with, “What kind of person you’re looking for.” If you say, “I’m into tall women.” They would either pair you up with the smallest or the tallest person that ever existed. They went extremely one way or the other. They’d get these people super drunk. That is a show that has provided me with hours of laughs over the years but I also have to think about it. I think, like, “On what level am I watching people get victimized on television?” These people are doing potentially physical damage to themselves, damage to their reputations, and experiencing humiliation because maybe they had an optimistic hope that this show was going to provide them with love, sex, or fame.Part of finding the right people is grieving the wrong people. Click To Tweet
Honestly, I’m glad you asked the question because I hadn’t examined it until this moment. Maybe that’s an actual guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s worth me examining whether I want to do that or not. A less guilty pleasure is I like to bake. I have at least two questions for the two of you. I like to bake and one of my guilty pleasures that I don’t feel guilty for is that sometimes I have to eat it all myself. I make these killer pies and I make cookies. Sometimes I am called upon to be the one that consumes all of it. While I might feel inclined to feel some guilt around that, I resist it wholeheartedly.
I’m reflecting on what my guilty pleasures are. It’s fascinating during COVID because a lot of us have been a little bit more lenient. It’s like, “We’re in a pandemic. It’s okay.” For the first few months, I was one of those many people that were playing the Animal Crossing game on Nintendo.
It’s therapeutic because it’s a soothing game. It made sense why people were drawn. The timing couldn’t have been better. I don’t think Nintendo knew that the pandemic was going to happen but it was perfectly timed. I would spend hours a day playing that game. Part of what was interesting about that was, at the time, I would judge myself sometimes. I would spend hours and I think, “I should be working.” We recorded an episode about shoulds. I heard I was should-ing myself. In reality, it wasn’t that big of a deal and it was an intense time for us, emotionally. I got out of that phase. I haven’t played that game in months. There’s nothing right or wrong about playing it but that phase passed for me and that was a nice thing to notice. Of all types of guilty pleasures, I feel like that one was pretty benign.
It may be helpful, honestly. That might have been a wonderful piece of self-care.
I think so too. A lot was written about that game and spoken about too. I mentioned it in our episode with Chris Guillebeau because I was nervous at that time to admit it out loud. I felt embarrassed about it but also and simultaneously realized that many other people were playing it. I felt okay. That’s always interesting, too. We often will feel like it’s more acceptable if we know we’re not alone.
My “guilty pleasure” is watching TikTok videos. It was interesting because I participated in a little blackout that some creators did to be off the app for an entire day. There’s a bigger issue of certain accounts being suppressed and some people think that it might have to do with people of color. There are a lot of issues with platforms like Tiktok for that reason. I thought, “I want to be supportive. I want to be a good ally. I’m going to go off the app on this day.” It was fascinating noticing that every time I went to my phone, I was like, “I want to be on TikTok right now. What else am I going to do?”
I don’t feel stimulated by Instagram anymore. I don’t enjoy YouTube. TikTok is the only platform I find pleasure in at the moment. It was fascinating to be off of it because I ended up not spending as much time on my phone. I deleted the app from my phone so I wouldn’t feel tempted. I didn’t even want that ability to go click on it during that day. When the day was over, I redownloaded it. I remember the first time I used it after that. It’s one day. It sounds like it was a super long period of time. I even had a moment of like, “I don’t know if this is that great.” I felt excited about having access to it again but then I realized, “I could go longer without this, for sure. Maybe if I did, I would spend less time on it.” It’s that interesting balance. That’s the app I go to.
You said for therapists, you have that ten-minute window and you could do whatever you want or write notes or whatever. That’s what I do. When I need a break from work, I’ll go lie in the bed or the couch or sometimes I sit at my desk and be on TikTok. I find a lot of pleasure in it. People like Jason, he’s on the receiving end of me forwarding him amounts of videos. He has a completely different relationship with TikTok where it doesn’t appeal to him. It’s always interesting having that outside perspective of someone like Jason. He enjoys the videos I send him but he doesn’t feel as into TikTok as me. Sometimes that helps me recognize that it’s not that important to life to be entertained by social media. There’s so much more going on and there are many things that people find pleasure in, which leads me to ask Jason, what would you say “guilty pleasure” is?
Three things come to mind. I’m eating a lot of bread. We’re all obsessed with food. Culturally, we fetishized food to such a degree and with good reason. Food is amazing. As a chef, I love food. I’ve never been necessarily the person who is like, “Give me all the bread.” I appreciate bread. I have been discovering many wonderful bread companies through my girlfriend, Laura. She was working at the West Hollywood Farmers’ Market and there would be these new bread vendors that would come in and she’s like, “I got this new unicorn sourdough.” I’m like, “What in the hell is a unicorn sourdough?” It’s this company in LA that makes sourdough and they dye the bread with natural colors and they make it green, blue and red. There’s this amazing gluten-free shop in Santa Monica she told me about and so we had to get the focaccia. Suddenly, my freezer is now a bread graveyard. I have more loaves than I know what to do with. We’ve got loaves until 2022. I have so much bread. Bread is probably the first one. Eating a metric crap-ton of bread.
I have been indulging in a lot of Star Wars content because I am a big fan of The Mandalorian. I’m a hardcore Star Wars geek. I’m getting into fan theory videos. After I watch it, I want to see an analysis of the episode. Whitney and I talked about doing this before, we didn’t do it, rewatching all of the Star Wars movies. There are eleven in total. What I want to do is I want to watch all of the damn Star Wars movies. The guilt in it and the pleasure is my mind goes, “That’s 78 hours of movie watching. Do you know what else you could be doing with those 78 hours you lazy fuck? Don’t do it.” My heart is like, “Do it because your inner child wants to watch the Star Wars movies. Oppressive, overworking adult Jason, we hear your input but we’re not going to listen to it because we’re going to watch the damn movies.” It’s an inner conflict. Bread and Star Wars are my guilty pleasures.Joy is fleeting. If contentment is sex, then joy is the orgasm. Click To Tweet
I appreciate you feeding your inner child more than bread. Is it okay if I ask each of you some questions really quick?
Two things stuck out to me that I want to get your input on. I’m given to understand that both of you are into vegan cuisine, is that correct?
What gave that away?
A little birdie told me. I had a PI go out. It was that fine line between research and stalking and we went full into stalking. I am not a vegan person as it happens, although I’ve had some wonderful vegan experiences in the past. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that a lot of the stuff at least that’s been put in front of me is often geared towards imitating something that exists in meat or animal product form, which is fine. I enjoy seitan a lot. It occurs to me that I haven’t tried much yet that is native to vegan cooking, that isn’t vegan cooking attempting to emulate something that exists elsewhere in the world as a meat or animal product dish. I wanted to check in. Are there any things that emerged from veganism that are awesome? As a person who likes to cook on an experimental and amateur level, is there anything that I need to try from that canon?
We could do a whole episode on this. I’m trying to think of a quick answer. I love tempeh. If you haven’t tried that yet, it’s not trying to emulate anything because it’s wonderful soy. Similar to seitan, because I’m gluten-free, tempeh is usually my go-to even though soy doesn’t make me feel that great either. The wonderful thing about tempeh is it’s fermented and a little bit easier to digest and it can absorb all amazing flavors. That’s the first answer off the top of my head. What’s yours, Jason?
In general, making vegetables taste amazing because I don’t lean on a lot of mock meats or meat substitutes. I’m not into them. I love the flavors, textures and colors of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes. Spices and sauces are what make vegetable cooking exceptional. There’s an amazing company here in LA called the Spice Station. Unbelievable, world-class spices from Morocco, Japan, South Africa. Spices and sauces are the realms that you can take an ordinary “set of vegetables” and make it extraordinary. The one restaurant that comes to mind that is good in Los Angeles that doesn’t use any mock meats but they highlight fantastic vegetable cooking is a restaurant called Nic’s On Beverly. It’s outstanding vegetables and they don’t use any of the “mock meats” or fake stuff.
Here’s my other last question. As you may or may not know, I’m aware of both of you all and your coaching work. Coaching is a place that therapists often find themselves later on in their careers. It’s one of those careers that therapists transition to. I’ve generally heard that one of the reasons that we do that a lot of times is because we want to tell people what to do. A lot of therapy is actively avoiding telling people what to do and helping them find their way to the thing that they need to do. For a lot of therapists, at least viewing it from the outside, coaching feels like an opportunity to stop asking, like, “What’s the childhood mechanism that’s getting in the way and finally offer some real directives?” My question for you is, in your coaching work, “Do you ever want to dig into the childhood trauma that’s keeping people from accomplishing their goals? Do you ever want to stop the forward progress and say, ’Tell me about your father?’”
Yes. All the time. Jason and I have talked about how sometimes we have thought about, either in an alternate universe or maybe somewhere in the future, about being therapists or working more in therapy because each of us are fascinated by psychology and I’ve studied it. Sometimes I wonder, “Did I go down the wrong path? Should I have been a therapist?” The style of coaching that I do and I believe Jason as well does integrate a lot of these things that you’re talking about.
We have to be mindful that because we’re not medical professionals there are certain things that we can and cannot do or say. I don’t think that there’s anything harmful in digging into these deeper things with people because it’s generally helpful in getting to the root of why something is challenging. There’s so much within us that might cause us to exhibit certain behavior or resist things. I certainly do that whenever I can and the same thing is true with Jason as well.
I love listening to you share all these things, Nick. It’s inspiring. There are many different ways to coach. You can be certified or you can simply do it from your intuition if that works for you and your clients. I’m sure the same thing is true as a therapist. There are many avenues and many approaches. Part of the reason we do this show is we get to learn from people like you and hear your perspectives and offer this up because we don’t have all the answers and we’re open about that. We struggle with a lot of the same things that our readers and our clients struggle with. We’re not trying to say, “We’ve got it all figured out. Here are the answers. Here’s the blueprint.” This is an ongoing journey of discovery. I’m dedicated to educating myself and humbling myself when I learn something that I didn’t know or do something differently.
That’s such a wonderful question that you’ve asked, Nick, because it shows that all three of us and most people, in general, are constantly evolving and reconsidering things. We’re grateful to have you on the show. I’m looking forward to going back. I even made notes of certain parts of this episode that I’m going to go back and listen to, especially to turn them into quotes. You can go to our Instagram, @Wellevatr, and that’s where we’ll post some of these wonderful quotes and attribute them to Nick and you can check out his account. I love your account, especially your captions, Nick. I enjoy reading them through. They’re as thoughtful as you are verbally. If we’re ever missing anything, feel free to send us an email at [email protected]. Thank you again, Nick. This has been a wonderful and joy-filled episode. I love that you emphasized joy.
It was an utter pleasure for me. Thank you both for being willing to have me on here.
*We use affiliate links in our show notes. This means we receive a small sales commission if you purchase an item based on our recommendation.
- Nick Bognar Therapy
- The Consistency Code
- A Life Without “Should”: Claim More Joy With The Life that You Want with Tricia Huffman – Previous episode
- Staring Down Financial Uncertainty in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic with Chris Guillebeau – Previous episode
- Spice Station Silverlake
- Nic’s On Beverly
- [email protected]
- How To Tell When You’re Burnt Out – Previous episode
- Nick Bognar Marriage & Family Therapist – Instagram
About Nick Bognar
He grew up in Richmond, Virginia and received his undergraduate degree from Mary Washington College (now The University of Mary Washington). After a career in human resources and operations, he found myself drawn towards those conversations that matter most:
Received his Master’s degree in Psychology from Phillips Graduate Institute in 2014, where he graduated with a concentration in Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders. He worked in several different school settings, both seeing individual clients and teaching human development and relationships. He is proud to be an alumnus of the Southern California Counseling Center, where he continues to serve the community by supervising associate therapists on a volunteer basis. When he is not working as a therapist, he’s learning to cook.
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