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Eric: What you see consistently in terms of
bad behavior and good behavior?
There's a lot of research that frames it in
terms of time, a short-term strategy versus
a long-term strategy.
Tom: It's actually a really good point.
Eric: If you think about it, in general, what's
the reputation of used car salesman?
Not very good.
They are probably never going to see you again,
very short-term, versus what's the general
reputation of moms?
Moms are going to be with you throughout the
rest of your life.
It's a longer [00:00:30] term type of strategy.
When you look at these kinds of things, that's
where all of a sudden the bad and good behavior
starts to make a little bit more sense.
Tom: Everybody, welcome to Impact Theory.
You are here my friends because you believe
that human potential is nearly limitless,
but you know that having potential is not
the same as actually doing something with
Our goal with this show and company is to
introduce you to the people and ideas that
will help you actually execute on your dreams.
[00:01:00] Today's guest is a reformed screenwriter
who traded in his tenure a luminary studio
such as Disney and Fox to pursue his passion
for fact-finding, which he turned into one
of the most popular blogs in the internet.
Over the past eight years, his humorous and
wildly informative articles have garnered
him massive attention and help him amass an
army of dedicated followers numbering over
300,000 strong and I am not the least bit
His content is aimed at providing readers
with [00:01:30] science-based answers and
expert insights in how to be in his words,
awesome at life, and he certainly delivers.
I was so captivated by his debut book, Barking
Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science
Behind Why Everything You Know About Success
Is (Mostly) Wrong, that we had him scheduled
on the show before I've even finished reading
His work challenges many of the long-held
platitudes about what makes people successful
and reveals the real usable secrets to success.
They are often surprising.
At times, a little unnerving if I'm completely
honest, [00:02:00] but always useful and his
insatiable curiosity and wondrous ability
to succinctly summarize often hard to digest
data has made one of the most sought after
speaker educators working today.
He has been invited to speak at such prestigious
institutions as West Point, Yale, and MIT
and his writing has been featured everywhere
from the New York Times to the Wall Street
Journal and prestigious publications such
as Time Magazine and Business Insider regularly
syndicate his content.
He is quite literally redefining the rules
[00:02:30] Please my friends, help me in welcoming
the best-selling author whose book was selected
as The Financial Times' business book of the
month, the creator of bakadesuyo.com, which
in Japanese ironically translates both as,
"I am Barker and I am an idiot."
The insightful, funny, and decidedly not idiotic,
Eric: Great to be here.
Tom: Good to have you.
I have to say [00:03:00] I love that after
learning what ... How do you pronounce it
by the way?
That was my best.
Tom: Once you learned that that translates
into I am Barker and I am an idiot that you
still made it your URL.
Eric: First day of Japanese class, I found
out my last name means idiot in Japanese.
Watashi wa baka desu means I am Barker.
Watashi wa baka desu means I am an idiot.
I've never had a Japanese person forget my
In fact, they seem to love saying it.
Tom: That is hilarious.
[00:03:30] What made you take Japanese in
the first place, which doesn't sound easy?
Eric: I want to do something different.
I wanted to try something that was really
out there and just so different and having
three character systems and just something
that existed like in parallel rather than
Latin-based romance language and just really
see what I can learn there.
It was a lot of fun, but it wasn't easy.
Tom: Was this in high school or college?
Eric: This was college.
It was challenging, [00:04:00] but it was
really interesting because from a language
you also learn a little bit about the culture
and you learn so much.
It's really fun.
I'm glad I chose it even though it made studying
a little harder.
Tom: I can imagine.
I actually really like how well that personality
trait of you of not looking for the easy path,
of always being willing to look underneath
the hood and then embrace what you find whether
it's what your last name means or one of the
most interesting things it was in your book
is the concept [00:04:30] that feeling powerless
at work can actually kill you I think is the
exact quote from your book.
Tell us about that.
Eric: There's plenty of research that shows
that stress in small amounts can be a performance
When you're feeling groggy, when you're feeling
tired, you're not 100%, a little bit of stress
A lot of stress, especially a lot of stress
over a long period of time, we all know this
isn't good and when you feel powerless at
work, when you feel like you don't have [00:05:00]
autonomy, when you feel like nobody is listening
to you, don't feel respected, stress level
or cortisol levels go up.
Over a period of time, not in a day or week,
but over period of years, feeling like what
you do doesn't make a difference and feeling
like you're not respected.
Having stress levels elevated like that, what
you see is over time, years, decades, people
are much more likely to have garner incidents.
Tom: It's so interesting.
It was one of the things in the book that
as you are detailing, I'm like, "That actually
make sense, but having such [00:05:30] a fine
point on it."
I found really, really surprising.
You've been doing this blog for eight years,
started as a blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree,
evolves into the book that it now is.
In all of that research, which by the way
for anybody discovering him for the first
time right now, you're going to love how thoroughly
he researches all the stuff and the fact that
the book is about how the things you've been
taught about success are mostly wrong I think
really comes from the fact that you encounter
these platitudes and as you dig deeper [00:06:00]
realized that they just don't hold up to the
scrutiny of the data.
What have you found most surprising in the
Eric: One of the things that was most surprising
to me was Adam Grant's research in terms of
nice guys finish last.
Adam teaches at Wharton and Adam is a very
nice guy himself.
He split it up into givers, matchers, and
takers as the three groups he made.
Givers are people who give altruistically,
love helping people.
Matchers are people who strongly believe in
fairness so they try to keep an even balance
and give and take.
Takers are people who want to get as much
as possible and give as [00:06:30] little
Adam looked at a bunch of careers and he looked
at a variety of success metrics.
The initial results didn't make a nice guy
like Adam feel very good because the initial
results showed a disproportionate number of
nice guys showing up at the bottom of success
metrics across a number of fields.
This is a little depressing.
When he did the thorough analysis, what he
found out the results were actually bimodal.
It was basically a disproportionate number
of nice guys were at the bottom, a disproportionate
number of nice guys at the top.
That might sound initially confusing, [00:07:00]
but really I think it's something we can all
relate to because we all know a martyr who
gets taken advantage of, gets walked on, does
too much for others, doesn't do enough for
themselves and gets exploited.
We also know people who are really awesome,
really great, go out of their way to help
others, everybody feels indebted to them,
everybody loves them and everybody is so happy
to go out of their way to support that person
and to do whatever they can.
It's not an issue of nice being bad or nice
It's just an issue of how you handle [00:07:30]
that balance of wanting to give to others
and doing it while not being a doormat, while
not getting exploited.
Tom: One of the things that you detailed along
those lines is the computer programs, the
algorithms that they had compete.
Talk to us about TFT, what that is.
I found this really interesting.
It resonated with me a lot.
Eric: This was the research by Robert Axelrod
that basically during the prisoner's dilemma,
which is a standard thing where are you going
to work with the other person or are you going
to [00:08:00] defect to try and cheat them.
He reached out to a lot of different experts
in math and sociology and wherever to come
up with an algorithm.
Tom: Let's go into more detail about the process.
It's something like you're being interrogated
and there's two of you that are in the crime.
If you say nothing, you get one year?
Eric: Basically, you both went to bank robbery,
[00:08:30] you both get arrested.
You are being interrogated in separate rooms.
If you both say nothing, then you both get
like one year in prison.
If you defect, if you basically say, "He did
it", then you do better, he does worst.
If you both turn the other guy in, then you
both do pretty bad.
If you could coordinate with the other person,
[00:09:00] but you can't.
If you could coordinate, you could both keep
your mouth shut.
The question there becomes, what's the optimal
way mathematically speaking?
What's the optimal way to negotiate the prisoner's
They had a bunch of different algorithms that
would try different things.
You had some that were like always nice.
They always cooperated.
They never betrayed the other person no matter
what because it is multiple rounds.
Then, you have ones that always try to screw
the other guy [00:09:30] no matter what.
Then, you had sneakier ones that would like,
"See, hey, on this round, can I cheat a little
bit and then back pedal?
How much can I get away with?"
Tom: Those are meant to replicate the givers,
matchers, and takers?
Eric: Axelrod did this research like in the
This was around the time the Cold War because
they were trying to figure out was there some
way the US and Russia could cooperate.
What was the optimal way?
What they basically found was comically, all
these complex algorithms [00:10:00] and the
one that by far did the best was something
we all learned when we're kids.
It was Tit For Tat.
Basically, it was, "Okay, we go one round.
I'm going to start off cooperating.
If you cooperate, the next round I'll cooperate.
If you defect, next round I defect and I will
have no memory, so all I'm looking at is the
If you defect, fine, then I'll defect.
If you cooperate, then I'll join you again,
just tit for tat.
I'm going to start out cooperating, then I'm
going to do whatever you did in the last round."
[00:10:30] Tit for tat destroyed everybody.
What was interesting was initially tit for
tat would lose.
The bad guys will get the high ground very
quickly because they were immediately attacking,
but over time, tit for tat had some great
things going forward in the sense that, first,
it always initially cooperated.
It showed good will.
Pass that, it wasn't a doormat.
If you defected, it would defect right back.
It had that balance of, "Hey, I'm going to
show good will, but I'm not going to take
any [00:11:00] crap."
The really thing I think we can really take
away from that's valuable is it also educated
the other person in how to play as opposed
There were other algorithms that would start
off cooperating and we all know people like
Start off cooperating and the minute you defected,
I'm never going to trust you again, defect,
defect, defect, defect.
I don't care what you do.
I don't trust you now."
This was a kind of an educational process.
If you [00:11:30] think, it make sense.
It maps on to longer term negotiations.
If you know you're going to have to deal with
somebody over a longer period of time, this
educational process where, "Okay, you're going
We are teaching each other how to talk to
"If you cooperate, I'll be defecting.
I'm going to defect back.
You're going to cooperate now?
Okay, I'm going to cooperate now."
There was ongoing conversation.
In a short-term, the bad guys took the high
ground, but the long-term, very often whenever
tit for tat would meet another good program,
the gains [00:12:00] were exponential.
When I met a bad program, I was going to take
any crap, so the loses were small and the
programs that were in the middle, it managed
to teach them, "Hey, if you're going to screw
me over, I'm going to screw you back.
If you're good, I'll be good."
They realized being good was in their best
Tom: One of the funniest parts of your book
is where you go into like this long like page
after page after page [inaudible 00:12:23]
all the ways that being nice can be punished.
You finally [00:12:30] ended by saying, "I
would keep going, but my publisher won't let
me release this with antidepressants."
Talk to us about that early lead the jerks
can get and how does that play out like in
a concrete business environment.
Eric: Very often, bad traits.
What you see consistently in terms of bad
behavior and good behavior?
There's a lot of research that frames it in
terms of time, a short-term strategy versus
a long-term strategy.
Tom: It's actually a really good point.
Eric: [00:13:00] If you think about it, in
general, what's the reputation of used car
Not very good.
They are probably never going to see you again,
If we map that on the prisoner's dilemma,
if there's only one or two rounds, I get the
high ground, I can just win.
You're not going to get a chance to retaliate.
Versus, what's the general reputation of moms?
Mom is going to be with you throughout the
rest of your life.
Mom is going to take care.
Mom is going to be there.
It's a longer term type of strategy.
[00:13:30] When you look at these kind of
things, that's where all of a sudden the bad
and good behavior starts to make a little
bit more sense.
Initially, you look at narcissists.
Narcissist do better in job interviews.
They do better on first dates and initially,
these things look really good, but by the
same token, if you go a few weeks in to starting
a job, narcissists are generally regarded
After a few months of relationship, relationship
satisfaction of the other partner tanks.
It's this shorter term strategy, [00:14:00]
grab all I can.
One of the strategies that people can use
for take away from this is that if you find
yourself and then you are involved and encounter
a deal or whatever with somebody who you are
not so sure if you can trust them.
They call it lengthening the shadow of the
If I build more steps into the contract, if
I stretch this out, if they know there's going
to be a chance for retaliation, there's going
to be a chance for renegotiation, then people
[00:14:30] behave better because they know
they have to.
How do people behave?
If you meet somebody off the street, that's
If you are introduced to someone by mutual
friend, probably they're a little bit nicer.
You don't want your friend to get upset with
Very often in this kind of one off type encounters,
bad behavior can payoff.
When it's stretched out, very often there's
a chance for retaliation and more importantly,
we develop a [00:15:00] reputation.
If you develop a reputation or people say
you can trust this person, over time that
If somebody says, "Yeah, they seem really
They're a fast talker, but don't trust them,"
that comes back to haunt them.
Tom: You talk really well in the book about
how one of the most dangerous places for a
giver is to be in an organization full of
takers because there's no other givers there
to protect you and create a buffer.
What advice would you give if you had a friend
who is a giver in the midst of a bunch [00:15:30]
of takers and they can't leave for whatever
Financially, they're trapped.
They are just right now they can't afford
to leave the job.
Would you advise to adopt taker strategies
or would you give other advice?
Eric: If they can't leave then, what you get
from Robert Axelrod's research was that because
they tried it where they had multiple games
going on, circle the wagons is what I would
say, is find a few givers or few matchers
that are [00:16:00] there and affiliate tightly
with them and work through them and with them.
Obviously, being surrounded by takers, especially
when your natural instinct is to be a giver
is really dangerous.
Number one, you can get exploited.
Number two, over time, you can become a taker
Robert Sutton who is a professor at Stanford
gave some great advice where he said, "Whenever
you interviewed a company, look around at
the people at that company because you're
going to become like them.
They're not going to become like you."
Tom: I love that.
Eric: We always talk [00:16:30] about peer
pressure in relation to teenagers.
Peer pressure affects us our entire lives.
We are always influenced by our context and
by the people around us.
The biggest danger there is we don't realize
We are always influenced.
The thing that givers need to keep in mind
is that if they find other givers, boom, they're
helping each other, their favors, and they're
both on the lookout for being exploited.
Matchers can also be valuable as well because
matchers it's not merely that they want to
keep a balance or give and [00:17:00] take.
Matchers typically have a strong belief in
Matchers are very happy to punish takers and
to reward givers.
With other givers, givers can do very well.
They can produce great things at work.
If givers managed to surround themselves with
matchers, then they end up with bodyguards.
It's basically seek out those people and circle
the wagons as best you can.
Tom: Do you think that applies in like interpersonal
relationships outside of work?
When you are thinking about looking [00:17:30]
for a spouse, is that something to take into
Eric: I think it's something to take into
consideration in every area of life.
At work, obviously, it's very clear because
of the amount of transactional relationships
that go on.
In your personal life, we all have friends
who someone do so much for you that you almost
Other ones seem to only come around when they
are asking you for favors and some of them,
"Hey, they help you out.
You help them out."
It really behooves us to always be thinking
to some [00:18:00] degree, "Okay, givers,
matchers, takers, who can I trust and win?
Who is there in the good times?
Who is there in the bad times?"
I think it's always valuable.
Tom: You talked about context a second ago.
I want to go back to that.
You've got this notion of intensifiers.
You were talking about genes and like genes
aren't necessarily good and not necessarily
bad, but given context, they can really play
out differently because I get asked a lot
about, "Do I double the amount of my strengths?
Do I pop up a weakness?
What do I do?"
The notion of intensifier [00:18:30] has really
caught my eye because it was ... Maybe that's
fundamentally wrong question.
Maybe you should be asking given the way that
I am, what context should I be seeking?
Eric: I totally agree.
I think that's definitely the way to go.
Gautam Mukunda who is a professor at Harvard
Business School teaches leadership.
He came up with this notion of intensifiers
of the attitudes where we say a lot of personality
traits or qualities are just bad.
That really doesn't hold up the scrutiny.
If you think about it in interpersonal relationships,
stubbornness [00:19:00] is rarely considered
a good quality.
That's a bad thing.
You should get rid of your stubbornness.
However, we are also very quick to say, "Entrepreneurs,
you've got to greedy.
Stick by your guns.
Don't listen to the haters."
Sounds like stubbornness to me.
In context is where it really becomes critical.
Yes, in your interpersonal relationships,
stubbornness is not so good, but if you're
an enterpreneur or if you are doing anything
that's really difficult, stubbornness can
pay off as opposed to be smart, which you
would say is a universally [00:19:30] good
Intensifiers are qualities, which on average
at the mean are usually considered negative,
but in the right context can be considered
very positive being overly aggressive might
be considered negative in general.
If you are hiring a litigator, you might want
somebody who is overly aggressive because
that might be, so again, in this context.
A big part of it is realizing what you are
saying who you are and then aligning your
context so that your context rewards [00:20:00]
both your signature strengths as research
done by Martin Seligman at University of Pennsylvania,
what are you uniquely good at?
Also, your intensifiers where here's my negative
qualities, here's what I get criticized for,
but here stubbornness is an advantage.
Here, being overly aggressive is a benefit,
so I'm going to line up my signature strengths,
my intensifiers with my environment so I'm
rewarded for those rather than punished because
it's so hard to bring up your weaknesses.
You see much greater gains by trying to double
down on your strengths [00:20:30] and the
first key is knowing what your strengths are,
knowing yourself, knowing a bit in your weaknesses,
knowing what your intensifiers can be.
Then, when you align that with the proper
context, I call it picking the right pond.
You see that everything, your good traits
and your bad traits can potentially benefit
Tom: One of the examples that you give in
the book is something like if you want to
be successful in business, pick a drug addict
or something like that.
Eric: The thing [00:21:00] is with narcissist,
narcissists often rise to leadership positions.
That's where we get a lot of the advice in
terms of, "Be overconfident.
Because narcissist usually rise to leadership
positions, however, they don't necessarily
succeed in leadership positions.
There is getting the job versus being able
to do the job.
Tom: It's a great distinction.
Eric: Narcissists typically rise or fall in
terms of their performance, in terms of the
opportunity for glory.
Tom: That's interesting.
Eric: [00:21:30] What's dangerous there is,
obviously, the company is doing well.
"Hey, lots of money, lots of rewards."
When companies are at their worst is when
you need people to pick up their performance
and it's when narcissist start to least likely
"Stock values drop in.
I'm not going to get rewarded here."
They do less.
On the other hand and to some degree I was
being funny, but the one researcher at Johns
Hopkins was saying that narcissist is not
the personality type that [00:22:00] you would
want for a leader.
The obsessiveness of a junky, the focus of
a junky and basically he was referring to
neuroscience research in terms of someone
who is just obsessed.
What do we see when every profile you read
of Silicon valley billionaires is just always
obsessed, only sleeps four hours a night,
only thinks about this, works [inaudible 00:22:23]
reducing their workload to 80 hours a week.
That obsessiveness versus just, "I want to
[00:22:30] The junky attitude is a better
perspective than the narcissist desire for
glory when you are looking for a leader who
is going to perform.
Tom: What drives you, you working insane amount
You said when you were doing the book that
you were working four days a week in the book
and then three days a week in the blog.
I thought, "Oh, God ..." The amount of words
you have to write, you've written what?
Five thousand articles or something?
Tom: It's insanity.
What's the thing that pushes you?
Eric: I'm excited by [00:23:00] what I do.
I really enjoy reading.
I really enjoy learning.
I'm always, like your shirt, I'm always questioning
I'm really, really curious.
I'll be trying these things and then very
often I have to read five books to find the
one book that's really interesting.
I read five studies to find the one study,
but then I called the authors or I'll call
the researchers and I get to talk to the smartest
people about like really cool stuff.
[00:23:30] To me, that's just intoxicating.
I guess it's just an issue of perspective
where work is not work if you enjoy it.
To me, it's like what's that next thing?
What's that next insight?
Just being able to see how when I apply things
to my life and it makes a difference, and
then to know that I can share with hundred
thousands of people is it feels good.
There's this reinforcing cycle.
For me, it's just fun.
Tom: Walk me through your career.
You go into [00:24:00] film, working for some
of the biggest companies on the planet, but
you've reinvented yourself several times.
Take us inside where your mind was, what you
were feeling and how you have the courage
to totally reinvent yourself multiple times.
Eric: I was always somebody who is focused
on big ideas and asking questions.
My undergrad was in philosophy, oddly enough.
Then, I did an internship in Hollywood.
I was really excited.
I came [00:24:30] out and I got really lucky
I came out one year an extra agent.
The next year, I sold script.
The next year, I had two movies made.
Then, I got some great [crosstalk 00:24:38].
Tom: I really try to find you and I'm be like,
"Are you hiding?"
Eric: You can see some of the movies I've
had produced and some of the projects I have
Maybe I'm not so proud anymore of what I was
writing when I was 22, 23, but I did for a
[00:25:00] It's like Hollywood writer doesn't
have much control.
I just found that that was not fun to be on
this roller coaster.
I started asking some big questions on myself.
I got a master's degree at UCLA in film.
I'm really asking a lot of questions and then
I step back and then I went oddly enough.
I went and got an MBA.
I didn't fit in there at all, so Mr. Creative
Tom: You started doing marketing for video
games and stuff?
I worked [00:25:30] on the BioShock franchise
and I work for couple different companies.
It was after I got the MBA and I still felt
like, "What am I doing?
I don't know the answers here."
That I started to blog because I didn't want
to take a job I didn't enjoy.
I was unemployed for nine months.
I just play around in the internet.
It was just something I wanted to do.
Then, I started doing interviews because I
want to talk to experts.
Initially, it was just academic research.
Then, I started looking at the book the researchers
Then, I decided to even take a step further
[00:26:00] than that because academic research
in science is great, but they haven't covered
I started looking at experts in particular
fields because everything has not been covered
in social science research.
I started drawing on some friends of mine.
My one friend, Chris Voss, a former lead international
hostage negotiator for the FBI.
Here's the guy who knows about negotiation,
might not be based on formal research, but
people live or die based on whether he is
good at his job.
[00:26:30] Good enough for me.
I call up Chris.
How do we negotiate?
My friend, James Waters, Navy SEAL platoon
Let's find out about grit because if you can
do what you had to do to get where you got,
I want to know what's the best.
Tom: This is a really interesting part of
Talk about like they were surprised by what
We are post-9/11.
They're really trying to get people in.
They realized we either have to lower our
standards or find a way to get more people
Lowering our standards sounds like a bad idea.
[00:27:00] What was it that they did?
I found this really interesting.
Eric: Basically, the Navy had set up of this
called BUDS, Basic Underwater Demolition training
was basically set up to vet people to see
who were the toughest of the tough, who are
the people who will not give up and those
were the people who would become Navy SEALs.
The military hadn't done an excellent job
of figuring out what those qualities actually
They could vet for them.
Can those guys stay up during hell week?
Can those guy make the runs, do the swims,
[00:27:30] put up with all the hazing and
Yeah, but what were the qualities that actually
allow them to get through and the Navy did
research and what was amazing was it was just
a handful of things.
The critical one I've talked about in the
book was self-talk, optimistic self-talk.
We all have that voice in our head, which
Tom: They started training for this, right?
Basically, they took the results of the study.
It was like self-talk, whole setting, and
they basically [00:28:00] started teaching
students because you don't want to lower the
You don't want to give the answers to the
test, but if you can mold these guys to incorporate
these elements, then great.
They started teaching them, and they improved
almost like 8% to 10% passing rate improved
once you started teaching recruits how to
incorporate optimistic self-talk and these
When we talk about grit, when we talk about
[00:28:30] persistence for long-term goals,
one of the things that's been most proven
is an optimistic mindset is you look at research
by Angela Duckworth, by Martin Seligman at
University of Pennsylvania is that having
that optimistic mindset.
When you believe, "Hey, if I show up tomorrow,
it's going to work out," then you show up.
It make sense.
If you firmly believe, "I'm going to go there
tomorrow and it's going to be a waste of my
What do you do?
It feels futile.
Over long term goals, if [00:29:00] you feel
like it's going to happen, it's not going
to warp reality necessarily, what you do might.
If you don't show up, if you feel like there's
no point to it, you're not going to do it.
It comes down to that belief that positive
things are they are personal.
I was responsible.
They are pervasive.
"Hey, I've crossed some range of areas.
I can do this", and it's persistent.
"If I do this, it's going to work out."
People who are pessimistic believed the reverse
and so things start [00:29:30] to feel futile.
When things start to feel futile, why continue?
It doesn't make any sense.
What Seligman's research also showed is that
if that attitude continues long enough or
hard enough, that's how you actually end up
with clinical depression because when life
feels futile when it does not feel like continuing
anything is going to pay off, then you start
to shrug your shoulders and say, "What am
Optimism is strongly correlated with happiness
and pessimism is [00:30:00] strongly correlated
with not only quitting, but also with depression.
Tom: It was at this point in the book, and
I remember I hadn't found your blog yet unfortunately
I'm reading the book, which was Audible just
recommended it and I'm, "Look, Barking Up
the Wrong Tree.
What I know about success is wrong."
I had to read your book because I'm all about
like find the evidence that pushes you forward
rather than just confirm.
That was way too enticing for me not to read
Then, I get to that part in the book and I'm
like, "Who is this guy?
This stuff is amazing."
[00:30:30] The notion of optimism being teachable
first of all that it had such a huge impact
on the number of people going through and
then you took us somewhere, which is like
my personal fetish, especially as a screenwriter.
I was like who has left the field and I'm
sort of going in the other way.
I started doing business now going back to
screenwriting and saying, "The whole notion
In fact, what is it about narrative that they
found was so impactful?
Eric: Stories are basically the operating
system [00:31:00] of the human brain.
If you look across the board, across a bunch
of areas of research, it's quite fascinating.
John Gutmann who has done bleeding experts
in terms of relationships, marriages.
The most indicating thing in terms of whether
couple will get divorce or not is how they
tell their story.
It's merely saying, "Tell me the story of
How did you two meet?"
If it's, "Oh, my God.
It was so wonderful.
It was this and great.
We had challenges, but we overcame them.
We got to know each other better.
We grew together," [00:31:30] versus, "You
know it's like we met up.
We have some problems."
Just hearing that story is a huge indicator
in terms of the success of children.
If a child knows its family history, it's
a huge impact on how successful the kid in
school [crosstalk 00:31:49].
Tom: Example of that like when you say knows
their family story, what do you mean?
Eric: Again, that issue of, "Okay, your great-grandfather
immigrated here from this."
Tom: If you tell a story [00:32:00] that's
positive and empowering.
Eric: They are a part of something.
It gives reason.
It gives meaning.
What you see across the board with that, when
you look at what therapists do very often
is fixing people's stories.
"I'm a loser.
I've always been a loser.
This didn't work out.
That didn't work out.
Versus you can take the same events and say,
"Oh, this didn't work out, but that's the
day I learned a great lesson, which ..." [00:32:30]
Same events, but you are telling them in a
Very often, it's not about the specifics of
We've all had failures, but which ones do
we choose to define ourselves by?
It's that story in our head that keeps us
It's deeply important for meaning, but also
deeply important in terms of grit, resilience,
persistent because, again, that story you
Do you tell yourself I'm the kind of person
who "I'm never [00:33:00] going to make it
I quit at this.
I quit at that," or "I'm not a quitter."?
That's the story I tell myself.
People want to seek out things that support
They want to fulfill their story.
We all know someone who has this vision of
their self in a certain way.
You present them with that challenge of, "You
think you are so smart?
Could you do that?"
People often jump to the challenge.
Because they want to support their story.
We have this [00:33:30] evolving story of
It's really critical for us to feel that we
are part of this.
We've all had how many moments in our lives?
How many ups?
How many downs?
We don't remember all of them.
We don't recall all of them and we don't make
all of them part of our story.
There's a thousand different ways to frame
the decades that have gone by.
We can shape them in many ways.
How we do actually has a huge effect on whether
we persist, how happy we are, [00:34:00] and
the decisions we make going forward.
Tom: When you said that one of the most important
things that a therapist does is spend time
fixing people's stories, that is so important
to understand like, A, how malleable the stories
are and really where their importance lies.
One of the things you talked about in the
book, which I love, I took so many notes on
this, was what make stories so effective is
that they abstract.
That they are not necessarily accurate.
That they allow us that you said to put rose
colored [00:34:30] glasses on.
Talk about that.
Eric: This was something that Tyler Cowen,
a big blogger and economics professor at George
Mason University taught about, which we don't
think about the moments we are here that make
sense, which is that stories are always narrowed.
They are always edited.
You've been alive for decades.
You are not considering every second that
You are taking little snapshots to tell a
You leave out even if you're telling a joke.
You only tell the parts that are important
to that joke.
[00:35:00] Stories are always inaccurate because
you might say, "I consider myself a good person."
Never done anything bad?
Never done anything you're not proud of?
Of course, you have, but you are to some degree
selecting those things and you feel those
are more representative of who you are.
Somebody who doesn't feel they're such a good
person is selecting different.
What's the raw total score of good versus
bad versus ... We don't know.
Stories are always inaccurate unless we are
going to recount every second of your life
and take [00:35:30] every ... We can't.
Stories are always a reduced shortened version
and they usually have a point.
They usually result in, "I feel I'm a good
Tom: The real power in that and I hope people
take away is that, ultimately, it's up to
you as the person telling yourself that story
to decide what you leave in and what you leave
out, which I'm sure it's exactly what the
therapist is helping them do is either just
reframe the exact same moment or, "Hey, in
your [00:36:00] decades of experience, start
pulling different moments.
Those moments that you are proud instead of
focusing on the moments that you are not proud
Eric: That's huge.
A lot of this research has worked by Tim Wilson
at UVA and he talks about, again, therapist
story editing, reframing, looking at different
events, but there's also something else we
Some people can do that very well.
If somebody has done great things, but they
feel like a loser, then reframing can work
really well, highlighting different things.
Other people might feel like, "I haven't [00:36:30]
For that, Tim Wilson recommend something I
think is wonderful, which is called do good,
They've done research to show this works where
rather than people were always thinking, always
thinking, always thinking.
You want to feel like a better person?
Start volunteering once a week.
Go out and do it."
Then, what will happen is the story will follow
because it's going to be really hard if you
start saying, "Hey, every paycheck, I'm going
to donate [00:37:00] X amount to charity.
Every week, I'm going to volunteer to help
All of a sudden, you're going to find after
a few months, it's hard to tell yourself,
"Oh, yeah, I'm a terrible person."
Because you're going to tell other people,
"I'm a little short of money because I donate
I can't go Sunday.
That's when I volunteer."
You're going to start to follow, your story
will follow your behavior.
If you have trouble changing your story, first
change your behavior.
Don Quixote, it's like, "You want to be a
Act like a [00:37:30] knight."
Tom: I love that.
I absolutely love that.
You had a research on that that talks about
like chunking that time up?
Tom: Walk us through that.
Eric: That ties in with Adam Grant's research
in terms of givers and takers.
The givers were disproportionately represented
at the top and at the bottom.
Who are the ones at the bottom?
The ones at the bottom were the ones who did
They were always focusing on others.
They were martyrs.
Chunking is the idea of, "Hey, [00:38:00]
how am I going to sustainably be able to help
other people if I'm doing pretty well in myself?
If I make more money, I can donate more money."
Basically, the idea of saying, "I am going
to devote my Sundays to ... That's when I
do my good deeds" or at work basically saying,
"Okay, Thursday afternoons, that's the time
when things are a little not crazy like Monday.
It's not get everything done by Friday.
Thursday afternoons, anybody who needs me
or anybody who is 'Hey, can I pick your brain?'
[00:38:30] That is devoted to that."
By saying chunking, "I'm going to do my good
Number one, it make sure that they happen.
Number two, it make sure that they don't just
Once you say to people, "Hey, I want to help,"
you might get more requests than you can possibly
Having a budget of time, any resource to assist
people and designating it allows to make sure
it happens so you are a giver, but also make
sure [00:39:00] that it doesn't take over
Tom: I love that.
Talk to me a little bit about knowing when
That was one of the things I really found
fascinating in the book and I think this is
so important is what's the difference between
quit and grit.
How do you know when to lean where?
Eric: Because grit and quit is huge.
Grit is having its moment in the sun now where
everybody is talking about grit.
You have to quit some things.
We only have 24 hours in a day.
If I never quit anything, I'd still be playing
with action figures and I'd still be playing
[00:39:30] You quit things.
You move on.
The truth is that strategic quitting.
Quitting the right things can actually benefit
grit because you have more time.
If you want those K. Anders Ericsson 10,000
hours of expertise, there's only 24 hours
in a day.
The more stuff you quit that isn't delivering
value to your life, the more resources, the
more time and energy you have to really become
good at something.
Quitting becomes critical, but that leads
us to the tough question, which is how do
you know what to quit, what to stick with?
[00:40:00] We have our passions.
We have our interests.
We have what clearly provide value, but there
are some fascinating research that came out
of NYU that basically this wonderful little
It was basically a plan for how people can
take their ideas using research, take their
ideas from a dream to an actual plan.
What they found basically is we think like,
"Oh, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming about dreaming."
The thing that's dangerous about dreams is
on their own dreams were good first step,
[00:40:30] but wishing on its own actually
It doesn't create energy because our brain
is not very good at telling fiction from reality.
That's why movies are exciting.
If we just saw it as, "Oh, that's pixels in
That wouldn't be exciting.
You get thrilled because we are not always
good at that.
When we dream, our brain starts to think we
already have that and energy levels go down.
Tom: It's so interesting.
Eric: We can start by wishing, but then the
next thing that needs to happen is we need
to crystallize what [00:41:00] we want.
Tom: I have my own answer, but why do you
think if wishing, fantasizing, dreaming about
it pacifies you because some part of your
brain doesn't realize you don't actually have
Why do we start there?
Eric: We start there because we are looking
to what do we want, what do we desire.
Tom: You think it is important to paint a
picture of what you want.
You just can't get lost them.
Eric: Just the problem is when you stop there.
Wishing and dreaming is critical.
You need to think about what you want.
You want to have dreams, but the problem is
[00:41:30] that basically, if wishing by itself
it's the equivalent of like alcohol, feels
good in the moment, but doesn't necessarily
make you more productive.
We need to take the next step.
The next step is to think outcome.
WOOP, wish, second thing is outcome, which
is what is the specific thing I want.
"I want to be rich and famous when I ..." What's
the final outcome?
What is that thing going to be?
Once you have a specific idea, this is what
I want to be, then [00:42:00] the critical
part, which is obstacle.
What's in the way?
What is that thing I have to overcome to get
what I want?
Most people don't, "That's tough.
That's not as fun as just thinking about [inaudible
Wish, outcome, obstacle.
Once you think about the obstacle, you can
make a plan.
How can I overcome that?
What's the next step?
What's great is that leads people towards
what's called implementation intentions, which
is basically a plan for how you can get your
What's also fascinating is in terms [00:42:30]
of the grit of quit question.
When the research was done, what they found
was that how people felt after doing the exercise
was very telling.
People who felt energized and excited, that
was generally an indicator that this was a
That they have a dream, but when they thought
about the obstacle, it was surmountable by
their plan, great.
When people realized that, "Wait.
This plan is not going to get over this obstacle
and it's not going to get me my dream."
People [00:43:00] didn't feel as energized
and it became a litmus test for determining,
"Do I need a new plan?
Is this plan not really addressing the issue
or is this dream completely unrealistic?"
It can be useful in terms of grit or quit
because if you feel energized by it, great,
go do it.
This is something you should be sticking with.
If you don't feel it, okay fine.
Maybe you need to reevaluate your plan or
maybe you need to reevaluate your dream.
Tom: That's the first [00:43:30] effective
strategy for breaking down when ... When people
asked me about that, then I said, "Look, you've
got to know when to stick with something and
when to give up, if you're not enjoying it."
In that, I'm always like, "God, I don't really
know what I'm telling them to do because it's
like sort of like God instinct."
That's like an awesome process.
Do you have a similar process because the
other question I get asked all the time is
how do I find my passion, which I'm a fiery
believer that you don't find it, you develop
Do you have [00:44:00] a process for people
figuring that out?
Eric: I think what you said is exactly right.
It's the issue of development.
Peter Sims wrote this great book called Little
Bets where it turns out to be a system that
you used across the board in many different
areas for people to find their passion, find
their interest, find things they are good
Basically, it's like treating your time almost
like a venture capitalist where little bets
are small, little efforts.
You're not going to put in a ton of time,
energy or money.
You [00:44:30] are going to try a bunch of
things and you are going to see what works,
what you enjoy or what you're good at.
Like a VC firm might say, "All right, 10 companies,
I know seven are going to fail.
Two are probably going to break even and one
is going to be the next Facebook or Google
and that works for me."
To say to yourself, I'm going to try 10 different
I'm going to take a yoga class.
I'm going to take a martial arts class.
I'm going to read this book and seven of them
and probably going to say, "Uh-uh, no thanks.
Two, I might say, "There's potential here."
One might be that great new [00:45:00] opportunity
because the world is changing.
The world is changing so much that we can't
afford to be left behind.
You want to be trying stuff.
If your grit and focus is fantastic, but you
don't want to be working on horses and buggies
when the car is being developed.
You don't want to fall behind.
To always be devoting 5 to 10% of your time,
to trying something new in a low investment
sort of way to give it a shot.
That's what's going to help you find the next
big thing, find what you are passionate about.
If you are not trying, [00:45:30] you can't
find your passion.
Tom: I like that a lot.
You are very excitable.
Has there ever been a time where you were
stuck, there was nothing really calling for
I'll put it back in the context of your normal
writing the blogs here, going to other research
papers and things like that.
You are not necessarily doing small bets and
looking for something.
How do you within that universe if your excitement
is flagging, do you [00:46:00] have a process
to tap back into something?
Eric: Basically, for me, it's about just getting
some kindling that curiosity where it's like
asking that question because I definitely
get times where not feeling it.
It's not happening.
What I need is something that starts me asking
a question because even if I read a book and
I'm like, "There's nothing here.
This isn't really going to help me."
[00:46:30] Sometimes I'll find myself going,
"What was I'm looking for?
Oh, I was looking for this.
Is there anything on them?"
All of a sudden, I'm on Amazon.
I'm going, "I can't believe.
Nobody is reading a book on this subject.
There's got to be some reading.
I'm a Google scholar and I'm like, 'Oh, wait
Once I start that question asking, once I
get a question that makes me go, "Now, I need
We've all felt that to some degree where all
of a sudden you find yourself on Wikipedia
and then somehow [00:47:00] half hour went
by and I'm clicking around and now I know
more about the Peloponnesian War than anybody.
For me, that's what it's about is if I'm not
feeling that I have to start to say like,
"What am I curious about?"
Anything that I can do so I want to start
throwing stuff at myself.
I want to start watching a documentary.
I want to start reading a book, reading an
article that makes me start asking question
and then sometimes if it is more general,
then I can just go down that rabbit hole.
[00:47:30] If it's more specific, then I literally
have to try like trick myself into how does
that relate to what I'm ... "I'm curious about
Redirect that passion because I know once
I get going, I'm like a terrier with the frisbee.
I'm just not going to let go, but I have to
get that curiosity engine going where there's
like, "Okay, I need the answer to this question."
Tom: Now, you've had some articles that have
What do they have in common, the ones that
just really knocked it out at the park?
Are there any [00:48:00] threads?
Eric: First off, it's things that interest
most people, so issues of happiness, connecting
with others, things that are universal.
Second, I think it's having really legitimate
science where people are like, "Okay, I'm
comfortable with this."
Then, I think beyond that is having a level
of warmth and accessibility because the [00:48:30]
truth is so much of what I post ... Sometimes
the book you might have to find them by, but
most of these research studies, you can just
You don't have to listen to me.
You can just Google, but it's not fun.
They are not interesting.
They use big words.
It's not this kind of fun journey.
It's like highlighting the stuff that's counterintuitive,
asking the questions that I might [00:49:00]
ask as a reader, which people can probably
Making it accessible, making it a little fun,
throwing a little humor.
That's just like having a little sugar to
make the medicine go down or just like you
are feeling it.