Steven C. Hayes is an amazing thinker. He has written nearly 50 books, and hundreds of articles. He is an originator of ACT therapy and RFT (Relational Frame Therapy). Google scholar data ranks him among the top fifteen hundred most cited scholars in all areas of study, living and dead. His career has focused on human nature, language, cognition, and the application of this to an understanding and alleviation of human suffering. His latest book, and topic of our interview, is called “A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters”.
In this episode, Steven C. Hayes talks about psychological flexibility, what it is, how we can cultivate it, why it matters, and how it can change our lives. We talk about something in this interview called “The Dictator within”; how to give distance to and how to get distance from it, to not let it run our lives or ruin our lives. We talk about awareness and attention. We talk about the idea of evolving on purpose, and so much more. Finally, we get into a little bit about writing and how Steven has written over a million words. We also talk about how Steven’s large volume of content has quite literally changed our world.
“Love isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
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Steven Hayes [00:00:00] That’s us at our best, I think, is to face oblivion and on the way in, you know, still reach out and grasp a flower and give it to the friend who’s falling with you, you know?
Brilliant Miller [00:00:18] Hi, I’m Brilliant, your host for this show. I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success. And I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do, have, and give more, this podcast is for you.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:41] Do you want to know how to diffuse from your thoughts, get better at accepting unwanted emotions, and get more clarity around your goals and values? Those are questions my guest today asks. His name is Steven C. Hayes. He is an amazing thinker. He’s prolific, he’s written nearly 50 books, hundreds and hundreds of articles. He is an originator of ACT therapy, RFT Relational Frame Therapy, an incredible thinker. Google scholar data ranks him among the top fifteen hundred most cited scholars in all areas of study living and dead. His career has focused on human nature, language, cognition, and the application of this to an understanding and alleviation of human suffering. His latest popular book, although he’s written a lot of academic and scholarly tomes, a book you might find readable and incredibly beneficial is called “A Liberated Mind How to Pivot toward What Matters”. In this book, Steven talks about psychological flexibility, what it is, how we can cultivate it, why it matters, and how it can change our lives. We talk about something in this interview called “The Dictator within”; how to give distance and how to get distance from it, not let it run our lives or ruin our lives. We talk about awareness and attention. We talk about the idea of evolving on purpose, and so much more. And then, as always, we get into a little bit about writing and how Steven has been so prolific over the years, written millions and millions of words. And not just that he’s produced a large quantity of content, but quality, meaningful content that has quite literally changed our world. And you can learn more about Steven and his work at his website StevenCHayes.com. With that, I hope you enjoy and benefit from this conversation with my new friend, Steven Hayes. Steve, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Steven Hayes [00:02:38] Well, thanks for having me here. I’m really fascinated by what you do and looking forward to the time we spend together.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:43] Me too. Will you tell me, please, what is life about?
Steven Hayes [00:02:50] Yeah, isn’t that a question and it’s kind of cool that that it distills down to that that that we’re the creatures who get to look at our lives with that kind of reflective question to guide. I think it’s about learning how to be you and how to contribute to the world in a way that fits with what you most deeply care about. And the journey that we’re on is to show up as a conscious human being as part of these social primates called human beings and make some choices. Answer that question about what are your values, what are the qualities of being and doing? You want to put into your life’s moments? What are you up to? What are you About? You know, life is finite and you’re not going to be here forever. And so a good time to consider that question might be about now, and I think that’s that’s what we do is we learn how to be more fully ourselves, but not in a selfish way. I think if you look within that, what you really want, you know, you came here to make a difference and to play and work and support the lives of others in ways that are prosocial. I think we are in the right environments, inherently meant to be pro social. And so in the wrong environments, we become greedy and we start, you know, wanting to tell other people what to do and we can slip into those other ways of being. But I think in more psychologically supportive environments we answer the question more in a way of how can I put my values into my moments and into the world?
Brilliant Miller [00:04:58] Thank you for that. And you talk about environment here. And I’m really curious, what’s your view of our responsibility or our ability to find an environment that supports us like that versus our responsibility or ability to create an environment like that?
Steven Hayes [00:05:17] Yeah, we get to construct niches in the same way that species construct niches and then evolve to fit that. We do that within our own lifetime and then evolve to fit that and so it’s another good question. What is the kind of world that you want to live in? I want to is maybe the wrong word. I mean, what sounds like something that’s missing that the etymology, the word means and it can sound meaning grabby and all that, but I mean on the other side of that first question you asked, what do you know about the environments that support you being who you came to be or who you want to be or your best self? Many of us, for example, find that we’re better in small groups than we are just left your own devices, that other people matter, and being part of loving, supportive, cooperative groups are critical to us. That’s not true for everyone, I mean, there are, you know, folks who sit in caves in the side of mountains and contemplate life and do something probably important in that way. But for most of us, our best selves involve other people. If you ask people what they really care about, almost always what they’re about to say only makes full sense in the context of other people, even if it’s something like an esthetic thing appreciating beauty or yeah, but you want to share. Most things, you know, I want to, you know, love, cooperation and support of others and so forth, it’s very close to our hearts that we want to be there for others and be part of the lives of others. So that’s an example. How can you create a loving, social environment that is itself, values based. Itself has a purpose; it has meaning. Why? Because it’s imposed on us, because we establish it that way. You know, whatever that is, whether it’s you know, whatever that is.
Brilliant Miller [00:07:53] Whatever we value, right?
Steven Hayes [00:07:55] Whatever we value and knowing full well that we’re going to die. And not not only that, but the whole universe is going to die. And knowing full well that in the end, it’s a big ice ball. I mean, it’s pretty amazing that we’re the one life form and on this planet, that is able to know that and still care. Yeah, absolutely shocking and wonderful. And that’s our asset, our best, I think, is to face oblivion and on the way in, you know, still reach out and grasp a flower and give it to the friend is the falling with you, you know that now that we get to kind of spit in the eye of the dinosaur that’s about to eat us and say this matters because I matter about it, you know.
Brilliant Miller [00:08:55] You know your most recent book, right, “A Liberated Mind”? Is the most recent book,
Steven Hayes [00:09:01] most recent book that most people would want to to read. I’ve written forty seven of them and but they’re mostly very geeky books for scientists and stuff but I’ve had a few that normal folks can read and “A Liberated Mind” is like, I guess, one of those.
Brilliant Miller [00:09:16] So this book, I do want to say thank you for writing it. I took away a lot from this book. And I suspect for people reading it will be that kind of experience where you’ve put names to things that we may be recognized but didn’t really know or we didn’t know we knew and so forth. But I’m interested even in the title because the title, “A Liberated Mind, How to Pivot toward What Matters”. So right in line with what we’ve been talking about. Right from the beginning I’m interested because what is it what is it that you’re talking about being liberated from? That’s one thing I’d love to hear your take on. And the other is the idea of mind at all, because someone introduced me to this idea that the mind is it’s an abstraction. It’s a concept. Yes, it can be useful, but show me a mind like no one’s ever seen a mind. So even from the beginning, when you talk about the title A Liberated Mind.
Steven Hayes [00:10:10] Yeah, it’s you know, some of that is just trying to find a way to reach people before you have an opportunity to reach people so you’re really trying to think of how could I get people interested in reading this book? And then in the book itself, I try to answer that question. And thank you for actually reading the book, it’s appreciated. I’m looking forward to seeing where it landed with you. But in terms of liberated from, ironically, I think what we’re needing to work to liberate from and I’ll ask this question about what mind in a moment is here, but because the answer is kind of twisted, but to be liberated from, I think is a particular mode of mind or aspect of mind that comes to dominate us. In the book. I call it the “dictator within” just have a popular, accessible way of talking about it. But it’s this evolutionary recent adaptation that you and I are doing right now is as old as Homo sapiens. That’s a couple hundred thousand three hundred thousand four hundred thousand, probably, the hominids were doing it just based on Neanderthal’s behavior and so forth. It probably goes backwards. But we know it can’t go more than 2.8 million years because common ancestors of the chimpanzees and chimpanzees don’t do what your 12-month-old baby does, they don’t create what we call mind. And I think of mind as just that process of being able to create and use verbal rules or symbolically meaningful events that are based on this kind of repertoire of relational learning that is new for us. We are the only species that do it. That takes a little bit of unpacking underneath the side part of A Liberated Mind, that is a basic science with several hundred studies that are basically: What is language? what is a word? That is a mind with symbolic reasoning, whether, you know, how does that happen and how can you change it? And unlike lots of folks, we actually get down to the point where you’ve got to get it and talk about it, get it as severe, you know, on the spectrum kinds of problems and some of the things you might be able to say that can and help then create a whole new set of problems. Like what? Well, like but what happens when you are sufficiently verbal to be able to be guided by rules at the cost of other important sources of information? Your direct learning experience, your intuitive sense, your own biological heritage, the felt sense in your body, you know, to really be open to your history and how it echoes into the present moment, being able to observe and describe and use what those reactions are and allow them to form a wiser journey over time. You get wiser because you have experience. Well, how do you access that experience? If you just express it through: “I’m a person who’s like this and blah, blah, blah, blah,” you know, just finish the first sentence before you start lying to yourself. You’re going to say something like, I’m a kind person. Always? With everybody? You’re lying. You know, and I came here to be a loving and caring. Always? Dude. Do you know how many people you’ve let down? Have you thought about how you’ve let yourself down? Have you I mean, you either have to be deluded or to almost deliberately hide from yourself your full access to what your life has been. But when you do that, it’s not about shame and blame. It’s about learning and responsibility. It’s about showing up responsibility in that sense of having an ability to respond that you have the capacity to make some choices. So liberated mind is liberated from the aspect of your mind that claims to be who you are and claims to know the best and is so pathetically bad at it. It can’t even tell you how to walk or how to love or how to care. I mean, if you if you demand, I’ve worked in rehab, you know, how do you walk? You know, we say, well, you pick up one foot in front of the other, you know, how do you do that? You know, words are completely inadequate to if you already know how to do it. Words can direct it, but, you know, in rehab, you have bars to hold on to because you don’t want to fall one hundred and ten times a day, which is what babies do and they’re learning to walk. And you’re bigger and it’s harder and harder for all. I can see why you’d want to, but they also do things like yell at their feet. They’ll say things that “move” and “damn you”. And you’ve had a stroke or your feet don’t have ears that don’t give a damn what you’re saying, your legs don’t care. You know, you learn to walk by trial and error. And it took thousands and thousands of falls thousands and an average toddler fall one hundred and ten times a day while walking 10 football fields, equivalent of walking all day after day after day after day before it. Some moment happens where they begin to actually get their feet in front of them as they fall. My point being, we learn by experience, but we also have developed this other system and being liberated from it means to be able to put it on a leash. And ironically, the liberated mind is restrained in its excesses in certain areas. And that sounds contradictory, but it’s not, in the same way that freedom involves responsibility. You know, if I were talking about, you know, a liberated body, I wouldn’t say that that means you get to eat Cheetos and cotton candy all day long. No, it doesn’t. Your body will soon inform you that there’s a cost to that. You know, in the same way, A Liberated Mind is one that knows how to restrain the excesses, but liberated to do what? Well, if you were your whole person, if you are able to use these marvelous evolutionary recent adaptations of language and cognition, have higher symbolic reasoning, higher cognition that is allowed you and I to talk over a space of several hundred miles instantaneously, having a conversation or, you know, just 15 years ago couldn’t do it. I mean, 50 years ago, couldn’t imagine you know, other than maybe a few science fiction writers or something really weird, I was just a few people could even imagine 100 years, if not like them, or 200, you know, so. Liberated to do what? To be to answer the first question, “who are you” in a way that allows you to create a life that actually steps up to what you have been given. Steps up to the opportunity to what your parents and culture and life and and the thousands and thousands of humans before you that led to your physical body, but also the opportunities that you have to be whole and free and to make a difference in the world. While also knowing that in the end, it’s a big ice ball. So how to pivot towards what matters only happens when you can let go of your problem solving mind that’s constantly telling you who you are, how you need to be and and teaches you to grasp, to avoid, to kling. Now, this one little piece where you said, yeah, but show me it’s I mean, there it’s an abstraction. Yeah. But you know what? You can’t show me anything that isn’t, I’m enough of an evolutionists to know that when you see a snake, you didn’t see a snake, you just evolved in such a way to avoid dying. You don’t know what you’re seeing. Oh, I’m seeing that it’s this long and has that shape. You don’t know that, evolution will produce cheats. It’s like the operating system on your computer. You know, files are blue rectangles that if you drag into the trash, can disappear. No, they’re not blue. They’re not rectangular shape. They don’t have a color or shape at all. But if you had to deal with the strings of ones and zeros that are what an operating system is and the files that they access, you’d be looking at millions of ones and zeros, a screen full of them. You wouldn’t be able to do anything. So what they really are, we say, is ones and zeros. Of course, that’s a metaphor because no one’s the of zeros in the machines we’re talking to right now. And your operating system simplifies it in such a way that you can avoid doing things like destroying this particular sequence of non ones and zeros that aren’t really ones and zeros that we call ones and zeros to talk about how this machine works so that we have files. Well, the same thing could be true of the snake. It could be more like the movie “The Matrix”. And there’s only a few people that see the cascading green letters or maybe no one. So if you actually do that and people have done this double Hoffman’s book “On the case against reality”, check it out. Pretty interesting book. You know, if you allow evolutionary algorithms and multiple runs to see what happens, if you get real information about the world from your perceptual system or “cheats”. The cheats win every time. Every time. For the same reason that you prefer an operating system that is graphical even versus alphanumeric and you certainly don’t prefer a machine code. Nobody prefers machine code.
Brilliant Miller [00:20:45] Yeah, nobody but Neil, right?
Steven Hayes [00:20:49] Yes, Neil can deal with the machine code. And so I’m out of a philosophy, a wing called functional contextless. And that is a form of radical pragmatism. That is a form of evolutionary epistemology that basically says all of these natural science things that we know about that in life sciences have to apply to your own behavior. And once you go there, and some of my evolutionary friends, the David Sloan Wilson’s of the world and so forth, will go with me until we get to this last part. Thank goodness there’s books like Donald Hoffman now and I can put them in front of them and say, answer that. But I don’t believe that language is about anything because I don’t believe in things. I believe in the one world. Even atoms, molecules. No, no, no, we don’t know. We don’t know that those are “the things”. It is a useful way to interact in and with the one world. And so language, certainly these categories; you, me, what? What do you mean? End. I mean, can I do just a tiny rant on this? I know I’m getting off in abstract land, probably losing people.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:06] The people that are listening, this is perfect for. So all good.
Steven Hayes [00:22:11] If you pick up an object and say this is it, you know, here’s the chapstick and the edge is right here. Oh, wait a minute, you saw it based on the light impacting your retina, so we say, so is the light from it, part of it? How about the heat? How about gravity? Can you point to some place in the universe where this it isn’t? And you can’t. You can’t do it. Well, if this was everywhere, where is it? You know, you may be living inside Chapstick right now. How the hell would you know? You’re only going to know by these edges, so don’t let the mind, there’s another example, talk about liberated mind, don’t let the mind, this set of symbolic abilities, create categories with firm edges. Do you know if I’m dealing with a dog or a cat and I look at stimulus generalization gradients around this object, shape, color, size, et cetera, it’ll be a fuzzy bell shaped curve except for human beings. It’ll be a top hat. It’ll be it isn’t, it isn’t, it isn’t, it isn’t, it is, it is, it is, it isn’t, it isn’t, it isn’t. You take anything; blue, a chair, anything. That’s a delusion that’s imposed on your sensory system. Our sensory system doesn’t work in top hat forms. You know, and that’s why, you know, people who are artists, for example, can see colors you can’t see. Because they have so many experiences of dealing with color in a way that’s softer and fuzzy and they’re careful even about the names, they’re careful about shoving them into categories, they don’t want to do paint by numbers. They use metaphors. I mean, talk to musicians, artists, filmmakers, poets. They don’t want to talk in those kind of top hat categories. They talk about their work in a in a metaphorical way. Why? Because it’s a way that we know how to create these fuzzy sets that allow us to be more sensitive to the nuances of emotion and felt sense and so perception and beauty and symmetry, you name it. We can do that. We can get lost in it, but we can do that with our own mind in ways that allow us to fit what we care about and what we know how to do to our life’s moments, and that is the kind of responsible freedom that I’m talking about with the liberation. So even the concept of mind, I’m absolutely with you, don’t anthologized that. Don’t grasp to it. Don’t hold on to it. But don’t do that with anything that’s in A Liberated Mind. When I supervised my students about ACT, the methods that try to change those processes that are in there, they’ll all confirm that every once in a while, out of nowhere, I’d suddenly stop and say, and by the way, “don’t believe any of this”.
Brilliant Miller [00:25:23] That’s funny. When I share things I’ve learned with others, some of the people who are close to me, kind of collaborators and helpers, will often say, would you quit telling people that that might not be true? It’s like, well, A don’t believe it because I said it. And B, you know, trust your own experience to be open to the possibility or believe that it’s probably.
Steven Hayes [00:25:47] That’s awesome. And in fact, we’re headed towards a world in which a pragmatic view of truth is going to be to maintain your truth. It’s very tricky. And not only that, but one that fits you as an individual. We’re used to now and we have our entire generations who get to have the music app that will fit the music that they like. They don’t understand about the algorithms that do it, but it does it. They’re used to having it their way. It’s not just a hamburger chain that says you can have it your way. You can have everything your way. Yeah. Do you know that the word normal didn’t exist in the human language and wasn’t hardly used until the Civil War?
Brilliant Miller [00:26:33] I didn’t know that.
Steven Hayes [00:26:34] And do you know that the word the statistical reason, by the way, average, typical, usual, also the same time that you go to Google anagram put it in normal and just look at it and you’ll be shocked. And why is such a central concept, because we didn’t have this “just for you” view, and then along came the statistician’s that said and the whole culture went “oh my God” and they’d have competitions. Who’s the most average woma? Did you know, Saturday Evening Post had competitions? Who’s the most average woman?
Brilliant Miller [00:27:10] No.
Steven Hayes [00:27:10] And they won prizes if they had the exact measurements, and were fascinated by this idea of average. Yeah, but you know what? Just let’s show you some of the dark history of that. Karl Pearson. Area Fischer. Monsters in statistics. You can’t do a Pearsons correlation or Fischer z, a T-Test, you know anything about stats without these important mathematicians and statisticians. You know what their titles were at the University College London? Those two were professors of eugenics. And you just read, you know, Karl Pearson, Ari Fischer saying we shouldn’t let Jews come to the United Kingdom, even as you know, the Holocaust was starting to form because on average, we’re depleting the gene pool. Or that we should pass laws to not allow criminals to have children. Or black people to breed. So enough of this, I mean, this Black Lives Matter movement that we’re in is something more like that we have to respect individuals in their individual context and we need even new ways of thinking. We don’t even have words. You don’t have a word to go instead of normal. It’s this word to speak about what are the things within your lifetime that really empower you to allow you to be that best person and that yeah, some of those apply to other people, too, but not everybody. You know, the average on top of people doesn’t fit. I’m in a bit of a rant but can I give an example?
Brilliant Miller [00:29:06] Yeah, please.
Steven Hayes [00:29:06] In the area I work in and clinical psychology, you know, we have these categories called major depression, panic disorder, etc. I’ve been in one of those categories. I’m a panic disorder person in recovery, so I say. OK, so here’s an example. Huge multi-site trial, a major depression called the star-d trial, multi, multi-million dollar IMH funded trial some years ago. But a really important one, one of the biggest ever done, 4000 patients. How many different kinds of constellations of signs and symptoms? There’s only a limited set, it’s not very big that can go into that diagnosis. How many different combinations were in those 4000? Answer is 11 hundred. How many people had a constellation that was so rare, so unusual, so atypical that only one tenth of one percent of the entire group were like them? In other words, four or fewer people were like them. The answer is more than a half. We’re living inside a world designed by eugenicists to sort people or to put people on the Ford factory line and make them through management silence. Taylorism. Taylor, who invented this plane that averages exactly how long does it take to screw that down? And if you don’t, here’s a standard deviation. If you’re outside, then you ought to be ranked and yanked and sent away for, you know, it’s really this harsh world of fitting people to machines. You know, it’s a lie, there is no average. Normal intelligence is a lie. Personality theories are a lie. Diagnoses of psychiatric illness is a lie, and we don’t even have a word for the alternative, but we instinctively say this is why it isn’t he and she anymore. Yeah, it’s he she and they and it’s not going to be just that, there’s 16 different kinds of gender.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:20] I heard there’s people who recognize as 37.
Steven Hayes [00:31:23] Yes, exactly. And I have people who want different gender pronouns and personal relationships, work relationships, and you have to keep track of it. They expect that, well, you don’t like that, too bad. You’re in a different world. And so, this rant was about, we don’t even know how to talk about. The things we know that answer the kind of questions you’re asking. You know, my colleague Stephan Hofmann and I invented a new term a couple weeks ago. I was talking to him just before you about about instead of normal, the term invented this idiognomic. We need idiognomic concepts, ones that are adeagraphic, but then, yes, apply to multiple people, maybe not very many. But why? Because we can’t have everything being the psychology of the one. But the world where we’re headed is an exciting world where you really get to be you in a more dramatic way. And we can really start focusing on how to fit work to you, not how to fit you to work. How to create the kind of environments that sustain and support you and your values based journey, not one size fits all categories and solutions. Yeah. We’ll see where it goes. The a-ontological rant I gave earlier and now this ideographic rap means that some of these questions have to be thought about about the normative categories of questioning. In which we’re constructing our lives, which also need to change.
Brilliant Miller [00:33:24] I. It totally resonates with me and this idea that so much of our experience, what we even perceive, right, the perception that we even have the cognitive filters that we have, how much language influences or limits that. And you talk about something, you use a term just a few minutes ago about the dictator within, and that was an example for me of what I was saying when you like you gave words to an experience or a phenomenon that I have. I know many people have. But you also the whole book, I think basically is about something you give a name to psychological flexibility. Yeah. That’s the kind of thing that if I think people understand, if people practice some of the things you teach around psychological flexibility, it really is, I believe, the kind of thing that can transform one’s experience of life. Yes, right. What what do you mean by this term psychological flexibility and why does it matter?
Steven Hayes [00:34:21] Well, essentially what we’ve tried to do in the wing of research work out of. Is to build a psychology that in basic processes that are, by the way, ideognomic, because of how they were developed. We get the smallest set of processes by a process, I mean just things that you can do, the sequence of things that you do and area of thought, attention, emotion, sense of self motivation and overt behavior, these dimensions of living. The smallest set that does the most things that would allow you to be the best person and to pursue your values, that allow you to pivot towards what matters. And it turns out that it’s not an infinitely large set, I mean, you can get a lot with just six concepts. There’s other ones that are close and that one when you have to socially extend it so you go in to things that are the social extensions of those sets. But you can basically take most of what we know about how we get from here to there in the area of pathology yes, but also prosperity, using this set of processes. And I’ll say what they are.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:48] I just wanted to write my own question for a moment to to call attention to something that I thought was really cool, too, which is again, in the subtitle of the book “How To Pivot Toward What Matters”, this idea that we can in any moment pivot. We don’t need to wait for a crisis or a trauma or to hit rock bottom, although we often do. But even the idea that it’s possible for us right now to pivot in it and take our life in a different direction, I think is a really wonderful thing.
Steven Hayes [00:36:16] And I use the metaphor to say, how long does it take? For you to be headed in this direction and then pivot, now you’re headed in a different direction. How long does that take? It takes an instant. That is true always. And part of the metaphor, pivot, is the energy, the yearning, the need, what you really want that’s inside even the worst things you do, the things that are squeeze you down the most, that ossify you the most, that make you rigid, insensitive. What’s inside even those? Is a precious resource that can be put in a new direction in an instant, if you just know enough to see what are you really yearning for. How did you get into a situation where the harder and harder your work, the less and less it works, the more you try, the less you get. How did you get trapped and how can you turn that energy in a new direction? And you want the energy of your pain and suffering under the life well lived, because inside that energy is also the yearning you have for something else. You didn’t jump out of the womb saying, hey, I want to suffer, hey, I want to be an addict. Hey, I want to, you know, be alone all the time. And I want to have all of my relationships trashed.
Brilliant Miller [00:37:45] “I want a life full of self-defeating behaviors and I want to sabotage every good intention I ever had” right, nobody ever said that.
Steven Hayes [00:37:50] But you didn’t jump out of the womb that way. You learned how to be that way by doing logical, reasonable, sensible and pathological things. I mean, you followed the problem solving strategies that occurred to you and that had been taught to you and that you saw around you. And you internalize those and and here’s the sad thing, when you did them, it seemed to work.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:22] And it avoided punishments to reinforce that.
Steven Hayes [00:38:26] A little while. So you got trapped by smaller, sooner, which trumps larger, later every time we evolved for that, you know, smaller sooner is what guides behavior. And, you know, as a panic disorder person in recovery for example, you know, if I’m rocking and rolling with panic, I’m an academic, I’m supposed to give talks. And if I get an opportunity to do that, my graduate students will give the talk and that means I’m a good teacher and really supportive of my graduate students. And by the way, I feel a whole lot relieved when I hung up that phone knowing I do not have to give that talk. Did I just become less of a panic disorder person or more of one? Well, I’m more. I just fed the same tiger that’s eating everything off my plate, and yet tiger’s growing, it’s getting bigger, it’s demanding more and more and eventually and on my personal story, which is in “A Liberated Mind”.
Brilliant Miller [00:39:26] And in a TED talk, that’s quite powerful.
Steven Hayes [00:39:30] A Ted talk that you can access, I have a couple and the first one, www.bit.ly/StevesFirstTED Will get you there. I tell that personal story. And it came to the point where I couldn’t give a lecture to five hundered graduates and then eventually I couldn’t even trust sleep, you know, there was no safe place left. Before finally. It occurred to me. To pivot in a 180 degree direction, and I did it in an instant, but it changed my life, I mean it and it’s not so grand. It’s, you know, something like 90 percent of the human population say they’ve had spiritual experiences. And usually the mind will quickly run in and say, oh, now I understand that that’s when and they’ll ruin it, you know because that’s the overextension of this problem solving agenda will do it. But back to psychological flexibility. What is it? Let me say it in three, there’s six things, but I’ll first say it in three things, but it’s really one thing. I’ll start with the middle. In order to really live a powerful, successful life, you need to be able to be aware of what’s going on inside and out and to attend to what’s important. That contains two things; there’s a part of you that’s just awareness, that’s beyond categorization. It starts with that moment when your mama looked in your eyes and said, oh, you sweet baby, and you dump natural endorphins. You go “woohoo!”, you know, you’re a social primate. We’ve evolved to be connected with consciousness as part of our legacy, and it’s built up in language, but, you’re aware and you can attend and you can attend by broadening or narrowing, shifting or staying. There are things going on in your room right now or wherever you are right now that you haven’t been attending to. Look around. You’ll see. If I asked you to look around, see all the things that are brown, spend several seconds doing that, and then asked you to close your eyes and tell me all the things that are red, it’ll have inhibited that, you’ll be lower in chance than you were if I just said, look around and then to close our eyes and say, tell me all the things that are red. Why? Because you can direct your attentional processes, and you want to be able to do that, there’s a myriad of things to focus on. And why would that matter? Well, if you’re going to evolve on purpose, if you’re going to get better over time, if you’re going to create a life worth living, if you’re going to be the person you want to be, you’re going to have to pick and choose what’s of importance in this moment, and this moment, and this moment. What do I mean of importance? Well, for one thing, what should be attended to? Right. And for another thing, attended to in a way that you are aware because you’ve all only half attended, you know, in this year of covid, you’ve been on those talks where you’ve multitasked and then it stops and they ask you a question.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:49] I only did that once. It only happened once.
Steven Hayes [00:42:52] You liar. Well, you know, we know we divide our attention and so forth. You know, awareness doesn’t hold. What’s there to be received? You know, that you may not know what you’re feeling, what your body’s doing, what other people are doing. You may not know what’s going on. So you need those things. Those are two flexibility processes. Why flexibility process, meaning if you want to expand and direct your repertoire, if you want to be, you know, they’re important. How about your history and how it shows up? Well, it shows up multiple ways, but there’s two big chunks here emotions, sensations, intuitive felt sense, and the words that show up with this more evolutionarily recent stream of symbolic thought. Well. You need the skills to be able to feel those things in a way that are sufficiently open to allow your past to echo into the present. But are not so dominant that you immediately run away when something shows up or you immediately cling. Oh, that’s wonderful. I have to have only that. Now, cutting yourself off from things that are not in the area of emotion and felt sense that means a certain kind of emotional openness. Of being able to go with the ebb and flow, of felt sense and emotion. In the area of though it means categorical symbolic thought. It means a stepping back enough and to notice that you’re thinking. And not just notice the product of your thinkin. If I’m holding up that chapstick and I tell you actually this flavor in here is horrible, it’s strawberry. I don’t know why I was given it. I certainly didn’t buy it. It’s the only thing I’ve got. I’m putting it on my lips because I get chapped. Otherwise, it’s disgusting. It’s awful. I hate it. OK, this disgusting chapstick you’re talking about. Where does disgusting go when you die? It’s a secondary attribute, right, play those secondary characteristics, it’s one that emerges in your interaction with it. Right. But when thought shows up it’s so fast that it looks like, yeah, it’s about half the length of a pencil, it’s made of plastic, it’s white and it’s disgusting. Those are radically different things dude. Other than in philosophy, 101, if I die tomorrow, whatever aspect of reality this is Dr. Snake thing, I presume it’s still there, but disgusting is gone. So here’s the point. You want to be able to back up in thought just enough to notice that you’re thinking; your categories and your reasoning, you’re predicting, you’re comparing, you’re doing all kinds of stuff. That’s cool. Now, use your attentional skills. What in all of that is useful to you right now? What in all of that is helpful to you right now? And for the rest of it could we respectfully decline our minds invitation to really focus on and deal with that? Because after all, especially as you begin to get into this, you realize that you’re of two minds about everything. And by the way, it’s not two, it’s three and it’s not three. It’s not ten, it’s 100. You got thousands of voices within you’re like a mayor or city. And if you ever try to do one thing like “I’m a good person”, you’ll hear your mind say, “no you’re not. What about that?”, OK, “I’m disgusting. I’m the worst of the worst. I’m the lowest of the low.”, “Oh, you’re not that bad”. You know, goofy with horns and goofy with a halo is something that three and four year olds understand, you have multiple minds about everything. So instead of climbing into the clown suits that your mind gives you, could we back up a little bit and notice that your mind is minding? You’re constructing, you’re reasoning, you’re thinking, you’re categorizing, and sometimes you even catch. Boy, that’s Mama’s voice. You’ll actually catch where it came from, you know, that’s dad’s workaholism or whatever. Yeah. All right, so open to our thoughts, aware of what’s going on at the present moment, and with that flexibility, what do we want to do? Attend to what brings meaning and purpose to us by choice, and how to build habits around that. So actively engaged in building a values based life. Psychological flexibility or being open, aware, and actively engaged in living. Each of those has two aspects. You know, attentional processes and just the way a person, openness to emotions, etc., and also openness to thought and a different way reigning in that kind of categorical thought and then engaged both in the sense of choosing the intrinsic motivators that we’re going to put in our life and over and over and over again, building and expanding habits of action around that. Now, why is that important? Because everywhere the human mind goes, all those six processes are important. And when you get all six of them rolling, it’s like a strong box of six sides. If I take a couple of slides out of a box, it’s not a box anymore. And you get all floppy and soggy like. And so if you’re not working on your emotional openness, your cognitive flexibility, you’re not able to learn from your past. If you’re not working on being able to attend to the moment, in a flexible, fluid and voluntary way from this point of awareness, you’re not able to fit innovations to context. And if you don’t have values, you don’t know what the selection criteria are and you don’t know how to retain them through repetition in larger patterns. And if you notice them changing the words, it’s because those processes of healthy variation fitted to context that are selected and retained is how life evolves. Evolution requires variation, selection, retention and context at the right dimension and level, it requires those six things. And that’s true of you as an evolving human being. It’s true of species, as true of cultures. It’s you know, and so, you know, nothing in our psychology makes sense except in light of evolution. And a multidimensional multilevel evolutionary approach tells you you can evolve on purpose. You can actually do that. I don’t care that evolutionists hate that. “No you can’t evolve. It’s all a random variation.” No, it’s not random variation, it started as random variation. Bacteria, when you take away amino acids, they need will suddenly vary massively because they take the restraints off of replication and correction to keep things in line. They start throwing chaos at it because otherwise they’re going to die, they don’t have the amino acid. Evolvability evolves. So it started random. It’s not random now. And with our verbal, symbolic abilities, what you and I are doing right now, if you know the processes that allow you to evolve powerfully and why they do it and learn those skills. Sorry for the long rant, but the bottom line message there of the great message there, the thing that’s in “A Liberated Mind” is that when you solve one issue, you have the micro skills, and some strength to solve the next one and the next one and the next and the next one. Why? Because psychological flexibility matters everywhere you go, because it’s about how to manage this minding process of our own history and the current context in a way that serves what we really want, and that’s really what you want. So that’s cool, how much science can help. It feels like a rant more than a conversation. Slap the old man give me a rocking chair so I can just rock and talk.
Brilliant Miller [00:51:44] I just don’t want to jump in and interrupt the flow. And as I’m listening, I’m thinking already, and I’m I know I’m going to listen to this multiple times, like I’m going to read the transcript. And I suspect people who are interested in this will will find value in that as well. So, yeah. But I’ll work on the I’ll work on making this more of a conversation. I’ll interrupt.
Steven Hayes [00:52:09] Excuse me, but we’ve laid the foundation.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:12] Yeah. So I think I have just one more question before we move to the enlgihtening lightning round. I think two actually. And I do want to share this as well, which is I told you again, some of the value, some of the huge value I got from your book, this idea and you just talked about it this term diffusion. Yeah. About separating and creating that awareness, creating that space, recognizing when we’re thinking. I wasn’t familiar with that term, but I love that term. And then in the book, I really appreciate that you give a number of practices that we can we can try out to recognize. And and I don’t know when I first learned that I had that little voice within, but I remember being in a room, a large group awareness training. Right. And the facilitator talked about it, didn’t use the word, you know, the dictator within, but something like that. And I remember one woman who was probably 50 when she got that she had a little voice in her head, a little narrator. She gasped like she didn’t know five decades of living, wasn’t aware it was there. And I thought, “people don’t know they have that?” It was really interesting. But even even though I was aware I had it, I got a lot of value from the book and seeing these different things, whether we seen the thought, right, you talk about the one that I’ve tried out and it’s been interesting in the last couple of weeks is naming giving the mind a name. Yeah. Yeah, right. Will you talk about that a little bit. Like, what is the idea behind it and what is the value people might find from trying it?
Steven Hayes [00:53:41] Well you with other people speaking anyway, do have a little bit of distance, a little separation. You notice the person’s scheme of thought and so forth with your own. It just shows up with such a familiar voice that even tells you I’m you, it may have literally almost say those words without me or nothing, etc.. So this is a very arrogant part of is to claim the whole of us and giving in the mind the name immediately clicks you into a part of your repertoire that allows you to have a little bit of separation just so the microseconds happens. So there’s a moment of choice about what you do with a particular thought. And diffusion is a process that avoids the automatic domination of thought so that these other things that are important, such as current context and values and so forth, can play such as these other sources of behavior, regulation, your direct history, your felt sense, your intuition, etc., not the magical, mystical way, those are just words we have for really reliable sources of information. I mean, take somebody who goes home with an unsafe person and is then abused, people who’ve been abused are more likely to have that happen. And it’s because they’ve in order to avoid the pain of the past abuse, they haven’t been open to that information. And so you can close that off at your cost, but giving the mind a name is a good one because you can do it in a matter of seconds. And I would just suggest, if you know you can get kind of mindy with yourself and you can sometimes let your chatter in your head pull you in a direction that doesn’t necessarily pay off, and in hindsight, you kind of see, I should have known better that this was a cul de sac. Oh, my God. I’ve gotten in a relationship that’s the same kind of relationship I’ve been in before. How did I do that? This repetitive things where you didn’t mean to be in the wrong job or with the wrong person or whatever, but yet again, you’re there. You didn’t mean for that addiction to get a toehold. It was just one cigaret. Why did I etc.. You know, you really want to be able to catch. And the simple thing just give the mind a name, if you’re not sure what to name it, you can call Mr. Mind or Ms. Mind. Now, mine’s called George. And so what does George have to say? You know? Thank you, George. Thank you for trying to help me. I’ve got this covered. Is there anything else you have to share with me? OK, thank you. Thank you. And it’s not trying to hurt you, so it’s worth a thanks, but it’s pretty stupid about lots of things. And so you don’t turn your life over to George and you don’t constantly listen to George. I mean, if I kids in the backseat when you’re driving to your station wagon and they’re arguing constantly, you’re not going to listen to them either or you’re going to have an awful drive. There are times you just sort of “mmhmm” because you know you know what that rap is. It’s like old couples, you know, you name the raps you’re about to do. Number two, you know, you make the jokes, you know, your mind’s going to give you the I’m not good enough for rap. Yeah. Or give you the if only rap.
Brilliant Miller [00:57:00] And it’s like a trip for me because I again, like where these thoughts come from. When I thought, OK, I’ll try it, I’ll give my mind a name. And then I was like, what should I name it. And then of course it’s the mind given it the name. Immediately. The thing was, Ringo. Ringo, you know, I don’t even like the Beatles all that much. And I mean, some of their music is pretty amazing, I think. But all that and I’m like, what did Ringo come from? What do I know about Ringo? I’m like, he’s kind of an eccentric one, you know, that, OK, that works and so forth. And so I settled on that and then I’m going along and I thought I think the thought was, I want to eat ice cream. And then I go, Oh, that’s Ringo who says, I want to eat ice cream. And then I’m like, no, I don’t. But then it was the trip was who is saying that? Because does my body want it? Does my spirit want it, does something else want it? And it was like, is the mind over here and my body is going this way? And it was really a strange phenomenon.
Steven Hayes [00:57:51] Well, you know, this is the back to the you’re the mayor of a city. Yeah. You know, and just in the written record, you know, Julian James origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind and all that. But we’re still there with reading. I knew Julian actually, he’s dead now, but he was a crazy old coot, and wonderful man. But, you know, in the written record, we would experience these kind of thoughts as voices in our heads. You know the oracles of Delphi didn’t seem strange to anybody. Right now it’s all you talk about. You’re here in the middle, please. Now, back then, everybody heard voices and you had restrictions. You’re not supposed to say God’s name. Well, why? For the same reason that at little league you don’t get to say “swing” in from the stands. The umpire will come over and throw you out if you do that, because little kids can’t help but swing when you say swing. It’s unfair because you know they haven’t yet learned how to inhibit the command effects of language. And so it’s all over our culture, you know, how powerful that is and it’s in your your own individual history, but then you disappear into it. In the modern world, we actually so empower that voice and we put it on steroids with science and technology and the ability to sort of, you know, dial in, which is our own favorite screams and so forth with this Ideograph world we’re now in. But if you don’t know how to rein it in, you’re in some trouble. And not just that way, you know, it isn’t just that. Can I say something that I think of? It in the past, only the most spiritually aware and thoughtful people would be thinking about what’s happening on the other side of the planet right now or what’s going to happen in future generations, or this whole extension of time, place, and person that produces kind of an oceanic awareness that we’re all part of a big system and what happens in one area influences everything. That’s actually so, I think. And it’s one of the most advanced and spiritual, no, it’s not that.
Brilliant Miller [01:00:16] It’s anybody with Twitter.
Steven Hayes [01:00:17] Anybody! I know what the infection rate was of covid in Brazil yesterday. My wife’s Brazilian. I follow it. You know, I know what time it is right now in the U.K. and in Australia and by the way, in two hours I can have a meeting that will have. All three of those places in the meeting, but not now because it’s too early, in Australia it’s 3:00 in the morning. The next day. So we’ve produced a world where you have a constant diet of pain, you can see any sick thing that happens instantaneously. Somebody throws the kids off a bridge, you can see it. You know, people live stream their mass shootings now. You know, pain, judgment, constant flow of judgment and comparison. Now that person has gold plated doorknobs, you know, or a
Brilliant Miller [01:01:17] jet like the royal family’s jets that are gold, everything inside.
Steven Hayes [01:01:23] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And their Instagram posts look so lovely. And I would remind fliers and likes on every post content of the post. So you got exposure to the two page judgment comparison at the same time you’ve got an expansion of consciousness. That didn’t happen before except by extraordinary reading, education, and spiritual work so that you’re carrying an expanded awareness across time, place and person and normal is broken down. It’s now up to you even what’s true? What’s false. What you’re up to, you know. Wow, that means our kids have got to be like baby booties tomorrow. And instead, we’re feeding feeding them, you know, if you have the right beer, the right house, right and money the right and enough we’re feeding them crap or feeding cotton candy bullshit and we’re reaping the wind for it. You know, the suicide rates, anxiety, depression, substance abuse in the midst of plenty. Yeah. You know, lower violence, lower malnutrition, better everything except mental and behavioral health. It’s like a mockery. You know, we solved all our problems and we’re worse off. So, gosh, I’m in, another rant.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:48] OK, well, I’m I know that, as you said,
Steven Hayes [01:02:53] defusion, let me finish, if you can’t, from me at this point of awareness, reign in the excesses of the logical, symbolic reasoning, problem solving mind. All of those challenges will be mishandled. And you don’t have a prayer of being more emotionally open in the press focused on your values. You can’t afford it. You’re still trying to figure out what’s really capital T truth or you don’t even know you’re doing it. You disappeared into it like that 50 year old who just woke up to the voice within. No.
Brilliant Miller [01:03:29] Yeah, thank you. Thank you for that. Well, before we move on to the lightning lightning round, I know we’ve covered so much and there’s so much more we could be curious. By the way, some of my guests know how many words they’ve written. Do you happen to have any idea of your many words?
Steven Hayes [01:03:46] No, I know it’s got to be millions, many millions but I don’t Know how big it is. So there’s seven books and almost seven hundred articles.
Brilliant Miller [01:03:57] Well, is there anything else in this conversation that you think might be of service to the listener or anything else, whether it’s in A Liberated Mind or or in your work? Something that’s fascinating you presently before we transition?
Steven Hayes [01:04:11] Well, it’s hard to be human, and I think we’re on a journey, and you can see around us the stumbling that we’re doing culturally, but you can also see around us the courage and creativity that is there. And if I’m going to bet, I’m betting on humanity, you know, I’m betting we do manage the immigration crisis and the inequities and the climate change crisis and the racism that’s there that we, the tribal primates evolved so that the tribe, is all of us and we find a way to cooperate and to focus on what’s important. And we’ve done that in so many ways, and now it’s time to do that with our own psychology and the cultural extensions of that and behavioral science is the weakling at the door, all these advances that we have with our technology and so forth, the physical sciences, and even though we have challenges like covid and so forth, the psychologists are there to talk about, oh, you’re depressed, but they’re not there to talk about how we can get people to wear masks. But they can be I posted a study about that I’d done 30 years ago that had a huge effect on mask wearing, but, you know, so I don’t want to turn it over to traditional psychology, but I do want to say. Let’s work together to use the best of us and and our traditions that allow us to step up to human complexity without reductionism, that use science for the best of us, and that, you know, give proper attention, due weight to those things that are in our novels, and in our poems, and in our music. There’s yearning for meaning and purpose and being whole human beings. We can figure this thing out. We can learn how to do this. But it’s going to it’s going to take time. It’s going to take all hands on deck.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:08] Yeah, we all, as you’re saying, we all have a part to play.
Steven Hayes [01:06:12] We all have a part to play. Yeah. As you move, you know what? If you move, like on this psychological flexibility, your children move, your coworkers move, it goes at least four steps out. The people you know, the people they know, and the people they know, all statistically reliably move when you move. And so if you want to predict whether or not your kids are going to be having those problems or not, work on yourself, work on your own psychological flexibility, because that’s what most predicts, whether or not they will step up to their challenges because they’re watching you. And that parental thing of, you know, don’t do as I do or do as I say is bullshit. That’s not what happens. So it’s all of our responsibility to be the best human beings we know how to be. And as we do that, we empower we change the world as we do that.
Brilliant Miller [01:07:12] I love that, and I know we didn’t talk about it, and I won’t go won’t ask you to go on to it, but that the whole thing about relational frame theory, you know, and to me, just a little bit that I’ve learned about indigenous traditions and about how all things really are interconnected and everything exists in relation. There’s something very profound, very, very profound about that.
Steven Hayes [01:07:33] If you dig into psychological flexibility and you start finding monks and indigenous peoples and you know, and I love that about, I say it’s like coming into a clearing and it’s beautiful and spectacular. It’s wonderful. And you saw nobody on your path. But when you get there, there’s like scores of people in the clearing and they have many different paths to get there. And I say this must be an important place. I don’t say my way is the only way, you know, so, yeah, I think it’s kind of cool that scientists are in there now with places that only the monks were there. And as I just said, our kids are being asked through the change in consciousness that has happened from that incredibly powerful computer you carry in your pocket are being asked to have a mindset that only the most advanced human beings on the planet used to have and to be tempted to really horrifically horrible ideas about how to manage that. So, boy, I think we might find a lot of people in that clearing.
Brilliant Miller [01:08:45] Yeah, I love that. That reminds me too what you’re saying, both about the kids and the network and what our younger generations are being asked or challenged to do. Something I read that Buckminster Fuller wrote about our children are our elders in universe time because they enter a universe which is more fully formed than the one that we came into.
Steven Hayes [01:09:08] Exactly like. That’s awesome.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:10] OK, well, thank you for that. Being mindful of time here, we’ll go to the enightning Lightning round, again, a series of questions and variety of topics. Before we go there. How are you doing?
Steven Hayes [01:09:22] I’m doing great and I have the time. I have a hard stop at the top of the hour, but OK, go beyond if you want. Yeah, we’ll be OK.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:30] Question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than “a box of chocolates”. Life is like a:
Steven Hayes [01:09:39] A journey towards a lighthouse in the distance.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:48] OK, question number two here, I’m borrowing the question that I learned from Peter Thiel, the technologist and inventor, he asks: What important truths do very few people agree with you on?
Steven Hayes [01:10:04] Our thoughts are not about mapping onto what is capital T truth, it’s about creating a way forward that allows us to accomplish what’s of importance to us.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:18] OK, thank you. Question number three, if you were required, I know this might be a stretch, but if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or phrase or saying or quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Steven Hayes [01:10:34] Love isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. OK, which I attach in every email I said.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:40] I was just about to say, I wanted to point out a couple of things about that, that that’s in your email signature, as is your home phone number and your cell number, which is pretty brave and pretty generous,.
Steven Hayes [01:10:51] My wife scolds me on occasional when a crazy calls, but surprisingly, few.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:57] OK, question number four, what book other than one of your own, which I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but you’ve now written just about one book for every year of your adult life. Yeah, right. But setting those aside, what book other than one of your own have you gifted or recommended most often?
Steven Hayes [01:11:21] Oh. Walden two actually. BF Skinner’s book. Now, why that book? It’s misunderstood horribly and doesn’t always land well, but it. Is the core of my journey of, you know, if you go to the group that’s developing ACT, they have a motto, “creating a behavioral science more adequate to the challenge of the human condition.” And what this rat running weirdo in the lab wrote about early on in his academic career is, what if we could create behavioral principles that are so precise and broadly applicable and scalable that they could tell us how to arrange our world in such a way that we get to be whole and free human beings, that we get to be more fully who we are. People misinterpreted the thinking, he was saying, I have the answer. That’s not what he was saying, he said. That’s the challenge of behavioral science. And I believe that is the challenge of humanity itself. That’s the journey we’re on. And I want behavioral science to foster and support that.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:34] Now is a beautiful question, a beautiful vision. OK, question number five, so you’ve traveled a lot, you travel a lot, maybe interrupted by the pandemic, but what’s one travel haak, meaning something you do when you travel or something you take with you to make that travel less painful and more enjoyable?
Steven Hayes [01:12:54] Actually, I like to take, you know, take some of space lounging clothes, I want warm socks, comfortable athletic pants and a comfortable, loose fitting kind of athletic shirt, usually long sleeve, because sometimes it’s cold that will allow me to sit in a hotel room or whatever and feel as though I’m at home with my feet up. So I pack not just business clothes and things people see. I pack comfortable lounging clothes and sometimes even slippers, but those are so big and bulky that I usually leave my favorite slippers behind, but that’s an indulgence. I don’t know how many times I’ve been thankful for that, but it’s often.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:52] OK, question number six, what is one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age? Well.
Steven Hayes [01:14:01] I think the single biggest thing I’ve done is keep my values at the forefront. I have little signs, I’ve got triggers, and you do to, you know I’m wearing a wedding ring. I lost my good one and I bought this. I think Wal-Mart, because it’s just a simple thing. But the big diamond thing, I kind of lost. And you have things like that, you have pictures of people you love. You know, my mother’s picture is not far away. She’s dead now. My wedding pictures right over there. Picture of my children aged now 51 15, spread out in such a way that I’ve been in my home for 50 years. A break in the developmental period when Stevie goes to college. And I. I have little rituals to remind myself of that. I’ve said this a few times, my wife hasn’t busted me, and I think it’s because she doesn’t watch these things, but, you know, I kissed this ring every morning, for example. Wow. And so even if she’s been a pain in the ass last night. It doesn’t matter, you know, this day is about me being the best husband and mate and partner that I can be. And same true with my work and my children and the people that have served and why does that help with aging? Well, you know, there’s actually data on this that psychological flexibility, skills, emotional openness, mindfulness, values, focus. You literally have longer telomeres. You know, your cells aren’t, you know, aging as fast. It’s literally true. But because the epigenetic up and down regulation of needless stress related systems, some of which you came by honestly, and I’m a child of a person who was Jewish by the maternal line, or half her aunts and uncles died in ovens and her aristocratic German father in the rise of German nationalism became a Nazi sympathizer and told her things like don’t tell people you have tainted blood. So she’s got the epigenetic impact of the Holocaust and of a Nazi father. Think about it. I didn’t find that out till I was 16 and I didn’t find out that her mother committed suicide until two years ago. Wow. And so why do they make that point? Because, you know, I came into the world prepared for harshness and no wonder I developed panic disorder because my mother lived an incredibly harsh life. Incredibly harsh, cruel. Even though she had a loving husband and wonder, you know, loving family, so who knows? You don’t even know why it’s hard to believe some of it may be hard to be you because you’ve got epigenetic regulation of gene systems being passed down through your grandparents. Yeah, and if you can find a way to allow yourself to be open, to carry your history in a way that’s not a burden, to show up to the present moment and focus on what’s important and not sweat the small stuff, you wake up in the morning ready to go for that next day because it’s. Wonderful that you get one more day to make a difference. And so I don’t know, maybe it’s not so, but it does feel as though people sort of usually look at me and say you’re how old? And they’re a little surprised. I’m turning 73 on my next birthday. And I’m looking forward to the projects that will last 20 years, so we’ll see some more action.
Steven Hayes [01:18:02] Well, thank you. Question number seven, what’s what’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Steven Hayes [01:18:13] Oh, golly, you’re part of a big world. And some of the stories we’ve been told are lies. America, the U.S. is a special place, but it’s also a place with a dark history. We’re here at the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre. We don’t even know where the bodies are buried. There are hidden so fast. We don’t know what happened to those businesses that were destroyed, not just the lives that were killed, but the theft of the land that happened and you know, a mayor who’s talking positively but saying no to reparations and I’m going, really? Really? That you can go in and I mean, Germany is still paying reparations to Jewish people. You know. So I don’t know, I mean, I, when I travel in the world, I so much appreciate being American, but I also am afraid sometimes or ashamed sometimes over how much we still have to do and how hard it is for us to really face the dark parts of our history and take responsibility for it and not just say, you know, South Africa should do that, or russia should do that, or
Brilliant Miller [01:19:41] whether that’ll work in New Zealand or Canada, but not not so much here
Steven Hayes [01:19:46] You know, I go to New Zealand, I look up and see how they treat their native peoples. And I thought, wow, this is so much more progressive. And yes, they did all the things to the Maori. Absolutely. But also they have a multicultural society, as we say we have, that is really respectful of the native peoples in a way that we haven’t even begun to think about. And the Supreme Court is saying, oh, by the way, they own most of Oklahoma. They do. What are you going to do about that? You know, so, you know, when you anyway, I don’t want to go in or out there, but I would. So I appreciate what we have, but also show up to how much we still have to do and how unfair some of the building went on, how it happened through slavery and capturing resources and so forth. Never have been looked at in a responsible way,
Brilliant Miller [01:20:51] just just to pull in this a little bit longer. Briefly, I have great hope and faith that the things you’re teaching are exactly what will allow us to do that. When you talk about avoidance and turning toward the monster. Right. Which people who know they. That doesn’t mean much now, but that idea of not turning from the cause of pain because it never works out well,.
Steven Hayes [01:21:13] You take the stigma and prejudice and all the things places we’ve seen it from, the me too gender things to what we’re seeing in terms of race and class. And ones we’re not even talking about yet, nobody is talking about attractiveness. And, for example, the single most powerful demographic stigma that I know of, you can do ugly jokes to this day. Nobody will pull you aside, you can’t do racial jokes anymore, can’t do it. Fat jokes, even fat jokes are disappearing but ugly jokes you can do. So, you know, we’ve got we’ve got a long way to go. But, you know, in those areas, when we looked at what’s underneath all those different forms of prejudice and stigma, we found a single factor, authoritarian distancing, that explained all of it. Number one. And it was explained by weakness and perspective taking. When you take perspective,, weakness and empathy. Or if you take perspective and have empathy, inability to not avoid, in other words, being open to the pain of seeing people when they’re part of a sexual minority or a racial minority or non privileged group to seeing the costs, the human cost. So the psychological flexibility thing of this sense of self, which is linked not just to you, but to others, that Mama’s Eyes moment is you in connection with others, consciousness is social, this empathetic reaction that is built in mirror neurons and all the rest that you have to almost work to not have. And then these suppressive avoidant processes that don’t allow us to learn from our emotional connections to see the pain of others. And that last one’s most important because the camera we’re back here will force the first two on you. When you saw that Syrian mama with her three year old bloated body on the beach because it fell out of the inflatable raft, that moment the camera gave you perspective, taking her tears, gave you some kind of form that sort of looks like empathy. But you had to decide. Whether you’re open to that and will take on that pain. And do something about it that will turn that kind of acceptance into compassion and nobody’s training that. Other than the mental health people and a few wise cultural change people and the harshness that then comes, that leads to people standing in front of school busses screaming at four year olds, get out. Which actually happened in Arizona, adult men and women stood and yelled at four year olds. Because they had the wrong skin color and came from the wrong place, you know, that that last one, if it’s not there, you know, what are we going to do and you can see pain and horror around you in the world, you’re going to shut yourself down objectified, dehumanized. That’s why it predicts all forms of prejudice, all forms. You become that rigid person who says up and down, authoritarian distancing, I’m different and I’m better and I got to keep them down and out. So that means yelling at school busses “I’ll do it?” Yeah, you’re going to pay with your longevity, with the softening of your heart, with your capacity to love and connect, because that emotional squeeze down is squeezing you down. Dude, Hitler died an unhappy man. There’s no way he didn’t. So we put things into the world through science and technology without the behavioral and psychological supports we need to turn them into good instead of evil. And psychological flexibility is a big chunk of that. I think that is true. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:27] OK, coming down the stretch. Question number eight, what’s the most important and useful thing you’ve learned about making relationships work?
Steven Hayes [01:25:37] Well. There are these flexibility processes that actually we have meta analysis with like tens of thousands of relationships followed over time and what predicts them. And yet some of these same skills. But let me do it in a social way. I’ve learned I need to listen and not just speak. I’ve learned that when people close to me are sharing with me, they’re not always asking me to solve their problems. They don’t want instrumental advice, they want compassion and connection. They want to feel as though they’re not alone. They want to know that they matter. They want to know that you’re with them and that you will have their back. And that if there is something to do, in the world of behavior, that you’ll take those steps, but they’re usually not even usually asking for that. They’re asking for your full psychological presence, and so that means sitting with discomfort, not being the the one who knows the answers, not being the smart guy and not just letting your Problem-Solving mind get going. It means slowing down, showing up. And hanging onto your values and, you know, my wife will tell you that focus of my work on psychological rigidity and emotional avoidance came by it. I came by it naturally, not because I was great at it, but precisely because I wasn’t. And all the way to the point that I couldn’t even hardly breathe and go to sleep and talk to five undergraduate’s. And I’m still on a journey of learning how to be better at being a loving person and, you know, I pray, even though maybe I’m an atheist, maybe I’m agnostic, that I still pray that if there’s one thing I can have, it’s to be a more loving person who’s able to be that kind of person for others.
Brilliant Miller [01:27:45] Well, well, for what it’s worth, I just want to reflect back to you that, to me is very evident. That that that’s something that you’re committed to and and that you strive for. So. OK, final question in the enlightning lightning round. Aside from compound interest, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money?
Steven Hayes [01:28:11] Uh. Money without values is a mockery. It’s a torture. And. If you don’t have a clear vision of what it’s for and there for isn’t something that is a choice that you have, not something you have to do, should do, must do to or other people are disappointed otherwise. If it isn’t part of that value space journey, it will mock every step you take. It’ll hollow your life out and I’ve been pretty good at avoiding money for a long time, in part for fear of it. My mother actually feared that, I think. Uh. I’ve learned to be a little more comfortable with it, but it is a challenge because you can really feel the pull for it to matter in and of itself. And it doesn’t. Matter in and of itself, I mean, yes, of course, beyond a certain thing of being able to meet your basic needs, but that’s the level of the average income of Bangladesh. I mean, it’s so low that happiness and economics pivots across the nations, and there’s Bangladesh. I mean, that’s. And then it all is predictive. Yeah, and within the lives of individuals, you can see it, you can see it around you. And so. I love being around people who really have that clear, whether they’re successful or not, because then money isn’t as fearsome and when you have it, you can do some good stuff. But I don’t mean just given the way in charity. I don’t mean that. No, not at all. I mean, sometimes money can be used to build infrastructure about things that make a long term difference, that is values based and the way you’re using it. You know, like if I can give you an example and I’m really working hard or trying to build apps and supports for psychological flexibility that I can put into schools and workplaces and church groups and things like that. I’m working hard on that and that takes money to do that. There’s money to be made from it too, but that’s down the road. So that doesn’t look like writing a check to the Multiple Sclerosis Society and my sister is bedridden with M.S. and yeah, I write those checks, but. I also work really hard about how we can do things like build the technological tools to be able to put some of the best behavioral science into people’s lives, and do it in a way that doesn’t get captured by the pursuit of money. For example where are the data housed so you don’t accidentally do Facebook for evil instead of Facebook for good? You know one of the things that the modern era has told us. I mean, even Google no longer says its motto is to not do evil right now. It eliminated that as a model because it was a mockery, because you can’t do what google was doing without doing evil. You can’t. Nor can Facebook, because they weren’t wise enough. Early enough. With what could have been done. With the access to data about how eyeballs behave. But I’m not saying that to condemn anyone there, you know, they would have taken a lot of wisdom that now that we have it, if you’re interested in get to that space, you better think about it because. You know, money and success will produce its own momentum now, no doubt.
Brilliant Miller [01:32:28] OK, well, congratulations, you’ve survived the enlightening lightning round and one thing as we leave it, I’ll tell you. Speaking of money, I have gone to keva.org, the micro lending site that supports entrepreneurs around the world. And I’ve made a hundred dollar microloan to a woman in the Philippines named Geniza who will use this money. She’s actually going to use this money to buy a toilet for her family. So, she also does run a little general store in the Philippines. So at any rate, thank you for giving me a reason to to go make a loan to somebody. And by the way, I won’t make the interest on that. Assuming it gets repaid. It will actually be the people who facilitate the loan. So it’s a virtuous cycle I think, it will go to support her.
Steven Hayes [01:33:11] Sure. That’s awesome. And I love that microloaning thing when it gets dialed and it’s really working, it really is such a wonderful example.
Brilliant Miller [01:33:20] Yeah, for sure. Well, obviously people can find you, they can find your books on Amazon or hopefully at their local bookseller, people can find you through a Google search. But are there any particular you URLs, websites, social media handles that you would direct people who want to learn more from you or about you
Steven Hayes [01:33:38] if they were to follow my newsletters and things like that, I don’t spam people on and it’s a one click opt out, but they can just go to my name Dotcom StevenCHayes.Com. Would be interested to see why he all one word. No period. StevenCHayes.com and click on “yes, please send it to me” and I’ll send you a newsletter that will have my blogs and links to podcasts like this about once a month. If you have any professional interests and psychological flexibility and professional, it doesn’t mean that you’re a psychotherapist, it could mean you’re a teacher, you’re a coach, you’re a business person. You know, you’re not a teacher. You’re doing anything. Where in your professional life or just in your life, but not as a patient not that part and you want to learn about psychological flexibility, consider joining the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. We don’t call it the Association for ACT because I don’t care about ACT, really. But I care about is a science tradition that can do a better job of rising to the challenge of the human condition and, you know, acquiring that process knowledge that gives people tools they can use that when you learn in one area, you can apply it to other areas. And i’d say that’s a yes, that’s ten thousand people around the world. About forty thousand people have been members over the 16 year history, but it’s one of the fastest growing behavioral science organizations in the world, with forty seven chapters and twenty five different languages and some very large ones and countries around the world, about half the members in North America. But you can join and we have values based dues, meaning you pay what you think it’s worth. Based on your ability to pay so some people pay several hundred dollars and some people pay 12, 12 is the minimum because Elsevier has a free journal that comes with membership and they take most of that money. But go to contextualscience.org. Whether your physical medical payroll’s scientist or just the person who uses that in some way, you’ll find special interest groups and a really wonderful community that is accepting and nonjudgmental, but values focus that will support you in learning about these processes and using them. And if I can mention one other thing, since I’m a science guy and I think science matters, just today we’ve posted our latest round of randomized trials. Randomized trials aren’t the be all and end all of science, they’re not, but they’re one good way of figuring out what works. And if you go to a Bitly link, bit.ly/ACTRCTs , you’ll see what we just posted today. We knew we were going past 500, so we made a big deal about it. We did a really careful look at what’s out there and we’re now at six hundred and sixteen randomized trials. So you can go to that page and put in anything you’re interested in; pain, adolescents, diabetes, anything, almost anything. And don’t put it in a search term on the page that search the whole site, put it in your Web browser term search thing. (CMD -F orCTRL -F) So it searches that page. You’ll see a study and the link to it that will allow you to work with your agencies, your business, your schools, your church group, your whatever, to begin to learn how to put these processes into people’s lives. And the fellow travelers, the ones that are linked, you know, the compassion, focus therapy people and the rest of the mindfulness crew and so forth. Those are the two things I give you, our professional group and my website.
Brilliant Miller [01:37:39] Very cool. Thank you. Well, if I know we’re just at our time and I wonder if you’d be willing to answer two questions related writing and then we’ll be done. Sure. OK, awesome. So the first question and I’ll tell you the second one so you can have it in mind as you answer. The first question is what habits and routines do you have when it comes to writing that allow you to be so prolific? That’s the first thing. And the second thing is what advice or encouragement would you give to those listening who are either there on their own creative writing journeys or it’s a dream they’ve harbored for a long time to to write and publish a book.
Steven Hayes [01:38:19] Well, a couple of things. One thing, writing is a skill, and the more you write, write. The more you write better, the more you write better. So don’t overthink it. You know, if you’re wanting to be a writer, the time to start writing is today. Today, I mean, I don’t care if you write in the same sentence over and over again like some sort of, you know, penalty of being in elementary school, at least it gets your typing moving or your fingers moving and you’ll find that the page begins to speak to you. So that’s one. If you want to be a writer right a lot. My daughter just got her masters. She was in film and so forth. But she was at brisby, kind of the Ivy League version of of film and art school. But Rhode Island School of Design. But now she’s gotten a master’s in creative writing. And that is one wonderful kind of a fellowship at Colgate, you know, en route to becoming a teacher of creative writing. My daughter is a wonderful creative writer, Camille. My youngest is Ester Hayes and is working right now on kind of a novel or a kind of autobiographical piece and has been in publishing. So I’ve lived in this world and I do know that that’s the most important thing that the the things in terms of how I then have been able to write a lot as I’m the kind of person who does my best writing when other people are part of the process, so almost all of my publications, almost all my books, all my articles, et cetera, are with others. And I have regular meetings, we do outlines, we do drafts, we do shares, and we have commitments. Because if I’m looking at my computer and I know I’ve got several things to do and I’ve always got, you know, Gmail that I can look at, etc. and write a post to the, you know, act for the public listserv. By the way, that’s another link. If you want to find if you’re reading an excel, go to groups.io and search for “act for the public”. Wonderful group. Two thousand people have been going for 10 years and I write some of my best stuff there, actually. And then I send it to the guy who helps me with my blogs, and that’s how it turns in the blogs. But. Just having other people knowing that over the next week, I think I hope to have that chapter done, those five pages done, that outline done, makes all the difference to me and the discussion groups that I have when I’m writing a major piece. I have meetings every week, and often we’re kind of looking at each other and we’re not really sure. And in that case, I don’t stop the meeting. We meet for the time we said we’re going to meet and we just talk. And so I start writing now, but also find something that supports you. Now, I don’t do that every morning from seven a.m. to nine a.m. Other people do that. BF Skinner did that and wrote a lot of stuff. I just can’t. I am a binge writer more. And so a lot of my books have been done this way. OK, I’ll tell you what. I’ll fly to be with you for two weeks. Give me a room. I won’t dominate the family. Just give me a room and we can meet for two hours a day and put me in the basement and I’ll come out with words. At least of my 47 books. Fifteen have been written that way with one or two, two to three binges of seven to 14 days.
Brilliant Miller [01:42:28] How do you manage that with your other with your other responsibilities and your family and your health?
Steven Hayes [01:42:33] Yeah, my wife has to really tolerate it. And I, I clear it the way I would a vacation and usually there’s enough arc on books, I don’t do this as much as articles, where you’ve got a year or whatever to do it. And so I can schedule a week or two and then we’ll see. And if it’s being written with them, they’re doing it too. So, you know, even in a single seven day period, you might have most of it written and that’s actually going to happen. If it’s really well thought out, you have those meetings, you have the outline, you’ve done something, you land it with your resources. And now you know that when you come out for that next meeting, here are the pages. And, you know, if you’re multitasking on Gmail, you’re not going to be able to do it. When I wrote “A Liberated Mind”, it was a heavy lift because I said, OK, 40 years of work, I’m going to write my life story plus my life’s work, plus the self-help features that people can use it and a bit of the story of the science community. And I’m going to do it just myself. Well, actually, originally it wasn’t just myself. I was going to do it with John Cloud, who wrote the book, the article in Time in 2006 that gave me my five minutes of fame of a well-known reporter for Time magazine. But he ended up not being able to write it with me because of some psychological things that showed up and then he died. Wow. The psychological ones actually came because we ask reporters to do incredibly hard things like dash to Sandy Hook and knock on the doors and talk to parents within 24 hours of learning that their kindergartners have been machine gunned to death. Or dash to the World Trade Center and look what a body looks like when it hits concrete at two hundred and fifty miles an hour and they liquify. John would call them calm puddle people, they turned into puddles. That’s what happens. The bones literally liquefy at that speed. Why am I telling that story? I’m telling that story because it’s not very often for me to write a book on my own. I tried not to write this book on my own and the way that I got through it after I couldn’t write it with John anymore. And then he died during the writing is I got a wonderful editor and took a lot of my advance and paid her to write it. Not write it with me, but to ride herd over me in such a way that I could. So that’s just me. That’s not everybody, but I’m enough of an eh I’ll do it tomorrow that I can’t do the first thing I just said “start writing today” without social help. I’m just a social guy and I just can’t do it. I can, but I don’t.
Brilliant Miller [01:45:37] Yeah, that’s all the way back to the very, very beginning of this conversation to about environment.
Steven Hayes [01:45:41] And so so I organize my environment so that I’m writing all the time and I’m headed into retirement now. But that’s not going to change. And that one book a year thing will probably, if anything, maybe even accelerate.
Brilliant Miller [01:45:56] OK, so I know you just covered so much and a lot of that was maybe could be classified as advice and things people could apply. But is there a final thought, final encouragement. Final help you would leave listeners with related to writing or anything else.
Steven Hayes [01:46:11] Well, there would be and I and I want to say this in a way that doesn’t get people into a cul de sac. If you ask people about it and these questions that you’ve asked people, you know, what really keeps them going, etc., what advice they would give, they go back and meet themselves, the young person of advice to give. And usually it’s something like, you know, it’s OK, follow your bliss, some sort of thing that says be you and let what you really care about be the center of the focus. The problem with that is that if I say that to young people, sometimes they say, I don’t know what I care about. And it’s almost sounds like I’m saying to them, be selfish. So let me do it this way. When you’re thinking about your writing or yourself and other ways for people who are listening to this for other purposes, do just a little trick of mind like this. Imagine that your life has unfolded spectacularly well and you’re looking back at yourself now at this moment, knowing full well what’s going on the inside, because, you know, it used to be you. And take a little time to actually picture that, and picture what you’re like now and what it might be like to have that poignant thing of being able to look back at yourself and see yourself sitting here with this hairdo, these clothes, these things, these conflicts, these conundrums, these fears, these inadequacies and insecurities, these all of that. What do you think you might say to yourself, the wiser future as to really what’s of importance for you here now? I sometimes do that in another way of picking a guide or a hero, taking a little time to imagine them looking at you. And what might they say to you, you can do it that way if it’s too weird to think that you will have a wiser future, that you will evolve, you will one day look back. With some appreciation, but probably also with a sense of I wish I knew enough then to be able to say and some of what you’re about to say in that moment, you know now, you just don’t know that you know it now. So I’ll amplify out this, follow the bliss part of you to say work on your own psychological skills to learn how to be a whole person inside your own skin with your history, your circumstances, but also with your aspirations, yearning, values and caring. And what if your needs, your yearnings are valid? What if you belong here? What if you don’t have to earn and prove that you’re a whole human being? What if it’s really OK to be you? And what if the challenge here is how to be more fully who you already are? And knowing that you don’t just go like that and have a clarity of answer. Would you be willing to walk into that place where you don’t know and yet you have faith, faith in that original Latin root fedes as it meant fidelity? That you have the fidelity with yourself to with fidelity, with confidence, not as an emotion, but as a leap of action, of a risk leaping into the void and with the self fidelity that you will be caught. And carried by your own wholeness and caring. How do you want to take these next moments and what do you want to put on that page? It’s blank right now if you’re a writer. And I hope that’s helpful to folks.
Brilliant Miller [01:49:58] Yeah, I think it will be, I think it is. So thank you. OK, well, we’ll go ahead and wrap up now. Again today, my guest, Stephen C. Hayes. His book, A Liberated Mind; How to Pivot toward What Matters. Thank you, everyone, for listening. Thank you, Steven, for being here. You’re so generous with your time and your experience and your wisdom. Very grateful.
Brilliant Miller [01:50:19] Thank you, Brilliant. I know I’m not the first to say, that was Brilliant. Thank you so much.
[01:50:23] Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for Good Living podcast. Before you take off, I just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs, or relationships that don’t work, or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education, or they live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better, consider signing up for the School for Good Living’s Transformational Coaching Program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through, whether you’ve just graduatied or you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve gotten married, headed into retirement, starting a business, been married for a long time, whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine month program will give you the opportunity to go deep in every area of your life to explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable. To realize more of your unrealized potential can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, it’s designed to help you live with greater health, happiness, and meaning so that you can be, do, have, and give more. Visit GoodLiving.com to learn more or to sign up today.
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