Neal Allen is a spiritual coach and a speaker whose chief concern is removing obstacles of the ego. Neal has written a book called Better Days: Tame Your Inner Critic, the subject of most of our conversation here today. This is Neal’s second time on the School for Good Living podcast after our first conversation about his book called Shapes of Truth: Discover God Inside You.
In this interview on the School for Good Living Podcast, Neal joins me to talk about our inner critic. Sometimes Neal refers to it as a parasite. You might call it your conscience or your superego. But Neal distinguishes that it is not you. It’s a part of you. He talks about how it forms, what its purpose is, and how we can live healthier, happier lives when we learn to manage our inner critic and make space for our authentic self. We also talk about how we can live with less anxiety, have more fulfilling relationships, and be more content more often. In this conversation, Neal also shares what he learned from a six-month experiment he conducted in his own life where he said yes to every opportunity, invitation, and request that was made to him and what he learned from it.
“It’s not necessary to seek for love, only to find and remove the obstacles we’ve built against it.” – Neal Allen
This week on the School for Good Living Podcast:
- Neal’s belief and practice that people are naturally respectful
- Saying yes to everything for 6 months and its lasting impact on Neal
- Defining and overcoming “the parasite”, “the gremlin”, and the superego
- Turning Win, Lose, or Draw into Yes, No, or Maybe
Neal Allen [00:00:00] It really helped me integrate my spiritual life into my everyday life, because the spiritual life has notions of acceptance and surrender and being present, which means not denying what is not searching for something slightly better.
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. Hello, my friends. Today my guest is Neal Allen. Neal is a writer. He’s a spiritual coach and he’s a speaker whose chief concern is removing obstacles of the ego. Neal has written a book called Better Days Tame Your inner critic, the subject of most of our conversation here today. We talk about what is the inner critic. Sometimes Neal refers to it as a parasite. You might call it your conscience, your super ego, something like that. But Neal distinguishes that it is not you. It’s a part of you. He talks about how it forms, what its purpose is, how we can live healthier, happier lives. When we turn its volume down and we make space for our authentic self, how we can live with less anxiety, how we can have more fulfilling relationships, how we can be more content more often. It’s pretty cool gig. In this conversation, I ask Neal if you will share with me what he learned from a six-month experiment that he conducted in his own life. At one point of saying yes to every opportunity, every invitation, every request that was made of him, why he did that and what it was like. You can learn more about Neal and his work at ShapesofTruth.com. And with that, I hope you enjoy and benefit from this conversation with my friend Neal Allen. Neal, welcome back to the School for Good Living.
Neal Allen [00:02:07] Hey, Brilliant.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:08] Good to see you. You know, some friends text every day. They talk every day. Some people correspond through the mail. I feel like we learn about each other’s lives through our books. I caught up on your life a little bit by reading your most recent book, Better Days.
Neal Allen [00:02:22] Yeah. Yeah, it does reflect what I’ve been thinking about for the last few years. And I have this general way in life where I’ll notice that I’m thinking about something about midway through, thinking about it, right? And so, I have these phases of life that last a few weeks or six months or a couple of years, and sometimes they more than one’s going on and all of a sudden I’ll it’ll dawn on me. Oh, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Which means that’s the portion of the divine life that I have been exploring for the last few months. And usually by the time it becomes conscious to me, it’s 80% worked out. And then I get to watch it consciously for how, a week longer or a few months longer or a year longer. And this book feels like that, right? It emerged from my clientele and, you know, specific teachings that had been brought to me earlier before I had a clientele. But a lot of it, I just it emerged quite organically from what I was doing. And so, when I did my research for it, my research didn’t have to prove its value to me, and my research just had to backfill some questions that the readers would have. Hmm.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:49] Awesome. I definitely want to jump into that, and I want to start by exploring something and then I hope this will become evident Why? This is where I want to start. But I didn’t have any idea about this experiment. You tried one time in your life for about six months to just say yes to everything that was requested of you or maybe offered to you. Will you talk about what that was like? When did you do it? What were the results like? What did you learn? Why did you stop? You know anything and everything about the Yes experiment?
Neal Allen [00:04:19] Yeah, I was. I was the first corporation I worked for. I had a 15 year career that took me to be a corporate executive where I worked for four gigantic public corporations, one after another, and a quick succession, the last one for nine years. And the first one I worked for was the company that ultimately became known as Wyndham Hotels. We had a different name for the company, HFC Inc. and then Cendant when I worked there, and it was a franchiser of low-end hotels at the time and car rental agencies and real estate agencies. And I didn’t know it because it was my first corporation after a journalism career, but it had a very odd culture. It wasn’t command and control, it wasn’t a lovely dove happy were a matrixed organization where people get to fight for turf anyway. Right. Which is what most corporations’ cultures are nowadays.
Brilliant Miller [00:05:25] On your way to the top.
Neal Allen [00:05:26] Yeah. Climbing your way to the climber. Your way to the top. What was weird about the culture of this company was. It. It had an unwritten rule that if you were asked by anybody in the company to do anything, you simply did it. And that meant you could be asked by somebody who was three ranks below you, somebody who is three ranks above you, somebody who is adjacent to you. You simply didn’t say, No, that’s not my job. You simply, oh, if they think I’m supposed to do that, I’ll do that for them. And because it was my first corporation, I didn’t know that was weird.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:05] And that’s not normal.
Neal Allen [00:06:07] And yeah, not only not normal, but most CEOs would say that’s suicidal, right? You are just you’re going to be crippled by non-productivity, right? Because people are going to be running around doing things that make no sense or doing things that are outside of their, you know, job description. That’s got to be bad. Well, it wasn’t bad. And what I learned in retrospect when I was able to consider what had happened to me during my years at what became wisdom, I learned in retrospect that it was driven by an unknown and an unknown principle of life, which is people are fair. People really are fair. People are not predatory, people are not homicidal and dangerous to each other when unleashed on each other without, you know, proper boundaries of safety and the ability to say, no, no, no, no, no. But in social situations, I’m not talking about survival. Obviously, in a survival situation, you don’t say yes to a mugger. What you actually do say yes to a mugger, but you don’t say yes, shoot me. Right. This is social situations and work as a social situation. And the dangers are not physical. And so this is going on. And I’m later I’m learning this. This is based on a principle of fairness and. The danger of being swept away from your job description is narrowed by the by the simple fact that the greediest people are the stingiest in life. And we know that intuitively. And so the people who are tempted to ask everybody around them and above them and below them to do their own work because nobody wants to work, right? Everybody is avoiding work when they’re in a in a corporation. Those people learn very quickly if they don’t figure it out before, before they start making a lot of requests. Is that fairness includes a built in quid pro quo system. And so if you ask people to do a lot of things for you, you’ve given them the right, the internal right to ask you to do things for them. And so because the greediest people do the stingiest. The system worked and it worked beautifully. It was by far the easiest company to work for and the most successful operating company I ever worked for. I mean, it had no friction in it. Things just happened.
Brilliant Miller [00:08:56] So I want to just interject to demonstrate that you talk about needing the CEO’s like approval or feedback on something and you just faxed it right to him or send it right to him. Right? And he replied within a matter of hours or something.
Neal Allen [00:09:10] Within 45 minutes. It was just amazing. And I did you know, I was I was very low in the organization. I was a PR manager. Right. Because I had come out in newspapers. So my first job as PR manager and I, I didn’t know anything about corporations and how they actually worked. And I thought this was normal. And I remember I even remember going into his office to pick something up once I’ve forgotten what I was picking up. And, and I went and, and I was taken right into, you know, the this is a master of the universe who had a front page profile on the Wall Street Journal, whose best friends were people. You know, I assume people like Henry Kravis and who was who was just a favorite of Wall Street for a long time. And I just walked into his office and he had a bare desk. And the reason he had a he had a fax machine. He had a little computer over here and a bear desk. And the reason it was Bear, he had an Internet and outbox and he had a single secretary, I think, who just went in clearly and emptied the outbox, you know, every 15 minutes, I would presume. And things just crossed through his fax. It dealt with it right then, right that second, didn’t think twice about it and moved things on. I’m sure he had busy meetings. I’m sure there were things he had to think about very carefully. All of that was going on. But in that basic operations of the company and this was a company with 20,000 employees, right, that big like huge, you know, Darwinian pyramid that he was at the top of and in the basic operations of the company, he just assumed that what was being asked of him was appropriate and did it, and we all did that. So here I am years later. Moving into higher positions of responsibility. And I think it was probably about ten years later, probably in the early 2000. And I was working in San Francisco for another giant public corporation. Number ten on the is the biggest company you’ve never heard of a logistics company for pharmaceuticals called McKesson, Biggest Company. You’ve never heard of number ten on the Fortune 500 and U.S. public companies. And I had a high position in it. I was not you know, it was like in the third rank, there’s the C-suite and then there’s the rank below that and bunch of steps and the VP’s and I was a VP in the rank below that. So I had a lot of access to and, and. I realized and it was a very command and control company, right? It’s a logistics company. It’s all about narrow decisions in operating systems and getting things delivered on time. That’s what the company was about. And so it naturally had a fairly militaristic system to it. I was in the marketing department, so it’s always a little weird or in a little less command and control. But basically I was working for a command and control company and I was thinking and remembering back how nice it was to work for this other kind of matrix system company where you just said yes. And so I brought it into my I decided one day I’ve forgotten why, what was going on. I must have been unhappy about something I just said, Wait a minute. What if I brought this into my ordinary, everyday life? What if I just said yes to things? Would it work as well? As it were, to there. Would it work in ordinary decision making with my friends and family? And I decided to test it. And it turns out it’s not hard to do, right. You just continually people ask you to do things and you continually say yes, and they don’t have to be. Nobody was in on it. They don’t have to be in on it. And it still works, which is weird. And I found life got easier and easier over the course. And I set a six month limit. Right. And at the end of the six months, I reintroduced No, I reintroduced my own decision making, my own self righteousness, my own sense of, Oh, I know what’s right and wrong and good and bad. And I’m a big know it all. That’s the you know, that’s my baton was being a know it all and I decided and I and I brought no back in and you know what in the ten years or more since. I use no so much less in my life than I did. I trust the world and my friends and my family actually have good ideas and as good as mine most of the time for how I should spend the next 10 minutes, how I should spend the next week, how I should spend the next year. And when people give me advice, I take it.
Brilliant Miller [00:14:25] It is fascinating. And I think it’s, you know, something people, many people, myself included, are challenged by boundaries. Like what? When we, you know, we constantly or often in our culture have this FOMO, this always on something’s happening, you know, and even the whole beginning of the author right now. But he gave a TED talk on the main stage many years ago about the paradox of choice. Yeah. And so there’s this overwhelm that can come with even making any decision in the thought of just saying yes to everything. It can sound so liberating, but it can also sound so what? Like so wild?
Neal Allen [00:15:03] You know, it’s it becomes when I brought it into my personal life, it amplified my spiritual life, which was at that time fairly compartmentalized as, oh, that’s a that I have a certain amount of time during the day where I’m exploring my spiritual life, but it hadn’t really integrated yet into my regular life that it really helped me integrate my spiritual life into my everyday life, because the spiritual life has notions of acceptance and surrender and being present, which means not denying what is not searching for something slightly better. And eventually, as my life moved more and more toward a different kind of a shift in the principles that seemed to be discoverable under light into, Oh, life is following your nose. Oh, all events are about equal in magnitude. Oh, either choice is a good choice. We’re not making good versus bad choices. We’re mature adults. We’ve weeded out the bad choices, the morally impossible or morally undesirable choices. We are moral, we are fair. We’re back to the good. And that means I’m not choosing between good and bad. Bad. That is only and after as a consequence, it isn’t a prediction. I’m predicting good versus good. And just because it didn’t happen just means I’m not perfect at predicting the future. None of us is. We’re 80% people or 60% right or whatever that’s going to happen. And so I don’t make bad choices. I make good choices. And my choice is always good versus good. Not good versus bad. Not right versus wrong, but right versus right. Good versus and if I could notice that in my daily life. It would take all of the pressure off of my choices.
Brilliant Miller [00:17:05] Yeah, I can see that. And you talk about this being very much connected with the, like, spiritual development or your spiritual life, and I can see that as well from I would imagine, a lot of those. Yes. Is that you’re saying or requests for help or, you know, there’s service opportunities inherent in that.
Neal Allen [00:17:23] So weird, you know, after so I had a corporate job and I left it in my last corporate job, I think, in 2011. And I went into. Might have been 2013. I went into executive coaching, I got myself a certification, went into executive coaching just to make money. Right. And. Within a few years. I looked around at myself and I went, Wow, I’m spending my time volunteering at hospice. I’m doing executive coaching that’s turning into kind of spiritual coaching. I’m writing about things that other people say are helpful to them and everything, and I’m gardening and tending these little beings that don’t quite have the same animal life force but have some kind of life force. And I’m watching them engage in the world and I’m feeding them water and making sure they get the proper sun and stuff. And I’m and I’m feeling, you know, I’m watching them suffer and wilt and wondering, is there something to do about that? And I realize my whole life is service and I am absolutely uninterested in being a person of service. I’ve never been interested in being a person of service. But the fact is that if you get rid of the desire for fame, fortune and love and appreciation and all those sorts of things that your personality wants, if you get rid of paying attention to those, you’re just in love with the world in a in a very simple way. My fascination with the world means that I am not disconnected from either the joy or the suffering in the world, and the suffering requires action of me that seems simple and easy to deliver. It’s right there in front of me that this person’s suffering. And I am. I’m with them. And most of service, as far as I can tell. Yes, there are food banks and yes, there are all sorts of actions you can take. But the underlying sense of service is. Tell me more about your suffering and let’s get through it together.
Brilliant Miller [00:19:54] Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really beautiful. And in that inherent of that service, this connection, you know, often as you’re describing and as you write in your book, a lot of presents. So I can I can see that in and I want to make the connection. I want to this is another place I thought about starting the interview, which was a request about if you would talk about says could seem like a total shift but I will we’ll leave this together is a discussion about the parasite, what you call the parasite? Why you call it that? What it is, how it comes to be. Right. And I’ll just do a pre a preamble to this about if what you’re choosing to do from maybe a more mature consciousness is to just say yes to everything and not necessarily be at the effect of this parasite that I’m going to ask you about. It’s really interesting experiment you run.
Neal Allen [00:20:45] Yeah. So the notion of the parasite is a strong way of recognizing that, like most people, until suddenly when I was, I think 52 years old, I had always assumed that the inner critic, my conscience, my the voice telling me, oh, I can’t believe you did that again. You’re such a loser. Nobody loves you. You have to shine more. You have to do this in order to be accepted into your tribe and pulled along by the world. And you’re not. You’re going to fail at it and you procrastinate. And all those messages that are belittling and that are snarky and that will punish me for getting about making a bad choice. I thought those were me. And I think most people that I’ve run into, certainly all of the clients who have come my way, have assumed for a very long time that they were talking to themselves.
Brilliant Miller [00:21:56] Yes, I think that’s absolutely right. And I know we might go here. There’s people who aren’t even aware of having that inner voice. It’s so close to them. It seems they are not even aware. And then there are people who are aware of it, but then they just think it’s them.
Neal Allen [00:22:12] Yeah. Yeah. And if you’re not aware of it, it’s it wins. And if you think it’s you, it wins. But what happened was and it was just a I have no idea why it happened. It was just a stroke of luck, as far as I can tell. I was in with a therapist. I was coming out of a bad marriage and I had said to this therapist, I don’t feel in crisis right now, but I want to optimize my life. Well, I looked into a therapist who had studied with Fritz Perls, who’s kind of one of the fathers of the Gestalt and had studied with Carl Rogers, who was the father of what was at the time called positive psych psychology. It basically said, hold on a second, let’s remove psychology from the medical model, that there’s something wrong with you that you need to fix and put it in a non-medical model. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with you. Maybe you just need to find tools to optimize your life. Right. And so he was he was kind of the perfect setting for this to happen. And it happened. I’m talking I’m actually working into a kind of Buddhist oriented removal of identities. You know, why do I have to know myself as a father, a bad father, a good father as a worker, a bad worker, a good worker as a writer, a bad worker, a good worker? Can I remove identities? And a gremlin popped up on my shoulder.
Brilliant Miller [00:23:46] And again, you’re 52 years old at this time. You’re meeting weekly. These are weekly.
Neal Allen [00:23:52] Yes. Yes, that’s right.
Brilliant Miller [00:23:55] And you’re not in crisis. You say I’m not in crisis, but I want to optimize my life. So.
Neal Allen [00:23:59] Yeah. Yeah. And so I’m and he’s bringing me tools that I later learned. I mean, I just said they were Buddhist tools. Yeah. It’s not using any Buddhist vocabulary. He’s not using any identity vocabulary. I’m kind of he’s hinting at things and I’m developing a kind of my first ever spiritual vocabulary. I was a complete and utter atheist and perfectly happy in a totally rational empirical materialism. What you see is what you get with you. It goes the tournament at the time, and this table is a table, right? And yeah, I can go into Einstein, Einstein and non-Euclidean physics and geometry, and I can learn other things too. I mean, not, not non-Newtonian physics, and I can learn other things too, but it’s still a material world, essentially. And I had no use for religion, I had no use for spiritualism. I tried it and it just didn’t touch me. I wasn’t. I wasn’t. It was it’s so odd. People are people usually come into spiritualism, spirituality at a crisis moment, right? If they tell their story to me about how they came into metaphysics of some sort or another, it almost always is a kind of bottom of the well, Saint John, the Divine falling out of grace from the world and.
Brilliant Miller [00:25:32] The divine Soul.
Neal Allen [00:25:33] Dark matter, the soul, helplessness, hopelessness, all of that wasn’t like that for me. And I had to learn that I was suffering right all the time. I had to learn it through accord totally. And then Buddhist notions of what suffering was. And I was like, Oh, wow. Part of optimization is recognizing suffering, right? And I, I had to be told that I was suffering. But at any rate, so there I am. I’m sitting in this nice little therapist around with this lovely octogenarian therapist and very much a father figure and a sweet and fierce man. Right. Who also had studied. He had he was the head of psychology for a while, I think, for the Rajneesh movement. Right. And so he had a really interesting background that I didn’t know.
Brilliant Miller [00:26:29] I would have really dug this guy until.
Neal Allen [00:26:31] He was Bob Birnbaum. Unbelievable human, my first grade teacher.
Brilliant Miller [00:26:37] And he’d have this gestalt process. And one day part of that was to actually externalize and identify what you call a gremlin.
Neal Allen [00:26:46] You know, you would think that’s what happened. No, it didn’t that self, you know, and all I remember is we were having a non gestalt every day kind of therapy session and I was thinking about myself as a collection of identities. And out of nowhere this gremlin popped up on my left shoulder and I looked at it and I almost immediately recognized, Oh, that’s my super ego, objectified and personified. And I entered into a good start with it. I started asking questions of it and it started answering me right. And as far as I remember, Bob didn’t prompt me, and I asked him several times before he died. Did you do this with other people? Did this happen with other people that you would just give me this enigmatic kind of Cheshire cat smile? And he would not answer that question. So to this day, I don’t know how much was Bob in the room and how much was self-generated? Well, anyway, so the Gremlin shows up. By the way, I had assumed when it first showed up the gremlins were part of the, you know, a kind of union archeological, anthropological, long, you know, millennia of history of these creatures being part of our collective consciousness and representing our shadow self in some way or whispering self in some way. And it turns out gremlins were invented in 1941 or 42 by somebody who is painting the fuselage of a fighter plane. And they’re a very modern creature. They’re not an old, ancient creature. So it’s a rat with wings that look just like the one that you see in the movies. And you see in modern culture since 1941, 42. And I started asking questions and I started arguing with it. And the questions were things like, Why do you think I’m a bad father? And the interesting thing about getting into a conversation with it was it very quickly became aware to me that it was simply parroting a few things and had circular logic. Well, you’re a bad father because you do bad things, and I know you do bad things, right? And I say, Well, okay, but everybody does things, gets it wrong sometimes. How do you know that in the general scale of things? I’m a bad enough father that I have to improve? Well, because I’ve seen you fail at things. Right? And it’s got that kind of reasoning. Yeah. But after a while, it became clear to me in weekly sessions with it I would conjured up each week. After a while, it became clear to me. Wow. It is really stupid, right? It thinks in in circular logic over and over. It says you need more friends. And I ask, why do you need more friends? Because more friends is better than fewer friends. Okay. Isn’t that what? Isn’t that what I just asked you? Did that really answer my question? And it just can only repeat. These kind of very simple minded rules. And I thought I got to know this guy better. I’ve got to. And eventually, instead of it being inquiries into my identities, they became the material for getting to know the Gremlin better. Because I noticed that the more the Gremlin talked out loud to me, the more I got it to show its. Underlying reasoning or it showed off how I was much more sophisticated than it. I knew how to make risk benefit decisions in a in a much more complex way that could take in many more variables than it could, and that it wasn’t actually providing me with good advice. It was simply bullying me into simple minded advice that while it was always conservative and always aimed toward productivity, it could claim a pretty good track record in so far as I was a productive person.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:27] When you were still alive.
Neal Allen [00:31:28] You still alive. It wasn’t actually doing any work for me. And it started to move slightly away and slightly to the side.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:39] Interesting.
Neal Allen [00:31:40] Some special effects appeared, right? These velvet curtains showed up, and I had. It was like a true vision, kind of that would appear. And these velvet curtains would show up and part slightly as it moved to the side and these glowing lights and colors and gossamer kind of veil things would kind of shoot through and peek through. And this is trippy. I thought, you know, this is this is weird. I’m not a I’m not a visions guy. I’m not a let’s make up our imaginative stuff that looks real guy. But it happened and it turns out it’s just kind of a prompt to, Oh, it’s a reward system. I was getting a little reward that it’s a move to the side, kind of a the possibility of a divine world was peeking through and objectifying itself into these visions, which are still just, you know, the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. Right. But they felt like the moon and they were very exciting. And I also noticed my anxiety was declining. And. I paid attention to my Gremlin and learned how to conjure it up. And the more it talked, the more it opened up how it was treating me and how it was telling me what to do and how it was taking charge of my life. The less it belonged there. And it knew and I knew that it were it was moving toward extinction by being loud and noisy, and it would try to like, hide again and it would try to stay so vocal. And I developed some techniques, just personal ones, just to go. One that I use with all of my clients, which is. Your only job. My only job is if I notice that there is a super ego or an inner critic voice a gremlin voice in me saying a belittling thing. I have a duty to myself to stop, to notice it, to stop and go, Oh, that’s not me, that’s you. And I came to and I came to recognize. That I could live without it. That I’m not a bad seed. That so far as I know, none of us are there. Some sociopaths, But their inner critics don’t work anyway, so. Big deal. But the rest of us, we don’t really need to associate the inner critic to be good people, to be moral people. And in fact, I found myself more appropriate and. More loving without this creature telling me I wasn’t good enough to be living in this world with these people.
Brilliant Miller [00:34:33] Mm hmm. Thank you for. For sharing that. Some of what I want to reflect back in and just share that I find really interesting and really potentially valuable. And I think people listening might as well, which is this idea that. Not only can we become aware of the voice inside us, we can recognize that it’s not us, you know, it’s not us with a capital U or it’s not our self with it with a capital S, but it is a voice and it accompanies us. And it has a purpose, which I want to ask you about what you’ve learned from that regard. But not only can we become more aware of it, we can actually dialog with it.
Neal Allen [00:35:14] Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:15] Like you were saying. And that’s such, I think I think it’s a pretty profound shift in just being driven by or even listening to or even being aware of this voice. So I think that’s part of why I wanted to thank you for sharing that, because I think that can be transformational. And I want to ask where does it come from if it’s not us? And you were saying yours was headed toward extinction, I’m curious to know, is it extinct? And if so, like, how did you how do you manage that? How does one manage that?
Neal Allen [00:35:50] So I don’t think anybody knows. Where it come from, except in this abstract sense. Living in civilization. We default to distrust and then defaulting to distrust. Which means we live next door to strangers. And. We have to learn a lot of rules and boundaries, right? Just like our private property has fences around it, we have to build fences around ourselves. All right. It’s interesting to note that people who live in Stone Age tribal societies near the equator in New Guinea and the Amazon don’t have significant inner critics because they live in a daily world of trusting the people around them. They’re their tribe. They’re the only tribe they spend time with. A stranger who’s not a member of the tribe is a danger, but they’re very seldom encountered. And so these isolated tribes, they’re just as well, you know, our inner critic leads us to gossip all the time about how difficult it is, how absurdly difficult it is to be a civilized human being, and how absurdly difficult and how busy we have to be to maintain all of this stuff in, in and in our civilized lives. And so we gossip about those sorts of social suffering. Tribal people gossip, but they gossip about falling out of trees and being chased by predatory animals. Right. They gossip about the instinctual side of life. So Freud set it out and gave us our first, you know, concrete view of the super ego. And he saw that it he, he saw intuitively that it was tied to civilization and its discontents and its need for boundaries and immense productivity and busyness and kind of channeling yourself away from simple fascination with the world and into a rule bound maturation and to being a productive citizen in the world so that you can help maintain this massive amount of food being shipped around the world to places that don’t have the climate to be able to grow food, to sustain their populations. And so we have. We have a big job, and to do the big job, we have to narrow ourselves and to being civilized. And when we narrow ourselves into being civilized and we become rule bound and the rules are not imposed on us for the first years of our lives. So you actually don’t have much of an inner critic until you’re five or six years old. And mostly kids live in a fairly seamless world of the present, and they don’t have much free will. In fact, they’re not doing cause and effect. They’re just playing with this and then with that. And they’re just attracted by this and attracted by that. And they just do the next thing or the next thing and next thing.
Brilliant Miller [00:39:13] You know.
Neal Allen [00:39:14] Yeah, they follow their nose. They’re kind of present. But there’s a point at which every society, whether it’s Senegal or India or America, every society says, okay, you’re six years old, it’s time for first grade instead of self-directed play. Now you have to sit for 45 minutes and do arithmetic and then sit for 45 minutes with a bunch of other people. And we’re going to tell you what to do. And by the way, you can’t just go up to the teacher and tug on her and say, I need to go to the bathroom. You have to raise your hand now, wait patiently and squirm until you’re called on. Right. These are weird rules and they come. Descending on kids, right?
Brilliant Miller [00:39:59] Very helpful for maintaining social order and.
Neal Allen [00:40:02] Helpful for maintaining social order. And by the way, there are there are also helpful. To maintain your survival, because at the exact same time, you’re being given all these new rules and first grade, you’re also being given a certain amount of freedom until first grade or somewhere around. Then there’s always. An adult around attuned to you? Maybe not in the same room, usually in the same room, but kind of listening for you and watching over you. Now you’re in first grade. You get to walk to school alone or with a friend. And guess what? Unless you know how to look both ways before crossing. You could make a bad, fateful decision and die in the middle of the street being hit by a car. Right? Yeah. So how do you deal with that? Freedom away from adults. This magical thing happens. Freud. Freud describes it with the word interjection, which is just the coolest word, Right.
Brilliant Miller [00:41:11] Introduction.
Neal Allen [00:41:12] Interjection. You have a fake adult, a fake mommy or daddy or grandma or caretaker or friend who is injected into or near your brain, it turns out, and scolds you with the rules, like look both ways before crossing. And this is so important for the six year old. It does two things. It saves their life. Right across the street, it provides a reliable narrator with a few rules that give you a jump on confusing situations like you might have a rule based on your superego might notice you get in trouble if you’re too noisy around your mom. And so it imposes a rule on you. Hey, I’m going to help you out in confusing situations with women looking very soft, quiet, demure, and obedient into their eyes. They’ll like you the way your mom likes you when you look that way and advised some time in this confusing new rules situation to be able to get acceptance by a little time. And probably the woman will then tell you, Oh, you don’t. Oh dear, you don’t know what you need to do here. Let me tell you your next step. And so this voice comes in that’s mostly a scold and mostly nagging you like your mom does at home or your dad does at home, or your caretaker does at home. And it supplants them when they’re not present. So it’s great.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:53] It helps you survive, keeps you survive.
Neal Allen [00:42:57] It helps you.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:58] Along with others.
Neal Allen [00:42:59] It helps you socialize. It’s you know, eventually you learn kind of the basics of survival and it sticks with socializing because you’re not you know, you’ve been caught. You, you eventually integrate all on your own. You can cross a street without a voice like we’re adults. We don’t think twice. We don’t have a voice saying, Oh, look both ways. We could probably find it if we looked for it. But it’s yeah, it’s basically us crossing the street now. Not a warning voice crossing the street now?
Brilliant Miller [00:43:28] Yeah, From our childhood.
Neal Allen [00:43:30] Yeah. But mostly it takes on socializing concerns and it picks at dangers and it starts to store them in memory. So a typical recurring memory is a second grade girl. A girl in second grade going to a party and wearing the wrong dress and being made fun of and humiliated. Right. And so all of us will have memories like that that are very strong from childhood. We call them our traumatic memories. We all live in this kind of trauma theory of childhood, curated by this interjected voice, wanting to belittle us so that it’ll listen to us and think that we are us. We are under the thumb of a scolding parent. And so it creates these kind of traumatic events in our childhood to bring them back up so that we know how to dress appropriate and to think about dressing appropriately and worry about dress appropriately, dressing appropriately in order to be accepted for the rest of our lives. And so all of a sudden, how we dress instead of just being a traditional folkloric, everybody dresses the same way. Thing becomes tied closely to our identity because we live next door to strangers who dress differently. We need this. So this socializing thing is important. The saving your life thing is important and it sets you on your way. And it’s a great, necessary tool that seems to arise in every single civilized human being at around the same time in the same situation. It isn’t inborn, it isn’t instinctual. It pretends to be instinctual by talking kind of said vocally to you as if it was originally. It’s an original part of you. It isn’t an original part of. And it hangs around a little too long. So by the time you’re 12, you know most of the rules, right? And you’ve broken most of them and you’ve seen the repercussions and so you’ve integrated them into yourself over time. By the time you’re 17, you know all the rules. You know everything you need in order to get fed, clothed and sheltered and stay safe in this world doesn’t mean you always get right and do the right thing, Doesn’t mean you don’t get caught up in addictions and all those sorts of things. But, you know, all the strategies and all the super ego has been providing you with is the simplest strategies for surviving and presumably thriving socially in the world. You know them all. They’re integrated into you. They’ve been tested. And so why do you need this bully around?
Brilliant Miller [00:46:30] Yeah, it’s a it’s a great question. And so this idea of retiring, semi retiring even is getting rid of silencing however transforming what? And I want to ask this. In the hopes that, you know, we can figure out. So first is awareness, right? We are aware we have the voice that we don’t need to be driven by it, that it’s not us. And then from there going, okay, well, I’m great. I’m aware of it, but now what do I do about that? So how do we live with it? Or even can we ever make it go fully away? Or can we how can we diminish its effect in making our lives? You know, how can we define how can we diminish its effect in making our lives crappier than they need to be?
Neal Allen [00:47:19] So it’s got a couple. It’s got three things on its side. One is it’s been running things for a long time. Right? And so it’s going to be hard to dislodge simply for that. It’s a habit. It’s a habit to listen to it. And it’s the strongest habit you have in your life, Right? Maybe it’s like an instinctual habit to be able to walk. Maybe those instinctual kind of habits, of that knowledge of how to ride a bicycle or walk or motor movement is stronger than that. But it’s a strong number two to them in terms of how much it’s been a habit. The second thing is it’s a vocal right. And so the one place I differ from the well a couple places I differ from the original Freudian model, he Brilliantly found it and isolated it and separated it from the end, the instinctual side of life and knew that it was a socializing thing and knew that it was in some kind of counterbalance to other forces in the world. But I believe he thought it was in calling it part of the subconscious that it was built in and that it was there. And he did think it was subconscious. I don’t think it’s subconscious. I think it’s a vocal right. I fully.
Brilliant Miller [00:48:46] Agree with him because it is subconscious, which.
Neal Allen [00:48:49] My consciousness. Yeah. Who’s listening to it. Right. Right. Well, they could both exist in there, but you’ve actually got an authentic narrator in there that’s being crowded out by it Most of the day you’re actually listening to your authentic narrator in practical ways, right? It’s basically saying not, Oh, you’re going to miss that appointment and fail. Your authentic narrator says, Oh, you got an appointment in 5 minutes, Better prepare for it. That’s a good thing, right? And the authentic narrator is also very kind to you and compassionate to you and knows that you’re going to make mistakes. Big deal. You’re an adult. Everybody makes mistakes, right? But that gets crowded out. But it’s there. So you’ve actually got a perfectly good guide within you who’s aware of awareness and aware of you in the world in a positive kind of way. This is just a snarky bully that is unnecessary, that sits on the side outside. So those are two ways in which. It’s got a lead on you, right? It’s. It’s. It’s a habit and it’s a vocal. Right. Yeah. So your job is really to notice it’s a habit. And the only way to notice it’s a habit is to get into it’s repetitive cycles, right? To get into. And that means that the job of working with the super ego is a long term job. You got to do a lot of repetitions. It’s. It’s thousands and thousands of repetitions. Fortunately, even though it’s hard work because it’s so many repetitions, it’s simple. All you have to do is catch it in action. And after it’s done, go. That’s you, not me. I’ll give you a tip that helps in this. Any time you notice you’re in conflict with the world, you’re in a you’re in a hierarchical disagreement with the world. The world should be better or worse or is better or worse, or that person is better or worse. And so you’re in a conflict there. You’re projecting yourself into a near future where things could be better. Any time conflict is in the room, the super egos running the show because we are in. We are capable of being in sync with the world all the time. We’re capable, even with horrible things going on around us, with being a non separated from those things as well as the good things and noticing. Yeah, within the justice world of right, wrong, good, bad. I’m going to vote, I’m going to march, I’m going to have beliefs, I’m going to have all of those things and I’m never going to know whether I’m actually right in that or what’s drawing me in to my conclusions in that. But I’m going to do those things because that’s part of my life, right In the rest of my life. I don’t have to think in terms of right or wrong, good or bad. I don’t have to ever be in conflict. I can accept whatever is coming my way as long as it’s not a, you know, a poisonous snake or some physical danger. Right.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:03] And even then you’re not moralizing about it. You’re not making it wrong. You’re just avoiding it.
Neal Allen [00:52:09] You’re just avoiding it. And so my job is simply you go, oh, that’s you not be. And implicit in that is I don’t need you. No, thank you. But I don’t need you.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:23] In fact.
Neal Allen [00:52:24] When you get rid of it completely, I don’t know. I tell mine. I told mine. Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to annihilate you. Right? If I need you, I’ll be able to call you up and I’ll call you my occasional ethical adviser that way. Right. And. And. And the reason I do that and the reason I tell people to do that is that at least in my attempts to annihilate it, which I did, you know, I tried to destroy it mentally and I tried to it just that’s a conflict and it amplifies it. Yeah, it actually doesn’t work as far as for me. Maybe there are people there who are able to annihilate, but I doubt it. But maybe there are. I’m reminded of the kind of modern master he just retired Isaiah Ashanti, lovely man and really knows a lot about things that are important and talks well about them. And I’ve sat with him a few, you know, in a big room. He doesn’t know me from Adam, of course, but I’ve sat with him and he’s he was very important to me. He’s a fire starter. He, he helps people like I was at that time. Be aware of the possibility of awareness and aware of the possibility of transformation, spiritual transformation. And so he told me he tells a story occasionally of a guru. I don’t know what lineage that he knows. And who he went up to on time and asked that question, can it in a different form, which was he asked to. He asks the question. Are you over your fear of death? And the guru responded as far as I know. But I reserve the right to be terrified at the end. And I think, you know, my super ego, it shows up still every day and sometimes it’s kind of a nap that that’s you. It goes away and sometimes it plays an old tape loop and I watch the tape loop. All I care about is that my authentic self isn’t crowded out anymore. And so the tape loop is playing. I’m in a conflict where I’m going through my usual kind of automaton triggered reaction to an impediment in my life. And it might be a fight with my wife. I might be the customer service agent on the phone, whoever it is, where I’m trying to make clear to them that I I’m right and they’re wrong. And watching it go along and there’s a there’s a piece of me that’s crying. I can’t believe you’re still doing this now. And, and it’s like, wow, look at that movie. And fortunately, because there is that authentic voice that hasn’t been totally crowded out at the end of the trance of the of the of the tape reel going the trigger reaction going at the end of it, I take on as a duty for myself, Oh, what was that? And then I ask myself the question, have I seen that behavior? And that kind of triggered conflict behavior in me often over the last six months. And if it wasn’t and it hasn’t really it happened again, but it hasn’t happened in six months. And I go, okay, I can live with that if it’s happened within six months or it’s happened a couple of times in a week, then I say to myself, I got some work to do. Yeah, I got to go in story and rediscover it. It’s the same story that it was when I rediscovered it a year ago and ten years ago. I got to go into that story and rediscover it, trace it back to this message that was installed in me by my super ego when I was eight years old, or ten years old or six years old. Somewhere in those years usually go and look at it over and over again and then the reps aren’t just so that’s that. The reps are then reminding me it’s like, now I got to look at this story again because those stories are. They’re horrible, mean spirited, ugly, traumatic for me, formed stories. And if they’re still telling themselves I haven’t looked at them long enough and I have to look at it long enough that enough times, 50 times, 100 times, sometimes they’ll suddenly become cardboard and they’ll d reify themselves. They’ll take away their unreal ness. And I realize, Oh, that’s a little fairy tale moral story based on a slice of my life. That’s exactly 15 seconds long or 2 minutes long.
Brilliant Miller [00:57:25] Yeah. And maybe 40 years ago or something. Oh, 40 years ago.
Neal Allen [00:57:28] That doesn’t exist in my life anymore. Yeah, 60 years ago. For me now.
Brilliant Miller [00:57:32] I just think that’s really beautiful. And in a way, to me, that sounds like spiritual liberation, right? It’s this thing that’s driven us. Or are we then again, at the effect of for so long and now we can be free of. So two last questions I have for you. And one of them I’ll just tee up now and I’ll ask you a second, which is what else do you want to share with people listening about this? But before that, I want to ask how helpful have you found it to be to name and give form to or at least identify the form of? These inner this super ego inner critic parasite. How useful is it to, like, name it and recognize it as some kind of specific form?
Neal Allen [00:58:18] Nothing happened for me until that gremlin popped up. I lucked out. It popped up on its own. But working with clients over the years, I discovered that, oh, there’s a simple process where anybody can get to see and know their objectified inner critic and start into the process disengaging from its voice. Right.
Brilliant Miller [00:58:46] Which, by the way, you’ve written in the book, you don’t therapist You don’t even need another person necessarily. Right. But in the near the back of the book, you actually have a step by step process people can go through to get clarity about this.
Neal Allen [00:58:59] And it’s just a trip. I have never seen anybody do it without going without being excited by it. And that’s not boasting. That’s just I guess this is my favorite thing in the world is to do the process with somebody. It takes about 10 minutes. It’s in the book and it almost always I it works so consistently well in exactly the same manner that I actually do it on stage, pulling a following a random person out of the audience and he gets scared if we’re both on stage. My wife is and Lamont and we sometimes appear together and we were well, if, if and he gets scared, if I’m pulling somebody off of the out of the crowd and she wants me to use the shell and I’m like, the problem is I can’t use a shell because once you’ve done it once, it’s kind of a little artificial to do it again, right? Because there are opening questions that are like an opening gambit with your superego. I keep doing like this because part of the process is you actually pull this conceptual superego out of your the back of your head where it usually resides for most people, some people that you can pull it out of their stomach, it can reside there too, but it’s usually back of the head or somewhere a top of the head. You can actually pull it out and it’ll form itself into a thing, a creature or a person with a face, essentially with the face, most importantly, with the face.
Brilliant Miller [01:00:34] And you’ve seen all kinds of things in the palm of.
Neal Allen [01:00:36] Your hand, and it can be a red rubber ball, it can be a gremlin, it can be a big foot, it can be it’s always snarky or skeptical or just plain mean, right? So it does it you get to know right away it does not have a happy, compassionate side. And you don’t actually have to coddle it because it can’t turn into a compassionate being. It can fake being a compassionate being. EAKINS It can say, Oh, I’m just trying to make your life better by motivating you to fit in. Right? And that sounds nice, but underneath that it’s thinking I’m really motivating you by punishing you when you don’t do what I tell you to do. And the punishment is always the same. The punishment, the basis of our anxiety isn’t getting things wrong. We’re mature adults. We know that things go wrong, and that’s not a big deal. The basis of all of our bits of anxiety that pull up through the day is the fear of being punished by a scolding absent parent by the inner critic. And that’s just weird. It is weird that all my anxiety is for an absent scolding parent.
Brilliant Miller [01:01:47] We’re that it that’s this pretty interesting thought so that I so if I’m understanding what you’re saying that the anxiety arises in proportion to or because of this impending this fear of this impending scolding we’re going to get from this absent parent or this inner critic, which I would imagine we project or we externalize, imagine it’s going to be oh, it’s going to be my boss or it’s going to be my house. But it’s ultimately it’s just coming from us or from our parasite.
Neal Allen [01:02:19] And one of the lovely things about moving to the superego to the side is that the more it recedes, the less anxiety you have. And it’s just it’s a nice added benefit you get. You get more of a sense of freedom, but you also get less anxiety.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:34] That’s like a life changing experience right there.
Neal Allen [01:02:37] It is. It is. Most people think that they’re you know, they’re anxious about getting things wrong and the circumstances that are coming. And it turns out and by the way, Freud stated this flat out, he recognized this. He noticed this in, I think 1923. He wrote anxiety is that fear of being punished by the superego. And I passed over that since I’ve read that it’s a hard work. He wrote a very short little pamphlet kind of he wrote where he lays out the three. Ego called. It’s so funny. It’s called the ego and the ID, and it’s actually about the mostly about the super ego, which is the third part. But he doesn’t even put that in the title for some reason. At any rate, the ego in the end has this line. Anxiety is the fear of being punished by the superior. And I passed over that over and over and over again. And it was only recently a couple of years ago that I read that line of, Oh my God, that’s true.
Brilliant Miller [01:03:37] What else? Before we wrap up. What else do you want people listening to know? What? What haven’t we talked about or what’s important?
Neal Allen [01:03:47] Well, yeah. Superficially in my book, I offer, I think, a dozen other little kind of everyday tools you can use then in different kinds of situations to reveal. Open up the voice of the superego to you because it loses its power. The more you hear what it’s actually saying to you because it’s so stupid. And also to just deal with everyday conflicts. And, you know, we’re we live among strangers, right? And we have to be incredibly productive. And all of us are being incredibly productive in a fundamental way, serving the species in our jobs, in our daily lives. We are much more productive than our superego tells us. And in in all of that busyness, we have lots of conflicts. We’re just going to be in conflict with people. People are going to want us to do things. We’re going to want them to do things. We’re not going to agree on that. And those conflicts are being clouded by the inner critic. And there are different ways and different kinds of conflicts to keep the inner critic out of the out of the conversation so that so that instead of most conflicts we think of in terms of because we have the inner critic going, we think of in terms of win, lose or draw. Mm hmm. And without the inner critic, they’re just. Yes. No or maybe and there’s no emotional content to Yes. No. Or maybe those are just facts. Right? And so if I’m in a fight with Annie and we’re muttering at each other afterward, all right, we don’t you know, we’re always we’d give in easily. You just get tired of the fighting and so we don’t fight very much. So I don’t want I don’t want people to get the wrong notion. We have a I have just a very lucky, lovely marriage. And I’m sure some people hate me for saying that, but it’s true. There’s a as soon as I’m out of the conflict, as soon as the tape has stopped running, I taught myself, Oh wait, I was in win, lose or draw. It’s just Yes, no, or maybe. And then I’m open to asking Annie a few more questions like, Oh, tell me more about why you would rather this fill this space of time with this, whereas I want to fill it with this. And if I’m in the tone and attitude of yes now or maybe right. Just by asking her to tell me more, if I say no at the end, no, I can’t do that. She’s like, okay, but if we’re in win, lose or draw. Right. She can’t say, okay. Yeah. So it actually it makes no. Palatable when it’s not crowded in by. I lose if it’s a no.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:56] Yeah. That, that is powerful. And to just remove the unnecessary emotional charge and then deal with like, as it is and others.
Neal Allen [01:07:05] Yeah. So there are tips in the book. So that’s one thing. And the other thing is. Huh? I. The Buddhists who touch me. The most include Tibetan Buddhists, who basically say the main job in freedom, in the work toward freedom, the work toward, you know, feeling content with the world as is without being a Pollyanna or being fatalistic about still being part of the world and still doing things that are that are that are helpful for the world. The main the main work for that is removing the obstacles of the ego. And that’s I think that’s the whole game. And I don’t care what form freedom takes. I don’t have to attain anything. I don’t have to grasp or anything. I don’t have to hope for a particular form of the divine to appear. The divine will appear. And whatever is the way the divine wants to appear at that moment with this person, this idiosyncratic person. And I don’t have any business caring about that, but I do have business caring about removing the obstacles of the ego. So I do know affirmation work. I do know intentions work. I do nothing that basically sets a goal except to keep that damn voice out of the out of out of the room so.
Brilliant Miller [01:08:38] That that’s powerful. And that that again, is a very different way of living from the way we’re taught and trained and rewarded in our society. Right. Goal seeking and ambition and effort. And in the book, there’s, I think, very, very near the end where there’s kind of recommended reading. Yeah. And one of the things I think you include is Rumi. And I’m reminded as you’re talking about this now, think, well, I might misquote, but the one about it’s not necessary to seek for love, only to find and remove the obstacles we’ve built against it.
Neal Allen [01:09:14] That’s it. Love’s always here.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:16] Yeah, that’s beautiful. Well, Neal, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I love your new book. We can see it behind you. Better days. Tame your inner critic. And thank you for writing it. It’s given language to things that I think I knew and things I definitely didn’t know that have improved the quality of my life already. And I know that will be true for people who pick it up and read it and practice what you teach in it. So thank you for today and thank you for the book and thank you for the work that you’re putting out into the world.
Neal Allen [01:09:49] Oh, thank you, Brian. That’s very nice of you.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:52] And by the way, before I forget, I have made a key a loan on your behalf as a an attempt to express my gratitude. This is a woman named Marie Rosalie. She’s in Senegal, and she conducts poultry, farm farming, and she sells charcoal. So in this way, hopefully this conversation will do good around the world and be a little bit of a ripple. Beyond just not beyond the content people will hear and what they’ll do with it. So thank you.
Neal Allen [01:10:24] And I’m happy for Mary Louise. Yeah. Is that it? Louise?
Brilliant Miller [01:10:28] Marie. Marie. Rosalie.
Neal Allen [01:10:31] Marie. Rosalie. I’m happy for Marie Presley. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:35] Okay. So with that, people can visit shapes of truth dot com. They can find this book in fine retailers around the world. And with that, we’ll go ahead and wrap. Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for Good Living podcast. Before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts, inconveniences 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 graduated 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. You can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness and meaning so that you can be do have and give more. Visit good living dot com to learn more or to sign up today.