True or false? You only use 10 percent of your brain? Albert Einstein was a lousy student, and look how he turned out! Positive affirmations will lead you to self-love and happiness. To get the answers, you'll need to listen to this episode, but (spoiler alert) we are often building meaning and judging ourselves based on stories that aren't true and, in some cases, cause us to feel deep shame and fear. Tony talks about how certain myths around fear stunt our growth and what we can do to resolve our fears and doubts. Tony references "The Confidence Gap" by Russ Harris for this episode. 

Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders; Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts around the world. Through 6 modules of clear instruction and clinical demonstrations, you will learn how to create opportunities for clients to practice psychological flexibility in the presence of anxiety. 

After completing the course material, you'll have a new, highly effective anxiety treatment tool that can be used with every anxiety-related disorder, from OCD to panic disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Let's talk about S to the E-X, aka "intimacy." Dan Purcell, host of the "Get Your Marriage On" podcast as well as the "Intimately Us" app joins Tony to talk about the mission that he, along with his wife Emily, share of strengthening marriages by helping them deepen their connection through both physical and emotional intimacy. They are the creator of the popular "Intimately Us" app that has been downloaded over 300,000 times. They host romantic retreat getaways for couples and host the "Get Your Marriage On! Podcast and coach couples on how to have a great sex life and deeper intimacy. 

You can find out more about Dan and Emily at or on Instagram

Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders; Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts around the world. Through 6 modules of clear instruction and clinical demonstrations, you will learn how to create opportunities for clients to practice psychological flexibility in the presence of anxiety. 

After completing the course material, you'll have a new, highly effective anxiety treatment tool that can be used with every anxiety-related disorder, from OCD to panic disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Virtual Couch- Dan Purcell Transcript

Tony: Okay, Dan, welcome to the Virtual Couch. How are you? 

Dan: Thank you. So happy to be here, Tony. 

Tony: Okay, so this is the part where I told Dan we got on and I said, Dan, don't say a word. Because I just want to just capture this pure gold because I really enjoyed being on your podcast. I felt like we had a real fun interaction and I feel like we covered three hours in about 45 minutes, so I'm gonna link that in show notes, but then I sat there thinking about that and I thought, man, I forgot that I'm the one that I think the first time we were supposed to record, I got a notification. I was on my way to Disneyland a couple days before Christmas and I felt horrible calling that off. And then I think last week, I think the morning of, I realized I had someone else in your spot. It's bad. It makes me sound like I'm completely disorganized, but so you've been so patient, and I really appreciate that. So here we are. 

Dan:And you've had a death in the family too?

Tony: That’s right. Okay, man, yeah my mother-in-law. And what an amazing woman. So you're right. So I'm just grateful that we are here and we're talking. So there's my first just thank you so much, but okay. Here's the funny part to me, Dan, and I'm gonna take you on my train of thought, I'm gonna do all this. I'm gonna be emotionally immature. I'm gonna talk about healthy ego. I'll make it really quick, but I realize that, you know, I'm a marriage therapist. I've been doing it for 17, 18 years. When I put your episode out here, I think it'll be pushing close to 370 episodes of the Virtual Couch. And I realize what we're probably gonna talk about today, one of your areas of expertise. As a couple's therapist, I talk about every day, multiple times a day, but I haven't really talked about it much on the podcast, which is really funny. And it's not like I'm afraid of talking about sex or intimacy or anything. So I really don't have a good reason why. I mean, I don't, I literally talk about it for hours every day for 15 years, and so I don't know, and I was thinking about that because you and I talked on yours about self confrontation and sitting with uncomfortable feelings and, you know, I'm not uncomfortable with it.

Again, haven't done this for a long time. And all I kept thinking about was, there's a part of me that still thinks that for some reason, moms are listening to the Virtual Couch in the minivan and the kids are back there, you know, listening along. But I don't think so, because I got one email about five years ago of somebody saying that. So, but I think that was probably the one person that was listening to it in the minivan. So there's that part of me that still feels like, oh, the kids are present. We can't talk about s e x, you know, so that's all I could come up with. So, I'm excited to see where we go today. So there's self confrontation, number one, and then self confrontation number two is, I'm really gonna check my ego because I want, you're the guest and I want to hear everything that you have to offer, and I kind of think that early on. This is why I love what we talked about in your podcast, and I still recommend my listeners to go, listen. We talked a lot about that self confrontation and differentiation and not needing your spouse to validate you. And I really worry, thank goodness, I don't like to hear myself talk, so I'm not gonna go back and listen, but I would imagine early on in my interviews, I wanted to make sure that the people knew I knew what I'm talking about. You know, because I'm a therapist and so this is, I'm also gonna sit with the perhaps potential uncomfortable feelings of wanting you to know that I'm smart too, Dan. So I'm, I am not gonna, I want to hear your story. I want you to go, I'm not gonna, I'm gonna try not to say, you know what, I think about that, Dan, because I want to know what you think about the things we're gonna talk about. So if you're okay with that, I really would love for you to do a lot of the driving and let's, I just want to kind of hear your story, how you got where you are and what you like talking about and working with and I don't know. How's that sound? 

Dan: Sounds great. Sounds great. Okay. Let's see, so my wife and I have been married over 19 years. And we met each other in eighth grade, so we've known each other for a really long time.

Tony: Were there breakups along the way or was it love at first sight?

Dan: It's not that romantic. We were just in the same group of friends. We went on a few dance dates together, but I was really shy and she was popular, so there wasn't a chance back then.

Tony: Just trying to stay in her orbit, so to speak, in a sense. Is that what the goal was? Okay. Right. 

Dan: But we never dated seriously in high school. I served a mission and had a fantastic experience.

Tony: Where'd you go?

Dan: I served in Japan.

Tony: This is about the only phrase I used to travel. Look at me. I'm already like let me tell you about my experiences in Japan, Dan. No, that's fascinating because I do, I used to go there when I was in my computer career, and I love, I loved everything about Japan. Did you enjoy your time there out of curiosity? 

Dan: Yes. Yeah. In fact, I was born in Japan, so I lived there for, yeah, I went up through second grade in Japan. So, I already knew Japanese. They kicked me outta the MTC early, so I got more time than my peers in Japan. It was really good.  

Tony: Where? 

Dan: I served in Hokkaido, which is the most northern island.

Tony: Okay. Oh, wow. That's quite a, that's a different experience than Tokyo I would imagine. 

Dan: It’s like the Montana of Japan. Really cold.

Tony: So, outta curiosity, do you still use your Japanese skills or the language skills at this point? 

Dan: So my dad served his mission in Japan, so he speaks Japanese. My younger brother served in Japan too, so we speak Japanese and we grew up there. So as a family, yeah, within our family, we can speak Japanese to each other. And it comes really in handy when we're out in public. We don't want others around us to know what we're talking about.

Tony: Oh, I think that, and that's actually where I was going with it, I think that would just be so amazing and fun to be able to do that. Okay. Last quick Japanese point. I love the food. And there was a thing there called shabu shabu. Are you familiar with that? 

Dan: Yeah. Yeah. They're really thin sliced beef.

Tony: Yeah. You just drag around in boiling water and then it's pretty, pretty amazing. Yeah. So, I don't know, like what was your favorite, what were your favorite foods? Or what, what's your favorite Japanese food? 

Dan: I don’t know. Uh, if I had to pick one, it'd be street ramen. And the ramen shops not like the ramen here. No, it's on a class of its own. I miss that, especially when it's wintertime.

Tony: Okay this is fun. We will get to, for those listening, we are gonna get to an incredible topic, but I enjoy here we are being in the moment. And, boy, I love that when you can connect and if I throw my, now I'll throw my therapy hat because don't forget, Dan, I want you to know I'm a therapist, but now Dan and I are having a shared experience and now we will always remember this and, and it will be amazing and wonderful. Very quickly on that, the ramen to me, like the, the why that's significant is, I probably was there 10 times before I tried sushi. I didn't like sushi at all, so then I would just devour ramen everywhere I went until I finally did try the sushi. And now, you know, 25 years later and I've loved it ever since but yes, nothing like Japanese Ramen.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, that reminds me of his story. I didn't like the idea of eating anything raw, like sashimi or la sushi. And, I didn't like sushi either because to me rice should be hot and steamy. Not cold and sweet. And vinegar, like the sushi rice usually is. And I served in a very cold part of Japan, and one particular day we had no appointments, so we were just outside all day snow up to our waist just knocking on door after door. No one's letting us in. And it was just a really miserable day. It was cloudy. We're just frozen. But we had one appointment at 8:30 at night at the very tail end and it was really on the outskirts of town, we had a hard time finding them, they lived at the top of this hill and so it was like we're slipping on the ice and snow, you know, giving it to their house and the very modest home. They don't have a traditional western door. They had the eastern sliding door sliding. Okay. We opened that, came inside and guess what they had served us for dinner? Sashimi and sushi. The raw stuff, right? And I was so hungry. I was so tired. And after being rejected all day long, to have someone go through this, it's expensive. It's an expensive meal. They're really putting out to have the missionaries come over. And, I couldn't turn 'em down. Anyway, that was the best sushi and sashimi I ever had. And from that point forward, I didn't have a problem with it because I love it, you know? In that moment it was meaningful.

Tony: Yeah, again, being very present there. And, were you a fan ever since? Was that, did that sell you or was that just an isolated experience based off of all the things that led up to that moment?

Dan: From that point forward, I didn't have a problem with it. I love it. Well if I can do it there, I can do it there. And I think that's like a principle that we can really build on for our conversation today, because it's like faith. We need to try things. We need to do an experiment on things, but we also need to do things with a willing heart. So my wife and I both come from really good families, but sex wasn't talked about much at all in our homes. And if it was, it was either about biological reproduction or the thou shall not talk, but not a lot of conversation about how to build a great and exciting sex because no one really ever talked about it. We kind of inherited some anxieties about it. I remember our wedding night, we were so excited to be together and to have this new experience together, but I didn't know, I kind of had an idea what was supposed to happen because all the lyrics to all the love songs say, you know, you make love all night. And so we make love for the first time. And my body, you know, doesn't last all night long.

Tony: I think Hall Oates has a song, “did it in a minute”. Maybe that's more applicable, right? 

Dan: Probably. Yeah. 

Tony: But I love what you're saying though and you're right. It does tie into your sashimi and sushi experience. I mean, you absolutely in that sense don't know what you don't know until you know it. Knowledge can be such a hindsight principle because you wouldn't have even known the right questions to ask heading into your wedding night because you weren't modeled a way to talk about it. And now back into that role of marriage therapist, I do most of the conversations when we finally start talking about sex are, well, tell me what that was like growing up. Tell me what certain things meant. What are expectations? And, it is just a conversation that gets really immediately awkward and full of a lot of judgment and a lot of assumptions and then a lot of shame. So how'd you navigate from there? 

Dan: Not very well because I had a hard time reconciling spirituality and sexuality. Like spiritual people aren't sexual, yet I have sexual desires. And so that for constant combat and like kind of the running story in my head was like, sex is all about the quote unquote the natural man because I really didn't understand then what natural man really meant. I thought it meant any natural desires. So, I tried to suppress my sexuality, sexual desires, like here's an example, maybe two weeks after I was married, sex is so new, I'm excited about it and I have all these questions and I'm at BYU Idaho at the time and I go to the library and I get the courage to search something about sex or something. And I found a textbook on human sexuality and thought if this library has such a book, I'm sure it'd be a helpful resource for me. So I write down the call number. I go to that section of the library and I don't want anyone to know that I'm there becauseI don't want anyone, so like make sure no one's like looking at me as I take that book off the shelf, I tuck it under my arm and to my bad luck, it was like a woman at the checkout, like scanning, checking out my book. I didn't make any eye contact with her. Like, I don't want you to know I'm getting this book. I put it in my backpack. And anyway, later on, like that night, I open, I flip open the book. I'm just leafing through the pages. And I see an illustration of a couple having sex, like in the 69 position or something like that, just a drawing. And I freaked out like, oh no, this is pornography. I'm not supposed to be looking at this. So I shut the book and I promptly returned the book, never to get any answers to my questions, because I thought I shouldn't be looking.

Tony: And look, and look at that right there, Dan. Even like you're going into some, I'm a very old man and I worked in the video store industry, 30 years ago. And it, and it's as if you were going into that, behind that back wall where all the R-rated and pornography movies were, and your trench coat with your hat pulled down. And yes, all you're trying to do is learn, learn about this natural thing that occurs with couples. I mean, so that, and then the fact that you're going to a, literally a clinical textbook for it, and then you even see the things and then feel like I did something wrong. There's so much there.

Dan: Yes. I felt like I did something wrong. Right? So, my wife and I have always, I guess you could say, a really good marriage. Like we have a great emotional connection. We know how to play together. We're good. We have prioritized date nights throughout our marriage. Like we've been comfortable talking about a lot of things. Fast forward 13 years, so 13 years into my marriage, I am having a conversation with a friend and he opens up to me about his sex. He starts telling me some of the things he and his wife are doing in bed. And I'm like, really good people do those things? And he is, and he has a very vibrant and creative sex life. I guess you could call it. I had more bed curiosity. It's like, oh, no, no. Wait, tell me more. Tell me more. No, no, no. Don't tell me, but tell me a little more. I was so fascinated that here's a good man that enjoys sex with his wife, and they're very creative and the reason why he was telling me these things wasn't to brag or anything like that, it was, he was trying to tell me that ever since he and his wife really started working on their sexual relationship, their bond, became a lot stronger. They're better friends. They communicate better, they parent together better. Like there's all these benefits he's experienced in his life when he's really put the effort into making sex great for him and his wife. And he had something that I did not have. I could notice that. And yeah, so this was kind of my moment where I'm like, well, maybe all along I've been wrong. Maybe there is more to sex. Maybe there's a lot of goodness in sex that I've just been dismissing because of the way I've been thinking. So it really forced me to really confront my thoughts about it.

Tony: Tell me about that too. I mean, when you think that is there, okay, you may start to feel like, yeah, maybe I am. But is that still something that is scary to try to bring to your wife? Were you nervous for that? 

Dan: Yeah. So I go home that night, say, hey Emily, you'd never guess what kind of conversation I had today. Now part of the conversation with my friend is he told me that I think in his marriage, his wife is the one who has the higher desire for sex. So, okay. She basically told him that he's not a good enough lover at the time and he needs to figure things out because she's not satisfied or whatever. And which he took very personally at first, he didn't like hearing that from her, but since, like, I made an effort to make it great for her and then it's great for him that that's kind of how the story evolved. So I'm really self-conscious now with my wife, like, am I a good enough lover? Are you enjoying our time together? And our model, I guess our model of what sex looks like or what it was supposed to look like up until then was in the dark 10 minutes missionary position, and you're done.

Yeah, just that, that's kind of a quote unquote, avoiding anything unnatural and not knowing what that was, what that meant, and just being modeled that that was probably the way we do things. And so my mind's blown like, no, there's other ways to do this. So now my wife and I are having this conversation about us and our sex life, and we probably had the most vulnerable conversation about sex in our marriage to that point in our marriage. Then we were up to like 2:00 AM talking that night about us and what we think about this. What do you think about this? Is this okay? How do we know if this is okay? This is so different from our experience. There seems to be more here than we're experiencing. 

Tony: I appreciate that because I feel like people will have these, like when you said the most vulnerable conversation and I won't go into, you know, I love my four pillars and there needs to have, I think a framework is ideal, but I do feel like at times when we get vulnerable, it is more of a, do you feel like you were coming from this place of curiosity and then just, you know, this collaboration versus, you know, why don't you, or you know, do you feel like it was a different vibe in the conversation altogether?

Dan: Yeah. But we're both, I was really scared talking about these things because we haven't, we didn't talk about these things ever. And there's a lot of judgment involved. A lot of self judgment. What does she think about me? Like, does she think I'm gonna be some, like, you know, sex maniac or something? Like there's, there's a lot of that self-judgment too. You're really going into that conversation. What will she think if I really tell her my experience of what I think?

Tony: Well, and I think this is why it is so important to talk about this as a couple's therapist, I always talk about this as one of those, I call them a high charge topic, and then I almost feel bad because that puts such pressure on having the conversation but I really do feel like having a good foundational principle of a connection and having a way to communicate is necessary so that it doesn't happen, like what you're saying because I think we're all gonna worry that, okay, if I really say this, she's gonna think that I am a deviant and then she's gonna wanna leave. And I think it hits at that core attachment wound of, you know, will you still care about me? Do you love me? And so that's where I feel like I even like when you're saying, you know, guess what conversation I had? And we still almost wanna put it out there, testing the waters. I mean, almost like worried that if she says, you better not have talked to one of your friends about sex, you know, because then, then we would probably go, no, no. It wasn't that. Of course it wasn't. We're still wanting to, you know, lean into that. But I appreciate what you're saying though, because we're going into it already worried. And I think that's that part where we're all a little bit enmeshed in codependent to a point, but then have these different experiences in life. And then, but when we start talking about them, there's that fear. If I say the wrong thing, you know, it's just all or nothing, they're gone. They'll leave me. Which is not, not the case.

Dan: But there is a reason why we haven't talked about it to that point. 

Tony: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Right.

Dan: So we went through it from there. We push, like courage, courage forward, onward. 

Tony: And do you feel like Dan, at that moment, do you feel like there were, I don't know if you had to rate your assumptions around what her beliefs were, were you close to the mark or did you learn a lot that you weren't aware of? Or what was that like? 

Dan: I would say, that's a both and, or yes and no. Like, yeah. I live with her. I know her. I've known her for a long, long time, so I know pretty much how she's gonna respond to things yet, I was blown away at her compassion and her openness and understanding. I didn't expect that much. Like that she held space for me to kind of explore this with her, you know, during that conversation. And likewise, I wanted to hold space for her to explore her thoughts because we really haven't put a lot of brain power to really, you know, examine this topic of our marriage. Because we always thought this is a topic of marriage.You don't examine, you kind of let it be. 

Tony: I love your answer because it's the yes, and because I really do feel like this is where we observe and we judge in the same motion with our spouse. So, and that's where I feel like even the concepts around, oh man, can you believe that so and so, you know, whatever, that they do this in their life or, and we're, we're kind of making that, that bid to our partner of what do you think? Because if you really get angry about this, then I'm, then I know, or then we observe things where, you know, I've had some really good sessions with people where maybe a wife has started to open up about why she may feel shut down at certain times during sex. And where the guy has then said, no, I know, I know that that's because of this. And she, and then she's saying, I, no, I, it's, you know, might date back to previous relationship or some childhood trauma. And so I, I like what you're saying because I think we, over time, even if we think, oh no, I know my spouse. No, we know what we're observing and we know the judgments that we make, but we're, and then we do that long enough and now we even just assume. And even when they try to open up to us often, I think we say, no, no, no. I know, I know you, you can be honest with me when I mean, they're trying, you know, so I love what you're saying there. So then, what was that process like? From there you have that vulnerable conversation and then the next day, did you feel an emotional hangover or did you feel excitement or what was that?

Dan: I guess excitement because that conversation didn't end then. Right? For the next two weeks. We're up late every night talking about things and what do you think about things like that? So, we both concluded we needed more information and being kind of scared to even Google our sex questions, we thought maybe a book would be helpful. So we did Google, like a Christian author like sex book. And found one, it came in the mail. We read a little bit together that night. She fell asleep, because you know, she's tired and I think I stayed at 4:00 AM and I binge read and finished it in one night. It was awesome. 

Tony: Like you had the permission now to read that kind of thing. Getting rid of those BYU Idaho library days at that very moment. 

Dan: Yeah and the vibe of this particular book was like, perfect for what I needed at that time because it was basically giving me permission that sex is a good and helpful and wholesome and amazing thing which is very different than the narrative I have been giving myself. It was something to be tolerated, not something to be very embraced and celebrated. So that's what I needed at that time.

Tony: So where do things go from there? So now a couple of weeks and you're still talking, you're reading books and then you know, then what happens? 

Dan: Right, I should also mention, I had a lot of questions about what's okay and not okay. I think a lot of people have that. So, do you know Jeff Stewart?

Tony: Jeff and I have had our Home and Away podcast as well. And what's funny that you're talking about this too, I have him coming up soon to talk about consent in relationships, and, you know, in my world a lot when I'm working with clients, I don't know and we can maybe get to this in a minute, but I find that people do fall into these particular patterns or ruts in sex whether it's talking about things like duty sex or whether the guy is going to, I mean, I had a guy put it so well, and I'm sorry. Now I am going on a tangent, but Jeff is, is such a good person to talk about this with, but the concepts around consent, where if a wife is saying, I don't necessarily feel like doing a certain thing, but then the guy is saying, okay, but I can, I can get you to orgasm, for example, and then he feels like, see, that was worth it. But the wife said, I don't want to, to begin with, and then, I've had that conversation so many times where the guy feels like, no, but I got us, I mean, a guy said recently and I appreciate it. He said, no, I got us to the promised land, you know? And she said, no, you, you know, you didn't respect my boundaries. And then, and so often I will have a guy say, but you, you had an orgasm. And that's where I have a classic line of, okay, well yeah, if you're asking if the 20,000 nerve endings and her vagina responded to stimulation, then yes. But was she a part of that? No, not mentally. And so anyway, Jeff's gonna come on and talk more about that concept of consent. You know, because consent sounds like things and dating or that sort of thing. But, I think in the marital relationship that's important. 

Dan: So Jeff and I live in the same neighborhood. So we see each other at church. And, I really respect Jeff and I figured of all the people to help me understand where's the line of like, what's, okay, not okay. Like, yeah, he'd be it. So I say, Jeff, can we go to lunch? And he's like, sure, we'll go to lunch. So we're at Chick-fil-A and I get all my courage and I ask them all my questions. And so we're talking about everything in explicit detail. And I feel so sorry for the family sitting next to us.

Tony: Sending the kids into the ball pit though. Like voluntarily, right? 

Dan: But this is my chance. And he was so encouraging. He was so like, he was so amazing yeah, this stuff is fantastic. Keep like, he was encouraging, like, keep going. This is good, you'll figure this out. So I guess we just started progressing a little more. And then within a few months, I'd say within two months, our sex life went from good to, I guess it wasn't bad, but we didn't know any better, right? To like amazing. Like we started experiencing a lot of change, a lot of excitement and vibrancy and, and then all the things my friend talked about, our bond being stronger. We were communicating. If we could talk about that, we can talk about anything. So our level of communication just deepened and all of a sudden the sky was bluer, the grass was greener. I'm performing better at work. Like I'm whistling. There's like the pep in my step. Like there's so much in life that was like, so much better when our sex life just became amazing. Those twitter painted feelings I had early on in our relationship all came flooding back in full force. And, we're flirting with each other all the time. Just the level of, in our relationship just went up like an order because of the vibrancy of what we're experiencing together. 

Tony: And then, and so I'm curious too, do you feel like, were there still these experiences where there were, you know, not tonight? Or did you feel like it was, if somebody was saying that this was something that you wanted to do, then okay, we're doing this. I mean, was there any of the letdown, not even letdown, that's the wrong way to frame it. But do you know what I mean though? Because it sounds like right now when you're saying, okay, it was just this euphoric high. And I think a lot of couples that I work with will often feel that, because we finally talked about the elephant in the room. But then it's, but we still don't really necessarily talk about when maybe the euphoria dips a bit. It doesn't mean that, okay, now we're gonna go all the way back to where we were and, and how to find that area in the middle, the gray or that, that kind of thing.

Dan: Yeah, so I am still very immature and have a lot of growing to do. So yes, we've experienced all of those things and I'm still growing in all those areas. However, I gotta say, I think growth and progression happens. Not, it's not so linear, right? Our growth isn't so linear. Like we have growth spurts where you grow, grow, grow, and then you hit a limit, and then you kind of stay at that plateau for a while, or it might feel like you digress for a little bit and then something else happens and then you have another growth spurt, so you hit your next limit and you progress for a while. That's been my experience and I think that's an experience for a lot of couples. So, yeah, I like that there was like, we're on this high for a while. Feels like the honeymoon again. And the honeymoon phase kind of, you know, wears off a little bit. But then, we don't stay there for a very long time. We want to keep growing and progressing and so you kind of go there. And in all of that, because we're at a different level, the challenges that we now have in our marriage are gonna look very different at that level than they were at the lower level. So yeah, things are better in some ways, but we have different new challenges so things feel worse sometimes because the challenges look different. So, yeah, we're always leveling up because there's always another level I think.

Tony: Do you start to identify patterns of when things start to maybe flatten out. I mean, is there, I dunno, the seasonal things, work related things, kid related things. I mean, do you start to identify things that then you can bring awareness to foster that growth in a sense?

Dan: Okay, yes. So as far as patterns go, well, there's life and life happens. Like my, my daughter, my 16 year old daughter's in a, just finished, she was in a production. She had a, anyway, it means late nights. And I'm driving her there to play practice and picking her up late at night. And it kind of disrupted our, my wife and I, our mojo and how we spend our evenings together. So yeah, things like that do happen. Life happens.

Tony: And do you feel like you guys were communicating about that in real time or was that something where you would then all of a sudden feel like, okay, something's off and, and then we go back and review the game film?

Dan: I guess. We go into it knowing that, all right, okay, daughters play practice. This means this is gonna happen. So, yeah, part of my personal growth is I've, I guess, learning how to self soothe a lot better around things like this. And that's a skill I don't think people teach enough, learning how to like, calm the heck down around things when they don't go exactly the way you had hoped to go and just being okay with that.

Tony: What and what's that look like? And I think this is some of the stuff we talked about on your podcast which I so appreciate and maybe that's a good context and I hope it doesn't feel like I was trying to set you up for an answer or anything, but I like what you're saying because I feel like in the perfect world, we know and we can say, okay, what are things gonna look like while our daughters at play practice? One of us can be driving. We may be tired, we may need to communicate more. Or I find the couples that in the middle of it, they recognize something's off and then they're able to communicate about it, assuming the good intentions. And so now we recognize, okay, oh, this is what's happening. Can we adjust? And I worry that too often it's the, now we realize we are just off and then we start trying to take a look at what happened and, you know, and now in hindsight I've built like that hindsight piece is pretty important. And I worry at times that couples, you know, they don't want to quote, dredge up the past or, you know, well that's, but I really feel like you can analyze that data if you have a nice framework and look at it at a place of, okay, that happened. You know, what was my role? And so that's where I was going by I like what you're saying about this self soothing too, because what does that look like? What have you learned? 

Dan: I've got a few thoughts on this, and I'm not saying I'm always, you know, really good at this, but I'm getting better and better at it. The first thought I have is, you know the old story about the Indian chief teaching his son that there are two wolves. One has a death instinct, one has a life instinct. Well, which one wins? The one you feed, right? And it happens on a microscopic level in our marriages. Like it's this idea of are things a year from now gonna be worse between us or things between us are gonna be better a year between us a year from now. So it's, I guess, kinda like an optimism versus a pessimistic outlook. And it might sound silly to say, but when you feed the wolf that says things are gonna be worse, you know, a year from now because this or that? It does manifest itself in the way you relate to each other because you tend to withdraw a little more or justify your resentments or there's, because you're like, well, we're already heading down this path. And that's the wolf you're feeding. But there's also the other wolf you can feed. Now it could be a lot worse, but if things can be worse, I think that means things could be better. So I'm going to do those things, that advocate for or fight for something better. There's also, entropy is at stake. I mean, it is a very powerful force in any relationship.

Tony: Yeah, talk about that. The marital entropy. If you just leave things as they are, do they deteriorate? Is that the concept?

Dan: Yeah. So it is a constant uphill thing, so it's exhausting sometimes, but it is a fight. Prioritize each other. It's a fight to make sure we're connecting. It's a fight to make space for both of us to express what we need or what we want out of our relationship together. Those are forces to fight against. 

Tony: I love the, I haven't thought about the wolf you feed in a long time, because I do feel like there's so much there where you know what you seek, you will find, if you want to find the ways that your spouse is, is not there for you the way you would like, you are gonna find that, you know, if you're gonna find the ways that you can show up different, you will find that. And I like what you're saying, I haven't put that in the context of that wolf you feed analogy because I really do like that a lot because if I want to find my part in something, I'll find it. If I wanna find her part in something, I'll find it. And then I really feel like, if I'm gonna look for the part, what she's doing, then I have to acknowledge the fact that I am basically saying that I'm not at fault. I mean this isn't, this isn't a me issue. And, I would rather have somebody start with a, oh it's, it's a me issue because I only really know what I'm doing.

Dan: Another tactic that helps me is paying attention to the story I'm telling myself and I play the game two truths and a lie. So often it's like, we'll never, you know, X, Y, Z, or she'll never want this, or whatever. And so, then I kind of build this story in my head. I keep telling myself the story over and over. She's never gonna want to do X in bed with me or whatever it might be, right? We'll never achieve this or whatever. And sometimes the story we tell ourselves has a lot of truth, but there's a little bit of a lie embedded in it. Okay, so identifying what about it? The story I'm telling myself what's true and what really isn't that completely true. We like to self deceive ourselves in a way. We like to set up a story that makes us feel better or superior, or we're the ones in the right, they're in the wrong or whatever. But identifying really, that's not completely true. I mean, it's a little bit of a stretch in this area. As not me, but identifying, that's tricky. So one tool that I've helped that helps me with that is I type up a dialogue so this takes time. So you gotta be willing to set aside some quiet time. I open up a Google doc and I will type up like the dialogue of the last conflict we've had around, or a conflict I anticipate we're having, I say this, she says this, then I'm gonna say this, and if I say this, I think this is how she's gonna respond, or this is how she does respond. So I kind of type up this dialogue, and that practice of typing up this dialogue helps me at least on paper, kind of take a step back and say, I can see here where I'm a little bit, I'm a little, I like for me, my tendencies to take the superior stance. Like, okay, I'm more evolved than you. I know what's going on.

And you don't like that, that doesn't create a marriage where, where we're equals, right? Because I'm condescending. So I know this, these tendencies. I mean, I can like, after the dialogue's like. Or another one I tend to do is play the victim really well. We're good at that. It's your fault on the way like this, I have no choice in this matter. And then as I go through dialogue, I can go, wait a minute, I'm playing the victim here. And the victim pattern for me is always the, I don't have a choice. When in reality I remind myself I always have a choice. What are my options? Even if they're all crappy options, what's the least crappy option of all my options I can still make? And when I look for those things, then it's all on me again. I kind of keep the focus on me. This is the step I need to take for me in this, in light of these things. 

Tony: I like it. And I think, again, back to the things that we talked about on your, on your show, all of those options may cause discomfort and we are not huge fans of discomfort and rather than feel uncomfortable, it's easier to pull that victim card or that it'll never work card. Or why would I even bring it up card? Because then I can still stay in that victim mentality and I don't have to be uncomfortable. And now I get to tell a story to myself. About something that she's unaware of the task, something she's failed at and she didn't even know she was taking the test. So, I mean, that's a, that's a lot, right? I like what you're saying too, when you lay the narrative out, I do not journal. I love giving journaling homework. I'm not saying it as if I think I would never do it. I wish I journaled and I haven't aired his episode yet, but he's been writing every day for a year now, and he wasn't a journal writer at all. And we were just talking about that concept of laying things out, when you put things out linearly, it almost does it, it declutters from your mind. And I love that you just put another piece to that puzzle together and then you could identify, oh, when I lay it out that way, I take, I try to take that one up and I think if things are just in our heads and that we got all kinds of stories going, I wonder that might be harder to see that that's the pattern, do you think? 

Dan: Yes. But I do also admit there's also times when I've typed it out and I still can't see it. And that's the next stage I go in and get help. So I have friends, I'm in a great group of other men that I can trust with some of these things and they're willing to look at my dialogue or whatever it is, help identify things, right. I believe in marriage coaching. I have a marriage coach that I have that I go to and helps me see things when I have trouble seeing it myself. And because I think we still will always have blind spots. There's only so much.

Tony: Absolutely. We can see. And I like the group. I wouldn't say I really like a group like that because, you know, if we're in our own echo chamber, that's one thing. And then if we're wanting someone to be gentle with us, you know, bring gentle awareness. And sometimes I do feel like we need that, you need a little, little, little taste of reality there. And so I think that they, the more real that somebody can be, because you can still have, you still have the option to disagree with them, but you'll never have that option if you don't have somebody willing to confront you with what they notice. And I think that plays into it, we put out a version of ourselves to the world and we say, hey everybody, validate this guy right here. And then if people really don't feel like, okay, but that's not the version I see, I'll try. And then if somebody is being insincere and trying to validate the version of you that you think you are, then you pick up on that. And then you say, okay, you don't even care about me. And I feel like that's the position we put our spouses in or our friends in at times of, you know, then we get to play the victim as well. So I love having a group that you can go to with that. When I was starting on your journey, and we only have a few more minutes and I didn't even, tell us what you do and you offer and how you help people. I mean, you've got an amazing podcast, you've got a big following on Instagram. What are all the things you do and how do you help people? 

Dan: So the first thing I did after our, I guess you call it our marriage renaissance, the rebirth. We're like, this is so amazing. I wish more people knew about this. I'm an app developer, I'm from a software development background, myself and my wife created a bedroom game app. I'm also really creative and being really creative in the bedroom sounds great to me. So we made a collection of bedroom games we put on the app store. And it took off because I think we hit an underserved market. It's not craft, it's not raunchy. It's not, it's full of really good information and it's fun, but in the process of marketing that app, I connected with that author of that book that I stayed up really late reading, I connected with her and I connected with other authors and other bloggers and Instagrammers and podcasters. Like, wow, these are the people that I admire and learn a lot from and say, hey, I have this app. Would you like to share it with your audience? And they check it out and say, yeah, we love it too. Of course we'll share it. So I kind of developed these relationships with others in this like conservative Christian sex positive community, which I didn't know existed. 

Tony: I was gonna make a joke there, Dan. Like, yeah, you found all 20 of them, you know, but I'm joking.

Dan: There's probably 2000 of them, but, right. No, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. Exactly, so one thing led to another and then a year after, so this is in 2018, my wife and I had this hair-brained idea to put on a marriage conference. We are both kind of introverted, right? We have no idea what this is like, but like we have the anti pornography conference in St. George which is a real downer. If you ever go to it, you walk away feeling scared for your life. You want to cut, you know, the internet, right? It's not an upbeat event. And then we have the family history conference. But we don't have anything like marriage enrichment. So we're like, let's do it, let's do it. And 550 people came to our first conference.

Tony: It was when I saw on your website that you have the couples retreats and that sort of thing. And you know, I've been doing this forever in my podcast and I even thought, oh, I would be, I would, that would be very difficult to put one of those together. What if no one comes? I went into all those stories and I can't imagine what it's like to have 500 people. That's amazing. 

Dan: Yeah. So it was way better, and that's the day I got the shot in the arm. Like I think I found my calling in life Love. I love it, I love it. Love helping couples have a great sex life. That's, that's it. So ever since then I've continued to develop apps. I have about five apps on the app store. The main one is intimately us and the second one is just between. And we've put on marriage retreats, we've switched from the conference format to a retreat format to do those annually. My next retreat's coming up in three weeks, so I'm really excited for that. 

Tony: Well, I will get this out quickly then. What's the date of the retreat? 

Dan: It's sold out.

Tony: Okay. All right. But that's exciting.

Dan: They sell out within a few weeks when we announce our retreat. So get on our waiting list if you want. Okay, that sounds good, then I really wanted to help other couples, kind of like what you do, Tony. So I've gone through a lot of training on how to coach other couples. And coach on sexuality. I'm a pretty good student. I can hit the books and I can, anyway, so I have a handful of clients that I coach and I launched a program called Next Level, and it was something that I wish I had. It's a low barrier to entry. It's a low cost, but group coaching program for couples that wanna take their intimacy to the next level. And it's myself and another trained marriage coach in there, and we have weekly meetings. We have a private podcast, kinda like what you have the marriage matters. Is that what it is?

Tony: Magnetic marriage. Oh, you're fine. 

Dan: Yeah. Where as you subscribe, you can listen to other couples being coached anonymously. We've kind of created this kind of community and that's called Next Level and that's growing pretty big.

Tony: This is exciting. We'll have to have you back on again too. But I did a podcast recently where it was all about therapy versus coaching, and I talked a lot about, there's a, I did, I wasn't aware that and I'm kind of joking here, but that there was this therapist versus coach vibe that I wasn't aware I was supposed to have, because I really appreciate coaches and I know that, I think that as I often kind of joke about the fact that I think a coach is necessary to say, okay, here are the next steps. Here's what's worked for me. Here's what I feel like will help. And then I'm, you know, then I feel like the therapist is almost right there beside the couple, and then if and when those things work until they don't, or the challenges they have with continuing on whatever that the program is. They bought the book, they bought the course that they maybe didn't finish, you know, then, then here comes the therapist to say, all right, let's figure that out because I feel like, you know, it's a nice balance of both because I've bought courses and got the dopamine hit and done a couple the modules and then thought, man, okay, I'll do, I'll do something later, you know, and then I thought, what's wrong with me? And I paid the money and why did I fizzle out? And then I've had to put my therapist brain on and have some good acceptance. And anyway, I really love what you're doing and I feel like a perfect balance of coaching and therapy is probably a nice mix. A little bit of chocolate meets peanut butter kind of.

Dan: I like that. Chocolate and peanut butter. That's a good idea. The way I look at it too is therapists are licensed and trained for treating that mental illness too. And there's I, or something that like with dealing with trauma or those really, really specific trainings that I don't touch, but if it's about overcoming differences in sexual desire, I can totally coach you through that. Or if it's about I need more creativity in the bedroom. Or help us where we have this dynamic where it's the pursuer distance or dynamic, I can help you with all those common patterns that a lot of couples struggle with. I can help you with many of those. And that's, and people do come and their marriages are changed for the better as a result of this. They're learning new habits and new tools that help them, you know? Like what we talked about today, for example, self soothing, if that's what they need, or if it's learning how to have those difficult conversations that need to happen. And how to have those are all things that I think couples benefit from things like this.

Tony: So I love it. I do. And then, so then if we kinda wrap up where we started there, I honestly, part of what I was excited, because I really liked your vibe when I was on your show and I know that even as we were talking, I know as the therapist and whatever, 1300 couples later, my default at times is to already anticipate the yeah, buts that are happening. But then, you know, the people need to try to understand the things they don't understand and maybe those yeah, buts won't be as strong and that big fear of the unknown that's there. A lot of times I almost feel like as a therapist, I'm trying to walk us gently to discover the unknown. And I feel like sometimes maybe the services you offer saying, hey, here it is. And it works. And I know it works and it's exciting. And then as people, you know that they didn't know that, and so they start moving toward that a little quicker. And then just know that, you can have a good therapist there if that trauma response does come up. Or if you start doing the, okay, everybody else seems to agree, what's wrong with me? Maybe that's then where the work kicks in. So, I love, I love what you're doing, that's awesome. So I'll, I'll put links to everything. I love that. The next retreat you've got is sold out, so get on, get on your waiting list, listen to your podcast and then, we should do this again.

Dan: Yeah. Let's do, let's do, I do, I guess I can announce. We will be having a virtual marriage retreat on June 9th of this year. June 9th is International love making day because it's six nine on a calendar. Get it, and it's also a Friday. And so we're gonna have a two day virtual love making retreat so you and your spouse are, it's up to you to get your own hotel or kick the kids outta the house for the weekend or whatever. And then, we have sessions where we're meeting with you and giving you very specific ideas to help you explore your own eroticism in your own marriage. So you have a very wonderful love making retreat that weekend for the two of you.

Tony: Perfect. All right. Dan, what a, what a joy. Thanks for coming, we'll talk to you again soon and I'll have all the notes that we can put in the show notes and we'll try to get this out pretty quick because I think there's a lot of good stuff here. So thanks for coming on, and thanks for having me on your show. That was a blast. 

Dan: Thanks. My pleasure. 

Tony: Okay. All right. We'll talk again soon. Thanks so much. 

Today’s show notes have been generated by ChatGPT-4 based on the transcript of the episode: Tony takes a deep dive into understanding and distinguishing between three complex behavioral patterns - Nice Guy/Girl Syndrome, Emotional Immaturity, and Narcissism. 

Tony kicks off the discussion with a comprehensive analysis of Nice Guy/Girl Syndrome. He defines the syndrome, deciphers its impact on relationships, and shares practical strategies to overcome it. He draws on his vast professional experience to provide examples, demonstrating how it manifests in everyday life and highlighting the detrimental cycle it can trigger if not addressed.

Moving forward, Tony navigates us through the intricate world of Emotional Immaturity. He elucidates the signs of emotional immaturity, its roots in childhood experiences, and how it can stifle personal growth and sabotage relationships. Moreover, Tony explores how emotional immaturity differs from other behavior patterns, creating a clearer picture of this often misunderstood condition.

The third segment of the episode is dedicated to a robust discussion on Narcissism. Tony breaks down the classic narcissistic traits and explains the critical differences between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and self-centered behaviors. With his unique therapeutic approach, he offers insight into how to cope if you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist.

For the second half of the episode, Tony enters the lively arena of a private women's Facebook group, addressing a burning question - is the change in an emotionally immature husband real, or only temporary? To answer this, Tony explains the difference between genuine change and manipulation, providing actionable advice for those grappling with such doubts in their relationships. He highlights key indicators of authentic personal growth, empowering listeners to discern between genuine transformation and superficial change.

Join Tony for this enlightening episode as he distills complex psychological concepts into digestible insights and practical advice. Whether you're trying to better understand yourself, navigate your relationship, or support a loved one, this episode offers invaluable guidance. Don't miss this opportunity to deepen your understanding of these common but often misunderstood behavioral patterns.

Use the following code to purchase the 2023 Sex Summit for only $35 featuring Tony's presentation: Relationship Tools You Don't Know You Need - Tips and Tools Born From 15 Years of Practice w/1500 Couples.

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Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Childhood abandonment and neglect issues can manifest in seemingly unrelated ways in adulthood. In this episode, Tony helps you identify how they show up and how you can help your kids become more emotionally intelligent and resilient. Tony's muse today is an article by Jonice Webb, a licensed psychologist and author of two books, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships with Your Partner, Your Parents, and Your Children He discusses the impact of emotional abandonment and neglect on your children and yourself. Why Emotional Neglect Can Feel Like Abandonment by Jonice Webb Ph.D.

Tony also references the article "Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners" by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT from

Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders; Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts around the world. Through 6 modules of clear instruction and clinical demonstrations, you will learn how to create opportunities for clients to practice psychological flexibility in the presence of anxiety. 

After completing the course material, you'll have a new, highly effective anxiety treatment tool that can be used with every anxiety-related disorder, from OCD to panic disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Transcript Ep370 Childhood Neglect

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 370 of the Virtual Couch. I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. And just go to the show notes, sign up for my newsletter, plain and simple, my wonderful social media agency, the yeah yeah agency continues to knock it out of the park with posts and reels. And this past week we got out a newsletter that features a little bit of everything. So please go follow me on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn and TikTok. We're getting content out there in hopes of helping people. And I welcome your feedback and your questions and your show ideas. And if you're interested in having me come speak or you name it, just reach out at So let's go on a little bit of a train of thought that leads to today's topic, which I am very excited to talk about because it has to do with everything from being a parent to parenting, to how to teach your kids empathy and emotional resilience, to even maybe doing a little bit of healing that inner child. 

So from time to time, I'll be interviewed by somebody as part of a psychological evaluation or a profile for a client or a client that I've been working with for things like, I don't know everything from child custody arrangements that sort of thing. And I don't actually do the psych evaluations. That's reserved for the likes of a clinical psychologist. And so my role in these evaluations is pretty minor. I'm just typically interviewed and asked my thoughts on some things that it's not typically about, well, it isn't about the kids. It's about the parents and maybe some of the observations that I will see. But on occasion, I also get the opportunity to read the evaluations and they're pretty fascinating. And something that will stand out is the way that the parents will show up in these evaluations. And my goal is never to throw shade or try to shame anybody listening. This is just my observation. 

And as I've been talking a little bit in the, as of late about observation and judgment of Marshall Rosenberg's concepts around nonviolent communication, I'm going to take ownership. That I will observe something, a behavior. And it's pretty natural to make a judgment, but I'm trying to recognize more and more that that is just my judgment of something that I'm observing. So I may see the way that a parent interacts with a kid in line at Walmart and just make that judgment of, oh man, they must be very frustrated or they must not be a very good parent. And then I have to catch myself and say, okay, or I'm observing a parent that appears to be frustrated. And I don't really have context about that at all. Back to these observations, but in these psych evaluations and I'm reading these, it's almost like you'll learn that you're having this incredibly important test, maybe as a parent, one that is going to not only be there's like a written portion, which might be truly a personality test or a profile. But then you also learned that you are going to have an oral portion where you're going to be quizzed by somebody that you find out happens to be an expert at their craft. And there can be some pressure in this interview as well. And you only have a few days to study and you're not even sure what to study. And this particular class has been one that is forged more by participation. So, not only are you not sure what to study, but you're not even sure how to show up with this evaluator. Actually, let me see if this example will work. I'm going to just kind of spitball this one. 

So in this world of examples, let me take you back to the height of my ultra running career. I was putting in a lot of miles. I was doing at the very least about a marathon distance, 20 to 25, 26 miles on a Saturday, and then running throughout the week. And that would be every Saturday and every week. And I was running a race of 32 miles or more, or a 50K once a month with a couple of 50 mile races peppered in there, trying to get in 100K or a 62 mile race, at least one of those. And then I liked having a hundred miler on the calendar every year as well, something in the summer. And I was also running around the track for 24 hours in my town to raise money for local schools. And that was every spring. So on occasion, then, I would run into somebody and they would also claim to be a runner, which is great. But on more than one occasion, I would have somebody come up to me and they would just start telling me what it is like being an ultra runner and almost as if they're wanting validation for the amount that they run, which it wasn't a contest or a competition per se. 

But they would just start telling me the things that I'm sure that we were on the same page about and instead of being more curious because I remember one time in particular, this person was just talking to me a little bit about what we both knew about how the body works when you run long distances. And it was pretty obvious that this person didn't know what they didn't know that they didn't have their own body science down to the amount of calories that they needed to ingest hourly, to offset how many calories their gut could actually take in and process without spilling their contents while fingering the amount of salt tablets necessary to balance the need for electrolytes and knowing what propensity they had to basically sweat, I'm a heavy sweater, versus just water. So you don't experience the fatal condition of hyponatremia. Even better examples: on one occasion, somebody wanted to go on a run with me. They also claimed to be an ultra runner. They later went on to an essence, challenge me to a 50 mile run, even though they had not run since high school. 

And so they, I can only imagine, that they Googled something maybe a day or two before we were going to go out on this long run with a group of other ultra runners. And they must've seen something about vitamins or nutrition in their water. So right before the run, they popped a multivitamin in the bottom of their store-bought water bottle. Just one water bottle while the rest of us there, we had our handheld water bottles or our Camelbak hydration systems along with our gels and our salt tabs and glide to rub on certain parts and pieces of the body that would chafe as you ran for hours. As well as SPF. And these, even these things at the time called Gators that covered your shoes because you're going to be running on the trails and they covered your shoelaces. So you didn't get pokey stickery things in your socks or shoelaces as you ran. So this guy ended up chafed to the point of seeing those two round circles of blood in the front of their shirt. They are, their nipples are rubbed raw. And they were sunburned and they ended up having blisters on their feet from the thick cotton socks and not the type of socks that were made for ultra running. And they were cramping from dehydration and that men's centra multivitamin was still solid as could be in the bottom of that water bottle that he clutched in a death grip as we neared the halfway point of our run, which was an out and back. So thankfully that was at a particular town that we had run to. 

He still had so far to go. So we ended up calling it quits halfway and had somebody come pick them up. But my point is you can't cram for the test or the long run. Or the parenting evaluation. If you haven't already done the work and reading an evaluation or two in my day, it's clear when one parent just shows up with the kids and has things that they normally have with them and the kids do the things they essentially normally do with that parent. And then if a parent has been less involved and I'm not talking about one of the parents, so it works and the other parent doesn't. Because even if you're gone and you work, there are still ways to be intentional about building your relationship and a bond with your kids so that you have a more genuine, authentic relationship with them. So in those reports, it's almost as if the parent who cannot cram for this test. Thanks. Well, what would a, what would a good dad or a good mom do when they're going to be in front of an evaluator so that they look their best? So that evaluator will think the best of the parent. So they go out and they buy coloring books and they buy these fruit snacks and they give them to the kids during the evaluation. And then the kid says out loud why did you get me a coloring book for a five-year-old when I'm eight? Or they say, they hold up the fruit snacks and say, what are these? And then the parent is saying, oh, you know, to the evaluator, you love fruit snacks, kids, and then they look awkwardly at the evaluator saying, you know kids, they're just so nervous around strangers. 

Not knowing what they don't know, not knowing that when their spouse was viewed, interacting with the kids and the evaluator, a couple of days earlier, the son's waving a foot-long beef stick around, like it's a lightsaber and the parent just looks over at the evaluator and said, give them a second to defeat the evil emperor reserve before he eats that bad boy in five bites. No, not four, not six but five. So hopefully you see my point. I want to help you start learning how to create that attachment, that bond with your kids. Not so that you can be more prepared so you eventually go through divorce and you'll know the right beef stick to bring to the psych evaluation, but so that you won't feel like you're ever in a position to be cramming for this parenting evaluation of life. And what comes with that, thank goodness, is an actual relationship with your kids and they start to develop more emotional resilience, or they might even learn concepts around empathy. And you're starting to learn some things yourself, maybe starting to even heal that inner child wound of your own. 

So my muse today is an article. It's a pretty short read, but it's a really good article. By Jonice Webb, who is a licensed psychologist and author of two books: “Overcome your childhood, emotional neglect”, and “Running on empty: Transform your relationships with your partner, your parents, and your children.” And I have a link to both of those in the show notes. And I'm familiar with them. I can be honest and say that I have not read them. I do not own them. But I have been told that these are wonderful books when it comes to talking about ways to heal the emotional neglect or abandonment from your childhood. And this is an article, this is from Psychology Today and I will be reading and commenting on this is why emotional neglect can feel like abandonment. So prior to getting into the meat of the article, she has some key points. She says emotional abandonment can happen silently. And it's not always easy to see because it's something that's happening internally to the child. But ultimately childhood emotional neglect teaches you as a child not only to abandon your emotions, but also abandoning yourself. And she says that many emotionally abandoned adults describe feeling alone or flawed or different from others. And as I'm getting more into helping people through trauma, it is pretty fascinating to see that you can have somebody start to feel where they feel their emotions, this tightness in their chest, or this just churning in their stomach. 

And if you really stop and say, okay, when have you felt that before, often you will recognize that man, I had that feeling when I was a kid and you work through what that memory was about in childhood and you'll find out that, oh, wow. Yeah, my body has been again, my body's been keeping that score my entire life. And so now I ignored that feeling as a child, that gut tummy twisting feeling when I didn't feel like I was heard or seen, or when I felt like I had to be less than, or play small. And now here I am in my adult relationships and oh yeah, that one's familiar. Because it's something that hasn't been worked through. And I know it's not as simple as then just having this aha moment where you say, oh, okay. So I didn't have the support I needed as a kid. And so my body is telling me, hey, this is still an issue. So if I'm seeing that come up in my adult relationship. What an opportunity to work through that. So self confront and then be able to realize, oh, okay. Those feelings made me feel unsafe when I was a kid. But I'm actually an adult now. So if I can get myself into this present moment and know that it's okay to have my own feelings of my emotions, we'll let the healing begin. So Jonice gives an example about abandonment and I really like this. 

She says a rundown building or an old car on the side of the road or a father who hasn't seen his child in years. These are the things that typically come to mind when we think of the word abandonment, but emotional abandonment is very different because it's not noticeable like a rundown building. She said to understand what emotional abandonment feels like. We have to first talk about the inner workings of emotional neglect. So childhood emotional neglect is far more common than you might think. And it happens when parents fail to respond enough to their child's emotional needs. And this is where I just so want right now, if you are a parent and you're thinking, oh, this one doesn't feel very good. This is why I say that we all don't know what we don't know. So rule number one for me is please give yourself grace. Because we don't know what we don't know. And so then how could you possibly know what you don't know? You know? And when you don't know what you don't know, the next thing that you can do from there to grow is now you start to find out things that you didn't know, and that feels uncomfortable. And we are so conditioned to get rid of that discomfort. I don't want to think about this. So I need to hurry up and create a quick narrative of that. No, I don't, this isn't happening in my family. Or well certainly my kids don't feel that way or, well, my parents were good and nice and everybody liked them. So they couldn't have been bad parents. 

And that's where I'm not talking about bad or good or anything like that. Right now we're just talking about, hey, let's get this information out there and let's start to think about it. And then as we think about things and we start to become more aware, we can start to take action on things. So she said that even though it happens in a real simple way, it's not very simple to see. Childhood emotional neglect goes easily undetected. So an outsider might see a kid living in a nice home attending a nice school. Maybe they dress nice. Their parents look the part. But what they don't see is an emotional void creeping through every encounter and experience that a child might have with their parents are all add their caregivers or their teachers or their, anybody that they're interacting with. So she said, even though your emotions may be invisible, they are no less important than your basic needs for food and shelter. In fact, emotional connection is a basic human need. Everybody requires this to thrive in the world. And children need enough emotional response and emotional validation and emotional education to grow into adults. And I like where she goes next. She says that emotions are the biological essence of who you are. Your emotions send you important messages about what to do, when to do it, and why they engage you. They motivate you, they connect you and they guide you to live your life aligned with who you are. And what you value. 

And I think one of the biggest challenges in my opinion is that we form these emotions based off of these experiences that we have in our childhood. And I like the concepts in acceptance and commitment therapy that are saying in essence, things just happen. So you could be really, really good parents. And your child is having their own experience. And it isn't just based on the things that you say or do, although that plays such a major role. But they're also, this is where I go into, it's their birth order. It's their own DNA, their genetic makeup. It's the places that you live. It's the sounds that they hear, it's the people that they interact with. It's the friends that they have. It's the school that they go to. So much goes into making you who you are. Again, that concept around implicit memory or what it feels like to be you is based off of the slow residue of lived experience. And those lived experiences are happening every second that you are alive. And so they are making an imprint on what it feels like to be you. So these emotions, especially as a kid, are there to guide us, but so often we stuff those emotions and we're teaching ourselves that I can't express my emotions. And as a matter of fact, I need to start managing the emotions of other people. 

So if I'm a kid and I grew up in a little bit of a chaotic home or one, or both of my parents are really struggling with their own mental health or financial issues or, you know, faith journeys or crises or job loss and any of these things, then they're putting out an energy or a vibe in the air. And so when a kid is wanting to play, explore and to grow. And to just be, oftentimes that might be, for lack of a better word, it might come across as somewhat annoying to a parent that is going through something in that moment. And so instead of turning to that kid and saying, man, here's my chance to give them the external validation they need so that they know that I'm a safe, secure place. The parent might not be aware of what they're not aware of and they might be withdrawn or shut down. And then the kid comes to them and says, in essence, do you see me? And if the parent says, hey, not right now, champ. Then it's, it's not a stretch to think that the kid may start to feel small or less than, or like, okay, well, I need to figure out when am I allowed to show my emotion and when am I not? Or this is the part where sometimes if we, as parents, think that we're doing the right thing. We could actually be telling our kids that, hey, suppress that emotion of yours. Why don't you? So if a kid is angry or frustrated about something at work, if a kid is frustrated about something that they've experienced at school, they come home and they're angry and the parent just says, man, not right now. I've got enough on my plate. So, you know, you need to, you just need to get over it. Or you need to think of others, or you need to realize that that anger is going to get you nowhere and you just need to, you just need to not worry about things. 

So many of those things that we say somewhat impulsively when we're not as aware as we need to be, are basically communicating to a kid, hey stuff those emotions. And again, those emotions are there naturally as a guide. So then if we grow up and we're stuffing those emotions and we're questioning those emotions and we're trying to figure out how to manage other people's emotions, then it can lead to things like not being able to set boundaries or not being able to just stand up for oneself. And we find ourselves often just caught up in these emotionally immature relationships, because we don't feel like we can be ourselves or we don't want to make anybody else uncomfortable. So back to the article from Jonice, she said, and again, I'll repeat this, emotions are the biological essence of who you are and they send you important messages about what to do when to do it. And why. So she said, when you experience emotional neglect as a child, you are kept in the dark from this rich and engaging emotional world. You incorrectly learn that your feelings aren't important. So let's start even looking at you in the present day as an adult. Then, have you experienced this emotional neglect, whether it's in your childhood or whether it's in your relationship right now? Because if so, and if you are trying to manage your spouse's emotions or your, the person that has to just control the environment, you're missing out on what she says is this rich and engaging emotional world when you can really embrace your emotions, listen to your body, let your body not just keep the score. But trust your gut. Let your body guide. 

Then what it starts to feel like to be you as somebody who takes action on things that matter, because you start to figure out what matters because you are the only version of you. So what matters to you is actually what matters to you? So she says ultimately, childhood emotional neglect teaches you to not only abandon your emotions. But also abandon yourself. She said three emotional needs of every child and adult. First an emotional response, and I love this one and the nurtured heart approach, my parenting approach of choice. I feel like this is the concept they call active recognition. If one of my kids walks in the room, it’s as simple as saying Jake, you know, or say, hey, what's up Mac, Alex, what's going on? And because you're literally just sending this message of I see you. And that leads to an even deeper emotional response, because if all of a sudden you don't even acknowledge your kid, but then you out of the blue say, hey, I noticed she got quiet. Are you sad? All of a sudden, it feels like, oh, I'm being interrogated. The spotlight's on me. Hey, why do you care, old man? You know, you don't even know I exist half the time. So that act of recognition, that emotional response, I see you as so important to get to that point where, hey, I noticed you got quiet right now. What's going on? Tell me more. Are you sad? 

Because you're trying to start to develop this secure attachment with your kid where they really can open up. Or feel safe enough to share, because again, we so often as parents say, hey, you know, you can come and talk to me about anything, because that feels good for me to say that boy that alleviates my discomfort. I'm already filling out my application for dad of the year after that one. But if they show up late for curfew or they get caught stealing something or they get a ticket or they're smoking pot or something like that, then they want to talk to you about it. And you're like, oh, really. Are you not disappointed? I am. So what a mixed message I just sent there. You know, hopefully now we're ripping up my dad of the year application. Being able to say or provide that secure attachment and that emotional safety starts with that emotional response. I see you. I see you're disappointed, man, I can see that you're angry right now. Jonice says it's crucial that parents notice what their child is feeling and communicating it to them. 

This teaches a child that their emotions are important and that other people see them and notice them. Responding to a child's emotions sends the message that their feelings are real and they deserve attention. And this sets a precedent for how your child responds to their own feelings in the future. Now I want to take a quick side note here and talk about what we do with our discomfort. So when our kids are sad or when our kids are angry or frustrated, even if we are not experiencing some traumatic event at that moment, we often, though, want to get rid of our own discomfort. We might not even be aware that it's discomfort by saying something very motivational. Hey, bud, you know what. Things are gonna happen in your life and you just need to learn how to deal with them. While that may sound like solid advice, what we're saying is, hey bud, stuff those emotions and feelings down and only come to me when you're saying things that make me feel better, when you're saying things that make me go, that's my boy. Instead of things that, where you say, oh, man, tell me more about that. 

So that leads to number two. She says, this is again, I'm emotional. Three emotional needs of every child and adult emotional validation. Saying things like that makes so much sense that you're sad, I can see that. And I'm here for you while you're feeling this. Or man, I would feel disappointed too. Of course you're feeling disappointed. It's a bummer when things don't work out the way that we want them to. Now did you hear that? I didn't. Didn't say, but you just need to know. No, that's it. That is a bummer. Or I can, I feel like I can, I hear you. I feel like I can understand why you're angry. Um, tell me more about that. And boy, yeah, that doesn't sound very fair that that happened to you. And that doesn't mean that now queue up my old high school story of where things weren't fair for me either. Because this is a moment that we're not going to make it about us. We're going to sit there with that discomfort and sit in that pain. And that emotion and those big emotions with our kids, I'm here with you. I'm here beside you. And it may feel just natural to say, let me guide you out of this. And there might be a time for that after the person feels heard and understood. Jonice has said that children need to know that their feelings make sense and that they're valid. Again, a kid gets their sense of self from external validation. Not from being told what to do, how to think and what your experience was. So they need to know that their, they exist that their emotions are valid. So when you affirm a child's emotional experience, let them know that what they're experiencing makes some sense. It's understandable. I can understand. And this is a little bit, I get that. 

This is a little contrary to when I talk about adults and emotional relationships where we may say, I know exactly what you're going through and you don't, and it can feel very invalidating when you're starting to teach a kid emotional validation and that their feelings matter. Then that's when we, where we are going to be a little bit more of a guide in that sense and say, man, I hear you. And that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate your sharing that. And so that would be hard. So again, she says, when you affirm a child's emotional experience, you let them know that what they're experiencing is understandable to others. Because she says, since emotions are the deepest, most personal expression of who a child is validating their emotions confirms that they are there to guide and that you are there to guide them. And they should be listened to. So they'll let the third thing, the third need she talks about is that emotional education. You know, you seem sad. I can tell by that look on your face. So let's talk. Because I want to understand what's going on. And who knows you might even feel better after talking this out. Or saying things like, I know you had your hopes up and it can be really disappointing when things don't work out our way or work out the way that you want them to. So it makes sense. It's okay to feel this way right now. And, you know, I feel like these hard feelings will pass. But boy, you got to give it some time. 

Or I know you're angry. I would be angry if that happened to me too. And here's where we can start to do with that emotional education. You know, I feel like anger often gives us energy to take action when something isn't right. Let's talk more about your anger, what your anger feels like. And I don't know, what do you want to do, take me on your train of thought. Let me understand. What do you feel like doing when you're angry? Jonice says that children are not born understanding emotions and how they work. I would add to that. I don't feel like many adults really understand their own emotions either. So she said just like going to school and learning about anatomy or history, for example, we also need to learn about emotions. And she says, well, the school system can be a great way to increase the child's emotional knowledge. The best place for learning about emotional resiliency is in your own home. From the people that the kids interact with on a day-to-day basis, their best models and teachers, their parents. I threw in my notes that just referencing an article attachment was between anxious and avoidant partners by Darlene Lancer, this is a Virtual Couch episode I did quite a while ago. 

And it might seem like I'm just cramming this in there. But I think that if we just keep in mind what if we are telling our kids to stuff their emotions, how that can show up later in life. I'm gonna read a couple paragraphs from this, Attachment woes between anxious and avoidant partners. Darlene said that attachment theory is determined that the pursuer has an anxious attachment style. And that the more emotionally unavailable partner, which maybe we would call the withdrawer, has an avoidance style and research suggests that these styles and intimacy problems originate in the relationship between the mother and infant. Babies and toddlers are dependent on their mothers, empathy and regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense themselves or to feel whole. Now I would, of course, add that a dad plays a role in this too. But to an infant or toddler, physical or emotional abandonment, whether through neglect and this is what I appreciate about this article, illness, divorce, or death threatens its existence because of its co because of its dependency on the mother for validation and development of wholeness. So later as an adult being separated in intimate relationships, that experience is a painful reminder of this earlier loss in childhood. 

Darlene said that if the mother is ill or depressed or lacks wholeness, and self-esteem, then there are often no boundaries between her and her child. So rather than responding to her child, she projects and sees the child only as an extension of herself. And as an object to meet her own needs and feelings. And let me say that as a person who works in the world of emotional immaturity and narcissistic traits and tendencies, all the way up to full blown narcissistic personality disorder. I'm going to add, I feel very strongly that the dad is playing quite a role in this as well, because that line, if the rather than responding to the child, if the emotional immature male then projects and sees the child as an extension of himself, or as an object to meet his own needs and feelings, then the kid can't value themselves as a separate self. The child's boundaries are violated and their autonomy, their feelings, their thoughts, their body, or disrespected. So consequently, the child does not develop a healthy sense of self and instead, he or she discovers that love and approval. Come with meeting the mother or I'll add the father's needs. And they tune into the parents' responses and expectations. Again, trying to manage the emotions of a parent. That's not fair for the kids. 

This also leads to shame and codependency because the child learns to please or perform or rebel. But in any case, gradually tunes out their own thoughts and their needs and their feelings. So then later, intimacy, emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, verbal intimacy. Any of those may threaten that adult sense of autonomy or identity, and they may feel invaded or engulfed, controlled, shamed, rejected. So the person might feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs are not being responded to. But at the same time and engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. That's the part I thought was so deep where we can grow up saying no, of course I want to be heard. Of course I want to be seen and known, and I want people to be curious about me. But if we didn't have that relationship with our parents growing up, all of a sudden, our partner does turn their eyes toward us and starts to become very curious. It can feel overwhelming. Darlene said in codependent relationships where there aren't two separate, but whole people coming together. This is where I love saying that we are trying to become two interdependent, differentiated people with our own styles and our own experiences. And now we can come together in a way of being curious about each other's experience, but that isn't an all or nothing either, or right or wrong sense. It's two people that have their own experiences in life. Because again, she says in codependent relationships where there aren't two separate whole people coming together, true intimacy is not possible because of the fear of non-existence. And disillusion is so strong. 

So back to Jonice, she comments in her article talking about emotional abandonment. So how exactly does childhood emotional neglect feel like abandonment? She said the many folks who have experienced childhood emotional neglect say, but I had everything as a kid and they described having things like a home and food desk and school supplies. But the, and even the latest toys or perhaps a bike and eventually a car to drive. So their physical needs were met and they might've been met well, and this world of emotional immaturity or narcissism, I find out so often why physical things and in particular money holds such value. You know, if you leave you'll, you know, you'll never have another truck like this, so you won't have a home like this or you won't be able to afford the life that you want. Because to that person growing up, those physical needs were met. So those physical needs sometimes are in the same frame as love. So to the emotionally immature person, that's how they then start to communicate I love you by providing the gifts, the money, the physical things. I find myself doing this as I wake up to my own emotional immaturity, where, when I am just feeling like, oh my gosh, I just love these kids so much. I might even express it, but I still find myself going into my wallet almost to say, here's what love looks like. 

So Jonice said, though, did your parents meet your emotional needs that they teach you how to identify, name, respond to, validate, and express your emotion. Emotions talked about many times the emotionally neglected people that described their physical needs as being well met, have trouble remembering deep and meaningful memories from their childhood. They describe feeling alone or different from others as adults, even if they had positive childhood experiences. So parents may be fine at fulfilling the physical needs of their children, but sometimes without even knowing it. They may fail to fulfill the emotional needs that are necessary for life. Let me go through this quickly. She talks about why emotional neglect can feel like abandonment. She said, number one, lack of response, children, experience their emotions in an unfiltered raw, and sometimes overwhelming sort of way. And that's because they are new to developing their relationships with their feelings. They don't understand what their feelings are there to tell them. Or what they want or what they need, and that those are essential tools for life. So when parents don't respond to the emotions enough, their lack of response can start to feel like abandonment. The kid starts to put themselves out there over and over again. And then if the parent is just inconsistent in the way they show up, or if they show up at all, then as a kid, you're left feeling alone and confused, and you don't really have this chance to develop a healthy relationship with your emotions because you're not sure if they're okay to have or not. The second thing she says is lack of validation. The children need their experiences normalized. When your child grows bigger, they receive confirmation from others around them. All your kids are getting so big. Pretty soon, you'll be a big girl in middle school. So this child then understands, oh, it's okay to grow. That's to be expected. I loved Jonice’s example here. But parents don't communicate to their children that their feelings are normal and okay. Then it might be okay to grow in size, but it's not okay to express your feelings and emotions. So then the children start to assume that their feelings don't make sense. And I hear that every day in my practice where people will say, I don't know if that makes any sense. I don't know how to express this. 

I don't know if this makes any sense at all. If you're understanding what I'm saying. And that's where I just often will say, oh, hey, don't invalidate yourself. This is how you feel. This is the way you were expressing it. Often the kids without validation, just hold this belief that their feelings are bad. Or perhaps that you're bad, we're having the feelings and that sets you up to feel inferior to others, in comes shame, that I am a bad person. The last thing she says is lack of emotional education. And I feel like this is the thing that we just don't do well at all, but it's because I don't think we know what we don't know. She said children aren't born with emotional knowledge. They need help. They need help understanding where their feelings come from and what they mean, how to identify them and their bodies, where they are in their bodies, how to interpret and express them to others. So without education and guidance from parents, they aren't equipped with emotional intelligence. Again, I go back to, I don't think most parents have emotional intelligence. So emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence is something that can help you build healthy relationships with yourself and others and adulthood. The world of emotions to the emotionally neglected feels foreign and absolutely unsafe. So we may try to get her emotions out there in little bits and pieces. 

But especially if you're in an emotionally immature relationship, when somebody responds with even just a furrow of their brow or a sigh or an eye roll. Oh, you know, I'm not going to express that it looks apparently like that's wrong. So she says, what do you do from here? If you're identifying with childhood emotional neglect and you recognize these feelings of emotional abandonment, you are absolutely not alone. And this is where she's saying it. And as a therapist, I will say it. Recovery is possible. Get help. Go talk to somebody that can help you sort through these things. Start paying attention to your feelings when you listen, you'll soon hear that you're feeling, send you messages from your deepest self messages that are incredibly useful. And oftentimes when we're trying to just express those as an adult, and they come out of nowhere and our partner is not somebody that we necessarily feel safe with. And if they say, whoa, I did that that's crazy. I never knew you felt that way. Then we don't know. We, I want somebody to say, oh, well, you've just said, that feels crazy, but that feels crazy to you. I'm expressing my emotions. So, yeah, I do feel this way. So remembering these messages, these emotions, these feelings, they inform you about your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses, your ability to make decisions, what you want, need, what makes you happy or what hurts you? And that is how you feel. And that is okay. So when somebody else says, you know, you don't actually think that way, you don't really mean that because I know you better than you know yourself. 

Let's say it's a load of crap. I don't know if that's a psychological term or not. That is not helpful. We'll put it that way. So even though it might be scary when you turn your focus inward to your emotional world, your feelings of abandonment will diminish. You'll no longer need to ignore or discredit yourself. When Jonice says, when you choose your feelings, you choose yourself and you won't regret it. So I hope something resonated here and that this wasn't leaving you feeling like I'm a horrible parent or person because give yourself grace again, we don't know what we don't know. And the only thing that you do not, the only thing sounds so dramatic. But something powerful that you can do is start to be aware, even if you don't feel like you know how to take action yet and validate your kids and say, tell me more and sit with that discomfort. You're aware and don't I hope you won't look at that as, man. I don't know what I'm not doing. I'm not being consistent because we go from, we don't know what we don't know to now we know, but we don't really do a lot about it. That's normal. And eventually we do more about it than we don't do. And finally, we just become, we become this better person. We become somebody who expresses our emotions. We become somebody that can sit with their own discomfort and validate what's going on in our children's lives. And sometimes people even have to get out of unhealthy relationships in order to be able to breathe and to be able to express themselves and feel like it's okay to be them. 

And that's okay. Because this is your life. This is your world. This is your experience. And as we get out of these enmeshed codependent relationships, that's part of the emotional maturation process. That's part of, I feel like why we're here on earth to grow and learn and become, and do, and be, and let our light so shine so that others around us won't feel small, but they'll also have the, they feel like they have the right, I guess, to be able to express themselves as well, we have that opportunity to model that to people around us, if we can find that from within ourselves. 

Have an amazing week. Let me know if you have questions, thoughts. I'm grateful as always for those who are continuing to listen, however many, seven years later. Taking us out per usual, and this is so, so appropriate for today. The wonderful, the talented, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful” because man, when you start to tap into all this stuff, it really can be pretty wonderful. Have a great week. We'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch. 

Dr. Stephen Hayes, the founder of the groundbreaking therapy technique Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), says, “If you’re not willing to have it, then you will.” Have what, you might ask? Anything you are trying to get rid of, from anxiety and depression to fear and loss. So what if the key to overcoming your anxiety was to welcome your anxiety in with arms wide open? You might think to yourself, “I’m willing to do that if embracing anxiety will eventually help me get rid of it!” But if that is why you’re doing it, you will continue to be anxious. Tony shares his thoughts on one of the most important yet paradoxical parts of ACT, “Acceptance and Willingness,” from Dr. Hayes's book “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life,”

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So I recently found myself on a run and I was, I was cold. I was freezing and my wife was under the weather. We typically ran together on Saturday mornings back in my active ultra running days. I would spend a few hours early, really early on a Saturday morning, trying to get all my miles in, but now a couple, two or three years post meniscus tear, I'm giddy to be able to just bust out, I don't know, 8, 10, 12 miles for my long run on a Saturday, and especially when I can go with my wife, but on this particular day, she was not feeling up to it. And to be honest, I kind of wasn't feeling it either. So it doesn't surprise me that I neglected to check the weather before I headed out. And it was cold and it was windy and I was a few miles away from home and I hadn't really thought out my route. So instead of finishing with a strong wind against my back, I had opted for that strong wind to carry me as far away from my house as possible, which at this point only meant about three or four miles. 

But that absolutely meant that the run home was not going to be easy. It's one of the things that I'm truly grateful for as a mental health provider is continually trying to learn about things that I think can help my clients. And I have now been practicing long enough to know that if I'm being honest, everything, I find myself embracing and putting into my practice. I embrace and put into my practice because it truly resonates with me. And I've accepted the fact that I think kind of long ago that, yeah, in fact, I did become a therapist many, many years ago, apparently to deal with my own issues. So I found myself thinking about a phrase that I often say that I don't think people find as powerful as maybe I do. And I also realize thank you, therapy. That is an observation that I make. When I say this phrase people don't leap off my couch and say, oh, my gosh. That's the one. That's it. You, you did it. You just changed my life with that one phrase. If that is not what I observe, then I quickly make a judgment I make at that very moment. To maybe ease my own anxiety or to make sense of that moment for me is that person on my couch just really couldn't give two rips about this life-changing phrase that I'm actually about to share with you. And that phrase is coming up next on the Virtual Couch

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 365 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay, I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and it actually hit me today that if you truly wanted to lose your mind, you can now listen to an episode of the Virtual Couch each and every day for an entire year. And I will just let that sit there and I will actually let you observe and judge. Some of those judgements may include, is he serious? What an ego. Is he saying that people would really do that and I really am not, but I feel like I'm almost required, I don't know by the podcast gods, to say that I never honestly would have imagined in a million years when I started the podcast that I would have 365 episodes, not to mention that Waking Up to Narcissism, my other podcast is now on episode 60 something. And on that note actually just released a third podcast and that is Waking Up to Narcissism premium edition question and answer, that's over on the apple podcast app and episode one of that is now available. I have a Google document that has more questions about narcissism and emotional immaturity and what to do about it and how to live with it and why does it happen and who does it happen to and all of those questions. It's $4.99 a month and hopefully it will raise money that we'll be able to fund a nonprofit that has been set up to help people that are in these difficult relationships with truly narcissistic people or extremely emotionally immature people that are definitely opting for control over love. 

And while I'm talking about podcasts, I really do appreciate when somebody gets pretty real about the behind the scenes things, the numbers, or the reach of a particular podcast. And I just have to comment on the fact that while the Virtual Couch has 300 more episodes than Waking Up to Narcissism, and it is a given that I never anticipated that the Virtual Couch would have the reach that it does, Waking Up to Narcissism just this morning crossed over more average daily downloads than the Virtual Couch. So the Virtual Couch has a few million more downloads overall, but each now Waking Up to Narcissism episode is starting to approach and show more downloads per episode, which again, sharing numbers that I think is fun, it could be around 15 to 20,000 per episode, depending on the episode. So I just feel like that's mind blowing that that podcast really does resonate, but I think it's definitely a, if, you know, you know, so people that are in those relationships with emotionally immature individuals and it doesn't just have to be a spouse, we are interacting with emotionally immature or people with narcissistic traits and tendencies on a daily basis. So that could even be somebody in the workplace, a neighbor, it could even be an institution or an entity that you are working with, it can be an adult child, or it can be a sibling, an adult sibling. So there's just a lot of information there that I feel I can help people just stay more present, know that they're okay. 

Know that it is 100% and that's an all or nothing statement that I stand behind for you to have your own thoughts and feelings and emotions. And you are not crazy for having them. And if you are in a relationship where those are continually being challenged or you are made to feel less than, then I really would recommend that you check that podcast out. Just check out the show notes and click on there's a link tree link, and it will give you access to the newsletter, the latest podcast episodes, the trailer for Murder On the Couch, the upcoming true crime meets psychology with my daughter Sydney. And I think it will also link to the Virtual Couch accounts on TikTok and Instagram and Facebook and the Magnetic Marriage workshop, which is a 90 minute workshop. And the updated full marriage course is going to be released shortly and I'll make a lot of noise when that is ready. So, where were we? 

That phrase, the phrase that I was alluding to. Let me in almost like a true reality show TV format, where we ended the scene, let me come back to the show and I will set the stage. I'll read the last sentence or two from the transcript, and this is where we left off. When people do not leap off of my couch after I say this phrase, and when they do not say that's the, there it is, that's it. You did it. You just changed my life with that phrase. If that is not what I'm observing, then I make this judgment at that very moment again, to maybe ease my own anxiety or make sense of the moment for me, that the person on the couch can not give two rips about the life-changing phrase that I've just shared. And that phrase is, “acceptance does not mean apathy”. And I feel like if I had sound effects that might go, maybe not as exciting as you think. But let me break that down a little bit today because we're going to talk about acceptance and willingness in a way that I think is going to help. It's going to help in a lot of ways, it's going to help with anxiety. It's going to help with fear. It's going to help when trying to take on something new. So why don't we start with, what does apathy even mean? And then I'm going to spend some time in the book by Dr. Steven Hayes, the founder of acceptance and commitment therapy, his book called “Get out of your mind and into your life”, which being completely honest for some insane reason, queues me to sing in my head each and every time the Billy Ocean classic from 1988, “get out of my dreams and into my car”, which I shared with someone in a session last night and she is in her twenties and she said, that was literally, that was really a song title? And it was 1988. The year I graduated high school again, Billy Ocean “get out of my dreams and into my car” which must be some sort of cue or trigger because that is the year that I graduated high school. So on that note too, I just hit pause. I came back and I did Google top songs of 1988 to see why wasn't another song stuck in my head, more iconically than this Billy Ocean song that I was never a fan of. 

And ironically, that is also the year of Rick Astley's hit “never going to give you up”. So, I guess in essence, you were just verbally Rick rolled. So back to apathy. Apathy by definition is a lack of interest or concern especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal. It's a feeling of indifference, lack of emotion or feeling impassiveness, it's not having a, want a feeling it's an absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. Insensibility indifference. So when I give you that phrase, that acceptance does not mean apathy, that what I'm saying is that if we accept things, if we accept the fact that I am feeling anxious, if I accept the fact that I am afraid or scared, then that does not mean game over. So in this scenario where I was out on the run, I had to do some, some true acceptance of the fact that I was at that three and a half, four miles away from home. I was under dressed. I didn't have my beanie on, I have a giant bald head. I didn't have gloves on and my hands were feeling very numb and cold. 

I think I had a short sleeve shirt on and I was about to run headfirst into the wind for the next little while. So acceptance doesn't mean then at that point that I might as well give up because in a situation like that there really wasn't an option to give up, not to sound very dramatic, but I was a little bit off the beaten path. And there wasn't a, I couldn't just flag down a taxi or even know if attack, think I need to use Uber all the time now. But I didn't, I don't even think I probably had cell phone service where I was and I just had to accept the fact that this was going to be rough or difficult. Because that acceptance again, doesn't mean that I'm just throwing in the towel, and I think we fear so often that acceptance does absolutely mean apathy and this impassiveness, this hopelessness, this absolute suppression of passion or emotion or excitement. And this indifference. And let me, let me step back and we're going to talk about how that would still work, even in the context of that run. 

But when I first started using the phrase, this acceptance doesn't mean apathy phrase. It really was showing up in the context of helping people post-divorce. And I promise it really does require you the listener or a client in my office to stay really present here for a minute, because it's going to sound at first, I worry like the complete opposite of what I am intending a true paradox, which is going to be ironic because when we get into the book by Dr. Hayes, we are going to start talking about a paradox of just great proportion. So acceptance, acceptance, not meaning apathy in the context of helping someone post divorce. I remember the person that I was first talking to about this, and the concept that we were exploring was if you accept the fact that she was afraid that she was going to be alone for the rest of her life and be single. And I was really trying to understand this acceptance and willingness from acceptance and commitment therapy, because it can be such a powerful tool. But I think it's one that is so paradoxical that it feels, it feels like we are giving up. And then it shows that sometimes the, or oftentimes the thing that is going to help us the most will sound like the craziest thing we can think of. And I think that is so often because our brain is just so used to this pattern of stick behavior and the path of least resistance. That we are handing somebody this new tool and they are going to just say, okay, that is unknown and scary. So I'm going to double or triple down on the thing that I know in hopes that at some point something's going to change. 

And if you're like me, you've probably already thought now that the definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result now to give us, give ourselves a little bit of credit. We are doing the same thing over and over often, but then we are hoping that things like time or being in a different location will be just the catalyst, enough so that it will not continue to be the same thing over and over, but it typically does end up netting the same results. So again, in this context, acceptance doesn't mean apathy. When this person is so worried about, I may be alone for the rest of my life, acceptance needs to look like, okay. I need to accept the fact that I may be alone for the rest of my life. And that's the part where the record scratch hits. And I believe I made the joke in that very moment of saying that does not mean that we need to back up the chocolate fountain truck and you just put your head underneath it and just hit the go button and then just indulge and do nothing and lay flat on your back for the rest of your life. 

It's actually the opposite. So if you accept the fact that you may be alone and that does feel scary and we want to get rid of scary and we want to get rid of discomfort. So we want to just get rid of it, we want to push that away. But if we accept that fact, then what she and I started working on was now she isn't going to try to become the person that someone else wants her to be in hopes that she will then find someone that will love her or find someone that will, will be willing to be with her because she will not be true to herself. But if she accepts that fact acceptance, not meaning apathy. But with that acceptance that I may not find someone. And again, how scary does that sound to somebody that's post divorce. But then I am not trying to figure out what I need to do to find someone. I am starting to figure out what to do to be the very best version of me. And then as you start to then uncouple, this needs to find the right thing to do. You start to find the things you like to do, and as you start to do those things and you realize that, okay, if I was in a relationship before where I didn't feel like I could be myself, and I did feel controlled or I felt like I didn't have a voice or I wasn't seen. And so if I really wanted to explore things that were, I really enjoy, let's say creativity or art or painting or I don't know, knife skills in a cooking class. And if you are with a spouse who says, okay, well, what about me? What am I supposed to watch the kids while you go do that? Or, do you know how much money it's going to cost? If you want to just all of a sudden paint another room and not even explore what that would feel like to really go after the things that you want in life. 

Now, those are real concepts around kids and finances, but when those conversations are shut down immediately, then you start to feel less than, and you start to feel like you lose your sense of self and as a marriage therapist, which I am, I know that then those conversations are had so quickly to just shut down some sort of feeling typically with that person who's more, a little bit reactive or emotionally immature as a way for them to get rid of their own discomfort. And so if we were sitting in front of a good marriage therapist and they were saying, okay we're understanding that this is something you want to do. You want to learn how to paint or you want to paint these rooms and you find that that would really scratch that creative itch and really help you feel alive so that you're showing up better as a better mom, as a better spouse, as a better fill in the blank because it raises your emotional baseline, then that is something worth fighting for. And if the husband then recognizes, okay, I immediately reacted because I just, all I thought about were finances and I worry that I'm not being the provider I need to be. So that makes me feel bad. So I looked at that as a threat. 

So when we can calm both people's amygdalas down and then have a productive conversation, of course, using my four pillars of a connected conversation, then we can start to say, what would it look like if we may be tightened up something over here, or, but because I want my spouse to thrive, I want them to be able to be the very best version that they can be of themselves. Because that does not mean that once they learn how to paint all the rooms and they feel confident, they will leave me. As a matter of fact, it means they're going to show up better in the relationship. So again, acceptance does not mean apathy. If I accept the fact in that scenario, post divorce, that I may end up single for the rest of my life. Now I'm not even fighting, I'm not even saying, oh my gosh, that's so bad. And it's horrible. And what if it's like, okay, I'm gonna sit with that, that is uncomfortable and now I'm going to step into things I like to do. And now all of a sudden, if I am taking a culinary class and I'm thriving and I have so much curiosity, and now I'm really connecting with the other people in my class, again, and we'll get to this in the, in the book, but I can't be doing it so that I will then, well, maybe that's how I'll find someone, but the chances of you finding someone with the shared experience or and mutual passion or some of the, you can really just bounce ideas off and they won't necessarily feel attacked or criticized may come from this place where you are operating as your very best self. 

So acceptance does not mean apathy. Let's go to the book. And this is the book, “Get out of your mind and into your life” by Dr. Steven Hayes. And I'm jumping over into chapter four and it's called “letting go”. And this is one of the key chapters to, I think that will really, it really helps you start to understand the things that we are not doing correctly in the mental health field. So Dr. Hayes talks about in the first couple of chapters, he really talked about your suffering. And your efforts to cope with it, because if you really look at the fact that life, yeah, life can be a real challenge. It can be difficult. And I feel like at any given moment, we can all identify areas of our life, where we are suffering and then he talked about this trap or this pitfall that is inherent to human thought because of the way that we try to handle the suffering. And he talks about experiential avoidance. That we try to find anything else to do to alleviate the suffering. So we turned to these experiential avoidance activities, which means our phones or unhealthy coping mechanisms or just tuning out of life because we want to feel better. And we are chasing this concept of just pure, euphoric joy and happiness, because we don't want to feel uncomfortable. We don't want to acknowledge this suffering. 

But I think it's safe to say that that's one of our go-to responses to try to get rid of discomfort or suffering. Is to tune out, to use this experiential avoidance to just, just watch shows and play games and just not do and not be, not be present. So Dr. Hayes says we've hinted at an alternative to experiential avoidance. And he said it has been variously described as willingness. Acceptance or letting go. And I really want to clarify what acceptance and willingness looks like, because I think this will really help move you forward. And being more present in being more present will move you forward and figuring out what really matters to you. And Dr. Hayes says that acceptance is a skill that you may have heard about or experimented with in the past. And it's certainly something that you can learn to do, but he said, unfortunately, it's not something that your mind can do. Your mind is trying desperately not to accept uncomfortable situations or feelings. So he said, that's why learning more skills will be required before you can implement these concepts of acceptance and willingness in your daily life, because he says even after all your mind is aware of what you're reading right now. And in this area, your mind is not your ally. So welcome to the first paradox. If you're not willing to have it, you will, and he said that that is one of these rules that applies to the things that are going on internally or what they call in ACT, your private experiences. That if you aren't willing to have it, you will. And he said that we've implied that this rule is important for dealing with your suffering. 

Although he said he didn't really exactly express where that importance lies. So he said, let's take a look at what the mind does with such an idea. Again, that idea of, if you're not willing to have it, you will. So he said, suppose that the rule is true, that if you aren't willing to have it, you will. So given that you've already suffered a great deal, what can you logically do that would apply that rule to your suffering? So when I go back to my running example, I would rather not be cold. And I would rather not feel pain when running home of fatigue. I would rather not feel all of the difficulties of running into the wind when I'm tired and cold or in the situation of this person that was divorced, she does not want to suffer in feeling alone. So he says, if you're like most people, you begin thinking about how you might be willing to have these negative private experiences, if that meant that those negative experiences would begin to diminish or even disappear. He gives a really good example. So he says, for example, suppose that your anxiety, that anxiety is your main issue. And he says, you really hate how anxious you are and you just write a sentence that purports to be a rule to help you deal with your problem. And that sentence that we just read states that if you aren't willing to have it, you will. So, what would that mean for your anxiety? He said, what follows is the kind of speculation that the word machine that we call our mind does best. So your mind is going to say something like, hmm, okay. So if I'm not willing to be anxious, then I will be anxious. So, and I think we can, I think we can accept that. If I am worrying about my worry, that is going to worry me. But he said, I suppose that means if we’re more willing to be anxious, then I might not be so anxious. And I hate being anxious. So I guess I'll give it a try. I will try to be more willing to feel my anxiety. So that I won't be so anxious. You can see what we just did there with the mind dead. He said with that, the thought trap slams down around you. Because if you are willing to be anxious only in order to become less anxious, then you're not really willing to be anxious and you will become even more anxious. Now I know that there are a lot of different ages that listen to the podcast. I want to talk a little bit for a second about what this concept even looks like with regard to intimacy within a relationship, a marriage. 

I often have this conversation with couples where, and I'm just going to go some real gender stereotypes here, and I'm going to own that, so one of the common things I find is if a guy comes into my office with his wife and the guy wants to more intimacy, he says that will solve all the world's problems. So he says, well, I'm happy then I would love to, I would love to celebrate with us being intimate, or if I'm sad, there is no greater pick me up than being intimate. Or if there's a headache, I don't know why there hasn't been more research on a cure for headaches in intimacy. And so he says this as if this is just the, this is facts. And so he looks at me and then often says, okay, you know, you get it. I'm sure you're a sex therapist. Can you tell my wife? And then I look over and then I see her withdrawn. And then this is, this conversations happened so many times. Where then if I say, okay, what are you hearing? And she says, all right. I am hearing that I am in charge of his emotions. I'm in charge of managing his anxiety, his depression, his happiness and sadness. And so that makes her start to feel more like an object. So fast forward, we have a conversation about maybe changing the relationship with intimacy so that the wife will feel safe to be able to be more physically intimate without it necessarily leading to sexual intercourse. 

And often this is why I bring this story up because I get such a good example of this, where I will almost in this scenario, have a guy look over at me and say, oh, okay. So if I change my relationship with intimacy and I don't make it that I need her to manage my emotions, my anxiety. And he said, I get it almost like with a week of saying. And that'll lead to more intimacy. And it's the exact opposite. So if you change your relationship with intimacy and focus more on the connection or the relationship and know that not all roads have to lead to the intercourse, then you start to learn to be more accepting of the moments of being physically intimate without that quite frankly. And then if the guy says, oh, go okay. I got you. And now that you laid out that way. Yeah, I would love more of that, but then it will also lead to more, more intercourse to, is that what you're saying? No, this is that person's missing the point. So we go back to that again. So if I'm not willing to be anxious, I will be anxious. And I suppose that means if I were more willing to be anxious, I might not be so anxious and I don't like being anxious. So I guess I'll give it a try. I'll try to be more willing to feel my anxiety so that eventually I won't be as anxious. 

So that thought trap slams down around you, because if you're willing to only be anxious in order to become less anxious or if you're willing to then deal with a less physical intimacy so that you will then eventually get more physical intimacy, then you're not really willing to be anxious or you're not really willing to be less physically intimate. And that will cause you to become even more anxious or frustrated. And Dr. Hayes says, this is absolutely not psychobabble. He said, read the sentence again. Yes, they are paradoxical. But the paradox seems to be true. Those census demonstrate the merry-go-round ride that can result from trying to force the mind to do something it can't do. If the only reason you're willing to allow yourself to feel anxiety today, is that the hope that feeling it today will free you from it. From the necessity of feeling it in the future, then that's not going to work. Because what your willingness here really means is you just don't want to feel any anxiety. And you'll try to jump through all kinds of mental hoops, not to feel it. And he says that's not the same as being willing to feel your anxiety. And quite frankly, that can cause more anxiety. So I said, this is why we've said that the approaches that might help with the causes of your pain are difficult to learn. Not in the sense that they are effortful, but because they are tricky. And he says for that reason, we're going to put the concept of willingness on the table here. But we will deal with quite a bit of other material before returning to this topic, then try to apply it to the core areas of the things that you struggle with in your life. 

So I think this next part is so key. It says, if I'm saying you may not be listening up until now, but now really listen. But this is key acceptance and willingness. So, accept, he says, comes from the Latin root cut Perry, or I don't know my Latin, but meaning to take. Acceptance is the act of receiving or taking what is offered. But sometimes in English, accept means to tolerate or resign yourself as in, okay. I guess I have to accept that. And that's where I go with the acceptance does not mean apathy. Or just, tolerate a resign yourself to and that is so key to understand that we're not saying, okay, accept and just tolerate and resign yourself to. Dr. Hayes says that is precisely not what is meant here by accept, we mean something more like taking completely in the moment without defense. So, if we are saying, accept your anxiety, then we're saying that, take it in and be in that moment. And try not to push it away. Just be in the moment. When I am taking in or accepting that I was three and a half, whatever miles away from my house and it was cold and I had to run, then I took that moment and completely, and I truly did without defense, it was happening there. I was now in the very present moment. And in that moment now I could feel, I could honestly feel the wind on my skin. I could feel the wind up against the cold of my shirt that had sweat. I could notice my feet pounding the ground. I could feel the contractions of the muscles in my legs. And if that sounds like mumbo jumbo or psychobabble, I understand because years ago, I would have thought there is no way I'm going to be recording a podcast and I'm going to be talking about notice, notice your labored breath. Ah, isn't that beautiful. Feel the air sucking into your lungs at a rapid rate as your heart rate increases. And, but that is exactly the thing that to do to be in that moment. And what am I not doing? I'm not being angry or beating myself up or. Or feeling this just hopelessness. I'm taking in that very moment, taking completely in the moment without defense. 

So then Dr. Hayes says we use the word willing then as a synonym for accepting. So staying true to that meaning of accept, willing, he said is one of the older words in the English language, and it comes from an ancient root meaning to choose. So thus acceptance is to take it in completely in the moment. And willingness can be understood as then, and then choosing what you do with that. So it can be understood as an answer to this question. Will you take me in as I am? And that is whatever that is. Will you take me in as I am? Will you take it well, will I allow this in anxiety and just like it is because there it is. Or will I allow this moment where I am far away from home and I am cold. Will I just take it in for what it is? It is what it is. I am there. What do I do now? So you said acceptance and willingness are the opposite. The opposite of effortful control. So Dr. Hayes shares a little bit more. He said, what follows is a description of what to take me in as I am really means. He said in our context, the words willingness and acceptance mean to respond actively to your feelings by feeling them literally. Much as you might reach out and literally feel the texture of a cashmere sweater. They mean to respond actively to your thoughts by thinking them. Much as you might read poetry, just to get the flow of the words. Or an actor might rehearse lines to get a feel for the playwright's intent. To be willing and accepting. It means to respond actively to memories by remembering them. Much as you might take a friend to see a movie you've already seen. 

They mean to respond actively to bodily sensations by syncing them. Much as you might take an all over stretch in the morning, just to feel your body all over. That willingness and acceptance mean adopting a gentle, loving posture toward yourself, toward your history, your past, your programming, so that it becomes more likely for you simply to be aware of your own experience much as you would hold a fragile object in your hand and contemplate it closely and dispassionately, he says the goal of willingness is not to feel better. Because if we are continually just chasing the feel good feeling. Then we are going to just be turning from one dopamine, hit to the next, and we're going to be missing out on so many of life's experiences. Because those experiences can come with a lot of emotion. They can come with some negativity, they can come with discomfort. So we need to be willing to embrace those moments and that discomfort. And what I truly wish people could get a glimpse of is that as you start to embrace these moments and sit with the discomfort, it really turns out to not be as scary as you think it would be things like anxiety are there for a reason, they're there to warn you, but we worry about 99% of the things that will never happen. And we even convince ourselves that we're just preparing or we're just making sure, or we're just a, what if, what if, and we're avoiding and we don't, but when we start to recognize that we're also in that same process, missing out on a lot of life and figuring out who we are and what we have to offer, and when we can really change that interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you based on this slow residue of lived experience and those lived experiences are far greater teachers than that experiential avoidance. 

Mike Rucker was on my podcast. He has that book, “The fun habit”. And he was talking about a concept that I think about so often where I feel like when you are in the moment and having these experiences, even the ups, the downs, all of those experiences, and you allow yourself to feel them, those become really part of what it feels like to be you. And he talked about all of the other things that you do. All of the TV shows you watch and the games you play and the, the time spent ruminating and worrying and wondering, and getting that crystal ball out and just all those things, fortune telling. That those all just get lumped into just this kind of bucket of gray and our memories. Just, you know, what did you do over the weekend? Oh, you know, just a regular weekend. Just kind of got through it, here I am, versus the, oh man. I went on a run and I didn't dress as well as I should have. And it was freezing cold, but I made it and I got the, you know, interacted with a couple of people. I saw it. I saw these, I know this animal that I'd never seen before. That sounds crazy. What like an aardvark running around Lincoln. But you were having these experiences. So what it feels like to be you as somebody who does and somebody who is participating in life and in that participation, you are going to start to connect with new things and opportunities and feel feelings and sights and smells and sounds. And that is going to help you grow in that internal landscape of what it feels like to be you is going to be one that is feeling pretty, pretty content, or even dare I say overall happy with life because you're taking more charge or control of your life. 

So again, the goal of willingness he says is not to feel better. It's to open yourself up to the vitality of the moment to move more effectively toward what you value. Dr. Hayes said in another way, the goal willingness is to feel all the feelings that come up for you more completely even, or especially the bad feelings. So you can live your life more completely in essence, instead of trying to feel better. Willingness involves learning how to feel, to feel like, feel the feelings, feel better. And to be willing and accepting is to gently push your fingers into, if you've ever seen the Chinese finger trap, in order to make more room for yourself to live in, rather than mainly struggling against your experience by trying to pull your fingers out of the trap. So to be willing and accepting means to give yourself enough room to breathe. And by assuming this stance of willingness and acceptance, now you couldn't, all of a sudden, he says open up all the blinds of the windows in your house and allow life to flow through. You start to let fresh air and light enter into what was previously closed and dark at a fear and worry. So to be willing and accepting means to be able to walk through, he says, the swamps of your difficult history. When the swamps are directly on the path that goes in a direction that you really care about. To be willing and accepting means noticing that you are the sky, not the clouds, the ocean, not the waves. He said, it means noticing that you're large enough to contain all of your experiences just as a sky can contain any cloud in the ocean, any wave. He said we don't expect this foray into poetic metaphors to make any difference yet. But the sense conveyed may give you an idea of what we're aiming for in pursuing the acceptance, the acceptance, and the book that he's talking about, or the acceptance just in life in general. 

So I would really encourage you as you go forward after listening to this podcast to just really take a look again at that willingness and acceptance. That will you take me in, that acceptance to take me in. It's not, it does not mean to tolerate or resign yourself to, but accepting we are taking that moment in completely without defense. And then that willingness, accepting, willing. Meaning to choose. So acceptance and willingness can be understood as an answer to this question. Will you take me in as I am, anxiety? And acceptance and willingness then, are the opposite of effortful control. And when you can be willing and accepting to your feelings and your experiences and you experience all of them, you feel them, you are willing to take them in, then you can just experience every bit of that moment and that is going to drive you more toward this just sense of vitality and purpose. I would go on and on, but I think you get the point. If you have questions, let me know. Share this with somebody if you think that that would really help. And if you are listening to this for the first time, welcome aboard. And send me questions if you have them, I'd love to do a podcast about them, answer them. You can send them to and taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”. We'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch

"Regret is a common feeling that has both negative and positive effects," Sian Ferguson from the article "How to Move Past Regret." Tony talks about regret and rumination's roles in keeping people stuck in a trauma bond with a narcissist. 

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Did you know that more than 40 percent of everything you do is habitual? Are you addicted to your phone or social media? Or are you simply responding to a well-worn neurological cue/reward pattern? Tony discusses the latest in habit research from the article "How to Conquer Your Primitive Brain" by Adam Piore.

Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders, Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts worldwide. Through 6 modules of clear instruction and clinical demonstrations, you will learn how to create opportunities for clients to practice psychological flexibility in the presence of anxiety. 

After completing the course material, you'll have a new, highly effective anxiety treatment tool that can be used with every anxiety-related disorder, from OCD to panic disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

Virtual Couch Episode 363 Transcript

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 363 of the Virtual Couch. I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, ultra marathon runner, and creator of the Path Back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people reclaim their lives from turning to pornography or any unhealthy coping mechanism. So go to Find out more about that. Or you can actually go now to Tony Overbay underscore LMFT on Instagram, link in the bio and there's a link tree that has everything you need to know, latest podcast episodes, how to sign up for my newsletter and also that link tree is going to be in the show notes. So we're just trying to make things easy, but I really would recommend that you go sign up for the newsletter and you'll find out so much exciting stuff that is coming soon to earbuds or monitors near you. So I'm going to jump in. Oh, one thing, this is a really cool thing. I had the, I want to say world renowned and he really is, Michael Twohig on at the end of last year, he's done so much research in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy. And that episode was one of my favorites and I still take quotes from that almost on a daily basis in my practice. 

And he had an ACT for OCD and anxiety online course that it launched and it was there for a little bit. It was taken away, but there is a relaunch of that. And I will have the link in the show notes on how you can get access to that course. If you have a pen or a pencil, I guess that sounds kind of old school, you know, then stop your horse and buggy and scroll this down with some charcoal on a tablet. Or you can just jot it down in the notes on your phone, or it'll be in the show notes. But the direct link is HTTP colon slash slash man, I sound like I am coming right to you from the year 2003. But it's Praxisce, which is And you'll find that ACT for anxiety disorders course, and it's, it really is amazing. I was able to take it myself when Michael was coming on the show. And ACT is just, it's phenomenal. I cannot say enough about what it can do to really help you realize that you have all the tools you need right there built within you. And it's a matter of unhooking from these the thought a thought is a thought and just unhooking from the ones that are not really serving you much of a purpose and getting away from those socially compliant goals of what you think you're supposed to do to make everybody else happy around you. I find out what your true values are and then just start living, living a life of value based goals and actions. And yeah, you have the ups and downs, the bumps, the bruises, but as you start to really live a more value based purpose filled life, it is phenomenal. It is. And you get away from that, what is wrong with me? I must be broken. I'm a human. The very first version of me that's ever been on the planet. And when you really unhook from those unproductive thoughts and really figure out what makes you tick. 

And not need everybody else to tell you how you're supposed to think or feel. Again, I cannot even describe how amazing that is. That is acceptance and commitment therapy in this ACT for anxiety disorders workshop is amazing. It really is. So go click on the link in the show notes and get there. But today we're going to talk about something I just love. I really do. And I was sent an article about, I guess it's two or three days ago and just asked if I had comments on it and I love getting those emails. And so I hadn't planned on talking about conquering our primitive brain or talking about habits at all today, but then I thought there was a pretty funny spin on it. As somebody sent this to me, I guess I had made a joke at some point. That you wait till about the third week of January, and then you can pick up exercise equipment for cheap when people have moved away from their new year's resolutions. And I let that slide. I really thought about doing something funny about a month ago, talking about how your, how are your new year's resolutions working, not in a guilt or shame based way, but just being able to have some acceptance. And then was that really a goal that you felt passionate about? Or was it something you thought you were supposed to do? But then I was sent this article and it's from Newsweek and it says “How to conquer your primitive brain.” And it's that subheading that I think is so fascinating and why I really wanted to talk about it. I'm gonna read a lot from this article today and I'm gonna make some comments based on my own experiences. 

But this subheading says “More than 40% of everything we do from washing dishes to spreading misinformation is habitual.” Science has some ideas about how to do better. And this is by a gentleman named Adam Piore. I could have mispronounced that. And the article is really neat. Has some great illustrations. It's so neat. I really did not realize that I sound like someone's great-grandfather talking at times, it's really swell. This thing is it really is. Trust me. But there's a lot here that I feel like plays on a lot of the things that I've talked about from Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit. As well as James Clear's book The Power of Habit, and I want to tell a quick story that I told them on a Waking Up to Narcissism podcast a few days ago that I just want to set the stage because I say a lot of things. I feel very passionate about it. 

I am standing in what I like to refer to as a healthy ego and healthy ego is based on real life experience or the things that we know. And part of being able to stand in your healthy ego is recognizing that you don't know what you don't know. So as simple as that may sound. And when we're a little bit more emotionally immature brain, we often feel like we have to have an opinion on everything and anything. And then if we have a good idea about how something may work, then we often subconsciously go big and then we start to confabulate or create a narrative or a story that backs up how I feel like things probably are. So now over in that world of narcissism, narcissistic confabulation can be incredibly abusive because to the narcissist who is incredibly emotionally immature when you look at that comes from deep childhood abandonment and attachment wounds or neglect that then the concepts around confabulation or changing a narrative to fit what that emotionally immature person needs it to be in that very moment is a survival technique. And that's why gaslighting, if you really are around somebody that you are opening up to, and then all of a sudden they turn what you're talking about. And they make you feel crazy about that. That is true what gaslighting is in a nutshell. That if it's somebody that is incredibly emotionally immature or narcissistic and they are confabulating the narrative, it means in their brain. Well, it can't be that way. If you said, hey, you kind of hurt my feelings. If the gaslighting comes across, then in return, really well, you hurt my feelings all the time. As a matter of fact, I'm glad we're talking about feelings because I don't think you pay attention to mine at all. And as a matter of fact, the more I think about it, I really, I mean, you claim to be this person that is so emotional and empathic, but yet I don't feel like you ever validate my feelings. So here's this person that had just opened up and said, hey, that kind of hurt my feelings. And before, when the conversation is done, the person who had expressed that and all of a sudden feels like, oh my gosh, I didn't even know that I hurt this person's feelings so bad. And in the world of confabulation to that emotionally immature narcissistic person, they have had to create that narrative. And it happens in just a millisecond because it's a survival mechanism from their childhood, if they took ownership or accountability of something, first of all, they didn't see that modeled, which is part of the problem. But if they did, they would get in trouble. And if you get in trouble as a little kid and you don't have a secure, attached relationship with your parent, then you feel like, man, this might, I might get in trouble and they're going to kick me out of the house because we're thinking with little kid brain. 

And so that narcissism or gaslighting becomes a childhood defense mechanism. Now, the reason I talk about this is that concept of a confabulated memory or changing the memory is just an amazing, fascinating thing because as I talk about what I know today about habits and things that I talk so passionately about on the podcast, I now recognize that I could have confabulated many of the stories or the data that I've just come to rely on. What I love now is being able to check in with an article like this one today. And to see him where the latest in science, a habit science is. And so this might just be a moment for me, but I'm going to be really open and honest. If there are things that go against or contradict the things that I've always believed to be the case and because the more you're aware of this concept around confabulation, I think it's a really great way to self confront but we create, we habitualize, there's so many things that we don't even recognize. I hope that as you even go throughout your day after hearing this episode, that you may notice or give yourself a benefit of the doubt of maybe, maybe I don't remember it exactly the way that I thought. And if somebody is saying to you, oh, I know exactly what happened then that, that may be the case, but then I will give them grace as well and say, well, maybe, maybe not. But I love their passion. So back to this article, more than 40% of everything we do from washing dishes to spreading misinformation is habitual. 

Adam says, “Science has some ideas about how to do better.” So he says that most people associate bad habits with the kind of activities that wind up on a list of new year's resolutions, eating and drinking too much, spending too much time on their smartphone and avoiding the gym. But he said that bad habits are often more than just these little personal issues that we have and he talks about the neural machinery of habit formation. Which I love now, we're talking about how the brain works is also the root cause of many of the worst collective behaviors. Texting while driving. I haven't even thought about how that slowly becomes habitualized. That then that's something that we just start to feel comfortable with. When I think it first came out, texting, there was a thought of, I will never drive and text. I honestly remember having my Blackberry, I guess the theme of today is Tony's an old man. But I remember having my Blackberry and getting the first text plan that had, I think 200 texts in a month. And I thought this was crazy. Like I'll never go through 200. I mean now, boy, if you look at how many times you text throughout a day or a week or a month, it is a lot more than 200, maybe throw an extra zero, maybe even two onto there, but texting while driving, gossiping about coworkers, littering, mansplaining, he says farting silently in public, making a racist or unfair assumptions about strangers, even spreading the kind of misinformation online that some experts warn is threatening our democracy. He said that those are things that are actually beginning to become habitualized. The more that we look at the science of how the brain works, he says that many people who are aware of bad habits and recognize them to be potentially harmful, blame themselves for being weak or lacking the willpower needed to resist them. 

But over the last few years, scientists have used advanced imaging technologies. So we can literally look inside the brain as habits are being formed. And then, these experts can even map out the habit formation all the way to the very structures in the brain structures that I love, how he says were formed so long ago in the blacksmith evolution. So we're talking about the blacksmith, the iron that was pounded in our brain in essence in the Smithy of evolution that humans share with other mammals. So research suggests that habits, which operate below conscious awareness usually cannot be tamed simply by resolving to resist them. And I love that concept so much. So just telling yourself not to do it, if anything, your brain is going to say, I will do it more. So I have to realize, first of all, I have to be aware of something that I'm not even aware of. He gives some examples where he says, okay, so again, research suggests that habits which operate below the conscious awareness can't be tamed just by saying I'm not going to do them or trying to resist them. Because he says, by the time you realize you're munching on a bag of potato chips, picking your nose, fighting with someone on Facebook, or veering into oncoming traffic while texting, it's too late. So, he says, if we want to change our habits, research suggests we need to understand how they work and we need to anticipate the cues that trigger them. And find ways to break our habit cycle before it starts. So taming a bad habit requires a lot of planning. And I love this concept. We need to reverse engineer the chain of behavior that precedes them. And then either remove the queue that sets us off altogether, or take the time to build new habits that will replace them. 

And one of the key things involves acknowledging that much of what we do is habitual and not the result of our own decision-making. And that setting goals in a way that drives new behavior patterns. Let me talk about that. So in my Path Back recovery program, and I work with a lot of people that have struggled with unhealthy coping mechanisms. And I know that I talk so often about pornography, but it could be turning to your phone. It could be turning to food, work, or even exercise as a form of habitualizing something that we just, we begin to have this habit cycle and I say in my program, there's a trigger, there's a thought, and there's an action. And one of the go-to examples that I'd like to talk about is working with someone who was struggling with turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism. It was amplifying up his objectification of women. And caused him to be less present with his intimate relationship with his wife and we had identified that there was a two hour gap after he took kids to school and his wife went to work before he had to go into the office. So in those two hours, there were times and days where he would go and work out at the gym. There were times where he would try to get things done at home. But over the course of time, that two hour block became the trigger of when he could look at pornography. And so this was something that he wanted to move away from because he felt like he was wasting time. And again, dulling out the dopamine neuro blasting, his dopamine neuro receptors, and just, he had all these reasons of course, why he wanted to get away from looking at pornography. But then he would feel like it just continued to happen. And over time, as he even drove home, his brain was saying, well, we got, we got time. And I often say that one of the biggest triggers is what I call the crime of opportunity, or just being able to do something. If the bag of chips is in the pantry, that is a trigger that is a crime of opportunity. If you have to go buy a bag of chips at the store, there's a lot of opportunities for you to not. You can come back to the present moment or turn back around or stop wherever you were heading mentally, or even literally physically in your car. 

But if the chips are in the pantry or if no one is at home and you know that the coast is clear. Over time that becomes the trigger. And so the trigger leads to the thought in this scenario, the person says I could act out, I could look at pornography. And then there's the behavior. Or the action. So we got the trigger, the thought and the action. That is the habit cycle. And so we can look at this a few different ways. Number one, ultimately we want to be able to put distance between thought and action. So if the triggers there he's at home alone and he has the thought, well, that's a thought. And I can breathe through the thought I can bring the thought of wanting to look at porn with me while I do other productive things, but that is an advanced level skill and advanced level mindfulness skill. Where at first, often what we have to do is I like what they say. Here we go back to that, we have to reverse engineer. And then we have to recognize that oh, okay I need to not be at home. So on the days where I go to the gym and then I even shower at the gym and go to work, nothing. I don't look at porn, but on the days where I go to the gym, go home, then my brain says, oh, remember home, what we can do. So you can reverse engineer and in this one and what is so fascinating about this example is that I believe there's also, if I go back to that whole path of enlightenment where he wasn't aware of what he wasn't aware of. Then he was aware. Okay. That is my trigger, but then he still didn't do it, he didn't take action as often as he would like, and that's a hard place to be because he would start to get angry and frustrated with themselves and say that he's broken and what's wrong with him. And so eventually though you go from, I didn't know what I didn't know to now. I know, but I don't really do what I need to do. As much as I would like to, then I do what I need to do and what I've set out to do more than I don't. So that would be where now I recognize this is my trigger and there is my thought that I want to act out, but now I take action. I put that space or I leave the house. 

And then eventually it's just what you become. And you become someone who is aware of all kinds of thoughts and you entertain many of them, but you still take action on the things that matter. But in reverse engineering in this scenario, the person eventually found himself just going straight into the office or he would go to the gym and shower there. So we have to be aware of that habit cycle. But what I thought was really interesting too, though, is that I was talking with someone not very long ago and I'll change some of the details because this one, I really like this as well. 

This person was really struggling if they would, if they were struggling with a particular unhealthy coping mechanism when they would leave work. And so in that timeframe, they were now aware that is what I need to just get home. That's what I need to do. But then there were times where they didn't and they would still struggle with that unhealthy coping mechanism. So as we broke down the game film, we said to this, let's say this was a female. And we said, okay, she could reach out to a friend. She could call, she could have somebody talk with her on the way home. And that's where she said, okay, I know I don't need to do that. I'm aware now, but then it continued to happen. As we continued to reverse engineer that entire habit cycle, she was able to recognize that it was when there were these particular things happening at work that were overly stressful, where she felt like there was a lack of guidance and direction. And then she would start to feel stressed and then on the way home, then she would just feel like, okay, I can't handle this. And so it sounds like one of these Disney endings, but in that scenario, we were able to reverse engineer what led to this trigger and the thought and the action to the point where she was able to speak up to someone at her place of work and they were able to change some things over time that helped her. But wherever we are, if we have to reverse engineer all the way to, when I walk in my office, I already am triggered because I don't like what I do when my brain starts to think of. I can't wait to tune out with an unhealthy coping mechanism. Then we really need to take a look at even the workplace itself. 

So reverse engineering becomes such an important part of changing that habit, but Adam, back to the article, he says still, it's not easy to break a habit. And he said, nature has made sure of it. And that's what habits are. An essential tool of survival. Without them, the simple task of everyday life would overwhelm us. And he said, Americans spend an average of 43% of each day engaged in tasks that are largely unconscious, that it becomes so automatic that we're able to think and talk about other things while we're doing them. According to research by Wendy Wood, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California. And I think what's really interesting is right now, as I am talking and recording this podcast, I have this forearm grip strength thing that sits on my desk. And I did not even notice that I was picking it up and I don't even know how long I've had it. But I already can imagine I've switched hands and I'm using this strength device just because it's there. It's more of like an ADHD, fidget cube, but gives you a little bit of strength in a sense. But as I'm reading that, I realized that was completely unconscious. I don't even remember where it was on my desk. I don't remember picking it up. And I can tell by the, I guess the pump in my forearms, that, that has been, I've been doing it for awhile. And I've been recording this podcast for a little while. 

So it could have even been right from the start. Habits are a unique kind of a learning system. They're unconscious. So we don't have access to them. And the way that we have access to other decisions, Wendy Wood says, and she said, I think that's been overlooked in the popular press and that gets people into trouble. And again, why I love it. I really enjoyed this article. And here's another reason is because that sentence alone, that I think has been overlooked in the popular press and that gets people into trouble. What has been overlooked is that habits are happening at an unconscious level. So we may not even have access to them the way we have access to other decisions. 

So I go right back to my favorite therapeutic modality, ACT. Where instead of saying, oh man. What is wrong with me? I can't stop doing this thing that I don't want to do. We now say, oh, check it out when this happens. Here's how I react. That's interesting because I can look at that with curiosity. But when I'm beating myself up. I'm still coming from this incredibly. I feel like, emotionally immature way to think I'm going to change is to get mad at myself and then maybe I'll change, but that's not a way to lasting change. I can control my behavior a little bit, that concept of white knuckling through something, but that is not going to lead to a sustained view of change. So understanding habits and learning how to gain some control over them creates possibilities, he says, for making the world a better place, we could all be healthier, happier, less distracted. And he says to hear Wendy Wood tell it, we might even be able to improve the state of our democracy habit hackers. So he says one demonstration of how the neural machinery of habit formation can work against us and how difficult it is to control is the phenomenon of new year's resolutions. So here we are, it's almost the end of February. And he did say it. He says last year, an estimated 40% of Americans resolved to change bad habits starting on January 1st. By the end of the month, roughly one third had already given up. And four fifths will eventually fail, says Katy Milkman, a professor of the Wharton school and author of the book How to change the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be. And what's more, technology has become a potent tool of exploitation in this. Oh, this one gets me, but he says that technology's become a potent tool of exploitation in our consumer culture because of social media, social media companies would use have become so successful at hacking the primitive unconscious parts of your brain involved in habit formation. That much of the world's population is now habituated to checking in with Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram, and their smartphones multiple times a day. 

And I have to tell you, this is one of those things that can just come out of nowhere. I have my daughter Sydney, co-host of Murder On the Couch, soon to be released, has been uploading a lot of video content that I've been creating on Tik Tok. And I have told myself that I will look at Tik Tok on occasion. But it can just suck up hours of your time. The algorithm is, I want to say, so fascinating, but It's addictive. It really is. And now that I have videos on Tik Tok, I told myself, yeah, we'll put them up there. It doesn't really matter. I just like creating content. Maybe it can help some people. And one of them I think is pushing a million views. And so I went from this place of thinking, I don't care to, oh, really? I better go check that out. And so the more I look at that, now I'm commenting or answering some of the comments and people are being hilarious and fun and I'm glad that it's resonating. And then while I'm there, then when you open up Tik Tok, then all of a sudden, I'm watching the videos and I'm scrolling through. And before you know it, I've got my whole feed full of little kids saying hilarious, funny things. People breaking out into spontaneous dance and animals that are doing hilarious things. And now I can't get enough of that stuff. And now I go there, my brain just tricks me into saying, well, just go see if there's any comments that you can answer on one of these Tik Toks. And I even found myself joking the other day, joking. I promise you, joking, but saying to myself, I mean, it's been three or four days since I had a viral video. You know, what's going on here as I'm scrolling through Tik Tok and then forget if you pause on an advertisement. I think I finally stopped getting advertisements for men's soap from the holidays where I made the mistake of looking. And I think I probably fell asleep with one of the articles, the ads for soap, just playing over and over again. 

But that algorithm is just so conditioned to then hit on that subconscious and now we're going back and we're looking and we just feel like we have to now be aware or mindful of not looking. Back to Wendy Wood, she says social media sites are set up to form habits and they do it so effectively that people are responding to cues on social media often without thinking. And again, it says Wood, author of the book, Good habits, bad habits, the science of making positive changes stick, she said they aren't thinking about the consequences of what they're doing. As a matter of fact, they're really not thinking at all. And one of those consequences, Adam says, is the rapid spread of falsehoods through social media networks. So now misinformation has been attributed to growing partisan bias, tribalism, polarization, and other factors. But the true mechanism, says Wood, may in fact be habit, the mindless sharing of sensationalistic fake news automatically often without considering the impact of what we're doing. That's the premise of Wood's new research. She and her colleagues found that habits are highly predictive of whether a user of social media will post misinformation more so than whether or not the poster agrees with it, or even believes that to be true. And they published this work in January and the proceedings of the national academy of sciences. So in four studies, colleagues presented a series of 16 news headlines, some of which were false to thousands of volunteers and offered them the opportunity to share the headlines on social media. The authors assessed partisanship, critical thinking, and the strength of the social media sharing habits. By analyzing past sharing on Facebook and whether they're sharing behaviors seem consistent with automaticity. So in the process of being automatic. So on Facebook, the act of sharing information is reinforced and becomes habitual because users get recognition from others for doing so. Here we go. Now it is that thing where we just crave validation, we still build our sense of self off of external validation, where we need to be able to find what matters to us and not rely on that validation from other people. 

But then she and I think this is so true. She said, once this reward based learning system has formed a habit, the authors conclude then information sharing is automatically activated by cues on the platform without users considering critical response outcomes. So when something becomes habituated, then now it just happens. And there are certain cues that happen on the subconscious. And now you just lean into that habit. Misinformation, she says, is one symptom of a far larger problem intentionally or not. Smartphones seem to be optimized for habit formation, offering a cue in the form of a notification, followed by a reward in the form of an email or message offering a social contact for giving it attention. And many of us are now controlled by them. Many people automatically reach for our phones the minute they wake up or shortly thereafter, and then they check them for email or news. 

So Wood says, you know, it's common these days to attribute these behaviors to addiction, but she said that is inaccurate. She said the habit system is so much broader than that. She said it doesn't require a craving. The habits are a very common learning system that they're not necessarily addictions. She said we couldn't get through our day without habits. So I love the breakdown of that. Something becomes more habitual because I just did a podcast interview on unashamed and unafraid about pornography. And I loved it. I loved those guys. It was so much fun. But right out of the gate, they just hit me with the, so do you feel like, pornography is pornography addiction, and I said, man, I'm gonna meet somebody where they're at, but I feel like if it's an unhealthy coping mechanism or somebody, someone wants to get away from. Then whatever, if they feel like, okay, calling it a habit helps them feel like there's hope. Or if they feel like calling it a habit makes them feel like a less of a person then whatever, whatever works. I just want to help somebody move away from this unhealthy coping mechanism. And I don't feel like I've ever put it as well as obviously these, these wonderful studies. 

But it becomes a habit. That is that it is the habit cycle. Whether we want to call it addiction or we call it, I mean, why this habit, but things are happening based on these cues. And then from that queue, we do things unconsciously. And if you’re like me, you like to nerd out a little bit about the neuroscience of things like habit making, then this next part of the article is pretty incredible. They reference 19 or no, I'm sorry. They referenced an 1890 article. “The principles of psychology.” Where someone named William James introduced the idea that is still at the heart of how habits are formed. So we're talking 130 years later, but it's the study of habits that says that once a habit is formed, a single cue, an idea, or a perception can serve as an unconscious command that kicks off this basically an automated chain of associated movements, which takes place outside of your awareness. Again, this was 1890 when William James wrote about this. So the brain groups multiple complex actions together into a single habit that can be performed automatically. James observed, for example, many people have had the experience of driving home from work and pulling into the driveway without consciously paying attention. And later they don't even remember driving home at all because their thoughts were elsewhere. 

And that's a thing. Now that psychologists call it's storing multiple actions or ideas or thoughts into a single mental file folder in memory. Which they call now chunking. But in this article Adam talks about how the brain can not only perform these complex tasks without our conscious awareness. But it can also learn unconsciously to remember new information. So for example, if you are just walking home from the store, or what is or associated with a weather pattern. And these are things that are just happening at an unconscious level, but you still react to them. But here's where I start talking about the basal ganglia and I purposely held back on even reading more about this because here's where I feel like that concept of what I thought that I knew. And so here's my take or what I like to say about the basal ganglia, which is called the habit center of the brain. It's this little walnut sized part of the brain where when things become habitualized, they're moved into the basal ganglia. And here's the parts where I realized that I think I've put some pieces together that I assume are correct. And that is in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy that we operate from a point of view of the brain as a don't get killed device. And that the brain works in essence off of this fallacy, that it has a finite amount of electrical activity. So as everything it wants to habitualize things, because it will take less effort, less electrical activity. And if you use less electrical activity, then you will live forever, thinks the brain, and the brain in essence is again, a don't get killed device that wants to do whatever it can to live. 

So in that scenario, the more we habitualize things, the more they go into this basal ganglia. And I think that those are the things that happen underneath consciousness, the things that we don't even really have to think about. So with that said, let's talk about what this article talks about with the latest in the brain science of habits. So they say that advances in neuroimaging and other neuroscience techniques have in recent years allowed scientists to watch the way this unique form of human learning operates in the brain in real time with increasing resolution. And then they've also mapped out the process with increasing precision to different parts of the brain structure. So explicit memories, which are the ones that we consciously make, are stored in the seahorse shaped part of the brain known as the hippocampus. But humans are also capable of implicit learning or implicit memory, which is what I quote from the Buddha brain, which is built off of the slow residue of lived experience or what it feels like to be you. And in this article, they say that the brain structures responsible for storing implicit memory, these types of memories and associations reside deep in the primitive center of the brain adjacent to the hippocampus known as the basal ganglia. So our old friend basal ganglia is back. So they go on to say the basal ganglia is the part of the brain that allows us to chew food, brush your teeth without thinking, and ride a bike. That it's also the instinctual quick thinking part of the brain that allows us to make snap judgements in response to sensory perceptions that signal danger. It's also what makes the hair stand up on the back of the neck or a seasoned soldier who unconsciously associates the sudden quiet in a Vietnamese jungle with enemy soldiers about the spring and ambush. And enables a soldier to dive for cover without being consciously aware of the impending ambush. 

So it's a survival tool that evolution has given not only to humans but other animals as well. And this is where I remember one time hearing that things like squirrels and fish are all basal ganglia, that there is no other part of the brain. So they are just acting instinctively at all times. So the basal ganglia is also part of the brain where established habits reside, neuroscientists have observed. That it's activating when animals and human subjects engage in these habitual behaviors. So they say that although fully formed habits are unconscious, conscious thought is initially involved when we form new ones. So you have to be conscious of doing something in order to then habitualize it. Most people, for instance, don't think about how to ride a bike, but they remember where they were when they first learned. And the reason many of us associate habitual actions with conscious thought is because often we remember making the choice at some point in the past to perform an action. So then we put that we associate the choice of when we decided to, when we were riding a bike. That is this conscious thought of that as we were very intentional about that. So then brain imaging studies in recent years have consistently shown that conscious executive control systems of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex are often active in the first stage of habit formation when we perform a new task. So the conscious thought is there when we perform something new. So when we focus the spotlight of our conscious attention on learning to ride a bike or typing in a new locker combination at the gym or area, these areas of the brain become involved in conscious thought intentionally. 

There's this intentionality and complex reasoning. They're all active. And this is according to a person named Elliot Berkman, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon who co-directs the center for translational neuroscience. So then for a habit to take root, not only are we consciously aware of our actions, but then those actions also usually bring a reward. So if you see a bag of potato chips, there's the cue. And you start shoveling them in your mouth. There's the action. And you get this flavor explosion going on and all the pleasure centers of the brain activating. There's the reward. Or then if a headline pops up on your newsfeed, which they refer to as the queue, you repost a new story on Facebook. There's the action. And receive a flood of positive comments, likes and re-shares from long lost friends. There's the reward. So in this first stage of habit formation. And then in the second stage, when we repeat the action, this is what Birkman calls consistent reinforcement. The experience of reward causes our brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine in the basal ganglia. Now all my friends are together. Dopamine, the basal ganglia. So the dopamine kicks off a chemical cascade in the brain that causes the basal ganglia to forge new connections between neurons that over time form into the brain circuitry required to automate a habit. I think that's so laid out beautifully. So there is conscious thought when there's that cue and then you take action and then you get the reward and then that is all then solidifying in that basal ganglia when that reward hits and you get that dopamine bump. And so then the brain says, I like it. Let's keep doing this. 

So then once a habit is fully formed the services of the conscious executive control areas of the brain, they aren't even needed. This stuff's happening now under the surface. So now we can, they say that we're free to direct our limited attention to new things. They say things like the plot of a new TV show we're watching or as we eat the potato chips. So at this point, all the brain structures, the neurological structures involved in the habit shift to what's called this sensory motor loop, which includes the different parts of the brain, the basal ganglia, the areas of the cortex involved in motor control. So what you're doing with your hands, your, your face, your all these. So anytime the neurons are associated with a cue or activated, an example begins with the sight of that bag of potato chips. Or the appearance of a bold face news story on a Facebook feed. They trigger the firing of the neurons involved in the chain of action that bring about the desired reward and that is happening. Deep in our subconscious then, Berkman says the basal ganglia they're well-positioned to form habits because they're connected to the reward regions. But they are also intimately connected with the areas of the brain involved in motor control. So what do you do? This is my take on it then. So then what you do. That's the motor control area of the brain tied with the reward. So if we do things that bring a reward, then that becomes ritualized. He said, if you wanted to have a brain circuit that basically said, oh, this behavior just earned me a reward. Then it is perfect. It's ideally located and that's essentially what the basal ganglia does. So neuroscientists are still characterizing the exact locations of the phenomenon zooming and with increasing precision and resolution on how brain activity in the basal ganglia changes as habits take root. 

They had a paper that they published in March, this behavioral neurologist or neuroscientist Ingo Willem, and his team at the Netherlands Institute of neuroscience precisely tracked the location and the release of dopamine in the basal ganglia during different stages of habit formation in the brains of rats. So it might be someday possible to develop drugs that help in breaking pathological habit loops associated with addiction and things like obsessive compulsive disorder. That's what he told Newsweek. So in his lab, Berkman's been studying personal values. And this is where I think that the ACT stuff kicks in a little bit. But the way personal values and abstract thought might be used to help change habits such as smoking or bad eating by developing techniques that keep personal values. And large concrete goals at the front of the mine. So they remain as salient and powerful as the unconscious cues that activate bad habits. So he says, for instance, if you have a goal like climbing Mount Everest, and the goal feels tangible and salient, he says, then you have a better chance of noticing when you're triggered to say light up a cigarette. The goal in other words, helps break the habit cycle. And that's what I, you know, when I look at things like for the heart or the height of my ultra running career, when I think I did, I'm running a dozen, maybe half a dozen or more races, a year of distances of over 30 or 50 miles. That the training schedule was constant. And I feel like that reward was there almost on a daily basis, not just from the daily exercise, but also thinking about completing one of these ultra marathons, because that gave me the most amazing euphoric dump of dopamine at the finish line. And then even the fatigue or the next few days, the soreness, it was all this odd reward system that made me feel like I'm alive and this is a purpose and values. So I love that description that they give of that if the goal does feel salient. 

And that's where I feel like it's working with a value. If I had a value of fitness, which goes deep in my what it feels like to be me based on me wanting to be around and live and enjoy my kids and maybe seeing some of the people in my family, extended family that have had health concerns, so those are all those things that are part of what my implicit memory is or what it feels like to be me. But he says for run of the mill habits, we don't have to wait for a pill or even Berkman's new techniques. Wood, Berkman, Milkman, a whole host of others who study the phenomenon habits have had plenty of advice that has already been proven to work. So they say that basically to change a habit, the first thing you need to do is rethink your assumptions. So in the lab, they found that not only people tend to overestimate their ability to make decisions, but also they're resistant to the idea that they're operating out of a habit. And that's what I found in my office. There are some people that when they recognize that, oh, this is just a reaction that it's empowering. And there are other people that say, wait, this is a reaction you're telling me that I don't have control. And then they don't look at that as with acceptance of oh, okay. So if I don't, now I need to reverse engineer this habit cycle. And how far back can I go to then start to change the whole process? So in one study, they found habitual coffee drinkers consistently recognized that their coffee drinking was a product of both habit and fatigue. But they consistently overestimated the role of fatigue and conscious decision-making in their choices. What caused them to drink the beverage? They found that habit played a far greater role than the subjects reported. So they may have been associated with fatigue, but in essence, they just were drinking coffee a lot of times because they drank coffee and that's what they do. So people tend to interpret their habits as decisions that they've made, even when we can demonstrate that they're acting automatically on a habit, Wood said. So we found that people are a little resistant to that message. 

And she just said, we all want to believe that we're in control of our behavior because most of our habits work for us. So then we tend to believe our habits are what we would have done if we were making decisions. But then with habits, they're not. That's why we often tell ourselves that if we could only rely on willpower, maybe we can just resist reaching for a cigarette or a cookie, or we would read a book rather than watch TV, but we mistakenly believe that habits or actions we consciously watch unfold in real time. And he hears the meat of this whole thing. I mean, that's if we can accept the fact that this is a reaction to cues that have given us a dopamine reward. Then we can start to recognize that, okay, thank you brain for doing what you thought was best for me, but now I actually have to consciously do something else in order to then change this whole neurological process. So in fact, what it says would often be that by the time we realize we're smoking a cigarette or eating that cookie or watching TV it's too late. Because we've already unconsciously fallen into a well established habit loop and then we've acted. So the most direct and effective way to change a habit, what our use is not to change or police your conscious thoughts, but to change your environment and then attack the cues that set off the habit in the first place.

If you don't have a cue again, if you don't have that bag of chips, if you don't have that opportunity, then you won't set off an unconscious habit sequence. So they, he said, take one common example: many of us by now have developed the habit of mindlessly picking up our mobile phones and checking our emails or texts. So the queue is often an obvious one. We see our phone or we hear a ping or we reach for it without thinking. And the next thing we know, we are doom scrolling. I did a podcast on that long ago. So Wood recommends the next time you're on vacation, placing the phone where you don't see it. You'd be surprised at how easy it will be to avoid checking your phone without those simple cues. If you're dubious, that might be because many popular habit books, Wood notes, conflate habits with addictions erroneously, suggesting that the absence of a phone will elicit a craving. But that is usually not the case. We don't need to check the phone. Or even necessarily want to, particularly when we're on vacation, Wood noted. We simply have trained ourselves to do so when presented with the queue. So that simple idea that we can break habits by controlling cues has wide, they go on to talk about wide public policy implications. Wood and collaborators suggest that it can help solve the problem of habitual sharing of misinformation on social media platforms. And they went on to talk about a study where Wood and the collaborators looked at thousands of active Facebook users, and they gave study participants a questionnaire that assessed the frequency of sharing and the amount of thought put into sharing. 

And those associate, those with weak habits who put the most thought into sharing were almost four times more discerning about what they shared, then those acted more habitually. So the people that just acted habitually just in essence, shared whatever they felt was the queue. It is a headline. So the strongly habitual shares those in the top 15% of active posters in the study were responsible for 37% of the false headlines shared in the study. So when presented with false headlines, those with a strong habit for sharing posted 26% of them. While those with weak habits only shared about 3%. So notably those with strong habits, shared news that challenged their political beliefs as much as they shared news that backed them up. So to change this behavior on a mass scale, Wood and her colleagues argue the social media companies will need to tweak the visual cues associated with news items to reduce automatic sharing and at present the standard manner of presentation, photo source, and headline was sharing response. There's an arrow right underneath. It says, here's how you share. Is designed to promote sharing. And then another recommended change is the way Facebook rewards sharing. Wood talked about the algorithm that determines where content is displayed and user feeds often places the most liked content at the top. Instead Wood suggests that the unverified news content should be deprioritized until it can be approved by moderators. And I know that that can set off a whole argument in itself of who are the moderators and what's their agenda. But I just like looking at this from the neuroscience of how things work. 

How things are habitualized. So in addition, content that seems to be generating disproportionately high rates of engagement from strongly habitual users. Those most likely to share an article, say without reading it, should receive extra verification. Facebook has said that apparently that has already prioritized original reporting from high quality news sources and its feeds. So providing some kind of reward or incentive for users to share accurate information might slowly change that habit. And then I think it's really interesting too. She went on to talk about from this article or from her studies, another option would be to disrupt habitual news sharing by adding new buttons to go alongside the share and like buttons. Such as fact check or skip. So this disruption or changing up the queue would cause some habitual users to stop and maybe just put a pause, which is a big part. I mentioned earlier in my addiction recovery program. So if you've got the trigger, the thought and the action, and really you're trying to find a way to put distance between that thought and action. So you can change cues, which disrupt habits, Wood says. You can also put people through a different learning experience. So they develop different habits oriented more towards sharing accurate information. So I really highly recommend this article. I'll have the link, obviously in the show notes, but I hope that you were, I hope that you saw why I felt like this was so important. 

That even the concepts around things like addiction could be challenged in certain situations. That some things are more just acting on a cue or things that have been habitualized that are working out of our unconscious or subconscious mind. And so just having the ability to address. To be aware that I might just be responding and then I can go back and reverse engineer to really get to that habit. And full transparency, I used the descript editing software that I love. It's what I used to talk so much about. That will let you take out the uhs and the ums and edit audio or video podcasts as if you were editing a word document. I cut out a big chunk and I'm going to put that next, because I realize this is me just going off on a little bit of a curious tangent about social media, about self confrontation, about being authentic. So I just put that here toward the end. So for the next seven or eight minutes, let me take you on my train of thought about some things that I've learned in engaging more with social media over the last few weeks. So if this is the end of your destination, if you want to hear more than hang, hang on there, we've got another seven, eight minutes. But if that is something that doesn't interest you, then I just appreciate you being here. 

And please continue to send your questions and comments and thoughts and spread this episode around if you feel like you can help somebody else. And if you are up for what I would almost call some bonus material or just some thoughts, ramblings of me then hang on because we're going to get to that right now. As I go back to talking about something like the videos that I've been putting out on Tik Tok, I think this could apply to Instagram reels or YouTube shorts. I would feel safe saying that most of the audience that listens to my podcast is fairly active on social media. Not even meaning that they post, but they probably have Instagram accounts and they look at the Instagram and Instagram reels and maybe they are, they find themselves down the rabbit hole of Tik Tok often or Facebook. And as a therapist in this space, I feel grateful for the success of the podcast, but I haven't poured as much resources or time into social media. And I am now thanks to the, my, the yeah yeah agency that's helping me. And, I have a daughter that's helping me put things on Tik Tok. And there's two things I think are really interesting from a place of self confrontation. One is, I didn't even realize that I was doing the acceptance and commitment therapy principle where I was saying, well, if I had time and I put more things out there that I'm sure that it would go well or it, that it would my audience would grow just like these other people, that their audiences are big, these other therapists or maybe coaches that are in the social media platforms. 

But I would say, yeah, but I don't have enough time. I've got a full practice. I've got multiple podcasts. I'm working on another book. I've got a family. So man, if I only had time, so then when I finally hired the Yeah Yeah agency and I have my daughter help me more, what is fascinating is now I am engaging more. And so then I recognized, oh, there was a real fear that if I actually do this, what if it just played to crickets and you can see maybe where the layers of needy were, it needing invalid wasn't needing validation. Was it a fear of invalidation? A fear of failure of an imposter syndrome. So many things that were there. So then as I start to put the content out there more with people that know what to do with that content. There was, I found myself not wanting to look at my social media even more. Because I think of that fear of failure or the imposter syndrome. And then as things started to progress and more followers are starting to come on board and some of the videos and the reels and some of the Tik Tok videos are hitting the numbers that I think I had hoped that they would, but I was afraid that they wouldn't. 

I realize it doesn't matter. And here's where I go with that next is I think that I tried to do this a few years ago. I worry that I really still would have been chasing the likes or chasing the number of new followers and not just trying to put out authentic content and do that just from a place of, I hope that this can help. Not from a place of, I hope people like me and I hope that people will follow me. And I hope that people will share my stories or reels or Tik Toks. And here's where I go with that next, you'll see certain people go from not a lot of followers and then all of a sudden they have a lot of followers. And then it's almost as if you watch this I don't, I don't know if it's an evolution of where the larger they get, the more people comment on posts and there are going to be a percentage of people that are going to say not the nicest of things. And then I can only imagine that the people that find themselves in those spots, all of a sudden if you know, you hear, don't look at your comments, don't look at the comments that people say, but then we're human beings. So it's hard not to do that. And then when you see the negative comments, it's hard to not either go to this place of a man, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe that one person is right and those 99 other people are wrong. And that is interesting. That's one of those cognitive distortions. There are cognitive distortions, there's all or nothing thinking, black or white thinking. There's also a one that we don't talk about enough where you can receive 99 positive comments and one negative comment. And then we assume that that one negative comment is the one that's true. The other 99 people are just saying that because they have to, they're just being nice. 

They don't really know who I am, but the one person, they must be, they must know what they're talking about. And so if somebody is trying to, and this is where I go back to the be someone that they're not, but they're doing it because they simply want validation, external validation, and they are just trying to find a thing that will get people to say, man, you're the best or here's these extra views. That's where I worry that if people are attacking whatever someone is putting out there on social media. That's where the person that is putting the data out on social media, I believe is the most vulnerable because there, they may not even recognize that they don't completely feel a connection with whatever the material is that they're putting out. 

Here's the example. So on Tik Tok, I have been putting out things that I talk about on the podcast. Everything from the expectation effect to the man and a whole metaphor that we're using the wrong tool in certain situations to the drop the tug of war and the rope, a tug of war rope in your fight against the anxiety monster. And telling therapy stories and things that a narcissist would never say. And all of these things that I just, I love and I feel like I can speak from the heart. I can speak off the tip of my tongue. And so one of the videos, for example, the one that's pushing a million views. There’s almost a thousand comments and I would say 90, 85, 90% of them are positive. And it's, so it is validating for people to say the things, nice things about therapy and maybe this helps or what they identify with. But that leaves a hundred to 150 others that are not as nice and kind. And so that's the part where I realize now, if I am commenting on posts, then commenting on the posts, it's really easy to, did it say thank you? And to try to be witty and fun in the comments. But the people that are absolutely trying to get a rise or poke the, poke, the bear, so to speak. Now I look at that and it's like, oh man, that's that makes me sad that they feel like that makes them feel good. Or it gives them that dopamine bump to be able to try to take down somebody that they don't know who is putting out content in the hopes of helping people. 

But I recognize it doesn't affect me. It doesn't bother me. It really is coming from a place of oh, that would be hard if they felt like this video, if it resonated in the exact opposite way as it was intended. And so I'll bless them, but that doesn't mean I want to say oh, yeah, you're wrong. Because then I feel like, oh, now that person is just wanting to engage. And I feel like that almost goes back to this attachment wound, that person is almost saying, hey, I think you're dumb. And then, you know, do you see me? Because if I engage now all of a sudden, yeah. See that guy is super dumb because he doesn't even get how dumb he is and look at how he's interacting with me. And so I just, I really feel that goes back to this concept around authenticity. And that the more you are operating from a place of authenticity, you are working within what is called your healthy ego and healthy ego again is built off of real life experiences. And when you have a healthier ego, and I love talking about people with healthy ego Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, mother Teresa, Martin Luther king. And these people that just feel so confident in who they are and their cause that then that healthy ego is more of this thing that is it's internal. You cannot, you may be able to dent the outside. But you're not going to affect who that person is at their core, because they have had to get to a place through real life experience to get to the place where they are expressing things that they feel confident about, because those are the things that matter to them. They're not trying to just simply say things to get attention or to get validation. I just think that's so fascinating. I think I've watched a handful of people that I have known or been aware of that have had a bit of a, maybe even a meteoric rise in the social media world. And then you can almost feel a negative vibe take over on certain occasions where I think that they are responding to the haters, to the critics, that sort of thing. And I feel like that is coming from a place of them feeling like, how dare you attack my ego. When, if you are coming from a place of healthy ego, then all bless their heart, that they don't see the message that I'm trying to put off. So I just thought that was really interesting. Okay. I am back in real time. If you have hung on there this long, man, I probably should send you something. Thank you for joining me today. I appreciate all the support and taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, the also on Tik  Tok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”. Have a great week. And we will see you next week on the Virtual Couch

Virtual Couch favorite and Tony's daughter, McKinley "Mackie" Overbay, joins the podcast to talk about some big changes happening in her life and how she has been able to do difficult, scary things despite having "all of the emotions." You can follow Mackie on Instagram @beautybymackie and mention the Virtual Couch Podcast for $10 off any service with Mackie. 

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here

New Mackie/Tony Transcript

Mackie: I'm sweaty already. 

Tony: Nervous and sweaty. And what's the Eminem lines? What? You only get one shot. Don't you know that one? You're nervous and sweaty. Mom, spaghetti. What about mom's spaghetti? Mom's spaghetti. But at some point he looks calm and ready. Doesn't he throw up mom's spaghetti at some time?

Mackie: Yeah, that's what it is. There's vomit on his sweater already. 

Tony: Okay. Do you feel like throwing up mom’s spaghetti? 

Mackie: No, I didn't have any spaghetti.

Tony: But you're just a little nervous sometimes. But you know what? That is okay to have emotions, speaking of that McKinley Overbay, welcome to the Virtual Couch.

Mackie: Thank you, Tony. 

Tony: This is so funny. When you guys call me my name, can I just tell you that? 

Mackie: I think it's so funny and so I do it every chance I can.

Tony: Thank you. Does it sound different if I call you McKinley versus Mackie? 

Mackie: Yeah, my brain kind of shuts off.

Tony: Well, same when you call me Tony. Okay. McKinley, are you ready for your record fifth time on the Virtual Couch? Hey, so to sound a little bit dramatic though, I think I had almost called this an emergency podcast recording, but that does sound too dramatic. But you are doing some life things, big, changing things, is that correct? Do you not like the phrase, I used to think this was hilarious, but now I think it was years and years ago, because somebody last week mentioned that they didn't like this phrase at all, but adulting. Are you tired of that one?

Mackie: Not tired of it. It is kind of silly, but it's also, how else do you describe it? 

Tony: Okay. Because I think this is the point. An adulting moment is that, don't you think? 

Mackie: Yeah. Yeah. I don't think there's any other way to describe it. 

Tony: Okay. Because Mackie, what are you doing?

Mackie: Adulting, being a full grown adult.

Tony: By opening your own salon. Your own suite. Okay, well, we'll get to that too. And so the dramatic part, and I tried to tamper that down a bit, was, I was gonna say the last time we recorded, you were venturing out and going and doing hard things. You graduated cosmetology school and that's a whole amazing episode in itself because we talked about how you had felt, even though we were the most supportive parents in the entire world, oh yeah. Ok. I dunno how I like that. But that you even felt like you still needed to do some college and we were saying, hey, go find your passion and then you graduate cosmetology school. You move out to Utah from Idaho and you go to work with somebody that had a pretty established salon and that was scary. And you had all the fears of what if you don't know what you're doing and what if nobody shows up, and what if you don't make any money? And all of those things. And now what are the new fears in starting your own suite or your own salon? 

Mackie: I mean, it kind of goes back to a lot of the same things. Which is funny, but in a different way. Because like, I’m still scared that I won't have clients or I won't be successful or, blah, blah, blah. But I have a little bit more experience now, and I know a little bit more and I know what I'm doing now. So that's good. 

Tony: I love that. That's why I think it is fascinating that you have similar thoughts. But they are, they're similar, yet different, because this last, I guess it's been about a year and a half where you've been working at Ivory, you've been working with and I only know, I always joke about knowing her Instagram name first and foremost, which was Meg Brown Balayage. But that isn't, I don't think Balayage is an official part of her name, is that right?

Mackie: Not that I'm aware of.

Tony: Okay. But you had an amazing experience there. Maybe talk about the last year and a half. What's that been like? 

Mackie: It's been, I mean, it's been great. It was definitely scary and I was pushed outta my comfort zone a lot. Then the last little bit, I feel like I was at the point where everything was good and I was comfortable, and I was just ready for the next thing, the next scary thing. 

Tony: Well, and Meg's been good about saying that, and I love this because I have an intern and the things where if you're doing it right, you want your intern to launch and grow and be successful. And so this was always the plan I would imagine. 

Mackie: Yeah. Ivory was supposed to be a stepping stone into my career. And so then I just recently then took that career leap. Yeah, that spooky leap. 

Tony: Very spooky, very scary. Hey, tell me if this even applies, but I often say “you don't know what you don't know”. Because you, how could you have known, what in hindsight, looking back over the last year and a half, are there things that you didn't even know, that you didn't know, that you learned that would be helpful to share with somebody else, or that are just some interesting things that you didn't anticipate about working with Meg and working in the industry in general?

Mackie: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure there are a million, but like, yeah, on the spot, nothing super specific comes to mind. But in general, that concept that you don't know what you don't know, I think it, I was just thrown into that so heavily because I realized going into this industry and everything, I knew nothing at the beginning, I knew nothing and I seriously said like the first week I was working with Meg full-time in an actual salon, I learned more than I had the last year and a half of being in school. Like just being thrown into the real experience and actually doing it. And so I feel like it is just one of those scary things where, and I was, I would imagine this applies to other careers too, where it's like you just have to do it. Even though it's scary and knowing that as you keep going, you'll continue to learn more and you'll become more comfortable and you can lean into it and it'll be a good thing. But I definitely, yeah, I didn't know anything about the industry, and I think that's normal for certain things. The best way to learn is to just do it.

Tony: It really is. Because even as you're about to go into this new experience, and maybe I'm jumping too far ahead and we can go back, but all the things you had to learn with setting up your business and insurance and business expenses, a business name, all those things, you've just had to figure it out.

Mackie: Lots of things that, again, I just didn't know and there's still, I literally saw a TikTok today of someone who had just opened up a suite like I did, and she was like, okay, number one thing you have to do, get an accountant right off the bat. And I was just sitting there going, I don't have one. And then immediately going into panic mode, adding that to my list and being like, okay, there's another thing I have to pay for and another thing I have to deal with and so it is just that, yeah, just trying to figure out all the things and learning without becoming discouraged and getting too afraid or giving up, you know, which is scary, but again, all those are, the best way to do it.

Tony: I think anticipating now or having the emotional maturity to know that, how could I have known that? And so don't beat myself up about it, and then just be open to whatever that new experience is. 

Mackie: Just add it to the list and be like, I've done all these other things. I can do that one too. But yeah, lots of scary business things and I'm just like a silly little girl and I don't, I don't know anything. 

Tony: But yet, you do Mackie. 

Mackie: But I'm learning.

Tony: Hey I love the story too where you, when you told Meg that you were ready to venture out on your own, because I think this so well illustrates how we can have all these emotions and feelings, even to the point of letting those feelings out, if you know what I'm saying, and then still be able to go through with a scary thing. So tell us that story, 

Mackie: That's such a fun story. No, it's funny, I just, I was a little anxious and I was a little nervous to talk to my boss and so I went to work that morning and I just threw up a little bit because I was scared. Just quick, you know, whatever. No big deal. Did that, went back, gave my boss a quick call. I was like, you know, I think I need to talk to you before something worse happens. So that was, yeah, that was intense. But you know what? I did it and it was okay, and I only threw up the one.

Tony: Which is amazing. Yeah. And, when your mother, we will call her Wendy now that we're using all the formal names, when she was telling me the story about it, I think that day I had said, hey did you hear from Mac? Did she end up telling Megan? And Wendy said, yeah, she did. And she was so nervous she threw up. And I, it's funny because immediately I'm already thinking, oh man. And then that means she didn't tell her and I feel so bad, I think I'm probably pulling up my phone to send you a text. Or, hey, how are you? And then she said, and then she told her and Meg was amazing and it was awesome. And that happened.

Mackie: Nothing to be afraid of. But I think that's a whole thing in itself about life right there.

Tony: It really is. 

Mackie: You just kinda have to do the things and it usually ends up okay. 

Tony: And I love that because I feel like that's been a process for you to acknowledge that, okay, here's the anxiety and I can feel it and I can get frustrated with it. But then it seems like very much very often you then still follow through with whatever you feel like you need to. Has that been a hard thing?

Mackie: Yeah. It's a hard thing and it's something that I deal with every single day, like with my anxiety. That just, every time I have to do anything really, it's like I feel that anxiety and I panic and I think I'm gonna die, or, something horrible is gonna happen. It's gonna be the end of the world. And then so far up to this point, which is something you like to rub in my face all the time, nothing bad has happened. I always say with my anxiety, I say things like, I think I'm gonna throw up or I'm gonna pass out. And you always go, okay, but have you ever? 

Tony: I say it really nice though, right? 

Mackie: Yeah. You really do. You say it's so nice. No, but you really because I'll say, I think I'm gonna pass out. And then you go, have you ever passed out from your anxiety? And then I go, no, and then you just roast me.

Tony: Okay. Very well. Okay. This is funny though. I think that you were telling me maybe it was a psychiatrist or something at one point that had even talked about, okay, in heaven forbid, if you do pass out your body is basically saying, hey, I can't, you're freaking me out, so I just need to breathe, so I'm gonna tap you out for a little while so I can just be on my own.

Mackie: It's one of the most comforting things I think with anxiety. For anyone out there that's super anxious, worst case you pass out, your body does a quick little reset and people even say passing out's kind of euphoric and you just kind of, you know, whatever. And then you come too and you're breathing normal again and everything's fine. 

Tony: Okay. Here's the one that I sound, here's where I probably don't sound as sensitive, Mackie. I think when you'll say things like, I don't feel like I can breathe. I think sometimes I think I'm hilarious when I say, hey, you've been good at it your whole life. I'm telling you right now.

Mackie: You say that to me all the time and I feel like I'm dying in those moments. And then you say that to me and I'm so mad. But you're right.

Tony: Oh, that makes me laugh so much. Now, I'm, now I feel like I'm almost trying to pull things out of you, but I think when we were talking about this just offhand one time, there was also a concept that you had mentioned that had to do with a particular time frame of seconds that were not 15 seconds, but? 

Mackie: Not 25 seconds.

Tony: That's it. No, but 20 seconds. Yes, Mackie. Oh, what was that about? Tell me what you were telling me about the 20 second thing. Because this one, I really have thought about this a lot. 

Mackie: Yeah. This is one thing that's always stuck with me also in terms of anxiety, but I think when we were initially talking about it, it was in terms of when I decided to sign for my suite and go through with it and just decide to quit my job and do this big scary thing is like I do this thing and it's, it's, you looked it up. It's from a, a dumb movie or something, 

Tony: Hey, this is the best. Wait real quick, this story. So it's 20 seconds of insane courage. And then Alex, I was talking to her about it and she said that, yes, she didn't even, I think, realize it was from a movie. I found the movie, it's, “We Bought a Zoo”.

Mackie: I didn't know that either. 

Tony: Yeah, but she said apparently it was Alex and her friends. Well, and it was this legendary or urban legend example of some people that were spying on a kid that had went up to a doorstep situation to kiss a girl. And apparently he didn't kiss her. But then walking away, he just said something like, 20 seconds of insane courage, you know? And then that was then made fun of, I think, for a while. But yeah, it's from the movie. “We Bought a Zoo”. And I don't really know the context there, but tell me what it means to you. 

Mackie: I just think I do this in terms, whether it's job interviews or dates or making big scary decisions, or like whatever it is, it's just the concept that you can do, I mean, you can do anything for 20 seconds, like anything in the whole world you can do for 20 seconds and you'll be just fine. But also just the fact of like those big decisions and those, the big scary part, like the, at the height of my anxious moments, usually if I can just get through the initial whatever it is, I end up being fine. Usually it's more 10, 15 minutes realistically. But it's just the concept that, like for example, if I'm going on a date, it's just getting out the door. Because it's the, when I'm in my apartment, I'm freaking out and I'm like, I can't breathe. And I'm like, I can't go. I'm gonna die, like all this stuff. But then I get out the door, I realize, oh, you're okay. Like you're actually fine. And then the date's usually fine and it's whatever. So it's just that concept of you just you just have to kind of shut your brain off, just for a second, do the thing and then feel the other things later. But in a nice, positive way. Because I feel like it can kind of sound dumb because in terms of, I'm like, yeah, I signed this year lease for my suite and I just shut my brain off to do it. That makes it sound kind of dumb. But if you look at it in a different way, then it's like, okay, instead of leaning into the fears and the anxiety of taking the leap to do this big, scary independent career thing, it's like I didn’t even let myself even think about the scary things. And I had done research prior, I had, you know, crunched the numbers and done it's, you know, yeah. Knew it was a, it would be a good thing. I knew what my budget was, I knew all the good things, but then in that moment just had to say, okay, we're not even gonna think about failing or any of the potential scary things and just going to say, yeah, I'll do it. I'll sign it. Give me the paper. And then you just sign it. And then after. I like called Wendy and I was like, I was like, was that stupid? 

Tony: At that point you want, all you want is validation at that point, right? So at that point it's like, it is not stupid, it’s wonderful. 

Mackie: You don't tell me stupid. But no, and then she reassured me like, no, you knew your numbers, you knew what you could take. Like you knew what you were capable of signing for it. So everything's good and this is what you want and whatever. But all goes back to that, just sometimes you just have to be strong and courageous and have no anxiety for 20 seconds and then you can go back to feeling all your scary feelings. 

Tony: I love it. I can frame that from a psychology standpoint. You know, my favorite acceptance and commitment therapy, there's a researcher I had on Michael Twohig that said, “Happy healthy people spend 80% of their time doing things that are important, not things that are fun necessarily, but things that are important.” And then it was the unhealthy, unhappy people spend 80% of their time, in essence, trying to just seek joyous activities or avoid discomfort. And so, you did things that were important to you and then you can sit back and I say watch the “Yeah, Buts”. The yeah, but what if it doesn't work? And yeah, but it's scary and yeah, but I've never done it before. And all those may be true, but those are not productive thoughts when you're gathering up those 20 seconds of insane courage to do something that you already know matters to you. This is the direction I wanna go. 

Mackie: You know it's a good thing. And it's like you just, it just comes down to like, okay. 

Tony: Yeah, so like if I were to do 20 seconds, if I did 20 seconds of insane courage to eat a ghost pepper Mackie, because you know how my heat meter is, that would be the dumbest thing that I could ever do in my whole life. That or a warhead. 

Mackie: Exactly. So there are things I mean, you can add a million things you maybe shouldn't just, I don't know, get a tattoo in 20 seconds, or there's things that maybe think about it for at least, at least like 10 minutes.

Tony: Okay, is that what it is? 

Mackie: I don’t know the real rules, but you know, that's right. Not everything's gonna be 20 seconds. 

Tony: But as long as it says pa and not ma, or I love pa, then that's okay. 

Mackie: No, as long as you don't forget to think things through. Have plans a little bit, but just also don't let the whole point just, don't let the scary, anxious stuff take over.

Tony: I love it. You mentioned plans. Can we talk about this is one that I feel like will be, I'm so convinced that this, I know I am leading the witness, I am confirmation biasing, I am doing all these things. And so I want you to tell me “back off, old man”, or “it's not that easy”, or those sorts of things. And you may know where I'm going here next, but, so here's that part where, you know, plans, this wasn't your initial plan as a somewhere between 21 and 24 year old human being that you are right now. But I almost feel like who wants to go first? Do you wanna talk about what your plan was or do you want me to tell everybody why I was right? And then you agree with me? Which one? No, you tell me about where you kind of anticipated things at this point? 

Mackie: I really, and I mean, I can blame you and Wendy for part of this because you guys got married when you were 10, and like so did and so did all my friends and whatever.

Tony: Oh that's loud. Sorry for Alex editing the video, that probably just blew her eardrums out. Okay, we were not 10.

Mackie: Whatever you basically were, you might as well have been. You round it up, it's the same thing. But anyways, I just genuinely thought I'd be married by now, which I know is so young and I know it's kind of silly to be like, I am young and that's silly, but full, complete honesty. I really did think that I would, I would be one of those people that went off to college and in my first couple of semesters, meet somebody and then stop going to college and then just got to go be a mom. 

Tony: So get your MRS degree. Am I right? Lemme get that joke in there. That one used to make me laugh is that one's super offensive. 

Mackie: But no, I really did just, and I was like, I thought that was the dream and that was exactly what I wanted. And then all of a sudden I was 20 and I still wasn't married and then I was 21 and then I was 22, and now I'm 23 and I'm not even close. Not even, you know, not even, yeah. Nothing. Nothing coming up. So anyways, so I just thought I'd be married and get to be a mom because that is really what I want.

Tony: And you will be amazing. You'll be amazing at that.

Mackie: It'll be, it's slightly my calling in life to be a mom, I'd say. But sometimes life doesn't always go the way that you planned, well, it never does basically. Never you know, whatever. Yeah. All the things you plan. So that has not been the way that my life is gone, and I always just thought I'd be a mom and then I could do like hair or something with the beauty industry, like kind of on the side, like out of my house or something where it was just, I could choose a day or two here and there and do something that I knew I could be passionate about, but I never thought that I would have to, or I never saw myself being an entrepreneur, like a career woman or a boss lady, or, you know, anything like that. And I just didn't really have any interest in it. And I didn't, I just figured like, oh, I won't need to do that. It just won't be a thing. And then, naturally my life has not gone exactly how I planned it out in my head when I was like 14 or whatever. And I've had to then make this shift of still keeping my goals and my dreams, but then also healthily leaning into something that I know I'm passionate about. Which is all the hair stuff and the beauty industry. And I don't know, it's, yeah, it's been a weird thing, but it's been strange. The best thing that could happen, in a weird way, which is, this is kind of where it starts to become where you're right and whatever. 

Tony: Wait, wait, hold on, hold on. 

Mackie: No, I didn’t say anything.

Tony: I think I heard. I think it cut out. What'd you say? 

Mackie: No, nothing. 

Tony: Oh, I will, I will replay that clip over and over.

Mackie: Whatever. Whatever. But it is the thing that I've learned so much about myself and I've had this opportunity to learn more about who I am, who I want to be, what I want out of life, what I can offer to others, just so many things that I wouldn't have necessarily had the opportunity had my life gone the way that initially thought it would.

Tony: And can I go on a little soapbox rant here for a second? Because I feel like this is where, and it's so interesting because had you gotten married at 10 or 11, like your mother and I, which by the way, I think I was 19, almost 20, and she was 18, almost 19. So very much older than 10. But it was interesting because well, we thought we, you know, we thought we were so old and this is where anybody listening that is already married or young, of course, I'm not saying, wait, you need to break up right now. That's silly, right? Because for some people it works and it's great. But I do, I honestly, and I will speak about this with such passion, but I feel like as a marriage therapist, 1300 couples into this thing, that no one, no, absolutely no one knows what they don't know about relationships. They don't have the tools to communicate effectively. And I do, I call it the crapshoot theory. And your mom and I got lucky that we happen to just like a lot of the similar things and things seem fairly easy. And so then, you know, it isn't until later in your relationship where all of a sudden you start to deal with difficult things and you like each other so it's a little bit easier to work through. So it ends up being okay, but yeah, if there's a lot, yeah. But I'm convinced that, you know, it should be 25 or 30 or something and this is where I know it's gonna sound like I'm saying it just because you're my daughter, but I would say this to anybody, but when people are spending their 19, 20, 21 trying to figure out who they need to be in order to try to keep a relationship or get a relationship that they're not learning who they are.

And so, you have slowly but surely been finding out who you are as you learn to do the things that you like to do and you're really good at. Because I know we haven't even talked about all the opportunities you have to basically be a therapist in a chair. I wanna talk about that and we were talking about when we were kind of doing a little pre-interview, but the stuff where I want to ask you in a minute about why you like doing things like color and just getting to see the change in people. And there are so many things I had no idea that really was behind what you're doing. That I feel like that raises your emotional, emotional baseline really and so you are this different person now and I feel like you're putting yourself now, you're a stronger, more confident person that will now show up in a relationship versus trying to figure out who do I need to be?

Mackie: Well, I, no, I just think because it wasn't, it was something I knew I could be passionate about, but I don't even think I knew, like I didn't, I didn't know what I didn't know. And I didn't realize that that was even, I didn't know what that even meant because I'd hear people say, you gotta find something you're passionate about and whatever. And at the time I'm like, well, I like makeup. And so in my head I was like, I could be passionate about that. I could like it, but I didn't know what that would feel like and what that would look like and how incredible it is to actually be passionate about something and to yeah, get to do it every single day and live like that. And then, yeah, as I'm young and I'm learning and I'm growing and I'm finding out more about myself, it's like I'm able to do that through this thing that I'm passionate about, if that makes any sense. And it's just this kind of unreal experience when I step back and look at it because it is, this is my job. All these amazing things are happening, but it's my job. 

Tony: Tell me about, like, you were telling cool stories about when I was asking about what do you like about the things you do now? And of course I literally sometimes think back to when I used to get my haircut, which was literally 20 years ago and it's, you know, you're doing all kinds of color and extensions and you're spending hours with people, and so talk about that. What are you seeing and doing and what is that part where now you feel like, oh man, I love this. What all is that? 

Mackie: Yeah, I mean, there's, there's so much to it because I think initially it was just, I just didn't know what went into it. Like, you know, in school and everything. I was just like, okay, I don't really get what I'm doing here, but there's so many sides to doing hair that I don’t think people even realize, just from a technical standpoint, there's science to it, and there's like all this, color wheel and canceling things, and there's pH balances and there's like just all this stuff that you don't really think about that factors into it. So you're doing all this like science.

Tony: Because one could do damage, right? I mean, you could damage, do some damage. 

Mackie: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Like fry people's hair off. There's scary things that can happen. So it's like you're doing all this scientific, but then it's also this really artistic creative outlet and I've always been someone who's been fairly artistic throughout my life. That's always been kind of an outlet of mine. 

Tony: Well, can I pause right there, Mac? I don't like, I hate to feel like, I feel like I'm talking over you, but it's like that's the part I didn't even understand the depth of that because I mean, the things like the way you blend things and the looks and then the somebody's head shaped and all the stuff you were telling me about. And I go back to you know, you, you taught yourself music, you taught yourself piano and how to sing and you draw and I mean, poetry, all those things that you've just done that I never realized that creativity or that creative outlet could then be expressed in somebody's whole countenance and appearance. That blows my mind when you talk about that. 

Mackie: Right. And like, same with the makeup and all that. So it's this thing that I've always been low key really passionate about in my life. I've been able to make a career out of it because there is this artistic side and I do just get to zone out and do this thing that I love and I get to channel that creativity. Which is just so fun. But then I'm also doing this technical scientific stuff, which is also fun in a nerdy way. So that's cool. But then on top of all of, I guess two things, I get to make these connections with people that I don't think you, obviously there's a million careers that you get to make connections with people, but there's something different about this career that, and the connections that can be made because it is this kind of vulnerable one-on-one setting, which is kind of weird, but then it's casual. It's so casual and it's so, I mean, people open up and people are just themselves. And again, it's just vulnerable and it's, and so it's like I get to really connect with people in ways that I didn't think would ever happen. I never really thought going into it, like I didn't think about the conversations that I would have and the things I would learn about people or any of that stuff. It never crossed my mind. And then it's all day, every day I'm spending hours with individuals and I get to see them for exactly who they are, and I get to love them and I get to know them and I get to know all this stuff. And so that's a whole amazing thing in itself. So I listen a lot and there is an aspect of it that sometimes feels a little therapy-like, obviously an amateur and it's mediocre therapy that I'd be giving.

Tony: People just wanna be heard though, man, they wanna be heard and they're in this position of vulnerability. I'm not sitting there also holding someone's potential look in my hands as well as you are. So that’s powerful.

Mackie: And so it is just, there's this different side of it there that is just amazing though. And I think it's like you just become friends with everyone you get to interact with. And it's just a positive space. And I don't know, there's just something about it and about those connections that again, I just didn't think would be a part of this career. I thought I'd just be slapping color on people's hair and sending them on their way and like, yeah, none of this personal connection part. And then there's also just this, you get to see, I mean, there's always a big reveal at the end, right? 

Tony: And I never thought about this. What is that like? 

Mackie: Because like I put in hours of work and I've done all this science and art and all this stuff, and then I get to see it come to life. And then I also get to see people's reaction to my hard work, which is fun. It's always fun to feel validated about your own work. But it's also just this cool thing where I do get to see people's confidence shift, or I get to see people kind of feel like themselves again, or just all these little things. Maybe to someone, no offense with no hair, wouldn't really understand. 

Tony: I wish I had it, Mackie. I think that could be fun. A different look.

Mackie: Where it's like, because some people, their hair doesn't mean a whole lot to them, but other people it's, it's really important and it is this really special moment for them and it's their self-care time and it's their time that they get to just take for themselves. The thing I feel like I say the most is anytime anyone apologizes if they're busy or on their phone or I'm always like, it's your time. You do whatever you want. And if they wanna be silent the whole time, they get to be silent. If we just wanna turn up the music, we turn up the music if they wanna talk, like it's, yeah, it's whatever they need. And I get to be the person who advocates that. And I don't know, it's just really special, which I noticed. Some people, they're probably just like, it's just hair. Even people that get their hair done, to some of them, they're just like, it's hair, it's just an appointment, whatever. But there are those really just amazing moments within it and it is just something that I feel like I've got, I've come to be so much more passionate about than I even thought was possible.

Tony: Yeah. No, I love everything about you. No, that was so good, Mac. And I feel like if anybody is listening right now, maybe this is the sneak, sneak sneak preview too. We've been talking about even creating a tiny little workshop around the therapy of the hair chair and that sort of thing. And Mackie and I are at some point we're, we've got some we're laying out the bones of a little course that we wanna put together because I think about that, even what you were talking about there is even if somebody says, I want you, I want your people to be able to, even if they don't necessarily think it's exactly what they want, what an opportunity, because I think this is times where sometimes people don't even really know what they want or what they like, and they are almost probably saying, okay, make me beautiful and probably, I don't know, 90% of the time you do, and that other 10%, then what a time for them to say, okay, yeah, I really didn't even know. So what is it I like about this or don't like about this? And so, in the world of therapy, a lot of times when people say, I don't even know what I want to do, and that's even just a story their brain will hook them to, because in reality, then start doing. And now we'll figure out, okay, I like that. I don't like that. And I was thinking about that with hair. I mean, even if somebody is like, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna go in and self care and I'm gonna do something with my hair. And then I want them to be able to be honest and say, okay, I like some of this. And maybe not all of this because at least now, now they're starting to think. So I think that's, I don't know if I'm even making sense there to a professional.

Mackie: No, you totally are. And yeah, I love my clients that will just be honest with me. You know, they can, and we can have those kinds of tough conversations, kind of a, I didn't like this, but I like this, or we want this and I didn't, you know, whatever. And it's like you do kind of have those conversations which are uncomfortable at times, but good for me in terms of I get to grow.

Tony: I love that, honestly. And this is where, I feel like it's almost like everybody now that the mental health stigma is lessening that your therapist becomes part of your, I don't know, your life and I wanna think your hairstylist or cosmetologist does as well. And that then because they get to know you so well, that then they can say, man, yeah, I don't know what it is about this one that I, I like this or not this or, and feel safe enough. I mean, then that's where I start getting all therapist about it, where you feel safe that you can be open and vulnerable with another human being, because that's where we're so afraid of contention that I think people won't even, won't even bring something up. They'll just go somewhere else. Well, it'll be better over here with somebody else, but in reality, tension is where it’s like, no, we can talk about it. Yeah, talk's, that's a big boy principle right there. That really is. So that's where I feel like, oh, Mackie, you just wait. You've got all the tools and we're gonna solve the world's problems. And I'll take the therapy angle. You got the hair angle, we'll meet in, somewhere in the middle. So with that said and I really appreciate that too, the science part, the creativity part, but you're also nervous and this is a brand new opportunity and so this is where it will sound like the world's biggest commercial and I kind of don't care because I want people to go and see you. So how do they find you at this point? Is that scary? Like how do you get the word out? What do you do? 

Mackie: Yeah. That it's all like social media these days, which I don't know how to do that. Yeah. But no, I just, I have an Instagram. It's Beauty by Mackie.And I'll link all these things under the booking. Or you can message me, whatever. But that's how to find me.

Tony: Okay. And then your place, and I like this too, tell me if this is too much, but you, this is the stuff I've been proud as a father to watch you create the environment that you want to create because you have a very specific, what, a vision of what your salon, your suite will feel like or be. What is that?  

Mackie: My favorite place in the whole world is my bed. That is just where I feel safest. It's whatever. Yes. I know. Crazy. So I just really want that to translate to my suite and my space, and I want it to just be cozy and safe. Like those are kinda my two initial words that I was like, okay, cozy and safe and just really like a safe haven. Like a little, what my bedroom feels like to me. I want that space, and I want it to be a space that clients coming in just to come into and put everything else aside and just get whatever they need out of it. Whether that's, again, sitting in silence and just having a minute to themselves, or talking about all the crazy things in the world, or talking about the heavy things or whatever. It's like I just, I want it to be cozy and safe, and I wanna be able to be whatever they need me to be in that moment to get them what they need and let it just be this good positive thing in their life. Even if it's just this one small thing, a couple hours every, however long I just, yeah. Cozy and safe.

Tony: I forgot also, you are doing different certifications and hollow needle piercing, which sounded scary. And I remember the first time that you called home after that and you said there was real blood involved and things like that, not in a scary way. 

Mackie: No, no. But there was blood. Yeah, so I did get certified in piercings and I plan on getting certified in other things I think later on. But it's just a, it's another fun little thing and it's fun for me to do cause it's like a weird little adrenaline rush to be the piercer. But then it's also, again, just this other, it's just another thing for people to come in and be like, oh, I wanna get a piercing and it's this fun thing for them. And it's like another way to express themselves or have a fun little thing that's just for them. And just another fun thing. 

Tony: When you were at home and maybe doing some of those things, very very safe and very clean, of course. But I loved nothing more than slow motion videoing the person's as the needle went through their ear. And every, I promise, every single time though it was there, the anticipation was so scary. But then it seems like the thing happened and that it was routinely met with a, oh, is that, was that it? And I think that was hilarious. I got to the point where I thought that was really funny to see. So I don't know. I can't imagine what that feels like for you. 

Mackie: It's funny, but that just went full circle back to what we were talking about at the beginning. Things seem really scary at first. And then you do it. And it's not that bad. 

Tony: I feel like that should be a mic drop moment and we just end. That's true. Interesting. Hey, so, but I do also okay. I just have to be very transparent and we had a, I thought, a hilarious conversation when we were talking before, and I was saying, okay, Mackie, you were as gracious to say that if somebody mentions the podcast, you're gonna do what? $10 off. Yeah. Which I think is great. And then I said Mac, oh I think the Virtual Couch wants to pay for the first person who comes and does like a full whatever they need to do, let the Virtual Couch pay for it. And, if I remember correctly, and I don't know if you start it with old man, when's, when's the last time you got your haircut? And I said 2003. And it was by George the barber and literally rest in peace. What a great guy he was. And he was kind and he would, he would move his scissors above my head. I know he wasn't cutting anything and kind of just move his hands through it a little bit. And I thought, oh, bless his heart, he's making me get my $12 worth. And so then I realized that's probably not what we're talking about here. 

Mackie: It has been 20 years since you got that haircut.

Tony: And it was a comb over haircut. Like, it wasn't a haircut, it was like a hair. I don't even know. I don't even, I can't even come up with something funny. Yeah, just a little messing around up there. A little bit silly. Yeah I don't, I know it can be a very expensive process, so then I, but I still told Mackie the first person who does a bigger thing there, I would love to take half of it as a Virtual Couch discount. Where are you located? 

Mackie: I'm located in Orem, Utah. That would help, Utah County for anyone. 

Tony: I love the concepts around trivia. And so the first Virtual Couch client to go to Mackie and then get something done, then we wanna document that on social media and that will forever be in the archives. So somebody there can reach out to you as well. And then it has to be somebody that you've never seen and they want, they, they've reached out cause they heard you on the podcast. I think that sounds fun too. Yeah. Okay. I'm impressed. I really am not just as your father but also as the fact that, holy cow, for some of the things that you've come on in the past and we talked about depression, we talked about some anxiety, we talked about fear and scary things and a lot of people, when I go look at those episodes, and I'm not just saying this because you're here and you're my daughter but I mean, I think I was sharing them with you. I mean, a couple, one or two of them are definitely in the top 20 of all time downloads, one's in the top 10, and that people really have resonated with your honesty and your vulnerability. And so here you are doing scary things and doing things that you didn't anticipate doing at this point in your life. And you're being so honest about not saying, oh yeah, anxiety gone, done. Don't even see it around anymore. Potentially even worse. 

Mackie: No, it’s terrible.

Tony: But then still be able to do these things. 

Mackie: You do it scared. Do it scared and that's okay. 

Tony: Proud, proud of you. Love you. What an impressive human being. This is exciting stuff. Thank you. So, I can't wait. We'll have you back on in a little while and just see how things are going. Sounds good. 

Exercise, meditation, prayer, and eating good food all sound like wonderful, emotional-baseline-raising activities. But depending on how you're doing them, they could also be a way to eliminate unwanted thoughts and feelings. Tony looks at "creative helplessness" and "emotional control strategies" and how they play into our search for happiness. Tony references Russ Harris' book ACT Made Simple

And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App.

Go to to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting And visit and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here


Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 359 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and creator of The Path Back, which is an online pornography recovery program that is helping people turn away from turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism. 

And a funny thing on the topic of pornography, which seems like a bit of an oxymoron, I received some texts a couple from people that are very close to me, who asked me about a post on my social media this week, that there was a mention of cornography that is as in corn, C O R N, or people talking about their corn addiction. Now, this is not a situation where people are literally addicted to the delicious yellow, I don't even know if it's a vegetable or a fruit, but it turns into popcorn, which is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I guess technically I could fall into a bit of a corn addiction if that is the case, but we're not talking about that type of corn. 

Apparently, if you use the word porn or pornography on certain social media platforms, then that will be the end of you. Your account will be banned and you will be sent to outer darkness for time and all eternity. So in order to get around that and to try to help people, because I really feel like we need to be having better discussions around the challenges of people that are turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism, you have to refer to it as corn, corn addiction, and the coauthor of my book, He's a Porn Addict, Now what? An Expert and a Former Addict to Answer Your Questions, Joshua Shea, has a pretty big following, especially on Tik Tok. And he is known as that corn coach or the corn recovery coach. So I am meeting the social media platforms where they are at. And we're just going to embrace it. And I am going to help people turn away from unhealthy coping mechanisms, especially turning to corn or cornography to try to get that dopamine bump and have them tune out from feeling less connected in their relationships with their spouses or in their parenting, their faith, their health or their career. There's your gee whiz file tip for the day that you are going to hear me talk more about people and their addictions to corn. And, again, it is not the fruit and or vegetable. 

But let's get to today's topic. I want to talk about happiness. And before I do that, let me just encourage you to go sign up for my newsletter. Go to And we will not inundate you with spam. As a matter of fact we will most likely, still continue to not send out the newsletter on a regular basis, but I'm working with my friends at the Yeah Yeah agency to get a template together and to just get that word out more on a regular basis, because there are so many exciting things that are coming. The Murder On The Couch podcast with my daughter, Sydney. I don't think I've ever put so much into the backend of putting something out in a better way. And I can't wait to release that. And there's a clip that's on my YouTube channel and I'll put the link in the show notes that is just a couple of minutes and it gives you a little bit of a preview of Sydney and my back and forth in this podcast. And I'm excited about this. We have a lot of episodes that have been recorded. And it's probably not exactly what you are anticipating. There's some true crime meets therapy. There's a, I feel like there's all these other things as well. A father, daughter relationship. And we'll get to more of that down the road, but I would encourage you to be on the lookout for Murder On The Couch and then sign up and subscribe and follow, however you follow all of your podcasts. 

So back to this concept of happiness today, I want to look more into the book ACT Made Simple by my favorite acceptance and commitment therapy author, Russ Harris. We're going to dig into ACT Made Simple. And before I even get to ACT Made Simple, we're going to talk about a concept today in ACT that sounds negative, but it's called creative hopelessness. And I really feel like by the end of today's episode, you're going to have a better idea of why it can be difficult to feel happy. And what real happiness consists of. And then a way to start to achieve more of a legitimate, real internal feeling of happiness. And based on a, probably a different definition of happiness then you may be used to, but first let's go to story time. And this is from the book, The Confidence Gap. And this is from Russ Harris. “Why is it so difficult to be happy?” And actually this might be from his book, The Happiness Trap, one of one or two, one of those books that I recommend them both. Russ said, “The modern human mind's ability to analyze and plan, create and communicate was not initially a feel-good device so that we could tell jokes, write poems or say, I love you.” 

And this is where I often like to think of the concept of a court jester that you had to bring someone in and basically tell them, hey, be funny, make us laugh. And if they were not funny, the court jester could be killed. But that was not the design of the human brain, that it wasn't this feel good device. It was more of a don't get killed device. So Russ said our minds grew up in a way to help us survive in a world that was fraught with danger. So early on your goal was to eat and drink and find shelter and have more kids and protect your family so that you could survive. So truly it was more of this don't get killed device, but he said that the better we became at anticipating and avoiding danger, the longer we lived and the more kids we had. So each generation of the human mind became increasingly skilled at predicting and avoiding danger. 

So now our minds are constantly on the lookout. They are assessing and judging everything that we encounter. Is it good or bad? Is it safe or dangerous? Is it harmful or helpful? But now it's not as much about animals or packs of thieves, but it's about losing a job or being rejected or getting a speeding ticket or embarrassing ourselves in public. Or getting a terminal disease and a million other common worries. So as a result, he says that we spend a lot of our time worrying about things that more often than not, will not ever happen. And on that note before I get back to Russ's “Why it can be so difficult to be happy”, that worry, I think also is tied into just this desire we have for certainty. 

I was talking with my wife about this last night and it can just be really a cause of such stress and anxiety for, I think a lot of us when we just want to know. I mean, it can be everything from, we want to know what our kids are going to do when they grow up. And we want to know what retirement is going to look like. We want to know who's going to win the super bowl in a couple of weeks. And we just have this desire to know, and we crave certainty. And if you really break it down, that desire to know is there to try and calm our anxiety that our brain feels like if I can just know, then I will be able to feel better. And I'll just be that, I'll be able to be more in the moment, be more present, but in reality, we have to be more present to be okay with the idea that we don't know, because we don't know who's going to win the super bowl. We don't know what retirement is going to look like. We can have a good idea. But one of the most certain things in life is that uncertainty. And in the book On Being Certain, which I just, I feel like is one of those books that I think really helped me reframe a lot of the things that I think, and the way that I act. It. Basically posits this idea that certainty is, in my words, “adorable” that our brain craves this certainty and that our brain is even trying to trick us into thinking, no, you can find it if you ruminate and you worry and you think, and you overthink. You'll find that certainty that you're looking for. So just, just keep at it. But then that is exactly what can keep us stuck. And I often say that it's that concept of, we want certainty and our brain will even say, okay, what's two plus two? Well, it's four. And that I'm pretty certain of. That is very certain. 

And so that feeling of certainty is there in our brain somewhere. So I feel like the more that we are seeking certainty, then the more maddening it can become because our brain says no, you know what? It feels like, old man, keep ruminating, keep worrying. And you'll find that two plus two aha moment. Trust me. So we keep worrying and wondering and ruminating. But again, we spend a lot of this time worrying about things that more often than not, will not happen. So then Russ says that we also have this inherent need to belong to a group. And early on, if your clan booted you out, how long would it be before you were devoured by wolves? And he says sometimes, literally. So, how does the mind protect you from getting booted out? Well, by comparing you to other members of the clan. Am I fitting in? Or am I doing the right thing? Am I contributing enough? Am I as good as others? Am I doing anything that might get me rejected? So he says, does that sound familiar? Because our modern day minds are continually warning us of rejection and comparing ourselves to the rest of society. So no wonder we spend so much energy worrying about whether or not people will like us. 

And even as little as a couple of decades ago, we only had to worry about the people in our church or in our neighborhood or in our school or in our work. But now all we have to do is pick up our phone or glance at a computer screen. And we can find a whole host of people who appear to be smarter, richer, slimmer, more famous, more powerful than we are. I can't even tell you, I feel like even more so over the last two or three years I've always had people come into the office and say that they see people on social media and everybody seems so happy and successful. And that's where as a therapist and when I get to work with so many of these people, and I will say, we all have our problems, without going into detail or breaking confidentiality. And it's interesting because I feel like that has amped up a little bit more in the last year or two of people putting on some very, very big “look at us”. We are doing everything and it's amazing and wonderful. We have no problems or no fears or no worries or no doubts. To the problem where then others are seeing those people put themselves out there as perfect. And then starting to feel again, like what is wrong with me? So I think that's exactly what Russ Harris is talking about. Because if I go back to this, he says that “When we compare ourselves to others, then we can feel inferior or disappointed or sad and depressed.” And then he said, “And to make it even worse,” and this is the part that I felt like it resonated with me in particular, “our minds are so sophisticated that we can even conjure up a fantasy image of the person that we believe we would like to be. So we can even compare ourselves to a version of ourselves that we assume would be much happier. And that just sounds exhausting. So, what he's saying in that scenario is I can even create this version of me that has these rock hard, six pack abs probably full hair transplants, no wrinkles, and then just able to quote the works of Shakespeare, as well as the works of ACT founder, Stephen Hayes, and then make sense of all of it. So why am I not that guy? What is wrong with me? I must, I must strive for that. Perfection. And so that is part of why it can be so difficult to be happy. So again, the brain is a don't get killed device. 

And I will take every chance I can to then go from there and to the book Buddha Brain, where the author Rick Hanson says, “but here's the problem there too, that your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences more than anything else,” he says, “the brain is like Velcro for the negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones.” So consequently, even when positive experiences outnumber the negative ones, the pile of these negative implicit memories grows faster. So then this background feeling of what it feels like to be you can start to become undeservedly glum and pessimistic. So we seek this certainty. Our brain is this don't get killed device. Not a, I am falling in love and everything in the world is wonderful and amazing device. And so the acceptance of that is where we can start to grow. And now let's jump into this. What Russ Harris calls in the book ACT Made Simple, “the emotional control agenda”. So if we just, again, start out with, I just want to be happy. In the book ACT Made Simple, and I'm on chapter eight, he says, “Have you ever had a client who just wanted to be happy? And that is all that he or she wanted from therapy?” And he says, “Of course you have. And I'm sure you remember well, how challenging that is, or that was luckily from now on,” he says, “you will have something to help you with these clients. Creative hopelessness.” 

And he says, “Please don't let the name put you off.” So creative hopelessness in a nutshell, in plain language, he says that creative hopelessness is a process where one becomes aware that trying hard to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings tends to make life worse than better. So this is that concept where, when we are burning all these emotional calories seeking certainty, or trying to make sense of things that don't make sense or trying to prepare for a future version of events that more than likely will not happen, that is what can just start to feel like what is wrong with me, or I just don't feel happy. So that leads to this sense of hopelessness and the agenda of avoiding one's difficult thoughts and feelings. And out of that feeling of hopelessness can emerge a creative attitude toward finding new and different ways to deal with them. So if we look at hopelessness as where we find ourselves, when we're trying to control or avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings that can feel hopeless. We need to start to add a dose of creativity in there because now that I accept the fact that it feels that things can feel pretty hopeless. Well now, what am I going to do about that? So hopelessness, here we emerge a creative attitude toward finding a new and different way of dealing with this situation that we find ourselves in. 

So Russ says, “The aim then is to increase the client's awareness of the emotional control agenda and the costs of the successive experiential avoidance,” which again, is doing anything other than the things that you feel would be good for you to do. And then to consciously start to recognize and acknowledge that clinging tightly to this agenda of control. This emotional control agenda is unworkable. So what do we have to do? We have to confront this agenda that you have, that you can control all of your thoughts and feelings and emotions. So while we look at what the client has done to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings as a therapist, we start to help somebody examine how they work in the short-term and the long-term. So sometimes avoiding something works in the short term because it alleviates the feelings of uncomfortableness or anxiety, but then how's that working in the long haul? If you can avoid something in the very moment, then what do we typically do? Well, we'll do it later. We'll put it off until tomorrow. And if we hit the mid part of a day, then we'll do it tomorrow. And if we hit Wednesday or Thursday, we'll do it on Monday. And if we hit the 16th of the month, we'll do it next month. And when July hits, we'll do it next year. So when we know or suspect that a client, you know, as a therapist is excessively experientially avoidant and doing everything other than the things that they are claiming that they want to do, you recognize that they are so attached to this agenda of emotional control. They're saying, well, I need to feel good. I need to feel good before I can do these things that are important. Or I need to get rid of these unwanted thoughts and feelings, and then I can do it. But in reality, we have to do to actually start to feel good. Or we have to do, to bring along these unwanted thoughts and feelings. And show them actually, who is boss. 

So this creative hopelessness, it's part of the ACT model that we bring. If we know for a fact, or we feel pretty sure that a client is really cleaning tightly to an agenda of emotional control, that I have to control how I feel I have to get rid of these unwanted, unpleasant and difficult thoughts or feelings or emotions or memories. And I have to replace these things with good, pleasant, desirable ones. Here is one of those problems that I really do have with the mental health field in general. And I was one of these therapists for years, that just said, okay, but what is going right for you? Or, you know, that thought leads to an emotion and that emotion leads to a behavior. So just change the thought, like you just need to be happy or if somebody doesn't call you back, instead of being frustrated or angry, just think, oh, maybe they dropped their phone in the lake. Maybe that's it. And so that would lead to an emotion of, oh, okay maybe I'm not so bad in the behavior. I can go about my day. 

But then the person might leave the office and think, wait. I just paid for that guy to tell me that maybe my friend dropped their phone in a lake when in reality, I think that my friend just doesn't really care for me. So in other words, we can try to just say, okay, don't think that, or we can try to say, well, maybe it's not as bad as I think it is. And at that point, maybe I'm wrong and maybe everybody does love me and they just all forgot about me and that's completely okay. But in reality, we're still trying to control. We have this agenda of emotional control that I have to control how I feel. I have to get rid of the unwanted or unpleasant or difficult thoughts or feelings or emotions. And I just have to replace them with good and pleasant and desirable ones. So Russ says we've all got this agenda to some extent. It's normal. And we even talk about when you really dig deep and to act as much as I like to talk about this concept of experiential avoidance, and that's doing anything other than the things that I feel like I want to do or must do. That in reality, a little bit of experiential avoidance and moderation doesn't ruin our entire lives or our days. 

But when a client is clinging desperately to this agenda of trying to have this emotional control, well, then at that point, then the experiential avoidance is high. And at that point it really does become very problematic. And again just by way of making sure that I realize I assumed that everybody has listened to everything and they know exactly what experiential avoidance is in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy this is a really powerful concept. So experiential avoidance and I'll stay in this text of ACT Made Simple. So Russ Harris says, “Let's look at another core process that gets people hooked on their thoughts and their feelings, it's experiential avoidance, and this term refers to our desire to avoid or get rid of any of these unwanted experiences and then anything that we do to try to make that happen.” Now these experiences in ACT, we call them private experiences and a private experience means any experience that you have that nobody else knows about unless you tell them. So that's your thoughts, your feelings, your memories, your images, your emotions, your urges, your impulses, your desires, your sensations. 

So all humans are experientially avoidant to some degree. And why shouldn't they be? And there's an ACT metaphor that explains this I think in a little bit more detail, it's called the problem solving machine. So as a therapist, I would say if we had to pick one ability of the human mind that has enabled us to be so successful as a species, it would probably have to be problem solving, which basically boils down to this. A problem is something unwanted. And a solution means we avoid it or get rid of it. Now in the physical world, problem solving works really well. If you have a wolf outside of your door, you get rid of it, either with rocks or you throw spears at it. Or you shoot it, or if there's snow or rain or hail, when you can't get rid of those things, but you can avoid them, hiding in a cave or building a shelter or wearing protective clothing. So a dry arid ground, you can get rid of it by irrigation and fertilization, or you can avoid it by moving to a better location. 

So the human mind is a problem solving machine and it's really good at its job. And given that problem solving works so well in the material world, then it's only natural that our mind tries to do the same with our inner world. So this world of thoughts and feelings, memories, and sensations and urges. But unfortunately when we try to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts or feelings, it doesn't work. And if it does, we end up creating a lot of new problems that can make life even harder. So experiential avoidance then actually increases our suffering. So he says we'll return to this problem solving machine metaphor later, but for now, consider how experiential avoidance increases suffering. Addiction provides one of the most obvious examples. So many addictions begin as an attempt to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. Such as boredom or loneliness or anxiety, guilt, anger, sadness. So in the short run, gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, cigarettes, will often help people to avoid or get rid of these feelings temporarily. 

But over time, a huge amount of pain and suffering results. So the more time and energy that we spend trying to avoid or get rid of unwanted private experiences, the things that are happening internally to you, your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your beliefs, all of these things. The more we're likely to suffer psychologically in the long run and, and things like anxiety disorders. He says provide another good example. It's not the presence of anxiety that creates an anxiety disorder. Because after all anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experienced. Anxiety can be there as a warning. It truly can. But at the core of any anxiety disorder lies this excessive experiential avoidance. Of trying to avoid or run away from these feelings, thoughts, uncomfortable feelings that are happening inside of us. So Russ Harris says a life dominated by trying hard to avoid or get rid of anxiety, that actually then increases your anxiety. So he says, for example, suppose I feel anxious in social situations. So in order to avoid those feelings of anxiety, I stopped socializing. But my anxiety gets deeper and more acute. And now I have a social phobia. There's an obvious short-term benefit of avoiding social situations. They get to avoid anxious thoughts and feelings, but the long-term cost is huge. You become isolated. Your life quote gets smaller. And then people find themselves stuck in this vicious cycle. And he says, alternatively, I might try to reduce my anxiety in social situations by playing the role of a good listener. 

So I become very empathetic and caring toward others. And I discover a lot of information about the thoughts and feelings and desires of other people. The other people I'm talking to, but I reveal very little or nothing of myself. Again, this helps in the short term to reduce my fear of being judged or rejected. But in the long term, it means that my relationships lack intimacy or openness or authenticity. Now Russ goes on to say, he says, suppose I take Valium or some other mood altering substance to reduce my anxiety. Again. The short term benefit is obvious, less anxiety. But the long term costs of relying on he quotes “benzodiazepines or antidepressants or marijuana or alcohol” to reduce our anxiety, could include A, a psychological dependence on the substance, or B, even a physical addiction, C, physical and emotional side effects, and D, financial costs. And failure to learn more effective responses to anxiety and which therefore maintains or can even exacerbate the issue. So he says that another way that I might respond to social anxiety would be to grit my teeth and socialize, despite my anxiety, that is to tolerate the feelings, even though I'm distressed by them. 

So from an ACT perspective, and this is what I love. I love this about ACT. That sounds like that exposure. I just need to get in there and do it. But from an ACT perspective, this too would be experiential avoidance. Why? Because although I am not avoiding the situation, I am definitely struggling with my feelings and desperately hoping that they'll go away. So this is tolerance, not acceptance. And there's a big difference between tolerance and acceptance. He says, “Would you want people you love to tolerate you while you're present, hoping you'll soon go away and frequently checking to see if you've left yet? Or would you prefer them to completely and totally accept you as you are with all of your flaws and foibles and be willing to have you around for as long as you choose to stay?”

So, Russ Harris says the cost of tolerating social anxiety, that is gritting my teeth and putting up with it, is that it takes a huge amount of effort and energy, which makes it hard to fully engage in any social interaction. So as a consequence, you start to miss out on much of the pleasure and fulfillment that accompany socializing of just being in the moment, being present, observing, noticing, being open, vulnerable, funny, charismatic, connecting. This in turn then will increase your anxiety about future social events. Because you're already predicting that I won't enjoy this or it'll feel awful or it's too much effort. He says, “Sadly, the more importance that we place on avoiding anxiety, the more we deeply have anxiety and we develop anxiety about our anxiety.” And it becomes this vicious cycle and it's at the center of any anxiety disorder. Because he says after all, what is it? The core of a panic attack, if not anxiety, about anxiety. So again, attempts to avoid unwanted thoughts and feelings. I can actually increase them. There's the paradox. 

For example, research shows that suppression of unwanted thoughts leads to the rebound effect, meaning that it will increase the unwanted thoughts, both in intensity and frequency of the unwanted thoughts. Other studies show that training to suppress a mood will actually intensify it in a self amplifying loop. So there's a large and growing body of research that shows a higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders. But again, that doesn't mean you can just jump in there and just exposure therapy yourself into happiness. Because is that tolerance or are you truly learning to accept and be in the moment? So talking about this growing body of research, showing that higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders, excessive worrying, depression, poor work performance, higher levels of substance abuse, lower quality of life, high risk of acting out sexually can lead to concepts like borderline personality disorder, or a greater severity of post-traumatic stress disorder. Long-term disability, higher degrees of overall psychopathology. So it's hardly surprising that he says that then a core component of most ACT protocols involves getting a client in touch with the costs and futility of experiential avoidance. I mean, this is often an essential first step to pave the way. For a radically different agenda, experiential acceptance. 

But, of course, you know, that is going to take work. And I'm not trying to say that just because you're aware, hear what I'm saying, that is going to be easy because it's going to be a little bit of a long road ahead. But then what's the key? It is learning how to figure out what matters to us. Here comes those values. And then throw in a nice dose of mindfulness and learning how to pause and slow down your heart rate and get out of your fight or flight of your brain, your amygdala. And learning how to be in the moment and live by things that are of value and importance. But that doesn't mean that your anxiety goes away. As a matter of fact, it'll probably still be there. But you'll learn more of a concept around acceptance. And not that you have to then have this avoidance. 

So back to this concept of creative hopelessness. So now we can maybe understand a little bit more where creative hopelessness gets its name. Because what we aim to do is to create a sense of hopelessness in the agenda of controlling your feelings. So it's not about hopelessness in your future or yourself or in your life. It's hopelessness and the agenda of controlling your feelings. Therefore let's get creative. So we aim to undermine this agenda so we can open our clients as therapists up to a whole new one and agenda of acceptance. And a lot of the ACT textbooks often refer to this new agenda as willingness. So once we identify the hopelessness of trying to control, let's get creative and let's start to lean into willingness. That is the willingness to have your difficult thoughts and feelings. As opposed to fighting with them or avoiding them. So creative hopelessness is rarely a one-off intervention. Russ Harris says, “It's usually something you need to revisit session after session as a therapist. But usually each time you revisit it, it gets a little quicker and a little easier to do.” And so, it's interesting and I love before he goes deeper into the concepts around creative hopelessness. He says, okay, we need to get clear on a couple of concepts. So one is the emotional control strategies. 

So emotional control strategies or anything that we do primarily to try and get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings or overt or covert behavior that's predominantly motivated by experiential avoidance. So these emotional control strategies can include everything from exercise, guilty, prayer, meditation, alcohol, heroin, suicide attempts. And he makes a note that if exercise or prayer or meditation are predominantly motivated by values, then we would not call those emotional control strategies. So, I have a value of fitness. That's a core value of mine. So exercise is a vehicle. So I moved that into, okay. That is living my value based life. If I am turning more to exercise instead of ruminating, worrying, beating myself up about things. So you really call things emotional control strategies, only if the main intention of those activities is to avoid or get rid of unwanted feelings. And creative hopelessness work will ask a client to look openly and non-judgmentally at all the emotional control strategies that they're using, but we don't judge those as good or bad or right. Or wrong or positive or negative. 

Because we really want to just see if those strategies are working or not in terms of creating a better life. And this is where I love the fact that at the core of ACT is you. You are you, you are the only version of you and we can take in data from the peanut gallery or those that we really do appreciate and care about, and we do want to know what other people think it's just kind of in our nature. But ultimately you're the only one who knows how you feel. So I may ask others for their opinion or what do you think I should do or do you think this is good? But at the end of the day, this is where ultimately you and I love that you can look at a concept like exercise. And is that an emotional control strategy or is that a value? And that is completely up to you. And when I talk about value based living, I give this pretty dramatic example of a value of honesty, that if you grew up in a home. And that home, there was no honesty. Then you may have a value of almost, I want to say brutal honesty. But then your brain is going to say, okay, well, yeah, but you might hurt somebody's feelings. And in the world of ACT, well, I'm not even arguing that, that's not, we're not arguing the truthfulness of that statement. It may very well be true and probably is true, but is that a workable thought toward my value based goal of honesty? 

But if you grew up in a home where there was an insane amount of brutal honesty, then maybe you have more of a value of compassion. So then your brain is going to “yeah, but” you and say, well, yeah, but you may not be honest. And at that point, then if you are the only version of you and you know what that means for you, then I'm not even arguing if that's a true or false statement. It's true. I'm not going to be completely honest at times because I have this value of compassion. So I love that we can even carry that over into these emotional control strategies that something like exercise. Is it a value or is it an attempt to control or move away from our run from your emotions? He talks about targeting all emotional control strategies. So, in a word, you know, Russ says, do we target all emotional control strategies? And he says in a word, no, with a whole bunch of O's. Because he says, “Recall that the whole ACT model rests on the concept of things being workable, workability.” 

So is this behavior working to help you build a rich and meaningful life? So if your emotional control strategies are working to enrich and enhance your life, then keep doing them by all means. Keep doing the exercise away. If you have a value of knowledge, then Google everything. But if you do not have a value of knowledge, then Googling things can be a form of experiential avoidance. He said, “However, the reality is that most human beings overly rely on emotional control strategies. And when we use them excessively rigidly or inappropriately, our quality of life will suffer.” And he says, take eating chocolate for an example. He said, when we mindfully eat a piece of good quality chocolate appreciating and savoring it, we feel good. Assuming that we like chocolate. So if we use this as an emotional control strategy, flexibly and moderately, it enriches our life. It is workable, but if we do it excessively, then it might start to have a cost of health, such as weight gain. Plus if we are in intense, emotional pain and we eat chocolate to try and distract ourselves from it, then it's unlikely to work. And I love that he then goes back to this example of exercise, and for example he says, when we exercise, we often feel better. At least afterward. He says, if not at the time.

And exercise also improves our quality of life. Therefore, if we exercise as an emotional control strategy and we do so flexibly and moderately, then that's generally workable and good. But if it becomes excessive, like the client with anorexia spends three hours a day in the gym to keep their body in a state of wasted thinness, then even something as positive as exercise will have its costs. And in addition, he says, ACT postulates that even life enhancing activities such as exercise or meditation or healthy eating will be more satisfying and rewarding when they're motivated by values such as self care. Rather than being motivated by experiential avoidance or trying to escape these unwanted feelings. And I will say openly and honestly that the reason, I so appreciate talking about ACT and exercise in this framework, as a former ultra marathon runner and running a dozen races of a hundred miles or more and six times around a track for 24 hours and doing up to 125 miles. And I don't know, a hundred, 150 marathons and ultra marathons, that I know that there was a period of my life and it was when I was doing a career that I really didn't care for in the computer industry that I didn't even know how much that I didn't enjoy that. Because I didn't even know how much I would enjoy doing something that I find value in of therapy, writing, podcasting, or helping people. I now understand that that was why I turned to ultra marathon running. In that scenario, then my exercise was a form of experiential avoidance, trying to escape feelings. And then there is nothing quite like the pain of mile 80 at two in the morning of a race when you even question your own sanity of why on earth am I doing this? 

And heading down a little hill, the feeling in your quads or a calf. So just the, I can't even describe what that feels like, but boy, I'll tell you what I'm not thinking about in that moment, going back to work on Monday. So I know that that exercise in those moments truly was a form of experiential avoidance. He also gives the example. He said, for example, have you ever eaten yummy food primarily to push away feelings such as boredom or stress or anxiety? And a few weeks ago, I did an episode, I think I called it “The Psychology of the Churro”, and I really had that feeling in Disneyland recently. It was fascinating that if I was bored, I could go get a churro and it would be amazing and it would push away those unwanted feelings of boredom and it was a satisfying experience when I can slow myself down. But then at that point, when that was my third or fourth chiro after eating also the beignets and also eating whatever huge lunch that I had, not so satisfying. So he says, contrast that with occasions when your eating was motivated by value is around savoring and appreciating your food or connecting and sharing with loved ones. And which one was more rewarding, you know, was it inhaling a churro? Or was it sitting and enjoying an experience and savoring a meal with loved ones? 

Similarly, he said, if you do charity work motivated by values, around sharing and caring and giving and helping you'll likely find that far more rewarding than if you're mainly motivated by trying to avoid feelings of guilt or worthlessness. So if you are giving to the homeless man on the corner, because you feel guilty, that's going to be a completely different experience than if you are giving to that person, because you have a value of charity. So then as therapists, we try to help clients take action guided by your values, rather than by experiential avoidance. Rather than trying to just avoid these feelings or thoughts. So we want to get clients consciously moving toward what is meaningful rather than simply running from what is unwanted. So he said to really hammer this point home, suppose you exercise primarily motivated by values, such as self care. Or you pray motivated by values around connecting with God. He said we wouldn't class those as emotional control strategies because your primary aim isn't to control how you feel. But we would classify them as emotional control strategies. If your main purpose in doing them is to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. You know, I work a lot in religious contexts with the concepts around scrupulosity which is this OCD of religious thought. So if you go back to the way that Russ just pointed that out, if we pray and we do spiritual things, because we have a value around our spirituality or connection with God, then that's a completely different experience of prayer or confession. As a purpose of doing that to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings of guilt or shame. 

So then back to this creative hopelessness as an intervention based on workability. We're going to ask a client to take a good, long, honest, and mindful look at all of your emotional control strategies and see what they cost you. I would love for you to connect with the reality that our emotional control strategies often work in the short run to make somebody feel better, but they don't work in the long run to make your life rich, full and meaningful. So I said at the beginning that I wanted to challenge the definition of happiness and this by no shock comes from another Russ Harris book called The Happiness Trap. And there are two definitions that he mentions. And the happiness trap of happiness. And I feel like these are again some of those times where I don't want to just say that the light bulb came on the concept around why I just love acceptance and commitment therapy so much, but there are two very, very different ideas of happiness in the world. So Russ says, “What exactly is happiness? We all want it. We all crave it. We all strive for it. Even the Dalai Lama has said the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. But what exactly is it?” He said the word happiness has two very different meanings. The common meaning of the word is feeling good. In other words, feeling a sense of pleasure or gladness or gratification. We all enjoy these feelings. So it is no surprise that we chase these feelings. However, like all human emotions, feelings of happiness don't last. No matter how hard we try to hold onto them. They slip away every time as we'll see a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is in the long-term, deeply unsatisfying. 

In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. This is that concept of where “I'll be happy when”. I'll be happy when I get a hundred grand, I'll be happy when I get a nice car, I'll be happy when I graduate college, I'll be happy when I have a family. And while those things may bring this pleasurable feeling, but then like all good feelings in the long term, they go away. And so then we're chasing the next good feeling. The next good feeling. So he says the other far less common meaning of happiness is living a rich, full and meaningful life. So when we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, we move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy. And we clarify what we stand for in life and we act accordingly. Then our lives will become rich and powerful and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. 

And he says this isn't some fleeting feeling. It's a profound sense of a life well lived and all those such a life will undoubtedly still give us many pleasurable feelings. It'll also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness and fear and anger. Because again, like we've talked about today, the goal is not to avoid those and not to try to run away from those. Because he says, this is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotion. So this is that part where I just feel like I want to shout from the rooftops. I want to testify. I want to sing the praises of just finding the real version of you, what it means to be you, your values. What you are all about, what you like, what you don't like. And the more you can learn to find that what really makes you tick and understand that is still going to come with all the highs and lows and ups and downs in life. But as you start to take action on the things that matter and really lean into your values and then acknowledge the fact that if I am experientially avoiding things just to avoid pain or discomfort, then I'm going to continually live in this world of fear and avoidance. But when I learn what really matters to me and I start to lean into what it feels like to be me, is to take action on the things that matter, the anxiety or the fear isn't going to completely disappear. But you're going to start to create a whole new relationship with it. And it is just going to become another thought or another feeling. And there it is. And I have lots of thoughts and I have lots of feelings. But I'm starting to do, I'm starting to do things that really make a difference for me, or matter for me. 

And that will allow me to be more present in my life. And that is back to this definition that is feeling this full range of human emotion. But it's also going to just give us this profound sense of a life well lived, and I cannot say enough that that is something that we don't know what that is like until we do. And so it is worth it to take the effort and work to get to that point and really find this just true happiness in life, because I know that life can be challenging and difficult to say the least, so that's why I desperately want to talk about ACT every chance I get, because I want each and every one of you to have this profound sense of a life well lived because it does make everything just more worth living. 

Taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented Aurora Florence, and it's more than ever, I feel like the song “It's Wonderful” is needed when we talk about things, the way that we talked about them today, because when you start to figure out what it feels like to be you, then in fact life really can be wonderful. All right, we'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch.

Tony tackles an essential skill needed for lasting change, "cognitive flexibility," from the book ACT Made Simple - Second Edition by Russ Harris

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Hey everybody. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Festivus, I can't remember if you say Merry Festivus. Happy Festivus, but it is that time of year. And what time of year? Well, I feel like people coming into my office are either experiencing a lot that is going on that can feel very overwhelming or possibly the opposite of that, not enough going on, which can feel a bit underwhelming, but either way, that familiar pang of the holidays can bring around the old familiar, and you may have guessed it, what's wrong with me? What's wrong with me that I simply can't feel grateful or appreciate what I have? Or why doesn't anybody reach out to me? Or if I didn't put myself out there to my fill in the blank? Family, friends, neighbors. Nobody would even notice me or what's wrong with me that another year has passed and I don't feel like my marriage has improved or my parenting is any better, or my financial situation is any different or I'm in the same place financially or worse than last year.

And so I think a lot of us right now feel like we are moving past this almost the great pause of the pandemic is over, so either we should already be in a much better place or again, fill in the blank, our relationships, our jobs, our finances, our health, our faith, any of those things should be better. But the truth is, most likely we will be finding ways to continually beat ourselves up. And we are constantly playing out the “what's wrong with me?” dialogue. And to make matters worse. Well, let’s not say worse. Let's reframe it and say what makes things more challenging is that, as I've shared before, our brain is a don't get killed device and its default programming is to keep us in a constant state of fear and anxiety because it really does think that it's clever the brain that is, that it thinks that's what's best for us. And it doesn't give much of a rip about whether or not you have a happy holiday because to your brain it's check, another year down. Let's just keep kicking that can of change down the road because as your brain is thinking, I can't trust this guy all talking about change. What if that change comes with somebody abandoning him, or what if that change comes at the cost of his physical health? I mean, if I let my own brain, literally my brain do its thing, it's probably telling me, okay, okay. Yeah, you ran a little further than you have in the past few years, a few weeks ago. But, really? You're thinking about ultramarathons again. Can't we be happy with just a nice 5k, maybe a 10k? Seriously, you're 53 years old, in the Middle Ages you'd be sending a carrier pigeon to the Guinness Book of Worlds Records at the time to come etch your story on some stone tablets of how is this guy still walking around past the age of 50? I mean, what are the secrets to this insane longevity? So how about we dial back that enthusiasm and look, there are so many great shows on the streaming services and food is really tasty these days, so let's just relax a bit. We'll tackle those new things later, but for now, let's just get back to the worrying and comparing all that new stuff, because I promise you we'll do everything that you want to do, all this change, we'll do it later. As a matter of fact, how about next Monday, right? There you go. Next Monday we will do all the new things that you want to do, all this change that you talk about, but for now, well, since we're starting on Monday, I will bet that you cannot eat that entire pint of ice cream. And actually, what a better story if you start your transformation after an ice cream induced coma. So again, happy December of 2022 and honestly, many of you may legitimately be looking at starting some seriously big changes in a couple of weeks, the start of the new year. So let me help give you the tools to be as successful as possible. Coming up on today's episode of the Virtual Couch, we are going to take a look at a thing called cognitive flexibility or more simply put the very most bestest way to help you do some changing, and we're talking about the good kind of change. And we're going to talk about that and so much more coming up next on today's episode.

Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 351 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay.. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and creator of the Path Back, as well as Waking Up to Narcissism and several other podcasts that are so close to being released. And I'll tell you about that more in a second. Now, a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that if you were interested in taking my Path Back Pornography Recovery course and being part of a pretty amazing group hosted on Zoom once a week with people from around the world, quite literally, shoot me a message at and I will throw a discount your way and maybe give yourself a little gift to improve your marriage. It's $19. It's my 90 minute workshop on basically what we don't know that we don't know about marriage, and that's at And go follow me on Instagram or on Facebook at Tony Overbay Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist because I'm going to start sharing so much more about a lot of things; the Magnetic Marriage Podcast, a revamp version of the Magnetic Marriage Course, different from the workshop, but the course. And this is the first time that I'm able to talk a little bit more about a premium podcast through Apple for the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast. So this is going to be a second completely different podcast, a second episode a week that is called Waking Up to Narcissism Questions and Answers. It will be a premium subscription, but I now have dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds or over a hundred questions that I get on almost a daily basis around emotional immaturity, narcissism, addiction, marriage, you name it, and those will be answered on that new podcast. So you'll see a free zero episode on your feed soon. If you do already subscribe to Waking Up to Narcissism, and in addition, there's going to start being an option to get the next episode of the Virtual Couch a week ahead of the standard release as well. So follow me on Instagram or Facebook or sign up for my newsletter to get the latest on all these things.

So let's get to today's topic. A couple of weeks ago, I had Dr. Michael Twohig on the Virtual Couch, and he is one of the world's most leading acceptance and commitment therapy researchers. And that episode was a blast. It was so much fun, and there were so many great quotes from there. So not only am I going to get him back in the not too distant future, but it looks like I'm going to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Steven Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as well as Russ Harris, author of most of my favorite acceptance and commitment therapy books, The Happiness Trap, Act and Trauma, The Confidence Gap, and one that we're going to take a few pages from today is called ACT Made Simple, the second edition. So I want to lay some groundwork with some ACT principles that I believe will help you with the holidays and beyond, as well as lay the foundation for some of the things that I hope to talk about with Dr. Hayes and Harris about soon. So let's get to this concept that I mentioned earlier about cognitive flexibility, which is a large portion of ACT..

So, Dr. Twohig shared a couple of quotes a few weeks ago that I've gone back to that led to this episode. Here's one of the quotes. He said, “An interesting thing about humans is we decide the way the world works and then we follow that. And the truth is, it's never fully accurate. It could be close to the way the world works or it could be totally far off.” He said, “That's an interesting thing about human beings is that we all make this rule about what we're supposed to do and then we just keep following it.” And he said, “A lot of research has said it's really difficult to help people do things differently. It's hard to create variability in behavior.” So if somebody has a problem or they have a way of living that's not really functional, some of that is that they've determined, well, this is how it all works. And then they've been doing the exact same thing for 20 or 30 years, and part of the therapist's job is to create flexibility in different behavior patterns.

So flexibility is incredibly essential when it comes to creating a better version of you. To which you will, in addition, create a better life. So today I'm going to reference chapter 27 in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Act Made Simple, the second edition by Russ Harris. And it is entitled, “Simply Cognitive Flexibility”. And I'm going to add plenty of personal examples and thoughts of the principles. I almost feel like saying, so class open your textbooks to chapter 27, Cognitive Flexibility and let's begin. So right out of the gate, Russ does say, “Yes, ACT does change your thinking.” He said, “One of the biggest misconceptions about ACT is that it doesn't change your thinking.” And he said, “I hope and trust that you can see that isn't the case. When clients and therapists encounter ACT, it usually dramatically changes the way they think about a vast range of topics and issues, including the nature and purpose of their own thoughts and emotions, the way that they want to behave, the way they want to treat themselves and others, what they want their lives to be about, effective ways to live and act and deal with their problems. It changes what motivates them and why they do things they do and so on. But act does not achieve this by challenging or disputing or disproving or invalidating thoughts, and nor does it help people avoid or suppress or distract from, or dismiss. Or rewrite their thoughts to try to convert their negative thoughts into positive ones.”

And I know that's something that I talk often about was my own shift from the cognitive behavioral therapy model of just change your thought, change your life, into the ACT model where I feel like it's more of a, I'm noticing these thoughts. Matter of fact, I have a lot of thoughts and so I am not going to give them as much energy or juice, and I'm going to start to then move toward things that matter and value, and I might even have to bring these thoughts along with me, which I cannot stress enough, has been such a change, I want to say game changer. I feel like I overuse that phrase, but a game changer in my life and then eventually in the lives of the people that I work with. Now, I say eventually because, we go into a little bit more about what Russ Harris talks about, which is a big reason I wanted to bring this up today because, we still have these just deeply rooted, neuro pathways of the ways that we currently think and as Dr. Twohig talked about, it's because we've believed that this is what we need to do. This is the story that we've told ourselves for sometimes 20, 30, 40 years, that I just need to be happy, that I just need to change my thought that for some reason, beating myself up and throwing some guilt and some shame to myself is somehow going to be this motivator to change. So we keep doing that pattern over and over again, and then what happens is we feel like I really must not be a good person, or I cannot figure life out because I'm doing this. I'm doing it over and over, and it's not working. When in reality, the fact that you're doing it over and over is the reason why it's not working. 

So again, Russ Harris says, “ACT doesn't achieve this by challenging, disputing, disproving or invalidating thoughts. Nor does it help people to avoid, suppress, distract from, dismiss, or rewrite their thoughts to try to convert their negative thoughts into positive ones.” ACT helps people to change their thinking through A, diffusing from unhelpful cognitions and cognitive processes. We'll talk about that in more detail. And B, developing new, more flexible and effective ways of thinking in addition to their other cognitive patterns. Now, why did I stress and why did, in the book, he italicize the words “in addition”? Because we don't get to eliminate unhelpful cognitive repertoires as the ACT saying goes, “there's no delete button in the brain”. And that is a powerful concept to remember. So there's nothing wrong with you when a thought or a feeling or an emotion comes up, because there's no delete button in the brain. Now we can develop new ways of thinking, but that does not eliminate the old ones.

And Russ Harris says that he often says to his clients, if you learn to speak Hungarian, that will not eliminate English from your vocabulary. So again, and again, we emphasize this important point to clients in so many different ways. For example, we may say, okay, logically and rationally, you know that these thoughts aren't true, some of the negative self-talk that you have, but that doesn't stop those thoughts from reappearing. Or, yeah, you can clearly see this pattern of thinking and you can understand that it isn't very helpful, but that won't stop your mind from doing it. As a matter of fact, I would add that the more that you think about the fact that you're doing it because you think what's wrong with you, or I need to just tell myself to stop thinking this, the more you'll continue to think that.

So he said, can also say, so you know when this story hooks you, it pulls you into these away moves, moving you away from the things that really matter to you, and even knowing that won't get rid of the story that your brain is continually telling you, whether it's the “what's wrong with me story”, the, “I'm not enough story”, the “unlovable story”, but, so even knowing that, it won't keep those thoughts from coming back. So here are some of the main ways that ACT actively fosters flexible thinking, and we're going to talk about each one of these, just so you know, reframing, flexible perspective taking, that one's really powerful. Compassion and self-compassion. Flexible goal setting, which is going to be, again, one of these game changing kind of philosophies. Problem solving, planning and strategizing, and then conceiving your mind as a guide, a coach, or a friend. And I would add in there, sometimes you have to acknowledge that your mind might be kind of a jerk as well, so, we'll talk about that.

So reframing, this one's probably one that we'll spend the least amount of time with, but there's a lot of reframing in the ACT model and most obviously, it's normalizing and validating. And oftentimes I almost neglect or forget the fact that when people come into my office, that they are sometimes coming in and I'm the first person they've ever dumped some of their, what they've deemed to be their most crazy or horrendous or unbelievable thoughts, inappropriate, you name it. So when they share those, and this is where I used to call it, my “holy crapometer” that I would set on my shoulder and I would say, you're not really going to see this thing move. And it's not just because I've heard everything, because I still get to hear new things from time to time, but when you start to just recognize that, okay, that's your experience, but there's nothing wrong with you and you're having these thoughts and feelings and emotions because you are, because it's the very first time that you've ever been in that situation, then you can start to give yourself more compassion and more grace. So normalizing and validating, normalizing is, I will guarantee you I really mean this, and please, you can email me through my website or and say, okay all right, Mr. I've heard everything. How about this one? And I really do feel like I really am going to normalize that.

And this is one of those kind of interesting things where sometimes we almost feel offended when if I tell a client, oh, I'm sorry, was that the big, the bombshell that you were going to drop on me? Sorry. Yeah, no, I've heard that one before and sometimes I feel almost dismissive with that. And clients I feel like can take it one of two ways. One, they feel a sense of relief,  like really you've had other people that are going through something similar? Or sometimes it's so wild, but we almost feel like, well that feels invalidating, and it's almost coming from this place of wait, but my situation that I'm so caught up in or afraid of has to be special and unique or else that will mean that I could have been dealing with this a long time ago.

But regardless, I want to normalize that your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts, are yours, it's kind of normal, and most likely, there are people that are going through that right now. Might even be a lot of people. But, there's also some power in normalizing and validating, and that's why it's so important, I think, to talk to somebody who knows what they're doing in the world of whether it's therapy, coaching, that sort of thing. Because there's some pretty interesting data that shows that if we try to get things out of our head and we do so to someone that is saying, well, why'd you do that? Oh, well, you know what I would've done? Or if they say, oh, you think that's a big deal? Let me tell you how much worse my story was or how much bigger my story was, that, then that doesn't feel like we've done anything helpful. So then we just keep things back up in our head. But if you can go to somebody that is really trained in how to really help you feel heard and understood, and then help you take action or do something about the things that you are now sharing, then that can be incredibly validating. And it can be just this life changing experience to be able to express some really heavy emotion or experiences or trauma or even, hey, here's these crazy thoughts or dreams, or you name it. And to be able to unload that to somebody that knows what to do with that can just be so powerful. So normalizing and validating. And Russ says again and again, we help clients to reframe their difficult, unwanted thoughts and feelings as normal rather than abnormal, valid rather than invalid. And he says that many models of therapy do this of course, but ACT does go the extra mile, he said these caveman mind metaphors or lizard brain metaphors, or Neanderthal brain metaphors, any of those help reframe these unhelpful cognitive processes as normal, they're valid and they're purposeful. So when we can look at thoughts, it's just like, check this out, this is what I'm thinking. It's pretty normal and it's maybe my caveman brain just going into this reaction mode.

And then we can even say, well, why? Well because it's trying to protect me because I never felt safe in these certain areas of my life. So there are these things called diffusion techniques, and they reframe thoughts and images as nothing more than just words and pictures because that's really what they are. Our thoughts are just these words and pictures that we give a whole lot of meaning to. So, there's some concepts in the book Act Made Simple and in a lot of ACT data that really help reframe emotions allies. And they can be these valuable resources rather than enemies to avoid at all costs when we can step back in context and say, check this out, you know, I reached out and really started to communicate with somebody outside of my relationship. Well, you tell that to anyone and they're most likely going to say, well you shouldn't do that. Well, that's where somebody that comes into my office is gonna say, right, I know, that wasn't what I started my relationship about so that I could reach out to somebody else.

But sometimes when we can step back and reframe emotions as allies, then they can provide these resources, resources to say, well, what was I missing in my relationship that caused me to seek a connection outside of my relationship? Even just a verbal connection at work. Or do I not feel like I can be heard or understood? So reframing these emotions as allies and resources rather than enemies can be a really helpful part of this reframing concept. And then add some values-based living, and then that helps you really powerfully reframe a lot of the notions that are out there of success and happiness instead of, well just choose to be happy and then do something that everybody else tells you you should do.

Well, you've just got two problems right there. Just choose to be happy. Okay? I choose it and now something comes up and my brain says, well, that didn't work. Or, and I was listening to yet another example of this one. I have people that come into my office and they have an older home, and they start to be overwhelmed with the amount of maintenance or cost, but everybody's telling them, hey, it's a good investment though, you need to own a home, says people, that really does matter to them, but to somebody else, that might not be a big, safe, sound investment. It may cause them more anxiety, and depression than it does causing this any kind of inner wealth, so to speak. So we honestly have to look at what matters to you and then we can work with that. We can reframe, we can normalize, we can validate. So let me move on to the second way that Russ Harris says that ACT actively fosters flexible thinking, flexible perspective taking. So in this one, in ACT, there's a couple of different examples or a couple of different meanings to this term self as context. And this is a really important concept in ACT. So most commonly self as context refers to the experiences of the noticing self. So I am stepping back and I am noticing that this is what I am doing. I'm noticing that this is how I react and more of a check that out because when I can step away from just me being in a moment and say, and then look what I do in that scenario. When I am hungry and angry. When I am lonely and tired. And then I get met with somebody that I don't feel very safe around. Then I react and I get a little bit explosive. So check that out. So I'm viewing myself in the context of that moment of the noticing self, but less commonly in ACT, the term refers to this wide range of behaviors collectively known as flexible perspective taking. So Russ Harris says we can divide flexible perspective taking interventions into two broad but interconnected in overlapping classes. One class includes all of the mindfulness skills that you learn in ACT. We learn how to do diffusion skills and we learn how to accept, we learn about this noticing. And then there's a metaphor called dropping the anchor and so on. And all these skills involve flexibly changing your perspective or changing what you notice and how you notice it. And I want to spend a minute, and I think I'll need to cut this out and make this a separate track of some sort, but I want to talk about what that concept of even dropping the anchor means because this is one of the most powerful skills, tools, and metaphors of ACT that I believe that I have used in sessions.

So dropping the anchor is a grounding skill from acceptance and commitment therapy, and it was developed by ACT trainer and author of The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris. So this mindfulness exercise will support you kind of making contact with the present and really opening up to the thoughts and feelings that you're experiencing even when you're experiencing some really heavy emotional thoughts while choosing to consciously engage in an activity or a situation that's right in front of you or at hand, and dropping the anchor takes you out of this autopilot and helps bring you back from this, I love one author said, “future time travel” or worrying about the future. And I'll give you an example that I think will make a lot of sense or ruminating about the past. So dropping the anchor provides a steady ground and it offers a way to circuit break problematic mental activity so anybody can benefit from dropping the anchor. It's a skill and it's a way to develop an awareness of the way that your mind works, the way that your brain works, but also it makes room for what you can control.

For example, I'll show you how you can control your movement or your posture or your breath, and then you consciously engage in the present moment. So, drop an anchor, let me walk you through a script. But dropping the anchor is based off of this acronym “ACE”. And there's an analogy that helps make more sense of this. So the analogy of dropping anchor. So imagine you are a boat and you're being tossed around at sea. So the weather's rough, and that weather represents all the external storms or crises around you that you have no control over, along with the inner emotional storm that you might be experiencing. So it might be the holidays, it might be a feeling of feeling overwhelmed financially.

You might not be in a healthy relationship. You might be in a position where you are again, your job might be in jeopardy. Your kids may be frustrated. You might have some loss in close personal friends around you or family, but there can be a lot of things going on that you feel like you have no control over. So rather than being tossed around in every direction by these rough seas of all of the motions that you're experiencing, you drop anchor to steady your boat and to steady yourself. So this dropping anchor exercise will help you hold steady until the storm passes. Now it won't stop the storm. The weather is still happening, all the things are happening around you. However, you are less affected by it, and that's why we drop the anchor to be steady while the storm passes. So the way to drop the anchor is the first, A, again, we've got this acronym, ACE, A, acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, your bodily sensations. So one way to do this is to pause and notice what is coming up for you.

In ACT they call it your inner world, the things that you can sense, but nobody else can see. Again, what's happening inside of you. So another way to do this is a lot of times, even in the world of therapy, psychology, we say the “I feel” statement, I'm feeling, or I'm thinking, but what I love about ACT is it takes it another step further and it says to say to yourself, okay, “I'm noticing”, I'm noticing that I'm having the thought of being overwhelmed. Or I'm noticing that I'm having a feeling of sadness because I am a completely individual person who these things happen to on occasion or regularly, these feelings, these thoughts, these emotions. So check that out. I'm noticing that I'm feeling really sad right now, or I'm noticing a sensation of feeling overwhelmed. So while acknowledging your thoughts and your feelings, this is not distraction, and I think that's what can be misinterpreted, but it's a practice of making room for what's here. So I'm noticing that I'm feeling frustrated, I noticed I'm feeling angry. I can notice I'm feeling hungry. So from that, from the acknowledging, you move to the C and the acronym ACE .

So you come back, you come back into your eyes, you acknowledge now you come back into your body. You can do this in a lot of different ways. And it's funny, I'm doing it right now as I'm talking. I just sat up and squared up my shoulders and I sat up straighter and my, actually, my hand is on my chest. But you might focus on feeling your feet on the floor. And you can wiggle your toes or you can, what I'm doing right now, lengthening my spine. You can stretch your arms, you can drop your shoulders with a shrug, you can put your head down, your chin down to your chest. Here's where you can start to do a little bit of breathing and it really can be so helpful. Deep breath in through the nose and you can even hold it two or three seconds and then breathe out through your mouth. And you do a few conscious breaths in the way that you might have found helpful before, because we're starting to create a pattern that you can start to rely on when you need to drop the anchor.

I was doing a mindfulness meditation a few days ago that was doing this, you breathe in for a count of four, you hold it for a count of four, then you breathe out for a count of four, and that was helpful to me. I did another one where it was, breathe in seven, hold eight, and breathe out. I can't even remember because I couldn't do it because it got me feeling a little bit hyperventilated. So you really can just find a technique that works for you or just breathe in through the nose and say, in, in your brain and then out through your mouth and say out. And so these techniques are a grounding technique and this step is about just bringing yourself into this awareness to be more than just the thoughts and feelings that you're having because you can also be aware that I can, I can wiggle my toes, I can breathe, I can feel my body, I can feel my feet against the floor, my butt on my seat. And this acts as a reminder. And it might sound a little bit cheesy, it might sound woowoo, but trust me, this is one of these game-changing principles that I didn't even realize how powerful it was until it became part of my own routine.

So it can act as a reminder of what you have control over. It's this very moment that you are creating with your body. I promise you it's not a distraction technique, it is empowering. So that's the C. And then E, engage in what you're doing or with where you are. And this is where I start to, I can't help myself but to go into jokes because one of the times I remember somebody saying, okay, now I want you to look around and notice five things that you can see. And then what are five things that you can touch? And then I start making jokes in my head, what are five of my favorite foods? What are five songs that I can remember from the eighties? I don't think that was what was in my initial training, but it doesn't matter because I'm engaged in what I'm doing.

And then the concept with this drop the anchor is how long do I need to do it? Well, there's no real answer, it’s as long as you want to do it. You can do it for 10 or 15 or 30 seconds, or you can do it for as long as a minute or two or anywhere in between. And one of the best times to practice this dropping the anchor is when you are not feeling overwhelmed so that your body will kind of know, this is what this guy's doing when we go into this concept of wanting to drop the anchor. Now let me give you a script, and this is from, which is a site by Russ Harris. And I want to give you a specific problem because I'm dealing with a lot of people as a couple's therapist that are feeling overwhelmed in their relationships and they feel, they just feel like this is not what they want. They feel like they have no control. They worry about the future of their kids. They worry about whether they will ever be able to be in a loving relationship. They worry, why didn't I know this earlier? Why couldn't I have done something sooner? And they just worry. They worry. And that starts to feel overwhelming and they can start to feel down and they can feel stuck and they can just spend entire days or even a week or more just worrying and not feeling like they're doing anything that really is of value or matters to them, which can actually add more to that anxiety and that feeling of depression.

So in an ideal scenario before starting this exercise, you will want to identify what you're experiencing. You know, what are these thoughts, what are these feelings? What are these emotions? What memories are coming up? Because then you'll be able to refer to them specifically so as a therapist, let me walk you through this dropping anchor, this script of dropping anchor.

So there is something that's painful. It might be very painful or it might be difficult that's showing up for you right now. And so I have to tell you, I'm sure if you are in here in front of me, I know I could see how much you're struggling with it. And if we were talking on the phone, I could probably tell from your voice how difficult, whatever this is that you're going through, and I really do want to help you handle it. So I would love for you to follow these instructions first. Just see if you can push your feet hard into the floor. Push them down and then do it, feel that ground beneath you. And now sit forward in your chair and straighten your back. And I want you to feel that chair beneath you. And I want you to notice your back supporting you.

And now slowly press your fingertips together. And as you do that, gently move your elbows, move your shoulders, and feel your arms moving all the way from your fingers all the way into your shoulder blades. And so I want you to take a moment, and I want you to acknowledge that there's a lot of pain here, that there's probably a lot of things that you're struggling with and you didn't ask for it, and it's not fair. But here it is and it's challenging and it's difficult, and you want it to go away, but it's not going away. So I want you to silently acknowledge yourself. What type of pain it is. For example, say to yourself, here's sadness, or here's anxiety, or here's a painful memory. And again, if we're talking about relationships, this is where you'll say, I didn't want this to happen. I just wanted a happy relationship. I wanted to feel connected to my spouse. I wanted the very best for my kids. And so taking that moment to acknowledge that there is a lot of pain. Now notice that as well as this pain, there's also a body that's around that pain, and it's a body that you can move and you can control.

So straighten your back again and notice your whole body now, your hands, your feet, your arms, your legs, and gently move them and feel them moving. Have a stretch. Notice your muscle stretching. Again, press your feet down and feel the floor. Now look around the room. Look up and look down, side to side. And try to notice five things that you can see.

What can you see right now? And then also if you can notice three or four things that you can hear, sounds that are coming from me or from you or from the room that's around you. And also notice that right now, in this moment, you and I, even though you're listening through your EarPods or your speaker, that we're working together as a team. So notice there's something very painful here that you're struggling with, at the same time see if you can also notice your body in the chair and gently move that body again. Stretch it. That's it. Take control of your arms and legs. Notice the room around you. And also notice that you and I, we're communicating in a sense right now, we're working together.

So we will do this for as long as needed until you feel grounded , and then that's where I can bring this exercise to an end, this dropping the anchor exercise by asking, do you notice any difference now? Are you less caught up in the emotional storm? Are you less hooked by these difficult thoughts and feelings? Are you less swept away by the storm? Do you feel less pushed around or jerked around by these feelings? Is it easier for you to engage with me right now to be present, to focus? And do you have more control over your actions now over your arms and your legs, your mouth? So check it out. Move your arms and legs. Have a stretch. Do you notice that right this second, you have more control? Now, those thoughts, those feelings, those things are still there, but you just did a grounding exercise, and for some of you, that might be the first time that you've done that. And it may not feel like it really addresses the big elephants in the room. There might be a bunch of elephants. But if you continue to do that exercise, that practice that over time, what it feels like to be you is somebody that can notice these big thoughts and emotions and then come back to a place of grounding, so that over time, you can then even invite some of these feelings and emotions to come along with you while you engage in things that really matter to you. And over time, then you're gonna create this pretty amazing neural network that when I start to feel overwhelmed, now my body, because my emotions are traveling faster than my thoughts and logic, that my body's already gonna have me stretching my spine and taking a breath in through my nose and out through my mouth because my body already knows that we do best when we get grounded and when we drop that anchor in this storm of all the things that are going on around us. So when you can do that, you can bring yourself back to the present moment, and that is the time where you can really start to make change.

So I would highly recommend learning how to drop that anchor, use that exercise, and try it over and over again, because the more that you can become grounded again, the more that you're training your brain that this is what we can do to be able to absolutely feel and recognize those emotions. But we're going to work through those difficult moments so we can come back to the present and then take action on things that matter.

So Russ Harris also talks about the other class of these flexible perspective taking interventions that include thinking skills that develop our ability to perceive events and understand concepts from different points of view. So he says, “In everyday language, that's to see things differently.” So for example, some exercises might invite you to imagine yourself in the future and looking back on your life today. And from that perspective then reflect on your current behavior. And I think that this one's important because often, it's so hard to see what's going on in the moment, but if you fast forward a few years, then look back at this time of your life, I think you would give yourself more grace. If you realize, man, I have four or five little kids, I'm in the midst of trying to figure out a job and a career. Our finances are a challenge. There's been a pandemic around the world, so you can give yourself a lot more grace. And again, we're still so prone to just going to this place of thinking we have to beat ourselves up or shame ourselves, to be able to move forward, but that is absolutely the exact opposite.

The shame that we feel that wells up in us, that we think we're a bad person or we have to beat ourselves up or we won't make a change, comes from our inner, inner, inner childhood. Because when you are a tiny little, and you think the world revolves around you and you want a pony for your birthday and you live in an apartment where your parents can't afford a pony anyway, it's not a good idea to get a pony. But then when they don't give you that pony and you are a little kid, you don't say, oh my gosh, there is not really a place to place a pony. Or, I don't even know how much a pony costs. Or ponies are a bunch of upkeep. As a kid you think, they don't love me. Something must be wrong with me. So we default to shame because that's what we did in our childhood because we didn't have an understanding of what was going on around us. So we still will find ourselves beating ourselves up in the moment and thinking for some reason that's going to help us. If that helped us, all of the problems in the entire world would be solved. If beating yourself up in shame was the way to go, then there would be world peace and harmony because we all continually keep beating ourselves up. So it is absolutely the wrong approach to do in order to move forward in your life. So seeing things differently again, look at yourself in the future. Look back on your life today, reflect on your current behavior, and others involve, and this can sound a bit cliched, but it's true, involving inner child work where the client imagines their current day adult self going back in time to comfort and care for and instruct or support a child or an adolescent version of yourself.

And this is the part where I want to say, man, I really do. I'm back on this side of our parents, bless their hearts, tried their best based on all of the information that they had at that time. So that doesn't mean though, that I can't have feelings and emotions or wish that they would've done things differently because that's okay. The more that we wake up to our own experiences and our adult life, it's absolutely okay. This is part of emotional maturity. If you are harboring some emotional immaturity or narcissistic traits and tendencies, we lack this thing called whole object relations, where we can't have both good and bad feelings about somebody, in the same frame. We feel like we have to go either all or nothing, black or white. So it is absolutely okay to love your parents and appreciate all that they've done for you, but also to be frustrated that, man, why didn't you let me go out for little league and tell me that I wouldn't like it? How about we would've tried?

And that's okay. It's okay to feel that. And I've had a couple of my kids do some lovable confrontations about some of the things that I felt really good about doing when, I'll tell you one for an example. One of my daughters recently said that we had created an interesting relationship with celebrations and food. And it was funny because my first reaction was, oh, no. But then it was, she was so spot on. Because I recognized when I was growing up, we never, we never went out to eat. So going out to eat for me was the biggest celebratory I have made it thing in the entire world. And it was also, it grew to be this thing of, that's when everybody would come together. If the kids were teenagers and they were all going in different directions, it seemed like we could get everybody together when we would go out to eat. So going out to eat, to me is this amazing event that I absolutely love, but I didn't even think about the fact that it would cause an interesting relationship with food and going out to eat with my kids as they become adults that maybe their first go-to is we have to celebrate, we have to get together, we have to do things, so we must go out to eat. Where if their spouse grew up and that wasn't the case, then, you know, I don't want my kids to think, oh my gosh, what's wrong with me? If that's where I go because, that's what my experience was. So I love this stuff. I love this stuff where you can go back and then talk to your inner child and if you have a good relationship, an emotionally mature, healthy relationship with your spouse and even with your parents, then it's nice to be able to process these things and then feel heard and understood. So other things, other interventions that can help you take a different viewpoint is, and these almost feel cheesy and cliche in therapy, but I really think they can be helpful. You know, the old, if your roles were reversed, how would you feel? If roles were reversed, how would you want this person to treat you? If you were in someone else's shoes, what would you be thinking and feeling? And if the same thing happened to somebody that you love, what would you say to them?

And I love that one where there are times where I will have somebody lay out a whole lot of stuff that they're going through. And I would, I would say, hey, if somebody came to you with all this information, what would you tell them? And typically, the answer is gonna be, man, that sounds hard, and I'm here for you, and forgive yourself and give yourself grace.

But we have such a hard time doing that to ourselves. So at times, Russ Harris said, we might ask a client to take the perspective of their values, guided self, and this is where things get really good. So, for example, right now, you might be making a lot of very judgmental comments about your spouse, and that is completely understandable, given all the difficulties that you've been having and what you bring to the table and all your experiences that you've had. But the problem is when you get hooked by these thoughts, then you tend to do things that make the relationship even worse, such as shouting or yelling, blaming, name calling. So Russ Harris framed it in this way, he said, so I'm just wondering, you know, you said earlier that you wanted to be more loving and patient and kind. So again, I'm just wondering if you were really able to be that sort of loving patient, kind partner that you want to be, how might you think about this differently? And that will typically lead you to have a little bit more empathy. And so is there another way of looking at a situation that might help you handle it better in a way that's healthier for you based on your values or a way that might be better for the relationship?

And he said, “We might even ask a client to take the perspective or parts of himself.” If this emotion could speak, what would it tell you to do? Because sometimes if you were going to listen to what your anger wants you to do, your anger might say, well, I want you to go punch that guy in the neck. And so that might be an opportunity for you to then confront that anger, and say, okay, I hear you, and we could always do that, but what do you think would come from that? And a lot of times I think when we really can get out of our own head and say, well, I might feel good for a minute, but I guess it's really not going to do anything about the problem, so that's where we can start to learn to accept these emotions, talk to these emotions, advise these emotions, listen to the emotions.

But that doesn't mean that we have to take action on them. Another concept that he talked about was compassion and self-compassion. So ACT places a great emphasis on both self-compassion and compassion for others, and for so many people, these are radically new ways of thinking because the consciously acknowledge suffering, our own or that of others, and then remain open to it and be curious about suffering instead of ignoring it or dismissing it or turning away from it, or trying to just avoid it at all cost by turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. I mean, we don't like to sit with discomfort. If you really stop and think about it throughout the day, how often do we sit with discomfort? We may feel discomfort, but then we do not want to sit with it. We want to do anything that we can to avoid it. And that experiential avoidance or doing something just to get through the moment or even the day, we may turn to those things that are not very helpful, not very productive, like our phones or streaming movies or games or that sort of thing. And while I will often tell my clients I would rather have them do that than really go down this deep, dark path of suicidal thoughts or ideations. And at some point we need to recognize that, okay, I need to start doing things that matter to me, but let's get back to that suffering. It is difficult to consciously acknowledge suffering and then respond with kindness as opposed to judgment or hostility or any other non-compassionate reaction.

And Russ Harris says that does not come naturally or easily to most of us. He says, “Suppose that we're in pain. And we say to ourselves, this is a moment of suffering and life is hard right now. So let's see what I can do to take care of myself.” He said, “This is obviously an extremely difficult way of thinking from ruminating.” When ruminating, which I feel like so many people do, probably the majority of people do, is why am I feeling so bad? What's wrong with me? Or self-criticism. I should be tougher than this. I am such a pathetic loser. I should not be doing this. I shouldn't be thinking these things. And he said, “Usually we need to deliberately, actively, and regularly practice new patterns of thinking in order to develop our capacity for compassion.”

And that is absolutely difficult. It's a difficult endeavor that people will resist. And I love how he says we have to practice because our deeply rooted neuro pathways are going to keep going back to these, what's wrong with me? I'm a piece of garbage. I need to beat myself up in order to make progress. So we have to recognize, notice those thoughts and those feelings and those emotions and acknowledge them. And if we have to do that, drop the anchor exercise to then get through that moment of wanting to beat ourselves up, then that might be a time to use that tool so that we can then take action again on things that matter. So which leads perfectly to, he talks about flexible goal setting, problem solving, planning, and strategizing. And I just have to say that Russ Harris has one of the funniest things about goal setting at this point. If you go back a few chapters in the book Act Made Simple where he says, when we're assessing goals, whether it's a formal or an informal goal, we need to consider the following question to make sure it's an effective goal. Is it a live person's goal or is it a dead person's goal? So what does that mean? It's actually pretty simple. He says, “A dead person's goal means any goal that a corpse can achieve better than you can. If a dead body can achieve your goal better than you can, then it's really not much of a goal.”

Here's the classic example. I am not going to yell at the kids this week. Now, a corpse will never yell at the kids under any circumstances. You can guarantee that is gonna be the case. He said, a living person's goal is something that you can do better than a corpse. For example, when the kids are pushing my buttons this week, I am going to drop the anchor, breathe into my anger, connect with my values of being calm and patient, and speak to them in a calm, assertive manner.

So any goal that describes what you won't do is a dead person's goal. Behavioral goals, describe what you will do, not what you won't do. So if you find yourself saying, I am not going to do X, and I'm gonna stop doing Y, or I won't do Z, then we can ask, what will you do instead? So if a client says, I am going to quit smoking. Honestly, that's more of a dead person's goal because a corpse is never going to smoke. And Russ Harris has so many funny things in his book I have to tell you because then he just says in there, “unless you cremate it.” But we could then ask, so when the craving to smoke shows up, what will you do? From this, we can generate a live person's goal, such as when I crave a cigarette, I will drop, anchor, acknowledge, make room for the urge, and do some mindful stretching or mindfully drink some cold water instead of smoking. So I think that alone is something that can really lead to this cognitive flexibility. And just as a reminder from the beginning of this episode, what we're looking for here is the very most best way to do some change, aka cognitive flexibility. 

So talking about the flexible goal setting, then again, problem solving, planning, Russ Harris says, “Committed action requires a lot of flexible thinking around goal setting, problem solving, action planning, and strategizing.” Because so often if we set these very rigid standards for ourselves, which sounds like a great thing to do, to hold myself to the utmost standard, but then if I'm a human being and as my friend Preston Pugmire says, all of a sudden life just life's all over you, then are you able to be flexible? Can you give yourself some grace? Can you drop the anchor? Can you breathe into the pain? And then can you take action on things that matter? So Russ Harris says, “When it comes to preparing for action, we may ask clients to consider what's the worst thing that might happen, and if it does, how will you deal with it? What can you do to reduce the likelihood of that?” Which can sound counterintuitive at times because I know that sometimes I'm sitting in a session and somebody feels on fire with positive vibes and possibilities of all kinds of change in their life and you almost hesitate at times to want to bring up, okay, so let's just, this sounds great, let's just say that you don't get the job, or let's just say that things don't play out the way that you think that they will. What's a plan B? And what I think is so fascinating is you hear these cliches often of, we need to, I think there's a burn the ships down when we get onto land. An old Viking thing that they used to do.

Because if we burn our ships down, then we can't leave and we have to fight. We will be fighting like crazy to gain this new land because we have no plan B. Or I've heard people say before that I just have to go out and just have no plan B and put myself out there. And that might work for a small percentage of the people, but for normal human beings who still do have commitments, financial commitments, responsibility, those sort of things that it can sound intoxicating to say, I'm just going to go for it, whatever that looks like. Plan A or bust. But we have to be able to be flexible. And we have to be able to make room for a plan B and even a plan C, because that's more of how life happens. And I love talking about this concept of we might be at point A in our journey and we might say, you know what? It's point Z or bust and A to Z. But the reality of life is when we start taking action and move from point A to B. Then when we get to B, we might think, oh man, I didn't even expect that point B would look like this. And I might even go in a different direction. But the point is we're continually moving forward, this constant forward motion. And as I've noticed that in my own life when I left technology, I looked at going into a couple of different fields and then started going back to grad school. And I wasn't going to do therapy in the chair. I was going to write books and I wanted to continue to write this newspaper column I was doing. And then I started seeing clients so that I could get the master's degree, and I started enjoying seeing clients. Then I was only going to be a part-time therapist while I still dabbled in technology, and then I realized that I love what I'm doing and I wasn't going to start a podcast or I wasn't going to write a book, but then those things happen as well.

So it's just been a journey of this flexible goal setting or this cognitive flexibility. And so he talks about, yeah, so what's your plan B if plan A falls through? It's not acting as if you have no hope in yourself. It's saying, I'm going to be realistic because that might even help me be more engaged in plan A because I can go for it knowing that, okay, but I do have a plan B. Or he said, what's the best thing that might happen and what can you do to increase the chances of that and what's most likely to happen? And if it does, what's next? There we go. And if it doesn't happen, what's next after that? And what strategy are you going to use there? What will that require? And is there another way to think about this that might help you handle whatever you're trying to do better? So he says, conceiving your mind as a guide or a coach, or Russ Harris says, last but not least, ACT often uses metaphors that can compare our mind to a guide or a coach or a friend. We can play with these metaphors in a lot of different ways to foster flexible thinking. So here are a few examples. The Wise Guide or the Reckless Guide. So as the therapist I would say sometimes our mind is a wise guide. It gives us great advice to help us get on in life, but other times it's a reckless guide and it encourages us to take reckless risks or put ourselves in danger. So right now, which guide is doing the talking? So the client can identify, it's the reckless one. Okay. So what advice might the wise guide give you? So now we're viewing ourself in the context of the moment and we are allowing this opportunity for our own brain to do some coaching our wise part of our brain to coach our reckless part of our brain.

Or there's a metaphor of the overly helpful friend or the genuinely helpful friend, the therapist. Okay. Here's what I would say. Remember when we talked about how our mind can sometimes be an overly helpful friend? Do you think that maybe that's what it's doing right now? So suppose your mind wanted to be genuinely helpful rather than overly helpful what might it say about this particular situation? Or sometimes you might have that harsh coach or kind coach. So I might say, you know, there are two types of coaches in school sports. There are harsh coaches who yell at the kids, call them names, come down hard on every mistake, constantly judge, compare, and criticize. And there are the kind coaches who encourage the kids, build on their strengths, and give genuine feedback about the mistakes in a kind and caring way. So the good news is, the harsh coaches tend to be a rapidly dying breed. And you know why? And if the client asks why, then I get to say, because kind coaches get much better results.

And so right now, the way your mind is talking to you is that a harsh coach or a kind coach? And often we'll find that our mind is a harsh coach. So then you can ask, well, what would the kind coach say in this situation? So the takeaway to this very most bestest way to do some change or cognitive flexibility, Russ Harris says, “I hope you can see that ACT usually changes your thinking significantly. However, it does not do this through challenging, disputing, ignoring, dismissing, or distracting from difficult or unhelpful thoughts.” It does this through diffusing from thoughts. They're just thoughts. Accepting that they make and will keep reoccurring. And finally, at the same time, actively cultivating new, more flexible and effective ways of thinking.

So you put this combo pack together of recognizing that the things that we do so often that we think are the right things to do, like challenging our thoughts, disputing our thoughts, ignoring them, dismissing them, is actually making things more difficult. And diffusing is the way. It's a thought. A thought is a thought. You're going to have a whole bunch of them. Notice that thought. I'm noticing that thought. I can notice the thought right now that I am thinking I want to, or even need to, or have to raise my right arm, but I'm not doing it. It's just a thought. I don't have to take action on the thoughts, but I can take action on a value if I have a value of health and being hydrated. I am literally right now reaching over and picking up my water bottle. So I'll follow that thought. That's a good one because it's something that's more in align with what my goals are, my value-based goals, and then cultivating new, more flexible ways of thinking, knowing that we're going to have thoughts that are gonna keep coming and coming.

And I really believe that we're handling the way that we treat our thoughts in an unhelpful way. So first of all, when we say what's wrong with me for having the thoughts I'm having or feeling the feelings I'm feeling, we need to start with nothing. Because you are a human being. You are you. So check that out. You're having that thought or feeling. And next I think it's so unhelpful to say, I know I need to stop thinking that because right now stop thinking about a pineapple. Stop thinking about a pineapple sitting next to a watermelon. So we can't tell ourselves to stop thinking about something because it's built in that we will do even more of that thinking. It's that cognitive or it's that psychological reactance and then even saying, okay, instead of thinking of a pineapple, I'm going to think of a watermelon. Then I still have to think about the pineapple to get to the watermelon. So what we really need to do is, I'm noticing that I'm thinking about a pineapple, that's the thought. That's fascinating. But if my goal is to go take action and do something different, then the fact that I'm thinking about a pineapple is somewhat irrelevant. You bet. I'm thinking of it. So replace pineapple with, I'm thinking of the thought that I can't do what I'm trying to do, or I'm a horrible person, or this person doesn't like me, or any of those things like it's a thought.

So there it is. And now I can start doing or taking action on the things that matter. So I think this is going to prime the pump a little bit as we head into the new year to set yourself up so that you can make some change, whether it's gonna be through New Year's resolutions or just a little bit of a new year, new you, but this truly, this concept of cognitive flexibility is the very most bestest way to do some change. So I would love your feedback. Feel free to send me any questions, send this along to somebody that you think it might help. And then taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, Aurora Florence with her song “It's wonderful”. So have a great week and we'll see you next time on the Virtual Couch.

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