My conversation today is with Dean Burnett. Dean is a neuroscientist, a lecturer, an author, a blogger or podcaster, a pundit science communicator, comedian, and numerous other things – depending on who’s asking and what they need.
Dean discusses with us his book, Idiot Brain, What Your Head Is Really Up To. It’s one of five books that he’s written in the last few years. He’s very prolific. And I really enjoyed this book. This book goes through and takes a look at why we do the things we do and offers some of the latest scientific rationale, but in a very humorous way, very insightful way. Dean’s writing has been published all over the world and he’s very popular – especially in the United Kingdom.
I asked him about how he married his interest and passion in standup comedy with neuroscience. We talk about depression and mental illness, something he’s written about extensively. We talk about the blog posts he wrote that had more than 3 million readers (as a surprise to him) and how that was the passage from being an amateur to a pro.
We also talk about some of the egocentric biases that the brain has. Things that we are largely unaware of, whether or not we have free will. We talk about personality, what it is, if we can change it, and then we get into a discussion about writing and the creative process. We talk a little bit about promotion as we often do. I think you’ll enjoy this conversation with Dean. He’s a very humble guy with some interesting perspectives. So with that, please enjoy this conversation with my new Welsh friend, Dean Burnett.
00:04:00 – What’s life about?
00:12:52 – Embalming cadavers.
00:20:20 – Knitting a sweater out of cotton candy.
00:26:57 – Have a go…at stand-up comedy.
00:35:10 – I didn’t think I was allowed to write a book.
00:37:15 – Our second brain.
00:52:20 – Mental health.
01:20:53 – The Lightning Round.
Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To
Why Your Parents Are Driving You Up The Wall And What To Do About It
Psycho-logical on Audible
Dean Burnett website
@DeanBurnettAuthor – on Facebook
@garwboy – on Twitter
Brain Yapping blog
Brain Yapping – The Podcast
Bryan: 00:00:00 A question asked courageously answered honestly, and lived authentically can change your whole life. For me, that question was, how can I use what I have, what I love, and what I know to bless the lives of others? This School For Good Living and this podcast are one answer to that question. Hi, I’m Bryan Miller. I know that the world can work for everyone, but that it won’t until it works for you. I’ve created this to help you make the difference you were born to make. It’s a series of conversations with thought leaders who are moving humanity forward, and in each episode I explore their lives and the work they do. I also ask them to break down how they’ve gotten their books written, published, and read. This podcast is all about exploring the magic and mystery and sometimes the misery of the creative process. So if you have a mission, a message, and a motivation to share it, this podcast is for you.
Bryan: 00:00:50 Welcome to The School For Good Living. Hello my friends. Thanks for listening. My conversation today is with Dean Burnett. Dean is a neuroscientist, a lecturer and author, a blogger or podcaster, a pundit science communicator, comedian, and numerous other things he says, depending on who’s asking and what they need. Dean has completed his PhD in neuroscience. He specialized in the role of the hippocampus and configurable learning. So I’m sure you have many questions about that and we cover all of them in this. No we don’t, but we do talk about a couple of his books. The one that I interviewed him I wanted to talk to him about specifically was Idiot Brain, What Your Head Is Really Up To. It’s one of five books that he’s written in the last few years. He’s very prolific. And this book I really enjoyed, I thought it was fascinating because I wanted to understand myself better, other people better. Maybe you do too. And this book goes through and takes a look at why we do the things we do and offers some of the latest scientific rationale, but in a very humorous way, very insightful way. Dean’s writing has been published all over the world and he’s very popular, especially in the United Kingdom. His work appears in the Telegraph, Buzzfeed, GQ, BBQ, I’m sorry, BBC, Focus, Lonely Planet Guide, Women’s Health, the LA Times, the Big Issue, Whales Weekend magazine, New York Moves magazine, Pitchfork, New York magazine on and on and on. In this conversation I asked him about how he married his interest and passion in standup comedy with neuroscience. We talk about depression and mental illness, something he’s written about extensively. We talk about the blog posts he wrote that had more than 3 million readers as a surprise to him and how that was the passage from being an amateur to a pro. We talk about some of the egocentric biases that the brain has. Things that were largely unaware of whether or not we have free will. We talk about personality, what it is, if we can change it and then we get into a discussion about writing and the creative process and we talk a little bit about promotion as we often do. One of the things I really, I realized in talking with Dean is I really love and admire people who are fundamentally creative but also find a way to share that with others in a sustainable way. And we do this interview with Dean in his shed in the Garw Valley in Wales. Someday I want to visit and meet Deans family. He talks a bit about them, they sound like characters. And we also, one thing that he shares is the kind of music he listens to when he writes, which you might find interesting. So really with that, I will say if you pick up this book, Idiot Brain, if this is a, an area that you find interesting at all, I think you’ll really enjoy it. And I think you’ll enjoy this conversation with Dean. He’s a very humble guy with some interesting perspectives. So with that, please enjoy this conversation with my new Welsh friend, Dean Burnett. Dean, welcome to The School For Good Living.
Dean: 00:03:58 Thank you for having me, Bryan. Much, much appreciated to be here.
Bryan: 00:04:00 Dean, will you tell me what’s life about?
Dean: 00:04:04 Well I can tell you but I can’t promise it would be a valid answer or be helpful. Yeah, we’ll, I think for questions like that, I always, I guess it’s cause my training cause my experience by always instantly revert to the sort of the biological scientific explanations. Life is a self sustenance a sequence of processes and then a means to convey genetic material and you know, it means to sustain and maintain an environment. But that’s obviously not what people want to hear. And then obviously say you are a bag of carbon which exists to serve the patterns of molecules. That’s not really the most inspiring. You don’t get out of me, you know what I’m going to on the, on the wall of a gym. So now, okay, I’d already know it’s I, I tend not to actually delve into the really big questions like that cause I personally, because it’s a, it strikes me as it’s it’s, this is more the realm of philosophy, spirituality and things like that. And those are, you know, unlike some scientists, I don’t have any problem with these things, but they’re also not my area. I’m not trained in these things. And I think I’m very much a, I really want to stay in my lane. So like these are big questions that people can answer them, but beyond wild speculation, I’m not qualified to do so. So I tend not to think about it that much I suppose. I mean it’s, I guess it’s a more peaceful way to live.
Bryan: 00:05:21 Yep, fair enough. And, and I think even people who are trained in these, in philosophy and spirituality, they still don’t know.
Dean: 00:05:28 No, no. I don’t think anyone, actually knows, it’s one of those questions can’t actually be known, but obviously people are curious. And it does remind me of one time I was at a talk in Amsterdam, it was like a 90 minutes plus 30 minutes Q & A. It was a, it was quite a long one. They paid me to go over there, you know, it’s a sort of like, they want to get the money’s worth, which I totally understand. But it was like, like 30 minutes Q and A after two, I’d given a talk, I was getting tired, you know, it was the second day in a row I was doing this. I said, right, look, my watch, I’ve got maybe a minute left so we’re going to have time for one last quick question. Some guy put his hand up and I say yes, and he said, “Is freewill real?” That is not a one minute.
Bryan: 00:06:09 Well that was on my question list by the way.
Dean: 00:06:13 You prepared it at least. As an off the cuff answer for one minute. But that’s like us been 4,000 years and counting people to be working on that one and I can’t answer it right now. I’m sorry mate. So yeah. Okay. I get the big questions a lot, but I’m always a bit like, I can’t help you.
Bryan: 00:06:30 Well okay, fair enough. So let me go back in your early life to Bridgend General Hospital, so I understand this is where you were born. In Wales and that hospital was shut down, abandoned and demolished not long after you were born. Is this true?
Dean: 00:06:51 As far as I’m aware, yes. I mean, I don’t know the exact time scales, but I know I, I remember seeing it as a kid when it was boarded up and then it was gone. To see it’s essentially it’s been demolished and the, the place I was born has been erased from existence, which is always encouraging.
Bryan: 00:07:07 Yeah. Just proof more evidence. The only constant is change.
Dean: 00:07:12 I mean, I was never emotionally attached to the hospital I was born in, so it wasn’t like a dramatic thing. You just, that’s a little on the nose.
Bryan: 00:07:21 Well I wonder too, you know, people who know you, who know your work know that you, you synthesize, you walk in to usually different worlds between science and comedy. And you’re able to, to, you know, create something from that. Maybe have a unique perspective. Well, where I’m going with this right now is I understand that you really developed some of your comedic chops in a pub. Is this, will you tell me about this?
Dean: 00:07:49 Well, it’s I guess you could say that, it’s not something that we thought about at the time, but it is in hindsight. Yeah, that was a big part of it. I grew up in a pub from the age of two, my parents moved into the local, one of the local village pubs and they owned it. They ran it, they were the landlords. And so I grew up in the Garw Valley, which is just north of Bridgend is a mining village. It was around the coal mine. And I am, I do have similar things in the states when I go, I’m like the times the Midwest, which have a plant or a factory, which the town exist around it cause it sistainse everyone. And then the factory gets shut down and the police still exists and it’s over like a weird twilight existence. And that’s sort of the community I grew up in. So you have this community full of well dedicated to coal mining. Very manly physical job and in the 80s that were shut down. And so that’s the group that is in a remote, isolated community. Which kind of bereft with purpose. So the pebbles were busy like there, there’s not a lot else to do. Like a lot of suddenly unemployed miners with no real need for their existence. So you, you see a lot of counters. You see a lot of people find a kid all the time to try to find some, something to do during the day. You know, there’s a lot of wacky characters. My father was very much a larger than life. Robert Rosen character and, and yeah, so the Burnett family themselves are quite them, quite gregarious individuals. I was always the quiet, shy one, which is normally to say, and I don’t know, I observed, I saw all this and I said, I want to be part of the, the fun and games, the high jinks and everything. And yeah, that sort of informed the sensibility. It’s kind of hard to take things, especially seriously when that’s the environment you grew up in. When you, your experience of adults is drunk and ones singing and dancing and falling over and you grew up thinking adults are a stern presences, which don’t control the world, you can’t really maintain that, you know, that sort of divide between children and adults superior when you’re constantly see them in various states of inebriation, they don’t really wander into your childhood bedroom. Oops, sorry. It’s the one that was a bathroom. I’m just walking out again. Yeah, that does leave a lasting impression. So sort of maybe especially want to be a comedian or comedy writer, but in hindsight it’s kind of easy to see how that would’ve very much colored my perception of the world as, as you grow, especially as it was happening during my childhood. Obviously a very informative developmental time.
Bryan: 00:10:11 Yeah. And, and another thing I found interesting, and of course we can’t ever certainly believe anything we read online, but I read that the pub ultimately was also torn down. Is this true? It’s not been torn down yet, but it’s derelict. It’s boarded up. It’s vandalized. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a hazard of a building. I mean there’s this also, this is my second book. So I very much it was just sort of like a little experiment that runs myself. Like if I went back to my childhood home, how would I feel, you know, from a scientific perspective, I have all these memories of childhood that are very fawn. But you know, if I went back to the place now, cause I feel people say this a lot, like when you revisit a former home or childhood home, it’s quite, it’s an emotionally confusing and experience. And I wanted to see how that would affect me in with my technical knowledge and, but I got that car, I was thinking, I get, here’s a pub, I can go in and I can wander around. And I did a few times after I moved out there and he was still open pub then. It was always weird. It was always like, you know, sort of it sort of, it forces the fishing onto your, sort of your, your mental state. Cause I was both and when, as an adult, those, I was a punter in the pub. I was, the customer was allowed to be there and drink with my friends, which is what there therefore, but also this is the environment I grew up in. This is my child at home. So I should be able like a child right now when it was very, I mean I didn’t have to drink as much cause it already caught me halfway there, there that sort of confusion. But yes, when I went back again it was it was derelict. It’s abandoned now, which is it’s, it’s a very, it’s a sweet experience. You know, it’s just a building. It’s not something I have any attachment to now, but it was a place of a lot of fond memories and to see it in a state of disrepair, it is never really a pleasant thing. So yeah, it was, it was an interesting experience to do that.
Bryan: 00:11:59 Well thank you, thank you for sharing that. I’m always fascinated when I’m able to travel in the United Kingdom and, and think about what an incredible force it’s been in global politics and shaping culture and, and just how, you know, I have a friend who’s English and he’ll joke with me about how his front door is older than our country, but it’s not stuff like that.
Dean: 00:12:22 Down the road from me, like in Wales is the country of the world, which has more castles per capita than any other place on the planet. It’s we have a lot of, just old castles around the, like it’s a play on one is a castle called Oakland wall castle. I would just go there and play a lot and then someone pointed out that you used to play this, you can claim on it, you can look up at it. It’s a play on like a 1500 year old castle as a kid. That’s, that’s rair in hindsight. Yeah, that is actually, I just didn’t think anything of it at the time because I was five. But that’s good to do that. It’s a strangely unique experience and very much pretty much privilege obviously.
Bryan: 00:12:52 Well Dean, when I reached out to you for this interview and I’m so glad that you accepted, There were a few reasons, mostly my own curiosity, that I wanted to talk with you and I love reading your book Idiot Brain: What Your Head is Really Up To. Because you know, I wonder about other people and about myself. Before I ask a few questions about that book, I want to keep with your life background. I understand that you spent a couple of years embalming cadavers.
Dean: 00:13:27 Yes. That was my, a job after my undergraduate degree, before my postgraduate degree. So I did do a neuroscience degree in Cardiff, where I still live, Cardiff University. And I’m the first person from my family to even do like secondary school, college standard. It’s not like my family are stupid, but it just wasn’t necessary where the coal mines are a thing, and there’s just not an academic background, you don’t consider these options. But I was the first one to actually be scholastically inclined. So I ended up doing that in my school and the school wanted to encourage me.
Bryan: 00:14:04 How was your family with that?
Dean: 00:14:05 Very happy, very happy indeed like, but also confused because they want to support me. They want to help me and they do everything they can, but they don’t know what it is I’m doing. Because it’s like, oh those are exams beyond the ones we did. Okay, well good then and they go to university, they’re shrugging their shoulders. Okay, well do it if you need to. And that’s always been a… I am very privileged in the support of my family. I’ve never lacked for that, but it’s just a generic blank check support. It’s not like any specific dedicated help. It’s whatever you’re doing carry on, we’re obviously here for you, but we have no idea how to help you because this isn’t the world we know. And which is totally fair. But yeah, so I went to university and did that and I was sort of worried about being one of those people, like I’m not sure how common they are, but I was worried about it that people were like stay in education cause they don’t want to get their hands dirty. They want to you know, like sort of like, Oh, I don’t want to face real work yet. And keep on rocking. Just, you know, you don’t really learn it. [Inaudible]…And things like that. But, so it’s kind of aware of that I think, I needed real world experience beyond living in a small village. And that’s why I thought, well, I’ll work. I felt I could do a PhD, but maybe I need more real life experience. I’ll probably find a job. I want a job going protected when I was qualified for was paying rent. It was anatomy technician to Cardiff University, medical school.
Bryan: 00:15:33 That just conjures so, much anatomy technician. Like what does that mean?
Dean: 00:15:39 Exactly. It sounded sort of nicely generic, so I thought I’m sure I can, I can handout pipets and you know, and the stethoscopes and move some boltons around if needs be. And no, it involves embalming cadavers, the recently deceased volunteers who come to you and need to be pumped full of formaldehyde, formalin and phenol and to preserve them for over a year, over a year because they will be slowly dissected by medical students who are training to learn surgery and anatomy. So yeah. So that was you know [inaudible] are you squeamish? I hope not because this is obviously something I’ve signed up to do and yeah I did that for best part of two years. And yeah, there was one incident involved in I think I knew when I had to move on cause I thought, well like I don’t feel, well I don’t feel happy here because it’s involves handling dead bodies all day and cutting them open, which isn’t the most cheerful job at the best of times. But one day I sort of left, when you embalm someone, you sort of put the, the pump or the injection points into the the femoral artery, the big artery in the leg and the machine pumps formula through the whole system overnight. Cause obviously it’s gotta be a slow, gradual process to make sure every part of the body gets fixed and chemically fixed. So I came in the next morning and I left the pump on slightly too high because the donor gentleman had swollen up somewhat. It can happen, and you just turn it all face over, deflates. It’s not great but it happens. But this particular elderly gentleman passed away of a throat related issues. So this is a bit bleak for your business, but I can almost safely say that I’m one of the first people on earth to be projectile vomited on by a corpse. Then I thought, you know what, this, this, this is a bit much. So I think I did, I had like six or seven showers in a row cause I’m in the shower room and I realized I needed to finish that job. Then when I went home that day and I just got my glass of red wine thinking, Oh God, when my housemate came home and said, how was work? And I simply said, Oh, you know, same old, same old, I’m, I’m a bit too used to this. I think I need find something new to do because when that becomes the generic then, then you need to.
Bryan: 00:17:53 Yeah, it’s time to move on. So, you know, on this topic I read..so I want to hold a human brain. I never have. I don’t have a science background myself. But last year I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci. And I read about how he would work with cadavers and with horses. And I was so fascinated by an artist who was so committed to his art, that he would want to know that muscle in the sinew and how it created emotion on the face and in the body and all of this. And so it really inspired me because I think I’ve been, squeamish is probably the right word, you know, reluctant. And I thought, man, I think if I were, if I held like a stomach, a liver, a brain, and I could be with it, it, that it probably would change me. You know, in some ways it’s, so my wife and I, we made some new year’s resolutions. We’re looking forward to 2019 and saying what do we want to do and, and, and who do we want to be this year and all that stuff. And I said to that to her. I think I surprised her. I want to hold a brain. And she was very quick to point out the context in which one holds a brain is really important, you know. So if you were to give me, or strangely anyone listening, who also wanted to hold a brain some advice, how would you recommend I go about that?
Dean: 00:19:20 Well the first time I saw a human brain was when I was visiting universities with a view to be the student there. I hadn’t settled on neuroscience yet. I’d looked into genetics, medicine. I was a multipurpose biologist at the time thinking what am I interested in and went to the opening of Cardiff University neuroscience course. And the professor was giving a tour of teaching establishment, the labs and stuff. Then he went into the lab and just got this white bucket and just popped it open and said, so here’s the human brain. I was like, okay that’s a literal human brain. Just there, like three feet in front of me. Just in a bucket, just sat there, like it was a five on a shelf. That is cool. Yeah. I want to do that. And that’s why I ended up doing that. And that’s why I’m talking about this sort of thing now. It’s obviously it’s not the most a common thing to be able to do. Like people don’t have brains knocking about in their fridge and if they do what you should call the authorities or something. I say like universities are the place to go for that sort of thing. Places with research establishments. I mean, I think they do, they are aware of that effect. The fact that, you know, like in this white bucket like you just popped out is the most complex thing in the known universe as far as we are aware and the source of all human endeavor, all experience, all the imagination, all language or reasonable sensation. It’s just you and this two pound lump in my hand. That really is quite something. It’s quite… It clearly…it did change me because I was like, well that’s what I want to do. I just want to be able get a bucket and hold one that was that was quite a motivating factor at the time. There are science institutions, establishments and psychology departments… They might not be of course, sort of a fresh brain, but hopefully it won’t be a fresh brain, but they have something like…they have samples lying around or they have fixed ones or plasticated ones, so there are options. Its not that common a thing obviously, but if you look up your local psychology department or your nearest one, they should be able to point you towards someone who could do that. But if you are, I mentioned it on here cause they always like the, the attention, publicity. So yeah, it could happen.
Bryan: 00:21:22 I can feel the reluctance inside myself. I mean, and I knew it wouldn’t be that hard to find out how to do it, but I’ve been putting it off, but I’m strangely drawn to it. So yeah.
Dean: 00:21:35 It’s a very reasonable thing cause it’s an odd thing. It’s it’s a profound thing to do, but the sensation itself is a very mundane one because it’s just like, it’s just a, it’s a, it is an organ. Just hold it in your hand. It’s just, it’s got weight, it’s got presence, it’s got substance. It’s, it feels so mundane in a pure, purely sensory way. It’s the, it’s the awareness of what, what it is. That’s what really sort of makes it a vivid experience as you are saying.
Bryan: 00:22:03 Yeah, for sure. Well, one of the things that I loved about this book about Idiot Brain well first, first of all, I love some of the descriptions that you use, really brilliant. In fact.
Dean: 00:22:17 I, I’ve, I’ve often been credited for my analogies. Yes.
Bryan: 00:22:20 It’s amazing. I mean, the one like, something being as difficult as knitting a sweater out of cotton candy. Many of these metaphors and images that helped, not only make the book more enjoyable but make it more comprehensible. So I want to actually just pull on that a little bit and ask you now. How with this book, and I imagine probably with all your work, how do you arrive at like such colorful and useful ways of explaining things?
Dean: 00:22:53 I think part of it comes from like I mentioned my background, I’m the first in my family to do any levels of any sort, let alone go to university and doctor-level things. So again, my default assumption, I’m writing anything or talking to anyone is that the person I’m communicating with is a least as smart as I am. They just don’t know what I know. So it’s just like they don’t have the vocabulary, but they have completely have the smarts to keep up. And I think that’s a useful default to work towards. Nobody can’t understand this, they just don’t have the right words yet. So, yeah. So that’s my approach to it. So that’s sort of, it comes from, there’s in this, there’s nothing people I’m told can’t understand, they need to put it in terms which they probably have access to already. So then you start thinking of more contemporary and more mainstream and just more familiar references which have some vague bearing on it or, or do some sort of sensory aspect or something like some equivalent level of confusion, or difficulty, like you say, knitted a sweater out of cotton candy, which would be furiously difficult. I think obviously I talked to my family a lot and my friends growing up and people, I still communicate with who I’m, who I’m still talking about who, who aren’t neuroscientists. So I spent a lot of my time talking to people who, again, like I said, consider at least as smart as me, but just don’t have my vocabulary. They ask like, well, what do you do? And I tell them, but in words…
Bryan: 00:24:19 And you don’t just start talking about the hypothalamus, pituitary adrenal axis and the pullmanar nucleus with the left medial temporal lobe and posterior hippocampus. Like, you’re not just not just leading with that.
Dean: 00:24:31 It’s not the best chartered lane, but it’s… I don’t do that because otherwise, you know, even sometimes I’m struggling to remember? Oh yes, I still struggle to keep the term as my head still because I guess it comes from like… I wasn’t raised in that background. All of academics are from academic families and have no parents who are doctors or researchers or at least some versatility in the field before they start. Whereas I never had that. So I sort of had to explain it to myself in many ways in like, what is this thing? What do I know? Which is, it sounds a bit like this. And so I think that’s how my mind works anyway. Maybe the best of times. So, so there was that to it. And again, part of it comes from doing the standup comedy as well, which I started doing before I did my PhD after neuroscience and things. And you know, when you do that, it’s a very enjoyable thing to do if you can get away with it. If it goes horribly wrong every time, it’s not enjoyable. It’s terrible. But yeah, you are stood in front of people, like a room full of people who have paid to see you, most of often than not, not, not, not as you, were all saw that on that as well. But like they don’t know you. They don’t, they have no reason to give you a break. They don’t care that you’re a scientist, so you have to win them over in rapid time in words or they don’t find alienating. And it sort of just pressures you to think in those terms. I guess mean I would recommend to any scientists, who want to get into more communications and things to do some standup comedy, but not a dedicated stand up comic because those things exist. They’re great. But they are for people who are already interested in science, when you can sort of talk about it to room for people who have no prior interest, no reason to be interested and still keep them engaged. And that that’s a really sort of sharpens your, your abilities in that area. So, so yeah. So it’s a combination of all these factors really. It just ended ended up, that’s how my mind works though, I guess. So it seems to work out now.
Bryan: 00:26:22 It does. I think it’s really masterful and it’s consistent, you know, it’s not like you start strong and it flags, but all the way through the book is that way. For people and probably not just scientists, although I think that’s great advice. You know, anybody who wants to be a more effective leader and be more charismatic. I imagine having that kind training or at least exposure to some of these principles of communication and things is great. What… how would you advise somebody go about it? I mean, is this…do they find an improv troupe? Is there specific comedy classes, online courses? Like what would you say?
Dean: 00:26:57 Well for me…I wanted to try standup because I was always too scared to. It was just something I thought, well that’s the most pure way of doing it. And my family are all like singers, and dancers, performancers. And I never had any musical inclinationswhich was obviously annoying for them. And I wanted to be part of the choir. And I was… I did comedy plays in University, like the student panto and some improv, so all that stuff was there. But I thought, well this is all either scripted, or it’s other people’s words, or it’s I bumped into a lot of people. And it felt like I wanted to do it. And then then the whole starting work with cadavers, which does shift your perspective of what you find intolerable or not. So when you said I was always scared to stand up comedy, but then I spent two years working with dead people and my perspective shifted to, “Well worst case scenario, I do a gig, nobody laughs, but they’re still breathing. So that’s literally a step up from my day job.” So it’s a win-win for me. And so I just tried it that way. And different comedy scenes worked differently, different places, different cities, different regions. But for me, the Cardiff is actually very small comedy scene. It was even small at the time and I started, we are talking 2004. I went along to an open mic night to where people can try it out and saw like the standard of other acts on and some are good, some are like, I could probably do better than that at least, you know. I have enough faith in my material to do this much. And I just asked if I could have a go, you know. And it wasn’t at all like a baptism of fire. Like I’ve never tried this before. I did a few things in the dramatic club I was part of. It was a safe environment. I’ve just messed about with friends here and I’m not actually doing in front of strangers. And I think that’s the key part there. It’s good to practice doing like doing with your mates and doing it, you know, in your friendly environments. But then in order to really get the benefits, you need to do it in front of people who have no prior investment in you who probably will never see you again. So you have no reason to give you an easy time of it, to people who don’t need to be honest with you. Should we say? People that don’t need to sugar coat it and then those are the ones you really want to be able to win over and stuff. So yeah, how would you think of your feet? Any situation where you have people looking at you and you have to do and say things which engage them and win them over in real time. That’s probably… I can imagine all the sort of experience melds into the same sort of thing. Again in the US you have a lot of improv stuff, so that’s probably a good place to start. And big comedy scene. So like just go onto open mic night and see what the standard is. If you think you can do it, then ask them for a go. They could say come back tomorrow and they can say do tonight. They can say you can you come back in a month or something. But I think my first ever night, was true baptism of fire, cause it was quite a tough pub in Cardiff anyway. I didn’t realize at the time, but it was known to be a rowdy one with them, local residents who are little or no time for people messing around on stage. But you know, I didn’t know anywhere else. They said to give it a go. And they said, yeah come back next week. You know, you can do the open spot and I thought great! You know, five minutes to the middle from OpenAir, there’s a middle spot, there’s a headliner and this little, just doing a little bit. And I got there and the MC was there and all those waited, all the other actors said they couldn’t make it. So it was just me and him. So I went from open spot to headliner in the space of like 10 minutes. And at that point, my nervousness centered as burned out, like pop. Oh right, well this is ludicrous. I’m just gonna do it now and see what happens. So it went fine. You know, it was good, I got laughs. So that was the main thing. Yeah. So we do it on and off since then really. But I never pursued it as a career. I’m not sure if I ever could, cause I like more certainty in my life. But I advise anyone to do it at least once, so you can say you’ve done itbut do it properly. Do it in a room full of people who have no reason to give you an easy time with it. And that’s, I think that’s the key factor there.
Bryan: 00:31:05 That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. So let me ask you this, with this book Idiot Brain: What Your Head is Really Up To, who did you write it for and why?
Dean: 00:31:15 Well the genesis of the book is kind of an odd one too because I never actually planned on being a book writer and author to begin with. I’d assumed I’d be a low level and unremarkable neuroscientist my entire life. I’ve made it that far. That will do nicely. And then I sort of stopped me doing the comedy stuff but the comedy scene was quite small, so you have to wait like two or three months between gigs because there’s plenty of other acts that come behind you. But I always liked the writing part of it more, like writing the material and then I guess I got to perform this now and I never found the same set twice cause I guess I just got bored of it. I don’t know. It wasn’t really working towards being a fulltime comic. Then I discovered blogging as a concept. So you can just write this, put on the internet, people can look at it, they want and that’s it. That’s great. That’s exactly what I want. Started doing that and I thought, well what’s my USP, or unique selling point. I tend to be in the comedy neuroscientist, I’ll try to do humor about science. Like people do a lot of jokes about politics and stuff. Why not the science, and then well there’s good reasons why not. I tried to push through those a lot of the time.
Bryan: 00:32:22 What, what are some of those reasons?
Dean: 00:32:25 Well, science isn’t really it’s not as relatable as politics to start, because of things like politics or like sports because, and those things have a people are universally aware of those things. They’ve been part of everyday life. Whereas the science, although technically it is, awareness of it isn’t so much. You guys are the token nod toward science with the cool explosions and stuff, but it’s not general appreciation of science isn’t as isn’t as default as like the awareness of football or baseball or politics or anything like that. I want to get into team and stuff. You look at celebrity news and stuff, science isn’t getting that sort of coverage and science itself is by definition a system which involves logic and order and consistency and deep analysis, which doesn’t really lend itself to a lot of humor sometimes – which involves irreverence and predictability and things. So I know it can work. I think I would just take a bit of trial and error. So I was doing this blog about it and I sort of got a little interest on Twitter and I’m a bit more here and there and I got some immediate nods for it. And then I wrote a guest piece for the UK Guardian, about a depressing day of the year phenomenon, which I have extensive experience with and I got a good reception. That is of course good for them. And then they said they’re expanding their blog network to anyone interested. There’s pitch a blog. And I said, well I could do my stuff for you guys know it’s a bit dreadful but if your interested and want to take a chance on the comedy science guy. Didn’t hear anything for six months, assumed that they just deleted my email on reflex. But then they said, yeah, we’d love to add you. And got to the Guardian and turns out there was an audience for it, sort of gradually became the number one science blog on the Guardian network. Regularly having viral hits and stuff. So there was clearly interest there and then an agent,uliterally approach me out of the blue and said your blogs really good, ever thought of writing a book? And I sort of…that’s when I thought it was a scam. I said, how do I write this book? Do I send $500 to your Nigerian bank account? Yeah, of course I do. Pull the other one, I wasn’t born yesterday. But no, he’s a real guy. He’s my agent now cause he’s the first one I met. So yeah, he’ll do. That’s fine then. I thought, well, I guess I had thought about writing a book, but in the same way I had thought about owning a jet pack or going to Mars. Like these are… That’d be nice, not going to happen. Don’t worry about it, moved on in my life. But one of the main, reservations I had, I guess, cause I’m not, I’m not actually a top level neuroscientist at all. I never actually achieved much in terms of getting my name up there in the research field. You know, like I had a lot of really bad luck in my PhD, lab shutdowns, poor results and so on.
Dean: 00:35:11 So I was never a prominent neuroscientist in terms of, you know, as my peers would recognize as one. I was actually quite low on the ranking and I had to find work. And also I ended up doing lecturing and teaching rather than not. So I didn’t think I was allowed to write a book. Does that make any sense? Because all the, the main neuroscience books I read, I read a few, reviewed a few magazines or written by big names in the field, you know, Susan Greenfields and David Eagleman and things like that. And I thought, well, like I’m not one of them. So, you know, don’t worry about it. But that’s not how it works is it? Because I wrote the Guardian blog. I was that guy now so. But then another reason I didn’t think I would be able to or allowed to write a book about the brain is because one of the main problems I’ve always had with the mainstream coverage of neuroscience of the brain is the default sort of reverence there is for the brain. And a lot of justifiably, a lot of the time because it is, you know, the thing, the whole human consciousness, it’s the seat of the mind. It causes all human endeavor. And it’s also our lives, it is incredibly complex organ, which we still know precious little about in real terms. But this is like this reverence or like, it’s amazing. It’s fantastical. It’s beyond our understanding and this idea that it’s, it’s sort of like some sort of mystical, perfect object, yet so powerful. But when you start studying neuroscience for any length of time you sort of realize just how incredibly messy and annoying and uh,rational and counterproductive and inefficient it is, because it’s an organ. It’s evolved over billions of years and nature isn’t always perfect. It just goes, if it works, just keep doing it and that’s it. There’s no grand plan in the brain. So it was, it is a big mess of contradictions.
Bryan: 00:36:59 And do you mind if I just jump in right there and ask you about one while we’re on that, because in your book you write, “The brain interferes with almost every food related decision.” And as an example of what you’re talking about. Will you just touch on that a little bit?
Dean: 00:37:15 Well I’ll give you…the brain makes every food related decision. You know, it obviously, we decide to eat, it’s our brain doing that. But the human body is obviously, it depends on food for survival. And we have an incredibly sophisticated, highly evolved complex digestive system. There with all the stomach, the small intestine, large intestine, all the villi and on the surface or the capillaries inside that which work diligently to process all the food we have, and get all the maximum nutrients out of it. All the gut bacteria, the trillions of trillions of bacteria which exist inside our gut, which is a whole other ecosystem, which allows us to break down food and get the right things from it and develop it in certain ways. And we have the enteric nervous system, the the nervous part of the nervous system, the dedicated to regulate in the digestive system, which is so complex and so sophisticated and can act quite independently, as often labeled the second brain by a lot of new scientists because it’s so complex, intricate. So we have this and we have the lectins, the gremlins, the you know, the hormone systems, which decide when we are and aren’t hungry and suppress appetite in response to elevated sugar levels.
Dean: 00:38:23 So we have an incredibly sophisticated complex digestive system which helps us decide when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat. And by the time the brain gets involved it just messes it up completely because it overrules the stomach and the digestive system when it really shouldn’t. We we eat more dependent on how much we can remember eating. Like there are amnesiac who gain weight rapidly cause they don’t remember having eaten recently, even though they did. Even though the stomach is technically still full of food right at the moment, they still recognize it cause the brain hasn’t got a record of it and then they just start, keep eating cause it’s lunchtime as far as they’re concerned. Habits and stuff, if you eat a certain time of day you’ll be hungry that time of day, even if you’ve eaten an hour earlier. The test they did in Bristol University, which I’m studying, found out when they tricked people to think they’ve eaten big bowls of soup, or small bowls of soup, and people got hungry correspondingly later, or shorter, or earlier times. But the whole time they had an elaborate set, involved in pumps and pipes that someone has having the big bowl of soup, drains at the bottom. Some are having a small bowl with a pump from the bottom and they were eating a lot more than they thought, but that didn’t matter…
Bryan: 00:39:29 Who designs these experiments?
Dean: 00:39:31 The stuff I want to do. It’s basically an elaborate prank isn’t it?
Bryan: 00:39:33 It is. It totally is.
Dean: 00:39:35 It’s almost like science meets Jackass, just very low key.
Bryan: 00:39:39 Like so yeah, that was a study in this book, one of many that I found like, wow. Like that really happens, right? Based on what we believe, what we perceive, what we believe, how we behave. No surprise, but to see example after example of how we behave in ways that we’re ignorant to, you know, because of this, this brain that on the one hand is such a gift, but on another hand is such a trickster.
Dean: 00:40:08 Yeah. And that was actually, that goes back to the original point when I said I didn’t want to write a book, I didn’t feel I could write a book because I don’t think the brain is as amazing as people say it is, or able to even think it is. And then the response to that, well why not write that book then? I think I could, I think it would be handy to puncture some of the reverence the brain has because I don’t think it’s helpful. I don’t think it’s good to assume that the human brain is this infallible perfect object, cause it very much not. And it does, it sabotage us or just hinders our lives in so many ways, or the rates of mental health problems in the world, or just the unnecessary anxieties we experience, or like just like the lapses in memory. I think it was, I thought, well if it’s a book out there which people could read and go, “Oh that’s why that happens. Oh it’s okay for my brain to be backfiring constantly because everyone’s does.”
Bryan: 00:40:57 Yeah. That’s just how it works, right?
Dean: 00:40:59 This is how we work.
Bryan: 00:41:00 And I found like there were so many times when I felt like a little kid watching, here in the States and I’m sure you know Mr. Rogers, maybe some of the younger folks listening won’t know who that is, but I was fascinated by things that you would share. Like how motion sickness, what’s going on? I’m probably getting ahead of myself because I think what might be useful is if you would just give an overview of how did you structure the book? How did you organize it and why did you choose that? What would that mean for somebody? Why would somebody want to read this book or what would they get out of it?
Dean: 00:41:37 Yeah. I guess the overall structure of the book is, it was my first book. So I was still kind of in my comfort zone of blog writing. That was where I came up via. That’s what I was known for at the time. So I was essentially writing, essentially is a collection of brain related articles or blog posts if you want to be that technical about it. So it’s not really a narrative. It’s just a collection of some interesting things about the brain, needs explained one by one. So it’s a good sort of pick down and put up sort of book. Yeah, I’m going to keep plowing through to find out what happens next. My sort of approach to instruction was, because it’s obviously being a neuroscientists I know that the brain has different areas, different levels, different functions. I thought it would be intriguing to go from like most fundamental/primitive to most sophisticated. So it starts off with the basic housekeeping stuff. The motion control of things like that and sleep is in the first section. I think they like that, the ability to sleep and how that is more complex than you think. But it is such a basic primitive fundamental function, we can’t not do it.
Bryan: 00:42:50 And on that topic, to just jump in and interrupt your flow of how it’s structured. But that was another area where what you said about sleep, I just found to be so fascinating and I’ve been thinking. I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit about how we ultimately, still don’t know why we sleep, right?
Dean: 00:43:09 No, we don’t really know. We have lots of different possibilities.
Bryan: 00:43:11 But it’s not like boom, that’s it. And the point that you made about, at least in certain stages of sleep, certain times we sleep, the brain is more active than when we’re awake. And so sleep is not evidently only or maybe even all about rest and recovery, because you make that point that if that were the case, we would sleep longer after a long day of physical activity. That’s not necessarily the case. And so it’s a mystery of like, what is sleep doing for us? You know?
Dean: 00:43:43 Yeah. Lots of possibilities. But it’s so weirdly essential. We can’t quite work out why it’s so essential. I think I mentioned about even dolphins sleep with a half a hemisphere at a time. So they can sleep while still moving. But you think though, if sleep wasn’t especially, or if sleep could be got rid of it. It would have been by creatures like this or migratory birds. They sleep half a brain at a time cause they need to keep moving and flying.
Bryan: 00:44:09 And it’s one of the things I love about it, where you do present, well here’s one possibility, here’s one possibility, here’s one possibility. And then I love that you’re, although I definitely as a reader respect you as an authority, but I love that you didn’t just say this is the truth with a capital T, we’ve got it all figured out. That one in sleep in particular where you said, I’d never thought of this, that you know, some people believe that sleep is an evolution thing where our predators came out at night, so we slept to avoid them and boom, we wake up in the daytime. I’d like something that simple. I’d never heard before, it never occurred to me.
Dean: 00:44:47 It wouldn’t occur to me, I’ll be honest, but that there are so many interesting exotic theories as to how we evolved the way we did. And for what reason? Some of them are baffling. Can’t remember if it made it to the book, but there’s a theory about why human women have permanent breasts. A lot of people say it’s, it says secondary sex, cause most of the mammals don’t.
Bryan: 00:45:09 I don’t think that’s in the book. I think I would have remembered that. You go ahead and tell us now. What’s the theory here?
Dean: 00:45:14 Well there are plenty of theories, it’s basically it’s a sign of secondary sex characteristics tend to be, quote unquote, superfluous to show that you can have these big…like look at deers antlers, those are quite resource consuming or peacock feathers. Those are, look at the energy I can afford to waste on this lot.
Bryan: 00:45:36 Capable of reproducing and therefore a desirable mate.
Dean: 00:45:39 I have abundant stuff to share, so you can come and get it. And women’s breast show vitality, health, and fertility and all that sort of stuff. But the theory I read, which still makes me laugh thinking about it now, is that the reason that women, human women evolve permanent breasts is because they resemble from the front, the view of our mothers buttocks, which was comforting when we were primitive chimp climbing trees. That is quite a leap.
Bryan: 00:46:10 That’s a stretch and it could be true.
Dean: 00:46:15 That’s evolution for you. No one was there. You can’t watch it in real time. So yes, stuff like that, which is, you know, this is technically actual science. I think people miss out a lot by focusing on the big profound questions and like the, the deep physics. So like there’s this stuff too guys. This is still human. They do a lot of weird stuff.
Bryan: 00:46:35 So yeah, so you structure the book, pick up – put down, I love that term too. Somebody can pick it up, they can read, they can learn something, they can enjoy it and put it down. You move to another section. And so this process of, the stuff that was maybe most ancient, most primitive, fundamental to our existence, as it relates to the brain is early. And then in the end of the book where you’re talking about things as complex as addiction and mental illness and helping us understand it. And by the way, this is one thing that I just want to acknowledge you for and thank you for, is I think that I actually think you write this book with a lot of compassion. I don’t know if you meant to, or if you hear that, but I found myself thinking, man, if this guy was a therapist and I wanted a therapist, I would call this guy about things where we often blame people who are depressed, or people who die by suicide, that we somehow call them selfish or make it wrong. And I love your view even, that depression, that we would probably do well as a society, if we used another word. Will you talk about that?
Dean: 00:47:40 Of course. That’s something I’ve written a lot about in recent years as well, but that technically is the reason the book exists in the first place. Because I say I was writing for the Guardian and the blog stuff, and I think I mentioned it in the book, but I was the jester of the science blog network, should we say. People, they’ve got the proper science.
Bryan: 00:47:58 And then there is Dean.
Dean: 00:48:02 I think someone said like HBO used to show like soft porn and boxing, that play before for the prestige dramas. That was me. I brought the numbers in so everyone else could have proper stuff and I was fine with that. I thought, you know, that’s more than I expected to be for somebody who never got really much credit in the actual science world. But, and then, you know, I was just chug along nicely like, he’s that guy. He’s, a bit of fun. But I was at the time, I was teaching a psychiatry course. I was working as a lecturer or tutor on psychiatry you learn in master’s programs. So I had to learn everything I could about psychiatry at the time as a discipline, as a subject or as like a practice. I’m not allowed to treat patients, but I have a lot more awareness about how to do that than most people would because it was my job for seven years. I have done it at a postgraduate level. So like I was deeply immersed in the mental health field at the time as well. And then I’m sort of walking to work today in 2014 and technically you didn’t, news had broken that Robin Williams passed away. Obviously by suicide, which obviously was a very sad day for everyone. Well it was obviously quite surprised, been fond of the guy and I know he’s Disney’s Aladdin and stuff that I grew up with it. All that sort of thing. And I thought, well, I been thinking, no, that’s going to be like, if it hasn’t happened yet, it’ll be like in the next half hour. And then you saw the takes like, ah, when people say like it’s so selfish to do this. He’s caused so much pain to so many people. And I don’t know, someone who would like to study and was relating and teaching about depression at the time. And then they were less, it’s not that, you know, I saw a lot of it growing up. I lived in, there were plenty of mental health issues and then we lost people to suicide. And Bridgend was pretty hard hit by that in the late two thousands because of the speed, which is made much worse by terrible media coverage. So this is obviously a sensitive subject for me. Like I’m very, we’re aware of it. I’m thinking like, oh it’s not selfish. That’s not how it works. I think I was thinking everyone surely knows that. I mean they totally didn’t. I thought, well someone should just call this out. Someone who says should should point out it’s not selfish. He goes, there’s someone in the media should do that. And then remembered, well I have this Guardian blog I can just do stuff for, I could do it. There isn’t anyone else doing it. And I don’t know, it’s like 90 minutes. I would a quick post, like here’s why depression isn’t selfish in the context of Robin Williams of course, and all expectations about it. And I said to the Guardian, they said, well, we put it up in a bit but there’s lots of stuff about this today, so don’t get your hopes up. It’ll be covered much and it’s fine. I just want to, I wanted to say I’d done something which could, fees would be helpful and went up and I say within an hour it’d been read 50,000 times and then in two days late to believe like 3 million times, it turns out there was something people wanted to hear and hadn’t heard. I had no idea it was a little off the cuff. Well I would feel bad if I do and this if nobody else does. And obviously you have a massive viral hit. It’s still quoted today, referenced today. And then it got me noticed. Then I was the mental health guy and then publishers were a lot more interested all of a sudden.
Bryan: 00:51:01 You write one blog post. It gets to millions of readers and yeah.
Dean: 00:51:05 The vultures come crawling. Yeah, how dare they give me a new career, which I was always wanting. But yeah, but then that’s sort of, that blogpost I wrote is it’s like the backbone of that final chapter. So, yeah, it would’ve been remiss of me not to include it really, because that was essentially the reason I got into this. But then I guess I didn’t know I had this level of ability to talk about such matters. I’ve been complimented with so much sense, like nobody else seems to do it like I do it. It’s the sense of, I can get caught up with mental health situations and I’m like, I think I did the numbers of the day. Like I realize I have more friends with mental health problems then without, and then you get the only connections is they’ve all met me at some point, but I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or not. But it seems to be a thing I do and I was happy to do it. I didn’t realize it needed doing, but it turns out it did. I guess that’s what I do more than. I’m more than the humorous stuff, as I’m the guy who speaks up for mental health subjects and situations. I guess like the book sort of builds to that, let’s say it builds up from the fundamentals to the more complex stuff like sensory perception, memory was the second chapter because that’s quite fundamental, but that’s also my subject, my PhD.
Dean: 00:52:20 So I am at first and foremost a memory guy. I’m happy to talk about that till the cows come home and then build up to like things like personality, intelligence, and humor and things like that. Then I think the whole book up to that point is the brain can go wrong with being. It can do things wrong, or weirdly, or badly, and therefore it’s only a short logical leap thing. Sometimes it can go too wrong and then stop your functioning. That’s when mental health problems come in, and mental disorders, and that sort of word. That’s a good way to end it because it sort of softens reader up nicely to say, well the brain’s going wrong all the time. Some people it goes slightly more wrong and now we have depression, anxiety, addictions and things like that. So, so yeah. So that was like the sort of overall structure of it really, sort of a gradual build up to realize the brain is pretty messy and can mess up many people in very unhelpful ways.
Bryan: 00:53:13 And it does as we know. Right. And you talk about, I mean, some of the things you write about depression is not logical. I love what you say as well about, asking somebody, insisting that someone be logical, who’s in a group of mental illnesses is like insisting somebody with a broken leg to walk normally. And how that’s all a point. It’s not, people will say things like, “Oh, just snap out of it”, you know? But ultimately, and again, I love this sentence, “Depression is a genuine and serious problem that deserves empathy and respect, not dismissal and scorn.”, How did you arrive at this at this perspective?
Dean: 00:54:01 It’s not something I actively chose to do, I guess. It wasn’t like I said, I didn’t sit down and think thinking, “Hey I am going to be the mental health guy. I’m going to learn everything about this.” It comes a lot from my background as in seeing people with little or no purpose in life, or little to no prospects. I guess a better way of saying it. Cause it was a very underfunded, very lower class community. It was essentially been abandoned by the government and society. Most people didn’t know we were there. You see a lot of dispare. You see a lot of the angst, and addiction. Obviously in the pub you see plenty of that going around. And these people were, they were my friends, like they might be extended family growing up, these are my community, these were my people. So they’ve been my basis of, they are who I calibrated my personality against. We are informed by the people we grow up around. We learn from other people and we, our sense of self and identity is based on the ones we interact with. And these are the people I interacted with. So there’s a big part of that as well as then. It’s never occurred to me not to be compassionate, considerate, and see people’s mental problems as genuine, regular human people because, well they are. I mean that’s a logical statement as far as I’m concerned.
Dean: 00:55:22 And so then you sort of start studying. I started studying the brain and then, you know, let’s say when you are in a way of just how incredibly complex and messy it is and how much can and does go wrong in it, it’s, it’s incredibly skewed. It’s difficult to maintain that perspective and also think that anyone who’s got mental health problems is just attention seeking. Because you know, while you should know deep down or up front and center that no, the brain is just that unreliable sometimes. Um and then of course I work in a psychiatry program, seeing and teaching others about the various different ways and methods of mental health going wrong, being treated in diagnosed, being managed, and just how complex and difficult that is to do. And again, he was, it was an online course, there was a distance learning. So we had students from all over the world, some in very remote countries and with like limited grasp of English and some which, and I think anyone who works with psychiatry or psychology program will tell you, a lot of people join it. It’s a case of physician heal thyself. Like they have their own problems that they want to deal with and they want insight into that. So, I spent most of my life dealing with people who have or are enduring or open about mental health problems. So it’s just, again, these are people I who have made me who I am and there’s no recognition. I can’t think of any other way. It would be like, there’s no reason to not treat them with but the level of compassion you would treat anyone you care about.
Bryan: 00:56:54 Well, I think it’s not, no, it’s not the norm for everyone. And, and you say like, I mean, one of, one of the things that you say also in, in this part of the book is you talk about the line, like the line between mental disorder and mentally normal is incredibly fuzzy and indistinct and often relies on arbitrary decisions based around social norms. And, and, and you give this example, which I didn’t know that it was only in 1973 did the American Psychiatric Association declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Right. So our understanding of what even constitutes a mental disorder, let alone how we should deal with others who, or you know, ourselves who are experiencing it is pretty, it’s pretty remarkable. But you gave me a new perspective in explaining kind of what I would say. I would use the word, the mechanics of when others kind of dismiss, you know, or blame or shame someone really as a way of, you know, I guess if I understood what you were saying, right? Like to believe that that could never happen to them.
Dean: 00:58:00 Yeah. I see like people with mental health problems have a brain which isn’t to doing many favors, but the same applies to people who are judgemental or condemning, or stigmatizing of people of mental health issues themselves. Like we’re still talking about brains here. Like everyone has a brain with the sort of same inheriting properties and one of the properties of brains has. The typical human brain is a very defensive organ. It looks, does having a can to maintain our sense of wellbeing and retainer or optimism or make us feel good about ourselves, one of which is something called the attribution bias in that if you hear about a tragedy say in a different country, you know, go to Pacific Island somewhere with people who, whose lives have nothing like yours and look nothing like you, it’s fine to say, Oh, that’s terrible. I’ll send some money, I’ll send some Goodwill packages, whatever you’re, you, you feel bad for them. It’s okay to do that. But maybe it’s your neighbor who experiences a bad experience, something bad or like his car like backfires or it gets broken into, you know, this is someone who is lives right next to you, has the same sort of life as you, same sort of background, the same as the same sort of person. ,And Also if someone looks like you as well and it has that sort of thing that actually, that’s more unnerving because it says like, well if it happened to them it could happen to me. So you know, the brain doesn’t like that isn’t think well that’s just a threat. That’s a genuine anx. I see it as an anxiety, which I don’t want. Don’t need is a fear that I kind of know about. So rather than just live with this constant fear of this, anything happening to you, the brain tries to find explanations or causes which reduced, the likely they will happen to you. So rather than my neighbor is a unlucky person, he has just got a bit of bad luck, like as he was his own fault for leaving the door open or like, or you shouldn’t have done more maintenance to his car. I wouldn’t do that so it won’t happen to me. So it’s a, it’s a, it’s a self defense bias. Same thing with like with depression. If you see someone who has a similar background to you or from the same town or country or village or community or as a similar level of education or is that a lot of things in common with you and they have depression, they’re not, you know the obvious confusion there is, well I could get depression and I couldn’t have this crippling mood disorder. I don’t want, that’s what a, that’s a very uncomfortable factor I have to accept. So the brain goes, well maybe it is, but unless depression isn’t real, that is attention seeking or they’re lazy is, Oh well there we go. Then that explains that, that that keeps me safe. That’s sort of like, that’s like clear as I could put your head back into the blank gets, because you don’t want to deal with the monster, the cupboard. And it’s, it’s basically a lot of time it’s the brain’s defense mechanism, but because it’s so deeply buried and so instinctive, we don’t know what’s happening. So it’s just, you know, you go brain going, ah, no wait, we can go with that because XYZ, it’s their fault. And as a result we people get a lot more stigma and judgment and blame than they really deserve.
Bryan: 01:00:59 You used the term I’d never heard before about just world, the just world.
Dean: 01:01:06 The Just World hypothesis – this is a big part of that, in that the instinctive assumption that the world is fair, that good actions are rewarded positively, and bad actions are punished. I mean, it’s not true. Anyone who looks at the news at any point ever knows that, but it’s something we need to believe in order to stay motivated, to stay, stay positive. Because if you wake up accept that well, the world is a random place. So our actions are meaningless. And I could work hard for five years and nothing good will happen, you wouldn’t do it. Like well, what’s the point then? I’ll just sit here and drink myself to death. That’s not a good survival trait for a species. Whereas if you genuinely assume, well if I get up and work hard then I will be rewarded, I will succeed. And now, odds are you will, if it’s the system in place to do that. But it’s not guaranteed. But it’s this underlying assumption that we will be rewarded for things we do right, and we’ll be punished for things we do wrong, and other people will be too. That’s sort of like a default assumption in most humans and this is something we need to keep us engaged in the world. But in fact it is not. It’s not accurate, it is untrue.
Bryan: 01:02:14 That it’s not accurate. And at some level we know that, like we’ve all probably heard our mothers say something like life isn’t fair. At some level almost no one would disagree with that. But at the same time we do seem to live with this just world phenomenon, this just world perspective. Thinking, well if something bad has happened to someone, they must deserve it.
Dean: 01:02:35 Yeah, it works two ways. Then if someone is very wealthy, very rich, very powerful, we will say, well they must work. That sort of thing. Cause otherwise they got there just by luck, and circumstance, and cheating. And that’s a horrible thing to think of. You know, it’s demonstrably true. So like it’s a deeply embedded cognitive bias we have, which seems to be quite persistent. And you know, it looks like face up to it, own up to it is a way of moving forward through it, or a way of overcoming it. But a lot of times people don’t realize they need to do that because it’s deeply buried. And therefore people with mental health problems get stigmatized and attacked when they shouldn’t because it’s easier, and safer, and more reassuring to blame them than to accept the fact that sometimes we just have really bad luck.
Bryan: 01:03:26 And that could happen to me. Exactly. Yeah, totally. And I really appreciate as well that there are so many places in the book that help really, kind of shine a light on, and bring awareness to these… I don’t want to call them tricks, but these ways in which the brain works that are very egocentric, you know. That we’re not aware of unless they’re pointed out to us, but research or in some cases even common sense, once we see it. Like the one that you talk about where, people when they recall a decision that was made that they were a part of, when it turns out favorably, they remember having had a bigger role in it then they actually had. Right? Like the fact that things like that happen. Is there a specific name for that or that kind of bias?
Dean: 01:04:14 I think that’s the retroactive bias. It’s a self aggrandizing one. It’s like you know, egocentric. There are so many different egocentric biases to memory. We always remember things being better for us than they were. We remember doing better than we did because human memory is very plastic. It can be adult edited, and updated, and tweaked. Every time we recall it, a memory isn’t just looking at a file, it’s triggering it again and then you add your new perspective to it. And so there’s a lot of that covered as well. Yeah, I think it’s the uthe retroactive bias. I think I mentioned, but it first sort of identified it in relation to the Watergate scandal. The whistleblower John Dean, my name sake, not one of the better Deans I guess. But he was involved in it and then you came forward and sort of confessed that all this was going on. But as the other recording shows that he said, well we had this meeting and I did this…blah, blah blah blah. And he’s just saying like all the stuff you did to get this conspiracy going. But then they found the recordings of the actual meetings and they didn’t match his memory. He was far more of a bit player. You know, he’s just in the background taking notes or making the occasional suggestion, he wasn’t making big decisions or gagging the conversation, or leading the planning, like he said he was. The gist of what happened was correct. But his role in it was far more,uexpanded in his memory and the fact that he’s confessing to a crime here. He doesn’t want to, you wouldn’t like just make himself look like a big man. He doesn’t want to get any more punishment than he’s already had. Just his memory told him this is important thing that happened. You were involved with it. So, you know, there’s some ambiguity to play with it and it’s just, you are a big person and you, you did well there. You did that, you’re an important person. And when the actual physical recording came forward, like no you’re not, the brain does that to us. Like we need to feel good about ourselves or the function to a certain extent. That’s why depression can be so cryptic because we don’t it still becomes inverted. And it does this in many ways by tweaking our memories. So we’d always have a bit of a slightly more rosy version of our actions then is actually the case.
Bryan: 01:06:25 Yeah. Or sometimes maybe the inverse where we remember something is worse like catastrophizing, right? But always in a way that makes us look good.
Dean: 01:06:35 Yeah. But obviously it sounds like I’m criticizing the brain here, but you have to think in that every bit of information the brain has, is derived from an egocentric perspective, it’s all run through our own eyes, or our own ears, through our own heads. So everything we’ve experienced ever is always going to be from our own perspective. So our own influence on it is going to be far more magnified then sort of a CCTV camera would pick up, because it’s our own brain recording it.
Bryan: 01:07:04 So, okay, just a few more questions on this before we switch gears here. So I’m curious to ask you about personality. Because you write about this and you quote this Jerry Ferris and William Chaplain, they wrote a book in 2009 called, Introduction to Personality. It looks like a textbook that they use this definition that you say most psychologists would be willing to accept. And here it is, you say “personality is that pattern of characteristic thoughts, feelings and behaviors that distinguishes one person from another, and that persists over time in situations.”
Dean: 01:07:41 Yeah. I think that’s a fairly reasonable summary of personality.
Bryan: 01:07:47 So given that what, because one of the things that, that some of my teachers and my spiritual teachers suggest to me, is that our personality is entirely a construct. That they say in the same way your body is made of food, you’re the mind, and the personality is an accumulation of beliefs and experiences. And it’s not who you really are. And I know that gets into the realm of metaphysics and spirituality. But the point that I’m left with and that I attempt to share with others, when I think it will serve them, is that we actually can change. Not just change as human beings, but we can change even our personality. What do you say true or false, Dean?
Dean: 01:08:34 Yeah, I would say definitely true. And I mean we change all the time. Every memory we have, every experience we have, forms of identity. And we have what they call a mental model of how the world works running in our head all the time. Like some of our experiences, our beliefs, our views, our predictions, our memories, our tendencies is all certainly the one big amalgamation, which is like a simulation of things which helped us navigate life. Like in this situation, this should happen in this context. I would do this in this context. They would do that, I would do this. So that’s an ongoing thing. It’s always the attitude always been expanded. And people do change, you see them all the time. I think personality endures over time. So like there’s a sort of a core amalgamation of specifics which most people think, well I’m that sort of person. Some people don’t like a certain type of music. Some people are very sort of disinterested in like modern art and things like that. Some of them don’t get along with a certain type of person. Like a gregarious person can be quite annoying or they can love people like that. So these are traits which are enduring, but enduring means fixed or permanent. You can change these things, but I think that sort it takes effort. So if you don’t like extroverted people, it’s like, well I want to start liking extroverted people. You’re going to have to sort of force yourself to engage with them more. And hopefully over time you will like all, if not, it’s not like you become desensitized and oh I’m used to that now.
Bryan: 01:10:12 And I wonder, and this is at the heart of this by the way for me. I’m so glad that you’re talking about this because to hear that, and I know that’s a common perspective and it’s not that I disagree with it, but what I’m hearing you say is something along the lines of… I know this isn’t therapy and you know what I’m talking about, but it’s almost like exposure therapy. That if you don’t like this kind of person, just be exposed to it and eventually maybe you’ll come to like it, but at least you’ll become inured to it. You’ll be able to tolerate it. But what I wonder is, is it a choice? Can it be, I make the decision and boom, my experience changes and my personality even can change in a profound and real way from a decision without there having to be exposure or time.
Dean: 01:10:53 I would say, yeah, I think it can choice. If you wake up one day and say, I’m gonna make myself like these type of people I’ve always had problems with. Then that’s clear, that’s the decision. Now if you were someone like in the past week like, “Oh, I hate those guys, I’m going to give them a wide berth.” But then I think, I guess I can pretend on how far back you want to sort of go here, and that I’ll never come back to the whole issue of is free will real, or not? And I’d been over that already. If you wake up and decide right, I’m going to make myself like these people but then that means you are the sort of person who will make that decision, who actually wants to decide that. And other people wouldn’t, they look quite comfortable in their current existence. But then are you like them or you’re not? Or was that always part of you? I think that’s where we enter the realms of what is individual choice? What is free will? What is, what are decisions like? What are the factors that led to me making this decision? Do you enact this fundamental change? And I think these are really good and interesting questions and they are one of the things which we just don’t know yet. I guess that one of the mysteries I keep bumping up against is, so human consciousness in my brain is a massive amalgamation of billions of neurons, like thousands of different dedicated areas all working at the same time. In so chaotic ways. How does that suddenly produce this one unified consciousness that we have?
Bryan: 01:12:27 Or does it?
Dean: 01:12:30 Well, that’s the thing isn’t it. So we do act as an individual. Why would it sort of merge in this way at all and that’s a good question. That’s one thing which we can’t really say yet.
Bryan: 01:12:42 I truly was just about to ask you about that. So thank you for bringing it up.
Dean: 01:12:45 It seems spontaneous doesn’t it. These are the big questions. These are the, you know, the human existence, the what is our purpose sort of self questions. I would say like, why are we here? What do we do here? What are we?These are big questions, are important questions. But again, I think it comes back to that I’ve never had that much of a high opinion of myself to be able to address stuff like this. So I’ll explain the nuts and bolts. I’ll let the big thinkers take care of the heavy load, the heavy lifting on the philosophical side. So, but I think it’s an interesting one in that can you… You can decide to make a change about yourself, but if you’ve made that decision, then are you…Were you already that sort of person? People change identity as fluid, my memory is fluid, personality is a lot more chaotic than we think. And again, I think I mentioned in the book how reluctant I was to write that chapter, but it’s so hard to study. There are lots of scientific papers about personality but the problem is, cause it’s science, it has to be a measurable objective. It can only be on external properties of personality stuff. People behave, do and say, right? So much of what who we are is internal, just our internal thoughts, our internal monologue, and the stuff we believe in or tell anyone. These are just as vital parts and you just can’t see those things and people don’t often share them. So yeah. So there’s still a lot to go on there.
Bryan: 01:14:14 No, what you say makes it makes sense to me. And at the same time I think about, people that I work with in a coaching capacity where we’re just stories people have told me from their life. Where an incident occurred usually in their youth and they made a decision to be a certain way or to never be a certain way, you know? To be healthy and then they became like a star athlete. They carried that impulse out so far or to be, top of their class and then they always earned straight A’s. And it was like from one time in a classroom when a teacher shamed them in front of their peers and boom, it was like from that moment they lived as a certain person. So I’ve seen it and I realize these are anecdotes, that kinda thing. But still, I like to believe that that power is available to us to self-determine at any moment.
Dean: 01:15:06 Definitely. Definitely. But it normally, like you said, those examples it takes us over an event or an external factor to enforce such a change. If you are comfortable, if people stay in their comfort zone, that is pretty much like we do that just by default.
Bryan: 01:15:24 Every organism. Right.
Dean: 01:15:25 Exactly. This is safe. I like this. I know what I’m doing. Why change that? Something shows you that, well this isn’t safe. Like this is not a guaranteed safe way to be. Oh my God, I better do something different then. I’m going to never say that I’m fine in the class the teacher humiliates you. I’m not gonna let that happen again. So yeah that would be a decision, but then it’s external factors which can enforce it or sort of like trigger it. And it could just be all again, it could just wake up one day and I’m not happy with this. I’m just going to do it. But yeah. So people are malleable and that’s one of the best parts of the brain I think. Nobody’s fixed in place.
Bryan: 01:16:03 Yeah. Thank goodness. Okay, so I want to turn our conversation now to the… Oh, last question in this section. Do you mind if I ask a somewhat personal question? So the question is about a belief in a higher power and about how, if at all, what you’ve learned about the brain, about life, like how it has changed (if it has) your belief in or maybe your relationship to a higher power?
Dean: 01:16:39 Um it’s been a tricky one in that I never really had much in the way of religious influence growing up. And like I said it was a small community, my parents weren’t religious at all. I was christened or baptized for Church of England version. I remember that cause I was about five. I remember being in a strange experience like why is everyone staring at me? Why is my head wet? That’s always, that’s a strange thing to put a five year old through. And so I remember that being a thing, that sort of religion and stuff and like mentions of God being. But it was never really… We would really led to make it a part of our existence. Like it wasn’t like we had to pray at school and stuff. I guess I believed in God or Jesus got up in the same way. Well I was told that was a thing. So I, of course I didn’t have a reason to doubt it. But yeah, it was never sort of like a deep rooted religious thing. Our village went from… The churchess were all Welsh Baptist at one point and then they were Church of England and nobody told anyone that that just happened. Okay, fair enough. All right, crack on. It wasn’t like a major wrench in the spiritual life of the valley I grew up in. So yeah, so belief and a work and adherence to a high power has always be the sort of a rather smaller part of my life, compared to a lot of people in the world I know. I guess I wouldn’t call myself an atheist. I suppose I could call myself, if I admit my own term, a non-atheist. Like I said about the whole philosophical, spiritual stuff. I think, well that’s not really my field. I’ll happily let other people talk about that and if you want to ask me stuff, I’ll say what I think about it. But I don’t think I’m… It’s not my area, so it’s not something I don’t feel absence of my life from, not having a deep connection to a higher power or religious background anything. But I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on much in that respect. I think I have been perfectly functional as I am, like to think. So. Yeah. It’s an interesting one that, you know. I thought why am I so indifferent about it I guess. When you sort of study the brain and stuff and you see the unique messiness and over inefficiency, it’s all embedded with you. It’s difficult to say this was designed by a maximum intelligence. So Ultimate Being, you can do a better job than this. It’s like hmm, okay. But I don’t think that’s actually like…I mock the brain a lot. I hope I’m funny, but personally I find it more impressive though it is messy, tangled, convoluted organ, and it still does all the stuff it does. It still got us to where we are. But that to me is breadth-ically impressive. Far more than brilliant thing does brilliant stuff…of course it does, but no messy, inefficient, clogged up thing does brilliant stuff. That’s more of an achievement. So yeah, so I don’t really have much of a…That’s not a big part of my life, I guess. If I had to summarize it. It’s never really has been. So I’ve never felt lack of it. If I had a more of a religious upbringing than becoming a neuroscientist, how will that affect me then? That’s an interesting question, but it’s, it’s more of a thought experiment. It hasn’t happened. So I haven’t got any data to go on. But I do know plenty of very accomplished scientists who are very religious. And again, someone, a local professor who sets up his own evolution research institutions and he’s a devout Christian. He goes to church every weekend. So there is no incompatibility there. So I don’t think there’s this divide that people always seem to assume there is. I mean most of the famous scientist in history, were also very devout, cause a lot of long time like it was the church which is actually teaching people how to do science and things like that. So there wasn’t any other institution for it. So yeah, there’s a lot more give between spirituality and science then most people seem to realize. I think the shouting matches are more the fringy things, but yeah, it’s not something I’ve really, ever had to dwell on that much I suppose. I can’t really give you a satisfied answer.
Bryan: 01:20:53 No, thank you. I appreciate that. Okay. So the enlightening lightning round. In this section, these are designed to be short questions. You’re welcome of course to answer as long as you want, but my aim is to ask the question and for the most part, to stay out of it. Okay. Question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a…?
Dean: 01:21:24 I would say it’s like a choose your own adventure story, you know, like it seems like there are set paths. It seems like there are structured narratives to it and yes, in a way that are perhaps, you know, you fall into certain pathways and routes. But there are still the choices you need to make and they can be quite like innocuous ones that would lead to much bigger things, or they can be quite fundamental ones, just don’t really need much change at all. But then a book is still a construct of humans, so they’re like the life the world have created is like, it’s our own thing. We have designed this world and it’s ours. It is what it is because of humans. And I think this are perhaps recognize that a bit more. Life is what we’ve made it, for better or worse, and it is what we make it, for better or worse.
Bryan: 01:22:11 Right on. Thank you. Question number two, what’s something at which you wish you were better?
Dean: 01:22:18 Oh, music definitely. I like music in the same way I like wine and that I recognize white and red. I could tell like a bad from a good one. But beyond that I have no finesse. I have no precision. I know some people who can drink a glass of a glass of red wine and say, “Oh yes, from the Bordeaux region of France, 1963 or the grapes are stomped by young Baikal Pascal, the corn on his left toe…” They’re nuts sort of. I’ve never, I know loads of people who love music so much and are very moved by it. They have their favorite albums from their youth and they have like a deep emotional experiences related to it. And I don’t know, I’ve just always had a bit of, I don’t know, a blind spot, bit of a sort of really crude appreciation of it. Like I like the stuff I like. I don’t like this I don’t like. But there’s nothing, it doesn’t really go that much deeper. With some people they can sit and listen to an album and be in a full immersive emotional experience. And my interest in music is more casual and I’d love to be able to do it but just something that’s… Again, I don’t think I’m wired that way and I don’t know why, most my family are, but I’ll accept it. I’ve made up for it in other areas I think, but, you know, it’s always been a thing I’ve sort of I feel that the absence of that sometimes. I wish I could do something. I wish I could be a more musical person, but it is what it is.
Bryan: 01:23:42 I wish I was more musical myself. Yeah. Question number three. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a tee shirt with a slogan on it, or a phrase, or a saying, or quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Dean: 01:23:57 Um well, my first thought was going to my favorite comedy writers, but the pretty much all swears I wouldn’t want to wait to be it. Make it difficult, pick the kids up from school. Tricky one I think with really I’ve always really liked just the phrase action potential. Because it is, that’s the name of like the signals that neurons conduct to each other. Just like the little shifted in membrane potential. I liked that as a, as it sounds motivational, like an action potential, like the potential to do action, but it is the thing that the brain and life itself is based on. So I’d like it to say action potential because I think it opens up a lot of. There’s a lot of scope there for what that covers is actually potential on the A would be shaped like the voltage change, as in action.
Bryan: 01:24:48 I love it. No, that’s great. And okay, so this is a moment. I love that and you probably start some interesting conversations with that shirt too. And I do want to jump in and violate my own lightning round in lightning, lightning round real for a moment because this is something I wanted. I did want to ask you about, I heard I was first exposed to an idea that might be the same idea where I heard the term readiness potential and I wonder if it’s the same in neuroscience or readiness potential and actual potential, but the context in which I heard it was that scientists have been able to measure, and I don’t, I’m not sure I’m, I’m gonna relate this accurately, but, but that we’re able to detect in a few milliseconds before someone takes an action that they are going to take that action before they’re even consciously aware, which may be just muddies that whole free will thing. But is that something that you can speak about?
Dean: 01:25:42 To a certain extent. There’s lots of research in this sort of area, like think of mirror neurons, which sort of other neurons responded to the actions of others. And they seem to be quite fundamental and like they are believed to be, I think they, I don’t think they’d be identified specific new ones in humans yet they’d be found in other species, but we seem to have been may mirror sort of center, which is a bit more clearer potential. Which area a big part of empathy. Like there was someone and their facial expression changes this way. We are so sensitive to that we can go, Oh, angry person. Uh oh you know, frustrated person now what’s wrong? And like, it’s a weird thing to you walk into a room with a row which has happened or a big argument. You can sense it too. People’s body language, people’s tension, people’s, the way they stand. We are such a social species that so much of the brain is actually dedicated to detecting and communicating and reading other people. We have all centers where like we have a face recognition zone in the brain that goes to the individual cortex, which that’s why we see like the face of Jesus or Elvis in toast and chips all the time. It’s a cause that we recognize faces so readily. Like you get some little information so it wouldn’t I think that that is not there. Like we are the brain finding such things, other people’s actions and demeanor is so important that it tags them like immediately before our conscious mind can even recognize it or like be aware that it’s happening. A lot of stuff that’s do that, like the conscious mind is far more complex and has more potential than the instinctive stuff. The instincts, instinctive stuff being simpler and older is a lot faster because it’s like part A to part B to part C that whereas the you know, the conscious mind, all the different connections, it’s like going through the entire Metro system of a big city like duh, duh, duh. Oh, there it is. And that’s so yeah, so it’s a known thing that subconscious processes happen a lot faster than the conscious ones because they’re just simpler, they have more direct routes.
Bryan: 01:27:44 That’s so fascinating. And some of what you write about that with the measurements when we see something, I think, I think the number you used was for one 300th of a second. When subjects are exposed to an image and already they start to sweat.
Dean: 01:27:59 Fear responses are just like incredibly fast and it’s very much a hair trigger.
Bryan: 01:28:06 So, okay. So tangent over. We’ll go back. Okay. The question, question number four, what book other than one of your own, have you gifted or recommended? Most often?
Dean: 01:28:18 Um think it would be, eh, Sam Keans, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons because it’s.
Bryan: 01:28:25 What a great title.
Dean: 01:28:26 And I know, I thought, well that’s why I wanted it in the first place. I got to read that just by sheer, by sheer interest. Yeah, it’s all like a history of neuroscience and it starts from the very early days of battlefield medics, medieval times. They’re looking at the caving in skulls of people and poke in the brain bits and it’s very intriguing and very colorful. The history of my field, and it is kind of a squishy one. Let’s just go with to say that it’s a, before MRI’s came along, you have to wait for someone to have a brain injury and see what happened. And I hope most of our scientist and ancestors waited. Not the most moral people I know. So yeah, that’s the one I sort of recommend for just for know how neuroscience came about. It’s is by no means a boring subject in that respect.
Bryan: 01:29:14 Sounds, sounds fascinating. Okay. Question number five. So your, you’ve traveled quite a bit. What’s this, what’s one travel hack meaning something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Dean: 01:29:32 Um and today would be my wife because I was never much of a traveler before we met. Like I grew up in this tiny remote Valley and they say you should expand your horizons obviously. Yeah. But when you horizons are mountains like three miles apart, it doesn’t take a lot to expand them. So I still live now only 30 miles away from my hometown. And you know, geographically it’s not much, but psychologically it was like going to the moon. There’s like you can’t go live in a city that’s not known does that obviously they do or humanity but they make my, my my friends are peers went to know that at the time. But I guess again I guess cause I all my travel experiences done via my wife who was like, he was acting traveler before we met. So I’ve now I’ve traveled long haul we’ve been to Mexico, Malaysia. I know Turkey and now Egypt. This is like you’re a bit more exotic but rather the package holidays to the nearest sunny place. And I guess, yeah, I think I will say it is when you’re traveling, if you can, it’s important to go with someon you have that connection with. Someone you can weave presents, you can tolerate. You want to be around because people like you play, let’s go on holiday together. And that’s when you get to really know someone I suppose in that’s, you know, I’d be, I went probably with some friends when I was younger. I didn’t really enjoy it. They tend look like when they’re out, when they’re off the leash, they are the most sociable or considerate people. So I think if you’re going to go traveling, my only advice would be travel with the someone you like. Travel with someone you get on with. And I think you know that that’ll always make things less stressful just because you have someone you can rely on.
Bryan: 01:31:11 That’s, that’s well said. Okay. Number six, what’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Dean: 01:31:24 I guess you could say I stopped doing the standup comedy to a certain extent. I mean, I, it was never a, it’s never something I perceived it as a career. I’ve never thought I was that good. I guess I told you the idea for a bit. I’ve been doing it for 20 years. It will, could I do this? But I, I didn’t think I was right for it. It’s too, it’s too unpredictable a lifestyle for me. I always want, I was already married. Wanted to settle down. I wanted a family eventually I wanted to find the reliable job and I, yeah, it would totally do a comedian in this country at least, I’m pretty sure it’s the same elsewhere that it’s, it’s a highly sought after profession that are far more comedians that want to do it then comedians who earn a living from it and it’s a, you know, it’s a very, very lonely profession. You grave in all hours to go to, to go to gigs. I can, I went to the friend wants to do the in the Grantham, which is like four hours drive there, four hours back. So drove four hours. I did seven minutes, he did 20 and four hours back. To me that does seem like, I guess my rational mind, this couldn’t accept this ridiculous existence. This seems so inefficient. And so they love the environmental impact of driving four hours for a 10 minute slot. So yeah, it sort of got to the point where I didn’t need to be doing it. Like I do book talks now, so I want some stage time I get an hour to myself and literary festivals and I can tell jokes I can. So I never officially quit it, but cause I was never officially doing it I suppose, it was always a hobby. But it’s something I’ve called back from. And I do think like most things, especially when it’s something so eager, even in competitive, there’s a lot of ill will there. Like there’s a lot of toxic people you could end up talking to or if you want to schmooze and network with people who are higher up the rankings and it becomes very cynical and I just never enjoyed that stresses me out of doing it. So I stopped. So yeah, I guess technically doing standup comedy, although I will do it now and again, but it’s very much more of a casual pastime than it once was.
Bryan: 01:33:29 All right, thank you. So here’s an, here’s an ethnocentric question. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Dean: 01:33:40 Well, I guess where to buy my book and how cheap it is I suppose. I guess it would be to just try and get my perspective on depression more widespread, that it’s not just depression but any mental disorder. Like a mental disorder stops you from thinking logically and rationally or at least to at by a normal extent. And that’s why it’s genuinely harmful and unhelpful to expect people in the grips with to do that. So yeah. So you shouldn’t judge people in the grips of mental health problem by normal standards because by definition they are not operating on those parameters. So yeah, that’d be my, if I could get everyone to recognize that I think we make some headway in dealing with these problems in a more helpful manner.
Bryan: 01:34:34 We, we’d be better for it for sure. Okay. the next question, what’s the most important or useful advice you’ve ever, I’m going to reword this question. What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned about making relationships work?
Dean: 01:34:53 I personally with the caveat that everyone is different. Everyone has their own priorities and will have different personalities and what works for them. It won’t work for everyone else. And relationships are inherently complex because there are two way thing. I think it’s that it really is. I think people seem to think it’s to be avoided, but I don’t think, I think the opposite. It’s really good to find someone or to work as a relationship where you can be silent with someone. You can just sit there in the same place at the same time and not be, not a hostile. You know, like, I’m not talking to you. I told you I refuse to speak to you. But to be in the same place, just be around someone and not have to fill the silence with, to accept that just because you’re not talking right now, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. It’s the idea. Because me and wife will be in the same room we just read in the same room. We’ll sit there like, I’ll just use my phone or I’ll write something. It’s companionable. It’s just nice to be around someone. It’s nice to be able to say hello, you’re there, you’re there. That’s nice. I’m glad you’re nearby and it doesn’t need to be more of that. I think it’s the idea that you can sit in silence. People find like, well, something must be wrong. You’re not talking, you’re communicating like it’s fine. Humans don’t communicate 24 seven if you need some downtime. But if you can share that down time with someone else, then that’s even better. I think that makes relationships stronger, not, not less so.
Bryan: 01:36:18 Now that really, that really resonates with me and I have that kind of relationship with my wife. In fact, she says a few years into being together, she said, being with you is like being by myself only better.
Dean: 01:36:32 That’s great though. Now it’s nicely we’ll say that cause like I think it’s my second book, but people are very social creatures, but even the most, regardless, extrovert, they need some downtime. They need a socializing and interacting takes the energy and resources for the brain. Then you need to stop doing that sometimes. But if you could do that in a very passive way with someone like, just somebody that’s best of both worlds, you get to reach out and you get to recover and you get to the companion companionship and it’s great. Yeah, that’s it.
Bryan: 01:37:01 I think that’s a really good, good approach. Okay. So last question in this section, which is what’s the most important thing you’ve, aside from compound interest, setting aside compound interest, what’s the most important lesson you’ve ever learned about money? Or what something that you’re sure to always do or never do with it?
Dean: 01:37:25 I guess,uwell when I was, when I first moved out to the home as a student, you know, add the student loan and I didn’t quite think about, appreciates the how, you know, money is a finite resource. I’ve got money now I can buy stuff and okay, what’s going to credit my wife with this. She’s from a far more ufinancially sensible in her background and her parents own a business, like they were doing a recession so they, they, they weren’t much good at watching money but not like, not like stingy, just very logical, very thinking of it and I guess to me it’s case of, I now thanks for hearing those things. My previous experiences are like, you got into debt by going through it again. Thankfully I don’t like spending money that I don’t need to spend in terms of, you know, if I want something I think of that’ll make my life a bit that, Oh, I’ve got money, I can afford that help, I’ll get that. But like I’ve got a phone right now. It’s not that, it’s not all, I don’t care. It’s, it’s there. It works does what it needs to do, I don’t need the latest iPhone. I never had an iPhone and I’ve always had the Galaxy just because purely because that was the one my contract offered. I love that and I haven’t changed since because I don’t need to, I don’t see any requirement for that. I don’t have the latest fashion, I will wear shoes until they are not useful anymore. Like they stop working. Yeah. So I think I don’t buy things, I just don’t for the sake of it. I don’t like doing that though. I think my wife’s told me that but also brought a few months of living like paycheck to paycheck cause I lost too much money just by be that irresponsible student. Yeah. I I I don’t like the needless expenses and like I don’t have any particular drive to keep up with the Joneses or have the the best of everything. Um,and I guess I guess, cause I’m just very easily contended right now, I will happily just put, well I’ve got this much money. Like I spent a bit of it on something nice to eat and then I’ll just put the rest away because that’s all I need to do right now. I think,uyeah, it’s not spending money that I don’t need to spend is perhaps the most useful thing I’ve done with the advantage of as like, like I said, the music thing. I’ve never really been stimulated by things like gambling. Or like if I don’t get a high from shopping, like a tedious chore. So again, I have, I guess I have an innate bias away from those or behavior anyway. But yeah, just man, I don’t spend money. I don’t need to spend because then why would I suppose.
Bryan: 01:39:52 But what a beautiful way to be. Okay. So if people, so I, if you, if you’re up for it, I, I would like to just ask a few questions about the creative process and about writing. Okay. And then before we go to that, and the final section of our interview here today I want, I want to ask this here to make sure to get it in the interview and not squeeze it to the end. If people want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you or follow you, what would you have them do?
Dean: 01:40:21 Um you can go to DeanBurnett.com my websites. If you’re a Twitter user, it’s @G A R W B O Y. The Garw Valley is my home Valley. I actually, I’m signed up to Twitter long before anyone cared who I was. I didn’t think it would be an issue. But now I’ve got like close to 40,000 followers who keep asking what’s that mean? All right. Yes, so I’m like, I have a Facebook, my professional account is iDean Burnett, right in person. But you can see my, the Cosmic Shambles Network as my blog Brain Yapping. My podcast also called Brain Yapping. These are the places you can find me, but also if anyone wants to, you can find my books, which I have four about now and a fifth on the way. So there’s the Happy Brain, Idiot Brain. Two are now currently only the UK. One is Why Your Parents Are Driving You Up the Wall And What To Do About It. My first book for teens about why their parents are annoying, going through brain development and so on. And my new book, book Psychological, it’s an audio exclusive from Audible and you can get it if you want to, but it covers pretty much everything we discussed about the mental health side of things. It’s all about that, like a real deep dive into depression, anxiety in the current state of mental health with my own signature analogies and easily explained way. So yeah, these are all, if you’re interested in anything I do those, those are the places to go I guess.
Bryan: 01:41:41 Awesome. Thank you for that. And on the topic of, thank you, one of the things that I’ve done to express my gratitude to you for making time and to share of your experience and wisdom with me and all of our listeners is that I’ve made $100 micro loan to an entrepreneur in India on your behalf. Someone named Devika who’s in Tamilnadu, she’s 47 years old. She’ll use this money to buy rice and expand her batter business small. Thank you for giving me a reason to do that.
Dean: 01:42:21 That wasn’t the, I don’t know what part. I played to that, but I’ll hopefully take the credits.
Bryan: 01:42:26 Okay, cool. So final, final questions here. So Dean, you’ve now written, you said you’ve got your fifth book coming out. Your first book I understand was published in 2016 so that’s like five books in five years. Less than five years.
Dean: 01:42:44 Yeah, three with three with this year. That was, that was a bit much. Yeah, that was not wise like, yeah, just not good. I know that a, that was a terrible idea.
Bryan: 01:42:54 That’s amazing. Very, very prolific in you. I love your story. You shared a little earlier about, you know, you started blogging and an agent found you and asked if you wanted to write a book. I suppose the question that I, that I want to ask here is if people want to do what you’re doing, meaning they want to take their ideas, they want to organize them, they want to write them, they want to share them with other people in a way that people enjoy and it actually makes a difference for what, what advice or insight would you give to people who want to do that?
Dean: 01:43:31 The advice I genuinely give when asked questions about like this it’s gotta be kind of egocentric because obviously it’s based on my own experience and I’ve got nothing else to go on. But it would be to start blogging or start like say if it’s, if it’s more of a live thing, if you could do it live, start doing it. It’s, it’s more a case of getting your work out there. Like put it out there so people can see it and then that sort of becomes almost a self sustaining sort of thing. Like when even if it’s like four or five people read it the first time because if you’re completely unknown blogger writer then it will be especially public to begin with. But that’s good isn’t it? You can, you can see it all work that you can see your, your how you’re progressing. You can go back to the stuff you did before like Oh what was I thinking? And that’s, that’s healthful. But other people can see that too. And that, you know, that makes you maintain a sense of honesty, your transparency I suppose. And that, some might not like to do that. You can go back and get rid of your work if you want to. But in terms of the purely practical sentence like doing that gives you the option, the opportunity for people to see what you’re doing and especially if you work on or address a particularly niche area or something people are interested in. And that’s another tip I suppose in that to what do you offer that other people, most people couldn’t or don’t. It doesn’t have to be completely original, but it was in your doing something that’s particularly initiator of music or your typical type of art and you know, you can offer that to each other. People maybe may not do so. And I got contacted once ages ago, but I was still doing the Guardian and stuff by a guy who wanted to know how we can make his blog go bigger, like minded. And he sent me links to it and it was basically his blog was about being a new father to a four year old boy in the North of England, which is like I, I’m not, was, wasn’t badly written. It’s like I’m not sure that’s a, that’s a unique perspective in that are hopeless parenting blogs, the most common type because they would be like, everyone has parents and so it wasn’t really a unique thing to do. So work out what it is that you can offer that most people can’t or don’t or won’t. I think get it up there and people because it’ll help you grow, will help you write. Especially if you set yourself the task of I need to maintain this, I need to keep it going. And again, I guess if you don’t do it fades away, then that does sort of suggest that is not something you work. Because your work is too demanding or you’re just doing all the time. Then it’s just maybe it isn’t something you want really want to be doing. It’s if you keep doing it and keep at it, then that suggest it is genuinely a passion of yours. But when you sort of go in the pure practical sense of if you want to write books or you want to get your work probably out there with the backing of a bigger media platform or corporation, it really helps to have the ability to say, that’s what I do to make a point or something. Say, look, that’s what I do. What do you think? Do you want to know? They might not want it to make no effort, but it’s there. So if you could propose them and say, I want to write about, you know, the,uthe life cycle development of the nematode worm and say, okay, what written about that? Nothing. I just think it’d be good at it. People are interested because you’re, you’re an unproven entity. If you have your work out there, then at least you can always say, this is what I’ve done. This is my portfolio, this is my bibliography, this is my stuff. So it’s a get it out there in whatever capacity, then you can point to it and say, that’s me. That’s what I do. And that just makes, that lays the first brick in the foundation of whenever you want to go. So that’ll be, that’s always my first advice to people wanted to do similar things to me, I guess.
Bryan: 01:47:14 Yeah, that’s solid when it comes to, when it comes to any given project. When you, how do you, I guess the question is what does a typical day for you like when you’re in the middle of a project?
Dean: 01:47:28 Um well I have my what I am right now actually my my writing shed, my writing cabin in my garden. Much like Roald Dahl hotdog does Thomas, but mine’s better cause he’s got wifi and.
Bryan: 01:47:39 I’ve always wanted one of those. That’s awesome.
Dean: 01:47:42 I, I have a lot of the envy directed at me. It’s, it’s pretty cool. So it’s that I leave the house at say about 9:20 when I’ve got the kids to school and anything like that. And just I just tend to sit here and write. I will, I will break up the day if I can go to the gym or something or I’ll go for a coffee down the road or just, I’ll walk it. It’s, yeah, I think I’m a bit the middle of a project especially like I, I think like most people, like it’s it like it’s something I covered in the book. I think I tend to write more prolifically and more fluidly when I’m closer to a deadline.
Bryan: 01:48:19 Funny how that works.
Dean: 01:48:20 But I have become more, more disciplined over time because like I say, I never really planned to be a writer, so I had to figure out my system as I went along. My first book I was quite nice. I like to write in the evenings because I had a, we had that one. My son was like a year old. My wife’s on maternity leave I had like a little upstairs office. It was really nice. And then my daughter came along, we spent like an hour or two taking the kids to bed and now way by which point I’m exhausted. So yeah, so my routine was shifts around a lot. But yeah, it’s mostly sitting down and writing then I guess. And I do like do like the social media stuff in the morning to keep myself active to say like, I’m still here guys, you know, that sort of stuff. But if I’m writing I will knock those out because there’s always something to do with those sort of things. I have a large following, I have a large Facebook presence and it does technically count as work. So I have a locked in, locked some agreed completely with those blocking softwares.
Bryan: 01:49:21 You don’t just have the self-discipline to mentally turn that off.
Dean: 01:49:23 Well I can do it when, if I’m, if I’m probably engrossed in something that’s like, Oh, this is the jump that went right now and I’ll check social media for like a day, two days, but I need to be in that zone and it’s hard to get in that zone when I’m constantly distracted by those things.
Bryan: 01:49:41 So what software do you use to lock yourself out.
Dean: 01:49:44 Well it’s cold Turkey. It just cut you off completely.
Bryan: 01:49:48 So that’s the name of it, Cold Turkey.
Dean: 01:49:50 Yeah. Yeah. I think in order to shut off you have to an install it so they have to just wait that out. So yes, I recommend it. It’s, it works quite well for me at least.
Bryan: 01:49:58 Right on and with, with your, with your writing what rituals, if any, do you have a cup of tea wear a certain robe?
Bryan: 01:50:12 Good question. I’m not superstitious sort I guess, but if I really, I guess if I want to really sort of have a session, I will I got a coffee machine, my cabin, I go to those pots. Oh. Like I don’t drink a lot of coffee actually I’m always more of a tea guy British. But if I think like, well if I think am I going to do this now I’ll put the coffee pot on so that means I got to stay in here and drink it and that sort of keeps me at my desk and keep me at it. That and also the caffeine gives you that sort of accelerated age. It’s sometimes I’ll just look at the next day go, that’s all jiberish and just delete it. Because the caffeine hits me pretty hard. But I don’t really have any specific rituals. I guess the closest I can think of is like I’m in my office cutting the garden metal. I’ll pull the blinds down if I really want to focus cause I have windows like it’s nice to see the grass and your outside world. But sometimes even like the world itself is distracted. I know if I lock myself in here that I’ve known him, like it becomes more office, like it becomes more austere and you sort of forget that mind state to work a bit bit easier. Yeah, it’s little bits and bobs here and there. I don’t have any particular rituals but you know I have my my own way of doing things which I seem to gravitate into.
Bryan: 01:51:33 Yeah, and they work. What, what about music you write with with a soundtrack? With, with any music in the background or no?
Dean: 01:51:40 Yeah, actually I am. I used to have like a spotlight playlist of just music. I generally like to know I don’t have a great appreciation of music and I feel really bad for the Spotify algorithm trying to give me suggested songs like must be so baffled, right? I what does this guy even like? What are you, I do the same with my web history because I do comedy and neuroscience stuff like the algorithms for selling me advert, selling me stuff, they just get so confused. I’m looking at adverts state toilet roll like 50 toilet rolls for four for 10 pounds. You must excrete. All we know is you’re human. Not even sure about that. My search histroy is so eclectic but yeah, and I, I think if I may have, I’m particularly focused, I often just forget what the music on, but then it becomes a little bit creepy when you’re outside in the garden. Just the silence. So I love some classical, like I think anything with lyrics I find too distracting. I think it gives, obviously you, your brain is wired to detect speech and like, I find it just too disruptive to what I’m going to do. So a bit of classical, nothing specific. There’s no like easy than classical or like if you look on Spotify you get right in playlists and stuff. And I, well my friends induced me to the lo-fi hip hop YouTube channels, which is how that sort of nice background noise thing or like, or even like the easy, the cafe ambient noise background. Actually wrote an article about this a while ago for the Guardian apparently called the studies. The best music for focusing is video game soundtracks. A video game music because almost by like by accident they’ve, they’ve, this is music which has been designed to be stimulating without distracting cause obviously it’s not meant to be, you’re, you’re playing a video game, you need to focus but you something which draws you in but it doesn’t throw you off. And the design, there’s a video game music, I’ve almost incidentally created the perfect study of music because it’s because it, cause that’s what the, that’s what they like. That’s what it’s purpose is. And, I don’t listen to music. I don’t listen to video games myself because I know that facts. So I’ll just talk to myself with, again, this is from a video game that’s not useful. I suppose you’re trying to write about the fundamentals of the anger processing in the hippocampus and so on. That’s it.
Bryan: 01:54:01 That’s interesting. I can, I can totally see that. Who has been influential in your development as a writer and what have you learned from them?
Dean: 01:54:09 It’s a bit of a tricky one because I’m not really a huge fan of the concept of role models in that I get why people like them. I get why people have them, but I’ve always been a little bit sort of, again, knowing neurosciences I do and stuff. But even as a kid growing up I didn’t because I was so atypical of everyone else, I didn’t have, I want to be like that guy. Like I had the Welsh comedy neuroscientist mental health guy, which isn’t, which isn’t a role, once again, it was occupied before so. So it’s all, I don’t like, I just found my own path. But I will say if anything, if, anyways, I usually credit. So when Spike Milligan and over the famous comedian writer, Irish, when he was a his war diaries, I found it incredibly, this is my favorite collection of books, starts off with outfit. That my partner’s downfall is that him being drafted in world war two and going to serving you know, in Africa and then Italy and it’s just hilarious. There’s soul image, mates messing around having constant scrapes and wacky adventures cause like they were just young boys from London just being shipped over to a foreign country. Had no idea what was going on. And yeah, so it, it but, but hilariously funny. But then slowly but surely they also become tragic as he gets people, he loses people in the war. He gets hit and suffered serious PTSD, which dispels the whole thing over. You have no mental illness back in the back in the war people are tough. No, you have two regimens drafted out with mental health problems. There’s just not a new thing. And being so they’re not sort of incredible combination of hilarious was the vacations, ridiculous stories and deep touching paths and meaningfulness and sort of showed me that was possible. That was the thing that you could do. And he had seriously chronic mental health problems his whole life. After that, he still became a massive success. And start on this country at least. And that shows like again, I didn’t fall, but I think of, well someone’s got mental health problems, doesn’t mean anything but what they can and can’t do. So yeah, I guess he would be the one who you would say is the most influential. There’s also a, John Ronson is probably aquatic big influence on me is actually the psychopath test because he wrote a very deep and meaningful psychological subject. But in a, you know, for prominent almost I would say perspective, a very objective for you engage in way of looking at it and he’s from Cardiff himself or Don Ronson. So it doesn’t sound like that at all, his own unique voice. I don’t know how to do an impression because I don’t know how to, but yeah, he’s probably the best that unsolved insights and you know, accuracy, objectivity, but also engagement and new. I think if anyone’s sort of shaped my style, it’s probably him.
Bryan: 01:56:57 Interesting. Thank you for sharing that. When did you know, what was the moment, if there was one that you knew or you like you had the sense that you had crossed from being an amateur writer to a pro?
Dean: 01:57:16 It was probably that Robin Williams article I supposed and that again, even though I was writing for the Guardian, which is like a major UK publication and worldwide publication, it was a influential press that I, I had a a presence on that sort of media platform and I was getting good numbers. Like I was getting lots of readers and stuff. But the idea that I could write something even like it was largely off the cuff, just this is stuff I know, I think it should be shaped. I’m gonna put it down in this way, which I think people would like. And to have such a massive response from it. That was when I thought, Oh, maybe I can do this. Maybe this isn’t something I should or it was meant to do, you know, if you believe in destiny and stuff or feet and things like that. Cause I always really liked the writing side of it. And I was never really willing to sort of admit that to myself for this was the thing I wanted to do. It was actually a period when I was like 12 or 13 when you know, I was, when you start to wonder about what you’re gonna do with your life, my father asked me and we were in a pub I lived in and maybe use it to share it at the time. He was topless, which is a strange memory and.
Bryan: 01:58:27 I want to meet this guy someday. Sounds amazing.
Dean: 01:58:29 Yeah, you will. You would enjoy his company. He’s a, he’s and he said, so what do you think I do? And they know exams picking me coming up. And I was like, no, I’m just saying thinking about it. Like I said, I like writing, like maybe going to be a writer. And he said, well you could, he didn’t dismiss it. He said could, but it’s very hard creating it into, you know, it’s many rare opportunities. I don’t know how we knew that, but it’s true. He said you should. Let me just think of maybe something a bit more solid. And I think I just find we’re thinking, Oh, I also like science. I, I’ll do that. And sort of, that’s like a fork in the road. It could have gone for right for scientists went for scientists, but then steered back here anyway, but right there again, so again, a sort of come full circle as oppose. Uso then that one went all the Robin Williams, sort of think this, this is actually something I should be doing, I guess. And yeah, I seem to have a knack for it, I suppose. And that’s what I sort of, that’s what I couldn’t have the scientists. Like I always thought like, I’m, I’m, I’m okay at this, but I was always too, you know, I was never too egotistical enough to think it, but,uno, to think it was, it was definitely a thing. But then numbers don’t lie, you know, 2 million people in three or four days. That’s, that’s a lot of people who seem to care about what you think about something. So, all right, that’s awesome. Something’s not right here.
Bryan: 01:59:48 I’ll, I’ll bet that was really fun to see that just.
Dean: 01:59:50 It was alarming in many ways. It’s like there’s like a, it was on Twitter at the time. Like who these people are just keep popping up and some people didn’t like what I said. Like the one guy said I am from Texas and I disagree with you. Give me your email so I can debunk you properly. It isn’t the most tempting offer I’ve had for so yeah.
Bryan: 02:00:10 That’s funny. What’s, what are the qualities of a great sentence and how can we write more of them?
Dean: 02:00:17 Oh actually I’ll call a lot of ways to answer that because I think the quality of a sentence I guess is depending on the context of what you find it like a sentence in a poem would be very different from a sentence in a mental health book. Like as far as I writes. But I guess I sort of challenged more my editors to me though. Okay. Great sentences is succinct. And so it gets to the point to which is something I’m told I should do a lot more of. Cause I am one of life mufflers as you may have noticed on the run time of this podcast. But yeah, I think a great sentence says what it means to say in as clear a way as possible I guess. But it doesn’t, it doesn’t actually mean it’s simple. It just, it needs to be like a succinct but also I guess directness is probably a really good way because I’m always thinking in terms of how do my sentences which relate to explaining how the brain works or how mental health is a thing. So when something is very straight forward but also very informative, those are what I consider to be the best ones, you know, direct but useful and, and I, I can’t give you an top example now cause if I could do that on command, I would spend a lot less time writing and I’m not as many editors but yeah, succinctness and usefulness. I think is what really makes sentence work for me in the, in the context of my own work. But if you want to sort of period drama, romance, you probably want something different. It was a bit more florid, a bit more evocative emotionally. But those are the sort of things I like.
Bryan: 02:01:53 No that, that’s great. Okay. So my last, my last few questions relate to to marketing and getting the, once you’ve written the book to get it out into the world, what, what have you learned in your time as an author that has surprised you when it comes to marketing and promotion of books?
Dean: 02:02:16 Um yes, I was sort of a bit surprised as to how passionate people are about books. I mean, some people will genuinely go all out for a book and they will like show to the rooftops and, and tell everyone, like in everywhere. So if you’re gonna find someone who likes on your books like that, they, they tend to be very good. I’ve got a lot of sales in Egypt because there’s an Egyptian Youtuber who just has become obsessed with the Idiot Brain. And there’s pictures of online. It was definitely, I don’t know, this guy, I’ve never met him, but he just keeps constantly referencing it. It’s very much appreciated and I guess that’s really the more cynical side of things. It’s just how much TV and mainstream media like that you know, has so much cloud. To me, I had a brief appearance on like a Sunday morning show in Britain. Like it was not the most popular one. He was the biggest one, but just 10 minutes on there just see my book on the television. That’s shifted thousands of copies and got me like into the best seller list by going often. Not very long, but it happens just from that.
Bryan: 02:03:25 From that one appearance.
Dean: 02:03:27 Yeah. Well that one experience. Like a radio was still really quite useful. It didn’t realize just how much either, you know, they can’t see. You just mentioned an email. They’re on a major radio program. That does tend to be very, very powerful. So they get the, the, the old school media still has all lot clout I guess. I love places having anything on his books. But yeah, there’s also like the really hard to predict where it’ll go down. Well, I mean I was on holiday in Mexico in April, 2017 I think, and I found out via email that I was the best nonfiction writer in Mexico that week. What I said about, well, what do I do with that? But one of the hotel lobby to see better recognize me, they didn’t. So it was a okay, I have no idea why that happened. I don’t know how it happened, but it did for a bit. Yeah, it’s still very much a game of chance. It’s hard to say what will go down well and what won’t. But yeah, I think the old school media is still got a lot of power and influence when it comes to marketing and stuff. So if you can get them on board, then that’s useful as much as, again, there are plenty people who have a massive online following, like a huge Twitter account like the mummy bloggers tend to be very, very well respected online and they sell our books as a result of that. Never doing the traditional platforms. But yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of variables that work on but you know the, sometimes it just makes sense like mainstream media does tend to have more power when it comes to getting rid of the book out there. So yeah. There we go.
Bryan: 02:05:01 That makes sense. What, what have you learned that you thought was like a sure thing when it came to marketing or promoting the book that turned out any, any book that turned out to be like a total dud or a waste of time?
Dean: 02:05:17 I think there’s actually one solid example, but there are sort of, you know, the something is typically geared towards your subject matter. It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to be the most, the best place to go. Now I did a bunch of articles for platforms of publications which were very much in the science communication, popular science field and they went fine, but it didn’t cause much of a bump in sales or, or so on. I think it’s because you’re sort of both preaching to the choir a bit there and you’re up against a lot of people who are doing similar things to you. When you sort of do we stuff like I do neuroscience things in a more non-scientific capacity, like in a, like I’m old broadsheet newspaper or a radio show, which is just a call in or like a chat show thing that is was mourning backed because that’s not what people used to hear it in that capacity. Like it’s a, it’s that sort of thing. So I think, yeah, if you think, well, what do you think like this, this place, this place, this platform, this publication is my people. They want to want to get into that often can be nowhere near as helpful as you think it is because you know that’s the people who either already fully aware of you or have funny way of similar things. So yeah, you just sort of try to get a peice, very, very oversubscribed pie there. Whereas branching out there’s probably a better approach even if it is counter intuitive.
Bryan: 02:06:47 Yeah, no, that, that makes a lot of sense. And then the other, so maybe, maybe the final question here is, is you know, when you write, if you’re, if you’re like most writers, I talked to your simultaneously of course you’re writing for an audience, but you’re also writing for yourself in a way, in some way. Yeah, totally. Right. And so you, and I love what you described just a few minutes ago about in the morning you’ll do social media and the afternoon you’ll do writing and you seem to have a very like a balance with that, that you’re aware of the audience and you’re interacting with them and things like that. As, as, as somebody who is creating a long form content like a book, how do you exist in both worlds simultaneously, effectively that, that immediate social media mylou that we’re in and then the longer rhythms of a book.
Dean: 02:07:41 Yeah, that actually is something I’ve struggled with a lot. Lost part of the sort of media side. But because I like say I came into writing via blogging especially when you’re on like the guardian where the turnaround time is like I submit a blog in the morning, it would be up by lunchtime and within 12 hours, you know, if it’s succeeded or not because they made the front page of the website. If it sort of got a sort of media traction, you can see the numbers go up and down on the tracking software. It a, you know, you can like, well 24 hours later it has 23,000 hits, that’s less than a decent performance where, who did like something like a hundred thousand and that’s a good one. Yeah, that’s, that’s a keeper. You know, you just know either way. Whereas like, like the second time I moved my second book was out. I was like in the city center on Obligation day and I was like, want to know and good. Ah, and then I thought, well I didn’t get any particular emails. I didn’t get any notifications. It’s failed. It’s been up 12 hours. What do you want to book? It’ll take a while to leave. The shelves. People are gonna take people all the data read it for the polling. What did they want about it was it was a Wednesday. Like it wasn’t exactly, you know, we weren’t like Harry Potter released. We wouldn’t be on it, but I’d still need to get out that mindset. But when it comes to like actually writing a long form, but I guess he did bring them was the easiest one because it was like a sort of a selection of blog things I can, I was doing my, about my regular blog the same time. Like I can see what’s working and I go, where should I introduce this back into it? But yeah, but that is something, a lot of writers, so eventually get over like you towards the end of the book, especially thinking, Oh this is all pointless. No one is gonna like this. I hate this. Like you sort of lose faith in it, because it’s because that is sort of how the brain works. We expect reward for our efforts. And the longer it takes between effort and reward, the more the brain dissociates between them as well. This is pointless. Why am I working so hard when there’s nothing to show for it apart from just blocks and blocks of texts or no one has seen yet. It’s a tricky one. But yeah, if you, you’re going to occasionally share snippets, you can tell people about what’s going on in it if you want. That sort of feedback. And I guess I got edited too, so I’m constantly sending them a chapter you’re sending back. Tell me what you think. So there is some engagement still there. But yeah, that is a particular tricky one and it’ll vary from person to person, but just keeping your hand in the online world can be useful in that respect. But sometimes it’s actually better instead of shut it off. And this is me and this book now, I need to just for my own sake, I need to finish it. If nothing else, I didn’t go from there. I suppose. So yeah, it’s a struggle. It’s a constant one.
Bryan: 02:10:26 Right on. Okay. Well, Dean, I am so grateful that we had this conversation. I really enjoyed it. I hope. I hope you have to.
Dean: 02:10:35 Yes, be great.
Bryan: 02:10:37 So I know it’s you know, we’re separated by an ocean and it’s probably getting close to your bedtime, so I won’t keep you any longer, but I’m not sure when or where our paths will cross again, but I’m sure they will. I’ll definitely let you know when this releases. It’ll be sometime in the new year. Yeah, of course. But I’ll do that. And in the meantime, I wish you a much success with your next project.
Dean: 02:10:59 Thank you for this and I look forward to listening to the finish article.
Bryan: 02:11:03 Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life isn’t working for many people, whether it’s in the developed world where we’re dealing with depression, anxiety, addiction, divorce jobs, we hate relationships that don’t work. Or people in the developing world who don’t have access to clean water or sanitation or healthcare or education or who live in conflict zones. There’s a lot of people on the planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people, I invite you to connect with me at Goodliving.com. I’ve created life’s best practices, breakthrough coaching to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through. Whether you’ve just graduated school, you’re going through a divorce, you just got married, you’re headed into retirement, you’re starting a business, you just lost your job, whatever it is you’re facing. I’ve developed a 36 week course that you go through with me and a community of achievers and seekers who are committed to improving their own lives and the lives of others. So through this online program, you will have the opportunity to go deep into every area of your life, explore life’s big questions, create answers for yourself in community, get clarity and accountability. If that’s something you’re interested to learn about, I invite you to contact me directly at Bryant, at Brian miller.com or by visiting good living.com.
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