David McRaney has worked as an editor, a photographer, a voiceover artist, a television host, a public speaker, a TV producer, and a journalist. David, being a deeply intelligent and thoughtful man, has focused his work on revealing the self-delusions and cognitive biases by which we live our lives. He has written a book called You Are Not So Smart and also runs a blog and podcast by the same name to help provide the world with his findings.
David joins me today to discuss this phenomenon of self-delusion, and how each of us sees the world differently. We talk about how our experiences can change the way we view the world, and his deep desire to better understand and know himself. We also touch on how we managed to write his last book while his house was hit by a tornado, and other challenges he faced while writing his books.
“You will find a place in your life where you can extract value from the chaos.”
This week on the School For Good Living Podcast:
Connect With The Guest:
David McRaney [00:00:00] You know, the interesting thing about this book is you started it thinking one thing and thinking another, which on a meta level is you changed your mind about how might change. And why don’t you just tell that to the reader.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:12] Hi, I’m Brilliant. Your host for this show. I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success. And I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do have and give more. This podcast is for you. You and I might not have ever met. Nevertheless, I feel confident in telling you that you are unaware of how unaware you are, part of the reason that I can say that is because I have learned a lot from the guest I interviewed today. Mr. David McRaney is author of a book called You Are Not So Smart, which is also the name of a blog that he started years ago and a podcast that he still runs today. All about self-delusion, all about our perceptual filters or cognitive biases and all the ways that we delude and deceive ourselves. His latest book that’s coming out in twenty twenty one or early in twenty twenty two is called How Minds Change The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion. His writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The New York Post Salon, Brain Pickings, Lifehacker Gocher, Boing Boing, The Huffington Post, big thing and many other places. I think he’s a fascinating and deeply intelligent, thoughtful human being. David has worked as an editor, a photographer, a voiceover artist, a television host, a public speaker, a TV producer, and he’s done a lot of interesting jobs, incredible life experience, written extensively. He’s been a journalist. His perspectives and his insights are truly fascinating, the kinds of things that can help you not only understand yourself better, but other people. And I think to live with more humility, more compassion, more empathy and ultimately more fun. You can learn more about David’s work at You Are Not So Smart Dotcom. You can also find him online at David McRaney.com. With that, I hope you enjoy this conversation with my new friend, David McRaney. David, welcome to the School for Good Living.
David McRaney [00:02:24] Thank you so much. Very happy to be here.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:27] Will you tell me, please, what is life about?
David McRaney [00:02:31] I would never endeavor to assume that my extraction of value from the sea of chaos is the only value that could ever be extracted from it. Nor would I assume that my personal arc is complete. Therefore, anything I may have find insightful. I’m sure there be something further along down the way that’s going to bust up some of my assumptions. But currently I feel like the point of life is to articulate the ineffable in whatever way that is that you personally are capable of doing with your talents and experiences. So much of human existence is ineffable to get across from one brain to the other or to make sense to yourself. And you will have talents that you will either be born with nature and nurture will give you some things and experiences will give you others. And you will find a place in your life where you can extract value from the chaos and you will be able to articulate the ineffable in a way that creates a little brick that other people can use to build other, more complex articulations and abstractions and then layer upon layer upon layer. We keep doing that. And what used to be ineffable in one generation, what would be so in the next? And all of a sudden we’re building spaceships. We’re going to, you know, the moons of Jupiter. So I feel like that’s the point of life. And so doing it has to be done in a compassionate, empathetic way that values other human beings and their uniqueness agency and all the rest. So I feel that and I think the more I get into even though I come from a very evidence based science journalism background, I find that across domains there are people who are particularly in the ineffable and all sorts of interesting ways. You might be an artist, you might be a dancer, you might be a physicist. You might be a psychologist who I spend most of my time with. But whatever that person does is can be laterally borrowed from somebody in another silo. And I find that, you know, a great work of art can cause someone to feel like, oh, I’d never I didn’t know that I could even be expressed. And then they can then turn it into their silo and express something new from it. So that’s currently what I’m jamming out on, is this idea of articulating the ineffable.
Brilliant Miller [00:04:39] Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. You know, as I read you a little bit about your background, your bio, it seems to me there’s almost nothing you haven’t done one point or another. This the one I want to ask you about. Right, because there’s waiting tables, working construction, selling leather coats, building and installing electrical control panels, even owning pet stores. But one that I thought, man, there’s probably at least one amazing story there is tornado survivor.
David McRaney [00:05:08] This is true. Oh, I was actually only a few feet away from where I’m at right now. When that happened, I used to be a journalist for a television station, ran their Web department and had this ridiculous title, which was like director of new media. Right. That was when there was such a thing as the media. And the my job was I had come from print journalism, went into TV journalism, and I was sort of onboarding people onto how do you write for the for the Web? How do you how do you turn journalism that’s for the camera into something that should be read at lunch or whatever. And so a lot of the things I learned in journalism school are things I learned as a print journalist. That was I was basically just retraining re teaching people the things that I had learned. And but I had this other part of my job, which was since I was the person that knew how to did the back end of the website, whenever bad weather would come through, I would sort of be on call and I would work with the weather department and we would give updates, constant updates across all sorts of platforms. So I just happened to be home and I was also just happened to be finishing the edits on my second book, you and I was dub and I was at the point where it’s time to turn it in almost like a week away when some really terrible weather came through and all of a sudden I’m getting updates. Here’s where is this is this is. And I’m trapped. Everything on my computer, my office used to be in another room and I was I saw a tornado track and was like this tornado was headed straight for me. And I, I my wife and I, we got in the hallway, we put blankets over us and a mattress. And I heard the tornado coming in. It sounded like a giant smashing its way through the neighborhood. I know people say it sounds like a freight train, but it sounded more like an angry titan. And you could hear the power lines breaking and making the zipping light saber sounds as it’s approaching and it’s just turning up the world. And I remember looking at her eyes and I said, you know, this is a love you. And we I covered myself up and it went right through the house, ripped off the roof and the ceiling and trees skewered the house. And I kept going that way and did tons and tons of destruction, erased about five houses in this neighborhood. And I stood up, went back into my office and it was just open and water was just pouring in. So it just a few seconds or a few minutes before that happened, I sent all of my manuscripts off to Dropbox and it was waiting. Right. And so that was harrowing. And one of my very close friends just happened to be in the neighborhood and he showed up before the police and fire department did. And then the police and fire department showed up. And then my parents showed up. Our cars were also destroyed. And the they picked us up and I went out. Some are all very, very small town in south Mississippi where my parents live. And when we got out there, I called my agent and said, hey, I’m not going to be able to take them back. I called my publisher. I said, hey, I don’t think I’m going to be able turn this in on time. A tornado just ain’t my house. And my publisher at the time said, well. Look, I understand you’re under a lot of duress, but, you know, everything is on schedule, the printers are ready to run. If we don’t turn this in, you’re going to be pushed forward by a couple of months and it just won’t be good for any of us. Is there any way you can, like, finish the edits where you’re at? Wow. And so I went to Wal-Mart and bought a laptop. I bought a copy of word. I went back to my parents, installed word, got the laptop up and going, opened up Dropbox, brought down the manuscript and finished it. And so I finished that book while water was just pouring in this house. And I spent about three days on that. And then when I sent it off, I got back over here and got to work and started putting the house back together. And my agent, like, who’s been my agent this whole time. She likes to tell that story because she called my publisher and lost her mind. But it’s become one of these tales that gets talked about in publishing about how I finished the book with a tornado or like in the middle of a tornado, which isn’t exactly true. But that’s there. That’s the full story of it. While I still have I still have very strong PTSD from this. Like when bad weather comes through, like I get immediately, like, you know, and then I have a bug out bag in this in this closet, which is just for natural disasters. So I’m like prepped about it, turn me into a soft pepper, which helps me deal with the anxiety of terrible weather.
Brilliant Miller [00:09:55] Wow. What an amazing story and how fortunate it turned out that you were safe, first of all.
David McRaney [00:10:01] No, thank you anyway.
Brilliant Miller [00:10:03] And then how incredible that is. I’ll I I’m going to file that away somewhere, hopefully closer to the top of mind and just remind myself that I have no excuse for not finishing a piece of writing I’ve committed ever again to.
David McRaney [00:10:18] I don’t think that that made me never be a it doesn’t make writing any easier. It doesn’t make procrastination any less appealing. But yes, you can you can finish your book even after a tornado is smashed. All your work.
Brilliant Miller [00:10:30] Wow. That is hard core. That is awesome, man. OK, so let me ask you this, because I understand that you have well, I want to ask you about your weight loss, because so much of what I think we’re all striving for is to become the best version of ourselves. And change is hard even when we know a lot of stuff about human behavior or whatever. But you have I think you lost 85 pounds, is that right? Well, I’ve
David McRaney [00:10:56] lost just hit 90 a couple of days ago, so. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:10:59] Congratulations. Holy cow. So how’d you do it?
David McRaney [00:11:03] I counted calories. No, it’s very simple. But I what really happened was and I’m probably going make a little and a little Kindle single out of this. There’s a a really great neuroscientist who who does work in this domain in like altering behavior for the sake of smoking cessation or weight loss or all sorts of things. And I talked to him about like, would it be great to partner up and do it? Like a I thought of a great title would be The Body of an Idiot, which would be which would be in line with my brand. But the because, you know, all weight loss is just exercise more and eat less. That’s that’s there’s no everyone knows that. But if you were to make that into a book, it would just be, you know, won a bunch of pages for notes. And then one page is like, hey, don’t eat so much. Everyone knows it. So the secret to weight loss is actually behavioral. And there and we are such a complex and nuanced organism that the behavior, the behavioral changes that will work for one person might be very easy in some regards, very difficult and others, depending on your life and everything going on with you. Plus, there’s some nuance differences in metabolism and digestive systems and all that kind of stuff. But still calories in, calories out works. So I found the thing that worked for me was, first of all, what inspired this was I did a live show in New York and it was very exciting to me because I was a kid. I wanted to be on site live. That’s what I wanted more than anything. And to get to actually do a live show in New York was the fulfillment of something. And after the live show, I even went down to the satellite studios and just walked around in the gift shop. And I felt this prickley like I really something kind of happened that I wanted to happen here. But the some of the feedback for that live show were like, I can’t believe this guy is telling us how to think better or whatever and look at him. He’s clearly overweight. And I was like, oh, that stings. And but there were. Right.
Brilliant Miller [00:13:02] And I so people actually said that, like there was was comments you heard or something. You heard somebody say
David McRaney [00:13:10] comments on social media. Yeah. Ouch. And so I it really stuck in my craw and it wasn’t like one of those things. I was like, how dare you body shaming. I thought, you know, you’re right, I didn’t lose weight. So I got an I looked into it. I talked to the judge about this and he agreed that the. You needed to track everything you you put into your body and he said you probably think you’re doing a good job and you’re not. So I try to do a couple different apps. I settled on one called Lose It, but I don’t think it matters which one you use. And I started to religiously track every everything I ate and drank. And I found out very quickly some problem areas. One was coffee, like the the amount of creamer and the amount of calories that I was getting in there. You know, I looked at the serving size was like 35 calories. But that’s for like a teaspoon. So I was putting, like, you know, a cup and multiple times a day and then I just sort of tracking my calories through that and keeping a very tight record of that. They got a smart scale that also connects the Internet and gives me a running record. And I had a very close friend who was just really ripped. And I was like, how did you do this? And he said, here’s how you should lift in. You know, here’s what I think about this thing and this thing, this thing. And with all that advice and the tracking, I just committed to it. And once you lose 10 or 15 pounds, which you lose really quickly, you’re like, wow. And then and then it gets harder and harder as your body acclimates. But because you’re tracking it, you see that like over the course of two weeks, something happened and then it gets harder. You see, over the course of three weeks, something happens and you know that it’s because you’re you’re taking tight control of how many calories you’re putting in your body. And you get you’re not full. So you start adjusting your you’re the kind of food you eat because you’re not happy, not satisfied. So you naturally, for me personally, I learned like, well, I should eat more of this. I should be more of that. And then this is to stay full. And so it just developed my own like diet plan and over time. But it started out with just hardcore tracking. So and then then I started lifting weights, which which complicates things. It makes you very hungry. But those two things combined. And I started riding a bicycle, lifting weights, but I didn’t do that till it was pretty deep in because all of the people who had been there before me were like, you know, it’s it’s the exercise part is not going to work until you train yourself to eat properly. So that was that’s how I did it. It was all as all tracking.
Brilliant Miller [00:15:48] Wow. That, you know, there’s a part of me that hates to hear that psychedelics. You know, I had just one trip or something, but.
David McRaney [00:15:57] Yeah, sure, sure. But that’s not outside the realm of possibility, obviously, to add some psilocybin and maybe it will assist. But in the end, you need to be commit to the idea of tracking. I think for me personally is that that’s what would work too.
Brilliant Miller [00:16:10] Awesome. Well, one thing I’ve been fascinated about is I’ve read some of your work and listen to some of your podcasts. Is this the organizing principle. What I what I would call an organizing principle of your work? Right. This whole thing about that, we are unaware of how unaware we are.
David McRaney [00:16:27] Yes, you’re
Brilliant Miller [00:16:29] right. And this exploration of self-delusion. So you are not so smart, we’ve talked about this before, recording how devastating it was for someone who’s named himself brilliant to learn you are not so smart, but I love your book and I love what your work, as I understand it is, is about. And part of what was so fascinating to me to begin to dig into is that this idea you can correct or clarify or whatever that it really set you on this path was one video. This Derren Brown. Yeah. Tell me about that.
David McRaney [00:17:06] I so I studied psychology and journalism in university. I’m one of those rare cases that actually is using my two degrees to do the do work in those fields. I but I had I had become an editor of the school newspaper. I somewhere along the path of becoming I wanted to be a therapist and I was taking all these four hundred little classes and there was a a sign up on campus that said opinionated? Just the big question mark. Come to the school newspaper and see if you would like to write. And I was like, I am opinionated. So I went over to the school newspaper’s like, how do you do this? They were like, just know, here’s the email address and so many words it needs to be. So I wrote some opinion piece about like the coffee shop being taken over by Starbucks, something something that a college student would write. And it got a lot of feedback. But then I wrote another piece that was about I was into all these psychology classes and had recently learned that whenever you’re whenever your football team loses, your sperm count goes down. And our football team had lost every single game so far that year. And I thought it’d be funny to write a tongue in cheek op ed about how low the sperm count would must be at our school, given the relevant science. And I remember one of my professors just asking the class if they had read it and how funny it was and he didn’t know it was me. And that level of validation was like, oh, I might want to do this. And so I signed up to be the news editor and then I was the executive editor. And that opened a lot of doors to be to get jobs in journalism. Then Katrina came through Hurricane Katrina and I was hired as a stringer to write for a number of different newspapers in the area. And I eventually got hired at one of them.
Brilliant Miller [00:18:55] What’s what’s this term? Stringer?
David McRaney [00:18:57] Stringer is just someone who works for the newspaper but isn’t employed as a as a full time employee there. So it’s just sort of a mercenary is a journalistic mercenary. OK, and I for that, I was going to people’s houses and interviewing them in person and I was doing this all this on the ground reporting. And I was reading that kind of journalism, too. I was reading stuff from from like the electric Kool-Aid acid test and stuff like that, the that old literary journalism that had fallen out of favor. And I just loved it. I was like, literary journalism is still my favorite thing on Earth. Literary journalism is my favorite form of writing. And I, I fell into a couple of different people who I found to be incredible writers in that domain. Charlie LeDuff as good example of that, Matt Perry. And of course, you know, you fall into like Hunter S. Thompson and stuff like that. But but I was just excited by and I went out and I did one of the people I interviewed, she had lost. She was one hundred and one years old and she lived in, like almost a cabin. And because of Hurricane Katrina, I thought that would be interesting to interview her and see because she had lived through a couple of hurricanes. Most notably, she had lived through one of the bigger hurricanes that had come through, you know, decades earlier. And I wanted to see her take on it. But I also knew that she I knew from people in the community that she had not had electricity until relatively recently. She didn’t start. She didn’t have her home wasn’t electrified until the 60s. So I want to see what it felt like for her to lose electricity for two weeks. And so I went to her house and she only wanted to talk about her tomatoes, her her deep freeze. When a hurricane came through in the 60s, they had they came in, they got her deep freeze and they put everybody deep freezes in a big warehouse because everybody subsisted off of that more than they do today. And she just kept waiting for someone to come get it. And they never did. And so she lost sixty eight bags of tomatoes. And so but but also we talked about what it was like to experience it. Her her son, who was in his 70s, lived with her still. And he he he waited out everything in a root cellar the water came up to here was the root cellar. He thought it was going to drown and it was really, really, really powerful. Story that I wanted to communicate, but I also wanted to play with it a little bit, and so I made the headline Woman Loses 68 Bags of Tomatoes. And so that was the headline. And so I made the entire story, this like deep investigative piece about why this woman lost all of her tomatoes. And then you learn within it that it’s more about the effects of Hurricane Katrina. But also what you learn is how times have really changed. And she. Would have had running water, except they had electrified her her well sometime in the 60s, and if they had done that, she could have had running water. So that was what the story was really about. And I won a scholarship from that. I got a ten thousand dollar scholarship from one of the big journalists. This isn’t Scripps Howard. It was I think it was Scripps who ironically is now handles by advertising on my podcast. But they they got a ten thousand dollar scholarship and that was it for me. I was like, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to tell people stories. I want to bring people from I want to I want to bring people in front of people in this way and in their humanity, explore all of our humanity. And so that’s how this started. But then I ended up working for that TV station. And when I got to that point in my career, I’d done cops and courts and a regular newspaper and I covered higher education and newspaper. When I got to the TV station, I wasn’t writing anymore and I just lost this whole part of myself. And so I started up a blog and I knew that I wanted a blog that would be about psychology because I had all the psychology stuff. I would like, you know, when I go on long road trips, I would tell people actually, you know, this is what I would tell them about confirmation bias or something, or I really enjoyed talking about the introspection illusion. You know, all these studies that show we are unaware of the antecedents to our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, but we have no problem creating a narrative to explain our thoughts, feelings, behaviors. And we live by that narrative, even though it’s most likely fictional. And there are many, many studies that illustrate this. No matter what you’re doing on a road trip, you can there’s something you can point to and say there’s this is like that and it’s like that. And sometimes that’s taken well, sometimes it’s taken as, please, can we just enjoy ourselves? But I thought it would make for a good blog and I never committed to it. There are a lot of very at this point in history book twenty seven, eight, nine. There are a lot of very narrow slice blogs out there, blogs about just one tiny thing, like somebody is not just into symbols, they’re the symbols made in the 60s in Norway. And that’s all it’s about. Norwegian 1860 thimbles. You know, there’s many narrow slice blogs. And I thought I wanted to make one, but I didn’t know what to name it or how to how to present it. And I saw on YouTube the Derren Brown person swap experiment, and it’s really cool. All this time later, I’ve blurred Dan Brown’s books and he’s blurred my books, which is really nuts to think that it started from obscurity and now like I’m in their world. But in this video he’s on, he does a thing where he asks people for directions and then somebody comes along and switches places with them. And people don’t realize that they’re talking to somebody who’s not Darren Brown anymore. I thought that was impossible. So I went use my access to the library, the university library, and brought up the relevant literature on it and found that Dan Brown, he often uses science advisers, including some people who have been a guest on the show and. He had based it off of the work of Daniel Simons, who is who ended up being the first guest on my podcast, who dated the famous Invisible Gorilla experiment. But before that, they did the change blindness in their actual experiment. They go on a college campus and they have someone ask a stranger for it’s a confederate with the study, ask for directions somewhere on campus, whereas the dining hall was the library or something like that. And then as they’re talking, someone comes through with a big door like they’re like they’re doing construction and the person who’s on the back end of the door switches places with the person who is asking for directions. Now, that’s a completely different person asking for directions. And they just measured how often do people notice? And half of the time, 50 percent of the time, people do not notice. And we know they don’t notice because it’s not just that they don’t react. They follow up and say, hey, by the way, you were just in a study that you did you notice anything strange about what has happened here? And they were like. So half of the time people have no I do not notice the person in front of them who they were just talking to, who they were just giving directions to, has now been replaced completely by a new individual. And they would alter they would change gender, they would change skin tone. They would change height. They would do all sorts of stuff age. Same effect, and this led to if you ever read the Invisible Gorilla book, they talk a lot about how, you know, only maybe 20 percent of we’re only attending to about 20 percent of what’s coming into our senses. And the rest of it, we’re just making assumptions based on what’s happened before. And I thought, wow, I want to put a lot of that kind of stuff onto one central location so people can understand how unaware of how unaware we are. The thing that the meta thing that fascinated me wasn’t that people were unaware is that you totally believed you were. And we live in this undeserved confidence, this frame that everything is a one to one representation. We have perfect memory, that we know exactly what happened yesterday. We know everything is going on in front of us. There’s this whole feeling of confidence that I wanted to just explode and Jon Stewart had been using on The Daily Show. He was like and not so much was just a sort of a catchphrase punch line that he would use. And I remember sitting on a smoking a cigaret on a front porch like like a good Southern writer. And I thought you were you are not so smart. Would be a fun name. And I attribute 85 percent of that first year to just having a name that had not been used yet. And I started a blog and then at first it was just tons and tons of content about that kind of stuff, often YouTube videos. And then I got into an argument with my friends about Xbox versus plays the Xbox 360 versus the PlayStation three, which one was better. And we got very angry and almost ruined our friendship over how angry we got. And I thought, why did we get angry over boxes of wires and branding? So I looked at the research into brand loyalty and fanboy ism and wrote an article for my blog about it. And it just so happened right about that time. The iPhone prototype was stolen by Gizmodo, a very popular tech blog at the time. And they were looking for, I assume that it had a Google or something. And they found my article and they asked if they could reblogging it. And I said sure. And that night it went from like 1500 fans or fifteen hundred subscribers to two hundred and fifty thousand. And then the next day a million. And so just literally overnight, because that one read blog, I had all these new eyeballs on the blog, so I very quickly wrote three more articles. One was about learned helplessness and a couple of other things that I thought would be interesting. And then those all got tons of shares and I was suddenly like swept up into the morality of this thing. And I started getting phone calls and emails from agents and one of them was felt like she got it. She had worked on Freakonomics and her name was Erin Malone. She’s still my agent. She’s like the person she’s the person that changed my life. She’s the person who extended her hand and pulled me up on stage. And she’s like, let’s make this into a book. And so that turned into the the book. And now that book is I think it’s in 19 languages. It’s there’s been no one in Vietnam for four for months and months and months because it just came out of Vietnam. And my dad, as a Vietnam vet, he took it to his PTSD group therapy meeting and he took the book with him and is just such an existential conundrum for him to think like, you know, my son’s book is number one in Vietnam, where I you know, that’s the reason I’m here is it’s wild. So it completely changed my life. And when I they asked me to write a second book and to promote it, I started the podcast. And the podcast was only meant to promote the second book, but then ended up becoming the centerpiece of my whole like thing. Like I do all sorts of stuff. But the podcast sort of is the is the the the poll around which everything else is attached to that that’s become just I it’s expanded what I want to do. It started out just being the psychology of reasoning and decision making. But now I feel OK to talk about just about anything like like I just had Megan Phelps wrote on and talking about her experiences with Westboro and it was incredible. And I just went up to NYU and got a bunch of experts on Kuhnen and that’s going to be a follow up episode. So I keep that as a centerpiece and it’s just changed my life. So now it’s become my beat. And so I’ve been doing this beat for 11 years now and that’s I’m deeply, deeply, completely obsessed with it.
Brilliant Miller [00:30:47] Yeah. Which is very evident for anyone that that looks even for a moment. And I’m glad you are. How how do you think your life is different? That’s actually not the question I want to ask, the question I want to ask you is. Many people write about this now, this kind of thing again. Mm hmm. You you have, is my view, right? You have a unique voice. Why, what makes your writing in your podcasting, in your work, I mean, aside from the fact you’re the originator of it, you’re the originator of it, but why why has your work found resonance with so many people? And many other people are probably still toiling in obscurity and always will be, even though the writing and talking about the same things.
David McRaney [00:31:32] Hmmm, I mean, partially, I don’t know, but the parts that I do know, for one, like I really am obsessed with this, like this, is that it gives me incredible joy because my pursuit is a higher order pursuit. At the end of the day, like, I’m really trying to understand my place in this grand drama. And that’s always the point of the interview. Like when I get a chance to sit in front of a scientist who’s devoted their life to a very particular thing in the world of psychology, I’m begging them to help me understand myself in my place and all of this. And then by and then I know I want to make it entertaining for an audience. And so I, I write to that idea. And I want this to be I feel like I want you to join me in playing hooky with the universe for a minute. I want you to join me and in the absolute absurdity of existence for a minute. And I want you to enjoy it to to I found value for myself in. A unity through humility, and I feel like that’s what this whole project is about, it’s it’s bringing everybody this is like this. Andy Warhol, I remember he found this way later in life, but he said that he he he didn’t have a problem with mass consumer culture because he liked the idea that when he drank a Coke, it was the same. The president drank it made him happy to know that, like there was a democratization of in that in that way. And I find that there’s nothing I’m talking about that isn’t something experienced universally by all human beings. And there’s nothing that I’m asking you to try to attempt to overcome or at least be aware of that is it in the way of us in whatever it is that thing we’re trying to become? No matter what it is you’re doing, no matter how how minded your goals are, no matter how absolutely unique to your personal life right now in the moment, that is the thing that is between you and whatever it is you’re trying to get out of your existence. Like, I feel that there’s a incredible unity in this and in the humility of saying, look at us as this dollop of the ocean that got dumped out onto the shore and now it’s sad and sad and that I will never get to what I’m trying to get to. And that feels good like I am. I ache to to to get closer and closer to to understanding how all this fits together. And that’s that’s the drive of it. And then I also understand that I want I’m very aware of the audience and I want it to be entertaining. I used to challenge myself by saying, like, how long can I make a blog post that people will read all the way to the end? And I would use metrics to see how far they would go. And because I come out of literary journalism, that all applies over into the to what I’m doing here. I want you to enjoy the writing. I want you to enjoy the storytelling of it. I want you to be compelled by that. And so those two drives are always happening. Those are the two piston’s of the back end. Like, I literally am aching to understand the stuff. And another side, I really want the audience to have a ah experience from listening to it with a playfulness and the joking and everything else. And I commit all the way to all of those things. And I think that anyone can do that. And your unique voice will come through. I was very worried. My editor gave me a really good note years and years ago. I had not done any research to see what other books were on the shelves about the stuff. And then I was really blown away to find that a few years earlier. Somebody’s written how we know what isn’t. So we just so close to your not so smart. And I told my editor I was like, if I had found that book, I would not have written. You are not so smart. I would have been like Osmolarity. I did this. And my editor at the time said, Do you know how many books are written about the Civil War every year? Like like more than a hundred. And they just keep making them like it. It’s not like you think we’re done talking about it, right? He said, you know, nobody’s buying the book because of the topic necessarily. They’re buying it because it’s your way of expressing. It’s your way of looking at it. It’s your perspective. It’s your unique take. It’s your unique voice. And if you were remembered that you can apply that to whatever it is you’re doing. And that got me out of that frame because I had gotten to a point where I was really worried that I was just on a bandwagon. And my editor at the time said there’s no such thing. So that helped a whole lot, too.
Brilliant Miller [00:36:11] Yeah, that’s that’s beautiful. What did you find was the answer to that question of how long a reader will remain engaged? Because, I mean, some of these, like in whatever Esquire or the Atlantic, not Esquire, Harper’s, I mean, five thousand seventy five hundred words. I think people read all of this. But what did you find?
David McRaney [00:36:29] I have found that for a for a blog post that doesn’t have it only has one thing to say 5000 words about about as much as you can commit, because the reader knows that about 5000 words. OK, I get it. So you need to have multiple signposts. If you have three or more things you’re trying to say, you can extend it out to 12000 words. I usually do 12000 words as a chapter is my limit. I keep a limit. If it’s 12000, that’s too much. I feel like the cognitive load of a chapter at once. It passes 12000. You feel like it feels like the chapter should be over by now. It’s sort of the natural cognitive load like of a movie is about two hours, two and a half hours. There’s just a point. I feel like those things find their level. I don’t think I think movies are two hours long because that’s how long you can you can you can sit and enjoy a work in that context. I think that’s also true for a chapter about twelve thousand, a blog post can go as high as 12000, but it better be the chapter quality that it needs to have three to five ideas that are explored in three to five ways each. And a blog post can be about about the about 5000 words is good for one idea that’s explored three or four different ways. But it’s all about cognitive load. I mean, it’s all about how much a person can be asked to keep up with in their head at one time because you need at some point it had stopped and walk away and digest it. So you can’t just keep force feeding them info. You need to give them just the right amount info. So a chapter is like an elegant three hour meal at a fine restaurant or a family gathering or something like that in a blog post should feel at a minimum, it should feel like you treated yourself to to a taco in a maximum. It should be like you treated yourself to a a meal at a place that doesn’t serve wine. But but you should that doesn’t you shouldn’t challenge yourself to make something of that quality. I think that it’s all about cognitive load. I found that I could push the five, six, seven thousand word limit on blog post and people would finish them, but they wouldn’t just finish them and they would finish them unless I had used all the tricks of storytelling where you there’s a cold open and there’s there’s foreshadowing. It says, I’m going to tell you about this, but not yet if we’re going to go here first. I stumbled into something I call the turn. I’ve helped a couple of different bloggers turn their stuff into books. And I often mentioned something I call a turn. There’s all sorts of words for I think Stephen King calls it the inciting moment. Do you for each. For each for the book, for the work as a whole. As I’m at a meta level, there needs to be an exciting moment. And for each chapter, there also needs to be one. I like to call it the turn. It’s the place where I open with I do it on the on the podcast, too. On the podcast. I’m aware that I write about the twenty four minute mark. That’s when people will finish their commute. Or it’s also read about when you finish making breakfast or when you finish folding your clothes so or you finish your workout. So I always front load my podcasts with around a twenty four minute cold open piece that can be consumed by itself and it sits alone as it is a work. Go to go take a break and then after that is the longer like Johnny Carson, Conan O’Brien section where I’m talking back and forth the guests. Same thing in writing. There’s that opening thing with the turn. So what I usually do is I open up with something that I don’t even tell you why we’re talking about it. You just drop in and media. You don’t know why you’re in this. You don’t know where you’re at. You’re totally discombobulated. Then I relate it to something that I think that everybody will be familiar with, usually something and maybe from pop culture or something that is universal, the human experience. And then I say, you know, this is the mystery we’re exploring. And but to understand it, we need to take a step back into the science. And then that’s the term. So the turn is, you know, what’s up? I’ve I have I’ve likened it to being like being led through the forest by a wizard. So like the wizard keeps saying, come, come with me, come with me. And like, you are willing to do that for a while. But after twenty minutes or so, you’re like, are we going anywhere? So they have to at least do a magic trick for you and then you will go with them like like I promise you, it will be fantastic. Look at this. And they make like a fiery bird fly into the sky and then you’re like, OK, OK, I’m following you. So same thing with the piece of writing. I always read up to a turn and then I take you there. There’s a in my newest book, How Mine’s Changed, there’s a chapter that opens up with I was sitting in the Knickerbocker Restaurant across from a soft faced bearded man who slid between me and my notebook, liberty, my notebook and a basket of bread, a photograph of a of a eggs sunny side up its yolk, a shade of neon, a simmering shade of neon green, and then proceed the next thing. So that is a that is a hard, cold open that puts you in a very strange place. And you were compelled to go, excuse me, and then I’ll give you a little bit more of wine there. And then we say for you to understand. Why I came here, let’s back up into the science, that’s a good example of, like, how I usually like to prefer to get people to the turn and get them through.
Brilliant Miller [00:41:35] Right on what’s coming up for me, hearing you share that, by the way, first of all, thanks for pulling the curtain back and sharing some of them behind. But is the what’s coming up for me is just the thoughtfulness and the awareness of the reader and that if absolutely we don’t write in a vacuum, I suppose maybe some people do, but maybe many of us people are writing diaries. But you’re writing and creating for an audience and you’re aware of that in the act of creation?
David McRaney [00:42:03] I absolutely if I was the hardcourt piece of it, put it in your pocket advice. Right to an audience, right to someone. Very write to someone specifically. Like some of my worst work came from when I was writing to an editor who did not understand my voice. And I was trying to write to what that editor liked. And I was just inauthentic. And it came through and it was my worst writing probably ever have done. I used to before I had editors, I would write to a very specific person in my life that I thought would be I would think this was I wanted to make that one person laugh or make that one person go, wow. Like that was a trick in the beginning. And then once I got kind of locked in with an agent and an editor that I knew really supported what I did, I could imagine writing to them as an audience. And then once I had a fan base on social media and on for the podcast and everything I’m aware of that community is who I’m writing to. And that changes the way you write. But all that really matters is you you are you are definitely thinking about this is being read by another human being. And they have a certain amount of they can there’s so many balls they can keep in the air when they’re reading something. And what’s the point of this like? Is this for me? Or, you know, like you can inve mouse team solo all night long and it would be technically marvelous, but it’s not going to be fun and it’s not going to be you’re not going to be something that you will consider engaging. And it’s not something you’ll probably share with anybody. So really, do consider your audience.
Brilliant Miller [00:43:39] So just a moment ago, you mentioned this new book, How Minds Change. Oh, yes, I don’t know who who is this book for and what he wanted to do for them.
David McRaney [00:43:50] It has changed that the the point of that book changed over time because the book started telling me what it wanted to be versus me trying to create something that I thought should exist, because the more I learned about the topic, the more time I spent with people, the more it became evident that what was changing within myself needed to be the story of the book. The book needed to be my story of how I changed my mind about this whole concept. Luckily, my new editor, Niki Papadopoulos, that was her her major suggestion when she came on board, she said, you know, the interesting thing about this book is you started it thinking one thing and thinking another, which on a meta level is you changed your mind about how might change. And why don’t you just tell that to the reader? I had taken a very authoritative voice before this. And instead, now the book reads where it starts out with I don’t understand the topic. And I tell you directly, I don’t really understand this, but if you’ll come along with me, maybe we’ll figure it out together. And then over time I start to develop an authoritative voice. And by the end of the book, I’ve reached a level, some sort of expertize on the topic because I’ve spent so many years with it. I love that arc, that style. And I’ll probably write in that style for the next few books because I think it’s really compelling and it’s very honest. There’s no opportunity to to do a thing where some science writers, I think, come up with a catchphrase or an idea and then they write to the idea like it was like they like they invented it really. It’s just out of some paper they read. And I don’t ever do that. I to always cite my sources and say I didn’t understand this at all. And then I thought it was cool. But then I talked to the scientist who disagreed with that scientist and then it got complicated. And now I don’t know what to do and untangle this. We need to go talk to this person. And this feels more honest. I mean, this book started out with one single question. I was looking I was researching some other topic. And I found that. The the majority of people in United States, 61 percent of people United States were opposed to same sex marriage and 12 years ago, and then today, 61 percent are in favor.
Brilliant Miller [00:46:02] Is really look at one percent. That’s an amazing coincidence.
David McRaney [00:46:04] Yeah, and then you look at if you look at it on a graph, if they have opposed in four in the graph, they they cross and they do so around 2012. And it’s just so wild. If you look at it over time, one goes sharply down, one goes sharply up and they meet at some point. And there was something interesting to me about there was a moment when it went from majority four to majority against and it happened within about a decade.
Brilliant Miller [00:46:32] So. So men do what? It’s Obama.
David McRaney [00:46:36] Well, it preceded Obama, thankfully. Like like like it wasn’t it wasn’t easily explainable. Like it also to me, there was like a three year period where it flipped and it just happened so rapidly. It was like a minecart, you know, like Hausch. And my question, though, was like, what if I took someone from the majority who was now in the former camp and used to be in the against camp, and I put them in a time machine and then took him back just 10 years, they would argue with themselves, with the same behemoth’s, that people argue about wedge issues today. And so I want to know what happened in that person’s brain. Like what was what if I was like how did a futuristic super MRI scanner, what would be different in that brain from this brain? And then what affected it? Like what were the the what were the parts of the environment that changed that? Did somebody persuade them to the environment, persuade them? I don’t understand this topic, but there seems to be some magic there. So that was the ideas. Like, I just want to explain that one thing. And I pitched that as a book idea and sold a book on that on explaining that one thing. So then I take that and I go into academia with it and I’m thinking what I’m going to do is just go ask a bunch of experts and we’ll be on our way. I start talking to political scientists who say, yes, that was the fastest recorded social change of all time. And then I’m like, well, so what do you think caused it? Like, no idea. Like, what do you mean no idea? I was like, well, there’s a million things, but we don’t know what why this happened so fast. My other things didn’t. All right. Let me go talk to some psychologists. Hi. What do you study? Belief. Could you explain to me what a belief is? Who that’s tough. Like what? You’ve been studying this for forty years like. Yeah, but that’s why it’s hard to tell you what what I don’t really know what a belief is. Tell you the truth. Like, oh my God. OK, what about persuasion? What do you know about that. Like other than the childish stuff which is mainly about behavior, I can’t tell you anything. I don’t know about how beliefs change. Like, OK, so then I go to neuroscientists like what do you know? And they’re like, well, the brain is very plastic and these environments, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, yeah, but what if it comes like, you know, thinking that same sex marriage is evil and the now thinking that it’s not evil like what happened in their brain. Like, like dude you’re talking about dark matter now like we don’t know these things, like we barely know how, we don’t even know how a thought is made. So I was like, wow, this is going to be tough to tell my editor like, oops, sorry. I asking questions that no one knows the answers to.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:02] So instead what I had if I can just jump in there, it’s amazing that all those people have so much to say, but in some fundamental ways they know almost nothing. This is true.
David McRaney [00:49:13] This is true. At least they’re willing to admit that they don’t know it. So I had read a New York Times article about a group of people that were going door to door, change people’s minds in less than twenty minutes with a very specific technique. And I thought, OK, let’s back up and I’ll go there. So I flew to Los Angeles and I embedded with them and I learned their technique and I went door to door with them and I witnessed it actually work. And then the crazy thing was they and they went through a whole controversy because when some scientist came out to study and one of the scientists committed fraud and almost ruined the entire endeavor. But luckily, another group of scientists came and redid the research and found that it did have an actual effect. And but I would ask the people doing it, these people are are the deep canvassers of the LGBT center of Los Angeles. And I would but when I asked them how does this work? Like, what is it? What’s the science behind it? They’re like, we don’t know. Like none of us have ever taken a psychology course. We just know it works. We’ve just been doing AB testing for four years. We’ve done twelve thousand conversations. We know what not to say and what to say.
Brilliant Miller [00:50:13] Was this the whole thing about how you did, you know, your neighbor is doing this? Is that the technique they were using and they would talk to people like, did you know your neighbor vote?
David McRaney [00:50:21] Oh, no, no, that’s that’s different. That’s different because different. But we can talk about that if you like. But there’s a slightly different thing. Yeah. Let’s keep the thread. You’re on the social proof just expanded out to to for anyone who’s wonder what that is in Texas. They try to get people to to conserve power. And so they thought they would tell them how much their neighbors were consuming compared to them. But it backfired because they found out their neighbors were consuming more than them. They consume more, tend to be better consumers and their neighbors did work. So the. I. The scientists who study this were political scientist Josh Kaliya, David Brockmann. I talk to them just two or three weeks ago. I’ve stayed to stay with. I will never stop keeping up with their attempt to research those. But they they told me, like, we don’t actually know how it works either. We don’t know what the active ingredient in this is. They described it as it’s as if we found out there’s a certain kind of tree bark that cures headaches. But now we need to create chemistry so that we can find what the molecule is that we can, like, replicate it in. But we aren’t even there yet. We are just the level of tree bark. Maybe so. With that, I thought, let me find as many people as I can find who are either. Using some sort of persuasive technique that seems to work or they’ve changed their mind drastic ways, and that started a completely different adventure, I embedded myself with flat earth as 9/11 truthers, Westboro Baptist Church, former cult members, current cult members, every conspiratorial community that they would invite me in from, anti-war AXA’s on. I went to conventions and went to meetings. I went to I would just hang out with them, get drunk with them, and then I would also bounce around to people doing things like street epistemology and deep canvasing and motivational interviewing and therapeutic techniques. And I started to notice a series of patterns of both worlds in one world. The people who believe things and could not be persuaded seem to be very similar in some regards. And no matter what it was they believed, it seemed irrelevant what they believed, their other motivations seemed similar. And then the people who are using persuasive techniques that seem to actually work the techniques all seemed very, very similar. But they were unaware of each other. They didn’t know that there were other people in the world also doing the same thing, also trying their best to figure out how to change people’s minds and also finding that the same things worked. And it seemed to me it was like it’s like, you know, when they were trying to invent the airplane and somebody on one side of the world made an airplane that flew and somebody on the side of the world and an airplane that flew and they both looked the same because I had a thing that flies is going to look the same way because physics is the same everywhere on the planet. A persuasive technique that works is going to look the same no matter who does it, because brains are the same, and that started that’s started to excite me to no end. And I’m still excited about I’m about to spit on myself because the the it means there’s another way to talk about the unity through humility. Right. We are all the same in the regards in regard to what motivates us to think, feel and believe in ways that have become very difficult to persuade us out of. And the fundamentals behind those I started to see as attitudes and beliefs and values are different constructs, their different mental phenomena, the interplay, and also, though, the way that we the way some one person can persuade another person to think differently is always going to work the same way. Because I eventually found scientists who only thought who only think about this one thing humorously being the main one there is there was a at the level of groups, there’s a natural selection pressure to us to be able to argue and come to better group decisions and form goals in a manner that requires us to do it in a certain way. That’s difficult to replicate through social media, difficult to replicate through sort of a pitch kind of way. But when it was more similar to the way that we evolved to to send or receive messages, the better we are at sending and receiving messages. So I was like, wow, I’m finding something that I’ve never read about before. I’ve never seen it constructed. I’ve never seen anybody put it out there. And then I was also able to get all these different groups to meet each other, like not the not the conspiracy theorists, but all these different persuasive communities. I introduced them to one another and now they’re collaborating. And so I’m hoping they make like a Voltron of persuasion that of all of their stuff. And I’m actually hoping that when it comes time to for the book to come out, that maybe I can get them all together on stage. And so now I feel like I’m walking around with a superpower, like I feel like I have. And I and the book ends with me using it twice. I went to Sweden and used it on flat earth or on live on stage. But then I also went to a retreat. It was like a one of these UN conferences that I went to where everybody gave a lecture at a retreat and there was someone there who wanted to see the technique. I was fresh off of the Sweden adventure and they wanted to see the technique in action. And he asked me to use it on him and I used it. The technique, which my version of technique is a hybrid of all the ones put together and more of a Chimaira really. But they they like Bruce Lee. And the book ends with me choosing not to do it because he wanted he he his belief was that he believed in God and he was in a group of people who were, who were very humanistic and mostly atheistic in a way, but like he felt sort of out of place that he had this deep faith in a personal God. But he was like, I would like you to challenge that. And so when I did, he told me this incredible story. I will share it with you now, if you like. It’ll take about two minutes. But are you OK with that? I’ll share with you. Absolutely. OK, so here’s the story. Jason told me the story and I had spent this is a four day retreat and I had had someone I had hung out with a lot there. And we sat down. He said, you know, I only tell this story once a year, but I’ll tell it here, it seems appropriate. And there were a lot of people there. Almost everybody thought she was there. About forty people decided they wanted to sit in and watch it. So we sat at a mess hall and we sat across from a dining room table. And it was late at night. And I said, OK, you know, what is the what is the thing you’d like me to challenge? He said, God. And oh, that is you would pick the the heaviest one. Well, you know, tell me, like on a scale from one to 100, what your confidence in the claim that there’s a God that exists out there somewhere. And he said he was about an eighty and I said, oh, eighty. That’s not a hundred. Why is it not 100? Because, well, it used to be zero. And I’m like, oh, there now it’s eighty and. He said all throughout his life he had moved around for a while was 50. And I said, well, let me ask you, how did it get from 50 to 80? He said he is the shortest version of the story, but it’s a very long story. He had went to the he got involved with some he wanted to be a photojournalist and he knew somebody who had went to Afghanistan and in the surrounding areas. And he had an offer. He wanted to go to Israel in the surrounding area and he wanted to go to different places in the Holy Land, and he wanted to be a photojournalist. And while he was there, he would spend time with various authorities, holy authorities, and he would sit down with them and they would talk about original texts and they would talk about their take on his faith. He was Lutheran, by the way, and he eventually found his way to a cathedral which was close to the crucifixion, the site of the supposed supposedly the site of the crucifixion. And along the way, all these people that he met, he just felt like they weren’t very compelling to him. They felt very used car salesman ish to him. And what he was doing was he was very much eradicating his faith, which was his point. He went on this journey to become an atheist, but he felt like he needed to go to truly commit to let me see for myself while he’s at this cathedral, though, this holy site, this is a site that has a bunch of alcoves around the sides. And he goes inside and he asks somebody in there to, like, help him look at a text. And the guy says, you know, I’ll I’ll let you look at it for one hundred dollars. And he just was like just like he was just like he said he felt at that moment is like, that’s it. Like I finally you finally got me to zero. And he said when he walked out the doors of that place, he felt like he was walking out of his religion as well. And so he walks outside in the sun is setting and he hears a woman crying and one of the alcoves. And so he slips around the side and he finds this young woman lying in her vomit and blood. And she’s barely moving and she’s wailing. And he she has she’s clutching a suicide note and he learns that she wanted to marry a young boy of her parents wouldn’t allow it. She had taken a bunch of pills to kill herself. And so he scoops her up and he walks through all the through cobblestone streets in the middle as the night is coming in. And he barely knows how to speak the language. And he hails a taxi and she’s limp in his arms and he takes her, puts in a taxi, goes to the hospital where there has no idea who this person is, sits with her as they start pumping her stomach. And he and then they take her out and he’s holding her hand. And it still hits me hard. I can feel it coming up and I can feel my eyes starting to get to to go. She had a book of numbers and he went through the numbers one by one until he found her parents and they could speak English. And he told her told him where he was. And so they came and he spent all night with her and she lived and he eventually had dinner with them and has been going back and forth with the family a few times. He kept up with her. She even became a nurse. She got married and she has kids. So he said. Whatever God is, that’s what God is. He said that he went there to destroy his faith and he found something completely new and what he found was a connection to the divine construct any way you want. But if he hadn’t been there, she would have died. And that his his. His he had no. Hesitation, no doubt, his commitment to to doing whatever it took to save this person’s life. And that’s divin. And so he went from 50 to 80. And so he tells a story and it takes forever for it to come out of him because it’s very difficult for him to tell the story. And I knew all the steps in the persuasion technique that come out of this. And I know all I do all these like practical ways to ask him to challenge whether or not this is actually evidence toward something spiritual, something bigger than what’s right. Something tangible and. I hesitated and I had spent all these years learning all of this, and then here it is in front of me and I feel like, what good is it? And so I took a I said, Jason, if I had a glass case with a button in it and I put it in front of you and this button, if you open up the case and you press the button, you’d go back down to zero. Would you press it? And he thought and thought and thought it was this long pregnant pause. And by this point, everyone had, like, really collapsed in was like leaning in to hear what he’s going to say. And he said no. And I said, I can’t. Think of any good reason to keep talking about this, like you’ve given more to me than I could ever take from you. And so I just said, we’re going to stop here and thank you. And so I stood up and we embraced and then the crowd collapsed in on us. We had this giant weeping hug and I had to really sit and think about, like, what was this book about? Like at the end of this journey, I chose not to use the thing that I had spent so much time trying to understand. And that became like the the point, right. The I have a say in the book that I added a step zero to before step one, which is ask yourself, why would you want to change this person? What why do you want to do this? What’s it say about you that you want to change this person’s mind? What are your actual intentions? And it I had a friend who’s a negotiation expert named Mesic Leiberman who brought that whole story to you, and he said, you know, it’s very important to fully understand why it is that you were so committed to wanting to change somebody’s mind about something, whether it’s a fact or an attitude or a value or whatever it is. Maybe in exploring why you want to do it, you realize more like you will abandon the pursuit because you realize there’s something in you that you don’t understand. And it’s more important to understand that than it is to engage in the pursuit. So it just it was huge. Right. So that’s how the book ends now, which is kind of strange. Like I said, you’d go through all these chapters, go through all the science, and then I hand you this tool and then I ask you at the end, it’s like, please don’t use this tool unless you your you know why you’re doing it and because it’s very powerful. And why would you want to shake someone’s faith who who like regardless of how you feel about religion or God or anything like that, you cannot deny something divine happened in that moment. And whatever whatever words you want to use, whatever categorical constructions you want to do, however you want to articulate the ineffable of that, it is almost irrelevant how you construct it because you cannot deny the ineffable that occurred in that moment, has he? He fully expressed something important in human that I hope we carry with us to the stars. And how dare I be so bold as to say. But how have you thought about this? Like, it’s not important. He’s he can do that himself. That’s not the kind of thing like it’s not a flat earth type thing. And so I grew enormously in that pursuit. And yeah, that’s what is the book about? It’s about all of that. It’s a it’s about why we do we think the things we think feel the things we feel, do the things we do, but how, how our brains update themselves, how do they assimilate and accommodate over time. How do we form the model of reality we used to navigate the world? What how does it what changes, what updates it? And then how does interpersonal communication affected? And then how does that translate to social change over time? So if you want to understand the science of all that, I tell you, if you understand the network science of it, the social science, the political science of it, I’ll tell you the neuroscience, psychology, all of that. If you want to know how best to persuade other people, I’ll tell you that, too. But also at the end, I hope you understand that this is not like one of those persuasion books that is like how to win friends and influence people. Like that’s not I’m not handing you a tool that should be that could even be used for these purposes because people see right through it. And I hope they do. So that’s sort of the strangeness of this book. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever made as amazing.
Brilliant Miller [01:05:44] When is it really
David McRaney [01:05:46] supposed to come out? It’s going to come out October. Hopefully I’ll leave it to the publishing lords to decide what’s the best month for it to come out. But I’ve been told somewhere between October and January, but they’ll figure it out. Covid changed the game in that regard, but they’ll they’ll figure it out now.
Brilliant Miller [01:05:59] And because things on the Internet think they’ll live forever. Well, listen, we’re talking about October of twenty, twenty one, maybe later according to the whims of the publishing lords.
David McRaney [01:06:09] That’s right. That’s right.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:10] Yeah. Thank you for sharing that with me. And I can’t wait to to pick up this book. It’s really incredible. So, man, with time passes so quickly, so much I want to cover
David McRaney [01:06:24] should assure you we can do thirty more minutes. No problem.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:27] OK, well let me definitely have two questions. I’ll just park these because one I’m really interested in is. If there was one thing I do want to get to the lightning lightning round for sure, so I’m going to I’m going to throw these out there was doing lightning lightning round and maybe come back to these or something else. But one is about if you had that moment, like that dramatic scene where the doors are closing and the person is going to go away forever and you only have time to tell them one thing that they can use to improve the quality of their life from the vast research and experience you’ve had in all of this, that one thing that you would impart, you know, that’s one thing. So we’ll park that. The other one is about if we know these things right, like we know all these, we can go to Wikipedia and read the page of all the biases and all of that and the cognitive filters and stuff. And we know that the narratives we live in some real way are total crap. If we know that, why is it so damn hard to change and create an empowering one and live it every single day
David McRaney [01:07:29] so that OK, question one was the one thing I hope you know, as the doors are closing, you you get more from disconfirming than confirming that’s the most important lesson that you get more from it. You’re saying, yeah. You get more from disconfirming than confirming this is true in all regards you whatever it is you’re exploring, ask yourself how you try to find out how how wrong you are before you try to prove how right you are. That’s the simplest thing I can say about it. Like it’s a look for the null hypothesis in life. Don’t fear the the. The the the. Don’t, don’t. Don’t waste an opportunity to discover how wrong you are. That’s that’s it’s it’s very difficult to know when you’re wrong because being wrong famously feels exactly like being right until you discover you’re wrong. So whatever it is, whatever it is. Like other domains in which this is going to seem like he shouldn’t do that, interpersonal relationships, faith based things, even the story I told about Japan, but there is no harm that’s going to come from from you discovering that you could be wrong about something. If it’s really true, it will only be can only be nourished by this pursuit. So. Look for disconfirmation, I mean, at the simplest level, if you’re going to if you’re going to Google something, Google GOOG, you know, like let’s say it’s so you’re hesitant about the vaccine is going to be very easy for you to find YouTube videos from other people who are also hesitant. You will learn nothing from that. You will need look for look for evidence that you’re wrong and then balance the scales with that. But do that with everything. Do that with absolutely everything, whether it’s it’s artistic, spiritual, scientific, life based, relationship based interpersonal between you and another human being, communicate well and be willing to disconfirm your assumptions. I think there’s a whole lot that gets rotted and poisoned and polluted by assumptions because they are they’re just thoughts in your head. They are not evidence from outside the outside world. And the only way you’re going to ever, like, adapt, evolve and grow is to challenge your assumptions. And there’s you have to actively do that. That is not something that you just you don’t lay back in bed and have your assumptions challenged unless, you know, you know, a tornado since trees to your house and you assumed that you were safe. Rarely does this happen. You need to actively pursue. So that’s that was my major piece of advice for everybody to take with him forever and ever and ever, ever. You’ll only grow from it. You’re only going to grow from it. And you’re probably wrong about like almost 90 percent of what you’re which is. So there’s that the the other question you asked about, like, why is it so hard to change your mind? Well, I mean, there’s so many ways to attack this. First thing I would say is when we say change your mind, that’s a very difficult to parse expression. Some cultures don’t even have this expression. What do we mean when we say change your mind or what do you mean by the word mind? I mean, I would say it’s we could think in terms of propositions, truth based propositions, we can think term effect based claims, I would say it’s probably somewhere in one of these three buckets as either an attitude, a belief or a value. An attitude is a estimation. It’s an evaluation of something positive or negative for or against attraction repulsion. It’s a balanced evaluation of something. If I say banana pudding, you have a either a positive or negative attitude about that. If I say medical waste, you have either a positive or negative evaluation of that thing. If I say the Matrix sequels, you have a positive or negative evaluation. I think these are attitudes. If you have if I ask you, do you think the president is a good president? This is where it starts to be, am I asking about your attitude or I’m asking about a fact? Is the president good or bad? What I’m asking you is your attitude toward that thing. Is it? How could I ever how could ever enter the realm of fact based claims when everything we’re talking about is the evaluation of something? Vaillant’s Yet we try to change people’s minds. We often treat an attitude claim or an attitude proposition like that, as if it’s a fact based claim. And techniques that work on beliefs don’t work on attitudes. And that’s when we get very frustrated. The other good example, this is when somebody is an anti-Vaxxer. I don’t mean for covid, I mean for the vaccines that that usually the the the vaccine battery that that children usually get that some people are very hesitant to resort to to receive. Or have their children see that that’s they’ll say something like vaccines cause autism, and then you will attempt to change their mind about that. And that’s a fact based claim. That’s a belief, right? I believe this is true. And a belief is a is a is as information encoded in the brain that that carries with it some sort of confidence, metacognition. That’s why often in the beginning, you say from zero to 100. How confident are you in this? All the information that could in our brain also carries with it some sort of a a intuitive confidence value and at high levels of competence. We say it’s true at local levels of confidence. We say it’s maybe not true, possibly false, but we also can be very confident that something is false. So obviously the language gets really weird here. The point is the confidence determines whether or not it’s true or false. That’s a belief. And then a value is what do we think is more important to worry about the not something else like what should be the thing that we consider if we had to stack everything against each other was something that should take up our time. Why should we focus our goals on what should we what should we use our efforts toward this evaluation? So these three things that are play and they they’re just ingredients in a big cake of of of the models of reality used to pass and make sense of the world and predict it and make goals and and determine cause and effect. But if somebody says to you, vaccines cause autism, your immediate reaction usually is, OK, I want to change their mind about that. And so you start putting in facts from the outside world to get the facts from the outside world. You start getting bullet bullet points and YouTube videos and this scientists and the scientists of that and. The thing, though, is like you might even successfully persuade that person the vaccines don’t cause autism, but it will not change the fact that they do not intend to vaccinate their child. Research into this is very clear, like. They’ve taken thousands of people and used all sorts of techniques to get them to be less vaccine hesitant. The CDC is very committed to this kind of research. And what they often find is that what happens is the person will give up that belief, that very particular belief, but their intent to vaccinate becomes even less likely. So they actually made them more hesitant by convincing them that this one thing that they believe is not true. This seems very counterintuitive. This seems like this is what has often been called the backfire effect. The reason that happens is because you were never you were trying to change their beliefs when you should have been trying to change their attitude. What is their attitude? Is something along the lines of I do not trust authorities. I do not trust institutions. I certainly do not trust government medical institutions, which is sort of a mix of authority and institution together. I also don’t understand the science behind this. So this is some sort of magical cocktail? I don’t understand that either. I, I have a fear of all these things. I also strongly do not like the idea of my agency being taken away by another individual. I have a very primate concern in that regard. And then you’re saying on top of all that you can take everything that I’m afraid of and that I’m hesitant about and that I fear in this world everything that gives me anxiety and you’re going to put it in a needle that’s going to be put into my child against my will. So you’re going to hurt my child by taking away my agency and their agency, and an institution is going to do that one that I do not trust from the government. And also, you terrible scientist who knows what you’re up to. All that stuff that’s where the attitude comes from is multileveled, multifaceted, it’s nuanced. And what happens is we feel that viscerally. And then we look for. We look for justifications of this attitude, evident evidence that will justify why we feel the way we feel, which we cannot help but feel, and what we’re looking for, our reasons why we feel that way. That would be considered plausible to other people in our social support network. So we come up with reasons to explain ourselves to ourselves that would be plausible to people who we feel we owe social costs to. And those reasons become the reasons why we feel the way we feel. And that comes out as let me cherry pick through all the evidence to find something that seems reasonable to my social cohort. Vaccines cause autism. No one in my group would would say it would be opposed to that being why I don’t want to do this. So if you successfully show somebody enough evidence to get them to say, no, I, I agree with you, they don’t cause autism. Everything else is still there and it will drive them to find some other piece of evidence to justify their conclusion. So all the all the good persuasive techniques work backwards through the processing chain to find what is the actual source of a person’s hesitation in that regard. So why is it so hard for people change their minds like on something things is not? You know, if I tell you if you think it’s Tuesday, I tell you, no, it’s actually Monday you’re going to go, oh, thanks. But if you think your hamsters are alive and you walk in and you see hamsters dead, now you’ve updated your Prior’s hamster no longer alive. But when it comes to this is what P.J. called assimilation and accommodation, all brains update themselves through a system of assimilation, accommodation and assimilation is when you you learn something new about nobble information. You encounter novel information that is ambiguous and then you disambiguate it using what you understand. And if it if you can successfully do that, you assimilated into the model you’re using to make sense of the book. But if that novel information is cannot be disambiguate it using the model, you must expand the model in some way to accommodate it. You change, you change your mind. So it’s two kinds of changing. You might write. One is like if I tell you Quentin Tarantino has a new movie out, you’re like, Oh wow, really? I didn’t even know he’s making a new movie. So something has been updated in your brain. You have changed your mind in a certain way. But it’s just a simulation. Like everything you know about Quentin, you’re still there. Everything you know about movies is still there. Everything you know about entertainment and the five billion things you have to understand to make that sentence make sense in your head. Like a baby’s not going to understand what that but like a full grown adult uses a lot of its model of reality. I understand the phrase Quentin Tarantino has a new movie coming out. But if I tell you, hey, did you know we just learned that Quentin Tarantino is not a real person, it’s actually Danny DeVito operating a mech made out of meat, and it was designed in a lab in the 1970s. No, real like, OK, first, that’s going to be tough to convince beyond because so much of my model of reality now has to be updated to accommodate this information. But if I do if I do fully commit and believe that that is true, I must accommodate. And now all of reality changes. That’s what accommodation is. That’s deeply changing and that is very difficult to do. The brain avoids it at all costs because if you update in the wrong direction, you would come down your dangerously incorrect you could die from it. Right. But also, if you don’t update when you should, you could die. So the the brain is walking a tightrope of adapting this in that regard. Let me use the example, it’s not so bizarre that everybody could understand when a child is told, let’s say, you know, it comes assimilation, accommodation starts with like if if you eat something that doesn’t taste good and you’ve never eaten something that doesn’t taste good before, the world gets twice as complex. In that moment, everything tasted good. Everything that I could ever eat tastes good. Then I eat something that tastes bad and like, oh, no, things can taste bad. Massive accommodation, another level of abstraction that the entirety of your model reality just got twice as big. A little bit more complex once you’ve had a little more experience, let’s say you see a dog and you’ve probably seen this in children, you know, they point and they go in and you’re like, that’s a dog and a dog, dog, dog. And they learn, OK, dog, I now know that this thing is a dog in the brain, though. What’s happened is they say thing with four legs, hairy tail dog. So they see a horse and they go dog. You know, that’s not a dog, that’s a horse and like horse, huge moment for the brain because at first the category was things of the four legs that are hairy battles or dogs. But now you’ve introduced that that is just one thing within a higher order category, and that’s accommodation. So every time that child sees another dog, that’s assimilation. When that child learns that there could be other things that aren’t dogs, that’s accommodation. And we do that for the for the as long as we’re people, we’re constantly adding layers of abstraction to the entire thing. Any time we do so, the world gets a little bit bigger and we start and we understand it’s much more complicated than we thought it was before. But as certain level things like if you’re eating and not dying and reproducing, like it’s really not valuable for you to accommodate unless that thing helps you to eat better, not die better and reproduce better. So it would rather deal with false positives and false negatives as long as there’s no harm involved. And if you are trying to change his mind about something that has tremendous social calls to it, for them to change their mind that they have all these motivations for not doing so, there’s no real value for them. They can just take the hit of being wrong because the maybe it ingratiates them to their subculture, maybe it ingratiates them to their job. Maybe it keeps the money flowing. Maybe it keeps the reputation going. All these things are more valuable than actressy social. So those those concerns will always outweigh the other ones. So in the pursuit of assimilation and accommodation, there are certain things that are going to be a risk reward analysis at each stage of accommodation. And we often see is that people will find a way to assimilate. I’ll end with this last example. Like the most famous example comes from cognitive dissonance, research and cognitive dissonance. Is that moment whenever a thought, feeling, behavior, belief, attitude, value or whatever comes into conflict with another one. And so one of the two must be wrong. Like you feel that deeply and intuitively and you have to. But there’s a way to get out of it, which is that you can just assume that the incident sort of thing, that the novel information is wrong. You think that your interpretation of it is wrong. And if your interpretation of it is is incorrect, then you can just change your interpretation instead of changing the information. So the most famous example of that is the the doomsday cult that was Leon Festinger infiltrated with his research team. They thought the world was going to end on a very specific day. They prayed and prayed and prayed for it. They gave up all their possessions. They got ready to die. They put on special clothes. And then an alien spaceship was going to come and pick them up. And then towards the end. But the day came and went and it didn’t happen. So now what do you do? So what you could do is say the new evidence suggests that I was wrong about that and maybe these aren’t cool people to hang out with and maybe I should have done this. But there’s a tremendous amount of social cost in that and a tremendous amount, a tremendous amount of identity cost in that. So another option for them was to say we when what they actually said was we prayed so hard, we saved the world and so the alien spaceship didn’t come OK. Assimilation is saying that the alien spaceship came because now nothing changes inside your head, you just you found a way to interpret the world using your current model in a way that allowed for the novel information to not be so novel. But accommodation would be to say, oh, I was wrong about that and I can be wrong about things like this. And therefore I need to change everything about how I understand about the world in this domain. That would be accommodation. And that’s when you allow novel information to update the model instead of allowing the model to change the way you interpret the information and see, OK,
Brilliant Miller [01:23:57] there’s a lot to think. I’ll be thinking about that for probably this whole we’re heading into the Memorial Day weekend as we record this. I’m pretty sure come Monday morning I’m still going to be chewing on that.
David McRaney [01:24:07] Yes, it’s very fun stuff to stay obsessed with for years and years. Yeah. Thank you.
Brilliant Miller [01:24:13] OK, well, let’s go to this nine questions. They’re intended to be like the name implies the lightning round. You’re welcome to answer as long as you like. But look, I go, OK, question. How are you doing, by the way? You’re OK. Yeah, great. Good. OK, question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a.
David McRaney [01:24:45] Life is like a walk on part in a play that you in another language.
Brilliant Miller [01:24:51] OK, that reminds me of the Oscar Wilde to life is like a play, but it’s cast like that. OK, question number two here in Bahrain, Peter TEALS question, what important truth do very few people agree with you on?
David McRaney [01:25:07] There’s this thing that people do where they say it’s doing a lot in 2020, where they’re saying, I can’t believe it’s 2020 and we’re still doing X and say now we do. We want. We don’t like. I can’t believe it’s 20, 21. And people are still doing whatever dude we want from the airplane to landing on the moon in 66 years, we didn’t know that vitamin C existed to the 1930s. We didn’t know galaxies existed until roughly like a 20 or 30 years into the 20th century. We didn’t my parents didn’t have flushing toilets as children or running water. My grandfather saw a TV for the first time when he was in his 40s and thought it was two miniature men fighting each other and he didn’t understand it. We are living like in a world that is so new. I’m impressed that about everything we are doing. So it’s to me it’s inverted. Like I always say, like I can’t like if they say I can’t believe, I can believe is that tweet to me when I was still doing whatever horrible shit they were doing, like, like the I believe it, I’m amazed and we pull off anything right now. We are the very beginning of this thing. Like I’m a very optimistic person. I’m even Pollyanna ish in a way that I truly believe we’re going to, like, explore the galaxy and we’re going to do all sorts of amazing things as this is this absolute anomaly of natural selection. Yet I am aware that if you just roll the clock back 200 years. Whoa. Right. Like but you roll it back forty years, like the world of nineteen fifty one is almost apocalyptically dystopian. So this is something that people disagree with me. I, I do not, I’m never surprised that we’re still doing something that people think we ought to stop by now. We just got started as how I feel about those things.
Brilliant Miller [01:27:02] All right. Question number three, if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase we’re seeing or quote or quip, what would the shirt say?
David McRaney [01:27:12] I have that shirt and it says, bless your heart. I should have worn a sort of water. That’s a Southern expression. That does not mean bless your heart. That means you can go fuck yourself. But that’s what I love that shirt because and I have a book here by Dave Cohen called The Culture of Honor. And it’s a whole lineage of how people that settled in the American South came from herding cultures in certain parts of Europe. And they have this whole culture of honor thing. He did the study. We had people in a hallway and they would like is a study, if you allow me to digress, there’s a there’s a hallway and there’s a out there’s a door in the hallway that goes to another room. They have this person fill out a questionnaire. They take a sample of their blood and their saliva, and they’re asked to take the questionnaire to the other end of the hallway and give it to a researcher on the way there. Somebody comes out of that little thing and refuses to let them pass. And then they go so far as to bump them and when they bump them, they go, asshole, the person the person that bumped them says that. And then the person gets the other in the hallway and they take they take the thing and they give them the blood and saliva and they take a second blood sample. And so they see the difference between who they were before and after. And what they found was people who had spent 16 years or more in the Deep South would have levels of testosterone and cortisol go through the roof after they had been bumped in the hallway, whereas other people who had not spent 16 years in the Deep South would have normal levels of cortisol and they would even ask them after the interview people who had not lived in the Deep South very long. How did you feel when that guy bumped you there? Like I thought I was stupid. He was silly. It was funny, actually. Kind of. What do we do with they asked people in the Deep South, how did you feel then? Like I will to murder that man. I want that I want to end that person. I like how dare they? And so, so hurting cultures in the modern world who haven’t had enough cultural momentum that there are all these phrases and turns of of all these turns of phrase and all these linguistic loopholes to maintain decorum. And so a lot of what gets treated is like a romantic Southern expression, especially in the in the Magnolia Moonlight accent. Well, hello there. Might I offer you a fine drink or something? The part you like, you’ll like that world is actually people doing everything they can to avoid a confrontation. And I love that so much and it’s still stuck with us. And so if you are in the Deep South and he goes, oh, bless your heart, they are insulting you at a level that you can’t even conceive like they were to throw you into a volcano. So I love wearing that shirt because only in certain in certain places it means nothing in other places like, oh, my God, I can’t believe he’s got that. So that’s my favorite MS. Fighting words real as your heart.
Brilliant Miller [01:29:52] Wow, that is great. I’m learning so much. OK, question number four. What book other than one of your own have you gifted or recommended most often.
David McRaney [01:30:02] Oh that’s easy. I Joe by Larry Brown. I give I give that book as a gift very often. Joe is Larry Brown was a Southern author from close to Oxford, Mississippi. He was a firefighter, a volunteer firefighter most of his life. But he really wanted to be an author and he just had to wait it for forever and ever and ever until he got to a point where I’m absolutely certain he’s the greatest writer of of of the maybe the twentieth century, but definitely, definitely for a two generations. He just he understands storytelling at a level that I may never understand. And he produced the perfect book called Joe. And it’s full of great things in it. But there’s a there’s this one scene in it. And I often ask people to read it. And then after they finished reading, I asked them how this particular scene made them feel. And there’s a I’ll give it away here. But there’s a there’s a scene where Joe wakes up with a woman who he’s picked up in and they had like a one night stand and she’s lying on the bed and he’s awake and she’s asleep. And it’s like early morning hours. And he looks at her and he said to her, the way she was in the bed, the way her hair cascaded across it, she looked like one of those paintings which she had never seen, comma, would never see. And I remember reading that I was in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart when I was still a a print journalist. And I read that and I looked around that everything around me and I felt so. So deeply, awfully hurt on her behalf, also on Joe’s behalf, these two fictional characters, and I understood the misery of the sentence and he just keeps going, but it just keeps the Joe goes about his day that that one reflective thing that was a bizarre, abysmal, like, still hates me. So I always recommend that book. And so there’s a really as far as like if I want you to taste the most delicious chocolate of storytelling, that’s the book. Wow.
Brilliant Miller [01:32:18] I’ve never even heard of that book,
David McRaney [01:32:20] but I highly recommend it
Brilliant Miller [01:32:21] for introducing me to. I’ll definitely check it out. OK, question number five involves travel. So in your life, you’ve traveled a lot. What’s something you do when you travel to make you travel less painful or more enjoyable?
David McRaney [01:32:34] I do a lot of stuff. Boy, is that’s something I’ve optimized. I mean, I guess the most practical thing is I always as soon as I put my bags down and get everything settled, I don’t take out my clothes or anything. I’ll leave everything bundled up and I immediately walk outside and I do about six concentric circles of walking around where I’m at. And because years ago I noticed that I would be in a place for weeks and then right around the time to leave, I need to get something like deodorant or or I wanted orange juice or something. And then when I would walk to go get it, I would discover, oh, I was by this the entire time there was this here the entire time, like I didn’t even know where I was at, like I was still on the Internet that was still in a virtual landscape. I wasn’t in the place I was at. And it is really enriched my travel to as soon as I get there, do some like concentric circle rings around the neighborhood and get pretty far out and then find my way back again. And it changes the way you think about where you’re at. So that’s not like an airport, an airport trick that’s after you get there. Trick that has really improved my life.
Brilliant Miller [01:33:42] That’s awesome. All right, question number six, what’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or well?
David McRaney [01:33:51] That’s good. Oh, I don’t eat meat. That’s one thing, I guess I am.
Brilliant Miller [01:33:55] How long have you been meatless?
David McRaney [01:33:57] A four years. I. I did it. Like. I did it because I had had like a medical scare where I had gotten a gout reaction from, I spent a weekend drinking beer and then I went to a barbecue cook off. And so I had loaded overloaded myself with Puritan’s and I had in my body could not process them. I’d gotten the Kings disease over a weekend by eating so much meat and drinking so much beer that I had overloaded my body. And so I swore off of it for a while. And then after a while I was like, I don’t miss this at all. And so I stopped eating meat and I stopped smoking. So those two things deeply improve my life. I don’t know if you know, oh, here’s another practical one. Oh, this is something I hope everybody does. I do not comment on social media if I don’t like something art wise. So if I see a movie that I don’t like it, I don’t mention it. But if I do see a movie and I like it, I’ll tell you all about it. Man, that changed my life so much like my social media experience got a thousand percent better. I just don’t get on social media and tell you about something. I don’t like the news Snyder thing. If like if I watch it and go, I don’t get online and go solve the music side of things sucked ass like this. I don’t, I just don’t do it. I just don’t talk about it.
Brilliant Miller [01:35:17] Yeah. I’m with you in wishing that everyone can, we might start a pledge or something that people agree to.
David McRaney [01:35:22] It’s my social media golden rule only comment on things that made you happy or improve your life or you enjoyed if it didn’t just leave it. I mean, politics aside, if you’re a politically engaged person, I guess you need to comment on it. But art wise, if I don’t like it, I just don’t. I just move on.
Brilliant Miller [01:35:40] Now, that’s just good old mothering advice as well, right? Yes. Anything nice?
David McRaney [01:35:44] Let’s write a song that must be most other day like.
Brilliant Miller [01:35:48] OK, question number seven. What is one thing you wish every American knew?
David McRaney [01:35:54] Oh, God, every American. Hmmm, I mean, my knee jerk reaction is I wish they could go outside the country and experience it. You know, you just be so astonished about some things you will find you like, wow, America’s great like some things you’ll be like. I am really proud of that and other things you’ll be like, why do we do it that way? So that’s my knee jerk reaction. But. What I do wish every American, I guess, coming from a small town, I think that I would hope that every American knows that if you don’t, it is so easy to move. It is so easy to move. I know that, like, it feels impossible to go to go live in another city or to go to another country and live. It is so much easier than you think. Set aside some money, get about 2000 dollars, I would recommend eight thousand take as long as you need to do that. For some people, it’s going to take years, but get it and then go. And you could always come back. You can always come back. So the thing I wish every American you as you can always come back and you would not believe what would happen to you once you get out of your hometown. Please do that at least once and you will be astonished at what happens to you.
Brilliant Miller [01:37:15] And I love, as I understand, are you living in your hometown? You said your parents were away from where the tornado was, but
David McRaney [01:37:21] I was living in Toronto before covid. And I got I have a home base here because my parents still live here. And so I came here to shelter for covid. And so I’ve been here since covid. And I it’s been really illuminating, illuminating to be back here the next week. I’m back on the road, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, and doing all sorts of interviews. It’s the first I went to New York briefly. It was my first time to get out since then. But yeah, I got to. You can always come back. Yeah, I did. And it’s it’s been enormously educational to come back and then, like, compare and contrast it to my experiences in other places. But I, I miss young people. That’s my that’s my uncle old man advice to them. I was like, please get out of here. Like I’m not saying you can’t come back. I’m saying get out of here for a little while, please. And I usually recommend I usually have a hard no, I’m like save eight thousand dollars and go and see what happens.
Brilliant Miller [01:38:21] Yeah. Awesome. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve learned about making relationships work?
David McRaney [01:38:28] Communication, for sure, the if you’re walking on eggshells, something’s wrong there, if you’re you should never be walking on eggshells. You should feel free to say whatever you are feeling. You should always be able to say when you do X, it makes me feel Y. The community, everything springs from that, setting boundaries, city expectations, telling people how something made you feel and you know, you should be hopeful. Your whether it’s a friend or it’s a lover, you should be deeply invested in. What what how are they experiencing personhood? Like you’re being invited to that. You’re being invited to their personhood. If you’re their friend or the lover, you’re being invited to their personhood. So this is not a time for you to get on stage and demonstrate and flex and be impressed them with whatever it is you’ve done. There’s an opportunity to experience the world through another sentient entity. You should be invested in that and. The only way you can really do that is if you establish that incredible line of communication. Words are a low bandwidth communication medium. You need a lot of them to understand what’s going on in another person. So, like, I would I would think more than half of your work should be like, how close can I get to a a private language that me and this other person has is that we can communicate almost psychically with each other with just a glance. If you have that with another person, everything else falls into place. If you are walking on eggshells with the other person, if you were thinking I shouldn’t tell them X, that needs to be fixed. So that’s my main.
Brilliant Miller [01:40:05] All right, thank you. And last question here in the Lightning Lightning Round is, aside from compound interest, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money?
David McRaney [01:40:18] The Erste, that’s a that is a wild question. Wow, what have you learned about money? Well, um. I. Yeah, I remember the first thing I learned, I remember the first time I actually learned something, my parents never had any money and my dad like to if he did get if he did have a windfall, he would blow it on something fun or expensive. And I took I took a lot of those habits into adulthood because that was what I molted off of. But I remember this is God. It’s almost like it’s been more than a decade ago. I remember I wanted a really nice TV. I wanted a plasma 720 television, and it was outside of my budget. And so I set up a bank account and I put a ten dollars in it a month until I had enough to get to the TV. And then I got it. And I remember I was like, I got like a there it is. And that I was like, I know this. That’s a simple lesson. But I remember learning it like I remember I had to learn that you can do that. And so being able to delay my gratification in that way, I now currently have like a dozen little I use the Internet bank account that lets you make fake savings accounts. And I have like but it shows you your balance in relation to the things you’ve set aside. And I do that for everything I like. I have these little tricks that I’m playing on myself where I have set aside a very specific amount of money toward a thing. And then I get the thing or do the trip or do the thing that I’m saving towards. So like I’m saving for like 20 experiences in the future. And I know I’d usually save for experiences over things because I had Laurie Santos on my show. She’s a happiness researcher, and she had found that like in every regard. When people are studied in this regard, people always on the back end appreciate experiences over things, the a thing just becomes another thing over time, unless that thing offers you repeat experiences, whereas a experiences you nourish you forever, even when you change, even when they were bad, like you call back on them forever and ever and ever. So I have multiple fake accounts. I’m saving up for multiple experiences that I want to have over time. I’m planning on going to all these different trips and these things I want to do. None of them are things that are going to I’m going to come back with a physical object. They’re all just going to be life experiences. But yeah, I’m learning to save let me delayed delayed gratification, oddly enough, for a TV. Tell me a really important lesson.
Brilliant Miller [01:43:01] Well, thank you. OK, if people want to learn more from you, you want to connect with you, what would you have them do?
David McRaney [01:43:09] So you are not so smart as the centerpiece of what I do, and so that’s got its own website and everything, you can find me on social media at David McCranie at Not Smart blog is just a robot that sends out things that I control from time to time. So find me on Twitter. That’s the easiest thing. Email me. I get emails all day, but I answer all my emails. So David McCranie at Gmail dot com, I’ll just give you my email address. Email me. I love talking to people, all sorts of stuff. Sometimes I’ll spend Allburn a whole day talking to somebody I’ve never met some crazy shit that they email me. I love that. And moving forward, I have David Grammy.com and it looks like now that I have a new book coming out that’s outside of the You are not so smart brand that I’m going to have to start using that as my central hub. So somewhere in the future, I’ll fix all that up. So David McCrady on Twitter. David created dot com. You are not so smart, dotcom.
Brilliant Miller [01:44:04] Awesome. OK, and the final final two part question. One, we’ve talked a lot about writing, which is why I don’t feel bad about not having a specific writing segment, writing and creativity, exploration. But nevertheless, I will just ask you this two part question. One is what advice or encouragement would you leave those listening with who have their own writing projects? They’re either harboring the dream or they’re in the belly of the snake. And then what’s the final thought that you want to leave people listening with just overall to close the interview
David McRaney [01:44:36] when it comes to writing? Like, I’ll split that into the writing business. And there’s the writing enterprise is the writing practice. There’s no way around it. You have to write every day and you have to read constantly. So it doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s I. I’ve read some really terrible stuff always to do something. I always have a book that you’re in the middle of reading and when you put it down, pick up another one. Never stop ingesting long form, never stop. And then Cory Doctorow has some really good advice that I’ve been following forever when it comes to having a writing life style. He’s he says write just seventy five words a day. But, you know, I set my goal a little higher, but have a goal, try to reach it. You don’t have to even keep up with. After a while you’ll feel it out. What you do try to do what you’re what you’re working. I always try to hit five hundred a day, but I almost always hit 2000, so. Do right every day, don’t worry about the quality of it. It can be journal, it can be Tiree, it can be blog post, it can be Facebook. Post doesn’t matter. But do do wield the language on a daily basis. Write every day, read every day. And if you’re writing professionally or you’re trying to finish a book or a project, you know, just sit down and go vomit it out. That’s the first, then edited it and edit it again, show it to people, but just get it on paper. Most of the work happens in the middle when you’re like, oh, I didn’t know. I even thought that. And you’re you’re manipulating words. You didn’t know where in your head because they weren’t, you know, the book smarter than you are always. So the work is always smarter than you. You can’t hold that seven items in your working memory at a given time anyway. That’s why writing is so amazing. So do that. I recommend you keep a hardcore schedule. You know, there’s a time when you stop working every day. One of the things that almost killed me was working all day, every day for long periods of time. Don’t do that. Stop at five, stop at seven, whatever works for you. And as Corey Doctorow told me, leave a ragged edge. So when it’s time for you to quit, stop even if it’s midsentence. I know this sounds sacrilegious. Stop because. You need to be the thing that will impinge your progress is when you sit down the next morning, you need to know how to get going again. And you can if it’s completing that sentence or that idea, that paragraph, you don’t have to even think. You just sit down and go and you’ll be surprised because you’ll go to sleep feeling like that was really tough and you’ll wake up and go, ha, I know everything. So so leave a ragged edge, keep good hours, write every day and always have a book around that you’re trying to finish. And then when you’re finished you pick up another one. Everything else is just going to accumulate like like like like like like grains of sand dunes. So just work, keep the work. And what comes of the business. The. I mean, the way the path to getting your book out there is to have a book, good book proposal and the path to having a good book proposal is to already have an audience. Publishers these days are more likely to sign you if you have an audience. In fact, that’s usually what they’re paying for. Oddly enough, if it was you versus somebody who’s 10 times better at writing and researching the newer, but they have the zero audience and you have 100000 followers on Twitter, they’re going to go with the other person. You don’t need that many, though. You just need an audience that is committed to your work and then likes what you do. So I recommend giving it away for free. Whatever it is you make, if it’s writing a startup a a medium account and just give it away for free every day, you’re always going to be able to make more. The output is continuous and internal. So give away your stuff for free until you build up an audience. Once you have that audience, if you have a book idea, create a proposal. And then there are many outlets into which you can bring that proposal to try to get an agent on board who can then represent you to show it to a publisher. And then if you have all the other stuff in place, you’re much more likely to get a deal and be able to put your stuff out there. So that’s that’s a some business advice for getting a book published.
Brilliant Miller [01:48:47] Awesome. Thank you for that. And then final thought. What feels appropriate in this moment is to kind of leave the listener with what’s the ragged edge maybe that we would leave for this conversation.
David McRaney [01:49:02] You know, that thing where you get to a certain age and you realize your parents are just people and they have no idea what they’re doing right and they try their best, that’s too that’s all of us. That’s every single one of us and always has been even people we’ve lauded and put into some sort of celebrity or genius or, you know, some sort of coveted beautiful enshrined status like a Voltaire or a Beethoven or something like Beethoven was just trying his best. You know, he’s just he’s just fumbling. And we’re all fumbling, stumbling in the dark, hurling through space on this giant rock. Just came online with sentience. We just built our first buildings. We have no idea what the hell we’re doing. We’re all trying our best. There’s two things that come from that for me. One is you can forgive yourself for your own stumbling, fumbling path through the thing. Just try it, my friend Brad told me always, just try to do the next best thing when you realize you fucked up. So I always try to do the next best thing. And that’s a nice advice that this allows you to stumble and fumble. If you’re continuously trying to do that, when you mess up, you’ll be able to correct. And, you know, the other thing that comes out of that to me is. It’s it’s nice to feel like we’re the first, you know, like we get to be where the ancients for some future version of humanity, where the ancients and that feels great. I mean, everything we’re doing is going to resonate. Everything we’re doing is building something a thousand years from now. And we all get to contribute one little tiny molecule to a brick in that big giant thing. I love the idea of that. So it gives me this all plays back into the community, the humility experience that I that I have. Not only we stumbling and fumbling as individuals, we’re stumbling and fumbling as an entire strange anomaly of natural selection. And we all get to be part of that. We all get to be the ancients in this regard. We’re the parents that have no idea what they’re doing of a future version of humanity. And I think that’s grand. And so I would embrace that as fully as you can.
Brilliant Miller [01:51:09] Awesome. David, thank you so much for that view, for you, for sharing so generously, generously today of your your experience and I would say your wisdom, your insight, your learning, your study, your passion like all of us. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned so much. I, I I’ve learned a lot from your work, too. And just the I love your what I would say. I love your energy. Oh thank you. I don’t know. I hate that term. I hate when people say that. But but I think your passion comes through in what you’re sharing. And I’m grateful for the example I love.
David McRaney [01:51:40] I’d love being a person so much.
Brilliant Miller [01:51:43] It’s just it’s just awesome.
David McRaney [01:51:46] Thank you for this. You’re fantastic. And it’s an amazing show. And I really appreciate your mission, like your your goal here, like your intentions, the thing you’re trying to do in this world, like with this and the other products are related to it. I think it’s incredible. And to commit to it in the way you’re committed to it. I love it. Thank you so much for your doing.
Brilliant Miller [01:52:02] It’s my pleasure. I don’t know what else to do because
David McRaney [01:52:05] I feel you.
Brilliant Miller [01:52:07] All right. David McRaney, How Minds Change the new book, The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion. Thank you, everyone, for listening and talk to you again real soon. Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for Good Living podcast. Before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety and loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs or relationships that don’t work, or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education, or they live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better. Consider signing up for the School for Good Livings Transformational Coaching Program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through, whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve gotten married, headed into retirement, starting a business, been married for a long time, whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine month program will give you the opportunity to go deep in every area of your life to explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable. To realize more of your unrealized potential can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness and meaning so that you can be, do, have and give more visit good living dotcom to learn more or to sign up today.
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